Jacques Maritain Center : History of Philosophy / by William Turner


Birth of Ockam to taking of Constantinople (1300-1453){1}

The causes of the decay of Scholastic philosophy were both internal and external. The internal causes are to be found in the condition of Scholastic philosophy at the beginning of the fourteenth century. The great work of Christian syncretism had been completed by the masters of the preceding period: revelation and science had been harmonized; contribution had been levied on the pagan philosophies of Greece and Arabia, and whatever truth these philosophies had possessed had been utilized to form the basis of a rational exposition of Christian revelation. The efforts of Roger Bacon and of Albert the Great to reform scientific method had failed: the sciences were not cultivated. There was therefore no source of development, and nothing was left for the later Scholastics except to dispute as to the meaning of principles, to comment on the text of this master or of that, and to subtilize to such an extent that Scholasticism soon became a synonym for captious quibbling. The great Thomistic principle that in philosophy the argument from authority is the weakest of all arguments was forgotten: Aristotle, St. Thomas, or Scotus became the criterion of truth, and as Solomon, whose youthful wisdom had astonished the world, profaned his old age by the worship of idols, the philosophy of the schools, in the days of its decadence, turned from the service of truth to prostrate itself before the shrine of a master.{2} Dialectic, which in the thirteenth century had been regarded as the instrument of knowledge, now became an object of study for the sake of display; and to this fault of method was added a fault of style -- an uncouthness and barbarity of terminology which bewilder the modern reader. The religious orders, which had given to Scholasticism its ablest masters, now devoted all their attention to fomenting the Thomistic and Scotistic controversy, thus frittering away on matters of trifling importance the gifts which should have been devoted to the more serious task of meeting the difficulties that sprang up on every side as the modern era approached.

The external causes of the decay of Scholasticism were, in the first place, the political conditions of the time. The fourteenth century was a period of strife between the secular and the spiritual power, of rebellion of princes, bishops, and priests against the authority of the Holy See, and of contests between rival claimants for the chair of Peter. Religion seemed to lose its restraining power, and moral depravity, sorcery, and occult science corrupted that true sense of the superiority of things spiritual which characterized the thirteenth century. The universities, too, which had contributed so much to the success of Scholasticism and had received so much from it in return, now began to bring discredit on the Scholastic system. At Paris, the course of study for the degrees in theology was shortened, and academic honors were distributed with more freedom than discretion, mere youths (impuberes et imberbes) being, through favor, awarded the title of master. Add to this that everywhere throughout Europe institutions{3} inferior to the great universities were accorded the right to confer degrees which had hitherto been the monopoly of Paris and Oxford.

In the general relaxation of the spirit of serious study, there appeared a phase of Scholastic philosophy which may be said to have been inspired by the principle commonly known as "Ockam's razor": "Entia non sunt multiplicanda sine necessitate." In a spirit of protest against the extreme formalism of the Scotists, who multiplied metaphysical entities to an alarming degree, the new philosophy aimed at simplicity. Soon, however, it carried the process of simplification to the extent of discarding as useless all serious metaphysical and psychological speculation; it substituted dialectic for metaphysics, advocated nominalism, and ended in something dangerously near to sensism and scepticism.

The chief representative of this phase of Scholasticism is William of Ockam. Before his time, however, the tendencies which resulted in his philosophy appeared in the doctrines of Durandus and Aureolus.



Life. Durandus of St. Pourçain, Doctor Resolutissimus , was born at St. Pourçain, in Auvergne, towards the end of the thirteenth century. He joined the order of St. Dominic, and was at first a most ardent defender of the doctrines of St. Thomas. About the year 1313 he taught theology at Paris. After spending some years in Rome as Master of the Sacred Palace during the reign of John XXII, he returned to France and occupied successively the sees of Limoges, Puy, and Meaux. He tells us himself that he was bishop of Puy.{4} The year 1332 is the most probable date of Durandus' death.

Sources. The most important of Durandus' works is entitled Super Sententias Theologicas Petri Lombardi Commentariorum Libri Quatuor. It was published in Paris in 1550. Trittenheim mentions several minor treatises. (cf. Praefatio to above edition.)


By his independence of thought and his advocacy of certain principles which his contemporaries considered dangerous, Durandus earned the title of Doctor Resolutissimus. Still, he never exceeded the limits of orthodoxy. Indeed, the independence which he advocated, and which he formulated in the principle "Naturalis philosophia non est scire quid Aristoteles aut alii philosophi senserint, sed quid habeat veritas rerum," had been professed before his time and formulated almost in the same words by St. Thomas and the other great schoolmen. Such independence of thought was recognized as the birthright of every philosopher, and the fact that Durandus exercised this right without incurring ecclesiastical censure is the best refutation of the calumny that the Church refused to tolerate independent thinking as long as she could enforce obedience to her commands. Durandus manifested his independence:

1. In rejecting the Sensible and Intelligible Species. The reason which he adduces is a priori rather than empirical, and is based on a misconception of the Scholastic doctrine of species. In his Commentary on the Books of Sentences,{5} he first gives his opinion that the doctrine of species was introduced to explain sense-perception, and was transferred to the explanation of intellectual knowledge; he then proceeds to criticise the doctrine of sensible species as follows:

Omne illud, per quad, tamquam per repraesentativum, potentia cognitiva fertur in alterum, est primo cognitum; sed species coloris in oculo non est primo cognita seu visa ab eo, immo nullo modo est visa ab eo ergo per ipsam, tamquam per repraesentativum, non fertur in aliquid aliud.

Now this argument is simply irrelevant. The predecessors of Durandus, so far from teaching that the species is a medium repraesentativum, maintained, on the contrary, that it is merely a medium by which the object becomes present to the subject -- what may be called a medium praesentativum, that is to say, a medium communicationis. It is owing to a similar misunderstanding that later nominalists and so many modern writers regard the scholastic doctrine of species as untenable.

2. In rejecting the Active Intellect. This follows as a natural consequence from the rejection of the species. Durandus teaches that there is no more need of an active intellect than of an active sense.{6} Here, again, he misunderstands the Scholastic doctrine. There is need of an active intellect, because, although the object of intellectual knowledge -- the universal nature -- exists in the world of sense-phenomena, it exists there clothed in material conditions, of which it must be divested before becoming actually intelligible, and the task of separating the universal from these material conditions is the work of the active intellect.

3. In his Advocacy of Nominalism. This follows from the rejection of the active intellect. Durandus teaches that the object of the intellect is the individual as it exists, and that the universal exists nowhere outside the mind.

Universale non est primum objectum intellectus, nec praeexistit intellectioni, sed est aliquid formatum per operationem intelligendi . . . esse universale, esse genus vel speciem dicuntur entia rationis.{7}

Durandus, however, does not openly profess nominalism, that is, he does not teach expressly, as the followers of Ockam do, that the only universality is the universality of names.

4. In his Doctrine of the Principle of Individuation. Durandus teaches that the principle of individuation is not distinct from the specific nature of the individual, since everything is individuated by actual existence. "Non oportet praeter naturam et principia naturae quaerere principia individui."{8}

5. In his Rejection of Divine Cooperation with Secondary Causes. This is the doctrine by which Durandus places himself in most pronounced opposition to the current teaching of his time. The Scholastics of the thirteenth century unanimously taught that God is not only creator and preserver of all finite things, but also cooperator in all the actions of secondary causes. Durandus maintains that all the actions of the creature proceed from God inasmuch as it is God Who gave creatures the power to act, but he denies that there is an immediate influxus of the Creator in the actions of the creature.

Non oportet quod Deus immediate coagat, sed solum mediate, conservando -- naturam et virtutem causae secundae.{9} Deus non est causa actionum liberi arbitrii, nisi quia liberum arbitrium ab Ipso est et conservatur.{10}

The theological doctrines of Durandus are still more at variance with current teaching, and on some points his dogmatic opinions cannot without difficulty be reconciled with Catholic belief.

Historical Position. If Duns Scotus is the Kant, Durandus is the Locke of Scholastic philosophy. His treatment of the most serious problems of psychology and metaphysics is marked by superficiality. He seemingly took no pains to make himself acquainted with the doctrines which he criticised, and his own solution of many a problem stops short of the point where the real problem begins. Simplicity, even at the expense of thoroughness, appears to have been his motto.


Life. Peter d'Auriol (Aureolus), Doctor Facundus, was born about the end of the thirteenth century at Toulouse.{11} In 1318 he became master of theology at the University of Paris. In the following year he was made provincial of the Franciscans in Aquitaine. In 1321 he was promoted to the metropolitan see of Aix.{12} He died in 1322.

Sources. The works of Aureolus, Quodlibeta and Commentaria in Libros Sententiarum, were published at Rome (1596-1605) in four folio volumes.


Aureolus was at first a Scotist. Later, however, actuated apparently by the idea which inspired Durandus to simplify Scholasticism, he arrived at conclusions which are practically identical with those of the Doctor Most Resolute. He denied the reality of universals, the existence of species and of the active intellect, the distinction between essence and existence, and the distinction between the soul and its faculties. Referring to the doctrine of species, he says:

Unde patet quomodo res ipsae conspiciuntur in mente, et illud quod intuemur non est forma alia specularis sed ipsamet res habens esse apparens, et hoc est mentis conceptus, sive notitia objectiva.{13}

The expression forma specularis, and the word idolum which occurs in the same article, both being used to designate the species, show that Aureolus was as far as Durandus was from understanding the rôle which the great schoolmen assigned to the species.

Historical Position. The doctrines of Aureolus as well as those of Durandus prepared the way for the outspoken conceptualism of Ockam

{1} To the list of sources given, p. 240, add Prantl, Geschichte der Logik (4 Bde. Leipzig, 1855-1870). Consult especially Vol. III, pp. 319 ff., and Vol. IV.

{2} Cf. Ozanam, Dante, etc., English trans., p. 94; Revue Néo-Scol., Nov. 1903.

{3} Cf. Chartul., II, vii and 547.

{4} Ecclesia Aniciensis cui praefui (In IVum Sent., Dist. XXIV, Q. III); cf. also Chartul., II, 218, note 11.

{5} Lib. II, Dist. III, Q. VI, Nos. 9 and 10.

{6} Cf. In Ium Sent., Dist. III, P. II, Q. V.

{7} Op. cit., Lib. I, Dist. III et Dist. IX.

{8} Op. cit., Lib. II, Dist. III, Q. II.

{9} Op. cit., Lib. II, Dist. I, Q. V.

{10} Ibid., Dist. XXX VII, Q. I.

{11} Verberie (Vermerie)-sur-Oise is usually given as the place of his birth.

{12} Cf. Chartul., II, 225.

{13} In IIum Sent., Dist. XII, Q. I, Art. 2.

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