Friday, December 14, 2007

Denys Turner on Univocity

I was rather encouraged by the chapter Turner devotes to univocity in his book Faith Reason and the Existence of God. The book as a whole seems to be the usual Thomist affair of showing Thomas is still relevant in the post-Modern intellectual marketplace. He questions the notion of onto-theology, and shows how Thomas isn't an onto-theologian. but he does devote an entire chapter to univocity, which I have to say is the best attempt yet by a Thomist to come to grips with the doctrine; Gilson's Jean Duns Scot, despite the discouraging introduction is also fairly good, being hampered by the fact that he devotes only three pages to Scotus's arguments.

One can find many things to quibble with in Turner, such as the near absence of footnotes, or the fact that the only scholar he seems to be familiar with is Richard Cross (probably due to the latter's criticism of the Cambridge Phantasists); not to bash Richard, but poor Turner seems to take Cross's incidental remarks about the general drift of univocity as gospel truth.

He also seems to suffer from the usual Thomist problem, that of being a Thomist without also being a medievalist. So like all Thomists, he assumes that what Thomas calls analogy in Aristotle is actually analogy, and not what Aristotle calls pros hen equivocity. There is no evidence of any knowledge of the ensuing tradition on analogy, equivocity and univocity as it is shaped by Boethius, the neo-Platonists, the arabs, or, and this is especially important for understanding both Thomas and Scotus, logical commentaries from the arts faculties.

I think this latter problem is what lies behind his claim that Scotus is involved in a vicious circle when he claims that the unity of an univocal concept is sufficient so that when it is both affirmed and denied of the same thing a contradiction results, and when he thinks that normal syllogistic reasoning assumes univocity to avoid fallacies of equivocation. Turner may think that one can have analogical syllogistic reasoning, which I think makes no sense in logic (based on what I have read in logical works); I don't think Thomas comes right out and makes the claim anyway. McInerny has written articles titled "analogy is a logical doctrine" which I have not read, but seem rather confused to me. But perhaps I am just guilty of reading too much logic. It may well be Scotus and Thomas are irreconcilable on this point. The point of all this being, I would think Scotus is only pointing out the obvious way in which logicians operate.

I was unclear if he grasped that univocity is for Scotus something that holds on the conceptual, not "real", metaphysical level, or that Scotus wasn't talking about analogy on the real level, which he simply accepts and moves on to something more interesting. I was also unclear why, and this always confuses me, the Scotistic univocal concept of being must be equated with Thomistic ESSE. All Thomists, all least since Gilson, do this and I don't know why. Turner is pretty clear later on in another chapter that Esse has no conceptual content. As he says p. 176: "Esse, therefore-not being the object of any concept-cannot be predicated univocally, for were it predicable univocally that could be in terms only of some same formal characteristic predicated of all things said to exist. That, essentially, is the mistake of Duns Scotus." Now, is it just that we have two incommensurate notions here? For I think Scotus would accept, and does accept due to his claim that being is the object of the intellect, the latter part of Turner's sentence. Perhaps our dear readers can instruct me on this one. I was also unclear if he grasped the "real community" issue correctly.

Unlike most non-Scotist scholars, he actually quotes some of Scotus's arguments at length, and exposits them fairly accurately. Naturally, he has to argue with them. He attacks the first argument, from certain and doubtful concepts, by coming up with a weird objection from Herny, though he changes the conditions in the middle. Basically, he starts out with two people seing a speck on the horizon and thinking about what it might be, but then he switches to the speck on the horizon and the dot in his eye that represents it. His conclusion is that if univocity is true, there would have to be some general sense that would embrace both the speck in his eye and the object, which would denote some property of "thisness" possessed in common by everything you can point to. I really can't tell if he's being ironic or not, because he hints that this is Henry's problem, and Scotus does posit individual differentia in his account of individuation, later called "haeceitas."

The other main objection he brings is against the part in the same first argument for univocity in which Scotus says that one can be in doubt as to the identity of the first principle but be certain that it is a being, which he thinks is true de facto from the pre-Socratics. But Turner casts the whole thing into a debate between Thomas and Scotus on idolotry, from the last few articles in summa I q.13. Thomas holds that when paynims use the word "God" of an idol they apparently do so analogically. Turner even makes it sound as if the idol itself is divine in an analogical sense to the use of the term "God." But he distorts Scotus into talking on the same level, as if he were concerned in this passage with the difference between and idolater and the true Christian believer regarding the Christian God. Scotus himself is only talking about the first principle. This isn't the same thing, and the fact that Turner puts words in Scotus's mouth is telling. In any case, he doesn't have a clear statement about who is right or wrong, they just say different things (perhaps a common theme among those Thomists who finally get around to reading Scotus).

That's all for now. all in all, though some bits could use some work, it was the best account I've seen so far. He actually read Scotus (kudos), and had some interesting things to say. Plus he rejected the Cambridge crowd's position in a gentlemanly fashion.

4 comments:

Michael said...

"Scotus says that one can be in doubt as to the identity of the first principle but be certain that it is a being"

I recall Bonaventure making a similar statement in one of the Disputed Questions on the Trinity, but in a different context. I should look it up . . .

--Michael

Anonymous said...

Lee,

Thanks for this post. Now that my classes are finished, I've actually begun reading Turner's book, but am only about 20 pages into it. So I will re-read your post, after I read the chapter on Scotus.

You wrote: "So like all Thomists, he assumes that what Thomas calls analogy in Aristotle is actually analogy, and not what Aristotle calls pros hen equivocity. There is no evidence of any knowledge of the ensuing tradition on analogy, equivocity and univocity as it is shaped by Boethius, the neo-Platonists, the arabs, or, and this is especially important for understanding both Thomas and Scotus, logical commentaries from the arts faculties." Would you expand on this statement? I've read in the past some of the various distinctions made by Thomists on analogy (proper proportionality, analogy of intrinsic attribution etc), but it was some time ago and I would need to refresh my memory to dialogue on it intelligently.

Best wishes,
Cynthia
[My apologies for the "anonymous" post, but for some reason I was unable to post using my wordpress account].

Lee Faber said...

Cynthia,
I was being somewhat heavy handed; what I meant was that most discussions of Thomas' accounts of analogy, and contemporary Thomists responses to Scotistic univocity, are limited to discussions of Thomas' own texts. Analogy of attribution, etc. are all found in Thomas, and the discussions themselves don't do much more than summarize Thomas' views, without shedding much light on what Thomas thought.

This is to say, they aren't doing the sort of thing that Jennifer Ashworth does in her many excellent articles on analogy, or Joel Lonfat does in his "archaeology" article: trace the history of the debate and contextualize Thomas' position in it, by looking at logical commentaries, etc. some of which exist only in mss. Thomist scholarship, with the exception of Torrell and those operating in his vein, isn't really known for reading texts other than Thomas' own.

I realize that Turner (and probably most of the Thomists I have read) have the contemporary theological and philosophical landscape in mind, and are more concerned with proving Thomas' relevance for the modern world or somesuch agenda, which is very different from trying to understand thomas himself and why he thought what he did. That's why I actually was impressed by his account; usually one just finds caricatures. I found a lot of his comments kind of confusing, as if he didn't really understand himself what he was saying, and as I only read that chapter, I wasn't sure if he thought he had refuted Scotus or not.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Lee. Again, after I have read Turner's chapter on Scotus, I will re-read your post and perhaps post something on my blog as well.

Merry Christmas,
Cynthia
percaritatem.com