The Life and Works of William of Ockham (Guillelmus De Ockham)June 27, 2021
William of Ockham joined the Franciscan sect at an early age. It is believed that he studied theology at Oxford University from 1309 to 1321, but did not achieve his master’s degree (university graduation at the time). For this reason, he was later nicknamed “Respected initiator” or “Respected novice” (although known as the invincible, unconquerable doctor).
It was during this time that he began to work on anti-religious ideas. Many philosophers believed that Ockham had been summoned to the Pope’s office in Avignon in 1324, on the grounds of heresy. Against this idea, it is claimed that he was recently appointed as a professor of philosophy to the Franciscan Church by George Knysh, but could not start his duty until 1327 due to disciplinary problems. Ockham found himself embroiled in another argument when a theological commission asked for a review of “Commentary on the Sentences.”
William of Ockham died of the plague in 1348, during the Great Plague that swept across Europe.
It cannot be said that we know much about the life of Guillelmus de Ockham. Ockham, the most influential and great philosopher of the fourteenth century, is also one of the most important logicians. He was born in 1285 in the village of Ockham (pronounced Okkam) in the Surrey region near London. In about 1309, as a young man studying at Oxford University, he entered the Franciscan order. The works of Duns Scotus were held in high esteem at that time. He completed his studies at Oxford in 1315 and lectured first on the Bible (1315-1317) and then on the Sententiae (1317-1319). In the four years that followed this four-year period, he produced no work. He had discussions on some subjects and attended religious services. The most remarkable point in Ockham’s life is that such a successful and influential philosopher could not get a chair at any university. According to historians, the reason for this situation was the excess of people waiting in line in front of Ockham. Thus, despite having completed all the necessary formalities, Ockham never received the title of magister in theology (a kind of master’s degree that has now lost its meaning at that time). It is said that John Lutterel, who was the rector of the university and accused Ockham of heresy, was also influential in this.
Unable to obtain the chair he expected after completing his education, Ockham taught at the studium generale in London and wrote various philosophical works until 1324. All of these works were of a non-political nature. In 1323, Lutterel handed over a file containing Ockham’s 56 heretical theses to the Pope and accused him of heresy. Ockham’s 51 theses were censored, as he went to Avignon, where the Pope was, to defend himself; but none of them were formally convicted. While in Avignon, however, he found himself in the middle of a quarrel between the Papacy and the Franciscan order. He took refuge with the Holy Roman German Emperor Louis of Bavaria, whose reign was not recognized by the Pope, together with the members of the sect, who escaped the Pope’s wrath. Here he wrote many political articles against the Pope. Ockham is alleged to have said the following words to the Emperor, although it is not certain: “Emperor, defend me with your sword; I will defend you with my pen.” Judging by his tombstone, he died on April 10, 1347. His death was most likely due to the plague (Aspell, 1999: 317-318).
As far as we know, Ockham wrote his philosophical and theological works in Oxford, where he stayed between 1317-1323 and in Avignon, where he stayed between 1324-1328 to answer accusations against him. He wrote his polemical and political writings in Munich, where he stayed between 1330-1347, as we mentioned above. Among the works of logic, the most important are: Expositio Super Librum Porphyrii (Explanation on the Book of Porphyrios), Expositio Super Librum Praedicamentorum (Explanation on the Book of Predicates – This book contains discussions and comments on Aristotle’s Categories, that is, substance and the nine accidents), Summa Totius Logicae (The Sum of All Logic – In this work Ockham writes various views and theses on terms, propositions and arguments), Compendium Logicae (Book of Concise Information about Logic).
Ockham’s other works include Expositio in Libros Physicorum (Explanation of Physics Books), Summulae in Libros Physicorum (Summary of Physics Books), Quaestiones in Libros Physicorum (Questions on Physics Books), Tractatus de Praedestinatione et de Praesturiscientia Deientius (Inquiry into Destiny and Future Possible Things and God’s Foreknowledge), Quaestiones Variae (Miscellaneous Questions).
Prepared by: Sociologist Ömer YILDIRIM
Source: Omer YILDIRIM’s Personal Lecture Notes. Atatürk University Sociology Department 1st Year “Introduction to Philosophy” and 2nd, 3rd, 4th Grade “History of Philosophy” Lecture Notes