William Ockham

Review of Metaphysics 42 (4):817-818 (1989)
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Abstract

This massive study makes an important contribution to the history of philosophy for two reasons. First of all, it stands as the most complete and careful philosophical analysis of Ockham's thought to date. Adams's expositions and analyses will become the gloss which generations of students will have to reckon with as they confront the text of Ockham. Secondly, this work represents an exemplary method of philosophical commentary, one that proves to be a remarkably illuminating way into the mind of a medieval scholastic disputant. Because Ockham's thought is intensely dialectical and argumentative, Adams appropriately exposes his doctrines through an exacting recovery of his argument within its dialogical context. For example, in the crucial chapter 2, "Universals Are Not Things other than Names," we come to understand Ockham's nominalism as it emerges from his rejection of moderate realism; Adams presents this rejection through a reconstruction of Ockham's encounter with the living tradition of Aquinas, Scotus, Walter Burleigh, William of Alnwick, Nervaeus Natalis, and Henry of Harclay. As the dialectic proceeds from figure to figure, the issue of the universal reshapes itself with great sophistication. Adams's formidable analytic powers and her sharp focus on the key philosophical issue enable her to succeed in this method. The reader also gets the sense that Adams herself believes one can come to truth through philosophical argument, and not just the truth of what Ockham taught but the truth of what he sought. This earnestness enables her to keep a fix on the dialectic's "emerging rule" which becomes the source of unity in what could otherwise degenerate into a bewildering complexity of historical detail or the vanity of analytic logic-chopping.

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William A. Frank
University of Dallas

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