By Copleston, Frederick

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But this does not alter the fact that an intellectual intuition or knowledge of the individual thing as individual would be more perfect than abstract and universal knowledge. ‘For the knowledge which attains to the thing precisely as the thing exists is more perfect than knowledge which attains to the thing in a manner in which the thing does not exist. But it is clear that a universal thing does not exist, except in individual things and through individual things, as the Philosopher says against Plato, in the seventh book of the Metaphysics.

This treatment of signs was an improvement on that given by Peter of Spain, who does not seem to give sufficient explicit recognition to the identity of logical significance which may attach to corresponding words in different languages. To anticipate for a moment, one may point out that when Ockham is called a ‘nominalist’, it is not meant, or should not be meant, that he ascribed universality to words considered precisely as termini prolati or scripti, that is, to terms considered as conventional signs: it was the natural sign, the terminus conceptus, of which he was thinking.

It is, therefore, a term of ‘first intention’ (primae intentionis). But in the statement ‘species are subdivisions of genera’ the term ‘species’ does not stand immediately for things which are not themselves signs: it stands for class-names, like ‘man’, ‘horse’, ‘dog’, which are themselves signs. The term ‘species‘ is thus a term of second intention (secundae intentionis). In other words, terms of second intention stand for terms of first intention and are predicated of them, as when it is said that ‘man’ and ‘horse’ are species.

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A History of Philosophy - Ockham to the Speculative Mystics (Christian Library) by Copleston, Frederick


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