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Other Important Medieval Philosophers

How was John Duns Scotus' work different from Thomas Aquinas'?

John Duns Scotus (1266-1308) was not opposed to Aquinas (1224-1274), but he brought St. Augustine's (354-430) thought into philosophical and theological conversations that were largely dominated by interest in Aristotle. Duns Scotus also drew on Avicenna's (c. 980-1037) notion of unified being in his idea of God as Infinite Being, who had appeared to Moses as "I am who am."

John Duns Scotus helped broaden philosophical debate after Thomas Aquinas by reminding others of the work of St. Augustine and Avicenna (Art Archive).

John Duns Scotus helped broaden philosophical debate after Thomas Aquinas by reminding others of the work of St. Augustine and Avicenna (Art Archive).

Albertus Magnus was a theologian and philosopher who favored Catholic doctrine over the ideas of Aristotle (Art Archive).

Albertus Magnus was a theologian and philosopher who favored Catholic doctrine over the ideas of Aristotle (Art Archive).

Duns Scotus lectured at Oxford, Paris, and cologne, where he taught that God had created each individual being with a unique nature or "haecceity." Duns Scotus thought it was the will and not the intellect that is rational, because the will can will either one thing or its opposite. The will has both an intellectual appetite for happiness and self-actualization and a desire to love things based on their inherent value. These aspects of the will incline us to love God for our own good and also because he is God. Duns Scotus introduced a new idea of "intellectual intuition," a kind of awareness that enables us to be certain of our own thoughts, and in the afterlife, be in the direct presence of God.

Who was Albertus Magnus?

Albertus Magnus (1200-1280) was a German Dominican theologian who was also a dedicated scholar of philosophy. As master of theology at the University of Paris, he was a member of the commission that condemned the Jewish holy book, the Talmud. His philosophical contributions consisted mainly of Aristotelian commentaries; and where Aristotle disagreed with catholic doctrine, Magnus corrected him and substituted different accounts. He relied on astrology in his view of the physical world, believing, for instance, that when the influence of Jupiter and Saturn increased the result was great fire, whereas when this influence decreased, there would be floods.

Who was William of Ockam?

William of Ockam (c. 1280-c. 1349), known as the "More than Subtle Doctor," was a Franciscan monk. He studied theology at Oxford and developed a strong expertise in logic, which may have led to his foundational empirical insights. Empiricism, as a doctrine independent of theology, was not widely accepted by medieval scholastic philosophers, so neither was the principle that came to be known as Ockam's Razor: "Plurality is not to be assumed without necessity." In its modern form in science, Ockam's Razor is a rule for parsimony and simplicity in the construction of theories, and against commitment to more entities than are strictly necessary for the explanation of data or observations.

Ockam's empiricism also applied to universals, and he rejected all claims to their reality. The only real things, according to Ockam, were existent particulars. He held that universals were the names of concepts, a doctrine called conceptualism. He asserted that there was no willed causation in nature, which entailed that even God could not interfere in physical causal laws. Although Ockam did believe that God could intervene in human cognition.

How well were Ockam's ideas first received?

John Lutterell, former chancellor of Oxford University, extracted over 50 heretical claims from Ockam's writings and sent them to Pope John XXII (1249-1334). Ockam was summoned to a papal commission in Avignon, where French cardinals had moved the papacy from Rome. (This relocation, which lasted from 1309 to 1377, was known as the "Babylonian captivity" of the papacy.) Fifty-one of Ockam's offending theses were censured after two years, although no charges were brought against him. However, while he was in Avignon, Ockham conducted his own investigations of papal concessions to the Franciscans about collective poverty. He concluded that John XXII had contradicted these prior concessions in his own opposition to clerical poverty and that he was "no true pope."

When Ockam heard that Pope John XXII intended to condemn his written judgment and defense of clerical poverty, he fled to the protection of the antipapal regent in Bavaria. While he was there, the pope excommunicated him in absentia. The Black Plague was at that time rampant in Bavaria and William of Ockam is thought to have died of it.

 
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