ND   JMC : History of Medieval Philosophy / by Maurice De Wulf



368. Leading Features of the Terminist School. -- (1) Excessive Simplicity. -- The terminism of the fourteenth century was a reaction against the formalism of Duns Scotus. The subtle doctor had peopled his philosophy with chimerical entities, and his immediate disciples had multiplied these still more. It was inevitable that this tendency to "realize" abstractions should meet with opposition. The first opposition came from the Thomists; but another group of scholastics carried the reaction too far: these were the terminists. Taking as its motto, pluralitas non est ponenda sine necessitate, terminism made a veritable hecatomb of metaphysical notions; and in doing so it often merely disfigured what it thought to simplify. At the same time, nevertheless, the terminists are indebted to Scotism for many of their scholastic theories, and -- what is more important -- for a characteristic turn of thought, namely, scepticism.

(2) Scepticism. -- There is no question here of the deceptive theory which proclaims all certitude illusory: terminism, like all other scholastic systems, was essentially dogmatic in its teaching about certitude (308). "Scepticism" here denotes an anxiety to restrict the sphere of those truths that can be demonstrated by reason, a tendency to depress fallible reason and exalt infallible faith. The ambit of indemonstrable truths kept steadily widening. Those waverings about the power of reason are not in themselves anti-scholastic (328), but they fostered an unwholesome attitude of thought, a distrust that was dangerous and unwarrantable: they excited among students in the following period the suspicion that scholasticism was wholly and entirely unsound and that its teachings ought to be rejected in globo.

(3) Encroachment of Logic. -- The study of Ockam's system will show how the terminists mutilated metaphysics. And after destroying this, they used the debris for the decoration of logic. What they declared illusory in the world of realities they subjected to excessive analysis in the world of mental representations. And so terminism gradually developed the tendency to exaggerate the role of dialectic. William of Ockam himself made much of such logico-grammatical notions as suppositia, significatio, etc. but he observed some moderation. His disciples, however, seizing on the Summulae of Petrus Hispanus, abandoned themselves to an orgy of quibbling and sophism which the Paris Faculty of Arts was powerless to remedy.{1} And with all the logician's fondness for terminology, the Ockamists multiplied endlessly new words, barbarisms and classifications.

{1} See Ch. III., § 3. Cf. PRANTL, op. cit., iv., pp. 1 sqq.

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