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William of Ockham
A logician and proponent of nominalism, William of Ockham originated Ockham's razor, a philosophical paring tool that prefers the simplest theory that will explain the observable data. Born c. 1285 in Surrey, William was a Franciscan who taught at Oxford until the chancellor John Lutterell accused him of teaching suspect doctrine. John XXII appointed a commission which found 51 propositions questionable but which did not condemn the lecturer. William revised these, and while he was at Oxford and Avignon, he wrote commentary on the Organon of Aristotle and the Sentences of Peter Lombard. William accepted the teachings of the Spiritual Franciscans, who believe that Christ and his Apostles held all property in common and, therefore, poverty was essential to the church. John XXII did not accept these ideas, and William came to see him as a pseudo-pope. William, with two leaders of the Spiritual Franciscans, fled in 1328 to the protection of Louis of Bavaria, a papal enemy. John excommunicated William and the others. After John's death in 1334, William sought to reconcile himself with the Roman church; the outcome of these efforts is not known. William died, possibly of the plague, in Munich c. 1347/1349.
William of Ockham teaches that only individuals are real. The mind can, as a cognitive process, extract general traits or common natures, which are descriptive, not actual. William accepts the sovereignty of God but rejects the teaching authority of the Church, since it is an abstraction, not a real entity. From God comes causality, and the omnipotence of God excludes the possibility of contradiction in his works. William uses linguistic analysis to understand theology. He is a forerunner of British empiricism.
Karen Rae Keck
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