William of Ockham

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William of Ockham (also Occam, Hockham, or any of several other spellings, pronounced /ˈɒkəm/) (c. 1288 – c. 1348) was an English Franciscan friar and scholastic philosopher, who is believed to have been born in Ockham, a small village in Surrey.[1] He is considered to be one of the major figures of medieval thought and was at the centre of the major intellectual and political controversies of the fourteenth century. Although he is commonly known for Occam's razor, the methodological principle that bears his name, William of Ockham also produced significant works on logic, physics, and theology. In the Church of England, his day of commemoration is 10 April.[2]



William of Ockham joined the Franciscan order at an early age. He is believed to have studied theology at the University of Oxford from 1309 to 1321, but never completed his master's degree (the usual undergraduate degree in those times).[3] Because of this, he acquired the byname Venerabilis Inceptor, or "Worthy Beginner" (although he was also known as the Doctor Invincibilis or unconquerable teacher).

His work in this period became the subject of controversy, and many scholars have thought that Ockham was summoned before the Papal court of Avignon in 1324 under charges of heresy, though an alternative theory recently proposed by George Knysh suggests that he was initially appointed there as professor of philosophy in the Franciscan school, and that his disciplinary difficulties did not begin until 1327.[4] It is generally believed that these charges were levied by Oxford chancellor John Lutterell.[5] A theological commission was asked to review his Commentary on the Sentences, during which Ockham found himself involved in a different debate. The Franciscan Minister General Michael of Cesena, summoned to Avignon in 1327 to answer charges of heresy, asked Ockham to review arguments surrounding Apostolic poverty. The most uncompromising Franciscans, known as spirituals, believed that Jesus and his apostles owned no personal property, and survived by begging and accepting the gifts of others.[6] This brought them into conflict with Pope John XXII.

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