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OCKHAM'S EXTREME NOMINALISM INTRODUCTION WITH FEW EXCEPTIONS, modern historians of philosophy find themselves in one of three camps regarding Ockham's epistemic and ontic status: those who assure us that he is a conceptualist; 1 those who assure us that he is what amounts to a moderate nominalist; 2 and those who, whether expressly or not, assure us that they are not sure whether he is a conceptualist or moderate nominalist.3 In part, such diversity and ambivalence of opinion is attributable to the widespread confusion which still haunts the nominalist-conceptualist distinction.4 But as I see it, the single 1 Some historians who cast Ockham in a conceptnalist mold are: Paul J. Glenn, Criteriology (St. Louis, Missouri, 1933), p. 221; Josephus Gredt, 0. S. B., Elementa Philosophiae Aristotelico-Thomisticae, I (Barcinone, 1961), p. 109, n. 114, 2; Henri Grenier, Thomistic Philosophy, II: Metaphysics, trans. J.P. E. O'Hanley (Charlottetown , Canada, 1948), p. 139; William Turner, Histo'!'y of Philosophy (Boston, 1903), p. 405; Julius Weinberg, A Short History of Medieval Philosophy (New Jersey, 1964), p. 245; Maurice de Wulf, History of Mediaeval Philosophy, I, trans. Ernest C. Messenger (New York, 1952), p. 138. 2 Historians who favor a moderate nominalist interpretation include: Emile Brehier, The Middle Ages and the Renaissance, trans. Wade Baskin (Chicago and London, 1965), p. 194; Etienne Gilson, Being and Some Philosophers (Toronto, 1952), p. 48; Robert Guelluy, Philosophie et Theologie chez Guillaume d'Ockham (Louvain et Paris, 1947), p. 313, passim; Armand A. Maurer, C. S. B., Medieval Philosophy (New York, 1962), p. 268, passim; Paul Viguanx, "Nominalisme," Dictionnaire de Theologie Catholique, XI (Paris, 1931); Wilhelm Windelband, A History of Greek Philosophy, I (New York, 1958). p. 315. 3 For instance, see: R. P. Phillips, Modern Thomistic Philosophy, II: Metaphysics (London, 1935), pp. 87-88, 90; Richard McKeon, Selections From Medieval Philosophers, II (New York, 1930), pp. 352, 424; Frederick Copleston, S. J., A History of Philosophy, III: Late Mediaeval and Renaissance Philosophy, Part 1: Oclcham to the Speculative Mystics (New York, 1963), pp. 67, 69; T. V. Smith, ed., Philosophers Speak For Themselves (Chicago, 1934), p. 777. • Conceptualism lends itself to easy equation with moderate nominalism. The equation is understandable perhaps, but, upon analysis, unwarranted. For although 414 OCKHAM'S EXTREME NOMINALISM 415 most significant reason historians differ and even demur when it comes to classifying Ockham can be traced to the ambiguity inherent in his theory of universals-an opinion I shall be at pains to con·oborate later in the article. For now, I wish simply to mention what I take to be a remarkable consequence of Ockham's equivocal views on universality . This consequence is my suspicion that historians have almost universally misjudged his rightful epistemic niche. As far as I can determine, only two modern historians of philosophy approximate what I consider the veridical estimate of Ockham's theory of universals, short of explicitly labeling his theory as such.5 So let me explicitly suggest that, in the final rendering, Ockham's theory of universals amounts to a reluctant but for all that no less real version of extreme nominalism. Moreover, in holding this opinion, I believe I am actually bringing to logical completion the conclusions of certainly the most energetic supporter of Ockham in recent times, the late Franciscan friar, Fr. Philotheus Boehner. According to Fr. Boehner, Ockham's epistemic theory is a species neither of classical (extreme) norninalisrn,6 nor of classical ("idealistic ") conceptualism, like moderate nominalism, disclaims any extramental fundament of universality, quite unlike moderate nominalism, conceptualism regards the significance of universal terms as the product of universal concepts (e.g., Kant), whereas moderate nominalism regards the same as the product of mental and/or linguistic devices which merely function as universals (e.g., Hume's image-epistemology ). Moreover, concerning conceptualism's distinctive appeal to mental universals as the ground of meaningful terms, two points should be made. First, and in my opinion, conceptualism must accord an objective, necessary and nonarbitrary dignity to its concepts, or else relegate its distinction from moderate nominalism to mere triviality, since, of course, moderate nominalism does not uphold the objective character of its functional universals. Second-and as...

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ISSN
2473-3725
Print ISSN
0040-6325
Pages
pp. 414-449
Launched on MUSE
2017-05-15
Open Access
No
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