Ockham on the Concept

Ockham on the Concept

Boler, John (University of Washington)

Medieval Philosophy and Theology 11 (2003)


It is a commonplace of Ockham commentary that he changed his position on what concepts are. While I see no reason to question the general lines of the familiar story, I do think there are some interesting details along the way which are not always emphasized and which raise (for me at least) the question of whether we understand just what was going on.

The development of Ockham’s thought on the topic divides, I think, into two unequal stages, the first of which can again be divided into three. (1) He began by favoring a sort of double aspect scheme. The act of thinking itself is a real, individual quality existing “subjectively” in the mind. But as representative, we might say, it requires an object. In his early account, Ockham posits the concept as the object of our thinking, holding that of itself it must, like a fictional entity or fictum, have merely “objective” existence and not real or “subjective” existence. Call this the fictum theory.

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