Franciscans, on the whole, were less impeccably orthodox than Dominicans. Between the two orders there was keen rivalry, and the Franciscans were not inclined to accept the authority of St Thomas. The three most important of Franciscan philosophers were Roger Bacon, Duns Scotus and William of Occam. St Bonaventura and Matthew of Aquasparta also call for notice.
Roger Bacon (ca. 1214–ca. 1294) was not greatly admired in his own day, but in modern times has been praised far beyond his deserts. He was not so much a philosopher, in the narrow sense, as a man of universal learning with a passion for mathematics and science. Science, in his day, was mixed up with alchemy, and thought to be mixed up with black magic; Bacon was constantly getting into trouble through being suspected of heresy and magic. In 1257, St Bonaventura, the General of the Franciscan order, placed him under surveillance in Paris, and forbade him to publish. Nevertheless, while this prohibition was still in force, the papal legate in England, Guy de Foulques, commanded him, contrary orders notwithstanding, to write out his philosophy for the benefit of the Pope. He therefore produced in a very short time three books, Opus Majus, Opus Minus, and Opus Tertium. These seem to have produced a good impression, and in 1268 he was allowed to return to Oxford, from which he had been removed to a sort of imprisonment in Paris. However, nothing could teach him caution. He made a practice of contemptuous criticism of all the most learned of his contemporaries; in particular, he maintained that the translators from Greek and Arabic were grossly incompetent. In 1271, he wrote a book called Compendium Studii Philosophiae, in which he attacked clerical ignorance. This did nothing to add to his popularity among his colleagues, and in 1278 his books were condemned by the General of the Order, and he was put in prison for fourteen years. In 1292 he was liberated, but died not long afterwards.
He was encyclopaedic in his learning, but not systematic. Unlike most philosophers of the time, he valued experiment highly, and illustrated its importance by the theory of the rainbow. He wrote well on geography; Columbus read this part of his work, and was influenced by it. He was a good mathematician; he quotes the sixth and ninth books of Euclid. He treated of perspective, following Arabic sources. Logic he thought a useless study; alchemy, on the other hand, he valued enough to write on it.
To give an idea of his scope and method, I will summarize some parts of the Opus Majus.
There are, he says, four causes of ignorance: First, the example of frail and unsuited authority. (The work being written for the Pope, he is careful to say that this does not include the Church.) Second, the influence of custom. Third, the opinion of the unlearned crowd. (This, one gathers, includes all his contemporaries except himself.) Fourth, the concealment of one's ignorance in a display of apparent wisdom. From these four plagues, of which the fourth is the worst, spring all human evils.
In supporting an opinion, it is a mistake to argue from the wisdom of our ancestors, or from customs, or from common belief. In support of his view he quotes Seneca, Cicero, Avicenna, Averroes, Adelard of Bath, St Jerome, and St Chrysostom. These authorities, he seems to think, suffice to prove that one should not respect authority.
His respect for Aristotle is great, but not unbounded. 'Only Aristotle, together with his followers, has been called philosopher in the judgment of all wise men.' Like almost all his contemporaries, he uses the designation, 'The Philosopher', when he speaks of Aristotle, but even the Stagyrite, we are told, did not come to the limit of human wisdom. After him, Avicenna was 'the prince and leader of philosophy', though he did not fully understand the rainbow, because he did not recognize its final cause, which, according to Genesis, is the dissipation of aqueous vapour. (Nevertheless, when Bacon comes to treat of the rainbow, he quotes Avicenna with great admiration.) Every now and then he says something that has a flavour of orthodoxy, such as that the only perfect wisdom is in the Scriptures, as explained by canon law and philosophy. But he sounds more sincere when he says that there is no objection to getting knowledge from the heathen; in addition to Avicenna and Averroes, he quotes Alfarabi1 very often, and Albumazar2 and others from time to time. Albumazar is quoted to prove that mathematics was known before the Flood and by Noah and his sons; this, I suppose, is a sample
of what we may learn from infidels. Bacon praises mathematics as the sole (unrevealed) source of certitude, and as needed for astronomy and astrology.
Bacon follows Averroes in holding that the active intellect is a substance separated from the soul in essence. He quotes various eminent divines, among them Grosseteste, Bishop of Lincoln, as also supporting this opinion, which is contrary to that of St Thomas. Apparently contrary passages in Aristotle, he says, are due to mistranslation. He does not quote Plato at first hand, but at second hand through Cicero, or at third hand through the Arabs on Porphyry. Not that he has much respect for Porphyry, whose doctrine on universals he calls 'childish'.
In modern times Bacon has been praised because he valued experiment, as a source of knowledge, more than argument. Certainly his interests and his way of dealing with subjects are very different from those of the typical scholastics. His encyclopaedic tendencies are like those of the Arabic writers, who evidently influenced him more profoundly than they did most other Christian philosophers. They, like him, were interested in science, and believed in magic and astrology, whereas Christians thought magic wicked and astrology a delusion. He is astonishing because he differs so widely from other medieval Christian philosophers, but he had little influence in his own time, and was not, to my mind, so scientific as is sometimes thought. English writers used to say that he invented gunpowder, but this, of course, is untrue.
St Bonaventura (1221–1274), who, as General of the Franciscan order, forbade Bacon to publish, was a man of a totally different kind. He belonged to the tradition of St Anselm, whose ontological argument he upheld. He saw in the new Aristotelianism a fundamental opposition to Christianity. He believed in Platonic ideas, which, however, only God knows perfectly. In his writings Augustine is quoted constantly, but one finds no quotations from Arabs, and few from pagan antiquity.
Matthew of Aquasparta (ca. 1235–1302) was a follower of Bonaventura, but less untouched by the new philosophy. He was a Franciscan, and became a cardinal; he opposed St Thomas from an Augustinian point of view. But to him Aristotle has become 'The Philosopher'; he is quoted constantly. Avicenna is frequently mentioned; St Anselm is quoted with respect, as is the pseudo-Dionysius; but the chief authority is St Augustine. We must, he says, find a middle way between Plato and Aristotle. Plato's ideas are 'utterly erroneous'; they establish wisdom, but not knowledge. On the other hand, Aristotle is also wrong; he establishes knowledge, but not wisdom. Our knowledge—so it is concluded—is caused by both lower and higher things, by external objects and ideal reasons.
Duns Scotus (ca. 1270–1308) carried on the Franciscan controversy with Aquinas. He was born in Scotland or Ulster, became a Franciscan at Oxford, and spent his later years at Paris. Against St Thomas, he defended the Immacu late Conception, and in this the University of Paris, and ultimately the whole Catholic Church, agreed with him. He is Augustinian, but in a less extreme form than Bonaventura, or even Matthew of Aquasparta; his differences from St Thomas, like theirs, come of a larger admixture of Platonism (via Augustine) in his philosophy.
He discusses, for example, the question 'Whether any sure and pure truth can be known naturally by the understanding of the wayfarer without the special illumination of the uncreated light?' And he argues that it cannot. He supports this view, in his opening argument, solely by quotations from St Augustine; the only difficulty he finds in Romans i, 20: 'The invisible things of God, understood by means of those things that have been made, are clearly comprehended from the creation of the world.'
Duns Scotus was a moderate realist. He believed in free will and had leanings towards Pelagianism. He held that being is no different from essence. He was mainly interested in evidence, i.e. the kinds of things that can be known without proof. Of these there are three kinds: (1) principles known by themselves, (2) things known by experience, (3) our own actions. But without divine illumination we can know nothing.
Most Franciscans followed Duns Scotus rather than Aquinas.
Duns Scotus held that, since there is no difference between being and essence, the 'principle of individuation'—i.e. that which makes one thing not identical with another—must be form, not matter. The 'principle of individuation' was one of the important problems of the scholastic philosophy. In various forms, it has remained a problem to the present day. Without reference to any particular author, we may perhaps state the problem as follows.
Among the properties of individual things, some are essential, others accidental; the accidental properties of a thing are those it can lose without losing its identity—such as wearing a hat, if you are a man. The question now arises: given two individual things belonging to the same species, do they always differ in essence, or is it possible for the essence to be exactly the same in both? St Thomas holds the latter view as regards material substances, the former as regards those that are immaterial. Duns Scotus holds that there are always differences of essence between two different individual things. The view of St Thomas depends upon the theory that pure matter consists of undifferentiated parts, which are distinguished solely by difference of position in space. Thus a person, consisting of mind and body, may differ physically from another person solely by the spatial position of his body. (This might happen with identical twins, theoretically.) Duns Scotus, on the other hand, holds that if things are distinct, they must be distinguished by some qualitative difference. This view, clearly, is nearer to Platonism than is that of St Thomas.
Various stages have to be traversed before we can state this problem in modern terms. The first step, which was taken by Leibniz, was to get rid of the distinction between essential and accidental properties, which, like many that the scholastics took over from Aristotle, turns out to be unreal as soon as we attempt to state it carefully. We thus have, instead of 'essence', 'all the propositions that are true of the thing in question'. (In general, however, spatial and temporal position would still be excluded.) Leibniz contends that it is impossible for two things to be exactly alike in this sense; this is his principle of the 'identity of indiscernibles'. This principle was criticized by physicists, who maintained that two particles of matter might differ solely as regards position in space and time—a view which has been rendered more difficult by relativity, which reduces space and time to relations.
A further step is required in modernizing the problem, and that is, to get rid of the conception of 'substance'. When this is done, a 'thing' has to be a bundle of qualities, since there is no longer any kernel of pure 'thinghood'. It would seem to follow that, if 'substance' is rejected, we must take a view more akin to that of Scotus than to that of Aquinas. This, however, involves much difficulty in connection with space and time. I have treated the question as I see it, under the heading 'Proper Names', in my Inquiry into Meaning and Truth.
William of Occam is, after St Thomas, the most important schoolman. The circumstances of his life are very imperfectly known. He was born probably between 1290 and 1300; he died on April 10th, but whether in 1349 or 1350 is uncertain. (The Black Death was raging in 1349, so that this is perhaps the more probable year.) Most people say he was born at Ockham in Surrey, but Delisle Burns prefers Ockham in Yorkshire. He was at Oxford, and then at Paris, where he was first the pupil and afterwards the rival of Duns Scotus. He was involved in the quarrel of the Franciscan order with Pope John XXII on the subject of poverty. The Pope had persecuted the Spirituals, with the support of Michael of Cesena, General of the Order. But there had been an arrangement by which property left to the friars was given by them to the Pope, who allowed them the benefit of it without the sin of ownership. This was ended by John XXII, who said they should accept outright ownership. At this a majority of the Order, headed by Michael of Cesena, rebelled. Occam, who had been summoned to Avignon by the Pope to answer charges of heresy as to transubstantiation, sided with Michael of Cesena, as did another important man, Marsiglio of Padua. All three were excommunicated in 1328, but escaped from Avignon, and took refuge with the Emperor Louis. Louis was one of the two claimants to the Empire; he was the one favoured by Germany, but the other was favoured by the Pope. The Pope excommunicated Louis, who appealed against him to a General Council. The Pope himself was accused of heresy.
It is said that Occam, on meeting the Emperor, said: 'Do you defend me with the sword, and I will defend you with the pen.' At any rate, he and Marsiglio of Padua settled in Munich, under the protection of the Emperor, and there wrote political treatises of considerable importance. What happened to Occam after the Emperor's death in 1338 is uncertain. Some say he was reconciled to the Church, but this seems to be false.
The Empire was no longer what it had been in the Hohenstaufen era; and the papacy, though its pretensions had grown continually greater, did not command the same reverence as formerly. Clement V had moved it to Avignon at the beginning of the fourteenth century, and the Pope had become a political subordinate of the King of France. The Empire had sunk even more; it could no longer claim even the most shadowy kind of universal dominion, because of the strength of France and England; on the other hand, the Pope, by subservience to the King of France, also weakened his claim to universality in temporal matters. Thus the conflict between Pope and Emperor was really a conflict between France and Germany. England, under Edward III, was at war with France, and therefore in alliance with Germany; this caused England, also, to be antipapal. The Pope's enemies demanded a General Council—the only ecclesiastical authority which could be regarded as superior to the Pope.
The character of the opposition to the Pope changed at this time. Instead of being merely in favour of the Emperor, it acquired a democratic tone, particularly in matters of Church government. This gave it a new strength, which ultimately led to the Reformation.
Dante (1265–1321), though as a poet he was a great innovator, was, as a thinker, somewhat behind the times. His book De Monarchia is somewhat Ghibelline in outlook, and would have been more timely a hundred years earlier. He regards Emperor and Pope as independent, and both divinely appointed. In the Divine Comedy, his Satan has three mouths, in which he eternally chews Judas Iscariot, Brutus, and Cassius, who are all three equally traitors, the first against Christ, the other two against Caesar. Dante's thought is interesting, not only in itself, but as that of a layman; but it was not influential, and was hopelessly out of date.
Marsiglio of Padua (1270–1342), on the contrary, inaugurated the new form of opposition to the Pope, in which the Emperor has mainly a role of decorative dignity. He was a close friend of William of Occam, whose political opinions he influenced. Politically, he is more important than Occam. He holds that the legislator is the majority of the people, and that the majority has the right to punish princes. He applies popular sovereignty also to the Church, and he includes the laity. There are to be local councils of the people, including the laity, who are to elect representatives to General Councils. The General Council alone should have power to excommunicate, and to give authoritative interpretations of Scripture. Thus all believers will have a voice in deciding doctrine. The Church is to have no secular authority; there is to be no excommunication without civil concurrence; and the Pope is to have no special powers.
Occam did not go quite so far as Marsiglio, but he worked out a completely democratic method of electing the General Council.
The conciliar movement came to a head in the early fifteenth century, when it was needed to heal the Great Schism. But having accomplished this task, it subsided. Its standpoint, as may be seen already in Marsiglio, was different from that afterwards adopted, in theory, by the Protestants. The Protestants claimed the right of private judgment, and were not willing to submit to a General Council. They held that religious belief is not a matter to be decided by any governmental machinery. Marsiglio, on the contrary, still aims at preserving the unity of the Catholic faith, but wishes this to be done by democratic means, not by the papal absolutism, In practice, most Protestants, when they acquired the government, merely substituted the King for the Pope, and thus secured neither liberty of private judgment nor a democratic method of deciding doctrinal questions. But in their opposition to the Pope they found support in the doctrines of the conciliar movement. Of all the schoolmen, Occam was the one whom Luther preferred. It must be said that a considerable section of Protestants held to the doctrine of private judgment even where the State was Protestant. This was the chief point of difference between Independents and Presbyterians in the English Civil War.
Occam's political works3 are written in the style of philosophic disputations, with arguments for and against various theses, sometimes not reaching any conclusion. We are accustomed to a more forthright kind of political propaganda, but in his day the form he chose was probably effective.
A few samples will illustrate his method and outlook.
There is a long treatise called 'Eight Questions Concerning the Power of the Pope.' The first question is whether one man can rightfully be supreme both in Church and State. The second: Is secular authority derived immediately from God or not? Third: Has the Pope the right to grant secular jurisdiction to the Emperor and other princes? Fourth: Does election by the electors give full powers to the German king? Fifth and sixth: What rights does the Church acquire through the right of bishops to anoint kings? Seventh: Is a coronation ceremony valid if performed by the wrong archbishop? Eighth: Does election by the electors give the German king the title of Emperor? All these were, at the time, burning questions of practical politics.
Another treatise is on the question whether a prince can obtain the goods of the Church without the Pope's permission. This is concerned to justify Edward III in taxing the clergy for his war with France. It will be remembered that Edward was an ally of the Emperor.
Then comes a 'Consultation on a matrimonial cause', on the question whether the Emperor was justified in marrying his cousin.
It will be seen that Occam did his best to deserve the protection of the Emperor's sword.
It is time now to turn to Occam's purely philosophical doctrines. On this subject there is a very good book, The Logic of William of Occam, by Ernest E. Moody. Much of what I shall have to say is based on this book, which takes a somewhat unusual view, but, I think, a correct one. There is a tendency in writers on history of philosophy to interpret men in the light of their successors, but this is generally a mistake. Occam has been regarded as bringing about the breakdown of scholasticism, as a precursor of Descartes or Kant or whoever might be the particular commentator's favourite among modern philosophers. According to Moody, with whom I agree, all this is a mistake. Occam, he holds, was mainly concerned to restore a pure Aristotle, freed from both Augustinian and Arabic influences. This had also been, to a considerable extent, the aim of St Thomas; but the Franciscans, as we have seen, had continued to follow St Augustine much more closely than he did. The interpretation of Occam by modern historians, according to Moody, has been vitiated by the desire to find a gradual transition from scholastic to modern philosophy; this has caused people to read modern doctrines into him, when in fact he is only interpreting Aristotle.
Occam is best known for a maxim which is not to be found in his works, but has acquired the name of 'Occam's razor'. This maxim says: 'Entities are not to be multiplied without necessity.' Although he did not say this, he said something which has much the same effect, namely: 'It is vain to do with more what can be done with fewer.' That is to say, if everything in some science can be interpreted without assuming this or that hypothetical entity, there is no ground for assuming it. I have myself found this a most fruitful principle in logical analysis.
In logic, though apparently not in metaphysics, Occam was a nominalist; the nominalists of the fifteenth century4 looked upon him as the founder of their school. He thought that Aristotle had been misinterpreted by the Scotists, and that this misinterpretation was due partly to the influence of Augustine, partly to Avicenna, but partly to an earlier cause, Porphyry's treatise on Aristotle's Categories. Porphyry in this treatise raised three questions: (1) Are genera and species substances? (2) Are they corporeal or incorporeal? (3) If the latter, are they in sensible things or separated from them? He raised these questions as relevant to Aristotle's Categories, and thus led the Middle Ages to interpret the Organon too metaphysically. Aquinas had attempted to
undo this error, but it had been reintroduced by Duns Scotus. The result had been that logic and theory of knowledge had become dependent on metaphysics and theology. Occam set to work to separate them again.
For Occam, logic is an instrument for the philosophy of nature, which can be independent of metaphysics. Logic is the analysis of discursive science; science is about things, but logic is not. Things are individual, but among terms there are universals; logic treats of universals, while science uses them without discussing them. Logic is concerned with terms or concepts, not as psychical states, but as having meaning. 'Man is a species' is not a proposition of logic, because it requires a knowledge of man. Logic deals with things fabricated by the mind within itself, which cannot exist except through the existence of reason. A concept is a natural sign, a word is a conventional sign. We must distinguish when we are speaking of the word as a thing, and when we are using it as having meaning, otherwise we may fall into fallacies such as: 'Man is a species, Socrates is a man, therefore Socrates is a species.'
Terms which point at things are called 'terms of first intention'; terms which point at terms are called 'terms of second intention'. The terms in science are of first intention; in logic, of second. Metaphysical terms are peculiar in that they signify both things signified by words of first intention and things signified by words of second intention. There are exactly six metaphysical terms: being, thing, something, one, true, good.5 These terms have the peculiarity that they can all be predicated of each other. But logic can be pursued independently of them.
Understanding is of things, not of forms produced by the mind; these are not what is understood, but that by which things are understood. Universals, in logic, are only terms or concepts predicable of many other terms or concepts. Universal, genus, species are terms of second intention, and therefore cannot mean things. But since one and being are convertible, if a universal existed, it would be one, and an individual thing. A universal is merely a sign of many things. As to this, Occam agrees with Aquinas, as against Averroes, Avicenna, and the Augustinians. Both hold that there are only individual things, individual minds, and acts of understanding. Both Aquinas and Occam, it is true, admit the universale ante rem, but only to explain creation; it had to be in the mind of God before He could create. But this belongs to theology, not to the explanation of humanknowledge, which is only concerned with the universale post rem. In explaining human knowledge, Occam never allows universals to be things. Socrates is similar to Plato, he says, but not in virtue of a third thing called similarity. Similarity is a term of second intention, and is in the mind. (All this is good.)
Propositions about future contingents, according to Occam, are not yet
either true or false. He makes no attempt to reconcile this view with divine omniscience. Here, as elsewhere, he keeps logic free from metaphysics and theology.
Some samples of Occam's discussions may be useful.
He asks: 'Whether that which is known by the understanding first according to a primacy of generation is the individual.'
Against: The universal is the first and proper object of the understanding.
For: The object of sense and the object of understanding are the same, but the individual is the first object of sense.
Accordingly, the meaning of the question must be stated. (Presumably, because both arguments seem strong.)
He continues: 'The thing outside the soul which is not a sign is understood first by such knowledge (i.e. by knowledge which is individual), therefore the individual is known first, since everything outside the soul is individual.'
He goes on to say that abstract knowledge always presupposes knowledge which is 'intuitive' (i.e. of perception), and this is caused by individual things.
He then enumerates four doubts which may arise, and proceeds to resolve them.
He concludes with an affirmative answer to his original question, but adds that 'the universal is the first object by primacy of adequation, not by the primacy of generation'.
The question involved is whether, or how far, perception is the source of knowledge. It will be remembered that Plato, in the Theaetetus, rejects the definition of knowledge as perception. Occam, pretty certainly, did not know the Theaetetus, but if he had he would have disagreed with it.
To the question 'whether the sensitive soul and the intellective soul are really distinct in man', he answers that they are, though this is hard to prove. One of his arguments is that we may with our appetites desire something which with our understanding we reject; therefore appetite and understanding belong to different subjects. Another argument is that sensations are subjectively in the sensitive soul, but not subjectively in the intellective soul. Again: the sensitive soul is extended and material, while the intellective soul is neither. Four objections are considered, all theological,6 but they are answered. The view taken by Occam on this question is not, perhaps, what might be expected. However, he agrees with St Thomas and disagrees with Averroes in thinking that each man's intellect is his own, not something impersonal.
By insisting on the possibility of studying logic and human knowledge without reference to metaphysics and theology, Occam's work encouraged
scientific research. The Augustinians, he said, erred in first supposing things unintelligible and men unintelligent, and then adding a light from Infinity by which knowledge became possible. He agreed in this with Aquinas, but differed in emphasis, for Aquinas was primarily a theologian, and Occam was, so far as logic is concerned, primarily a secular philosopher.
His attitude gave confidence to students of particular problems, for instance, his immediate follower Nicholas of Oresme (d. 1382), who investigated planetary theory. This man was, to a certain extent, a precursor of Copernicus; he set forth both the geocentric and the heliocentric theories, and said that each would explain all the facts known in his day, so that there was no way of deciding between them.
After William of Occam there are no more great scholastics. The next time for great philosophers began in the late Renaissance.