William Of Occam, 1287-1347 England, France, Bavaria, pioneer of science and faith

Hi Max,

Have you heard of ‘Occam’s razor’? The ‘guiding’ principle of modern science that says that the answer with the fewer assumptions is usually the best answer. Bold and beautiful. Some people use it against ‘the God assumption’, but it came from a Franciscan friar! He is another in the series of pioneers of science who were also people of faith. Cheers.

William Of Occam 1287-1347 England, France, Bavaria

was an English Franciscan friar and scholastic philosopher and theologian, who is believed to have been born in Ockham, a small village in Surrey.[1] He is considered to be one of the major figures of medieval thought and was at the centre of the major intellectual and political controversies of the fourteenth century. He is commonly known for Occam’s razor, the methodological principle that bears his name, and also produced significant works on logic, physics, and theology. In the Church of England, his day of commemoration is 10 April.[2]

One important contribution that he made to modern science and modern intellectual culture was ‘efficient reasoning’ with the principle of parsimony in explanation and theory building that came to be known as Occam’s Razor. This maxim, as interpreted by Bertrand Russell,[14] states that if one can explain a phenomenon without assuming this or that hypothetical entity, there is no ground for assuming it, i.e. that one should always opt for an explanation in terms of the fewest possible causes, factors, or variables. He formulates it as: "For nothing ought to be posited without a reason given, unless it is self-evident (literally, known through itself) or known by experience or proved by the authority of Sacred Scripture."[16] For Ockham, the only truly necessary entity is God; everything else is contingent. His scepticism to which his ontological parsimony request leads appears in his doctrine that human reason can prove neither the immortality of the soul nor the existence, unity, and infinity of God. These truths, he teaches, are known to us by revelation alone.

Ockham wrote a great deal on natural philosophy, including a long commentary on Aristotle’s Physics. In the theory of knowledge, Ockham distinguished between intuitive and abstract cognition; intuitive cognition depends on the existence or non existence of the object, whereas abstractive cognition "abstracts" the object from the existence predicate.

Ockham is also increasingly being recognized as an important contributor to the development of Western constitutional ideas, especially those of government with limited responsibility. He was one of the first medieval authors to advocate a form of church/state separation, and was important for the early development of the notion of property rights. His political ideas are regarded as "natural" or "secular", holding for a secular absolutism. The views on monarchical accountability espoused in his Dialogus (written between 1332 and 1347)[17] greatly influenced the Conciliar movement and assisted in the emergence of liberal democratic ideologies

It is vain to do with more what can be done with fewer.


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