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OCKHAM'S REAL DISTINCTION BETWEEN FORM AND MATTER I shall be concerned, in this paper, with Ockham's natural philosophy, and, in particular, with his views on form and matter. Although I shall also be concerned with Ockham's logic and his theology , and the relation that these areas ofhis thought had to his natural philosophy, I shall mainly be concerned with natural philosophy as such; indeed, my main thesis is that Ockham's natural philosophy is not simply an outgrowth ofhis logic or his theology, but that it deserves separate consideration. In particular, I do not think that the natural philosophy can simply be deduced from theses in other areas—for example , from Ockham's nominalism, or from his position on God's potentia absoluta. In other words, I have a pluralist approach to Ockham's thought: I am unwilling to try to derive all of the things that he said from one or two supposedly basic principles. I have been talking of "natural philosophy"; this deserves some explanation, since there is nothing nowadays that really corresponds to it. In Ockham's era, natural philosophy meant all of the theory and exegesis which had grown up around Aristotle's Physics; it was consequently concerned, like Aristotle's Physics, with all ofthe problems that one encountered when one considered change in the physical world. And this meant change of all sorts; water growing warmer or cooler, the growth ofplants, bodies changing position, and so on. One therefore finds, in this literature, all sorts of problems that one would be very surprised to find in a modern physics textbook. There was, for example, a great body of work on the divisibility of a continuum1 1 Cf. J. E. Murdoch's impressive series of articles, and, in particular: J. E. Murdoch, "Scientia Mediantibus Vocibus," Miscellanea Medievalia 13/1 (1981): 73-106. 212GRAHAM WHITE which one would hardly consider now to be physics. Many such problems, indeed, look far more like logic to us; many of them are concerned with the analysis of language, rather than the investigation ofthings. As Murdoch describes it: "from the standpoint of the fourteenth-century embracing of a particularist ontology only res permanentes exist: only individual substances and individual instances of qualities. But assuming such a particularist ontology, then one had to face the fact that there were conceptions and doctrines within Aristotelean natural philosophy that could only be explained by metalinguistic analysis.... Why? Because these conceptions and doctrines repeatedly spoke of or implied things beyond the individual res permanentes populating the natural world."2 Thus we have a very familiar aspect ofOckham's thought; he uses logical analysis to show that one need not populate the world with innumerable things corresponding to such terms as 'motion,' 'time'3 and 'shape.'4 Let us consider the semantics of a term like 'shape' ('figura' in Latin). Ifyou are talking about the shape of a particular object, then there is no mysterious entity, distinct from the object itself, for the term to stand for. A statue, let us say, is a piece of bronze with a certain shape. The two terms 'bronze' and 'shape' have exactly the same referent, or denotation: they both stand for the lump ofbronze. They connote differently, however:5 one can talk, for example, ofthe shape 2 J. E. Murdoch 78. 3 G. Leff, William of Ockham (Manchester 1975) 561 f.« Ockham, Quodl. VIl, q. 2 (OTh IX, 708) Ockham, Exp. Physicorum, lib. II, c. 2 (OPh IV, 241-42). Ockham, Summula philos, natur., lib. Ill c. 16 (OPh VI, 300-303). 5 On the semantics of 'shape' ('figura' in Latin), cf. Ockham, Expositio in Praedicam., cap. 14: "notandum quod ista: forma, figura, rectitudo et curvitas non important alias res a substantia, quantitate et qualitate,—si quantitas sit alia res a substantia, quod tamen non est verum secundum intentionem Philosophi—, sed ista dicunt substantias, connotando certum et determinatum ordinem partium." (OPh II, 283 f.) (One should note, here, that Ockham is discussing Aristotle's Categories, and that the word 'forma' was used, in Boethius' Latin translation of this work, to translate the Greek word 'morphe'; that is, it meant 'shape.' Cf. Aristoteles Latinus I 1-5...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1945-9718
Print ISSN
0080-5459
Pages
pp. 211-225
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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