Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Conference on Peter Thomae's De ente

For those in Europe, there is an upcoming conference dedicated to the recently published Quaestiones de ente by Petrus Thomae:

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

A New Front Opens in the War over Being

Civilization seems to be crumbling around us these days. Governments are corrupt and ineffectual, political rhetoric has become increasingly unhinged, the universities, flush with cash, spend it on hiring legions of non-teaching middle managers. The controversies within the Church grow ever darker and run deeper...

If all this is getting you down, why not spend the remaining years of your life coming to grips with a new 830 page book from Leuven University Press?

For a cool 200 euros, you can own the new critical edition and study of Petrus Thomae's Quaestiones de ente. Available here. This work details various properties of being, such as univocity and analogy, defending the Scotist conception, though reworking the position a fair bit and abstracting from the applications in which Scotus discussed it (i.e. natural knowledge of God, divine simplicity). Thus one could almost say that it is "systematic". It should be noted, that while many theologians and philosophers think that the analogist and univocalist positions are incompatible, Scotists have always held the opposite, that in fact univocity and analogy are complementary. Peter Thomae is no exception, and of all the Scotists, he probably discusses analogy the most. Hence the title of the post: A New Front, in that it is a (today) unknown take on being.

Anyway, here is the publishers blurb:

Editio princeps of Peter Thomae’s De ente
It is generally acknowledged by historians of philosophy that medieval philosophers made key contributions to the discussion of the problem of being and the fundamental issues of metaphysics. The Quaestiones de ente of Peter Thomae, composed at Barcelona ca. 1325, is the longest medieval work devoted to the problem of being as well as the most systematic. The work is divided into three parts: the concept of being, the attributes of being, and the descent of being. Many of the philosophical tools that Peter pioneered in this work, such as the distinction between objective being and subjective being, and various modes of quiddities and abstraction, were adopted by later thinkers and discussed up to the eighteenth century. Apart from defending and further extending Scotistic doctrine, one of Peter’s achievements in the De ente is to fully reconcile Scotistic univocity with the traditional doctrine of the analogy of being.

In addition to the critical edition, the present volume also contains a detailed introduction and study of the philosophy and the manuscripts of the De ente, with an appendix containing the question on univocity by Francis Marbres (John the Canon), who copied extensively from the De ente.

From the Thomist perspective, it must look something like this:

Friday, August 17, 2018

Interesting Thoughts around the 'NET

There have been a number of interesting posts today, or at least I first noticed them today.

First is Robert Pasnau, with some reflections on how to form a canon of medieval philosophy. He points out that there isn't a narrative for the period 500-1500 like there is for other periods in the history of philosophy. He does not mention the narrative that arose simultaneously with the modern study of medieval philosophy, that is the Thomist one.

Pasnau links to Martin Lenz, who points out that such narratives have ideological origins and uses, and change when the dominating ideologies change.

Finally, Derrick Peterson posted a paper on his blog about "deleting theology", the narratives surrounding secularism. He provides a fascinating quote from Ian Hunter the gist of which is that the various accounts from religious thinkers or anti-religious ones are not themselves historical accounts or based on empirical histories, but are rather ideologies. Now while I may be sympathetic to this, I can't help but wonder if something like "empirical history" is itself free of "cultural-political agendas", as if there is some historical viewpoint that is free from theological or philosophical conditioning.

In any case, there are many interesting thoughts to be had today.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

A New Argument for the Univocity of Being

Here follows a new argument for the univocity of being. It is from Peter Thomae's De ente, of course, soon to hit bookstores near you. Peter himself does not, however, present the argument as an argument, but rather as a corollary of an argument.

Petrus Thomae, Quaestiones de ente, q. 14 a. 1 (ed. forthcoming):

If being is not univocal, it is not contractible.

The broader context, from the same passage:

Regarding the first article, I set forth seven propositions. 

The first: 'contraction' connotes first what it is contracted through which it is contracted and to what it is contracted or the term of contraction, for contraction necessarily presupposes the contractible, co-requires the contractive, and pertains to some term.
The second: contraction presupposes one notion or concept in the contractible, for contraction seems to be nothing other unless the application of something to many through indifference and neutrality.
Corrolary: therefore if being is not univocal, it is not contractible.

Monday, June 18, 2018

The Ratio Algazaelitica

Scotus' argument from certain and doubtful concepts (see this post for explanation) was been given a variety of descriptions during the Middle Ages. Francis de Mayronis calls the major premise at least "Scotus' rule", Peter Thomae describes the whole thing as the "ratio famosa," and one can also find marginalia indicating that it is Scotus' "Achilles argument" in Peter of Aquila's Sentences Commentary. By Achilles, presumably, is meant that it is the strongest weapon in Scotus' arsenal, not that it is his fatal weakness. 

In the fifteenth century, the French Franciscan and (eclectic?) Scotist William of Varouillon made some interesting remarks on the argument, which have been noted a few times in modern literature, though I don't think they have been quoted. After quoting the argument, William lodges the following objection against it:

Sent. I d. 3 q. 1 a. 2 (Venezia 1502, f. 10vb): Huic fortissime rationi aliqui dicunt quod est regula Scoti et quod transeat cum regula sua.

Quibus ego respondeo quod si non curant de Scoto, vadant ad Metaphysicam Algazaelis, qui maximus reputatus est metaphysicus, et istam regulam quasi iisdem verbis reperient. Unde regula ista, si ab inventore nominetur, dicitur non Scotica sed Algazaelitica nuncupatur. 


Some say to this strongest argument that it is the rule of Scotus and that he passed away with his rule.

To which I say that if they don't care about Scotus, let them go to the Metaphysics of al-Ghazali, who is deemed the greatest metaphysician, and they will find that rule almost with the same words. Whence that rule, if it should be named by its discoverer, should be called not Scotic but Algazalitic.

The object is that Scotus came up with the rule, and since he is dead, it is no longer valid. The rule here probably being the major premise, though the whole thing is loosely in al-Ghazali. William's reply locates a deeper lineage to the argument than simply Scotus. In some of the modern literature the algazalian origin is discounted in favor of Avicennian, but in truth it is in both.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

John Jenkins on Scotus

Given the near-universal opprobrium in which Duns Scotus is held, I find it necessary to call attention to positive mentions of Scotus among contemporary intellectuals. An example came to me today from John Jenkins, president of the University of Notre Dame. There isn't much content regarding Scotus, but he is described as a great medieval master. 

Here is Jenkins' talk, delivered at Oxford. 


I learned much in my study at Oxford, yet simply walking in this city and contemplating its history itself had an intellectual impact on me. To pass the places where Duns Scotus, William of Ockham, Thomas Hobbes and John Locke studied and worked; to stroll by the building where Robert Boyle, the father of modern chemistry, lived and worked; to be in the city where John Wycliffe taught and John Henry Newman wrote his tracts; to visit the pub where J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis and the Inklings met on Tuesdays—simply to walk in the city instilled a sense of reverence for the learning, scholarship and inquiry to which Oxford has been the host. Since its founding, it has been to the site of scholars, discussions and education that have truly shaped the course of human history.

The Summa theologiae of St. Thomas Aquinas, with its series of questions, objections, “respondeo” and replies to objections reflects this form of inquiry. Although it is not a record of actual public disputations, it is clearly derived from the practice of public disputations and reflects this form of inquiry. The same is true of the works of Duns Scotus, William of Ockham and other great medieval masters. The point I wish to emphasize here is that, even when these great thinkers wrote their own works, the form of writing expressed the communal nature of inquiry that characterized the medieval university. The communal exercise was undertaken primarily to broaden knowledge and deepen understanding, but it served at the same time to train students in conducting such inquiry themselves.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Homeric Hermeneutics

This post is not about Scotus.

One of the benefits of no longer being in institutional academia (condolences to my esteemed co-blogger) is that I can study whatever I want without regard to my curriculum vitae or departmental or disciplinary expectations. What I've been studying most lately is Greek. At long last I'm getting close to finishing my first complete read-through of both the Iliad and the Odyssey in Greek. This wonderful experience has confirmed my long-held sense that Homer is the king of all poets: as someone or other said, Homer is the proof that there is no progress in the arts. There may be a very few who could claim to be as great, but there are none greater, none more beautiful, none more insightful, none more intricate. As I reach the end I'm struck more and more by the realization that there is nothing more subtle and psychologically penetrating in all of literature than the final quarter of the Odyssey.

My most beloved writers from antiquity other than Homer, Plato and Vergil, were also surely antiquity's most careful readers of and thinkers about Homer; and he has helped me understand them better. Thanks to the Odyssey I think I've solved two of classical literature's greatest mysteries: the meaning of the end of Aeneid book VI, and the identity of the Athenian Stranger in Plato's Laws.


Penelope tells Odysseus in Od. 19.562-567: "For two are the gates of shadowy dreams, and one is fashioned of horns, the other of ivory. Those that pass through the gate of carved ivory deceive, bringing things unfulfilled; but those that come through the gate of polished horn bring true things to fulfillment, when anyone among mortals sees them." Now Penelope, not openly acknowledging that she recognizes her returned husband, is scheming with him in riddles so that the servants don't understand and betray him to the suitors. She's just described an invented allegorical "dream" in which Odysseus returns and kills the suitors, and she's just about to propose the trial of the bow. So this statement about the nature of dreams, coming between those two moments, is Penelope's way of telling Odysseus how to accomplish his task of winning back his household without getting himself and his family killed.

Ivory is the material of scabbards. Odysseus is given a sword with an ivory scabbard earlier in the poem, and such scabbards were known in the classical world. Horn, on the other hand, is the material of bows. Penelope is telling Odysseus that yes, he must kill the suitors, but not by passing through the gate of ivory, not by drawing the sword, because that way is false, it won't be successful. He must pass through the gate of horn, that is, win the trial of the bow, her own device for getting a weapon only he can use into the hands of Odysseus, when no one else is armed, a device she is about to explain. The false way, the gate of ivory, is the straightforward way of Achilles, the path of sheer immediate brute force; the true way, the gate of horn, is the polytropic, twisty, curved, clever, tricky way of Odysseus, the path of contest-winning (Odysseus won the contest for the arms of Achilles against Ajax, and wins his contests against the Phaeacians), biding one's time, and deception (he, of course, deceives practically everyone he meets in the poem at one point or another).

At the end of Aeneas' journey through the underworld Vergil says (Aeneid 6.893-896) "The gates of sleep are twins; one of which is said to be of horn, whereby an easy outlet is given to true shades (shadows, umbris); the other finished and gleaming with shining ivory, but [through it] the shades (spirits, Manes) send false things to heaven." Aeneas leaves Hades and goes back to the mortal world through the gate of ivory. Why?

The first half of the Aeneid is Odyssean: Aeneas wanders, is troubled by a vengeful god, tells his story, has a love affair with a beautiful woman who offers a tempting alternative to his destiny, and descends to the underworld where he sees the spirit of a deceased, beloved parent and is told about the future. The second half of the poem is Iliadic, or rather Achilleic: Aeneas battles over a woman and a truce-breaking and kills a lot of people. On the basic level, then, Aeneas' passing through the gate of ivory shows his transition from the Odyssean to the Achilleic stage: he ceases to wander over the ocean's curve, unsheathing his straight sword.

On a deeper level I think his taking the ivory gate indicates the fundamentally un-Odyssean character both of the man and the poem. "Arma virumque cano", Vergil begins, "arms and the man I sing", but though a story of arms reflects the Iliad and a story of a man and his wanderings suggests the Odyssey, Aeneas himself is nothing like Odysseus at all. Odysseus is a hated figure in the Aeneid and in the Roman worldview in general; dishonest, dishonorable, undignified and untrustworthy, quite the opposite of pius Aeneas, the archetypal Roman. His journey mirrors Odysseus' in only the most superficial way. Taking the ivory gate informs us that the way of Achilles, the way of the drawn sword, is compatible with the Roman character in a way that the way of Odysseus, the way of the bow and the lyre, is not.

But the Roman, Achilleic way is not the true way. We know this because Homer tells us so. In Hell Odysseus says to Achilles, how wonderful it must be to be the greatest and most honored of all the shades of Elysium! But Achilles replies that he would rather be the slave of the poorest farmer, alive, than king of all the dead. And yet in life Achilles could not abide the disrespect even of a king, while Odysseus stooped to being abused even by slaves in order to get his home and family back.

An easy outlet, Vergil says, is given to true shadows through the gate of horn, while the shades send false things to heaven through that of ivory. A shade, that of Anchises, sends Aeneas back to the living world through this gate; Aeneas is later deified as the founder of Rome; Aeneas is a false thing sent to heaven.

Pious Aeneas' un-Odyssean character is highlighted by his relationship to the goddesses. The three goddesses most important to the Matter of Troy are Athena, Hera, and Aphrodite, or to the Romans Pallas Minerva, Juno, and Venus. These were the goddesses involved in the Judgement of Paris, the cause of the Trojan War. Now it's a curious fact that even though the Odyssey is permeated by the interplay of the themes of love and the family - Odysseus has love affairs with two goddesses, the realm of Aphrodite, but is ultimately determined to get back to hearth and home, the realm of Hera - only Athena takes any interest in the matter. She has a prominent role, while Aphrodite and Hera never appear on the stage at all. Odysseus' story is dominated by the forces of Aphrodite and Hera, but his character is all identified with Athena. This is precisely reversed in the Aeneid: Athena has no part to play, and the two most prominent Olympian actors are Venus and Juno. Like Odysseus, in order to achieve his fate Aeneas must overcome Venus in the form of his love for Dido, and embrace Hera, in the form of Lavinia, the wife he marries to establish a home. But Odysseus' struggle to return to Penelope is what he wants, because he loves her more than than the goddesses Circe and Calypso or the mortal princess Nausicaa (their characters are more alike than any two others in all of Homer); while Aeneas marries Lavinia out of duty and cares nothing about her personally or erotically. But Aeneas is the son of Venus - embracing Hera out of piety is precisely rejecting his own nature, being false to himself. He doesn't seem to recognize this. It's not clear that he knows his own nature, whereas Odysseus does, thanks to Hermes' gift of the moly plant on Circe's island. And so while capitulating to Juno is the price of Juno relenting in her anger against the Trojans, it comes at the cost of the total assimilation of the Trojans into the Latin people, the disappearance without a trace of their language and culture. Trojans "founded" Rome but lost their nature. Aphrodite won the judgment of Paris but lost the war for posterity.

Pallas Athena plays no special role in the Aenead, but someone else named Pallas does, Aeneas' young ally. Pallas is killed by Turnus, and this is the reason Aenead kills Turnus at the shocking, abrupt, brutal conclusion of the poem: "'Pallas strikes you with this blow, Pallas sacrifices you and takes atonement from guilty blood!' Saying this, burning, he buried the iron in his chest. But from that one [Turnus] the limbs were loosed with cold, and his grudging life with a groan fled under the shadows." The echo of the name suggests that in the absence of the wisdom of Pallas (recall from book I of the Iliad and elsewhere that Athena is a special friend of Achilles as well as of Odysseus) Aeneas does not learn the lesson of Achilles, that of compassion for a defeated enemy, and so his poem ends not in melancholic sympathy and understanding, as the Iliad does, but in ugly horror. Aeneas sends Turnus to the shadows, the umbras, which escape easily through the gate of horn, but he himself is sent by the shadows, the manes of the dead, to embrace the lie that Rome's glory can be bought only with violence. But it is a lie: the glory of Rome bought by violence faded into the shadows. The eternal Roman empire was founded only on the reversal of Roma back into Amor, when Rome was planted with the seed of charity, its soil watered with the blood of the martyrs, and the State transformed into the Church.

This is why the medievals thought that Vergil was a magician and a prophet.


Who is the Athenian Stranger of Plato's Laws? The Laws is the only one of Plato's dialogues in which Socrates is not named as a participant. Aristotle says that the Stranger is Socrates even if not named. But Socrates famously never left the environs of Athens except to defend her in war. Cicero says that the Stranger is Plato himself. Leo Strauss suggests that the Laws is a kind of thought-experiment: in the Laws we see what might happen if after the Crito Socrates avoided execution after all, escaped anonymously to Crete, and there had this discussion. Who is right?

1. Throughout most of the second half of the Odyssey Odysseus pretends to be from Crete, either to be a Cretan or at least to have had adventures and come from there to Ithaca ferried by Cretans. In all his stories he mentions how he met Odysseus, knew Odysseus, has all the news about Odysseus and his imminent return. It's a lie, but it's a lie that mirrors the truth: he had adventures on islands, most recently Phaeacia, and was ferried to Ithaca by Phaeacians, and of course he knows all the news about himself. The stories he tells didn't happen, but they say something true, and the Cretan Stranger is himself Odysseus.

2. Plato's Critias tells the story of a war against Atlantis in which the Athenians won a spectacular victory, greater than the victories of the Persian Wars. It's a lie, but a lie that's a mirror-image of the truth: the Athenians did fight a war with a great island, a war greater than the Persian Wars (if Thucydides is to be believed), namely Sicily, but they suffered a terrible and ignominious defeat. The story of Atlantis in the Critias is too good to be true because it comes in the wake of the story of the Republic (whose sequel it is) about a city too good to be true, a city ruled by philosophers, while the bitter truth about Sicily reflects the truth about the real city of Athens.

3. There is one other important Stranger in Plato's dialogues, the Eleatic Stranger of the Sophist and the Statesman. In the Parmenides the original Eleatic philosopher discourses with the young Socrates, teaching him how to think about and overcome the flaws in the simplistic Socratic hypothesis of the independent Forms. At the end of Socrates' life there is a mirror image of this discussion. The Eleatic stranger is not the long-dead Parmenides, but he speaks like him, not to now-old Socrates, but to a mirrored pair of interlocutors, Thucydides who shares Socrates' looks, and another young man who shares his name. The Elder Socrates stands silently by while the Eleatic Stranger teaches the two young Socrateses to correct the inadequacies in both his ontological and his political speculations.

4. In the Laws an Athenian who could not be Socrates, but who thinks and talks like Socrates, comes to the island of Crete and talks with a Spartan and a Cretan politician about founding a city on philosophical principles, a city that would avoid the inadequacies of Socrates' unrealistic Republic. In real life Plato, an Athenian student of Socrates, went to the island of Sicily to persuade a tyrant to run a state on philosophical principles. In real life, the Athenian military expedition against Sicily was a disastrous failure; in real life, Plato's philosophical expedition to Sicily was a disastrous failure too. In the dialogues, Athens won a long-ago, never-never-land but spectacular victory against an ancient island empire; in the dialogues, the Athenian stranger, speaking with the representatives of the deepest Hellenic antiquity, the elderly heirs of the Homeric Minoan and Mycenaean civilizations, makes a spectacular philosophical and political conversion. Cicero is right: the Athenian Stranger is Plato.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Aufredo Gonteri Brito on the Analogy of Being

Aufredo Gonteri Brito was a Franciscan who taught at the Barcelona convent in the early 1320's. He wrote a commentary on the Sentences at Barcelona and one at Paris, the latter around 1322. In many texts, Gonteri copies Henry of Harclay into his own commentary (see the article by Friedman-Schabel-Duba), and the work as a whole is described as a "compilatio" The following text, however, is not from Harclay. It is a discussion of analogy, in which Aufredo offers a definition of analogy. There are resonances here with Scotus' discussion of analogy of attribution in Ord. I d. 8 q. 3.

Gonteri is a Scotist, who helds the common opinion of the Scotists, running from Scotus to the 20th century, that being is both analogical and univocal.

I offer here a translation of the text, which I have cobbled together from two manuscripts. For reference sake, see Vat. lat. 1113, f. 54vb-55ra. Happily, the Vatican library has digitized the manuscript.

Gonteri, Ord. I d. 3 q. 2 a. 1.

Furthermore, it must be known that an analogus concept is a medium between a univocal and equivocal [concept]. And an analogous concept is that by which some things are conceived by one name at once according to a certain relation of one to another or of both to some third. 

Nevertheless, it should be known that analogy is twofold. A certain one is properly said which is between some many things agreeing in one name which are of diverse rationes having a relation of one to another or of others to a third, just as this name 'healthy' is said of health in the animal and in bread and in urine analogically, as is said in IV Metaphysics, because health is formally in the animal, in urine significatively, in bread in virtue of the supposite, in medicine [i. m. = lec. inc.] effectively, and so not according to the same notion [ratio]. The other analogy is between some things in one name which agree in one formal univocal notion [ratio] found in them, nevertheless they participate in that notion according to more and less, prior and posterior, and in that way there is equivocation [and analogy adds. one MS]; in species of the same genus is there equivocation and analogy according to the Philosopher in VII Physics, because, as he says there, many equivocations lie hid in the genera, and such an analogy is always between equivocal causes and their effects. 

Now the first unity of the analogical concept excludes the unity of univocity from those between which it is, but the second unity of the analogous concept, although it is formally other than the unity of univocity, and distinct from it and lesser than it, nevertheless it does not exclude it, indeed it is compatible with it, nor does it restrict it. For although the unity of analogy alone does not posit the unity of univocity properly said, just as neither does the unity of a genus alone posit the specific unity among some things, because a minor unity does not posit a greater, as was said, nevertheless the unity of analogy does not necessarily exclude the unity of univocity properly called from those between which it is, indeed it is compatible with it, just as also the unity of the genus is compatible with the specific unity by which some things are one in genus and one in species concretely, although this unity of the genus is formally other than the specific unity abstractively, as was said.

So. Two kinds of analogy. The first is of many to one or one to another, in which the ratio (definition, meaning, formal character, etc.) is diverse in the analogates, but focused on one central notion. The second is in which there is only one ratio, that itself is said univocally, but it is found in its univocates in relations of prior-posterior, more-less. This latter kind of analogy is that which obtains between God and creatures. So God is prior, creatures posterior; creatures participate in God, and such is seen by Gonteri (and indeed by Scotists) to be compatible with univocity, even in the same concept. The description of analogy as predication of the prior and posterior goes back to the Arabs, and the combination with univocity perhaps is a result of the ambiguity in Avicenna. Avicenna describes being as being said in the prior and posterior way, and yet scholars of the latin and arabic texts have never managed to agree wither or not he holds to univocity as well.

Monday, April 2, 2018

New Book By Antonie Vos: The Theology of Scotus

Antonie Vos' long promised book is finally out from Brill.

There has been a dearth of new books published on Scotus lately, though not in ancient outdated studies republished by the reprint services, and Vos' volume makes a welcome addition. Thus far, I think the field of research in Scotus' theology has been dominated by Richard Cross, at least in English.

Here's the publisher's blurb, which gives a rough overview of the contents.

In this volume, Antonie Vos offers a comprehensive analysis of the philosophy and theological thought of John Duns Scotus. First, a summary is given of the life and times of John Duns Scotus: his background and years in Oxford (12-80-1301), his time in Paris and Cologne (1308-1309) and his year in exile in Oxford and Cambridge (1303-1304). From there on, Scotus' Trinitarian theology and Christology are introduced. Duns not only embraced the doctrine of the Trinity, he also proved that God must be Trinitarian by connecting the first Person with knowledge to the second One with will. Further insights of Scotus' are discussed, such as the theory of Creation, ethics, justification and predestination, and the sacraments. The volume concludes with an overview of historical dilemmas in Scotus' theological thought.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Trollope on Scholasticism

While leafing through various post-1500 commentaries on Scotus and various other genres, the following comment from Trollope came to mind:

In former times great objects were attained by great work. When evils were to be reformed, reformers set about their heavy task with grave decorum and laborious argument. An age was occupied in proving a grievance, and philosophical researches were printed in folio pages, which it took a life to write, and an eternity to read. We get on now with a lighter step, and quicker: ridicule is found to be more convincing than argument, imaginary agonies touch more than true sorrows, and monthly novels convince when learned quartos fail to do so. If the world is to be set right, the work will be done by shilling numbers.

From Anthony Trollope, The Warden, first published 1855. I quote from the London 1976 ed.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Pini's Edition of Scotus' Metaphysics

Giorgio Pini has published a critical edition from two manuscripts of a lost commentary on the Metaphysics by John Duns Scotus. I have not seen the text, so it has hard to tell from the publisher's blurb what it is like. But it sounds like a series of notes. It seems to correspond to cross references in Scotus' Quaestiones super Metaphysicam to a literal commentary. Anyway, here is the link to the publisher, and I have pasted the info below:

Corpus Christianorum
Ioannes Duns Scotus
Notabilia super Metaphysicam 

G. Pini (ed.)

LXXII+256 p., 155 x 245 mm, 2017
ISBN: 978-2-503-57785-2
Languages: Latin, English
The publication is available.The publication is available.
Retail price: EUR 190,00 excl. tax    

John Duns Scotus’s Notabilia super Metaphysicam comprises a series of remarks on Bks. II–X and XII of Aristotle’s Metaphysics. The extant evidence points to their originally being either marginal notes on Duns Scotus’s own copy of the Metaphysics or scrapbook entries linked to the relevant portions of Aristotle’s text by caption letters. It appears that Duns Scotus kept adding to those notes in the course of his career.

The Notabilia offers a unique perspective on Duns Scotus’s interpretation of Aristotle’s Metaphysics. It also contains several original insights on key philosophical issues.

This work disappeared from circulation at Duns Scotus’s death and was consequently thought to have been lost. Several cross-references to and from other writings by Duns Scotus demonstrate both that the Notabilia here edited for the first time is a genuine work by Duns Scotus and that it is his allegedly lost commentary on the Metaphysics.
The current edition is based on the two extant witnesses, manuscript (Milano, Biblioteca Ambrosiana, C 62 Sup., f. 51ra-98rb), which contains the text in its entirety, and manuscript V (Città del Vaticano, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Vat. lat. 2182, f. 58vb-60ra), which contains Bks. II–IV in what is probably an older stage of the text.

Giorgio Pini (PhD, 1997) is professor of Philosophy at Fordham University, NY. He studied at the Scuola Normale Superiore (Pisa, Italy) and was a visiting fellow at the Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies (Toronto), Katholieke Universities Leuven, and All Souls College (Oxford). He has published extensively on later medieval metaphysics and theory of cognition, with a particular focus on the thought of John Duns Scotus.

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. Some comments, follow, though I have discussed Barron's views 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 essendi of 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.

On further reflection, I was rather struck by the Latin quote from Ockham that Barron references: "praeter illas partes absolutas nulla res est". He says by it Ockham is stating a principle, but Barron does not tell us what the principle is. That God is in a genus? That being is univocal? That being is a genus? That God is one individual alongside other individuals? Does Barron think that, according to Ockham, God and creatures are parts of some whole?

The quote comes from Ockham's Ordinatio I d. 30 (OTh IV, 317). This question is a debate about relations. Scotus had held that relations were really distinct from their terms, and this question of Ockham's consists of quoting Scotus' arguments verbatim and refuting them. So it is odd, to say the least, for Barron to group Scotus with Ockham here. The quote is from some exegesis of Aristotle's Metaphysics XII. Ockham, annoyingly, in this question only talks about what can be known by pure reason, and so he does not talk about God at all, save in this reply to Scotus. So it clear why Barron would want to cite this passage, since even though there are many mentions of Ockham's view int he question, that relations are not really distinct or absolute beings, only substances are, none of them directly concern God. But Barron does misrepresent the context of the quote, I would say.

But this is not a question about univocity. And even the conclusion is not terribly controversial, i.e. that relations are not absolute things or really distinct. It was quite common in medieval thought to argue about this, long before Ockham and Scotus, and I see no connection to the univocity debate. There was some debate about whether quality and quantity were absolute categories like substance, Ockham here is denying that relations are real or absolute.

Barron's comments are then turning a rather mundane medieval position into a consequence of univocity, even though people who deny univocity could hold it and those who hold univocity could deny it. Indeed, Scotus holds univocity but is the target of Ockham's attack in the very passage Barron quotes. But there are no rules in the narrative game.

The ultimate root of Barron's comments here is the neoplatonist strand in academic thomist theologians, combined with continental speculation. The dependence of creation on God entails, for modern thomist theologians, the idea that humans cannot be granted any ontological standing in their own right, even though even on thomist natural philosophy human beings et al. are all substances, are individuals, have causal powers, support accidents, etc. And oddly, God is somehow not an individual, but way way beyond such mundane notions, though they never bother to explain that God isn't just a universal or an abstract object, what one normally would contrast an individual with.

So in the end, Barron is sort of right, at least that Thomism and Scotism are incompatible on many points. For Thomism, God is subsistent being itself, for Scotism God is an infinite This. The Scotist view for Barron entails competition between God and creatures; Barron thinks that this competition is bad and leads to protestantism. But competition would seem to be a datum of the human experience, at least if Barron's other views, are correct, that is, given that he is a Catholic Bishop he believes in human sin, and what is sin other than the assertion of one's own will and choice over the divine law/wish/choice? But there was sin prior to Scotus' theory of the univocity of the concept of being, so I think we can absolve univocity of the competition charge, at least.

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.