William of Ockham (Guillelmus De Ockham) Knowledge and Universal UnderstandingJune 27, 2021
Ockham developed an understanding of knowledge in line with the needs of science in his time.
According to him, knowledge is divided into two: compound information and non-composite information. Examples of non-composite knowledge are “Socrates”, “man” or “white”. An example of compound knowledge is a proposition consisting of terms, as in the statement “Socrates is a white person”. So compound knowledge is the knowledge of a proposition.
According to Ockham, non-composite knowledge is divided into two:
Abstracting Knowledge (Maurer, 1982: 280).
Human cognition begins with a direct experience of individual phenomena. These individual phenomena are not only in the physical world; but it also has properties that can be experienced in the mind. In other words, according to Ockham, a kind of knowledge emerges as a result of experiencing audible objects through the senses. The situation that begins the emergence of this knowledge is “sense intuition” or “perception”. This sense intuition or perception is followed by mental intuition regarding the same object. Therefore, according to Ockham, there are two channels for the formation of what we call natural knowledge. The first of these is the intuition (or perception) of physical, i.e. audible objects, and the second is the intuition (or perception) of psychological activity (Maurer, 1982: 282; Aspell, 1999: 332).
According to Ockham, intuitive knowledge of anything gives information about whether that thing exists or not. So much so that if that thing exists, then our mind immediately makes a judgment that it exists and clearly knows that it exists. The guarantee of such concrete judgments is the evidence provided by intuition (Aspell, 1999: 332).
So the type of knowledge we call intuitive knowledge is nothing but the first experiential knowledge of individual things. On the other hand, the object of abstract knowledge is the universal. However, according to Ockham, not only the universal; but we can also testify that the particulars are also known in an abstract way. There is an important point that Ockham puts forward, unlike Duns Scotus: intuitive and abstract knowledge cannot be separated from each other according to the differences in their objects (Maurer, 1982: 282).
According to Duns Scotus, the object of intuitive knowledge is that which exists and is given to the subject. The object of abstractive knowledge, on the other hand, does not have to exist. Ockham objects to this. According to him, there is intuitive knowledge of something that does not exist. Since God is an omnipotent existence, according to Ockham, we can bring to us an image of a star in the sky that never existed, and we can make it the object of our intuitive knowledge, as if we were seeing it when it actually did not exist. According to Ockham, it is also impossible for God to show us an object that contradicts himself. It is inconceivable that he would make a mythological creature that never existed in nature the object of our intuitive knowledge. According to Ockham, if God were to do such a thing, then the knowledge of the intuition of the non-existent would emerge and that would be something that did not exist (Maurer, 1982: 283; Aspell, 1999: 333).
Underlying Ockham’s insistence on the approach that non-existent things can also be objects of intuitive knowledge lies the question of the possibility of a science such as theology. It is clear that existences such as God, angels, and ideas are not individual and pointable. In addition to this, it is obvious that the mentioned structures were also talked about and that knowledge was gained in many respects. As can be seen, all of these existences are universal structures, and Ockham’s importance is more prominent in his questioning of universal structures. According to him, universals are located in the mind. For, according to Ockham, who also followed Aristotle, all individual existences exist outside the mind.
Ockham’s approach to universals, who said that thinkers who came before him, such as Thomas Aquinas and Duns Scotus in the Middle Ages, followed an average realism, is determined as nominalism (nominalism). Ockham answers the questions asked by Porphyrios in the Isagoge regarding universals: “Generes and species do not exist outside the mind; they are only in the mind; for they are orientations or concepts that have been shaped by the mind; they explain and signify the essence of things, but they are not the essence of things; Likewise, the sign is not what it signifies. They are not parts of things, nothing more than a word that is not part of what it signifies. They serve as predicates to things, but that doesn’t mean they are on their own; indeed, when a genus is ascribed to a species, genera and species do not stand for themselves, not simply because they stand for something personally; they only replace what they signify.” (Çotuksöken & Babur, 1989: 307).
Ockham argued that universals are identical with nouns or terms. According to Ockham, terms can take three different forms:
Written (Maurer, 1982: 277).
Terms are elements of a proposition