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August 31st, 2017

Friar Billy Ockham and the Blooming Obvious

We’ve recently returned from a visit to our families in England.

Our first stop was in Surrey, which is a most underrated county. We were in Horsley, between Guildford and Leatherhead. It’s only about 25 miles from Waterloo station, but in delightful wooded country on the North Downs. Just 100 yards from my sister’s house is a forested area, the Sheep Leas, where there is a viewing platform from where you can make out the taller buildings of London, including the Shard. They say you can see St Pauls as well, but I couldn’t make it out.

The next village to Horsley is Ockham, which has a lot to answer for. William of Ockham, a 14th-century Franciscan, was an advocate of Nominalism, the philosophical system said to have prepared the fertile soil for Martin Luther. Indeed, Luther once said that Ockham was the only  scholastic who was any good. As I’m not a philosopher, I’m not qualified to give you a proper definition of Nominalism, but I think it means that ideas don’t have any real valid existence. (Any philosophers out there, please correct me if I’m wrong.) The contrary  view, favoured by most Catholic philosophers, is Realism.

Image result for william of ockham

Er, isn’t that just Blooming Obvious?

Once on the RTE newsroom notice board I put up a flyer for Doris Manly’s Ballintrillick Review, which she described as “a magazine for Catholic Realists”. The station’s Economics Correspondent, an ardent admirer of Mao Tse-tung, scrawled  the following across my notice: “How can you be a Realist and a Catholic?”  He may have known a lot about Marxian economics, but he hadn’t a clue about either Realism or Catholicism. He thought the latter was just a crutch for brainwashed people who  couldn’t face reality. I think much the same about Marxism.

One comment

  1. Nominalism is effectively a kind of scepticism. A Realist says that you can start from the senses, and using your mind know reality. Even if you can’t know it exhaustively (there’s always more to learn…) you can truly know things. A Nominalist says that we use names to cover disparate things; even if we use the same word, we never really know that we are talking about the same thing. We don’t really know anything, not properly. So, yes, that fits Luther’s fideism, reliance on faith to the exclusion of reason.

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