Thursday, November 11, 2010

Thomism leads to ... nominalism (?)

The theory of plural substantial forms is not a problem for the Platonist mind-set [i.e., for Bonaventure]. However, the view of the rational soul as the form of the human body [i.e., Thomas's view] is a problem, for this view seems to cast considerable doubt on the possibility of the soul's immortality. Furthermore, the unicity doctrine implies that form is not being, since such a union could only take place if essence and existence are really distinct and enter into composition. Conversely, if form is being, and essence and existence are not really distinct, a plurality of substantial forms, when hypostasized or instantiated in an individual, remain distinct though hierarchically ordered. The unicity doctrine seems a first step on the slippery slope to nominalism.

--Christopher Cullen, Bonaventure (Oxford University Press, 2009), p. 50

3 comments:

Lee Faber said...

sounds about right.

Dave said...

Hey, avid Feser reader here. For a variety of reasons, I have come to be interested in forms of Scholasticism beyond Thomism, and I've heard good things about Scotus.

A particular thesis I'm trying to understand is the whole "plurality of forms" thing. It obviously solves some problems, the "migration of accidents in substantial change" problem being prominent among these (and I suspect that the notion could be useful for integating Scholastic metaphysics with quantum field theory). But I have a couple of outstanding questions.

1. The quote in the blog entry makes a connection between the notion of the plurality of substantial forms, the notion that "form" is "being," and the Thomistic distinction between essence and existence. In particular, it seems to indicate that the last thesis is incompatible with the former two theses. While I can understand this assertion as regards the essence/existence thesis in relation to the "form is being" thesis, the connection to the plurality of forms thesis seems obscure to me. This is presumably an artifact of my limited understanding. Could someone clarify the connection?

2. The Thomistic writers I've encountered consistently oppose the plurality of forms thesis by appealing to the unicity of the substance itself, often with an appeal to the principle "agere sequitur esse." The criticism is also made that if "corporeity" is a substantial form present in an organism, the soul itself would then be a merely accidental form. That, or we're stuck with two separate substances made from the same matter, one being the union of the matter with the living form, the other being the union of the matter with the form of corporeity. These criticisms are so obvious to me that I am forced to presume that Scotists have "stock answers" to them. What are these stock answers? How do Scotists "reconcile" (note the scare quotes) the unity of the substance with the plurality of substantial forms?

3. In my (admittedly limited) experience, Scholastics rarely, if ever, seem to produce *only* one argument for a substantive thesis. It seeks likely to me that the "migration of accidents" argument is only the tip of the iceberg. What, then, are the other "stock arguments" *for* the plurality of forms?

Lee Faber said...

Hi Dave,

Thanks for commenting. Scotus doesn't have a whole lot to say on this point, unfortunately. There is a question in book of his Questions on the Metaphysics (transl. Wolter), and some remarks when discussing the eucharist in ord IV d. 12. Tom Ward wrote a book that I haven't read that treated plurality of forms in Scotus. The main medieval text on plurality of forms is Richard of Middleton's De gradu formarum. It was edited: R. Zavalloni, Richard de Mediavilla et la controverse sur la pluralité des formes. There is also a substantial English discussion by De rijk in his edition of Hervaeus Natalis' De formis.

As to your questions:

1. I don't quite see the connection either. Maybe it is something specific to Bonaventure.

2. despite "scotism" being my main academic research field, I confess I haven't read much on this topic, even the works I quoted above. So i don' know what the standart Scotist responses are. Though I know where to find them... Antonius Andreae has a question on plurality of forms and the formal distinction in both his Questions on the Metaphysics bk 7 and his Questiones de tribus principiis naturae. Peter Thomae also has a question in his De formis, though I haven't managed to publish it yet. Scotus himself thought that there was a substantial form for the body, and a substantial form of the intellective soul. Ward I think argues that there are lots more substantial forms, such as for bones and organs. Hardly anyone works on this topic, so I don't know if anyone has challenged him on that point or not. Back to Scotus. So there various kinds of forms, organs, bones, and these are all in potentcy to or receive their actuality from a higher grade of form, the bodily form, but the bodily form itself is in potency to the intellective soul form. So there is a single actuality and unity of the body since the ultimate grade is contributed by the intellective soul. upon death, the bodily form takes over as the governing grade of form, supplying actuality to lower grades, but since it is weaker decay etc. sets in and the forms are corrupted into elemental forms. That is I think what comes out of the QQ super Met In the ord. IV text Scotus says there is no problem with differnet forms contributting a bit of esse to the esse of the whole. So there is one 'esse' of the human person, it is just composed out of various partial esse's. Anyway, that is all I can really say at the moment, so sadly I have nothing to contribute to 3, save that indeed, there are many discussions of the topic in the 14th c. and beyond (mastrius for example is a famous Scotist and no doubt he discusses these matters in his cursus on the Physics). If you read Latin and send me your email, i could send you Peter Thomae's question on the topic from the De formis.