Monday, January 1, 2018

Bishop Barron Again

As the Scotus Police, I bring to your attention the latest from Robert Barron, Auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles. I won't comment on it, since I have done so elsewhere (see the tags). It is more of the same. It is not really about Scotus at all, but about evangelization. I add it here simply as documentation of the contemporary attitude towards Scotus. His lecture is here on the First Things website.

There is nothing new in the arguments of the New Atheists. They are borrowed from Feuerbach, Marx, Freud, Nietzsche, and Sartre. And what all the atheists, new and old, have in common is a mistaken notion of God, for to a person they construe God as one being among many, an item within the nexus of conditioned things. The roots of this misconception are deep and tangled, stretching back to antiquity, but I would put a good deal of the blame for the present form of the problem on the transition from an analogical to a univocal conception of being, on display in Duns Scotus and especially William of Occam. On Aquinas’s analogical interpretation, God is not one item, however impressive, in the genus of existing things. Indeed, Thomas insists that God is not an individual and is not to be categorized in any genus, even that most generic of genera, the genus of being. God is not so much ens summum (highest being) as ipsum esse subsistens. But if, as Scotus and Occam would have it, being is a univocal term, then God and creatures can be considered under the same ontological rubric, and they do indeed belong to an identical genus. This means, in consequence, that God, though he might be described as infinite, is one being among many, an individual alongside other individuals. Occam would state the principle with admirable economy of expression: Praeter illas partes absolutas nulla res est (“Outside of these absolute parts, there is nothing real”).
I realize that this might seem the very definition of medieval hairsplitting, but a great deal hinges on this point. On the analogical reading, all of finite reality participates in the fullness of the actus essendiof God, and hence God and creation cannot be construed as rivals, since they don’t compete for space, as it were, on the same ontological grid. But on the univocal reading, God and creation are competitive, and a zero-sum game does obtain. The Reformers were massively shaped by the nominalist view that came up from Occam, and they therefore inherited this competitive understanding of God’s relationship to the world, which is evident in so much of their speculation concerning justification, grace, and providence. If God is to get all of the glory, the world has to be emptied of glory; if grace is to be fully honored, nature has to be denigrated; if salvation is all God’s work, cooperation with grace has to be denied. When this notion of God became widespread in Europe after the Reformation, it provoked a powerful counter-reaction, which one can see in almost all of the major philosophical figures of early modernity. The threatening God must be explained away (as in Spinoza), fundamentally identified with human consciousness (as in Hegel), internalized as the ground of the will (as in Kant), or shunted off to the sidelines (as in most forms of Deism). In time, the God of late medieval nominalism is ushered off the stage by an impatient atheism that sees him (quite correctly) as a menace to human flourishing. Thus, Feuerbach can say, “Das Nein zu Gott ist das Ja zum Menschen,” and every atheist since has followed him. Jean-Paul Sartre, in the twentieth century, captured the exasperation with the competitive God in a syllogism: “If God exists, I cannot be free; but I am free; therefore, God does not exist.” And Christopher Hitchens has restated the Feuerbach view, observing that believing in God is like accepting permanent citizenship in a cosmic version of North Korea.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Symposium on Horan's 'Postmodernity and Univocity'

There is now an online symposium up at the "Syndicate" website: here. As my co-blogger once reminded me, this website, devoted to symposia in several academic fields, such as philosophy and theology, shares its name with the terrorist organization in the previous "Mission Impossible" film and indeed in the one currently in production. It is hard to imagine a more apt term to describe current academic disciplines and practices, and I say that as one who has benefited in various ways from the current system.

Regarding the syndicate symposium itself, I did not read it, nor will I do more than skim. It has an entry by Richard Cross, no stranger to readers of this blog, and no stranger to publishing critiques of Milbank. There is an entry by Justus H. Hunter, a theologian who was worked on Grosseteste and some other medieval figures. There is one by another theologian working in medieval, Lydia Shoemaker, on the horizon.

Rather amazingly, they got Milbank to reply. And, given that Milbank usually just trashes Scotus en passant, we have here what may prove to be his lengthiest discussion of Scotus. But it is the same old story. Lots of postmodern verbiage, which, once one pairs it away, all that he says is that Scotus says something different than Aquinas, everything Aquinas says is right or will be right once it gets its proper development, everything in Scotus is bad and leads to bad things in every area of modern life. Some errors here in there, for example in a Deleuze quote that Milbank thinks expresses Scotus' position (no quote here, I paraphrase from memory, in true Milbankian style) in which Deleuze fails to grasp the twofold primacy of being as it pertains to ultimate differences. To give Milbank his due, he does cite one of the most obscure passages in the Ord., in which Scotus suggests that the univocal concept of being may potentially contain God and creatures, in that it is formally neither one (since if that were the case, one could not contract it to what it is supposed to be univocal of). This was against Cross' description of the abstracted univocal concept of being as being only "semantic". Milbank's argument is just that this term does not occur in Scotus, and he adds some remarks that I can't decipher about that if Cross were right, the univocal concept of being would be in a middle ground, the ground the formal and transcendental. That of course is what it is, in Scotus' own terms. In any case, though Milbank, to be fair, seems to have given the status of the univocal concept of being more thought, his particular sniping here at Cross seems to me to reek of a preference for continental jargon over analytic.

Two other points seem worthy of comment.

1. At the beginning, Milbank claims that there were debates among later Scotists regarding whether univocity was a feature of logical being or real being. Milank provides no reference, and I am half tempted to read the whole thing to see what he has in mind. I gather that Milbank takes it to mean whether the concept of being taken as such has or signifies something actually existing or not, i.e. some nature in the world. Indeed, there was some debate on this, which I would describe as being whether the concept of being is "real" or not. By real, Scotus would mean a first intention concept. And here Scotus is unambigouous. The concept of being is a real concept, in the sense that it has been abstracted from the cognition of a creature. There was some debate on this, so Milbank is right, though the debate was mainly between those who defend Scotus' or at least the common 14th (and 21st) century interpretation and those who wanted to have an easier reconciliation with Aquinas and posited univocity as pertaining to second intentions (Peter of Navare, John Bassols). The only thinker who went in a more "real" direction than Scotus was Antonius Andreae, who, despite the fact that most of his question is verbatim quotation and paraphrase from Scotus, did say there was a real similitude on which the concept of being was based. But this was part of a two sentence attack on peter of Navarre that he did not explain in any detail, so it is hard to see what AA was getting at. So this one remark of Milbank's is accurate. I suppose he probably had the info from Boulnois.

2. Milbanks suggests that Gilson is basically right, and that the research of the past decades has rather confirmed his interpretation. Included in this discussion is the claim that the historical claims of causation regarding univocity and other positions of Scotus have been verified by the majority. Of course, Scotus scholars still deny these historical claims. So Milbank seems to think the majority determines truth. Basically, he has won. And he is right: certainly in theology his views on Scotus are the majority, and look to be that way for a long time to come. Perhaps Horan's book will make a dent in the Cambridge hegemony, but it seems unlikely. Cross has been writing against them for years. A scotist could comfort themselves by noting that all the references in the theological majority all go back to a few bad readings, but it really is rather hollow comfort. Or one can ponder how academic trends rise and fall, and hope one's students will be open minded. But in general it seems that to be a Scotist now is more akin to the esotericist or gnostic, blowing on the secret fire and passing it once or twice to a novice whom one judges worthy of teaching.

I didn't see comments on the Syndicate site. Feel free to comment here in the more relaxed atmosphere of The Smithy, where anonymous posting is welcome.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Feast of Scotus, 2017

Happy Feast, dear reader(s)!

For your delectation today I post a poem from a manuscript of the Ordinatio. Naturally, there are variants with the text as found in other manuscripts, but here is the one from Cesena (printed in Vat. ed. I, p. 50*).

Scotia plange, quia periit tua gloria rara,
Funde precem, confunde necem, tibi cum sit amara.
Quam fera, quam nequam sit mors, tribuens tibi legem
Cum reliquis aequam, rapiens ex ordine regem.
Caelum, terra, mare nequeunt similem reparare.
Si quaeras, quare, - probat haec editio clare.
Troia luit florem de viribus Hectora fisum,
Sic luo Doctorem iuvenili flore recisum.
Ergo, legens, plora, quia non huic subfuit hora,
Sed ruit absque mora: pro quo, lector, precor, ora.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Petrus Thomae on Univocity of Being

I have posted on Peter Thomae several times, mostly regarding his treatise that I edited a few years ago, the Quaestiones de esse intelligibili. Now I am finishing up his questions on being, and thought I would share a few arguments in favor of univocity. The De ente is comprised of fifteen questions and these are roughly divided into three parts: discussion of the concept of being (qq. 1-10), discussion of the extent of univocal predication (qq. 11-13), and a section on the parts of being, i.e. God, the categories, finity and infinity (qq. 14-15).

Like most Scotists, Peter defends the analogy of the concept of being and holds that the univocal concept of being is compatible with an analogical concept of the same.

First I give an argument that illustrates the systematic nature of the treatise. Peter stitches together various conclusions that he has proven in other questions, leaving univocity as the only surviving option.

Petrus Thomae, Quaestiones de ente q. 10 a. 1

Major premise: "Furthermore, if the concept of being is not univocal, this will be because [1] being does not have a proper concept, or [2] because its concept is denuded and despoiled from every ratio, or because with [univocity] posited, the [3] analogy of beings [analogia entium] and [4] simplicity of the first being cannot be preserved."

Minor premise: "But [1] does not impede from the fourth and fifth question, nor [2] from the ninth question, nor [3] from the seventh question, nor [4] from the sixth question and what follows (in the tenth question)."

Ergo, etc.

Second, I give an argument from the same section, in which Peter is showing that the denial of univocity is impossible.

Fifth: if the concept of being is not univocal to God and a creature, therefore through the first principle nothing can be proved of God, which is unfitting. The consequence is proved thus: being [esse] is verified of every positive; but God is of this kind; therefore etc. 

I ask in what way is 'being' [esse] taken in the major? For either it means the concept of created being, and then the minor is not taken under the major, or it means precisely the concept of uncreated being, and then the principle is begged [petitur principium], or it means in act the concept of created and uncreated being, and then there will be four terms in the syllogism. Therefore unless being means a proper univocal concept to created being and uncreated being, nothing will be able to be proven of God through some proposition in which being is predicated.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Scotists in the News

Here's a bit of news: a Scotist landed a job! Perhaps we can dare hope that the Scotus edition will be finished one day?

Monday, July 31, 2017

Peter Thomae's Definition of Form

I've been working through Peter Thomae's unpublished De formis, a treatise that like all his treatises defies assignment to a classical medieval genre. Is it natural philosophy? Or metaphysics? It is a thorough investigation utilizing all the knowledge about form from the middle ages. My interest in it is partially because I am comitted to publish it as part of the general Petri Thomae opera series, but also because of its relation, or non-relation to Scotus. As is well known, Scotus left us no commentary or set of questions on the Physics. His followers then had to fill in the gap and develop a "scotist" natural philosophy. Peter seems to use the available works on Scouts, which I suppose is unsurprsing. He relies on the De primo principio for the relation of matter and form, and sometimes cites Scotus' Quaestiones super Metaphysicam and Ordinatio as well. Peter Thomae also uses more Aquinas in this work than he does in others. While elsewhere Peter has a decidedly non-adversarial approach to Aquinas (quoting Aquinas on the primacy of the concept of being without taking him to task over the object of the intellect), here in the De formis Peter is more critical.

Sadly, the De formis survives in only 1 manuscript, that is heavily damaged, and the scribe is the same one from the De esse intelligibili, who is  an extremely poor copyist. Thus this may well be the most challenging entry in the Petri Thomae opera.

Here is Peter's description of form from the beginning of the work, after he has surveyed the definitions of Aristotle, Averroes, Augustine, and Avicenna. Following the definition he breaks it down word by word in true medieval style and offers commentary on it.

Quaestiones de formis, q. 1 a. 2:

forma est pars essentialis compositi, alterius eiusdem partis actuativa simpliciter, ab eo tamen dependens in fieri et in esse, vel in esse tantum vel compositi, principaliter essentiativa vel specificativa.

Form is an essential part of the composite, absolutely actuating the other part of the composite, yet depending upon it both in being and in becoming, or in the being alone of the composite, essentiating and specifying [the composite].

Friday, July 14, 2017

The Mother of All Genealogies

It is an exciting time for Scotism. The De ente of Peter Thomae is currently under peer review, Duba's volume is out, and now we have a very long essay from Trent Pomplun tracing the origin of the genealogy employed by most modern theologians, philosophers and even popes according to which Scotus' primary contribution was to be a critic of Thomas Aquinas, thereby ruining the world. Pomplun's article traces the tale back to the Lutheran historians of philosophy in the 16th century. The essay is "John Duns Scotus in the History of Medieval Philosophy from the Sixteenth Century to Etienne Gilson (+1878)," Bulletin de philosophie medievale 58 (2016), 355-445.

Here's the first line:

The Franciscan theologian and philosopher John Duns Scotus (ca. 1266-1308) has been accused of many things over the years, not least among them formalism, nominalism, skepticism, fatalism, pantheism, voluntarism, individualism, modernism, Spinozism, Kantianism and radical Islamism.

And the last line:

In this, medievalists perpetuate the oldest myth in these histories of philosophy, and one unquestioned from Lambert Daneau to Etienne Gilson: that the conflict between Thomas Aquinas and John Duns Scotus stands at the very center of history, in the middle age of the middle age (as it were), such that any writing about the historiography of the Middle Ages must somehow take as their beginning a departure from the Thomist synthesis, even if that synthesis is less an historical reality than an unfortunate illusion of perspective created by a very longstanding prejudice of the historia philosophiae philosophica.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

New Book on the Rise of Scotism

An important new tome has appeared from the hand of William Duba. Buy it here, for a suprisingly reasonable price.

Here is part of the publisher's blurb:

A rare survival provides unmatched access to the the medieval classroom. In the academic year 1330-31, the Franciscan theologian, William of Brienne, lectured on Peter Lombard’s Sentences and disputed with the other theologians at the University of Paris. The original, official notes of these lectures and disputes survives in a manuscript codex at the National Library of the Czech Republic, and they constitute the oldest known original record of an entire university course. An analysis of this manuscript reconstructs the daily reality of the University of Paris in the fourteenth century, delineating the pace and organization of instruction within the school and the debates between the schools. The transcription made during William’s lectures and the later modifications and additions reveal how the major vehicle for Scholastic thought, the written Sentences commentary, relates to fourteenth-century teaching. As a teacher and a scholar, William of Brienne was a dedicated follower of the philosophy and theology of John Duns Scotus (+1308). He constructed Scotist doctrine for his students and defended it from his peers. This book shows concretely how scholastic thinkers made, communicated, and debated ideas at the medieval universities. Appendices document the entire process with critical editions of William's academic debates (principia), his promotion speech, and a selection of his lectures and sources.​

Buy it now, I say.

It puts me in mind of this old gem...

Sunday, July 9, 2017

New Book on Analogy of Being

An interesting collection of essays on the analogy of being has been issued as an issue of the journal Archivio di Filosofia 84 (2016). It has wide coverage from the ancient world to the contemporary, and varies between systematic study and treatment of neglected figures. For a convenient table of contents, see the page of one of the authors.

Of course, like all modern scholarship on analogy, the volume suffers from complete blindness where the contribution of the Scotist tradition is concerned. The Thomists have successfully buried it with their narrative of Scotus' introduction of corruption and decline into philosophy, theology, social life, etc. Not that medieval Thomists seem to have bothered with it either. I have yet to find a Thomist responding to Peter Thomae's theory of analogy, though, to be fair, no one else did either (save, perhaps for Guillelmus Farinerii). It has been buried in manuscripts since the fourteenth century. Anyway, for a sketch of Peter's theory, which both incorporates the traditional Scotist theory as well as develops it, see this initial stab at interpretation on

Sunday, July 2, 2017

The Discoverer of the Formalities

No one agrees about the origin of Scotus' formal distinction. Some say it is Bonaventure, others Henry of Ghent's intentional distinction, others put in the Franciscan thought after Bonaventure such as Olivi and Peter de Trabibus. One could also posit Aquinas as an origin, namely his discussion of rationes in his so-called Quaestio de attributis in  his Scriptum on the Sentences, itself influenced by Bonaventure. Finally, Bonetus in the 1340's famously attributes the origin to Aristotle.

Now we have a new contender:

While poking about in various manuscripts of Petrus Thomae's Quaestiones de modis distinctionum, I came across the following comment in the margin of question 7.

Hoc argumentum solvit egidius in de esse et essentia q. octava qui fuit inventor formalitatum (Munich, Bsb, Clm 26838, f. 34r, al. man.).

[For the Latin impaired: "Giles, who was the discoverer of the formalities, refutes this argument in his work on being and essence, question 8,"]

This is an annotation of the following argument:

Confirmatur, ista enim attributa sive formalitates ut distinctae, vel sunt aliquid et res vel nihil. Si sunt aliquid et res, propositum. Si nihil, ergo formalitates sunt nihileitates.

[It is confirmed, for those attributes or formalities as they are distinct are either something and a thing or nothing. If they are something and a thing, we have what we are trying to prove. If nothing, therefore the formalities are nothingnesses]. 

Egidius of course is Giles of Rome, who, depending on the decade, is either beloved or despised by Thomists. Thus we have a (quasi?) Thomist to add to the origin story of the formal distinction, which becomes less of a characteristically Scotist position but a tool made use of by a variety of scholastic thinkers.

Monday, April 10, 2017


1. There is a fairly new blog that treats the Franciscan Intellectual Tradition, in particular Scotus and Bonaventure, with some political commentary thrown in for good measure. See The Socratic Catholic for your Scotist reflections, now that we here at the Smithy are nearly inactive.

2. Thomas Williams has published a book of translations from Scotus, which is much needed now that many of the Wolter translations seem to be going out of print (including that of the Tractatus de primo principio). It looks like a must-have for every enthusiast and hater of Scotus.

From the website:

  • A new anthology of one of the most important thinkers of the Middle Ages
  • Translated from the most reliable critical editions of Scotus' texts
  • Presents Scotus's full treatment of the issues, including his engagement with other thinkers
  • Contains many texts never before translated into English
Thomas Williams presents the most extensive collection of John Duns Scotus's work on ethics and moral psychology available in English. John Duns Scotus: Selected Writings on Ethics includes extended discussions-and as far as possible, complete questions-on divine and human freedom, the moral attributes of God, the relationship between will and intellect, moral and intellectual virtue, practical reasoning, charity, the metaphysics of goodness and rightness, the various acts, affections, and passions of the will, justice, the natural law, sin, marriage and divorce, the justification for private property, and lying and perjury. 

Relying on the recently completed critical edition of the Ordinatio and other critically edited texts, this collection presents the most reliable and up-to-date versions of Scotus's work in an accessible and philosophically informed translation.

Topical guide to the translations
1: Questions on Aristotle's Metaphysics IX, q. 15
2: Ordinatio prologue, part 5, qq. 1 and 2 (omitting nn. 270-313)
3: Ordinatio I, d. 1, part 1, q. 1
4: Ordinatio I, d. 1, part 2, q. 1, nn. 65-73
5: Ordinatio I, d. 1, part 2, q. 2 (omitting nn. 100-133)
6: Ordinatio I, d. 8, part 2, q. un., nn. 223-225, 269-274, 281-301
7: Ordinatio I, d. 17, part 1, qq. 1-2, nn. 55-67, 92-100
8: Ordinatio I, d. 38, q. un.
9: Reportatio IA, dd. 39-40, qq. 1-3, nn. 24-59
10: Ordinatio I, d. 44, q. un.
11: Ordinatio I, d. 47, q. un.
12: Ordinatio I, d. 48, q. un.
13: Ordinatio II, d. 6, q. 1
14: Ordinatio II, d. 6, q. 2
15: Ordinatio II, d. 7, q. un., nn. 28-39
16: Ordinatio II, dd. 34-37, q. 2
17: Ordinatio II, d. 38, q. un.
18: Ordinatio II, d. 39, qq. 1-2
19: Ordinatio II, d. 40, q. un.
20: Ordinatio II, d. 41, q. un.
21: Ordinatio II, d. 42, q. un.
22: Ordinatio II, d. 43, q. un.
23: Ordinatio II, d. 44, q. un.
24: Ordinatio III, d. 17, q. un
25: Ordinatio III, d. 27, q. un.
26: Ordinatio III, d. 28, q. un.
27: Ordinatio III, d. 29, q. un.
28: Ordinatio III, d. 32, q. un. (omitting nn. 12-18)
29: Ordinatio III, d. 33, q. un.
30: Ordinatio III, d. 34, q. un., nn. 1-5, 24-38, 45-83
31: Ordinatio III, d. 36, q. un.
32: Ordinatio III, d. 37, q. un.
33: Ordinatio III, d. 38, q. un.
34: Ordinatio IV, d. 15, q. 2, nn. 78-101
35: Ordinatio IV, d. 17, q. un., nn. 1-2, 17-33
36: Ordinatio IV, d. 21, q. 2
37: Ordinatio IV, d. 26, q. un., nn. 12-31
38: Ordinatio IV, d. 29, q. un., nn. 11-28
39: Ordinatio IV, d. 33, q. 1
40: Ordinatio IV, d. 33, q. 3
41: Ordinatio IV, d. 46, qq. 1-3
42: Quodlibetal Questions q. 18

Duns Scotus, corruptor of...Art History?

According to Ryan Haecker. What are we on now, third generation Radical Orthodoxy? In any case, at this point, I'm not sure why they're still complaining, since they have clearly won. Indeed, as Robert Koons said recently,

In fact, Thomas Aquinas has been steadily growing in importance and is more influential now then ever. Ockham did not single-handedly spoil a Golden Age: he merely contributed to the delay of the ultimate triumph of Thomism. 

Friday, March 24, 2017


I don't do much here but post news, and I haven't been able to login for months while I was living in Canada. Now I'm back for a few days. I'm starting a job in Bonn, Germany. It will involve teaching and research on Scotus. But first I have to get there. Anyway, I don't know if I'll be able to keep up the blog while I am there (permanently). I will have more time and energy to blog, so I may start another one.

In Scotus news, there is now a critical edition of the Collationes Oxonienses.

Buy it here:


Thursday, June 2, 2016

A Fantasia on Philosophical Myth in Tarantino and Tolkien

The psalmist says, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" (Ps. 111.10, Pr. 9.10), while Aristotle says that philosophy begins in wonder (Met. 1.1). Fear and wonder meet in awe, which engenders in the soul humility in the face of being and docility before the wise, our teachers.

Quentin Tarantino illustrates this in his philosophical allegory of the soul, Kill Bill. The different possible characters of the soul in its disposition towards knowledge are pictured in the Bride and her alter ego, Elle. Although their enmity is clearly shown from the beginning, its roots in their contrasting characters isn't revealed until Volume 2, in the Pai Mei sequence. The Bride approaches the kung fu master Pai Mei with a spirit of docility and a thirst for knowledge. She submits to his discipline and learns not only skill but wisdom, embracing her ignorance and weakness in order to overcome it. Climbing the stairs to his sanctuary like a pilgrim, she leaves her old life, her assumptions and worldly priorities, behind her in order to empty herself before him. As a reward for her dedication and discipleship the master reveals to her his deepest secrets.

Her rival Elle is not a Bride, but merely a She, a woman in thrall to a male superior but unwed (the Bride, like Elle, had been subject to Bill as his lover and subordinate, but left him to marry a lesser man, but entering a more honest and noble relationship of commitment and fidelity). Elle too learns from Pai Mei; but lacking docility, she learns only skill, not wisdom. Skill suffices to become murderous, and craft can take the place of wisdom well enough to kill the master by treachery, after learning what she could of his art, but she leaves him without having learned his secrets, and deprived of one eye for her insolence. (While Odin's missing eye is a sign of what he has sacrificed for wisdom, Elle's merely indicates her failure to learn it. So she loses her second eye to the Bride in the same way she lost the first, left blind and wretched.)

Just before their showdown Elle reveals the Bride's true name, Beatrix Kiddo, who only becomes blessed when she uses the virtue learned from her master, not for gain or for revenge, but to rescue her innocent offspring, her kid, her mother's heart. Elle on the other hand is as unfruitful as she is unwed. She kills out of a peevish malice. She wants knowledge and power -- Pai Mei's mastery and Hattori Hanzo's swordcraft -- but she wants to take them rather than earn them. Elle's name shows her blankness and emptiness; the Bride's anonymous nickname shows her fundamental difference from her rival in her openness to conjugal fidelity and fecundity, while her true name reveals her inner nature.

(Thinking of the Bride's name leads to thinking of the actress who plays her, Uma Thurman. She triumphs over her enemies with bloody virtue, and is last seen leading along a pure white innocent. How can Uma here not remind us of Una, in Spenser's Faerie Queene, accompanied by her defender, the Redcross Knight of holiness, and leading a pure white lamb? In Spenser too Una has a counterpart lookalike, a false Una who is not a bride, conjured up with twisted and dark skill but barren, for whom the martial strength of the knight fought, but who in the end abandoned her.)

The relation of Beatrix and Elle to the Hanzo swords (Beatrix has one made for and given to her, while Elle wants to kill and steal from the bearer of one) shows how they mirror the relationship between Gandalf and Saruman in The Lord of the Rings. Like Saruman, Elle seeks Baconian or Cartesian domination rather than Platonic wisdom. While Saruman wanted to either forge or steal a ring of power to dominate others, Gandalf was given a ring of power to resist and dismantle the domination of great powers. In the end Elle and Saruman both are shown reduced to sheer animality and then, not utterly annihilated, but denatured and degraded and wholly impotent.

In his boast to Gandalf Saruman calls himself Saruman the Wise, Saruman Ring-maker, Saruman of many colors. Only one of these is true, and not to his credit. He was once wise but is no longer; he hopes to be Ring-maker but, it appears, is not yet. He desires the Ring that is already made, and is thirsty for ring-lore; but only in this self-given title is there any indication that he tried to use this lore to make a ring of his own. Evidently he failed. Furthermore, his palantir which brings him knowledge is Noldorin, his fortress Orthanc which gives him strength and security is Numenorean: what did he make himself? By wisdom he seems, in the end, merely to mean power, but in the process of seeking more and more power he relied on tools which were not his own. This is what "science" means in post-Baconian philosophy: not an object of contemplation but a tool of domination, a tool we use mostly without making or understanding ourselves.

But Saruman is Saruman of many colors. He means this in the sense of appropriating all the other colors to himself, of bringing all other powers under his own sway. But what it really means is that he has broken something: the white light. As Gandalf tells him, "He that breaks a thing to find out what it is has left the path of wisdom." Why? When you break the white light you reveal something of its nature, but it is no longer white. Saruman's quest for power has broken his own soul.

Saruman wants a ring. Now a ring is a rigid circle rounding an empty space. A wreath is a ring made by twisting something straight into a circle. A loop is a non-rigid, non-enclosed ring made by coiling something non-rigid. A loop is an interruption. A knot is a tangled loop. A labyrinth is a path looped by bends and twists and turns. It need not be a knot; the entrance may be the same as the exit, and may or may not have only a single path. A maze on the other hand is a labyrinth with divergences: in it we can lose our way. There are labyrinths in which we are confounded but not lost, because although our sense of direction is confused there's only one path. A knot also has (typically) only one path, but unlike a labyrinth we can't proceed along it because the tangled loops have been drawn tight: the path, in being twisted and then pulled, produces its own obstructions. A knot may or may not be a closed circuit, a ring.

Celtic, anglo-saxon, and norse artwork is full of knots the threads of which are not pulled tight, expanded but not unravelled. The twists and turns are laid out so we can see what they are and follow their paths, but they are not broken. Following their paths produces contemplation, not power.

Being itself has knots: it's twisted, complicated, which means literally folded in on itself. When we're following a question down a given path and hit an obstruction -- an aporia, an impasse -- it's like slipping our fingers along a rope and hitting a knot. The wonder of philosophy can be generated precisely by hitting such a knot (see Joseph Owens, The Doctrine of Being in the Aristotelian Metaphysics, 216: "the aporia of the intellect points to a knot in the object. [Aristotle] seems to view the thing itself as somehow binding the intellect ...") Philosophical wonder is a sort of amazement, being stuck in the sort of knot which is a maze drawn so tight its paths cannot be discerned. The way to solve an aporia is to loosen it, not to untie it or to break it. Untying a knot is a de-amazement. Ariadne's thread, which leads through the labyrinth, is an unravelled knot. It solves the problem, but also eliminates the maze, the originating source of wonder. Unravelling a knot completely gives us a straight line; while loosening it and laying out its folds, open to view, transforms it first from a thing to a maze, in which we are amazed, and then into a labyrinth of contemplation in which thought is folded over on itself, following the path of being. When the labyrinth has been traversed the wonder of bafflement, the amazement at an impasse, becomes the wonder of theoria, seeing the whole as a marvel. Wonder as amazement is the beginning, wonder as marvelling (admiring, ad-mirare, to look at the thing as looking into the mirror of being) the end.

We can also cut through and destroy beings to replace them with beings of our own making. We can break them to find out what they are but eliminate their being; but this power is fraught with peril and, conjoined with the desire for mastery, is deadly. Why is breaking a thing to find out what it is to leave the path of wisdom? Because what it is, is one, and must be understood as one to understand it as it is. When broken it is no longer one and so no longer itself. The breaker may learn something from the pieces; but not what the broken thing was. For what the broken thing was was given in its form, which is the principle of the thing's unity, its truth, its goodness -- and of its being. The alternative to breaking is to unfold the complications of being in thought, enough to follow its paths in contemplation, but leaving its structure as it is. When thumos is subordinated to nous, both ruling over the passions, ring-making can be licit; when desire, especially desire for power, becomes the predominant principle, even wisdom is made wicked. True philosophy teases the loops of the knots apart to behold their weaving, but does not presume to cut the thread.

The aporia is a state of mind, but it is caused by a knot in the thing -- that is, by somewhat in the thing's being less simple or straightforward than the concepts I've hitherto used to conceive it. If I fail to meet, ponder, and loosen the knot, and instead merely cut it -- dispose of it by cutting it down to the concepts already at hand -- I have begun to replace the encounter with reality with the concepts themselves, which leads ultimately to living and thinking in an unreal world, the world of wraiths.