AbstractsPhilosophy & Theology

"Nisi Deus Decipiat": Adam Wodeham on Evident Knowledge.

by B.D. Adam Langridge

Institution: University of Guelph
Year: 2015
Record ID: 2058259
Full text PDF: https://atrium.lib.uoguelph.ca/xmlui/handle/10214/8739


The following focuses on the Lectura Secunda, the only critically-edited Sentences commentary we have from the late-medieval Franciscan, Adam Wodeham (c. 1295-1358), and the only of Wodeham’s works with a secondary literature sufficient to support a dissertation. I argue in accord with Rega Wood that Wodeham’s epistemology as given in the Lectura Secunda avoids the threat of skepticism posed by natural threats to the reliability of knowledge. I build on her work by claiming that his position also successfully avoids the threat to knowledge posed by divine deception. Against the emerging consensus that Wodeham was a skeptic, I agree with Wood that Wodeham’s epistemology is reliabilist. Wodeham’s claim that sensory intuition is the source of all naturally acquired mental content opens him to the charge of skepticism on two fronts: natural deception, by which all would be doubtable owing to sense-deception; and divine deception, by which all would be doubtable owing to God’s ability to deceive by directly creating a false intuition. To the first, Wodeham claims that although sensation alone is naturally unreliable, deliberation can sort veridical from deceptive sensory intuitions, ensuring the reliability of sensation. Regarding divine deception, Wodeham accepts it as an irreducible possibility, for which he has been branded a skeptic. But, I claim, this reading overlooks the fact that Wodeham argues in favour of divine deception to make science, thought of as demonstrative knowledge, possible, and that he posits a hypothetical form of proposition regarding facts of the world capable of causing conviction in the mind that what it expresses is reliably but not infallibly the case. His hypothetical contingent propositions, “Unless God deceives, this whiteness exists and is present” (pointing to a swath of whiteness), cause invincible conviction, but make explicit a condition that reliabilists tacitly accept: we have beliefs that constitute knowledge despite the possibility that all such may be false. Wodeham’s position, I further claim, is indistinguishable from that of a clearly recognized reliabilist of a subsequent generation, John Buridan (c. 1300-1361). In a nutshell, Buridan and Wodeham both claim that although deception is always possible, doubt is never justified.