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Ockham’s nominalist innovations almost immediately raised the specter of such radical doubt; this was noticed not only by the first generation of Ockham’s critics,

 https://fredmartinez.blogspot.com/2020/10/whats-wrong-with-ockham-reassessing.html
 
 Ockham’s nominalist innovations almost immediately raised the specter of such radical doubt; this was noticed not only by the first generation of Ockham’s critics, but even by Ockham himself, who proposed thought experiments about God manipulating our minds to make us think things that are not true. For Ockham, such thought experiments were possible not only because of God’s absolute transcendent power, but because the human mind retained for him no intrinsic connection to an intelligible order. Ockham was no skeptic, and he was no Descartes; indeed, he was rather confident in the reliability of human cognition. But the law of unintended consequences applies in the history of philosophy as elsewhere, and it was only a matter of time before some philosopher exploited, as fully as Descartes did, the new opportunity of skepticism made possible by the nominalist rejection of forms and formal causality.
 
page 11
 
 
 Accordingly, Thomists and other critics of Ockham have tended to present traditional realism, with its forms or natures, as the solution to the modern problem of knowledge. It seems to me that it does not quite get to the heart of the matter. A genuine realist should see “forms” not merely as a solution to a distinctly
modern
problem of knowledge, but as part of an
alternative conception
of knowledge, a conception that is not so much desired and awaiting defense, as forgotten and so no longer desired. Characterized by forms, reality had an intrinsic intelligibility, not just in each of its parts but as a whole. With forms as causes, there are interconnections between different parts of an intelligible world, indeed there are overlapping matrices of intelligibility in the world, making possible an ascent from the more particular, posterior, and mundane to the more universal, primary, and noble.
 
 In short, the appeal to forms or natures does not just help account for the possibility of trustworthy access to facts, it makes possible a notion of
wisdom
, traditionally conceived as an
ordering grasp of reality
. Preoccupied with overcoming Cartesian skepticism, it often seems as if philosophy’s highest aspiration is merely to secure some veridical cognitive events. Rarely sought is a more robust goal: an authoritative and life-altering
wisdom
. Notice: even if contemporary philosophers came to a consensus about how to overcome Cartesian
doubt
 and secure
certainty
, it is not clear that this would do anything to repair the fragmentation and democratization of the disciplines, or to make it more plausible that there could be an ordered hierarchy of sciences, with a highest science, acknowledged as queen of the rest—whether we call it first philosophy, or metaphysics, or wisdom.
 
 This brings me, finally, to knowledge of “things divine.” Nominalism clearly has consequences for theology. When it comes to particular doctrines of traditional Christian theology, nominalism, rigorously applied, obscures or renders incoherent many traditional propositions—about the relation of nature and grace, divine and human action, the transubstantiation of the Eucharist, justification and sanctification, the divine nature, etc. But even prescinding from such particular doctrines, think about what nominalism does for the very idea of Christian faith. Christian faith once could be compelling because it could claim to be the true  wisdom, in a world that already imagined that true wisdom might be possible. Today  we find Christian faith marginalized as a matter of private belief—even among otherwise perfectly sincere Christian believers! Christian faith offers itself as the  way—a way of life and a way of knowing—indeed, a way of life
because
 it is a way of knowing, a kind of insight, theoretical and practical, into the intelligible order of things. Faith and theology will necessarily appear markedly different in a world 
 
page 12
 
 
which cannot even conceive of what it would be to desire or possess an architectonic and life-transforming wisdom. Just as forms and their active power secured intrinsic connections between causes and their effects, between agents and ends, and between mind and reality, so they also secured intrinsic connections between what the mind grasps by reason and what the mind grasps by faith. Ockham, the father of nominalism, is indeed a crucial figure in the history of the separation of faith and reason, not because he denied that there was truth, even truth about God, but because he deprived us of the classical means of accounting for the unity of truth, including of truth about God.
17
 
 So Richard Weaver was wrong. Or rather, Richard Weaver was right, but for the  wrong reasons. He correctly saw that Ockham’s logical innovation was “a crucial event in the history of Western culture… issue[ing] now in modern decadence.” But Ockham’s innovation was not so straightforward a move as denying that universals exist. Rather, it was a subtle, seemingly discrete, but ultimately much more insidious decision to revise an account of mind and language by refusing to include intelligible natures and formal causality, the conceptual lynchpin of the entire classical and medieval heritage. The fact that this loss remains so hard for us to see and to accurately explain is itself evidence of how momentous it is, and how much work of recovery we have yet to do.
 
 
Endnotes:
 
1
 Delivered as an address to the 4
th
 Annual Meeting of the Ciceronian Society, Mount St. Mary’s University, March 27, 2014.
2
 Étienne Gilson,
The Unity of Philosophical Experience
 (New York: Scribners, 1937), 86.
3
 Richard Weaver,
Ideas Have Consequences
 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1948), 2
 ‒ 
3.
4
 Heiko Oberman,
The Harvest of Medieval Theology: Gabriel Biel and Late Medieval Nominalism
(Cambridge, MA, 1963).
5
 Quoted in Emmet Kennedy, “The Tangled History of Secularism,”
Modern Age
 42 (2000): 33.
6
 Brad Gregory,
The Unintended Reformation: How a Religious Revolution Secularized Society
 (Cambridge, MA: Belknap, 2012).
7
 Weaver,
Ideas Have Consequences
, 3.
8
 Richard McKeon,
Selections from Medieval Philosophers
, vol. 2 (New York: Scribner’s, 1958), 352


9
 Weaver,
Ideas Have Consequences
 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007), 3.
10
 See Thomas Aquinas, ch. 3 in
De Ente et Essentia
.
11
 William of Ockham,
Summa Logicae
, in
Philosophic Classics, Volume II: Medieval Philosophy
, ed. Forrest E. Baird and Walter Kaufmann, 4th ed. (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2002), 474, line 10.
12
 See Porphyry’s
Isagoge
.
13
 See Peter Abelard,
Glosses on Porphyry
.
14
 William of Ockham,
Summa Logicae
 (St. Bonaventure N.Y.: The Franciscan Institute, 1974), 169.
15
 William of Ockham,
Summula Philosophiae Naturalis
 (St. Bonaventure N.Y.: The Franciscan Institute, 1984), 270.
16
 See Gyula Klima, “Ontological Alternatives vs. Alternative Semantics in Medieval Philosophy.”
S. European Journal for Semiotic Studies
 3 (1991): 587-618.
17
 See Alfred Freddoso, “Ockham on Faith and Reason,” in Paul V. Spade,
The Cambridge Companion to Ockham
 (Cambridge University Press, 1999), pp. 326-349 [https://www.academia.edu/36162636/What_s_Wrong_with_Ockham_Reassessing_the_Role_of_Nominalism_in_the_Dissolution_of_the_West]

 

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