Thursday, April 17, 2008

Reportatio Statements on the Plurality of Forms

Scotus has often been accused by certain people of violating the Council of Vienne's censure of Olivi's position on the plurality of substantial forms. Thomists would have us belive that Vienne endorsed the Thomistic unicity of substantial form, though Ludwig Ott believes that the Council was only censuring an extreme view, not affirming the Thomistic view and closing the discussion. At issue is the relation of the intellective soul to the body. According to Ott (p. 97 of the "Fundamentals"), the intellective soul is the per se form of the body.

Scotus' view in Ordinatio IV is that there are two substantial forms in the human composite, the intellective soul and the form of the body. He sees humans as being consituted by a series of potency-act relationships, a situation in which lower elements (bones, organs) are in potency to higher, more complex elements. The top of this little pyramid is the intellective soul which brings the ultimate actuality to the substance. He is aware of the Thomistic position and criticizes it extensively. In short, he denies Thomas' view that there can be only one substantial form per esse, instead holding that all these various grades of form have a partial esse, which join together to form the single, complete esse of the substance. In these discussions he is also quite clear that the intellective soul is the form of the body, though there is also a mediate actuality of the body as such, the forma corporeitatis (which, I think can better account for such things as organ transplants or persistent vegetative states than can the Thomistic view, to say nothing of the rather absurd consequence in the latter view that upon death the substanial form of a man is replaced by the numerically different substantial form of a corpse).

I came across the following passage in Reportatio IA, which is also quite explicit on the role of the intellective soul to the body (d.2 pars 3 q.4 n 218-219); the general context is that he is giving four arguments for there being no contradiction between holding that there is a unity of essence with trinity of persons in divinis. This consitutes his third argument.

"Tertio hoc idem declaratur ex ratione infinitatis divinae. Et pono exemplum familiarius de anima intellective quae tota est in toto et tota in qualibet parte, ita quod in anima perfectionis est quod sine sui divisione det esse totale pluribus partibus corporis eo quod tota in toto etc. Et in hoc excedit omnes formas materiales quae certam partem corporis perficiunt.

Tria autem sunt imperfectionis in anima intellectiva prout perficit corpus. Primo quod dat esse per informationem materiae; secundum quod non dat totale esse corpori, sed esse partiale ut esse intellectum; tertium quod plures partes eiusdem totius quas perficit, sunt distinctae realiter eo quod non dat partibus distinctis alicuius tertii esse. Ergo ablatis isti imperfectionibus, reservando quod est perfectionis in ea, possible est manuduci in aliam essentiam quae det esse totale, non per informationem, pluribus distinctis quae non sunt partes alicuius totius et quae erunt per se subsistentes. Et sic potest intelligi una essentia numero esse in tribus personis."

Third, this same conclusion is declared from the notion of divine infinity. And I give a more familiar example about the intellective soul, which is total in the total and total in every part so that in the soul it is of perfection that without division of itself it gives total being to many parts of the body, because it is total in total, etc. And in this it exceeds all material forms which perfect a certain part of the body.

Three things are of imperfection in the intellective soul insofaras it perfects a body. First that it gives being through the information of matter; second that it does not give total being to the body, but partial being as intellectual being [esse intellectum]; third that many parts of the same whole which it perfects, are distinct really because it does not give to distinct parts the being of some third thing. Therefore with those imperfections removed, and by reserving what is of perfection in it, it is possible to think of another essence which gives total being, not by informing, to many distinct things which are not parts of some whole and which would be subsisting per se. And so can be understood the idea of an essence one in number with three persons.


T. Chan said...

which, I think can better account for such things as organ transplants or persistent vegetative states than can the Thomistic view, to say nothing of the rather absurd consequence in the latter view that upon death the substanial form of a man is replaced by the numerically different substantial form of a corpse

I think in the Thomistic view, upon death there is no longer a single substantial unifying the parts of a "corpse", just a bunch of parts still linked together physically, before it begins the process of decomposition.

Lee Faber said...

Mr. Chan,
What you say makes much more philosophic sense, though I'm pretty sure I read that somewhere in Thomas; perhaps the SCG but I can't say for sure.

Summa Theologica said...

Hi Lee,

I've been reading the blog a bit more. Interesting material. I was pleased to see in a post somewhere that you do think Aquinas was a good theologian. I didn't quite get that impression at first but it's all good.

I'll also remember to keep a skeptical eye on what people say concerning Scotus.

Now this is a good topic. Thomas view was that the forms of the other substances (i.e) are present virtually. Of course there is no more absurdity in there being a different substantial form than there is when hydrogen and oxygen unite to make water. Or in this case forms quite possibly as Mr Chan says.

Summa Theologica said...

sorry that i.e was meant to have "bone" after it.

Lee Faber said...


I am quite fond of St. Thomas; what I object to is modern day thomists reading the 19th century into the 13th, as well as claims prior to V2 claiming that catholics are bound by the church to give religious assent to every proposition of st. thomas save those where the thomistic commentary tradition is divided on the meaning of st. thomas (they exist, believe me). Or the attempts to impose the 24 thomistic theses on the church. Now, I do think that Thomas' greatness lies in his making hard topics accessible to beginners, and that he does make the best intro ductin to scholastic thought. And i have no problem wih using him in seminary formation (Scotus is far too hard). but he's not dogma, and is only as good as his arguments.

By and large, just leafing through the summa, I think Scotus would probably agree with 90% of it; most of the conclusions, at any rate. He was more concerned than was Thomas with giving the most logically rigorous arguments and defeating all possible counter arguments. so the character of his writings are very different.

on the plurality of forms business, it's really too bad, but there doesn't seem to be any interest in this topic among scholars today. Scotus also has an idea of unitive containment, though interestingly he doesn't employ it in this context. The pluralist position was the standard franciscan position by Scotus' day, perhaps he was just defending the order.

In Thomas' discussion of the death of Christ he makes it sound like the living substantial form is replaced by one complete substantial form of the corpse. I see it hard to make sense of.

Summa Theologica said...

Hi Lee,

Thanks for that. The name is Matthew by the way. The user name is just something I choose a couple of years ago when I signed up with someone on their blog. I don't particularly desire to hide my name or anything.

Of course as you know Thomas would agree with you completely that he is only as good as his arguments (that anyone is only as good as his arguments).

Also I think we can see from the prologue to the Summa that Thomas desired to keep things simple for the reasons he mentioned. Beginners who are trying to understand the main issues could easily become weary. Scotus I'm sure would had a different purpose and audience.

Lee Faber said...

Gilson once said "of all those who have criticized Duns Scotus only 10 have bothered to read him and of those only 2 have understood him". I think he also said something to the effect of "Aquinas wrote to teach his students, Scotus wrote to express the contents of his own mind"