Nominalism Addendum


            William of Ockham proposed a principle known as Ockham’s Razor. Ockham’s Razor stated that the simplest explanation is always the best. Profound things cannot be explained simply. Universal norms and particulars is a difficult concept not easily explained. Realists, such as Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas, would say the form or concept of a thing corresponds to the essence or nature of a thing because that thing causes it. A rose has a universal form that all recognize because there is a “rosiness” exhibited by the rose independent of the particulars of its color or size.

Ockham’s Principle found this too difficult and proposed a simpler theory. It stated that there is no essential relationship between concepts and the things they represent. Concepts are simply constructs of the mind. There is no corresponding object in reality. Society by convention gives this plant the name rose. It is just a name, i.e. noma, given for convenience, not tied to the roses essence or nature. Another way of stating this is that universal terms are not connected in any immediate or necessary way to the natures/forms of things outside the mind.

The absence of a common human nature follows from Ockham’s Razor. There is no common human nature for all. There are no universal norms, which flow from a common destiny of human nature, only particulars. There is no common moral law rooted in the way God made our human nature. God gives a law, not because it is in accord with our human nature but because He commands it to be. The law does not flow from mind seeking truth and the will desiring goodness, and the person desiring friendship. This is too complex for Ockham’s Razor.

  1. Following is an interesting reflection from a Protestant theologian touching on the difference of nature and names. The short answer of why Mary & Joseph named our Lord Jesus is because they were obedient. I disagree with the the Sola Scriptura approach of the Bible being a self referencing document. The Bible is written of a Faith community, who understands its contents (the Magisterium). Bear these caveats in mind.

Why Did Mary and Joseph Not Call Jesus “Immanuel”? by Eric Lyons, M.Min.

Why Did Mary and Joseph Not Call Jesus “Immanuel”?

A. Approximately 700 years before the birth of the promised Messiah, Isaiah prophesied about a virgin who would “conceive and bear a Son and shall call His name Immanuel” (7:14). Years later, the apostle Matthew referred to Isaiah’s prophecy, specifying once again that, “they shall call His name Immanuel” (1:22-23). Many have wondered why, if the promised Son of Mary was supposed to be called “Immanuel,” this name is never used in the New Testament aside from Matthew’s quotation of Isaiah 7:14. Why do we never read of Mary, Joseph, John the Baptizer, Peter, Paul, or others calling the Messiah “Immanuel”?

Thankfully, as so often is the case with God’s Word, the Bible is its own (and best!) commentary. To better understand what Isaiah meant by the nameImmanuel, it is helpful to consider what the prophet wrote two chapters later. In prophesying about the Messiah, Isaiah wrote: “His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (9:6). Did Isaiah mean by this that the Messiah would literally have as His given name “Wonderful,” “Counselor,” or “Everlasting Father”? Surely, to ask is to answer. These names were given to describe the natureof the Messiah, not serve as literal, given names. As commentator Albert Barnes noted:

His [the Messiah’s—EL] attributes shall be such as to make all these applications appropriate descriptions of his power and work. To be called, and to be, in the Hebrew, often mean the same thing…. Such a use of a verb is not uncommon in Isaiah. ‘One calls him,’ is, according to the usage in Isaiah, as ranch as to say [the equivalent of saying—EL], he will justly bear this name; or simply, he will be (1997).

By nature, the son of Mary was “Immanuel” (John 1:1-3; 10:30,33; 20:28), but by name, He was “Jesus.”

A similar distinction between one’s nature and name is found as early as Genesis chapter two. Following God’s creation of Eve from Adam’s rib, the first man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman, because she was taken out of man” (Genesis 2:23, emp. added). Although Adam said, “she shall be called woman,” one chapter later Moses recorded how “Adam called his wife’s name Eve” (3:20). Obviously, Adam meant that by nature the one whom God created from his rib was a female human, “a helper comparable to him” (though with noticeable differences and roles—3:18-23), but by name, she would be known as “Eve.”

Gabriel’s conversation with Mary prior to her miraculous conception is also helpful in gaining a proper understanding of Jesus’ name and nature. Although Gabriel did not use the term “Immanuel,” notice how he distinguished between Jesus’ given name and the titles by which He would be known as a result of His divine nature:

Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end…. The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God (Luke 1:30-35, emp. added).

Finally, Matthew further clarifies God’s use of the “name” Immanuel in the very passage he quotes—Isaiah 7:14. Immediately before and after Matthew reminds his readers of the prophecy regarding the Messiah’s name being “Immanuel” (1:23), he noted how Joseph would call (1:21) and did call (1:25) the Messiah by “His name Jesus.” The fact that Matthew wrote of the Messiah’s “name” being “Immanuel” in verse 23, but “Jesus” in verses 21 and 25, clearly shows that Matthew understood that one name (Jesus) was a given, literal name, while the other (Immanuel), similar to Jesus’ title “Christ,” characterized His essence.


Barnes, Albert (1997), Notes on the Old and New Testaments (Electronic Database: Biblesoft).

III. In the phrase “Occham’s razor”, razor means a theorem or a postulate. However, I cannot find any other phrase that uses razor in this manner. Can you help me reveal the mystery behind the etymology of razor?

Actually, razor means “razor” here. Ockhman’s razor is not something that a man Ockham used for shaving, but instead it is a principle suggesting that the simplest explanation is usually the best.  The image conjured is one of a razor slicing away unnecessary explanations to get to the simplest one.  The maxim was not actually invented by Ockham.  He simply used it and referred to it a great deal.  Earlier philosophers, like Thomas Aquinas, and even Aristotle, employed this maxim.  It was Sir William Hamilton who christened it “Ockham’s razor” in 1852.  Incidentally, it is usually spelled “Occam’s razor” or “Ockham’s razor”.  William of Ockham, a Franciscan friar and philosopher of 14th century England, is the razor’s namesake.

It is also known as the law of parsimony, or the law of economy, rendered in Latin as lex parsimoniae.

While we’re here, we might as well look into razor.  English adopted it from Old French rasor, which ultimately came from Latin radere “to scrape” – which is exactly what one does with a razor – scrape off beard or hair.  It turns up in the English written record in about 1290 in the form rasores (plural), which shows the French connection.