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Ockham's right reason and the genesis of the political as ‘absolutist’

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My aim is to explain the relation of ‘right reason’ to Ockham's voluntarism by analysing what Ockham takes individual liberty to mean and how men come to know of it. The Christian law of liberty reveals what individuals come to know by other means — from their own experiences and reason, about certain rights which can never be alienated either to Church or ‘state’. It is argued that his distinctive and later political positions can be supported by positions maintained in his earlier logical, psychological and philosophical writings from his Oxford period. He explains the three sources of our knowledge as experience, natural reason and infallible scriptural authority. Based on his explanation of how Scripture is to be interpreted and linking this to his epistemology which starts with intuitive cognition, it is argued that Ockham's understanding of the separate roles of ‘state’ and Church can be defended. From his earlier positions can also be derived his understanding of corporation theory, his defence of individual members of the community's consent to the constitution of government and the limits on absolute government, no matter what its constitutional form. Because right reason always operates in social contexts with their respective, prevalent knowledge, Ockham has some startling things to say about men's access to the truth.

Keywords: Christian law of liberty; Church; Ockham; absolute government; constitution of government; logical; philosophical; psychological; right reason

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Dept. of Government, London School of Economics and Political Science, Houghton Street, London, WC2A 2AE.

Publication date: January 1, 1999

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