Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Duns Scotus on Intelligible Being

Intellectus divinus in quantum aliquo modo prior est actu voluntatis divinae producit ista obiecta in 'esse intelligibili', et ita respectu istorum videtur esse causa mere naturalis, quia Deus non est causa libera respectu alicuius nisi quod praesupponit ante se aliquo modo voluntatem secundum actum voluntatis. Et sicut intellectus ut prior actu voluntatis producit obiecta in 'esse intelligibili', ita ut prior-causa videtur cooperari illis intelligibilibus ad effectum eorum naturalem, scilicet ut apprehensa et composita causent apprehensionis conformitatem ad se. Videtur ergo quod contradictionem includit, intellectum aliquem talem compositionem formare et compositionem non esse conformem terminis, licet possibile sit illos terminos non componere, quia licet Deus voluntarie coagat ad hoc quod intellectus terminos componat vel non componat, tamen cum composuerit, ut illa compositio sit conformis terminis hoc videtur necessario sequi rationem terminorum quam habent ex intellectu Dei, causante illos terminos in 'esse intelligibili' naturaliter.


--John Duns Scotus, Ordinatio I Dist. 3 Pars 1 Q.4.268

"The divine intellect insofar as it is in some way prior to the act of the divine will produces these objects in 'intelligible being', and so with respect to these things it seems to be a merely natural cause, since God is not a free cause with respect to anything except what presupposes the will before itself in some way according to an act of will. And as the intellect as prior to an act of will produces objects in 'intelligible being', so as a prior-cause it seems to cooperate with these intelligibles for their natural effect, namely that as apprehended and composed they cause the conformity of apprehensions to themselves. It seems therefore that it includes a contradiction for the intellect to form some such composition and for the composition not to be conformed to the terms, although it is possible for those terms not to be composed, because although God voluntarily co-acts to this end, that the intellect composes or does not compose terms, nevertheless, when it composes, so that that composition may be conformed with the terms this seems necessary, that they follow the ratio of the terms which they have from the intellect of God, naturally causing those terms in 'intelligible being'."

The take-home message is that the platonic heaven of forms in the mind of God is a necessary feature of the divine intellect rather than a contingent one. God does not decide what is possible, or that a triangle has three sides; rather he understands that a triangle has three sides, should one ever exist, and then contingently and freely decides whether to create one.

13 comments:

AT said...

Is it too much to ask that you also post the English translation for the sake of those dummies that read your blog and know no Latin - like me?

Michael said...

AT,

apologies; it always rather surprises me to realize that people actually read our blog and care what it says. When we post in Latin it's usually for our own benefit (i.e. to share information between the two blog authors here rather than by email) and we're too lazy to do a translation. I'm almost always happy to translate if there's any demand.

Brunellus said...

On the very off chance that you haven't read it, Tobias Hoffmann has an excellent recent article on this topic: "Duns Scotus on the Origin of the Possibles in the Divine Intellect", in Philosophical Debates at Paris in the Early Fourteenth Century, edd. Brown, Dewender and Kobusch (2009), pp. 359-79.

AT said...

Thanks.

I want to learn what Dun Scotus has to say about things but almost none of his writings have been translated into English.

But, in what sense is the divine intellect prior to the divine will? Aquinas says somewhere they are the same.

Michael said...

Brunellus,

it's not such an off chance at all. I'm far from reading or being able to read all the literature on everything that interests me, including Scotus. I hadn't even heard of the book you mention, but I'll try to look it up!

AT,

Scotus affirms divine simplicity as Aquinas does, but with more nuances. The divine will is logically prior to the divine intellect, though not really distinct from it. This is (among other things) because in order for something to be willed it must necessarily first be understood. Also their objects differ, since God understands more things than he wills, etc.

There are some good resources for reading Scotus in English. I'll make a new post about it.

Brunellus said...

In that case, I'm glad to have helped!  My tone was meant to be humbly tentative, by the way – I'm well aware that what's new to an amateur may be old hat to a specialist, and on Scotus I'm an amateur at best.

Lee Faber said...

Michael, do we really want to say that the divine intellect is prior to the divine will? That is, qua divine attributes; wouldn't we then have to say that the divine intellect causes the divine will?

Michael said...

Faber,

I guess it depends on what you mean by prior. Of course for Scotus nothing at all is that cause of the act of the will per se but the will itself; but isn't the intellect a sine qua non of the will, because one must first understand what one wills?

Lee Faber said...

Actually the position that the intellect is a sine qua non condition for volitional activity is that of Henry of Ghent. Scotus holds that they [intellect and will] are essentially co-ordered causes of a volitional act. My point was that considered as divine attributes, the intellect cannot be prior to the will, even if its operation is. But upon reading the text of Scotus you posted, the same ambiguity is there as well; he's not making the point I was in this passage.

Michael said...

Faber,

Scotus holds that they [intellect and will] are essentially co-ordered causes of a volitional act.

This sounds to me the same as saying that the intellect is a sine qua non. Without it, no volitional act, right? I take it that Henry just isn't as precise about how the two are coordinated.

I was talking about the divine operations, e.g. in creation. How this relates to the doctrine of attributes I would not presume to say in your august presence, since you of course are the expert here. Care to say a little more about it?

Anthony said...

Michael, thanks for the recommendations. I will try to get hold of Vos’s book or something by Wolter before I try tackling Scotus, who is extremely difficult (for me) to understand in translation. Your comments on the Ingham/Deyer book remind me of what I’ve heard about Ingham’s Scotus for Dunces. Is it possible you’re confounding the two books?

As for Scotus and nominalism, I had always assumed it was guilt-by-association as you describe, but when I read about the formal distinction, for example, my very first thought was: “Well, that makes him more of a realist than Thomas.” (Right?) I guess my puzzlement is at the kind of almost willful blindness it takes otherwise very smart people to say that Scotus was a (proto-) nominalist.

Michael said...

Scotus, who is extremely difficult (for me) to understand in translation.

It's not easier in the original, let me tell you. I ought to say, however, that although Wolter has done a huge service to the unlatinate with all his translations, there are problems with his work sometimes. He can alternative between being translating so literally that the English is unintelligible, or needs a glossary (which some of his books provide) and being so paraphrastic that you're not sure how he derives his rendering from the original. If anyone knows that 60-volume Summa theologiae with all the commentary, and remembers how free the translations are in it, I'm talking worse than that. If one had to choose between the two options I'd go for the literal side myself.

Your comments on the Ingham/Deyer book remind me of what I’ve heard about Ingham’s Scotus for Dunces. Is it possible you’re confounding the two books?

It's certainly possible, although I thought I had examined both books. Don't trust my judgment, though--I certainly didn't read either all the way through.

my very first thought was: “Well, that makes him more of a realist than Thomas.” (Right?)

I think that Scotus was certainly more of a realist than Thomas, and a more coherent one. The misunderstanding I chalk up less to willful blindness than to trust in the common opinion and general reputation. Gilson has a crack somewhere to the effect that for 100 people who disagree with Scotus, only 10 have read him and only 1 understood him. That sounds about right to me!

You could also modify the old Chesterton quip: Scotism has not been tried and found wanting; it's been found difficult and left untried.

Lee Faber said...

Michael,

scotus' co-causlity is supposed to be a middle position between Henry's voluntarism and Thomas' intellectualism. On Henry's view, the itnellect understands something and then the will acts in any way it wants. there isn't much of a connection between object/content at all. in Scotus' position, one can still say that God is wiling according to his nature because the intellect ismore involved inw hat the will wills, without basically completely predetermining it as in thomas. sorry, i'm on the run...