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Quodlibetal Questions, 2 vols.

Translated by Alfred J. Freddoso and Francis E. Kelley, 2 vols. Yale Library of Medieval Philosophy. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1991. xxviii and vii + 702 pp. $100.00--The Ockham Quodlibetal Questions are the first translation in this new series edited by Norman Kretzmann, Eleanore Stump, and John Wippel. It includes a brief introduction by Freddoso which summarizes the growing scholarly consensus that despite the novel character of Ockham's thought and the uses to which it was later put, it is fundamentally Aristotelian and medieval-Christian in inspiration. Freddoso is also convinced of Ockham's usefulness for contemporary philosophical questions which thus turn out to be not merely contemporary but perennial. The collection fills a heretofore unmet need for fully representative selections from Ockham in English translation. Footnotes are kept to a minimum, but the index at the end of volume 2 runs twenty-seven pages. As the name implies, each quodlibet can include questions on any philosophical or theological topic whatever; for the benefit of those wishing to study Ockham's thinking systematically and according to standard philosophical convention, Freddoso provides an outline of topics (for example, terms, predication, categories, motion) with references to the scattered questions where they are considered. The paucity of explanatory footnotes (which are quite informative in their brevity) is supplemented by bibliographic reference to editions of works cited by Ockham and to secondary literature.

The range of topics included in these Quodlibets is truly representative of Ockham's interests, including logic, physics, anthropology, ethics, and natural and revealed theology. There is some treatment of intuitive and abstractive cognition. Theological topics such as angels and transubstantiation provide the occasion for meticulous clarifications of substance, quantity, place, local motion, and the nature of intersubjective communication, linguistic and (in the case of angelic "locution") nonlinguistic. He makes extensive use of his theory of signification and supposition when treating logical questions raised by Trinitarian doctrine.

Ockham accepts Aristotle's criteria of demonstrability in the Posterior Analytics with the utmost rigor; thus we find a clear distinction within the realm of philosophy between what can be "proved" (probatum) and what can be demonstrated. The late scholastic sense of "probable" is a reasoned mode of knowledge which though lacking the certainty of demonstration is nevertheless stronger than the modern sense of "merely probable." When treating purely theological questions Ockham presupposes what he found he could not demonstrate in the more philosophical questions.

Ockham's philosophical treatment of the existence of God in the Quodlibets often works with a modified Anselmian account. He finds that in order to avoid accepting an infinite series of beings, we must posit the existence of a de facto most eminent being. (He does not say we can demonstrate the existence of something "than which nothing greater can be thought.") We do not know, however, if this being possesses the attributes of unity and infinity which God is believed by Christians to possess. Furthermore, not knowing if they ever began to exist, we cannot demonstrate that Aristotelian separate substances and celestial bodies are caused; it is possible that they rather than the most eminent being are the first or uncaused efficient cause. In other words, we cannot demonstrate that coincidence in reality of "most eminent" and "first efficient" which would be a minimally adequate description of the Christian God, though this identification is "plausible" (persuaderi potest).

Ockham finds logical, ontological, and temporal difficulties in the essence-existence distinction, some of which could be easily refuted by Thomists, while others would be more thought-provoking if read in conjunction with Thomas's example of the phoenix in De ente et essentia. Not sharing Thomas's understanding of esse, Ockham finds that the "distance" from nothingness to existence is measured by the finite essence of a creature and therefore does not require an infinite power to be spanned. We cannot therefore rationally exclude the possibility of a creature creating, although no creatures known to us do so. These metaphysical issues are but a small sampling of an exhaustive range of topics in the Quodlibetal Questions of Ockham.
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Author:Santogrossi, Ansgar
Publication:The Review of Metaphysics
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Dec 1, 1992
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