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Nicholas of Autrecourt and William of Ockham on Atomism, Nominalism, and the Ontology of Motion

Nicholas of Autrecourt and William of Ockham on Atomism, Nominalism, and the Ontology of Motion

Dutton, Blake D.

Medieval Philosophy and Theology, vol. 5, no. 1 (1996)

Abstract

Nicholas of Autrecourt has been of interest to scholars primarily because of his place within the skeptical currents of fourteenth-century philosophy. However, just as there has been no general agreement about the nature of late medieval skepticism, there has been no agreement about where to locate Nicholas within it. Following Gilson’s charge that Nicholas’s attempt to dismantle Aristotelianism was a consequence of skeptical tendencies in Ockham’s epistemology,’ much debate has focused on Nicholas’s criterion of evident knowledge and its relation to Ockham’s doctrine of the intuitive cognition of nonexistents. But while this debate is as fascinating as it is important, it has had the unfortunate consequence of leading commentators to ignore other aspects of Nicholas’s thought which are well deserving of attention.

This is particularly true in the case of his treatment of motion. In reducing all change to the locomotion of atoms, in positing an interstitial void, and in denying the infinite divisibility of the continuum, Nicholas both challenged Aristotelian physics at its most fundamental level and separated himself from virtually all of his scholastic contemporaries. Yet with few exceptions, this has received virtually no attention.

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