Saturday, February 7, 2009

Aertsen on Unitive Containment

From "Being and One: the Doctrine of the Convertible Transcendentals in Duns Scotus", in John Duns Scotus (1265/6-1308) Renewal of Philosophy, 25-6:

"The notion of 'unitive containment' expresses a real identity and a real difference of a specific nature that deserves further attention. Scotus traces the origin of the notion to Dionysius the Areopagite's work De divinis nominibus. The passage he has in mind is chapter 5, where it is said that 'in the divine goodness are being itself, the principles of beings, all beings and whatever contains being (esse continentia); and they are in it in an irrepressible, comprehensive and unitive way (unitive). Dionysius wants to make clear that all beings are in God, not, however, as they are in created things, where they possess diversity and plurality, but unitively. From the Dionysian idea Scotus framed the notion of 'unitive containment'. He employs it in the discussion of the question concerning the relation between God and his many attributes, but also applies it to other problems. One of these is the relation betwen being and the convertible transcendentals.

Scotus elaborates the concept of 'unitive containment' in several passages of his work. What is unitively contained are not perfections that are altogether identical, for those are not united but are one. Union presupposes some distinction. Neither are perfections unitively contained that are really distinct in the sense that they are different res, because those are contained mulipliciter or dispersim. The distinction presupposed by unitive containment is, as we have seen, 'a minor real difference,' that is a difference not constituted by the intellect. Elsewhere Scotus calls this difference a 'formal' distinction, because it exists between different formalitates or realititates, which are not things but quiddities independent of the intellect. Thus the model of 'unitive containment' connects a real identity with a formal non-identity. These two features hold for the relation between being and the convertible transcendentals. Scotus's answer to the question whether the transcendental one expresses some other res than being is thus affirmative, provided that 'thing' is understood in the sense of realitas or formalitas."

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