The Priority of Knowing Singular ThingsJune 27, 2021
According to William of Ockham, there are two arguments about whether singular things take precedence over knowing. According to one of these arguments, singulars are not prioritized in terms of being known, because it is the first known universal (William:1990, 27). According to the second argument, the singular is the first known.
In considering these arguments, William of Ockham begins by saying that ‘singular thing’ does not refer to everything numerically unique, because ‘everything’ is, in this sense, singular. It would be appropriate not to use the term “singular thing” here; because something does not both numerically indicate a single and is not a natural or conventional sign. A singular thing is neither a written statement nor a concept, it is something that is not a common sign (William: 1990, 28).
Second, there is no separate cognition that allows us to know singular things. Because in a sense, every universal cognition is cognition of a singular thing. This kind of universal cognition gives knowledge of a singular thing or singular things. Rather, our research refers to knowing something singular in a convenient and simple way (William: 1990, 28). This is a non-signal, non-mind thing that is first known by knowing in a convenient and simple way. Only individual things are known through an act. This act will be either an abstraction or an intuitive act. In fact, this act is an act of intuitive cognition of a singular thing simply and appropriately. It becomes clear that this act precedes the abstracting act. Because cognition abstracting a singular thing presupposes cognition of the same object intuitively and vice versa is impossible (William: 1990, 28).
But sometimes, when a person looks at something from a distance, he can make a judgment about what he sees with the help of his sense of perception. This judgment will be about the existence of that thing. In this case, it is clear that abstracting cognition is in question first. It is clear that abstract cognition is knowing what is. Abstractive cognition is not about a single thing, it is a universal cognition. This type of cognition is one that is common to more than one thing (William: 1990, 29). No simple abstractive cognition is about a single thing, so in the case of a man on the other hand, knowing that man is not about knowing what he is first, it is just knowing a being. Therefore, this kind of abstract cognition is a cognition related to the universal, not to the knowledge of a single thing (William: 1990, 29).
From this it seems that when intuitive cognition and abstractive cognition are involved, the same act happens, and abstractive cognition precedes intuitive cognition. However, according to William of Oekham, there is a difference between these two acts: Intuitive cognition is related to causality, abstractive cognition is related to similarity, and intuitive cognition precedes abstractive cognition. It seems then that intuitive cognition, in the example of the man from afar, is perceiving existence in general, while abstractive cognition is about the concept of a being (William: 1990, 29).
A simple abstract cognition is not about anything singular. This cognition may be relevant to something compound. For example, the concept of gender can never be handled in isolation from an individual. A judgment can be made that he is an animal, as in the case of the man from afar. because people already have the concept of ‘animal’, which is a breed concept. Therefore, through the meaning of this concept, it is a question of knowing that thing. If people do not have a genus concept of ‘animal’, they may judge what they see as just a thing (William: 1990, 32).
A universal is not in the first place as a source of cognition.
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 (Ömer YILDIRIM); Open Education Philosophy Textbook; Hacettepe University Journal of the Faculty of Letters Vol: 18 / Issue: 1 / pp. 165-186