Wednesday, June 2, 2010
Nicolaus de Orbellis on the Formal Distinction
Today's quotation is from Nicolas de Orbellis, the 15th century philosopher. He is much more famous for his treatise on currency, and for holding that heliocentrism was more consonant with reason and experience than geocentrism, but he was also a Scotist who wrote commentaries on Scotus and wrote logical works. The text below I reproduce from a treatise attributed to him by a colophon, which I quote because it singles out one of the most common criticisms of the formal distinction, to wit, that it violates the law of excluded middle. I think Nicholas' solution is rather clever, and I have come to think this way myself in the past few years. This puts the formal distinction squarely on the side of the real in the strict loose sense, and the strict sense rules out the possibility that it is a version of the rational distinction (ruling out as well the possibility of harmonizing it with a thomist theory).
The Thomistae will probably object with "Absolute divine simplicity", but this causes no problems here; all the scholastics accept a fully real distinction between Trinitarian persons as consonant with divine simplicity, so positing a diminished real distinction between the attributes, and between persons and the essence, will not violate it either. But that is an argument for another day, and not germane to the following quote.
Nicolaus de Orbel, Quaestio de distinctionibus Scoti
"omne ens aut est reale aut rationis ex quinto Metaphysicae, ergo omnis distinctio est realis aut rationis, tenet autem quia distinctio est passio entis, ex quarto Metaphysicae moveo....
Ad primum, quando arguitur omne ens aut est reale aut rationis, dico, quod distinctio realis est duplex, scilicet est large sumpta, alia vero stricte sumpta. Large sumpta est omnis distinctio, quae habet esse circumscripto omni operatione intellectus et non fabricata per opus intellectus aut rationis; stricte sumpta distinctio est distinctio inter rem et rem, et de ista non est verum quod omnis distinctio sit realis aut rationis. Distinctio enim formalis non est realis illo modo, quia non est inter rem et rem nec est rationis quia non est fabricata per opus intellectus, ut patet ex dictis."
Every being either is real or rational, from Metaphysics V; therefore every distinction is either real or rational; this holds because distinction is an attribute of being, from Metaphysics IV.
To the first, when it is argued 'every being is either real or rational,' I say that the real distinction is two-fold, namely, taking it loosely, and taking it strictly. Loosely taken it is every distinction which obtains with every operation of the intellect circumscribed and not fabricated through the work of the intellect or of reason; the distinction strictly taken is a distinction between thing and thing, and of this it is not true that every distinction is real or rational. For the formal distinction is not real in that way, because it is not between thing and thing, nor is it of reason because it is not fabricated through the work of the intellect.