A Brief History
On May 26, 1328, William of Ockham, a Franciscan Friar, snuck out of Avignon fearing his execution would be ordered by the Pope. Known as “Doctor Invincibillis” (Unconquerable Teacher) at the University of Oxford, William had upset the Pope and other high church officials by preaching the Fransiscan belief that since Jesus and the Apostles did not own personal property, Catholic clergymen should likewise not possess any worldly goods.
Not surprisingly, this situation was contrary to the reality of the day when Popes and Cardinals amassed great wealth. William and other Franciscans sought asylum at the court of the Holy Roman Emperor, Louis IV of Bavaria. There, William conveniently supplied the philosophical and logical thinking outlining the argument that Louis should be the supreme authority over the church and the state of the Holy Roman Empire.
Of course, Pope John XXII did not agree and had William excommunicated from the Catholic Church. William died at age 60 in 1347, and was “rehabilitated” by Pope Innocent VI in 1359.
So why is this guy important? Because his logical and analytical mind has provided philosophers with a fundamental rule of thought, known as “Occam’s Razor.” Although William had written all sorts of philosophical papers, it is the “Occam’s Razor” logic that stands above the rest, something that we in everyday life can apply to our thinking.
The main idea behind Occam’s Razor is applying the doctrine of simplicity to any theory, eliminating all forms of assumption to the minimum possible. Basically, the simplest explanation (without relying on unsupported assumptions) is the best. The idea is to avoid convoluted arguments relying on making up more and more assumptions to support an argument. Kind of a philosophical “KISS” rule (“Keep it simple, Stupid!”) This way of thinking tends toward explanations that are more probable than improbable.
William of Ockham (Occam) did not invent this philosophy, but for whatever reason it is by his name that we have come to know it. This straightforward thinking undermines religious arguments, and for this reason (among others) William earned the ire of the Church. Atheists often use this brand of logic to argue against faith-based thinkers, although William was definitely a man of faith.
Many forms of organized religion have sought to stifle progressive thinking throughout the ages. The works of Copernicus and Galileo are examples of science attacked by theologians, and even today there is great animosity toward the theory of evolution from fundamentalist Christians. What do you think about this situation? Feel free to share your thoughts.
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