In the treatise of an unknown author, “On the Principles of Theology,” and other medieval works, we can find some statements attributed to William Ockham (1285-1349 AD), all of them formulating the principle of Ockham’s razor:
“Beings are not to be multiplied beyond necessity.”
“Plurality is not to be posited without necessity.”
“What can happen through fewer [principles] happens in vain through more.”
“When a proposition is verified of things, more [things] are superfluous if fewer suffice.”
Ockham himself uses two strategies for the elimination of redundant entities: he analyzes if there is a good reason for the existence of the entity; and if the existence of the entity leads to falsehood, as presented on the UML Activity Diagram below:
Analyze & understand the reasons and consequences of the ENTITY
Analyze & understand the reasons and consequences of the Entity
Is there a good reason for the ENTITY?
“Ockham has two main lines of attack against other people’s ontologies. One proceeds by arguing that the reasons others give for postulating certain entities are not good reasons, that everything that can be done with such entities can be done without them. This is the main strategy he uses, for example, to argue that real entities are not needed in most of Aristotle’s ten categories. Combined with Ockham’s Razor, this approach implies not only that such entities are unnecessary, but that therefore they should not be postulated.”
Is the existence of the ENTITY leading to a falsehood?
“Ockham has two main lines of attack against other people’s ontologies. […] The second main line of attack is different. It argues that certain other people’s ontological theories not only postulate unnecessary entities but lead to plain falsehood – either to self-contradiction or, at least, to claims that contradict established facts. This is one of the ways Ockham argues, for example, against realist theories of universals.”
Eliminate ENTITY from the theory – apply Ockam’s razor
All citations from: Spade, Paul Vincent, “Ockham’s Nominalist Metaphysics”, The Cambridge Companion to Ockham, ed. Paul Vincent Spade, Cambridge University Press, 2006
Spade, Paul Vincent and Claude Panaccio, “William of Ockham”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2019 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)
Moses ben Maimon (Maimonides, 1138–1204) was the most important medieval Jewish philosopher, who, in his work “Guide of the Perplexed” defined God, as an entity with “one simple essence” with no pluarility “of faculties, moral dispositions, or essential attributes.”
From this perspective propositions, like “God is the wisest” can not be interpreted literally; more than that, they imply that God’s wisdom or power bears some likeness to ours, which Maimonides denies.
To solve the contradiction between the absolute authenticity of the revealed text and, his philosophical view of God, he proposed three strategies for interpreting such propositions for the philosopher – readers:
interpret as concealed negation (via negativa)
interpret as an attribute of the created World
interpret as a metaphor
The UML Activity Diagram below depicts the usage of these strategies:
Read and understand propositon about God
Read an understand revealed, biblical proposotion about God.
Interpret as concealed negation
Statements like “God is powerful” are nonsense can be understood if one analyzes them as concealed negations: “Thus ‘God is powerful’ should be taken as ‘God is not lacking in power.’ Maimonides’ appeal to negation (GP 1.58) is often misunderstood because in normal speech a double negative usually indicates a positive. If I say that this dog is not lacking in the power of sight, you would be justified in concluding that it can see for the simple reason that sight is a power normally associated with dogs. What Maimonides has in mind is a more extreme form of negation. Thus ‘God is powerful’ means ‘God does not lack power or possess it in a way that makes it comparable to other things.’ Can God do something like move a book off a shelf? Yes, to the extent that God does not lack power but no to the extent that God does not have to move muscles, summon energy, or receive a supply of food or fuel. The power to create the whole universe is so far beyond that needed to move a book that any comparison cannot help but mislead. From an epistemological standpoint, a statement like ‘God is powerful’ is objectionable in so far as it implies that we have insight into the essence of God. The advantage of the negative formulation is that it implies nothing of the sort. To say that God does not lack power or possess it in a way comparable to other things is to say that God’s power is beyond our comprehension. And similarly for God’s life, wisdom, unity, or will. Thus most of the terms we use to describe God are completely equivocal as between God and us. There is then no reason to think that every time we praise God, we are identifying a separate part of the divine persona and comparing it to something else.”
Interpret as attributes of the created World
According to Maimonides, propositions like “God is merciful” or “God is angry” contain atributes in action,which should be interpreted as attributes of the created World: “we can say that God is merciful to the extent that the order of nature [World] (what God created) exhibits merciful characteristics and angry to the extent that it is harsh toward things that do not take proper care of themselves. The point is not that God possesses emotions similar to ours but that the effects of God’s actions resemble the effects of ours. Maimonides refers to these qualities as attributes of action”
Interpret as methaphore
Interpreat the propositon as a metaphore, e.g. “God sits on a throne” is a methaphore for “God is powerful”.
All citations from: Seeskin, Kenneth, “Maimonides”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2017 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)
Ehud Z. Benor, “Meaning and Reference in Maimonides’s Negative Theology”, The Harvard Theological Review, Vol. 88, No. 3. (Jul., 1995), pp. 339-360.