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    Arthur Stephen McGrade, The Political Thought of William of Ockham

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    Johnathan R. Razorback
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    Date d'inscription : 12/08/2013
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    Arthur Stephen McGrade, The Political Thought of William of Ockham

    Message par Johnathan R. Razorback le Mar 10 Mai - 16:25

    "Although i have explored the relations between Ockham's political works and his nominalist speculative writings, i am certain that further detailed investigation in this area, too, would be rewarding." (p.IX)

    "Ockham seems not only unavoidable but also enigmatic. He has been seen as the destroyer of the high scholastic synthesis of faith and reason, yet his personal orthodoxy has seldom been questioned in recent times, and the avowed target of his critical attacks was the "common opinion of the moderns" rather than traditional theological systems. He was involved in a literacy war with the popes at Avignon that rivaled in length and bitterness any previous contest beteen empire and papacy, yet he has also been described as "a constitutional liberal... not an anti-papal zealot"." (p.1)

    "Certain theses advanced by Ockham [...] in his speculative or academic, apparently non-political works, are of interest from a political standpoint ; for example, the thesis that only acts of will (in contrast with overt behavior -actus exteriores) have intrinsic moral value, or that respect for right reason is required in any virtuous act." (p.3)

    "It is commonly held that nominalism was the death of scholasticism and that Ockham's political ideas were destructive of the medieval social order. Hence, it is important to recognize that at the beginning of his career Ockham was very much a part of the religious and academic establishment. In his early work at Oxford he explicity disagreed with such figures as St Thomas and Duns Scotus, but he discussed their views, especially those of Scotus, in detail and with respect. [...] Especially on the point which most sharply divides nominales from reales, the issue of realism itself, Ockham claimed to proceed constructively, for he held that it was realism, not nominalism, that destroyed the possibility of genuine knowledge. To posit non-singular things outside the mind was, he said, not only absurd, but it destroyed the whole of Aristotle's philosophy and all science, truth, and reason." (p.5)

    "In 1324, after teaching at Oxford for some years but apparently before receiving the doctorate, Ockham was summoned to the papal court at Avignon to answer charges of heresy brought against some of his doctrines by a former Chancellor of the university, John Lutterell. [...] Out of fifty-one articles considered in 1324-5, the examiners found many to be erroneous but not one heretical. The commission was then set to work on a second inquiry, this one resulting in a finding of heresy in connection with ten articles. We can only speculate as to whether John XXII's recent and continuing attacks on the Spiritual Franciscans were important in stimulating a second and harsher examinations of the order's most brillant theologian. [...] Both reports have been critized for dealing with Ockham's views on the basis of snippets taken out of context and badly understood at that. [...] No further action had been taken, as far as we know, by the time Ockham fled from Avignon nearly two years later. [...] In a letter to the king of Bohemia, the pope was willing to brand Ockham a heresiarch for the ideas on which he had been examinated at Avignon, but his excommunication was based on his having fled the papal curia with Michael of Cesena, not on the results of Lutterell's process against him. The objective orthodoxy of Ockham's doctrine of justification is still in dispute, but there is no doubt that the manner in which his teaching was examined would have strained even a patient man's confidence in the established system of justice. All in all, that process appears to have been a needless humiliation of an original but very cautious theologian. Although there are no direct references to it in his later writings, such an ordeal must surely have reinforced the other, more important grounds for dissatisfaction with the papal government which were becoming evident to him at the same time.
    John XXII thought at first that Ockham had fled the curia because of a bad conscience about the hérésies for which he had been delated there, but he soon learned of Ockham's association with the Franciscans' minister general, Michael of Cesena. Early in May, 1328, Michael, Ockham, and a few other friars secretly left Avignon and took refuge with Ludwig of Bavaria, first in Italy then, for the rest of Ockham's life, in Munich. The reason for Ockham's flight was his duty, as he saw it, to defend Franciscan devotion to poverty as a Christian ideal against no less a danger than a papal heresy
    ." (p.7-9)

    "Peter John Olivi [...] the moral and intellectual inspiration for so many of the Franciscan Spirituals." (p.13)

    "The issue of Franciscan poverty was for Ockham not merely a matter of the friar's subjective renunciation of possessions (perhaps only a frame of mind) but also a matter of objective disengagement from the legal order, not as being out-laws, of course, but has having no legal recourse." (p.16)

    "Ockham has not wanted to believe that a person holding the papal office would promulgate hérésies as catholic truth. On reading John XXII's constitutions, however, he concluded that just this had occurred." (p.17)

    "In I Dialogus there is no theory of the secular state." (p.19)

    "It is agreed that the year 1337 was a turning point in Ockham's career as a publicist. It was in the Contra Benedictum, written at this time, that he first attempted to determine the limits of the power of even an orthodox pope, a problem henceforth never far from his mind and one which was indubitably political in every sense of the term. The central difficulty was to form an adequate conception of the distinctive "fullness of power" -plenitudo potestatis- traditionally attributed to the pope. After raising this problem in the Contra Benedictum, Ockham treated it intensively in each of the important works which followed: III Dialogus, the Octo Quaestiones, and the Breviloquium ; he presented his views finally and more concisely in the De Imperatorum et Pontificum Potestate." (p.20-21)

    "In the decade after 1337, then, Ockham "went political" in various ways: by treating questions of Church government in a partly political style, by supporting particular courses of action in secular affairs, and by explicity considering basic questions of political theory." (p.25)

    "It is natural when dealing with a medieval theologian and philosopher to attempt to explain his political thought by deducing it from his more general speculative world view. There are, however, at least three difficulties with such a plan in Ockham's case: the intrinsic difficulty of correctly interpreting nominalist theology and philosophy, the nearly total absence of explicity political passages in the speculative works, and a corresponding paucity of specifically nominalist passages in the political works." (p.28)

    "As a theologian and philosopher among a small group of excommunicate friars, how did Ockham think to bring down the reigning head of the Roman church ? How could he think himself morally justified in such an undertaking ? What obstacles did he recognize ? How did he seek to overcome them ? What significance does this venture in revolutionary ecclesiastical politics have for politics in general ?" (p.47)

    "In Book 5 [of I Dialogus] he had asked who could be tainted with heretical depravity. His answer was, very nearly everyone. The faith will endure until the end of the world. Christ's promise assure it. But this promise is fulfilled if there is even one catholic Christian. Certainly the pope can become a heretic, and so can the college of cardinals, as for that matter can a general Council, or even all the clergy. Indeed, all Christian men can fall into heresy. One could even imagine the Christian faith being preserved only in the soul of a single baptized infant." (p.48)

    "The problem of papal heresy was not a new one in theory. [...] By Ockham's time one common opinion held that a heretical pope was automatically deprived of all ecclesiastical authority -just as a dead man is not a man, so a pope Fallen into heresy is not a pope and is ipso facto deposed. [...] For all its theological value, however, this idea provided little help in doing anything about a heretic actually occupying the papal throne." (p.52)

    "The greatest political problem, as he saw it, was to induce men to act from regard to Christian truth rather than illusory political practicality." (p.6)

    "Before Ockham, the tendancy of medieval political thinkers was to suppose that persons in authority held places in a divinely ordained structure whose intrinsic value prohibited protest or change except throught channels provided by the structure itself. For Ockham, on the other hand, everyone is potentially active in matters concerning the government of the church, at least in the extreme case of pape heresy. [...] In the special or irregular situation in which Ockham made his appeal, he asked individuals to rise above the social categories normally defining them. To be sure, the appeal was made only in an extraordinary situation, and its basis was the other individuals, those in positions of authority, had Fallen short of the demands of their offices (the traditional distinction), and yet Ockham did not support an alternative ideology in which some other office was superior to the papacy. This was the path of those royal and imperial political theories which used the sacral character of the king's office or the lay ruler's protective function as tutor ecclesiae to make him, rather than the pope, the foundation of ecclesiastical order. Such a path was closed to Ockham by the fallibilism defended in I Dialogus 5. Since no part of the chruch can be identified with the whole church, no part can lay claim to the inerrancy which has been promised to the whole church. Hence, there can be no "fail-safe" ecclesiastical constitution, no purely constitutional solution to so radical a crisis as papal heresy. Accordingly, although Ockham made systematic reference to the officia or doctor, rex, princeps, praelatus, and so on, in the course of insisting upon action against the heretical pope, his ultimate appeal was for the individual to act in spite of his position, not because of it." (p.73)

    "It is clear that his opposition to the individual popes of his times was far from conventional." (p.74)

    "Ockham substantially redefined the relation between society and government. Instead of viewing law and government as the animating force in society, the source of all order and value, Ockham regarded them as purely instrumental. The political element in human affairs becomes with him a means to the social existence of free men, but not the basis of the community or its end." (p.85)

    "Ockham did eliminate the specifically religious basis for secular power, not only within the medieval societas Christiana, but in broader contexts as well. This desacralization of secular power was part of Ockham's larger effort to resolve the institutional conflits of his age, and its ultimate motive was religious. Nevertheless, the immediate effect was a reinterpretation of certain longstanding ecclesiastical traditions, a reinterpretation which in all but the most abnormal conditions deprived them of political substance." (p.85)

    "Ockham denied the dependence of secular on ecclesiastical power. It must again be emphasized, however, that, "radical" as this denial was in terms of papalist political theory, Ockham did not present it as a departure from tradition." (p.95)

    "[More enlightened than St Thomas] Ockham is even ready to grant an imperator infidelis authority in religious disputes in so far as they endanger the common good." (p.102)

    "Before the fall, according to Ockham, there was no private property or political rulership. The human race did have a dominium (potestas dominandi) over the rest of the creation, but this was a natural right possessed by the human race in common. After the fall, a second power was conferred by God, a power to appropriate temporal things to determinate persons and to set up rulers. This power, too, was conferred upon the human race in common, however, not on particular persons." (p.105)

    "A more important indication of Ockham's unwillingness to make popular consent the sole principle of political legitimacy is his repeated denial that a community may at its own discretion withdraw power from the government it has established. Once an emperor is elected he has no regular Superior on earth. In this sense (though not in the sense of a special divine mandate) his power is a solo Deo. Hence, he cannot validly be deposed without cause or fault. This is one of the points at which Ockham's ideas were directly relevant to current political reality. The attempts of the papacy and of Baldwin or Trier to depose Ludwig of Bavaria in the years around 1345 could be made more acceptable to the imperial electors if they were persuaded that they had the power to depose the emperor and elect a successor at their own discretion. The electors would naturally have been reluctant to concede that their original election of Ludwig was invalid, but no such concession was required by a theory of electoral discretion. It is likely enough that Ockham's rejection of this theory in the Breviloquium was directed against electoral prétentions to sovereign power. Its relevance to German politics does not make this limitation of the doctrine of consent inconsistent with the basic principle of Ockham's own thought, however. If we search his writings from one end to the other, we find almost nothing to suggest that the continuing participation and consent of the governed is an essential principle of political legitimacy." (p.107)

    "It is misleading to combine Ockham with Marsilius as an exponent of popular sovereignty." (p.108)

    "Ockham has in mind corporate but non-political reference points for evaluating the benefits of various forms of governments. Instead of viewing society as the source of moral personality or status, he found such values in man's situation prior to the establishment or activities of any government, yet there is no ground for attributing to him the view that pre-political man exists in a state of radical ethical separation from his fellows. On the contrary, it is because all humanity already forms one kingdom in an informal sense that the existing political situation (where there are many Kings) should be transcended. The values appealed to here are social, not individualistic. [...] The specifically political component in human affairs, the apparatus of law and government, will be distinct from and secondary in value to the larger human corpus which it régulates." (p.118-119)

    "Ockham differed from both Marsilius and the papalists in construing the individual's freedom as an absence of interference from government, not in terms of a positive relation to government (as either an efficient cause in legislation or as an ordened part of the corporate whole)." (p.119)

    "He asserts that the quality of a form of government dépends on the quality of its subjects: the better the subjects, the better the regime. Since free men are better than unfree, the "best" regime will be over the former. Hence, it is repugnant to the best regime to be entirely over servi. In this argument, Ockham once again differs from Plato and Augustine, for whom the best regime is that in which the best element is dominant. For this tradition, the quality of a community thus dépends on the quality of its rulers. For Ockham the reverse is the case." (p.121)

    "Ockham believed that there was reasonable cause for establishing systems of property and even, on occasion, for imposing the yoke of servitude on men who are by nature free. Nevertheless, his defense of Franciscan poverty and emphasis on personal liberty cannot be viewed simply as expressions of pious sentiment or subjective, personal aspiration. In the former case, to be sure, the ideal natural "right" to be poor was defended only for a select minority, not used as the basis for a new social order." (p.181)

    "What might be called the rationalism of Ockham's voluntarism -the requirement of some exercice of recta ratio for any good act and the demand that due care be taken to find the "right" right reason- strongly supports the use of natural law." (p.195)

    "[His] political works make no appeal to a distinctively Ockhamist theological epistemology." (p.199)

    "Ockham's emphasis on the inner relation to God provides at least indirect support for an exaltation of the free, individual "subject". So long as an individual does all that is in him to love God above all else et does his duty from love of God, his acts will be intrinsically valuable, whether they are externally magnificent or humble. To be sure, the free Christian will show reasonable respect for his ecclesiastical and secular superiors, but his personal Worth will not depend on them. Although Ockham never directly attacked the hierarchical order of medieval society, the effect of his doctrine is certainly to diminish the human significance of rank and privilege. It would be easy to exaggerate here what is only the development of a common Christian theme." (p.205)

    "Ockham's work signals the end of political Augustinism and the hierocratically inspired descending thesis of government with its resulting program of moulding society from above." (p.221)

    "Every individual has a natural right to the necessities of life which justifies using the property of another in case of extreme need even without the other's consent." (p.222)
    -Arthur Stephen McGrade, The Political Thought of William of Ockham, Cambridge University Press, 2002 (1974 pour la première édition), 269 pages.


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