WILLIAM OF OCCAM

“Only faith gives us access to theological truths. The ways of God are not open to reason, for God has freely chosen to create a world and establish a way of salvation within it apart from any necessary laws that human logic or rationality can uncover."

WILLIAM OF OCCAM

William of Occam (also spelled Ockham) significantly influenced medieval thought in the fourteenth century. He is well known for his scientific principle called Occam’s razor. He helped advance society in various ways through logic, theology, and philosophy. 

 

William of Occam thought that logic was vital to understanding every aspect of life. In the “Prefatory Letter” to his Summa of Logic, he wrote, “For logic is the most useful tool of all the arts. Without it no science can be fully known. It is not worn out by repeated use, after the manner of material tools, but rather admits of continual growth through the diligent exercise of any other science. For just as a mechanic who lacks a complete knowledge of his tool gains a fuller [knowledge] by using it, so one who is educated in the firm principles of logic, while he painstakingly devotes his labor to the other sciences, acquires at the same time a greater skill at this art.”

 

William of Occam came up with a principle known as Occam’s razor to help with problem-solving. Occam’s razor states, “Don’t multiply entities beyond necessity.” Essentially, the principle states that when presented with competing hypotheses that predict the same thing, one should select the solution with the fewest assumptions. This principle prefers simplicity in the scientific method, acting as a guide to testing hypotheses.

CENTERED ON CHRIST

At age 23, William of Occam began studying theology and joined the Franciscan religious order of the Catholic Church. In all things, William of Occam pursued God as the ultimate source of knowledge and truth. He did not support the idea of limiting God by trying to understand Him through science or logic. 

 

William of Occam believed that faith is the ultimate source of truth. He once stated, “Only faith gives us access to theological truths. The ways of God are not open to reason, for God has freely chosen to create a world and establish a way of salvation within it apart from any necessary laws that human logic or rationality can uncover."

 

Additionally, in his book “Quodlibetal Questions,” William of Occam stated, “In order to demonstrate the statement of faith that we formulate about God, what we would need for the central concept is a simple cognition of the divine nature in itself—what someone who sees God has. Nevertheless, we cannot have this kind of cognition in our present state.”

Ockham engraving

Ockham engraving

Alexander of Hales (left bottom), Jon Duns Scotus (center bottom), William Ockham (right bottom), Angelo da Clareno (center left) and John Gennings (center right, 17th century

Frater Occham Iste

Frater Occham Iste

Sketch labelled "frater Occham iste", from a manuscript of Ockham's Summa Logicae, 1341

William of Ockham

William of Ockham

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