Friday, July 11, 2008

Word of the Day

Today's Word of the Day is..."nihilitates", (assuming I resolved the abbreviation properly) a gem of a term used, if not coined, by Petrus Thomae in his Quaestiones de modis distinctionum q.7 (Utrum ponentes attributa divina distingui sicut aliqua positiva vel sicut diverse formalitates habent ponere necessario quod ipsi distinguuntur sicut res et res). One can see why the humanists hated the scholastics, and perhaps also why Petrus Thomae does not seem to have been read after the 15th century. Here it is, in all its glory in its original context; note that it is one of the principal arguments at the beginning, and not necessarily one he endorses.

Praeterea tertio arguitur sic: realitas unicumque est simpliciter sua formalitas; et idem est res et sua formalitas, ergo impossibile est ponere plures formalitates quin ponatur plures realitates; 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 nihilitates.


Michael said...

Yes, but the humanists were retards. Latin was already adapting to meet the needs of philosophy by the end of the classical period, and Cicero himself invented or coopted words to express Greek concepts which Latin hadn't had. Perhaps part of the problem with the decline of scholasticism was that once people convinced themselves that they had to talk and write like the ancients, they found themselves unable to cope with thoughts foreign to the ancients. So they were unable to understand their predecessors, and hence to appreciate them, being so hung up on style.

Peter's argument by the way shows signs of the old Franciscan notion of existence surviving after some of the traditional Franciscan positions were fading. Depending of course on what "reality" is supposed to mean here, Thomas would never admit that something's "reality" was identical with its "formality".

Anyway, "nihilitas" is an awesome word which ought to exist even if the ancients didn't have it. And how could we perform the vital task of translating Sartre into Latin without it?

Lee Faber said...

I have heard rumours of some sentence-commentaries being written in Ciceronian latin.

Note that Peter himself will argue against this argument. The "propositum" is that if one distinguishes the divine attributes as diverse formalites then one has to say they are distinguished as res and res, which of course violates divine simplicity.

I'm not quite sure what reality means here, but if I remember Scotus' arguments in Ord. I d.8 q.3 about whether God can be in a genus (and whether being is a genus), he says that he can't because the reality of a genus is different from the reality of the specific difference, which would posit composition in God [ie, being as genus, God/infinite being as species compared to created, finite being as the other species)

Anonymous said...

Yes, but the humanists were retards.

Does this mean Erasmus and More were retards?

Michael said...

Well, the word is harsh. However, taken literally . . . they were "slowed", "turned backwards," yes. They lost the ability to think as rigorously as the scholastics had, and failed to realize it, being awash with their linguistic purity. The "renaissance" of course brought some new and good things to civilization, but that shouldn't blind us to what it carelessly destroyed and lost.

There are many sources to look at which would corroborate my views. The important thing is to first grant that the Latin, the literature, the philosophy, and so forth, of the "middle ages"--a humanistic and renaissance term, that, and loaded with presuppositions I don't accept--was good, nay, in many respects superior to that of the ancients. True, the medievals had no Virgil or Plato, but antiquity had no Dante or Bonaventure either, nor could it. Granting this, one has only to apprehend the foolishness of the scorn and highmindedness with which the humanists cast aside their own traditions for the sake of what was essentially a fairy-tale about those Republican Romans. More and Erasmus, though in many ways great men--and of course More was a great saint too--were as guilty of this as their contemporaries.

One of the best places for a summary of the view I find very plausible--essentially that the "renaissance" deserved its name no more than did the "enlightenment" (names given by the members of the movements themselves) is the opening chapter of C.S. Lewis' History of English Literature in the XVIth Century, Excluding Drama, called "New Learning and New Ignorance." But anyone sympathetic to the medieval mind will find the post-medieval triumph of style over substance and rhetoric over logic deplorable.

Anonymous said...


Thanks for the reference! I'll certainly incorporate that into my reading list.

. . they were "slowed", "turned backwards," yes. They lost the ability to think as rigorously as the scholastics had, and failed to realize it, being awash with their linguistic purity. The "renaissance" of course brought some new and good things to civilization, but that shouldn't blind us to what it carelessly destroyed and lost.

I have developed quite an interest in this line of thought ever since having gone over the book "How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization" by Thomas Woods, where in one of the chapters he mentioned many of the accomplishments of the Scholastics, which are often largely ignored and, in fact, overlooked by the modern world (not the least of these being economic theory).

At any rate, any additional information or resources you might have on the matter concerning the Scholastics would certainly be appreciated.

Previously, I had held a rather perjorative view of the Scholastics to the extent that I thought such folks were more pre-occupied with settling matters of more ridiculous nature such as "How many angels can be accomodated on the head of a pin?".

I am now finding out their thought and their endeavors are more signficant and relevant to our lives and, indeed, Western civilization itself than I once thought.

Michael said...


I'm glad you're coming to a more appreciative view of the scholastics.

That old bit about angels on the heads of pins never fails to irritate me. No scholastic to my knowledge ever mentions such a ridiculous thing, and the long-universal trope seems to have had its origins, of course, in the renaissance, invented by people intent on disparaging works they didn't understand. I've seen it traced back to Tristram Shandy, but whether that's really the first appearance I don't know.

There's an enormous amount of literature on the scholastics, and I'm not really sure where I would recommend a newcomer to begin. I myself began with St Thomas before moving on to anyone else. A good place for a sympathetic look at the period in the context of philosophy is the relevant volumes in Copleston's History of Philosophy; he devotes a lot of pages to Aquinas, of course, but also covers many others. Some of the scholarship is rather out of date but he's still a good introduction.

A great pair of introductory medieval works for a taste of medieval thought are St Bonaventure's Breviloquium and Itinerarium mentis in Deum, or "Journey of the Mind into God". Both are available in translation. Also highly recommended although I don't agree with all the philosophy in it is Aquinas' Summa Contra Gentiles, or any of his Aristotelian commentaries.

If you're looking specifically for books which address the value of the medievals vis-a-vis the moderns, I'm not sure where one would begin. Maritain might be a decent place, since he takes a firm Thomist line while considering modern philosophy carefully. I found his Degrees of Knowledge very exciting and illuminating back in the day, though perhaps it might be a bit rough going--however, his "medievalism" is not completely authentic and his "modernism" is not up to date. Perhaps Faber has something to recommend along these lines?

Lee Faber said...

The Tristram shandy bit isn't true; I used to say the same thing, but it's actually later (or earlier, I don't remember which); Scott Carson has a few posts on his blog.

The value of the scholastics is completely vitiated in modern eyes, whether theological or philosophical. Even our dear pope has said the great failure of the scholastics was their inability to define the human person as essentially relational.

As for recommended reading, I would say Boethius, and for secondary, Gilson's Introduction or History of Christian Philosophy, which begins with the fathers and moves to around the 15th century. Armand Mauer's Medieval Philosophy is also decent. Finally, maybe Marenbon's latest version of his intro to medieval philosophy, though the section on Scotus is pretty stupid. In all of these secondary sources, you have to be aware of their differing biases, but the factual information is usually informative.

Anonymous said...

This is Great!

My thanks to the both of you!

I'm definitely going to purchase and read Degrees of Knowledge. From what excerpts of it I've read so far, this looks quite interesting and thought-provoking in its own right.

Copleston's History of Philosophy looks promising even in spite of it being somewhat outdated; however, I'll need to find out first which volume deals specifically with this subject matter.

Concerning the Itinerarium mentis in Deum, how fitting since today is Bonaventure's feast day!

I'll have to sort through the latter references suggested by Mr. Faber.

I had only gone so far as to dig up some info on those previously cited by Michael.

Again, appreciate the recommended resources from both you gents!

God Bless!