William of Occam
(c. 1285—1347) English philosopher and Franciscan friar
Occam is a village near Guildford in Surrey, from which William presumably took his name. An Oxford Franciscan, he is said to have been a pupil of Duns Scotus. His thought developed when his order became involved in a protracted dispute with the papacy on the subject of evangelical poverty, which the Franciscans embraced. Occam's writings in defence of his order led to a summons to Avignon and a condemnation by Pope John XXII. The continuing controversy led Occam to examine the relations of church and state. He argued that the papacy had no standing in temporal matters and that within the church it was subordinate to a general council. In his methodology, he emphasized both the power and limitations of logic: it could not touch revealed truth and faith, and since it dealt largely with terms of argument, the principle of economy should apply and as few assumptions as possible should be made—hence, ‘Occam's razor’.