Ockham Ruined Everything!

Just look at him. Would you trust this man with a razor?

While I compose my response to Dan’s provocative post, the more cerebral will enjoy reading this reflection from Michael Brendan Dougherty on some dangerous tendencies in certain quarters to romanticize the High Middle Ages and blame all our problems on Ockham and Luther. For those who are interested in such historical/philosophical questions, it’s worth the read just for the part about “medieval hipster ironies.” More broadly, the warning against “reverse Whiggism” is much needed. My long-term interest in drawing on John Locke as a moral and cultural resource (while being mindful of his theological and metaphysical limitations) is all of a piece with this. And so, in a broader sense, is the moral consensus idea.

Moral consensus stands against both optimistic and pessimistic Whiggisms. The thing they have in common is elevating some past historical moment (the Glorious Revolution and the American founding on one side, the High Middle Ages on the other side) as a great historical culmination, the ultimate manifestation of the moral law (and even the gospel) in the social order. A central insight of the moral conensus view, which traces its roots through Augustine, is that human civilization is always a realm of compromise – is always a place of moral/spiritual edification and failure simultaneously – such that no particular social order or cultural situation is ever a final destination or moral entelechy. There is no end zone for the moral/spiritual development of human civilization; there is only the best compromise available in each situation.

Hmm. Maybe I’ve already composed my response to Dan after all!

5 Thoughts.

  1. I only threw that in to see if you knew it. 🙂

    It means the condition of a thing that has fully achieved its potential, a thing whose implicit “essence” (to use Aristotelian terms) is fully realized in actuality. Locke’s rejection of Aristotelian essentialism is heavily invested in the claim that we cannot have an adequate conception of a thing’s essence if we have no experience of its entelechy. (Although Locke would never have actually used the Greek jargon.) The position I’m staking out is middle ground between Aristotle and Locke; I agree with Locke that we never experience an entelechy and therefore our concepts of the essence of things always remain subject to revision – they are never final – but I disagree with Locke that these concepts are therefore never adequate for our purposes. And in his better moments I think even Locke himself often rose above the excesses of his limited metaphysics.

  2. And when the Ockhamites stopped believing in God’s all-powerful Will, they started to believe in theirs. Without a heaven, earth must be transformed into heaven. If God’s will will not change the world, we will change the world. And the wars, the blood, the fascists, and the Marxists were born.

    Christi pax,


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