Saturday, April 11, 2009

Davide Panagia

Time to reopen an old can of worms, pomo appropriations of "univocity". As generally seems to be the case among this crowd, the underlying interests and motivations are political. To see how much Scotus cared about politics, read Wolter's translations of "Political and Economic Philosophy" and compare it to the size of On the Will and Morality. I've never been sure how to deal with this sort of thing; it's completely false, driven by contemporary concerns about which Scotus knew nothing, completely unfounded in the texts of Scotus himself, a truly bizarre mating of 19th century Thomist historiography of the strict Leonine observance with contemporary liberal protestant theology/philosophy. Any criticism I offer will naturally be construed as "just history" not theology or philosophy. I think I would be content if instead of taking a misunderstood conclusion of Scotus and applying it to all sorts of issues that didn't exist in Scotus' day, they would first try to give an accurate explanation of what Scotus was trying to do, and then, say, and I know this is truly revolutionary, actually discuss the validity of the argument.  Anyway, here is another idiotic example. I'm experimenting with Fr. Z's format here.

From The Poetics of Political Thinking p.58:

"For Duns Scotus, the idea of negation compels the metaphysical question of relation[Actually, scotus' most detailed studies of relation are in Ord. IV where he talks about the eucharist. Apparently, in some of his philosophical commentaries he developes a theory of relation highly dependent on Simplicius]: How does multiplicity relate to Being? What force is it that relates beings to Being?[Not a distinction found in Scotus, unless by Being you mean that entity whose intrinsic mode is infinity, and being an entity whose intrinsic mode is finite] Duns Scotus's answer is that a "univocity of Being" enables an association between disparate entities, but not on the basis of analogy. Rather, Being relates to beings through predication: "God is thought of not only in some concept analogous to that of the creature,[this is a quote from scotus who here admits that he holds the analogy of being] that is, one entirely different from  what is predicated of a creature, but also in some concept univocal to himself and to a creature.[recall that Aquinas' "Analogy" is Aristotle's equivocity] And lest there be any contention about the word 'univocation,' I call that concept univocal that has sufficient unity in itself that to affirm and deny it of the same subject suffices as a contradiction." In contrast to the Judeo-Christian claim that we are all made in God's image,[So Scotus is outside the Judeo-christian tradition? oh, wait he also thinks we are made in the image of God and devotes several questions to it in the same volume of the critical edition as the univocity material is found; so this is slander and misdirection. I get it.] Duns Scotus argues that our similarity to God exits because all beings possess univocity; [How do beings/Beings "possess" univocity? Now it sounds like a concrete thing, not a property of concepts] God, then, is not merely analogous to other beings but is univocal both to himself and to others. The first sentence of the passage teaches us that God is univocal of all creatures[sic. what does this even mean? English please](i.e., present to all creatures [totally out of the blue; divine presence to creation is an entirely separate issue; I thought we are talking about predication]) and "entirely different from what is predicated of a creature." By retaining the principle  of absolute difference between Being and beings,[this "principle" is the commonly accepted distinction between univocal terms and equivocal terms, going back to Aristotle and mediated through Boethius; if you're going to go after Scotus, go after him for not using Aristotle's defintion of what univocal terms are] Duns Scotus makes difference in itself the first quality of Being.[Actually, being/Being can't have qualities because qualities are found in the categories and being is a transcendental, which means it is supracategorical. What being does have is passiones/attributes. Lets talk about them if that's what he means] Associations,[what are associations and where did they come from? Aquinas doesn't talk about them] then, cannot be premised on analogy, since Duns Scotus is not positing a resemblance between God and beings.[wait...i thought the whole point was that he creates a univocalist ontology and makes everything the same?] Rather, he is positing univocity of Being that asserts the radical difference between particulars while relating them to one another." [I get it; Scotus' univocity is really just another form of equivocity...but what does this say about Aquinas' analogy, which is just a weaker form of equivocity than univocity]

There follows a discussion of Deleuze's uses of univocity and his claims that they are rooted in Scotus, though he doesn't use any of the same terms in the same sense, "Scotus" is as much a cipher in Delezue as it is for the Cambridge Phantasists. The following is the summary of what Deleuze is doing:

"The principle of univocity marks both an ontological turn in the conception of difference and a "minor event" in the history of philosophy. By weaving that historical thread from Duns Scotus, thhrough Spinoza, to Nietzsche, Deleuze presents a counterhistory of metaphysics that illuminates the "banality of the negative." Importantly, this historical trajectory is also part and parcel of his overturning of Platonism--to the extent that Plato, in the flash of an instant, was the first to confuse difference with negation by denying simulacra their proper place among philosophical claimants."

This model of the history of philosophy is, I suspect what motivates RO. But why not just criticize Deleuze? It would be far more of a blow to him to show his view of history is bogus, than accept his views on certain things and then try to counteract them by, say, getting rid of every discipline except theology. What would Thomas say...


Anonymous said...


Do you think the chief difficulty with these RO and similar interpretations of Scotus's doctrine of univocity is that they treat it as an ontological rather than semantic or predicative theory? That coupled with the ever-present and frenetic fear of onto-theology such that God, for Scotus as they read him, is reduced to one being among many? If that's their concern, then what is ever made of the analogy that Scotus does accept?
Happy Easter,

Brandon said...

You're right; that's pretty bizarre. I think the prize sentence is

"In contrast to the Judeo-Christian claim that we are all made in God's image, Duns Scotus argues that our similarity to God exits because all beings possess univocity; God, then, is not merely analogous to other beings but is univocal both to himself and to others."

Which doesn't make much sense at all. I'm still puzzling out what it means to say that God is univocal to himself and others. It would be one thing if it were just a mistake that is easy to make given the way Scotus discusses the matter, or the natural confusion of an amateur in the face of a barrage of technical terms; but you kind of have to go out of your way to be this wrong.

Lee Faber said...


Basically, yes. Scotus denies that the concept of being has any real, extramental community corresponding to it. I would say that a "univocalist ontology" would have to hold that real beings are univocal with the divine being. Otherwise I don't know what either of those terms mean. The more general error is that their interpretations are driven by their historical geneologies, without the slightest attempt to ground them in what Scotus ever actually wrote. Scotus has five main arguments for univocity, if they would take the time to analyze the arguments prior to concluding that the conclusion is wrong I wound't object. If they could do that they would be doing everyone a service, and succeeding where generations of thomists have failed.


I would have to agree. I didn't check this guys sources, but I bet he is getting his quote from Scotus from a secondary work; its just so wrong. the univocity arguments take up some 20 pages in the Ordinatio, while the vestige and image sections are about 300. I don't think Scotus ever talks about "similitudines" in this context, either. Aquinas does in the SCG in the context of analogy. In the dissertation research I've come across statements in Aquinas saying God is an analogical cause because he creates things that are similar to himself. Scotus constantly calls God an equivocal cause because he doesn't create another God. Given that Thomistic analogy is a branch of Aristotelian equivocity, are they even disagreeing?

It may be of interest to know that MIlbank responded to a blog discussion on univocity over at Cynthia's per caritatem blog

Anonymous said...

It's hilarious how the labels for this entry read:

"cretins, idiots, Morons, post-modernism, Stupid people"

-- as if there was actually a difference between the terms in the set which actually happen to be, in all actuality, synonymous with one another!

Was there a profound point to this or were you just venting out your frustration concerning such folks? ;^)

Michael said...


you can find an elaboration of the distinction between idiots, cretins, and morons in Umberto Eco's book Foucault's Pendulum, which has been mentioned on The Smithy before.

Lee Faber said...


Actually, I learned something this time. I have seen some statements in Deleuze about Scotus, but didn't realize that he was constructing a counter-history based on univocity. It makes RO's treatment of Scotus at least have some context, even if it doesn't excuse their non existent scholarship.

Anonymous said...

Michael (or Lee if Michael is now indisposed at the moment given the latest entry),

You commented:

"you can find an elaboration of the distinction between idiots, cretins, and morons in Umberto Eco's book Foucault's Pendulum, which has been mentioned on The Smithy before."

I couldn't locate that particular entry on the blog.

Could you perhaps provide a link to this mention?


Anonymous said...

I wonder if it might help to read the published 2-volume version of John Milbank's doctoral thesis on Giambattista Vico. I seem to remember that there's evidence there of Vico harbouring a negative view of Scotus' role in the history of philosophy.

Lee Faber said...

Thanks for the tip (and all your other comments as well). I'll look into it.