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William of Ockham on Heresy - Dictionary of Arguments

Gaus I 345
Heresy/William of Ockham/Kilcullen: Part I of his Dialogus (c. 1334) discusses heresy and heretics, suggesting that to show that someone is a heretic it is not enough to show that what that person believes is heresy; it is necessary also to show that he or she believes it 'pertinaciously', and to show this it is necessary to enter
Gaus I 346
into discussion to discover whether the person is ready to abandon the error when it is shown to be such. On the other hand, a pope who tries to impose a false doctrine on others is known to be pertinacious precisely from the fact that he is trying to impose false doctrine on others, and a pope who becomes a heretic automatically ceases to be pope.
Thus ordinary Christians (or a pope arguing as a theologian and not purporting to exercise papal authority) can argue for a heresy in discussion as long as they make no attempt to impose it on others, whereas a pope who tries to impose a heresy ceases to be pope and loses all authority. This is an argument for freedom of discussion within the Church, though not for toleration in general (see McGrade, 1974(1): 47-77; McGrade, Kilcullen and Kempshall, 2001(2): 484-95.


1. McGrade, Arthur Stephen (1974) The Political Thought of William of Ockham. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
2. McGrade, Arthur Stephen, John Kilcullen and Matthew Kempshall (2001) The Cambridge Translations of Medieval Philosophical Texts. Vol. 2, Ethics and Political Philosophy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Kilcullen, John 2004. „Medieval Politial Theory“. In: Gaus, Gerald F. & Kukathas, Chandran 2004. Handbook of Political Theory. SAGE Publications


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Explanation of symbols: Roman numerals indicate the source, arabic numerals indicate the page number. The corresponding books are indicated on the right hand side. ((s)…): Comment by the sender of the contribution. Translations: Dictionary of Arguments
The note [Author1]Vs[Author2] or [Author]Vs[term] is an addition from the Dictionary of Arguments. If a German edition is specified, the page numbers refer to this edition.

Gaus I
Gerald F. Gaus
Chandran Kukathas
Handbook of Political Theory London 2004


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