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PLENTY OF NOTHING OCKHAM'S COMMITMENT TO REAL POSSIBLES As Marilyn Adams discovers in the course of her valuable article on "Ockham's Nominalism and Unreal Entities," Ockham's mature theory of concepts carries with it an ontological commitment to unreduced unactualized possibles.1 What we are thinking about when we think about horses in general cannot be a real universal horse outside the mind or a fictive horse posited by the mind itself in 'objective' being, but neither is our concept horse restricted to past or present actual horses. It applies as well to merely possible horses, and for Ockham , eventually, as Adams shows, this means that there must be possible horses for the concept to apply to, fully determinate individual merely possible horses which cannot be reduced to aspects of actual horses or aspects of the mind itself. I think I am only spelling out what is implicit here when I say that, on this view, the act of intellection in which we exercise our universal concept horse is a sort of mental viewing of each and every one of an infinite number of wholly distinct , fully individuated possible horses, and that when we say that all horses are animals we are somehow identifying each ofthese possible horses with one ofan even larger infinite number ofpossible animals. With some reason, given our usual sense of Ockham's philosophical temperament and given his ridicule of theories of concepts positing "a little world of occult objectively existent things," Adams concludes that Ockham should have found this commitment to real possibles embarrassing: "he should have found such unreduced, unactualized possibles even stranger" than the occult entities posited by an objective1 Marilyn McCord Adams, "Ockham's Nominalism and Unreal Entities ," Philosophical Review 86 (1977): 173. 146ARTHUR STEVEN MCGRADE existence theory ofconcepts (p. 174). In this paper I want to offer some grounds for regarding real possibilism as relatively unembarrassing to Ockham and suggest some questions for further study which this position renders intriguing. Whether or not Ockham felt comfortable with real possibles, including them in his view of things surely unsettles our own view of his view—to the extent of making plausible A. C. Pegis's startling characterization of Ockhamism as "Platonism minus the Ideas,"2 although in a sense contrary to Pegis's intention. I. Ockham's Tough Conscience Nelson Goodman, in some respects the best candidate I know for the role ofOckham redivivus, has a tender philosophical conscience which is offended by talk of possible beings.3 What about Ockham's conscience on this matter? Nominalists like Goodman sometimes speak as if the sheer number of entities posited by a theory can be a horror. Ockham recognized this quantitative objection to the intellection theory , but it did not long detain him. He sees that according to the theory a universal intellection bears on, or is 'terminated by,' an infinite number of objects, but he responds snappily that other psychological acts are terminated by infinite objects, so why not this one? Suppose, for example, that I love all the parts of a continuum or desire that they all continue to exist. These acts have as objects all the parts of the continuum, which are infinite.4 A strange argument, perhaps, yet good enough for Ockham. But what about the qualitative side of the intellection theory's ontological commitment—the commitment not merely to an infinite herd ofhorses but to an infinite subherd ofmerely 2 Anton Pegis, "Concerning William of Ockham," Traditio 2 (1944): 479, as quoted by Philotheus Boehner, "In Propria Causa," Collected Articles on Ockham, ed. Eligius Buytaert (St. Bonaventure, N.Y.: Franciscan Institute 1958) 315. 3 "All this by way of preface to declaring that some of the things that seem to me unacceptable without explanation are . . . entities or experiences that are possible but not actual." Nelson Goodman, "Foreword: On the Philosophical Conscience" in chapter 2 ("The Passing ofthe Possible") of Fact, Fiction, and Forecast, 2nd. ed. (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1965) 33. 4 Ockham, Expos. Periherm., Proem., sect. 6 (OPh II, 354-5). Ockham's Commitment to Real Possibles147 possible horses? Should Ockham have been bothered by this? I do not have an unshakeable conviction on this matter...


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