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Catholic Dictionary




Philosophical system of William of Occam (1300-49). Essentially nominalism, it maintains the basic position that universal ideas have no foundation in reality; they exist only in the thinking mind and not in individual things. Consequently all science deals not with things but with concepts, and words that convey these concepts. Since only individual things exist, the ordinary means of acquiring knowledge is not by way of abstraction from reality, but by intuition. Given this postulate, that human knowledge is essentially subjective and not derived from objective reality, Occamism led to agnosticism. Part of the Occamist theory is also the claim that the divine will is the cause of all things and its own rule, so that God did not will things because they were good, but they are good because he willed them. Martin Luther was deeply influenced by Occamism, speaking of the Franciscan philosopher as "my teacher."