Monday, June 14, 2010

Update on Vatican Library Digitalization Project

As of May 5. See here for the update on this great project. Note two things: 1. As is common for anything related to the humanities, they are short of cash. 2. Some of the technology was originally developed by NASA... your tax-dollars at work. They are planning to digitize 80,000 mss. hopefully they will make the reproductions available online as was the case with Assisi.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Ockham Quodlibet I.8

The question asks whether angels can be moved in a vacuum. Before deciding this, Ockham very sensibly says, we must first determine if a vacuum can exist. He says that it can. For imagine that God should annihilate or uncreate the Earth, while conserving everything in the heavens the way they are. Then there would be nothing where the Earth used to be, and then there would be a vacuum.

If you were to insist that natural laws would require an inrushing of stuff into the void in order to full and thus eliminate the vacuum, Ockham says that so long as this doesn't happen instantaneously (and motion never occurs instantaneously), there would be some period of time however short in which a vacuum was present.

So, given that there can be a vacuum, angels can move in it. There are some additional complications thrown into the question, of course, but they're not to thrilling. The next question is about the composition of the continuum and that should be more interesting.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Ockham Quodlibet I.6-7

Can one angel speak to another? No of course not, because they can't hear; obviously they don't have ears! [This is actually the first argument in the question.]

But seriously, folks. Angels converse with mental speech and mental hearing, in other words by pure thought. For a concept, a mental word, is nothing but the act itself of cognition. Mentally speaking, then, is nothing other than to think in such a way that oneself or someone else can understand what is being thought about, and mental hearing is nothing other than to apprehend someone else's act of thought.

Ockham gives authorities for his view that concepts are nothing other than thought-acts, but his attempts are not convincing. Before he held this view Ockham had held his so-called fictum theory, according to which concepts are mental entities "feigned" or invented by the mind to signify its objects, but obviously he's abandoned that by the time of his quodlibet.

One interesting point in this question is his claim that in the ordinary course of nature neither an angel nor a man is able to hide his thoughts from other angels. Rather angels do not access our thoughts only because God does not allow it.

The seventh question also seems motivated by Ockham's anti-concept stance. He asks whether an angel can pass on to another knowledge which he has habitually, without actually thinking it in the process. He says that hit can, so long as the object about which the receiving angel is learning is something it already has some actual knowledge about. Ockham appears to be saying something to the effect that one angel can remember something he has actually experienced by means of another angel's memories, which strikes me as odd.

About things of which the passive angel does not have direct experience, however, only the actually-thought thoughts of the teaching angel can give him knowledge, especially about singulars.

Finally, Ockham says that angels can have discursive thought.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010


Instead of dutifully reading Ockham today I've been reading the Symposium and Allan Bloom's commentary. I confess that whenever I read Plato I feel that he is both the most beautiful and most profound of philosophers and become tempted to just keep reading him and ignore all his footnoters.

I remember vividly the first time I read the Symposium, at fifteen or sixteen, in the old Jowett translation in the Britannica Great Books set. It certainly made more of an impression on me than any of the other Plato I read around the same. I'll never forget my initial impression at the speech of Aristophanes, which I didn't understand was supposed to be funny and found simply absurd and ludicrous and a bit grotesque.

And too I remember vividly the second time I read it, a few years later as a college freshman. For many years at St John's College there had been a tradition of making the Symposium seminar an actual symposium, with everyone drinking and talking. Federal funding regulations had made this wise and beneficent custom impracticable for a program in which Plato comes in the first year when nearly all the participants were underage, and by the time I got there the practice had been "officially" discontinued. Unofficially, however, most people got plenty drunk beforehand and a few intrepid souls snuck their wine into class in things like Snapple bottles. I stayed totally sober - I was very careful not to drink for the first two years of college - and participated in the discussion and watched in amazement as various usually dour or carefree or vice-hardened classmates began to pour their hearts out, some even weeping, as we all wondered together about love and beauty and transcendence and being fundamentally incomplete.

Perhaps part of the reason that Plato has such attractions for me is (in addition to his astonishing excellence) merely personal, in that I read so much of him as a freshman, which was such a formative period and has so many intense associations. For instance, I can't read the Phaedrus without thinking of another seminar, after which I met up with my girlfriend who had just had her own (at St John's all the seminars in the College happen at the same time, from 8-10 PM on Monday and Thursday nights; it's almost like a community liturgy around which all other time is structured). We were talking and she mentioned how proud she was that we had kept the black horses of our souls in check so well, which was ironic, for I had partly spent my seminar worrying that my own black horse might be champing at the bit more than I could handle.

Anyway. I read a great deal besides my studies in scholastic philosophy and theology, but since the blog is explicitly centered around these, it's always hard to tell what place if any other matter have here. "What's this tripe?" I can hear my vast crowd of frothing readers protest. "We came here for the good stuff, and he's trying to pass off his nostalgia instead of thinking like a man!" Fair enough. Back to the trenches tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Ockham Quodlibet I.4-5

In the next two questions Ockham discusses angels and physics. The first asks whether an angel is in a place through his substance. Ockham first defines place in Aristotelian terms as the terminus of the containing body of what is in place, and then distinguishes between being in place circumscriptively and definitively. The first is when part of the placed is in part of the place and the whole is in the whole place. The second is when the whole placed is in the whole place - as Christ is in the Eucharist.

So then, an angel can be in place definitively but not circumscriptively. Ockham doesn't say this, but the case seems to me to be basically parallel to the way the human mind is in the body: the angel can be in any place the way that my body is the place of my mind. An angel is not in place the way God is, for God is present both to this place and also to every other place at once, which is not true of an angel. Furthermore, an angel cannot have a point as his place, since points as places do not exist. If there were real indivisible points which were the terminus of a containing body, the angel could be contained by them, but there aren't. Furthermore, there is a maximum size of the place an angel can be present at, since he is finite and limited by nature, but Ockham makes no effort to determine what this size might be. There is no minimum-sized place, and angels can coexist in a single place. Although O. doesn't draw the connection, it seems that this implies there is no limit to the number of angels that can dance on the head of a pin. This question, however, has been resolved elsewhere.

Question five builds on four to ask whether angels can be moved in place. First he defines local motion as "the successive coexistence, without an intervening rest, of something continually existing in place through diverse places" [motus localis est coexistentia successiva, sine quiete media, alicuius continue existentis in loco diversis locis].

The reason it seems that angels cannot be moved is their impartibility and indivisibility. Wouldn't any change of place for an indivisible substance have to be instantaneous? Ockham replies that when Aristotle states that in motion you always have a part of the moved in one place and part in another, he is only speaking about things which exist in place circumscriptively; but as we just saw, angels are not in place this way, but definitively. The angel's change in place happens in accordance with the manner in which he occupies a place even at rest.

Finally, in replying to an obscure objection based on a comment by Walter Chatton, Ockham gives an interesting counterfactual argument that sounds like modern possible-worlds talk. The discussion in this section is about how many things have to exist in order to verify a proposition. The Chatton-inspired objection states that in order to verify that an angel is created by God a period of time, or at least an instant, must exist for the verification to take place. I translate the counter-argument:

Assume that first of all God creates an angel together with a book, in which the proposition ["this angel is created by God"] is written, without [creating] the world; afterwards he creates the world, along with motion and time; afterwards he destroys the world and motion and time, [so that the state of things is] as before. Then this proposition "this angel is created by God" is true before the creation of the world, and after the destruction of the world it is false; and nevertheless as many things exist after the destruction of the world as there were before creation, and nevertheless it was then true and now is false. From which it is manifestly clear that sometimes three things are sufficient to verify this proposition, and sometimes they are not sufficient.

Since this is absurd, Ockham denies that time is a necessary condition for the truth of any proposition. What does this have to do with local motion? I have to admit that's rather obscure to me.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Narn i Hin Scoti

Speaking of the constitution of the divine persons, the other day I read Scotus' Ordinatio I dist. 26. This is a classic Scotus monster-question of sixty pages, various competing positions summarized and argued for and against in dozens of arguments, with references to the Fathers, councils, popes, recent scholastics, and on and on, and at the end the reader is quite unsure what Scotus' own opinion is! The situation with this text is so complicated that the editors devote most of their large introduction to v. 6 explaining what happened, and reading it I was quite struck how similar the Ordinatio is to The Silmarillion.

What I mean is this: as is well known, when J.R.R. Tolkien died he left behind a vast quantity of manuscripts in various states of completion, many of which in theory were to eventually produce some final version of the masterpiece he'd been working on all his life. But he died without ever constituting the final work and the task of finding some way to present the disparate material to the public fell to his son Christopher and assistants. What Tolkien fils did at first was to combine, reduce, tinker, harmonize, and rewrite the various material until he could offer the "published" Silmarillion as a pretty complete and coherent work. The difficulty with this publication is that it left its readers with a rather unclear idea of what Tolkien pere had actually written. It was readable, and substantially great, but was it authentic?

Eventually Christopher ended up publishing a huge amount of the original materials anyway so that people could see for themselves where the original pastiche came from, complete with commentary and critical apparatus. Someone published a book not too long ago analyzing The Silmarillion passage-by-passage against the various volumes of The History of Middle-earth to show exactly what its relation is to the source materials.

The History of Middle-earth is both much greater and much less great than the published Silmarillion. There's a lot of stuff in the source-material that isn't great at all. There's a lot of repetition, or insignificant variation, false starts, questionable approaches, etc. It doesn't cohere, obviously. It's almost impossible to read all the way through. (I've read all but some of the middle volumes of drafts from The Lord of the Rings.) Chunks of it repay very long and careful study, especially many of the long-form drafts and narratives in the later volumes, such as the Finrod and Andreth dialogue; but many of the summaries and annals can be glanced at once and left alone.

Anyway for someone who really loves Tolkien's work Christopher's Silmarillion can't be the final word, even though it's so much more readable and approachable than the massive set. Nevertheless it was probably a necessary production, and without it no doubt the more definitive series would never have been published.

Now the funny thing is that Scotus' work has such a similar history. When he died he left behind all these drafts of works which never reached completion, and his disciples saw that they could not be copied and published just as they sat on the Doctor's desk. The drafts were in various states of chaos, with additions and cancellations from various periods of time, and big blank spaces left for more additions and sketches for continuation. Much of the materials were nigh unintelligible as they stood. They had to be finessed, supplemented, edited to produce a readable edition. This was done, with the result that a) Scotism became a great school, one of the main strains of scholastic thought, and b) confusion reigned about just what Scotus' writings and teachings were for centuries. People read the "editions" but didn't always know if they were getting Scotus or one of his disciples or some opinion that Scotus had considered but not endorsed, or whether they were reading something by another person entirely, like James of Viterbo.

This is finally getting better as critical editions have been (oh so slowly) coming out over the past decades. The aim of the Vatican edition's Ordinatio is explicitly to produce, as far as humanly possible, the contents of the "Liber Scoti", the actual book written in Scotus' own hand, as he left it when he died, extracted from the mess of later alterations and accretions. Now we know better than ever before what Scotus wrote. But, paradoxically, this makes him harder to read! The whole reason that the first "editions" were produced in such an inauthentic form is that the actual "Liber Scoti" was so hard to make sense of!

It's rough, because Scotus would be hard enough to understand without taking into account all the historical and textual issues. Sometimes I think we have to resign ourselves to not always being able to reach the "mind of Scotus", or even the true intention of the text at hand, because there just might not be one. There's only what Scotus was thinking about and what he was working on up to the end, and not always a definitive answer, just as in the end maybe there's no "true" family tree for the house of Finwë, only various versions and ideas.

For Tolkien enthusiasts, luckily, Christopher put out both the "edited" version and the "raw" version of his father's work in his own lifetime. One can think of the work of Scotus' first disciples as parallel to the work of the "early" C.T. and the work of the Vatican edition and its American counterpart as parallel to the work of the "late" C.T., only for Scotus it took 600-700 years instead of a couple of decades. No doubt a lot of this is just due to advances in publishing capabilities. If the fourteenth century had had the ability to produce facsimiles there might not have been nearly as big of a confusion.

To return to Ordinatio I dist. 26, Scotus argues for and against the "common" western view that the divine persons are constituted only by their relations of origin. He has some pretty compelling arguments against this and for the notion that there must be some additional absolute property to constitute a person, and that a person cannot be understood simply as a subsistent relation, but must be something absolute. As I said earlier, in this text it's not possible to tell his own opinion. The editors have a lot to say about it. In the end Scotus' position appears to be: it's more likely that the persons are constituted simply by their relations of origin; this is more consonant with the latin tradition. At the same time, the Church has never defined this matter, and it is possible, licit, and orthodox to hold that there must be an additional something absolute in their constitution.

Ockham Quodlibet I.3

This question asks whether in God paternity is distinct from the Father. Ockham notes, "This question is not about names but about the reality." That is, logically speaking of course the abstract property "paternity" is distinguished from the concrete suppositum of whom it is predicated; but is there any distinction in reality?

Ockham notes that every distinction is either real or formal or rational. In the first case one of the two distinct things can exist apart from the other; in the third case the two distinct things are distinct only in the mind. In the second case, you have a formal distinction when you have things such that something is the same as one of the distinct things and not the other, as in: the Son is the essence and is not the Father, therefore the Father and the essence are formally distinct.

[An aside: recall that in Quod. I.2 Ockham made it clear that the accepts the formal distinction only for distinguishing the persons from the essence in God and nowhere else. Generally then he accepts only two kinds of distinction, real and rational. This is why they call it his razor! Compare with more luxurious accounts of distinctions. For instance, the Scotist Petrus Thomae in his own Quodlibet, q.7, gives a very different classification of distinctions. First there are distinctions of reason, founded only on a mental act, and then there are distinctions not dependent on a mental act, real distinctions. But real distinctions can be broken down into 1) Essential distinctions, between essence and essence, which can be known by separability in actual existence or by essential dependence, since nothing is dependent on itself; 2) Distinctions between thing and thing, rather than between essence and essence, which can be known e.g. by causal dependence; 3) Distinctions between reality and reality, known by whether one can be abstracted without the other; 4) Distinctions between thing and reality - the difference is that a thing has a reality belonging to it, while a reality must have a thing of which it is; 5) Distinctions between formality and formality, with multiple ways to recognize is; 6) Distinctions between formality and thing, known by the lack of adequation between the two, since one thing can have many formalities but not vice versa, or by the fact that the thing is principle and the formality something pertaining to it. Petrus Thomae has at least one other way of formulating the distinction tree, but you get the idea. Even though Scotus also recognizes the principle of parsimony, it's not called Scotus' razor for a reason.]

Anyway, Ockham says that you can't think as though the Father were constituted from the coinciding of the divine essence and active generation. There's not some property of paternity which makes the Father himself; rather the Father just is paternity in God. The Father can't be constituted by paternity, because he just is paternity, and nothing can constitute itself. Similarly the Son just is filiation in God, etc. There is a legitimate formal distinction between the Father and the divine essence and a real distinction between the Father and the Son. But those are all the distinctions there are in God which don't arise from our own thinking about him.

Saturday, June 5, 2010


In an interesting post "Paradoxicon" discusses Aquinas and Scotus on God's infinity. He gives the following passage from Aquinas' Summa theologiae Q.7 a.1:

We must consider therefore that a thing is called infinite because it is not finite. Now matter is in a way made finite by form, and the form by matter. Matter indeed is made finite by form, inasmuch as matter, before it receives its form, is in potentiality to many forms; but on receiving a form, it is terminated by that one. Again, form is made finite by matter, inasmuch as form, considered in itself, is common to many; but when received in matter, the form is determined to this one particular thing. Now matter is perfected by the form by which it is made finite; therefore infinite as attributed to matter, has the nature of something imperfect; for it is as it were formless matter. On the other hand, form is not made perfect by matter, but rather is contracted by matter; and hence the infinite, regarded on the part of the form not determined by matter, has the nature of something perfect. Now being is the most formal of all things, as appears from what is shown above (4, 1, Objection 3). Since therefore the divine being is not a being received in anything, but He is His own subsistent being as was shown above (Question 3, Article 4), it is clear that God Himself is infinite and perfect.”

Then the following from Scotus' De primo principio c.4:

Finally some argue to the proposed conclusion from the absence of any intrinsic cause. Since form is limited by matter, any form incapable of being in matter therefore is infinite. I do not think this argument is any good, because [its proponents] admit an angel is immaterial, but not infinite. And existence will never limit [its] essence, since they hold that it is posterior to essence. Now the intrinsic degree of perfection that any entity has is not just a vicarious possession. Furthermore, it is a fallacy of the consequent to argue that just because form is limited with reference to matter, therefore without such reference it is unlimited. [This is like arguing] one body is limited with reference to another, hence where there is no such reference a body will be infinite; hence the outermost heaven will be infinite. This is the fallacy of the Physics, Bk. III. Just as a body is first limited in itself, so too with form. Form is first limited in itself (because there is just this sort of nature among things) before it is limited by matter since the latter limitation presupposes but does not cause the first. An essence is first finite by nature, and hence is unable to be made finite by existence; hence it is not subsequently limited by existence.

Then he seems to get slightly confused. He writes:

Scotus isn’t talking about the hypothetical fallacy of affirming the consequent when he mentions the “fallacy of the consequent” (which Aristotle never directly addressed ). He means rather a violation of the rules of conversion regarding the relation of implication or (logical) dependence, described by Aristotle in the Sophistical Refutations:
"The refutation which depends upon the consequent arises because people suppose that the relation of consequence is convertible. For whenever, suppose A is, B necessarily is, they then suppose also that if B is, A necessarily is. This is also the source of the deceptions that attend opinions based on sense-perception. For people often suppose bile to be honey because honey is attended by a yellow colour: also, since after rain the ground is wet in consequence, we suppose that if the ground is wet, it has been raining; whereas that does not necessarily follow."

Paradoxicon seems to be unaware of how the scholastics used the phrase "affirming the consequent", which does not just mean "asserting a fallacious consequent, i.e., one that doesn’t follow (formally) from the premises" - in other words, a non sequitur. Rather the way Scotus argues here is regularly called "fallacy of the consequent" in mediaeval logic textbooks, for instance in Peter of Spain's Summulae logicales VII.150 et seq.

So Scotus accuses Aquinas' argument for God's infinity of "affirming the consequent" because it argues to God's infinity from his immateriality in the same way that in Aristotle's example someone argues to its having been raining because the ground is wet. Scotus accuses Aquinas of implicitly making the following argument:

A. Everything immaterial is infinite
B. God is immaterial
C. Therefore God is infinite

And getting A this way:

if something is material it is finite
Therefore if something is not material it is not finite

which is clearly fallacious. I'm not sure why Paradoxicon says that this isn't the fallacy of the consequent, though. Peter of Spain gives a precisely parallel argument to illustrate the fallacy of the consequent:

If something is a man it is an animal
Therefore if something is not a man it is not an animal

In any case, not even Aquinas believes (A), rather he believes

A1 Some immaterial thing is infinite,

as well as

A2 Some immaterial thing is finite

because angels are immaterial but not infinite. But you can't derive (C) from (B) and either (A1) or (A2).

Aquinas doesn't simply make that argument, of course, because in addition to God's immateriality he adduces the fact that God is "ipsum esse" and not received in any limiting or restricting principle. So he would say that the angels are not infinite, while God is, because angels have restricted esse while God does not. Scotus points out, though, that even according to Aquinas the essence of a creature is not restricted by esse, but rather esse is restricted by essence. Therefore the limitation of essence has to be derived from somewhere other than matter or esse, which Aquinas does not do, ergo etc.

* * *

In a comment to one of Faber's recent posts Paradoxicon, following upon the post I've just been talking about, asks "What is your take on Scotus's idea of infinity as a (positive) intrinsic mode vs. Aquinas's conception of infinity as a mere lack of (accidental?) limits? While it is easy to see that Aquinas's arguments for divine infinity in the Summa are formally invalid (as Scotus notes), it is not so easy to understand how Scotus's teaching is different from Aquinas's, regarding the concept of infinity itself. Any thoughts?"

Aquinas frequently gives me the impression that practically all of metaphysics boils down to immateriality and essence/existence. He uses these two concepts so often that in my opinion it's an unhealthy preoccupation, metaphysically speaking, because it frequently causes difficulties which could be otherwise avoided. This bit on proving God's infinity is a good example. It's not entirely fair to act as though this is all he has to say on the matter - the parallel chapter in the Contra gentiles for instance is much longer - but from Scotus' point of view the S.T. argument is pretty useless.

The first thing I would say about Scotus' approach would be to point out that in the Primo principio, a little before the quote that Paradoxicon gave, Scotus establishes God's infinity in a totally different way, without saying anything about intrinsic modes either. Scotus proves that God knows everything knowable earlier on, after showing that God is a perfect intellect. But the number of knowables is infinite, since the number of possibles is infinite and God knows everything of which he can be the cause, i.e. everything other than himself. But if God has actual simultaneous knowledge of infinites, his intellect itself must be infinite, and his intellect is identical with his nature, therefore he is infinite by nature.

So rather than proving merely a lack of a delimiting principle, as St Thomas does, Scotus proves the presence of a positive infinite in God. He has other approaches too, but this one has nothing to do with either immateriality or the essence/existence distinction. Rather only an intensively infinite and eternal being could have actual intuitive knowledge of, say, the entire series of integers at once. Contrast this with St Thomas' discussion of how God knows infinites in S.T. I q. 14 a. 11-12. First he says that God knows singulars, because he knows both the universal (immaterial!) form and the matter that he creates which he can apply the universal forms to. (What about the angels again?!) And since form can be applied to matter in an infinite number of ways, God knows infinites. This is quite different from Scotus, for whom form is singular through itself, not through matter, and so infinitely knowable not because it can be absorbed by matter in an indeterminate number of instances, but because there are an infinite number of distinct individual formal essences. The knowledge of infinites in God is not therefore merely virtual, insofar as God can produce his effects in an infinitely varied way, but actual, insofar as the number of possible producibles as distinctly present to the mind of God as an actually infinite series. I suspect then that for Aquinas God knows all the numbers because there's no multitude of things he cannot produce; whereas for Scotus God has a clear formally distinct intuitive conception of each and every integer all at once. So in S.T. I q 25 a.3 Thomas proves that God has infinite power simply because he has an infinite nature which is not delimited by anything, which is identical with his power; whereas as in the P.P Scotus shows that God's power is such that he could produce at one time an infinity of things, "if only they were able to exist simultaneously" (the inability of finite things to aggregate to infinity is a defect of the things themselves, not their cause), and so his power is intensively infinite.

I note also that in P.P. right after talking about infinity Scotus says "From infinity every type of simplicity is inferred." It is precisely the actual distinct intellection of an infinity of knowables that lets us infer that God must be absolutely simple. If God were not simple, then the distinct number of things he knows would have to aggregate, which could never happen to infinity. An infinite number of knowables cannot be grasped successively or even by instantaneous "grouping" or "collecting" or establishing a "set", but only in a single simple act which grasps each at once in its distinction from all the others. With the formal distinction divine simplicity looks really different for Scotus than it does for Aquinas.

This is pretty brief and there are a lot of deep waters here. Please nobody take this as anything but the merest first stab at the question. It's all I have time for now.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Ockham Quodlibet I.2

In this question Ockham asks whether the relations of origin of the persons in God are distinct from the divine essence. Here we see him begrudgingly admitting Scotus' formal distinction in this case only, while rejecting it everywhere else in metaphysics or theology.

In a certain sense God's essence must be distinct from the relations of origin, and not merely notionally distinct, because it is the case that "the essence is three persons, and paternity is not three persons". But because of divine simplicity on the one hand and the separability criterion (presumably) on the other, it can't be a quote-unquote "real" distinction either. It has to be a formal distinction, though Ockham doesn't use the term until later on in the question when replying to objections. Logic simply requires the distinction here, but O. clearly isn't too happy about it, and he says "Nor do I posit any distinction or non-identity small or great other than" this one in God. But if we don't posit this one we get a straight contradiction.

This is a pretty big deal. The other interesting thing about this question is that we see Ockham trying to clear up a lot of difficulties using supposition theory, that is, the theory of reference in late mediaeval logic. This sort of logical analysis is, so far as I know, not to be found in Thomas or Bonaventure, or in Scotus either, and it shows both Ockham's devotion to logic-based solutions whenever possible and also his habitual use of contemporary developments in the art. Ockham himself was, of course, a great logician, and his Summa logicae one of the greatest books in the history of logic.

Anyway these supposition-based solutions are summed up in a catch-all sentence: "I say that all these paralogisms, whether affirmative or negative, are resolved by [accusing them of] the fallacy of the accident, such that in all the case some term is taken as supposing [supponens] for one absolute thing, which is [in fact] several relative things; and it suffices to apply [this point to all the arguments].

Scotus on Intentionality

Intentionality is a Big Deal in contemporary analytic and continental philosophy, and this was also true of medieval. In the following passage Scotus picks out four different senses of the word intention, only one of which is the "directedness" we today associate with the term.

Duns Scotus, Reportatio II d. 13 q. un (ed. Wadding-Vives vol. 23 p.44):

"...tamen hoc nomen intentio aequivocum uno modo dicitur actus voluntatis; secundo, ratio formalis in re, sicut intentio rei, a qua accipitur genus, differt ab intentione, a qua accipitur differentia; terio modo dicitur conceptus; quarto, ratio tendendi in obiectum, sicut similitudo dicitur ratio tendendi in illud cuius est..."

Nevertheless this term 'intention' is equivocal. In one way it is called the act of the will. In the second, the formal ratio in a thing, just as an intention of the thing, from which the genus is taken, differs by intention, from which is taken the difference. In the third way it is called a concept. In the fourth, the means of tending into an object, as a likeness is called a means of tending into that of which it is a likeness.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Ockham Quodlibet I.1

Okham opens his first quodlibet with Scotus-bashing from the outset. This first question gives us a good look at the way Ockham generally uses Scotus, that is, by referring to him in order to reject him, or by accepting one bit of Scotus' thought as a preliminary to discarding and refuting the rest. It also gives us a peek at his famous philosophical and theological minimalism.

The question is whether it can be proved by natural reason that there is only one God (spoilers: Ockham says no). He begins his answer by considering two "descriptions" of God: 1) God is something nobler or better than anything other than himself; 2) God is that than which nothing is better or more perfect. Note that 1) presumes God's unity while 2) leaves open the possibility of things just as good and perfect as God, though no more so.

First Ockham considers 1). According to description 1) it cannot be proved that God exists. But if it could be proved, then it could also be proved that there is only one God - Ockham uses Scotus' argument to show this. Nevertheless he doesn't think that we can prove the existence either of the "Anselmian" God or even that of a more moderately-conceived "Supreme Being". It seems that Ockham's general preference for physics over metaphysics leads him to accept proofs for a first mover, or a source of all contingent effects, but not the metaphysical arguments which are necessary to demonstrate God's more remote properties - infinity, for instance.

If we take description 2), we can neither prove God's unity nor demonstratively prove that God's unity cannot be proved. (Does this remind anyone else of Gödel?) But, taking 2), it can be demonstrated that God exists, otherwise we could have an infinite regress of good things. But God's unity (like most of his attributes) must be taken on faith. It cannot be proved that God knows or loves other things, "for many philosophers have considered that God neither understands nor wills something other than himself." Similarly it cannot be demonstrated that God is intensively infinite, nor that he is free.

Ockham must have Aristotle in mind most of all as a philosopher who (using physics, of course) proved God's existence but not these other attributes. However, it's not at all clear to me that the fact that many philosophers could not prove them proves that they are not provable by natural reason. For other explanations we need look no further than the opening chapters of St Thomas' Contra gentiles. But for Ockham all such "proofs" rest on doubtful or debatable principles. Accordingly, he considers a number of Scotus' arguments for these points and then rejects them all on similar grounds.

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.

June is Ockham Month at The Smithy

My mentor and dissertation director Timothy Noone used to say that you can't know if you're a Scotist until you've grappled seriously with Ockham. I haven't read much Ockham since the graduate course I took on him some years ago, and it seems to me it's time to brush up. I'll be doing a little of that grappling this month.

People who don't read either frequently talk as though Scotus leads directly to Ockham: univocity and voluntarism to nominalism, the division of faith and reason, rebellion against the Church, and then Protestantism! Ergo Scotus is bad, Q.E.D.

Now this is a little like saying that Plato is bad because he leads to Nietzsche, insofar as without Plato there couldn't have been a tradition of Western metaphysics for Nietzsche to undermine. More seriously, it's like blaming Husserl for Heidegger, since Heidegger's thought is "phenomenological" and couldn't have arisen without Husserl, even though Husserl quite accurately described Heidegger as his "antipodes".

Ockham is Scotus' antipodes. Both British, both Franciscan, both post-Thomist pre-"decadence" scholastic system-builders who were responsible for much of the direction of philosophy and theology for at least the next century, still they don't have much in common. Seriously.

By the way, speaking of both Scotus and Ockham, recently I've heard more than one philosopher say - in a way that suggests that the opinion is pretty uncontroversial - that David Hume is the greatest philosopher ever to come out of the British Isles. That's pretty rich.

Anyhow, this month I'll be reading Ockham's first Quodlibet and commenting on it here. It has twenty questions, so - given that I probably won't post every day but probably can most days - that should be about right for June. Meanwhile perhaps Faber or Br Guzman will vary it up a bit. After that it's back to Scotus, but if Ockham turns out to be popular (to the limited extent possible!) there are seven Quodlibets, each with around twenty questions, which altogether present a pretty good mosaic of Ockham's thought, so I would definitely consider doing another Ockham month in the future.

The first post in the series will come tomorrow.