A History of Philosophy - Ockham to the Speculative Mystics by Copleston, Frederick

By Copleston, Frederick

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Thomas Bradwardine, whose theory was directly opposed to that of Petrus Aureoli, attacked him on this point. Petrus Aureoli’s discussion of statements concerning God’s knowledge which involve a reference, explicit or implicit, to time serves as an illustration of the fact that mediaeval philosophers were not so entirely blind to problems of language and meaning as might perhaps be supposed. The language used about God in the Bible forced upon Christian thinkers at a very early date a consideration of the meaning of the terms used; and we find the mediaeval theories of analogical prediction worked out as a response to this problem.

Durandus sacrificed the Thomist cognitive species (that is ‘species’ in its psychological sense) while Petrus Aureoli often made use of the principle pluralitas non est ponenda sine necessitate in order to get rid of what he regarded as superfluous entities. And Ockhamism belonged, in a sense, to this general movement of simplification. In addition, it carried further that spirit of criticism which one can observe in James of Metz, Durandus and Petrus Aureoli. Thus I think that while historical research has shown that thinkers like Durandus, Petrus Aureoli and Henry of Harclay cannot be called ‘nominalists’, there are aspects of their thought which enable one to link them in some degree to the general movement of thought which facilitated the spread of Ockhamism.

In the sentence ‘arsenic is poisonous’, the term ‘arsenic’ is both an ‘extreme term’ and one which stands in the proposition for something which is not itself a sign. A term of second intention, strictly understood, will thus be a term which naturally signifies first intentions and which can stand for them in a proposition. ‘Genus’, ‘species’ and ‘difference’ are examples of terms of second intention. (v) Ockham’s answer to the problem of universals has been already indicated in effect: universals are terms (termini concepti) which signify individual things and which stand for them in propositions.

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