Close-edged reasoning teetering over the abyss

“If you say that that which does not exist is not the cause of everything, I say, that is false; but one must add that it does not exist, nor is it loved, nor desired. And then indeed it does follow that it is not a cause. But an end can be loved or desired now however much it does not exist. And hence it can be a final cause when it does not exist.” – William of Ockham, Seven Quodlibets (trans. Walsh)

2 thoughts on “Close-edged reasoning teetering over the abyss”

    1. It’s rooted in Aristotelian logic. It is one of the more difficult passages I’ve posted. I’ve had to read it several times to stick to the line it’s following. William of Ockham was a medieval philosopher. The biggest difficulty besetting medieval philosophers for a thousand years, be they Christian, Muslim, or Jew, was how to square Aristotle’s clear, cutting, secular logic with the religious superstitions they brought to the table. A square peg into round hole issue.

      The assumption behind what Ockham was saying here—and this can be logically proven, but I’m going to pass—is that that which created the universe must not exist in itself as a created entity; it has to be beyond space and time, as it were, and therefore beyond existence as we commonly consider existence. To rephrase, Ockham was saying that God does not exist but nonetheless is a cause which can be loved and desired and have effective power in the world therefrom; or, it doesn’t matter if you can prove or disprove the intrinsic existence of God as any sort of entity—that people believe God exists and take action accordingly provides the practical necessary proof of God’s existence.

      As you may imagine, making any argument that a simplistic belief in the existence of God as an old man in the sky is an inaccurate belief could get one in a heap of trouble in the Middle Ages. I include the quote for two reasons: 1) it speaks to how people can passionately strive after nonexistent states (for instance, writers striving for significant publication), and 2) it illustrates the sort of dense, convoluted reasoning medieval philosophers engaged in while trying to get Aristotle square with the Church, and which endeavors have left them accused by later ages of “counting how many angels can dance on the head of a pin” (the answer is, they all can, but none of them do).

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