Thursday, May 27, 2010

Once More from Husserl

There are only two escapes from the crisis of European existence: the downfall of Europe in its estrangement from its own rational sense of life, its fall into hostility toward the spirit and into barbarity; or the rebirth of Europe from the spirit of philosophy through the heroism of reason that overcomes naturalism once and for all. Europe's greatest danger is weariness. If we struggle against this greatest of all dangers as "good Europeans" with the sort of courage that does not fear even an infinite struggle, then out of the destructive blaze of lack of faith, the smoldering fire of despair over the West's mision for humanity, the ashes of great weariness, will rise up the phoenix of a new life-inwardness and spiritualization as the pledge of a great and distant future for man: for the spirit alone is immortal.

--Husserl, "Philosophy and the Crisis of European Humanity"

By the way, in this lecture Husserl makes it clear that for him "Europe" is just synonymous with "the West" - he explicitly includes America and the British Commonwealth nations in "Europe".

Husserl is the modern philosopher for whom I have the most sympathy and admiration. By "modern" I mean that his philosophizing arises out of post-Cartesian modernity and its break with the philosophical tradition of antiquity and the middle ages. (So I leave out modern Catholic thinkers like Maritain or Lonergan.) He knows very little about mediaeval philosophy and rarely mentions it. Nevertheless his insights seem to me more harmonious with the tradition - and at the same time complementary -than anyone else I know. This isn't to say that I endorse everything either in his philosophy or in his claims about transcendental phenomenology; that would certainly be rash (for one thing, although I've read the Logical Investigations, Cartesian Meditations, Experience and Judgment, as well as the Crisis - some of these twice - and a good bit of secondary literature, still there's a vast amount of his writings I'm pretty unfamiliar with, and I can't claim to fully understand every bit of what I've read). From the perspective of the reactionary ontotheologian it's hard to see how the phenomenological method, despite its strengths, can really give us the whole of philosophical truth, or ground a complete metaphysics, rather than just that corner of metaphysics studying esse objectivum. Still I do think he has a lot to offer, and not just in the occasional-golden-nugget-in-a-pile-of-dung sense (like with Nietzsche), and that's a big relief, when most modern philosophers make me either chuckle or shake my head in disgust.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Volume 12 is OUT!

That's right folks, for a mere 190 euros you too can be the proud owner of vol. 12 of the B. Ioannis Duns Scoti Opera Omnia [err, opera quaedam]. This volume covers distinctions 8-13, the sacrament of the Eucharist. Details here.

Friday, May 21, 2010

More on the knowability of Substance

Petrus Thomae, Quaestiones de transcendentibus, q. 10 (W f. 27va-b)

2o sic: nichil est univocam substantie et accidenti, ergo intellectus viatoris non potest habere conceptum quidditativum de substantia. Consequentia est falsum,ergo antecedens. Falsitas consequentis patet. Probatio consequentie: substantia non immutat immediate intellectum nostrum ad intellectum sui, set tantum accidens sensibile; cuius ratio est quia quidquid presens immutat intellectum illius absentia potest naturaliter cognosci ab intellectu; set absentia substantie non potest naturaliter cognosci ab intellectu viatoris; ergo ipsa substantia presens non immutat intellectum viatoris.

Maior patet: visus enim est absentie lucis perceptivus ex 2 De anima et ideo immutari potest a luce presente. Minor probatur: nam absentia substantie panis in hostia consecrata non potest naturaliter cognosci ab intellectu viatoris.

Ex hoc probo consequentiam intentam sic: nullus conceptus quidditativus substantie potest haberi per immutationem accidentis sensibilis nisi ille possit abstrahi a conceptu accidentis; set si nullus conceptus est univocus substantie et accidenti, non potest ab ipsis aliquis conceptus abstrahi; ergo si nullus conceptus est univocus substantie et accidenti per immutationem factam ab accidente, nullus conceptus quidditativus substantie potest haberi ab intellectu nostro.

Maior patet: nisi enim aliquis conceptus substantie posset abstrahi ab accidente numquam accidens immutaret intellectum ad conceptum substantie. Ratio tamen predicta requireret prolixiorem tractatum.


Second: nothing is univocal to substance and accident, therefore the intellect of a wayfarer cannot have a quidditative concept of substance. The consequent is false, therefore so is the antecedent. The falsity of the consequence is clear. Proof of the consequence: substance does not immediately change our intellect for understanding itself, but only sensible accidents. The reason of this is that whatever present changes the intellect, the absence of it can naturally be known by the intellect; but the absence of substance cannot be naturally known by the intellect of a wayfarer; therefore substance itself when it is present does not change the intellect of a wayfarer.

The major is clear: for sight is perceptive of the absence of light from II De anima and therefore it can be changed by present light. The minor is proved: for the absence of the substance of the bread in a consecrated host cannot be naturally known by the intellect of a wayfarer.

From this I prove the intended consequence thus: no quidditative concept of substance can be had through the change of a sensible accident unless that can be abstracted from the concept of an accident; but if no concept is univocal to substance and accident, a concept cannot be abstracted from them; therefore is no concept is univocal to substance and accident by the change made by an accident, no quidditative concept of substance can be had by our intellect.

The major is clear: for unless some concept of substance can be abstracted from an accident, an accident will never change the intellect to the concept of substance. The aforesaid argument requires a more prolix treatise.


The obvious rejoinder here is to deny univocity between substance and accident and posit some kind of analogy in its place. Peter does mention this in a later argument in this section, but as he had spent the last three (very lengthy) questions on accepting and denying various kinds of analogy, this possibility is not on the table here.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A Knock-Down Argument against the Soul

I came across the following compelling argument from Keith Campbell while reading contemporary material for my dissertation. The following is a quotation from Hoffman and Rosencrantz, "The divine attributes," p. 43:

"Atoms, and material things generally, are individuated and counted by their positions. Non-spatial spirits cannot, of course, be individuated and counted in this way. But then, in what way can they be individuated and counted? If there really is no difference between one spirit and two spirits of exactly similar history and contents, then spirits are a very suspect sort of thing indeed."

To be fair, he did write a whole book about the subject, this is just one quote.

Doom and Gloom

Just what was so great about the middle ages or the medieval universities? Not much, if you read the media. The New York Times recently had an article about a medieval manuscript (a shocking event in itself), but the tenor of the piece was that it was written by catholic "rebels", ie the spiritual franciscans inspired by Olivi. All that matters is that they were against that nasty catholic church, so no need to mention anything they actually thought, or what the controversy was actually about. Leiter recently featured a quote from a book that claims the "Islamic" universities are much older than the western ones. But what takes the cake is Victor Davis Hanson's slur that was vomited forth today:

"The lies and academic fraud of Climategate reminded us that it is almost impossible for even disinterested scientists to fathom the complex history of global climate change. But it also — and more importantly — reminded us how Western universities have turned into rigid medieval centers of intolerant orthodoxy. Our new academic monks, in their isolated sanctuaries — cut off by grants, subsidies, tenure, and cadres of obsequious graduate students from the grubby efforts of others to stay alive — have for years breezily issued all sorts of near-religious exegeses and edicts about the public’s ruination of the planet. We lesser folk were supposed to find salvation through installing windmills and junking our incandescent light bulbs under the tutelage of wiser overseers."

So it's not a political thing. The liberal New York Times and Leiter, and conservative Victor Davis Hanson may not agree on much, but they agree that the middle ages were bad bad bad. 150 or years of research on various aspects of the middle ages have apparently had no effect, even on people like Hanson who hold PhD's (of course, he was a classicist, who are notorious for hating medieval latin). All the middle ages are apparently good for is scoring political points, or, if you're catholic, indulging in nostalgia. This hits close to home, naturally, because unlike my co-blogger Michael, my own degree, which is nearing completion, will not be in philosophy but medieval studies. Philosophy is commonly regarded as useless, but I can imagine the fun I will have convincing people that I deserve a job and that the middle ages are worthwhile when even prominent conservatives have such a low opinion of, oh, 1,000 years of human thought and history.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Distance from God and Ourselves

R. Garrigou-Lagrange comments: “God is more distant from creatures than any creatures are to each other.” This is connected to two ideas. First, as Lateran IV states, the difference between God and creatures is greater than any similarity between them. Second, all creatures have this in common: that their natures are distinct from the Divine Nature. There is a difference in kind between Creator and creature; and since the Creator's nature is infinite, that distance is infinite. Yet theologians insist that God is closer to us than we are to ourselves, for He created us, He sustains us in being, and He knows us through and through as we can never know ourselves. Thus, if God is closer to us than we are to ourselves, but God is also infinitely distant to us, then we are infinitely distant to ourselves, which is somewhat disconcerting

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Random Quotes

Among the many things as are by men possessed or pursued in the course of their lives, all the rest are baubles, besides old wood to burn, old wine to drink, old friends to converse with, and old books to read.

--King Alphonsus the Wise of Aragon

"I want only the shrewdest to decide; in my opinion the counsel of fools is all the more dangerous the more of them there are."

--Ólafur Höskuldsson, "Laxdaela Saga"

What wretch can bear a live-long night's dull rest,
Or think himself in lazy slumbers blest?
Fool, is not Sleep the image of pale Death?
There's time for rest, when Fate has stopp'd your breath.

--Ovid, tr. John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester

Friday, May 14, 2010

God and Other Intelligent Designers

Here I would like to discuss whether or not J. R. R. Tolkien's account of Creation in the first chapter of his Silmarilion is compatible with St. Thomas' in ST I, q. 65, aa. 3-4. This will help to elucidate certain principles about the work of God and creatures in the making of things.

First, we can establish the conclusions of St. Thomas in these articles.

Art. 3

1. Respondeo “All bodies were created immediately by God [ex nihilo].”

2. No creature can create anything from nothing; angels did not create anything in the strict sense.

Art. 4

3. Respondeo: Matter obeys God’s bidding as its only proper cause.

4. “The corporeal forms that bodies had when first produced came immediately from God.”

5. “Even corporeal forms are derived from spiritual substances, not as emanating from them, but by movement (as the term of their movement).”

6. R. Obj. 2. Therefore, if things have their forms from angels through movement, it is because the idea of the thing was first in God, then in angels, and finally implanted in corporeal things like a seed.

Second, we can see if these conclusions are respected at least implicitly in Tolkien’s text, Ainulindale.

(I assume the identity of Illuvatar with God and the Ainur with angels.)

In regard to the first conclusion, “All bodies were created immediately by God [ex nihilo].” :

Illuvatar said, “EA! Let these things be! And I will send into the void the Flame Imperishable, and it shall be at the heart of the World and the World shall Be.” (p.9)

The second conclusion, that no creature can create anything from nothing; angels did not create anything, is respected because only Illuvatar made the world be, and “He made first the Ainur, the Holy Ones, that were the offspring of his thought” that is, the angels. (p.1)

The third and fourth conclusions:

Matter alone obeys God’s bidding as its proper cause.

“The corporeal forms that bodies had when first produced came immediately from God.”

Illuvatar said to the Ainur, “I know the desire of your minds that what ye have seen may verily be, not only in your thought, but even as ye yourselves are, but other. Therefore I say EA! Let these things be!” (p.9)

Comments: The Ainur were powerless to cause their thoughts to have real, as opposed to merely mental, existence; only Illuvatar could order formalized matter to come into being. These new things came immediately from Him as their primary efficient cause. They also came from Him directly as their formal cause, because the Ainur affected the forms only by “adorning” the theme already set for them by Illuvatar (cf. next section).

The fifth conclusion, “Even corporeal forms are derived from spiritual substances, not as emanating from them, but by movement (as the term of their movement).”:

“Of the theme that I have declared to you, I will now that ye make in harmony together a Great Music…ye shall show forth your powers in adorning this theme, each with his own thoughts and devices, if he will.” (p.1)

Comments: The forms of things are a product of the movement of the Ainur’s thoughts and will, an exercise of their power, not emanations of their substance.

The sixth conclusion, "if things have their forms from angels through movement, it is because the idea of the thing was first in God, then in angels, and finally implanted in corporeal things like a seed.":

“And [Illuvatar] spoke to them, propounding to them themes of music; and they sang before him.” (p.1) Illuvatar said to the Ainur, “Behold your music! This is your minstrelsy; and each of you shall find contained herein, amid the design that I set before you, all those things which it may seem that he himself devised or added.” (p.6)

Comments: The content of the Ainur’s song is their development of Illuvatar’s theme: their originality is only secondary and subordinate. Complete originality, apart from the theme of Illuvatar, is portrayed as corruption: “It came into the heart of Melkor to interweave matters of his own imagining that were not in accord with the theme of Illuvatar…some of these thoughts he now wove into his music, and straight-way discord arose about him.” (p.4) This implies that apart from Illuvatar’s theme there is no harmony, because He is the source of harmony. Thus, the forms of things were passed from Illuvatar to the Ainur and finally into reality; at each stage, Illuvatar was the primary mover.

In sum: yes, Tolkein's account of creation in the Silmarilion, at lest the part we discussed here, seems compatible with Thomas' account in ST I, q. 65, aa. 3-4

Thursday, May 13, 2010


The true struggles of our time, the only ones which are significant, are struggles between humanity which has already collapsed and humanity which still has roots but is struggling to keep them or find new ones.

. . .

But now we ourselves, we philosophers of the present--what can and must reflections of the sort we have just carried out mean for us? Did we just want to hear an academic oration? Can we simply return again to the interrupted vocational work on our "philosophical problems," that is, each to the further construction of his own philosophy? Can we seriously do that when it seems certain that our philosophy, like that of all our fellow philosophers, past and present, will have its fleeting day of existence only among the flora of ever growing and ever dying philosophies?

Precisely herein life our own plight--the plight of all of us who are not philosophical literati but who, educated by the genuine philosophers of the great past, live for truth, who only in this way are and seek to be in our own truth.

. . .

Thus no one was ever made conscious of the radical problem of how this sort of naiveté actually became possible and is still possible as a living historical fact; how a method which is actually directed toward a goal, the systematic solution of an endless scientific task, and which continually achieves undoubted results, could ever grow up and be able to function usefully through the centuries when no one possessed a real understanding of the actual meaning and the internal necessity of such accomplishments. What was lacking, and what is still lacking, is the actual self-evidence through which he who knows and accomplishes can give himself an account, not only of what he does that is new and what he works with, but also of the implications of meaning which are closed off through sedimentation or traditionalization, i.e., of the constant presuppositions of his [own] constructions, concepts, propositions, theories. Are science and its method not like a machine, reliable in accomplishing obviously very useful things, a machine everyone can learn to operate correctly without in the least understanding the inner possibility and necessity of this sort of accomplishment? But was geometry, was science, capable of being designed in advance, like a machine, without an understanding which was, in a similar sense, complete - scientific? Does this not lead to a regressus in infinitum?

--Husserl, The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology

Intelligent Design Round-Up

Dr Feser has posted a roundup of his thoughts on Intelligent Design, and I thought I'd do the same. Posting has continued here, but I haven't done much original or as much as I'd meant to, because a good bit of my blogging time has been spent in the comments to these posts which are now buried pretty far down. I appreciate all the commenters who have continued to debate, and this list of all the posts will let any readers who might still be interested find everything easily.

That said, at this point I think I'm finished with the ID debate for now. I think I've said anything intelligent I may have had to say on the subject, and without more study I doubt I'll be able to anything substantive beyond what's in these posts and discussions already. I may return to the subject again in the future, but for a while it will be back to normal around here.

Speaking of which, I'm graduating with my Ph.D. on Saturday. My parents are coming into town tonight, there will be some celebrations and so forth, and long story short I may not post much if anything for the next week or so. Perhaps my esteemed colleagues can take up the slack.

Here are the ID posts:

Is "Intelligent Design" Scotistic?

Nature, Artifacts, and Machines 1

Nature, Artifacts, and Machines 2

Intelligent Design and Scotism

Nature, Artifacts, Meaning and Providence

Reply to Dr Torley

[UPDATE] Over here is a link-map of the entire debate, including my posts, going back to Dr Feser's original posts on the subject last fall.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

On Natural Wonders and the Miraculous

This might seem to be a non-sequitur, but there are principles here which involve the discussion below regarding Intelligent Design.

"An 83-year-old Indian holy man who says he has spent seven decades without food or water has astounded a team of military doctors who studied him during a two-week observation period," says a recent news report. It explains that the man neither ate nor drank during the time of observation, except for occasionally swishing his mouth with a little water.

"We still do not know how he survives," neurologist Sudhir Shah told reporters after the end of the experiment. "It is still a mystery what kind of phenomenon this is."

The yogi offers an explanation: "He says that he was blessed by a goddess at a young age, which gave him special powers."

Is this a miracle?

The Angelic Doctor offers a helpful distinction:

"Miraculum proprie dicitur, cum aliquid fit praeter ordinem naturae. Sed non sufficit ad rationem miraculi, si aliqid fiat praeter ordinem naturae alicuius particularis quia sic, cum aliquis proiicit lapidem sursum, miraculum faceret, cum hoc sit praeter ordinem naturae lapidis. Ex hoc ergo aliquid dicitur esse miraculum quod fit prater ordinem totius naturae creatae" (ST I, q. 110, a. 4)

A miracle properly so called is when something is done outside the order of nature. But it is not a sufficient
ratio for a miracle if something is done outside the order of any particular nature; since otherwise anyone would perform a miracle by throwing a stone upwards, as such a thing is outside the order of the stone's nature. So for a miracle is required that it be against the order of the whole created nature.
It may be outside of the order of man's particular nature to survive without food and water -- but it might not be outside of the entire order of the universe.

St. Thomas goes on to say that even if an angel performed what is unexplainable according to the natural order of a particular being, its power is limited according to its nature and the laws of the universe. Thus, a person can benefit from the power of a demon -- or a "goddess" -- which is supernatural to our perspective but natural from the perspective of angelic natures. But this is not a miracle absolutely speaking, for only God can perform an act which is outside all natural laws, such as raising the dead.

One sign of a true miracle, the Angelic Doctor notes, is that the supernatural happens on account of the invocation of Christ's name. For an example of this we can turn to St. Catherine of Siena, who, according to Bl. Raymund of Capua her biographer, practiced what St. Thomas taught. He writes (ch. 12, no. 311):
All who knew Catherine were well aware of her profound and characteristic reverence and devotion towards the Blessed Sacrament of the Body of our Lord. She received the Sacrament so frequently that it was popularly reported that "the maiden Catherine receives Holy Communion every day," and that she lived and kept up her strength on it without taking any other food.
Raymund, always careful to dispel mere rumor, finds the report inaccurate: "In saying this, they were not quite correct, still I believe they spoke in good faith."

The truth is, he says, Catherine did not receive communion every day. Just most days. As for surviving on the Holy Eucharist alone ... if that seems astounding, he offers something else to ponder. Once he celebrated Holy Mass with only Catherine present and when communion time came:
Her face appeared to me like the face of an angel, radiating rays of light and somehow transfigured, so that I said to myself, "That face is not Catherine's"; and judging by what I saw I went on to say, in my own mind, "Truly, Lord, she is your spouse, faithful and pleasing in your sight." With this thought in mind I turned back to the altar, and still speaking only mentally I said, "Come, Lord, to your spouse." I do not know how this thought came to my mind; but as soon as I had formed it the Sacred Host moved of itself before ever I touched it. I saw it plainly moving towards me for the space of three finger-breadths and more, until it reached the paten which I had in my hand. But I was so stupefied, first by the light that shone on Catherine's face, and secondly by this marvel, that I am not certain whether or not I actually placed the Host on the paten or not. My belief is rather that it moved on to it of itself though I do not venture to vouch for this.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

New Contributor

Two and a half years after I joined Faber here at the Smithy, we are now joined by a third contributer. Br Asello Guzman is a clergyman in the Order of Preachers. Like Faber and I, he is a convert to the Catholic faith. In college he studied philosophy and classics; he has an M.Div. and is currently working on his S.T.L. Br Guzman has Thomist sympathies - no surprise! - but an open mind and broad interests. Faber and I have known him for many, many years, and are delighted to welcome his perspective here.

First Philosophy

The book in which Aristotle carries out this first philosophy was entitled ta meta ta
physika by its editors. They called it the study of issues that are “beyond” the physical things. Going beyond the
physical things is often thought to be an effort to deal with separate, nonmaterial substances, but it does not just
mean that. In fact, the study of separate entities comprises only a small part of Aristotle’s Metaphysics. His first
philosophy spends most of its time examining things like predication, truth and falsity, contradiction, substances and
accidents, definition, form and substrate, and the potential and the actual. Metaphysics theorizes truth; it is the
theôria tçs alçtheias, and the human attainment of truth is an achievement that goes beyond any physical process.
See Iso Kern, “Die drei Wege zur transcendental-phänomenologischen 4 Reduktion in der Philosophie
Edmund Husserls”, Tijdschrift voor Filosofie 24 (1962), pp. 303–349. John Drummond claims that one of the three
that Kern distinguishes should not be taken as an independent way to reduction; see his "Husserl on the Ways to the
Performance of the Transcendental Reduction", Man and World 8 (1975), pp. 47–69.
5 Edmund Husserl, Formale und transzendentale Logik, ed. by Paul Janssen, Husserliana XVII (Den Haag:
Nijhoff, 1974). Husserl distinguishes the apophantic domain from the ontological in chapters 2 and 4 of this book.
He explains the difference between these two domains by his treatment of apophantic reflection in §§42–46. He
admits that apophantic reflection is carried on in a prephilosophical manner; only in Part II of the book does he move
“from formal to transcendental logic,” a phrase that is the title of Part II. It is very clear that the turn to the
apophantic realm is different from the reduction to the transcendental domain.
Philosophy goes beyond physics because logic, truth, contradiction, and predication, for example, and the grasp of
definitions, are not among the motions, the kinçseis, that occur in simply material entities. They are beyond the
physicals, meta ta physika. They belong to being as being and not to being as material and mobile, and so when
Aristotle turns to the examination of being as being, he also turns to the study of intellect as intellect or mind as
This is also what Husserl does. We could define his phenomenology as the study of intellect as intellect,
mind as mind, or reason as reason. Perhaps it would be most appropriate to call it the study of truth as truth. In
order to venture out on this study, Husserl needs to differentiate his inquiry from something less ultimate, just as
Aristotle did. But Husserl does not distinguish his first philosophy from the study of physical things; in his day and
age he needs especially to distinguish it from psychology, so a book containing Husserl’s first philosophy could
appropriately have been entitled ta meta ta psychika or the “Metapsychics.” And just to round out this set of
comparisons, we might also observe that Plato too moves into a first philosophy by contrasting it against a less
ultimate science, and in his case it is mathematics. Plato’s first philosophy could appropriately have been called
something like ta meta ta mathçmatika or the Metamathematics.

--Robert Sokolowski, "Husserl on First Philosophy"

Monday, May 10, 2010

Sokolowski on Ancient Philosophy

The philosophical figures we study in the history of ancient thought are not a random collection. There
is a unified progression through the Presocratics, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, the Stoics, and the Neoplatonists. They
all develop philosophy as a way of knowing and as a way of life dedicated to knowing. They all recognize the being,
the intelligibility, and the good of things. These thinkers do not all say exactly the same things; each of them brings
out aspects that others may have neglected, but even as they bring out something original they usually let something
else slide into obscurity; gains are accompanied by losses. This is the grand narrative of classical philosophy. Over
against this narrative, however, we can also discern counter-philosophical pressures, ways of thinking that counteract
philosophy and question its very possibility, and these counter-philosophical positions are not just Greek and Roman
but perennial. They are as enduring as philosophy itself. Two of the most prominent “non-philosophies” of the
ancient world are reductive atomism, found in the original Democritean atomists and in the Epicureans; and
sophistry and historicism, found in the original sophists. The atomists were a kind of scientific substitute for
philosophy, while the sophists represented a historicist or relativistic alternative. Philosophy always has to define
and defend itself against these two opposing forces. The struggle to do so is endemic to the human condition.
Because there is such a thing as philosophy, there also are counterfeits that are played off against it, things that only
look like or claim to be philosophy.

--Robert Sokolowski, "Husserl on First Philosophy"

Sunday, May 9, 2010


As I finally approach the end of St Bonaventure's Sentences commentary I'm thinking about what to do next (besides all the other projects currently on the table!). First in line, of course, are to finish the Ordinatio, continue with Faber and my Petrus Thomae project, and start thinking about how best to cannibalize my dissertation for future publications. But then what to do with my down time?

One thing I'm considering is to go back to St Thomas and read the Aristotelian commentaries I never got to. The ones that have been waiting for me on my shelf for some years now are the "little physics" and "little soul" treatises, De caelo et mundo, De generatione et corruptione, Metorologicorum, De sensu et sensato, De memoria et reminiscentia. None of these are terribly long, compared for instance with the much longer and more significant ones that I've already read, but together they add up quite a project. I don't think I've read the Aristotelian treatises themselves since my undergraduate days, so no doubt it's time to visit them again.

I was poking around my library tonight and in the introduction to the Marietti edition of St Thomas' commentary on the Physics the editors say, Sublimitas doctrinae et coarctatior stylus opera Aristotelis fere impervia discipulis faciebant; unde iam ab antiquo explanationibus seu commentariis exornata sunt; their sublimity of doctrine and their cramped style have rendered the works of Aristotle almost impervious to students; whence from antiquity they have been adorned with explanations and commentaries. The first part is certainly true: Aristotle is neither easy nor fun to read, unlike Plato, who is nearly always a delight, even if you're not sure you're completely understanding him. As I've said many times before, St Thomas' commentaries on Aristotle's major works did more to introduce me to good philosophy at a tender age than anything else, with the possible of exception of his Summa contra gentiles, which was like a revelation to me. No doubt I would enjoy returning to the format after a long absence. The last time I read one was quite a few years ago now, when I was about to take a graduate course on the Physics. The summer before classes started I reread St Thomas' commentary, which struck me later as very nearly a bad idea, at least to the extent that it rendered the course very dull, since I learned far more from Thomas directly!

One other project I've been considering is to give a careful study to St Thomas' and Bl Scotus' commentaries on the Metaphysics simultaneously, taking them book by book. I'm pretty familiar with both works, having read Thomas' commentary several times (in translation and long ago) and Scotus' straight through once, while studying parts of it in serious depth (book IX was heavily featured in another graduate course and I wrote my MA thesis on two questions out of book VII). But I have no doubt there's a great deal still to be learned from each, and I'm sure comparing them side by side would be fascinating. It'll have to wait, though, since Faber will never let me hear the end of it until I've finished the Ordinatio.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Gender Equality

Another thing that's struck me in reading through the (extremely long!) section on Matrimony in St Bonaventure's commentary on the Sentences is his "modern" views on gender equality. For all the stereotypes about mediaeval misogyny Bonaventure is very clear that husband and wife are equal and reciprocal in all the rights and duties of marriage. The husband has no more rights than the wife does and the wife has no more obligations than the husband. St B. frequently appeals to the golden rule: if a husband wouldn't want his wife to do or refuse such-and-such, he shouldn't be allowed to either.

(Side note: one funny thing is just how much attention Bonventure devotes to the question of when it's acceptable for the husband to profess celibacy and when it isn't. One imagines this isn't a question that comes up too often these days. For those interested, the answer is: a) within two months of the wedding ceremony, if the marriage hasn't been consummated - but then he has to make permanent religious vows; or b) with his wife's consent and permission.)

In a section I read recently he's talking about concubinage and divorce, and why there seem to be different rules between the Old Testament and the New. One of his remarks in IV. Dist. XXXIII Art. III Q. III is interesting. An objection asked why under the Mosaic law a husband was allowed to divorce his wife but not vice versa; Bonaventure answers "In the time of the Law husband and wife were not considered equal," and a little later "the mystery of Matrimony was not completely revealed to them, because it was a time of shadow . . ." A few distinctions later, speaking of vows, something similar comes up. The old law said that if a wife made a vow and her husband objected, she was released from the obligation to fulfill it. St Bonaventure adds that the reciprocal is true as well: a husband gives up power over his body to his wife, and so if she objects to a vow, he cannot fulfill it.

Anyway it doesn't seem to me that much of a case for systemic oppression of wives by their husbands could be made of out St B.

Friday, May 7, 2010


Dicendum quod aliqui dixerunt quod maleficium nihil erat in mundo nec alicuius vis nisi in sola aestimatione hominum, qui multos naturales defectus attribuunt maleficiis daemonum propter fidei defectum. - Sed ista positio derogat iuri et derogat opinioni vulgi, et quod maius est, experimento; et ideo istud non habet aliquam stabilitatem.

"Some have said that witchcraft is nothing in the world, nor has any power, except in the estimation of men, who attributed many natural defects to the wickedness of demons, on account of a defect in their faith. - But this position detracts from the law and detracts from the common opinion, and what is more, from experience; and therefore it has no stability."

--St Bonaventure, IV Sent Dist. XXXIV Art. II Q. II

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Bonaventure, Bernard, and the Last Man on Earth

St Bonaventure attributes his position on the portions of the natural law which can be suspended, which I alluded to yesterday, to St Bernard. Here's what he says in IV Dist. XXXVIII Art. II Q. III:

Item, Bernardus dicit: quaedam sunt praecepta moralia primae tabulae ordinantia ad Deum; quaedam secundae ordinantia ad proximum; quaedam superaddita, ut canonicae sanctiones et Patrum instituta. In primis non potest despensare nec homo nec Deus; in secundis non homo, sed Deus; in tertiis et homo et Deus. Ratio autem huius est, quia praecepta primae tabulae immediate ordinant ad Deum.

"Bernard says that there are some moral precepts which belong to the first tablet [of the Ten Commandments], ordered to God; some which belong to the second [tablet of the Ten Commandments], ordered to one's neighbor; and some superadded precepts, such as the sanctions of canon law or [monastic and religious rules] instituted by the holy fathers. The first [set] neither man nor God can dispense from; the second man cannot, but God can; the third both man and God can. The reason for this is that the precepts of the first tablet are immediately ordered to God."

The relevant passage is in St Bernard's De praeceptio et dispensatione [c. 2-3], where he says pretty much what St Bonaventure says. Those precepts pertaining to charity, that is, to the good of our relationship to God, are necessary and inviolable. But:

Necessarium deinde, quod inviolabile nominavi, illud intelligo, quod non ab homine traditum, sed divinitus promulgatum, nisi a Deo qui tradidit, mutari omnino non patitur, ut, exempli causa: NON OCCIDES, NON MOECHABERIS, NON FURTUM FACIES, et reliqua illius tabulae legisscita, quae, etsi nullam prorsus humanam dispensationem admittunt, nec cuiquam hominum ex his aliquid aliquo modo solvere aut licuit, aut licebit, Deus tamen horum quod voluit, quando voluit solvit, sive cum ab Hebraeis Aegyptios spoliari, sive quando rophetam cum muliere fornicaria misceri praecepit.

And so forth. This is just what Bonaventure said, and it should be clear that this position is not therefore the first bad fruits of Scotism, nominalism, or some imaginary hybrid of the two.

Moving on: in the same question St Bonaventure asks the hilarious question: say there's only three people left alive on the Earth: myself, one woman, and the pope, and say I've taken a vow of perpetual continence. Can the pope dispense me from my vow for the sake of the conservation of the species?

No! For one thing, this would never happen. For another, even if the case would arise, there would be no way to know that the species could be preserved by breaking my vow. If I did the deed with the woman it very well might be that no children result anyway. So I would certainly break my vow for the uncertain possibility of some good not under my control.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Bonaventurian Voluntarism

Voluntarism is especially associated by moderns with Scotus, and with the Franciscan tradition in general. It's often taken to mean that moral laws are assigned by God arbitrarily, so that voluntarism is in opposition to natural law theory. The truth is much more nuanced; Scotus accepts the notion of natural law, in that moral laws are fitting and congruent with the natures of the things involved. On the other hand he holds that God can suspend the natural moral law for precepts which have to do with creatures, although not those which have to do with Himself; it is altogether impossible for God to command idolatry, or hatred of God, or blasphemy. Such actions are absolutely immoral by their very natures. Laws having to do with creatures, however, can be suspended in certain circumstances, for instance, when God commands the Israelites to despoil the Egyptians, or Hosea to cohabitate with a prostitute. There can be circumstances in which the thing that would normally bad can be commanded as good, subject to the divine prudence.

I've been finding this same same account in Bonaventure as I've read through his commentary on the Sentences. It's come up several times, most recently for me in IV Dist. XXXII Art. I Q. III, where St B. discusses why God allowed a dispensation from the law of nature so that the Patriarchs could have many wives.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

More on Philosophical Style

A couple of years ago now I posted an excerpt from Brand Blanshard's On Philosophical Style. It was a snippet I'd found somewhere on the Internet, where I have no idea. So, a couple of days ago I was browsing in the used bookstore and came across this little books in the flesh, and snatched it up for a paltry couple of bucks. It turns out that it's full of good things. Here's the passage immediately following the one I posted before:

Some philosophers would surely do better here if they bore in mind what great writers seems to know by instinct, that a generalization which we can make without trouble if we are allowed to start at the bottom may be quite beyond us if we have to start from the top. Most of us are incapable of moving freely in the world of pure universals or "as suches"; we are like Antaeus, and must touch ground again pretty often to renew our strength and courage. To be sure, there is some risk in such returns, for concrete things are complex, and if you are offered one as an example, you may pick out the wrong point in it. Kant was so convinced that this would happen that, for the most part, he deliberately abstained from illustrations. With all due respect, this seems to me rather silly. Most men's minds are so constituted that they have to think by means of examples; if you do not supply these, they will supply them for themselves, and if you leave it wholly to them, they will do it badly.

This excellent point, unfortunately, applies to a great many, probably most, of the scholastics. For myself I've felt it keenly in Scotus. Sometimes I've labored on for a dozen pages thinking to myself "I'm pretty sure I know what's going on; if only he'd give me an example so I could be sure!" Perhaps the scholastics were so trained to think logically and generally from an early age that they didn't feel the lack; perhaps we just can't fully appreciate the largely oral culture in which their texts were produced, so that perhaps the examples would be produced on the spot in class or disputation but were not thought necessary to always include in the writing. In any case it can make for difficulty. And it must be admitted that Scotus is a spectacularly bad writer in any case, which doesn't help at all.

Blanshard's most frequent gibes are at the Germans, which seems perfectly fair. Nearly all the greats - Kant, Hegel, Husserl, Heidegger - are nearly unintelligible much of the time, and, as he points out, this is not simply because what they have to say is so profound and difficult. Compare Husserl, for instance, with his explication by such a very clear writer as my old teacher Robert Sokolowski. The thought is still difficult, but the reading is much more pleasant.

Sometimes the difference between good and bad writing is a matter of mere laziness. Husserl, like Scotus, produced most of his writing as notes of his thinking for himself, and took few pains to prepare it for public consumption. Neither of them, perhaps, was trying to be obscure, they just weren't trying very hard not to be obscure. But there is bad writing, and then there grows up a tradition of bad writing. Blanshard says:

One influential teacher who writes badly can infect a whole brood of offspring, who proceed to spread the infection. Often our young philosophers, and still oftener our young psychologists and sociologists, are allowed to commit mayhem on the language unwarned, and to grow up under the innocent impression that such behavior is somehow scholarly. "A spectre haunts our culture," says Lionel Trilling. "It is that people will eventually be unable to say, 'We fell in love and got married,' let a long understand the language of Romeo and Juliet, but will, as a matter of course, say, 'Their libidinal impulses being reciprocal, they integrated their individual erotic drives and brought them within the same frame of reference.'" Many of these young people carry no model in their minds by comparison with which they could stamp that sort of thing as barbarism.

It seems to me that this is the sort of thing which has happened with the Heideggerians and the postmodernists, if we are not to assume uncharitably that they really have an ideological commitment to obscurity.

Blanshard also warns against excessive abstractness of language in general. This is difficult, because philosophy is necessarily abstract much of the time. But we should distinguish between a habit of abstract thought and a habit of abstract speech. Precisely abstract thoughts should be presented in as concrete a language as possible. One more amusing excerpt:

One distinguished philosopher talks to us about "the aspirational character of life." Another, in an able book, just off the press, writes, "a relation requires for its exemplification two or more particulars each of which must perform its special exemplificational function," and is on intimate terms with such strange new entities as "characteral features," and "punctuational commitments." In other writers I find it described how a philosopher approaches a problem "from the observational angle," how certain refugees coming to America had their "premigrational conceptions" changed, and how a certain kind of conduct is "organizationally cloaked with official piety." No doubt a case can be made out for such coinages on the ground that they take less space than the simpler words that might replace them. That may well be true. The case against them is that they are ugly misshapen verbal abortions.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Blog Changes

We (obviously) haven't put a lot of work into the aesthetics of The Smithy, preferring to focus on the ideas instead, and having no design sense anyway. But in an attempt to make the blog a little less ugly I've changed the fonts, and to make it a little easier on the eyes I've increased the font size. These and all elements are subject to change on reconsideration.

Religious and Philosophical Assent

Unde nota quod in eadem veritate assentiens aliquis alicui secundum quod catholico doctori, meretur; assentiens ut haeretico, demerertur; assentiens ut philosopho, nec meretur nec demeretur. Unde esto quod sicut Moyses dixit: In principio creavit Deus caelum et terram, ita etiam diceret Aristoteles, ita etiam Arius; qui crederet quod Moyses dicit, mereretur, quia crederet quod Spiritu Sancto fuerit afflatus, et ita crederet primae Veritati. Qui crederet quod Aristoteles dicit, nec mereretur nec demereretur, quia adhaereret sapientiae mundanae. Qui crederet quod Arius dicit, putans Arium, qui fuit haereticus, esse doctorem verum, demereretur, quia assensus est fundatus super haeresim.

--St Bonaventure, In IV Sententiarum XXX, Dub. II, resp.

"We should note that someone assenting to someone's authority about one and the same truth insofar as he is a Catholic doctor, merits; but someone assenting to someone about the same truth insofar as he is a heretic, is blameworthy; and someone assenting to someone as a philosopher, neither merits nor is blamed. So let's say that, just as Moses said: In the beginning God created the heaven and the hearth, Aristotle said the same thing, and also Arius. He who believes what Moses says, merits, because he believes it because Moses was inspired by the Holy Spirit, and so he believes in the first Truth. He who believes what Aristotle said, neither merits nor is blamed, because he adheres to worldly wisdom. He who believes what Arius said, believing that Arius, who was a heretic, is a true doctor, is blamed, because his assent is founded on heresy."

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Bonavanture and the Counterfactual Incarnation

In IV Sent. Dist. XXVI Art. II Q. II St Bonaventure discusses the sacramental signification of marriage, whereby the relationship between man and wife signifies the relationship of Christ and the Church. One of the objections has this argument:

Sed, si homo non peccasset, Christus incarnatus non esset, secundum communiorem et probabiliorem opinionem; et nihilominus magnum fuisset sacramentum: ergo non tantum coniunctio Christi et Ecclesiae est signatum.

But if man had not sinned, Christ would not have been incarnate, according to the more common and more probable opinion; and nevertheless marriage would have been a great sacrament: therefore not only the union of Christ and the Church is signified [in the sarament].

St Bonaventure replies that even if there were no Incarnation and so no Incarnate Christ and no Church, marriage would still signify the relationship between God and the soul. So it has a greater signification now than it would have, but in the counterfactual case it would still have sacramental significance.

My question, though, is about when Scotus' position, now identified with the Franciscan position, that Christ would have been incarnate even if Adam had not sinned, arose in the Franciscans and the Latin Church. It's not in Bonaventure, the Franciscan doctor par excellence before Scotus - where does it come from? Does it originate with Scotus?

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Ray Bradbury on the Internet

The Internet? Don't get him started. "The Internet is a big distraction," Mr Bradbury barked from his perch in his house in Los Angeles . . . "Yahoo called me eight weeks ago," he said, voice rising. "They wanted to put a book of mine on Yahoo! You know what I told them? 'To hell with you. To hell with you and to hell with the Internet."

"It's distracting," he continued. "It's meaningless; it's not real. It's in the air somewhere."

This is not the voice of a crank but that of a word lover who has spent his life creating stories about worlds far more exotic and wonderful than anything dreamed up by a video-game programmer or cyber-fabulist. He's scathing, amusingly so, on the subject of the blogosphere and Internet chat rooms. "Who do you want to talk to? All those morons who are living across the world somewhere? You don't even want to talk to them at home."

In 1995, he told a college audience, rather bravely: "I don't understand this whole thing about computers and the super-highway. Who wants to be in touch with all of those people?" The answer now, fifteen years on, is: everyone, more or less.

This is from Christopher Buckley's Introduction to the new Everyman Library collection The Stories of Ray Bradbury.