Prof. Susan Brower-Toland (Saint Louis University), will present: “Deflecting Ockham’s Razor” on Friday, March 5, 2021, from 2:00-3:45. All are welcome to attend.
William of Ockham (d. 1347) is well known for his commitment to parsimony and for his so-called “razor” principle. But little is known about attempts among his own contemporaries to deflect his use of the razor. In this paper, I explore one such attempt. In particular, I consider a clever challenge that Ockham’s younger contemporary, Walter Chatton (d. 1343) deploys against the razor. The challenge involves a kind of dilemma for Ockham. Depending on how Ockham responds to this dilemma, his razor will, Chatton argues, either prove unacceptably dull when it comes to determining ontological commitment, or prove unacceptably sharp when it comes to determining commitments entailed by certain theological doctrines. While Chatton’s objection is subtle and interesting in its own right, the broader significance of the debate between these thinkers lies in the light it sheds on medieval approaches to issues surrounding metaphysical methodology.