William of Ockham (Guillelmus De Ockham) Conception of God and Philosophy of BeingJune 27, 2021
Ockham took a stand against Duns Scotus’ approach to the attributes of God with the almost conventional proofs of God before him.
According to Ockham, who proceeds more or less on an Aristotelian line, the mind cannot reach the knowledge of God by abstraction. For, as in Aristotle, the primary object of the mind is the nature of material objects, that is, their form. Duns Scotus understood God as “the absolute supreme, perfect, unique and eternal, efficient and final cause of things” (Maurer, 1982:, 269; Noone: 2006: 707). However, according to Ockham, the human mind is incapable of perceiving a being with such characteristics. Because God is not a material object.
Three main features stand out in Duns Scotus’ God Proof. These features include 1) a first effective cause; 2) an ultimate cause, and 3) a nature with perfect properties. Of course, within each of these features, there are sub-evidences that there is only one God in the universe, with divine infinity, which is one of the attributes of God.
As will be remembered, Anselmus stated that the proposition “God exists” was self-evident. However, according to Ockham, the proposition “God exists” is not an explicit proposition for a person living in the physical world. Still, Ockham Ordinatio II acknowledges in 9 that God “can be perceived by us through certain common concepts attributable to him and to others.” God is called the supreme wisdom by all. In this context, we can derive a concept of wisdom by abstracting at various levels from things other than God. This concept will then move us to a more complex concept of wisdom, which becomes a attribute that can be attributed to God. Yet even this complex concept cannot be derived directly from the absolute reality of God. In this respect, according to Ockham, propositions about theology are only objective in that they point to divine reality. Thus, Ockham, unlike Anselmus, is not directly the Divine essence of a human concept of God, that is, the essence of God; but he thinks that it contains mental representations of Him in human beings. Since these representations are of course not concepts directly derived from God, it is clear that they do not adequately reflect the divine essence (Aspell, 1999: 345).
We mentioned above that Ockham criticized Duns Scotus regarding his understanding of God. This criticism basically consists of the following: According to Ockham, what Duns Scotus is trying to do is to go backwards while presenting an argument. This regression (an important feature in Thomas Aquinas’ Proof of God.) is nothing more than a succession of a certain set of similarities. However, outside this series is the influential cause (e.g., the highest good), which is thought to be the cause of all the individualities (e.g., good things) in this whole series. To put it in other words, what Scotus is doing here is to suggest that something outside of the series is influencing that series when going backwards in an argument.
According to Ockham, proving such an external existence is difficult for many reasons. Everything that exists in the world needs a certain help to maintain its existence. When the activities of beings are observed, we can say that there is a protective reason that keeps their existence under protection and thus relieves them to turn to their goals. Thus, according to Ockham, determining protective and conserving reasons instead of productive or influential reasons is a method that will more easily convince human thought (Maurer, 1982: 269).
Ockham, in his work titled Questions on Physics (Quaestiones in Libros Physicorum), makes it clear that God is a protector. According to him, it is doubtful for anyone to show that God is the maker (creator) of things. On the contrary, the existence of God becomes more evident when the existence of things is preserved. Ockham attributes this to the fact that after something is produced, the producer of that thing does not have to continue to exist. Conversely, if anything needs protection, then its guardian must be at work at all times. What protects this thing may be protected by something else. However, according to Ockham, this situation cannot go backwards indefinitely; then it is inevitable that there will be a first protector who is not protected, and this is none other than God (Noone, 2006: 708). Otherwise, we would be talking about eternally existing protective causes, which is impossible (Maurer, 1982: 269).
It is interesting that Ockham does not see God as an influencing cause, as earlier philosophers did. According to him, the human mind makes God an influencer.