1350s Oxford arguments for the existence of God – Anselmian, Augustinian or sui generis ‘logicist’?Cal Ledsham
278 Victoria Pde
1350s Oxford arguments for the existence of God – Anselmian, Augustinian or sui generis ‘logicist’?
This survey-paper is concerned with a style of argument for the existence of God produced in the 1350s in Oxford. As background, I briefly explain the history of attitudes to the famed arguments for God produced by Duns Scotus, and their almost-complete rejection by ‘cavilling’ by William of Ockham. I then consider briefly the post-Ockhamist view of such (nuncupare vulgariter:) ‘cosmological’ arguments – that they are respectably reasonable and worthy, but can be refuted by someone wanting to niggle or cavil over every detail; then Thomas Bradwardine’s (1344) Anselmian(-esque) proof, and the 1340’s emergence of a style of interrogating various positions of natural theology as to whether they include contradiction (e.g. Gregory Rimini OESA, Hugholini de Urbe Veteri, OESA). I then deal with the respective proofs of Roger of Nottingham OFM, Nicholas Aston, and Godfrey Hardeby OESA, which are phrased in terms of whether the proposition that ‘God does not exist’ includes contradiction, and scepticism about the value of these arguments expressed by Richard Brinkley OFM.
The results of the paper are that a forgotten chapter of the history of philosophy of God gets a wider audience, and a revision of the narrative on post-Ockham scholasticism to the following: although medieval thinkers were dubious about the absolutely watertight status of the Scotist ( ‘cosmological’) line of proofs for the existence of God, they did not as a result embrace ‘fideism’; rather they switched strategies for proving the existence of God, and that (contra various works of Leonard Kennedy in the 1980s) it is possible to read these figures as committed and intriguingly creative ‘Augustinian’ philosopher-theologians, rather than as insincere and decadent logicians going through the motions of engagement with theology.