Saving Contingency: On Ockham’s Objection to Duns Scotus

Epoché: A Journal for the History of Philosophy 8 (2):333-350 (2004)
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It is a common view that Ockham’s critique of Scotus’s position on the issue of contingency is “devastating,” for it seems obvious that a possibility that does notactualize is simply no possibility. This rejection however does not commit Ockham to necessitarism, for the consideration of the temporal discontinuity of volitions should suffice to save contingency. But does it? Is it the case that diachronic volitions (which Scotus also acknowledges) are sufficient?This essay argues that (1) the debate between Ockham and Scotus is not to be reduced to a logical disagreement (Scotus’s and Ockham’s modal logics are actually substantially similar) but is properly ontological inasmuch as it concerns the reduction and eventual identification of being with actuality and of actuality with reality in the sense of manifest; (2) the retrograding movement of truth from the present (Ockham’s 3rd suppositio) entails a temporal gap between present and future; and (3) Ockham’s solution depends on a conception of the will that cannot simply be identified with, and accounted for in terms of successive volitions



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Pascal Massie
Miami University, Ohio

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