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Some additional thoughts on Ockham's right reason: an addendum to Coleman

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Abstract:

The connection between William of Ockham's philosophy and his politics has long been a subject of debate among scholars. Many have seen his nominalist epistemology, which asserts that the individual thing is the object of knowledge, as contributing towards his focus on the individual in his political thought. In her most recent article, ‘Ockham’s Right Reason and the Genesis of the Political as „Absolutist”’, Janet Coleman supports this argument concerning the influence of Ockham's philosophical individualism upon his political individualism. But she also provides a different and, I believe, more important argument as to how Ockham's philosophical epistemology is connected to his politics: that what man can know about himself and others through right reason is Ockham's starting point for analysing human authority. This article attempts to support Coleman's argument that the role of right reason in the life of the individual has significant consequences for Ockham's notion of political rule. This is done through a detailed analysis of the specific role of right reason in Ockham's theory of the virtuous act, and how this treatment of right reason can be said to influence Ockham's notion of the purpose and methodology of political rule. Specifically, Ockham's notion of right reason in his ethical theory plays out in his political theory by defining the limitations of political knowledge, and thereby creating a pronounced discontinuity between the function of the individual as a self-ruler and the function of the political ruler.

Keywords: Ockham; human action; right reason; self-rule

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Newnham College, Cambridge, CB3 9DF. Email:hmh20@hermes.cam.ac.uk

Publication date: January 1, 2000

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