Saturday, July 10, 2010

Response to Benedict XVI Audience on Scotus

The pope's recent audience devoted to Duns Scotus was quite a surprise, especially the umistakeabe positive remarks he made. He praised both the doctrine of the immaculate conception and that of the primacy of Christ; on this latter topic, apparently, according to other blogs, he has even changed his mind in endorsing Scotus' opinion. So there is much to be thankful for. We have moved away from the purely negative, Cambridge phantasist-inspired portrayal found in the Regensburg address to a more nuanced approach. I was personally impressed by the fact that he cited actual works of Scotus, an unusual departure from the usual pomo/thomist line, and even appears to know the difference between the Ordinatio, Reportatio, etc. All in all, quite impressive.

But he is still dead wrong on the will, I'm sad to say.

"Finally, Duns Scotus developed a point to which modernity is very sensitive. It is the topic of liberty and its relation with the will and with the intellect. Our author stresses liberty as a fundamental quality of the will, initiating an approach of a voluntaristic tendency, which developed in contrast with the so-called Augustinian and Thomistic intellectualism.

For St. Thomas Aquinas, who follows St. Augustine, liberty cannot be considered an innate quality of the will, but the fruit of the collaboration of the will and of the intellect. An idea of innate and absolute liberty placed in the will and preceding the intellect, whether in God or in man, risks, in fact, leading to the idea of a God who would not even be linked to the truth and to the good. The desire to save the absolute transcendence and diversity of God with an affirmation about his will that is so radical and impenetrable fails to take into account that the God who revealed himself in Christ is the God "logos," who acted and acts full of love toward us.

Certainly, as Duns Scotus affirms, in line with Franciscan theology, love surpasses knowledge and is increasingly capable of perceiving thought, but it is always the love of the God "Logos" (cf. Benedict XVI, Address at Regensburg, Teachings of Benedict XVI, II [2006], p. 261). Also in man the idea of absolute liberty, placed in the will, forgetting the nexus with truth, ignores that liberty itself must be freed of the limits imposed on it by sin."

Here we still have Scotus initiating some bad stuff, beginning a "tendency" to voluntarism. The actual tendency is locating freedom as a quality of the will. But Scotus doesn't do this; if freedom were a quality, it would have to be a habit (the only qualities that inhere in the will, after all), and habits are generally generated by repeated acts. Obviously, freedom isn't like this at all. According to Scotus, freedom actually consists in the affectio iustitiae, affection for justice, which is not a habit or an accident, but the ability to will something for its own sake, against the advantage of the willer. And ironically, the position that Benedict attributes to Aquinas, that liberty is the fruit of both the will and the intellect, is actually similar to that of Scotus; not as far as liberty is concerned, but as far as what actually generates acts of volitions. I post here again the text from Lectura II.26 that details this essential cooperation between the intellect and will:

Lectura II d. 25 q. un n.69-70 (ed. vat. 19, 253-55):

"Therefore I respond to the question that the effective cause of willing is not only the object or phantasm (because this in no way preserves freedom), as the first opinion claimed – nor also is the effective cause of the act of willing only the will, just as the second extreme opinion claimed, because then all the conditions which are subsequent to the act of willing would not be prserved, as was shown. Therefore I hold the middle way, that both the will and the object concur for causing the act of willing, so that the act of willing is from the will and from the object known as from an effective cause. But how can this be from the object? For the object has abstractive being in the intellect, and it is necessary that the agent is this-something and in act. Therefore i say that the intellet concurrs with the will under the aspect of effective cause – understanding the object in act – for causing the act of willing, and so, briefly, ‘natura actu intelligens obiectum et libera’ is the cause of willing and not-willing and in this consists free choice, whether this be said of us or of the angels."

Perhaps needless to say to anyone versed in scholastic philosophy, Benedict's claim that liberty is in the will prior to the act of the intellect is false. Or at least, requires further clarification. Yes, the will is free in that it can will against the suggestion of the intellect, and is the metaphysically "superior" power, but volition always follows intellection. The operation of the intellect is what supplies the objects for the will to will. Basically, as Scotus puts it, the intellect is an apprehensive power, apprehending, understanding, grasping, and so on, the object outside the knower in reality. The will is not such a power, but is only able to act on the basis of objects supplied to it by the intellect.

Benedict also implies that Scotus' motivation here is to preserve divine transcendence and impenetrability. This is ironic in that the Cambridge Phantasists et al. generally accuse Scotus of destroying transcendence by means of his doctrine of univocity. But since Benedict's view of the relation between intellect and will is so erroneous, his further comments about how the divine will is thereby divorced from truth and goodness do not apply to Scotus.

A further issue is how Scotus can both be initiating troubling new voluntaristic tendencies but also following the standard tendencies found in the Franciscan tradition. The Franciscans were voluntarists long before Scotus, and as far as voluntarism is concerned, he's quite a moderate.

Another passage of interest from the lecture:

"Liberty, as all the faculties with which man is gifted, grows and is perfected, affirms Duns Scotus, when man opens himself to God, valuing that disposition of listening to his voice, which he calls potentia oboedientialis: When we listen to divine Revelation, to the Word of God, to accept it, then we have been reached by a message that fills our life with light and hope and we are truly free."

Scotus certainly does not define the potentia oboedientialis like this. See rather QQ. in Met. Lib. 9 q. 12 n. 11: "'Oboedientia' enim proprie significat subiectionem respectu agentis potentis de oboediente facere quod vult." and n. 13: " So obediential potency is a potency of being subject to an agent, namely a perfect agent. Elsewhere, and I couldn't find it, Scotus relates this specifically to a potency that created things have towards being acted on by God. But note this is a metaphysical potency, and has nothing to do with spirituality, or "listening" to God in any way.

So to sum up, Benedict is showing increasing interest in Scotus, even changing some of his previous views under Scotus' influence; perhaps he just might canonize him next. He is quite happy to praise Scotus' views on the immaculate conception and the primacy of Christ, but remains critical, and uninformed, as to Scotus' actual doctrine on the will.

1 comment:

Drew said...

I've read quite bit of the Pope's writings over the years (as I'm sure you have also). He is certainly no Thomist, and definitely not a neo-scholastic. I think he has his own set of (quasi-political) concerns that he superimposes on his theological learning, in such a way that it looks and feels "traditional" (and, materially, is in many respects, though not formally). Without meaning to call into question their piety or doctrinal fidelity, it seems to me that most, if not all, of the Popes since Pius XII have not been able to decide whether their overall theological approach was to be theocentric or anthropocentric. How does one reconcile the "acting person" of JPII's philosophical theology with the theology of Lateran IV, the Dominican/Franciscian theological nexus, or Vatican I? JPII's philosophy was heavily rooted in Continental phenomenology. The problem with this "school" of thought, if it can be called that, is that it will produce as many "phenomenologies" as there phenomena it is meant to describe. Benedict talks a lot about the connection between intellect and will, and how a lack of insistence on the former can lead to violent actions by the latter. The problem, as I say it, is that Benedict and several previous Popes have more or less suicided their own platform by buying into Continental philosophy. So the intellect is supposed to inform the will. Got it. But what good does it do for Benedict to insist on this over and over again if he does not present a non-phenomenolgist, clear and agreed-upon idea of how the intellect does what it does in the first place?