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Ockham's Supposed Elimination of Connotative Terms and His Ontological Parsimony

Martin Tweedalea1

a1 University of Alberta

Two of the best currently practising scholars of Ockham, Marilyn Adams and Paul Spade, seem to have accepted a reading of Ockham's ontological program which, although it contains much that is uncontroversially correct, attributes to Ockham a reductionist view that is on my interpretation of his works far too radical to be genuinely Ockham's. Their reading runs as follows. So far as entities go, Ockham accepts only particular substances and some particular qualities. Aristotle's categories, according to Ockham, are not 10 broad classes of radically different sorts of things, but rather are classes of non-complex terms arranged roughly according to the kinds of questions they can be used to answer. When we look at these terms we find that those in the category of substance and some in the category of quality are not definable by some longer expression synonymous with them but simply signify each of the members of a certain class of substances or qualities. These terms are said to be absolute. But other terms (some in the category of quality and all in the other categories, whether abstract or concrete) can either be replaced by a definition that is synonymous with the term defined or can be interpreted as making “exponible” the sentences in which they occur. These terms are all said to be connotative. It is in principle possible to reword all the sentences in which these connotative terms appear so that the only categorematic terms left are absolute terms from the categories of substance and quality.