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History of Philosophy|
Nicholas of Autrecourt
by Turner, William (S.T.D.)
|Life. Nicholas of Autrecourt  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.  Six years
later he was condemned, and in 1347 he renounced his errors.
 Cf. De Wulf, op. cit., p. 377.
 Chartul., II, 505.
Hauréau and the editors of the Chartularium  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.
 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
Deus est, Deus non est, penitus idem significant, licet alio modo. . .
Item dixi, in quadam disputatione, quod contradictoria ad invicem idem
 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