Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Holding hands with Aristotle

Here we have a highly inaccurate photo of Scotus, Aquinas, and Aristotle embracing and agreeing to disagree. Scotus is saying, "real being is univocal to God and creatures, substance and accidents". Aquinas is saying, "Real being is analogical to God and creatures, substance and accidents". Aristotle, ever the gentleman, is saying, "Univocity stands with analogy".

Aristotle: Didn't he say that being is said in many ways? In any case, he was on the analogy side of things, though what became known as "analogy" in the west was really pros hen equivocity, while Aristotelian analogy is rather a proportional relation between four terms discussed in the Nicomachean ethics.

Aquinas: I don't think he makes the distinction between real and cognitive being. And besides, it is pretty clear from the summa and de pot. dei that he is thinking of analogy on both the real and conceptual level (all that talk of there being two different ratio's kind of rules out a harmony with Scotus).

Scotus: While he does in fact hold to a distinction between esse reale and esse cognitum (I may blog on this later-see for now Ord II d.1 q.2), he definitely does not think univocity holds on a real level (though this is debated and sometimes rejected by some early Scotists. And then there's Henry of Harclay, who thinks there are only grades of univocity and leaves no place for analogy). Rather, univocity is predicated of concepts and the trick Scotus pulls off is to deny the isomorphism between things and concepts (at least in this instance) and have a common concept without a corresponding common reality. Well, that's a bit muddled, but I'll probably go into it more a bit later.

So all in all, the Scotus scroll-comment is wrong. Source: its a detail from a "estampe" from the cover of the Melanges Berube.


Michael said...

Pretty sweet. However, I'm not sure I agree with your interpretation of the picture. It looks to me like Aristotle is acting as a mediator between Thomas and John, causing them to shake hands in reconciliation as the guarantor of the legitimacy of either's approach.

Lee Faber said...

I was being somewhat facetious, though I still would object to the inclusion of Aristotle. Avicenna would make much more sense. But that would look bad for obvious reasons.

George Charles Allen said...
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Anonymous said...

Dear Lee,

I don't know if you'll read this since I'm commenting on a rather old post, but, you said:

"I don't think he [Aquinas] makes the distinction between real and cognitive being."

What about those many places where Thomas makes a distinction between being in the categories and being as the truth of a proposition? Wouldn't the latter seem to be a prime instance of "cognitive being"--unless, that is, you mean something else by "cognitive."

By the way, would you mind telling us where or in what context you found that image of Scotus, Aristotle, and Aquinas? What an interesting image!

Many thanks,

Lee Faber said...

the image itself is from the cover of the melanges berube, but i don't remember where they got it. it's a detail of a larger picture. obviously.

I had forgotten that bit of aquinas. But i think I was talking about something else, basically within a theory of abstraction. Here i'm referring to Scotus breaking down the identity somewhat between the object as it is outside the mind and the object in the mind. part of this is due to his theory of individuation, and probably some derives from henry of ghent's discussion of esse essentiae and esse existentiae. Thomas doesn't recognize this distinction in that for him abstraction is a stripping off of matter by the intellect, so in a sense you have the same form in your mind as is in the thing.

the truth of a proposition would be related to the intellect composing and dividing, ie the second act of the intellect. I think abstraction is the process that results in concept formation or knowledge of terms, and so pertains to the first act of the intellect.

Anonymous said...


Thank you kindly for your reply.

May I point out, though, that Thomas does in fact refer even to judgment (i.e., the second act of the intellect), along with simple apprehension, as a kind of abstraction. I think he calls it that in his Commentary on the De Trinite, q. 5 somewhere.

All the best,