Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Scotus on Natural Knowledge of God

This is the first installment of my attempt to lay out the basic positions of Scotus’ thought. At first this will be a bare summary, with little comment, but eventually I hope to expand it.

Duns Scotus’ complex of ideas surrounding the natural knowledge of God involve many of his most characteristic positions, such as univocity, intrinsic modes, quidditative knowledge of God and infinite being. In what follows I will attempt an explanation based on the Ordinatio and try to lay out the context; this goes for both the structure of the question(s) in which it appears as well as the intellectual context of the views Scotus opposed in developing it. In the Ordinatio the problem of whether there is natural knowledge of God is found in book I d. 3 pt. 1 q. 1-2.

Before stating his own views, Scotus gives a lengthy account of Henry of Ghent’s views. This is significant: the target of criticism here is not Aquinas, whose views are not mentioned; indeed, the only passage where Scotus analyzes any arguments of Aquinas is in Collatio 23. In this question Scotus criticizes the five arguments from the Summa contra gentiles (this is later picked up by Henry of Harclay who repeats them, only to be counter-attacked by Thomas of Sutton). We can only conclude that Aquinas’ views on analogy were not seen to be as important (or normative) circa 1300 as they were in the 1870’s to the present day.

According to Henry, there are three grades of the knowledge of God: most generally (generalissime), more generally (generalius) and generally (generaliter).

“Most generally” has three grades: (1) conceiving a being as “this being”; (2) removing “this” and conceiving being—this being is analogous to God and creature; (3) conceiving the being which is properly that of God, which Henry calls being “negatively undetermined.”

“More generally”: conceiving any divine attribute not as the primary divine attribute but as pre-eminently present in God.

“Generally”: conceiving any divine attribute as as being the same as the primary attribute, being, on account of divine simplicity.

Scotus contradicts the position of Henry on five points.

1. A quidditative concept can be had of God.

not only a concept of a general attribute can be had naturally, but also a quidditative and per se concept. The argument here is that (based on Henry’s views) when we conceive of divine wisdom, we also conceive of the subject of divine wisdom in which wisdom inheres; the concept of the subject, known as not reducible, ends the inquiry and is quidditative.

2. The univocal concept of God and creature

Scotus begins this section by noting that God can be conceived not only (note this) by an analogous concept, but by an univocal one. He does not deny analogy here, although his definition of analogy is that of Henry’s.

(ed. Vat. 18): “Secundo dico quod non tantum in conceptu analogo conceptui creaturae conciptiur Deus, scilicet qui omnino sit alius ab illo qui de creatura dicitur, sed in conceptu aliquo univoco sibi et creaturae.”

To avoid controversy on the matter (unsuccessfully, as it turns out given the long history of controversy on this topic), Scotus defines what he means by the term “univocal”. It has two features:

(1) it is one such that its unity suffices to cause a contradiction when it is affirmed and denied with respect to the same.

(2) it suffices for the middle term of a syllogism without causing a fallacy of equivocation.

“Et ne fiat contentio de nomine univocationis, univocum conceptum dico, qui ita est unus quod eius unitas sufficit ad contradictionem, affirmando et negando ipsum de eodem; sufficit etiam pro medio syllogistico, ut extrema unita in medio sic uno sine fallacia aequivocationis concludantur inter se uniri.”

Scotus gives five arguments for univocity.

The first is the most famous:

(1) every intellect, certain of one concept and doubtful of another, has a different concept for that which it is doubtful of and that which it is certain of.

(2) the intellect in the wayfaring state can be certain that God is a being, but doubtful whether he is a finite or infinite being or created or uncreated

(3) Therefore: the concept of the being of God is other than the concept of whether he is finite or infinite, or created or uncreated, and so neither of it self is included in the other.

(4) Therefore the concept is univocal.

Proof of the major premise: no concept is both certain and doubtful, therefore one or the other, which is what Scotus is trying to prove, or neither, and then there will be no certitude of any concept.

Proof of the minor premise: the ancient philosophers were certain that the first principle was a being (some thought it fire, others water), but they were not certain whether it was created or uncreated, first or not first. They were not certain that it was first, for then they would have been certain of something false and the false is not knowable. Nor were that certain that it was not the first being, because then they would not have posited the opposite of this.

“...omnis intellectus, certus de uno conceptu et dubius de diversis, habet conceptum de quo est certus alium a conceptibus de quibus est dubius; subiectum includit praedicatum. Sed intellectus viatoris potest esse certus de Deo quod sit ens, dubitando de ente finito vel infinito, creato vel increato; ergo conceptus entis de Deo est alius a conceptu isto et illo, et ita netur ex se et in utroque illorum includitur; igitur univocus. Probatio maioris, quia nullus idem conceptus est certus de dubius; ergo vel alius, quod est propositum, vel nullus – et tunc non erit certitudo de aliquo conceptu. Probatio minoris: quilibet philosophus fuit certus illud quod posuit primum principium, esse ens, - puta de ligne et alius de aqua, certus erat quod erat ens; non autem fuit certus quod esset ens creatum vel increatum, primum vel non primum. Non enim erat certus quod erat primum, quia tunc fuisset certus de falso, et falsum non est scibile; nec quod erat ens non primum, quia tunc non posuissent oppositum.”

The second:

(1) No real concept is caused naturally in the intellect of the wayfarer except those which are naturally able to move our intellect

(2) but these are a phantasm, or the object present in the phantasm, or the agent intellect.

(3) Therefore no simple concept is made naturally in our intellect now except which can be made in virtue of them.

(4) But a concept which would not be univocal to an object present in the phantasm, but entirely other, and prior, to that which has an analogical one, cannot be made by the power of the agent intellect and phantasm.

(5) Therefore such an other concept, analogous, will naturally never be in the intellect of the wayfarer, which is false.

Proof of the assumed: any object—whether present in the phantasm or in the intelligible species, with the agent and possible intellects cooperating—makes according to the extent of its power an effect adequate to itself, its own concept and a concept of everything essentially or virtually included in it. But an analogous concept is not essentially nor virtually included in it, nor is it the concept itself, therefore an analogous concept will not be made by such an object moving the intellect.

The idea here is that the analogy-tradition cannot get to God; since all holding analogy also think that all natural knowledge of God is based on concepts derived from the created realm, Scotus is trying to show that if you deny that these concepts are univocal and instead hold (as does Henry) that there are actually two concepts, one of God and one of a creature that are related by analogy, since God is not included in the created analogical concept you will not be able to move from the created concept to the uncreated naturally (which is contrary to what the holders of analogy maintain).

(ed. Vat. III 22-23): “nullus conceptus realis causatur in intellectu viatoris naturaliter nisi ab his quae sunt naturaliter motiva intellectus nostri; sed illa sunt phantasma, vel obiectum relucens in phantasmate, et intellectus agens; ergo nullus conceptus simplex naturaliter fit in intellectu nostro modo nisi qui potest fieri virtute istorum. Sed conceptus qui non esset univocus obiecto relucenti in phantasmate sed omnino alius, prior, ad quem ille habeat analogiam, non potest fieri virtute intellectus agentis et phantasmatis; ergo talis conceptus alius, analogus quiponitur, naturaliter in intellectu viatoris numquam erit, -- et ita non poterit haberi naturaliter aliquis conceptus de Deo, quod est falsum.

Probati assumpti: obiectum quodcumque, sive relucens in phantasmate sive in specie intelligibili, cum intellectu agente vel possibili cooperante, secundum ultimum suae virtutis facit sicut effectum sibi adequatum, conceptum suum proprium et conceptum omnium essentialiter vel virtualiter inclusorum in eo; sed ille alius conceptus qui ponitur analogus, non est essentialiter nec virtualiter inclusus in isto, nec etiam est iste; ergo iste non fiet ab aliquo tali movente.”

The third:

(1) a proper concept of some subject is a sufficient means of concluding all conceivable things about that subject which necessarily inhere in it.

(2) we have no concept of God through which we are able sufficiently to know all things conceived by us which necessarily inhere to God, as is clear regarding the Trinity and other necessary beliefs.

(3) Therefore, etc.

Proof of the Major premise: we have immediate knowledge of whatever we know the meaning of its terms; therefore the major is true of every conceivable which immediately inheres to the concept of the subject. If it should be said that it is mediate, the same argument will be made about the medium compared to the same subject, and where ever this ends the proposed will be had of the immediate, and further through them the mediates are known [?]

(ed. Vat. III 24): “conceptus proprius alicuius subiecti est sufficiens ratio concludendi de illo subiecto omnia conceptibilia quae sibinecessario insunt; nullum autem conceptum habemus de Deo per quem sufficienter possimus cognoscere omnia concepta a nobis quae necessairo sibi insunt –patet de Trinitate et aliis creditis necessariis; ergo etc.

Maior probatur, quia immediatam quamlibet cognoscimus in quantum terminos cognoscimus; igitur patet maior de omni illo conceptibili quod immediate inest conceptui subiecti. Quod si insit mediate, fiet idem argumentum de medio compaarato ad idem subiectum, et ubicumque stabitur habetur propositum de immediatis, et ultra per illas scientur mediatae.”

The fourth:

Either some pure perfection (perfectio simpliciter) has a notion (ratio) common to God and creature and so is univocal, or not. If not, then the notion is only that of a creature, and then the notion (ratio) does not formally befall God, which is unsuitable (inconveniens). Or has a notion proper to God, and then it follows that nothing is attributed to God, because it is a pure perfection, fo rthis is nothing other than to say that its notion as it befalls God means pure perfection, therefore it is posited in God; and so perishes the doctrine of Anselm in the Monologion... According to him, first something is known to be such and then it is attributed to God; therefore it is not precise such as it is in God.

(ed. Vat. III 25): “Item, quarto, potest sic argui: aut aliqua ‘perfectio simipliciter’ habet rationem communem Deo et creaturae, et habetur propositum, aut non sed tantum propriam creaturae, et tunc ratio eus non conveniet formaliter Deo, quod est inconveniens; aut habet rationem omnino propriam Deo, et tunc sequitur quod nihil attribuendum est Deo, quia est ‘perfectio simpliciter’, nam hoc nihil est aliud dicere nisi quod quia ratio eius ut convenit Deo dicit ‘perfectionem simpliciter’, ideo ipsum ponitur in Deo; et ita peribit doctrina Anselmi Monologion, ubi vult quod ‘praetermissis relationibus, in omnibus aliis quidquid est simpliciter melius ipsum quam non ipsum attributendum est Deo, sicut quodcumque non tale est amovendum ab ipso.’ Primo ergo, secundum ipsum, aliquid cognoscitur esse tale, et secundo attribuitur Deo; ergo non est tale praecise ut in Deo.”

A confirmation: every metaphysical inquiry about God proceeds by considering the formal notion/definition (ratio) of something and removing from that formal ratio the imperfection which it has as found in creatures, and reserving that formal ratio and attributing it only to the hightest perfection, and so attributing it to God. For example, take the formal ratio of wisdom or intellect or will: let it be considered in itself and according to itself; and from this that that ratio does not formally conclude some imperfection or limitation, are removed all the imperfections which accompany the ratio when found in creatures, and with that ratio reserved, most perfectly are the rationes of wiesdom and will attributed to God. Therefore all inquisition about God supposes the intellect to have the same concept, univocal, which it receives from creatures.

(ed. Vat. III 26-27): “...omnis inquisitio metaphysica de Deo sic procedit, considerando formalem rationem alicuius et auferendo ab illa ratione formali imperfectionem quam habet in creaturis, et reservando illam rationem formalem et attribuendo sibi omnino summam perfectionem, et sic attribuendo illud Deo. Exemplum de formali ratione sapientiae vel intellectus vel voluntatis: consideratur enim in se et secundum se; et ex hoc quod ista ratio non concludit formaliter imperfectionem aliquam nec limitationem, removentur ab ipsa imperfectiones quae concomitantur eam in creaturis, et reservata eadem ratione sapientiae et voluntatis attribuuntur ista Deo perfectissime. Ergo omnis inqisitio de Deo supponit intellectum habere conceptum eundem, univocum, quem accepit ex creaturis.”

I don’t see how the fifth actually proves univocity, so here I give only the latin:

(ed. Vat II 27-28): “...perfectior creatura potest movere ad perfectiorem conceptum de Deo. Ergo cum aliqua visio Dei, puta infima, non tantum differat ab aliqua intellectione abstractiva data ipsius quantum suprema creatura distat ab infima, videtur sequi quod si infima potest movere ad aliquam abstractivam, quod suprema, vel aliqua citra eam, poterit movere ad intuitivam, quod est impossible.”

3. God is not known under his proper aspect (ratio)

God is not known naturally and properly under the aspect of his essence as this essence by a creature in the wayfaring state. Scotus rejects Henry’s argument to this effect, and argues that under such an aspect only the divine intellect knows the divine essence as this essence, and it is only knowable to us in the wayfaring state if God wills it, which would make it a voluntary and not a natural object. No essence naturally knowable by us can lead to this knowledge, whether through the likeness of imitation or univocity. Univocity is only in general notions (generalibus rationibus; these work out to be the divine attributes, the Anselmian pure perfections taken as univocally common), and imitation fails because creatures imitate God imperfectly.

4. The concept of infinite being

We can attain to many proper concepts of God, that is, concepts that pertain only to God. These concepts are those of all pure perfections as they are found in the highest degree. The most perfect concept, in wi is by conceiving all perfections in an unqualified and highest degree. Teh most perfect and simple concept is that of infinite being. This concept is simpler than the concepts of the good and the true, because infinite is not a quasi attribute or passion of being or of that of which being is said. Infinity means an intrinsic mode, so that when I say ‘infinite being’ I do not have a concept quasi per accidens, made from subject and attribute, but a per se concept of a subject in a certain grade of perfection, namely of infinity. The example Scotus gives of intrinsic modes is whiteness. An intense whiteness does not mean a per accidens concept such as ‘visible whiteness’, rather ‘intense’ means an intrinsic grade of whiteness in itself.

5. God is known through a species of a creature

Creatures are able to impress intelligible species of varying universality in the human intellect. The same object can cause multiple species. A creature can impress species of itself, as well as of the transcendentals in the human intellect, and then the intellect by its own power can use multiple species to concieve that of which they are the species, such as the species of the good, the species of the highest, or of act, and compose a concept of the highest and most actual good.


Anonymous said...

Drs Faber and Sullivan,

My comment is not with regards to the topic of this post, but I can think of no other way to contact you all. I am hoping to take an independent study with one of my professors next semester (he is Ted Guleserian) and we both agreed we could do something on the medieval philosophers' views on free will, perhaps focusing on the famed problem of free will and foreknowledge. My professor isn't a medievalist, however, and he told me he'd be learning these things along with me.

My question: what readily accessible (both in the sense of easy to understand [as easy as you can get with these guys!] and easy to get ahold of) works by various major medieval philosophers (Aquinas, Ockham, Anselm, Abelard, Duns Scotus, and perhaps some Moslems too) would you recommend to read to find their treatments on topics of free will and the free will/foreknowledge problem? Of course, I'd ask that they be works which are translated from the Latin because I can't do that kind of translating work myself; and I'd just ask for whichever works are most readily available, so that if the works by Anselm, say, are extremely hard to get ahold of, I will just not search for them.

Thanks very much,


Michael Sullivan said...


Not knowing Latin will restrict your choices quite a bit.

The first and most important place to look is in Augustine and Boethius. Augustine discusses free will in his work of the same title, and time in the Confessions; then in Book V of Consolation of Philosophy Boethius brings Augustinian conceptions together in an excellent and concise discussion of the relation of free will to divine foreknowledge which is the fundamental source text for later mediaevals. After that I'd recommend going to St Thomas, since the relevant parts of the Summa are easy to find in English.

This is just off the top of my head; for anything else I'd have to look around and see what's available in English and what's not.

Asello Guzman said...

I'm not sure about the free will/ predestination/divine foreknowledge, but as far as the nature of the will goes (and whether or not it is determined to particulars or free with respect to its choice between this and that), a very good book is Bonnie Kent's Virtues of the Will.

Lee Faber said...

Scotus' Lectura I.39 has been translated by Vos et al. under the title "contingency and freedom", and i imagine there is some relevant material in the Hyman and Walsh anthology of med. phil.