Wodeham, Adam (c. 1298–1358)

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(c. 12981358)

Adam Wodeham studied theology with Walter Chatton. The man he held in high esteem, his friend and mentor, was, however, William Ockham. All three men were Englishmen and fellow Franciscans. But whereas Chatton systematically opposed Ockham's views, Wodeham rose to Ockham's defense. As a teacher of theology himself, Wodeham lectured on Peter Lombard's Sentences. He did so three times, in London, Norwich (c. 1330), and Oxford (1332). The text of only the last two lectures survive, and only the second has been printed in a modern critical edition. Wodeham developed his own philosophical and theological doctrines by rethinking those of Ockham, some of which he considerably altered. This entry mentions only his most original contributions to philosophy proper.

Language and Thought

Wodeham agreed with Ockham that the languages humans speak derive their meaningfulness from an intrinsically significant mental language, common to all intellects. The terms of that language are concepts. Concepts are acts of apprehending individual things. Some are singular, by which a given individual thing is apprehended, as when we see a thing or remember one we have earlier seen. Others are general, as, for example, the concept corresponding to the word "rose," by which we apprehend all actual and possible roses indiscriminately. Mental sentences too are acts of apprehension. When we form a mental sentence, however, we apprehend a thing of a different sort, Wodeham thought, namely a state of affairs. For example, a rose being a flower is apprehended not by a concept, but by the mental correlate of "a rose is a flower." Concepts and mental sentences are to be regarded as signifying those very things we apprehend by them.


Wodeham's ontology is thus twofold. It contains a restricted ontology of concrete individuals, a strictly nominalist ontology, but in its full extension it also includes states of affairs, and therefore abstract things. Accordingly, Wodeham regarded words such as "being," "thing" and "something" as having two senses. In one sense of "thing," only concrete individuals, actual or possible, are things. In another sense, states of affairs, though they are abstract entities, are things, whether they obtain or can obtain, or not. Wodeham recognized both affirmative and negative states of affairs. Discussing Augustine, he remarks that the person who prefers not to exist over existing in misery can be correctly described as preferring one thing over another, though both things are states of affairs, one negative, the other affirmative.

Belief and Knowledge

Much of our intellectual activity consists in forming beliefs. We form a belief when we judge a state of affairs to obtain. We cannot form a belief, then, unless we first form a mental sentence by which we apprehend the relevant state of affairs. In some cases, it appears to us that the state of affairs we are considering obtains. The mental sentence by which we are apprehending it is then called "evident." Whenever we form an evident mental sentence, we tend to judge accordingly. There are, however, as Wodeham notes, degrees of evidence. At its lower degree, the evidence of a mental sentence is potentially outweighed by reasons we have or might have to dissent or doubt. We then judge accordingly only if we fail to bring these reasons to mind. At its higher degree, by contrast, the evidence of a mental sentence cannot be outweighed by any reasons to the contrary, and we are therefore compelled to judge accordingly. The sentence "If equals are subtracted from equals, the remainders are equal" has this degree of evidence, whereas the sentence "This boat is moving" has the lower degree of evidence. Wodeham assumed that if a mental sentence has the higher degree of evidence, its truth is guaranteed. On this assumption, he rules that only beliefs caused by mental sentences that have the higher degree of evidence (or that follow just as evidently from such sentences) are acts of knowledge. All other beliefs, whatever their cause, are matters of fallible opinion or perhaps of faith, but not of knowledge.


Wodeham's views, in particular on ontology, were extremely influential. In reaction to them, Parisian scholars of the mid-fourteenth century divided into two camps: those who recognized states of affairs and those who denied them. John Buridan was their most prominent opponent. He rejected, therefore, Wodeham's semantics of sentences, though not his semantics of terms. Authors who recognized the existence of states of affairs in addition to that of concrete individuals include Gregory of Rimini and Nicolas Oresme.

See also Chatton, Walter; Ockhamism; William of Ockham.


works by wodeham

Adam Goddam super quattuor libros sententiarum. Edited by John Major. Paris: P. le Preux, 1512. Contains Wodeham's Oxford lectures abbreviated (in c. 1375) by Henry Totting de Oyta, who inserted in the text comments of his own.

Lectura secunda in librum primum sententiarum. Edited by Rega Wood and Gedeon Gál. St. Bonaventure, NY: Franciscan Institute, 1990. Contains Wodeham's Norwich lectures.

Tractatus de indivisibilibus. Edited by Rega Wood. Dordrecht, Netherlands: Kluwer, 1998. Discusses alternative conceptions of the structure of the continuum as they connect with alternative attempts to solve the paradoxes of the infinite.

works on wodeham

Courtenay, William. Adam Wodeham: An Introduction to His Life and Writings. Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 1978. Contains valuable historical and manuscript information.

Gál, Gedeon. "Adam Wodeham's Question on the 'Complexe Significabile' as the Immediate Object of Scientific Knowledge." Franciscan Studies 37 (1977): 66102. This article revealed Wodeham as the source of Gregory of Rimini's theory of propositionally signifiable thingsthat is, of states of affairs.

Karger, Elizabeth. "Adam Wodeham on the Intentionality of Cognitions." In Ancient and Medieval Theories of Intentionality, edited by D. Perler. Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 2001.

Karger, Elizabeth. "Ockham and Wodeham on Divine Deception as a Skeptical Hypothesis." Vivarium 42 (2) (2004): 225236.

Karger, Elizabeth. "William of Ockham, Walter Chatton and Adam Wodeham on the Objects of Knowledge and Belief." Vivarium 33 (2) (1995): 171196.

Sylla, Edith Dudley. "God, Indivisibles and Logic in the Later Middle Ages: Adam Wodeham's Response to Henry of Harclay." Medieval Philosophy and Theology 7 (1) (1998): 6987.

Elizabeth Karger (2005)