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History of Philosophy
Nicholas of Autrecourt
by Turner, William (S.T.D.)

Life. Nicholas of Autrecourt [1] illustrates by his career as well as by his doctrines the deplorable condition into which Ockamism and Averroism had plunged philosophical speculation about the middle of the fourteenth century. In 1340, while Nicholas was still a mere bachelor in theology at the University of Paris, he was cited, together with six other students of theology, to appear before Benedict XII to answer to the charge of disseminating erroneous doctrines. [2] Six years later he was condemned, and in 1347 he renounced his errors.
[1] Cf. De Wulf, op. cit., p. 377.

[2] Chartul., II, 505.

Hauréau and the editors of the Chartularium [3] publish a document in which is preserved a sample of the sophistical reasoning employed by Nicholas. The only principle which is immediately evident is the principle of contradiction. To this principle, therefore, every proposition must be reduced, in order that its truth may be demonstrated. Now, it is evident that an identical proposition, such as A = A, is the only proposition to which the principle of contradiction can be applied. It follows that identical propositions are the only propositions that can be proved to be true. The law of causality, the existence of the external world, the existence of the faculties of the soul cannot be demonstrated, because they cannot be reduced to the principle of contradiction.
[3] Cf. op. cit., II, 576 ff.
Not content with these conclusions, which are virtually a profession of phenomenalism, Nicholas of Autrecourt goes so far as to call into question the principle of contradiction itself, thus ending in absolute scepticism:
Deus est, Deus non est, penitus idem significant, licet alio modo. . . 
Item dixi, in quadam disputatione, quod contradictoria ad invicem idem 
significant. [4]
[4] Op. cit., II, 578, 580.
He denies the existence of substantial changes, explaining that such changes take place by means of combinations of atoms (congregatio corporum athomalium naturalium).

In his theological doctrines Nicholas advocates the theologicat determinism (denial of free will on the part of God) which was formulated by Thomas Bradwardine in his celebrated treatise De Causa Dei contra Pelagium (1344).

Historical Position. The doctrine of theological determinism shows the influence of the ultra-realism of the Averroists, while the sophistical method employed by Nicholas of Autrecourt betrays the influence of the method, if not of the doctrines, of Ockam. These two factors, Averroism and Ockamism, brought about the degeneration of Scholasticism even before the dawn of the modern era and the appearance of the forces which caused the complete disintegration of the Scholastic system.


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