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OCKHAM ON IDENTITY AND DISTINCTION1 In the middle ages, what a philosopher thought about identity and distinction would largely determine his position on a wide range of philosophical and theological problems such as the problem of universals, of the unity and plurality of substantial forms, of the relation of intellect and will in the soul, of how to reconcile divine simplicity with a plurality of divine attributes and ideas, and of how to give a clear and intelligible formulation of the doctrine of the Trinity. For instance, many thought that divine wisdom and divine goodness must be distinct attributes of God. But what is the nature of their distinction? It cannot be that they are distinct real things, for this would compromise the divine simplicity. Perhaps it should be said that while divine wisdom and divine goodness are identically the same thing, they are distinct because they are conceived of by means of distinct concepts. If so, their distinction would be a product of intellectual activity, so that prior to or apart from any such activity they would not be distinct. Yet, it seems that if divine wisdom and divine goodness are distinct attributes, they would be distinct even if — per impossibile — no one throught so. Perhaps, then there is some distinction that is not a distinction between real things, which nevertheless obtains in reality prior to any intellectual activity. But questions arise as to how this sort of distinction should be conceived of. In tackling such problems, medieval philosophers thus came to appeal to various sorts of identity and distinction of which three — real sameness and distinction, sameness and distinction of reason, and formal sameness and distinction — rose to prominence in the fourteenth century. Of course, not all philosophers made use of these notions; and there was no perfect unanimity as to how any of them should be understood. But it was on their legitimacy, intel1 I am indebted to my husband, Robert Merrihew Adams, for useful philosophical and editorial advice. I am also glad to acknowledge the help of Father Gedeon Gal. By calling many further passages to my attention and challenging some of my interpretations, he saved me from a number of mistakes. Naturally, the responsibility for any remaining errors is mine. MARILYN MCCORD ADAMS ligibility and/or adequacy to deal with the issues at hand, that medieval philosophical debate frequently centered. In this paper, I shall forego a full canvass of fourteenth century use of these notions to concentrate on Ockham's understanding of them. I shall start with the least controversial — the notion of real sameness and distinction, or the sameness and distinction of a real thing or things (res). The distinction of reason was thought to involve a distinction, not of real things (res), but of concepts ; and Ockham attacks his predecessors' formulation of it on the ground that it violated one of his own fundamental assumptions about identity. Duns Scotus found it impossible to solve the problems of metaphysics and theology without recognizing another kind — viz., formal sameness and formal non-identity or distinction. Ockham severely criticizes Scotus for finding formal non-identity or distinction among the divine attributes or in creatures, however. And after offering my own analysis of the issue between them, I shall argue that another recent interpretation of their dispute is wrong-headed. In a final section, I shall turn to Ockham's equally notorious assertion of a formal distinction between the divine essence and each of the divine persons. I think it can be shown that despite superficial similarities in their treatments of the doctrine of the Trinity, Scotus and Ockham remain far apart where the formal distinction is concerned. I. REAL SAMENESS AND DISTINCTION For Ockham, real sameness and distinction, properly speaking, are the sameness and distinction of a real thing or things (res), respectively .2 And at least where creatures are concerned,3 Ockham clearly regards the relation of real identity as transitive — that is, as being such that the following formula is true: 1 But Ockham twice notes that 'real distinction' may be taken improperly to mean what he means by 'formal distinction' (Ordinatio I, d. 2, q. n; Opera Theologica II, ed. S. Brown...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1945-9718
Print ISSN
0080-5459
Pages
pp. 5-74
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
Archive Status
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