Classics and Religious Studies


Date of this Version



Published in Franciscan Studies, 55 (1998), pp. 105-120. Published by The Franciscan Institute at Saint Bonaventure University;


Can we take a medieval metaphysician out of his scholastic robes and force him into a metaphysical apparatus as seemingly foreign to him as a tuxedo might be? I believe that the terminological and conceptual differences that appear to prevent this can be overcome in many cases, and that one case most amenable to this project is the medieval problem of universals. After all, the problem for the medieval is, at base, the same as it is for contemporary philosophers, as for Plato: How do we account, ontologically, for many tokens of the same type? If one object has the property x and another, distinct object has the "same" property x, how to explain the apparent "sameness” of the property x? Is x one property or two? I will argue that William Ockham's ontology, when considered in light of some contemporary philosophical thought, is remarkably fresh and vital, able seriously to be considered as a tenable position, so long as we are clear about what Ockham is saying. This clarity is no easy task, since so much of what Ockham said is rooted in an Aristotelian metaphysics most philosophers have, rightly or wrongly, abandoned. Our discussion will be an ontologically basic one; we will get clear on what Ockham believes there is, and how he believes there can be many tokens of the same type. A more detailed consideration of his logic of terms is precluded by the elementary nature of the discussion.

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