Friday, August 27, 2010

A Brief Introduction to the Works of Scotus

This post will be updated from time to time. For a published article on this topic, see Thomas William's introduction to the Cambridge Companion to Scotus.

LECTURA. Scotus's first set of lectures on the Sentences. The date of this work is unclear, the genre is probably that of notes. That is, they may not directly reflect the classroom lectures. Lectura I-II are a discrete work, Lectura III may not actually be part of the same sequence at all and could be a Reportatio.

ORDINATIO. An Ordinatio is the official version of a work prepared by a master for publication (from "ordinare). Scotus' Ordinatio incorporates the Lectura text, and was begun in 1302. It covers books I-IV. The order Scotus lectured was probably I-IV-II-III; and books I and IV contain a great deal of revisions that Scotus indicated be included in the final copy (these are the "extra's"). Scotus never finished this work, so in the strict sense it is not an Ordinatio at all. He was probably working on it at Paris as well as Oxford, which means that the interpolated passages from the Reportatio might be there at Scotus' direction (the Vatican edition normally excises these). This work has been commonly seen as the "summa" of Scotus, that is, where one can get Scotus' standard or normative opinion of things. This may not be the case.

REPORTATIONES. A Reportatio is a student report of a lecture, based on the oral presenation in the classroom. There are several sets of Reporationes associated with Scotus. For example, there is one allegedly from Cambridge, and a set from Paris. These cover all four books, and were probably delivered 1302-1305 (1305 was the year of Scotus' regency, in 1303-4 he was exiled) The "A"set is generally seen as the best of the reports, and it is indeed fairly polished. If one were to read a work of Scotus all the way through, I would recommend this one. Book I was apparently examined and approved for publication by Scotus himself; this is not true of the other books. Their exact doctrinal weight is thus somewhat ambiguous.

COLLATIONES. A set of conferences Scotus held with his students. There is both an Oxford and Parisian set. They are probably from later in his career. The format is a series of pro and con arguments, without any magisterial determination. So one would probably not cite one as evidence of Scotus' opinion's on a subject. Collatio 23, for example, is about analogy. It is the only passage in Scotus' writings where he analyzes arguments from Aquinas (taken from the Summa contra gentiles). But while he does criticize the arguments themsevles, he does not give a final answer to the problem. A few have been critically edited, no critical edition of the whole is even on the table at this point (well, it's listed as part of the Brepols series; but no one is actually going to start work on it for at least thirty years).



QUAESTIONES IN LIBROS METAPHYSICORUM ARISTOTELIS. A question-commentary rather than a literal one, as readers will be familiar with from Aquinas. Only books I-IX are genuine. This work is traditionally seen as early, but parts of book VII postdate the Lectura, and book IX at least has the appearance of a finished treatise. There are also some "extra's" and "additiones" that show that Scotus did spend some time revising the work. It has been edited as vols. 3-4 of the Opera Philosophica series from St. Bonaventure University.

QUAESTIONES DE ANIMA. This covers books II-III of the De anima. It has the appearance of a compendium for students of common franciscan positions with replies to standard objections to the franciscan positions. It is commonly seen as early, and Parisian, but I think the editors are begging the question on this. My co-blogger Michael showed in his dissertation that the editors screwed up a bit on the spiritual matter question, which is dependent on Gonsalvus of Spain's Quodlibet (disputed ca. 1302-4). When I read the work, the final questions on univocity and the object of the intellect seemed to me to be simply abbreviations of the Ordinatio rather than the first breakthrough of a new position (though this might be hard to prove). Further research on this matter is required.

QUAESTIO DE FORMALITATIBUS/LOGICA SCOTI. This is a fragmentary question disputed by Scotus at Paris (all of which info was proven by Dumont; Balic had thought the text to be one of the Collationes) on the subject of certain inferences that could be allowed when the formal distinction is at play. One issue is whether formal distinction can be derived from formal non-identity, which Scotus allows here; he had denied it in the Ordinatio.

TRACTATUS DE PRIMO PRINCIPIO. A treatise proving the existence and essential properties of God; there has been some debate of its relation to the commentaries on the Sentences. It appears that the majority of it is derived from the Ordinatio. Scotus gave the work over to a socius, who did not understand Scotus' directions clearly for there are some errors and irrelevant material thrown in. This treatise was cited early on by Scotists like Petrus Thomae and Antonius Andreae.

THEOREMATA. This treatise is modelled on Euclid and consists of a series of propositions and conclusions on various topics. Noone has described it as an unfinished notebook. There has been some controversy concerning the work, as passages appear to contradict Scotus' genuine writings. But these could also be explained as examples of positing impossible hypotheses in order to study what follows; for example, if univocity is not true, what does natural theology look like. My co-blogger Michael has written on this here.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Fifteenth-Century Shift

Another philosophical shift, though much more pernicious than Levering's. From Zenon Kaluza, "Late Medieval Philosophy 1350-1500" in Medieval Philosophy, ed. Marenbon, p. 443:

"... Indeed, strange to say, round about the year 1400 philosophers decided that they would no longer do philosophy on their own account and no longer take any personal responsibility for their philosophical positions. Rather, they spent the whole of the fifteenth century fighting among themselves, with prescriptions and prohibitions as their weapons, not in order to impose on everybody their own thought, but that of their distant models: Thomas Aquinas, Albert the Great, Duns Scotus, Giles of Rome and Buridan. Universities passed statutes to remove undesirables and to close themselves to new ideas. None of these decisions rose above the level of factional in-fighting.

This upholding of traditions and the related and unceasing conflicts (especially in the German universities) were institutional rather than doctrinal in their basis. Historians describe them by the German word Wegenstreit. Sometimes by their violence and length these conflicts turned universities into a battleground where scholars fought to re-establish one of the old schools, whether realist or nominalist. The courses in these universities were limited to the revival of the thought of one or another great master of the past. Likewise, the practice of teaching centered on the great names of the past. In England, Wyclif was attacked in the name of St. Thomas. In Paris, a predominantly Thomist realism became the established doctrine by the last quarter of the century. In Germany, the choice of doctrine was regulated by the statutes of the different universities. Since this return to old scholasticism was the first of a series of such deliberate returns, it is certainly right to call it the first neoscholasticism. In Italy alone this type of institutional conflict had no place: there philosophers at once followed the English tradition of 1300-50 and the Parisian traditions of Averroism and Buridanism, as well as the traditions of Thomas Aquinas and Duns Scotus.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Fourteenth-Century Metaphysical Shift

Today’s entry will discuss Matthew Levering’s book, Participatory Biblical Exegesis, which seeks to restore a view of “reality as participatory-historical (providential and Christological-pneumatological) as well as linear-historical” [p.16] to its rightful place in theology. Now, a disclaimer: I am not concerned with Levering’s concern, reconciling theology and biblical interpretation. I am only interested in the role he assigns to Scotus in the unravelling of the above-mentioned view of reality. Levering is one of the lesser sons of the Cambridge Phantasists, a member of the american neo-thomist biblicists. These folks don’t read primary sources (other than Aquinas) with any more care than their parent across the water, however, though this is not so uncommon today. I say lesser, because he participated in the 2005 congratulatory volume of Modern Theology devoted to Pickstock, in which in a footnote he claimed that the abandonment of Thomas’ participation metaphysics is what got the Great Whore from Revelation thrown into the lake of fire, and knowing what such people usually say about Scotus’ role in said abandonment, one can draw the obvious conclusion. Yet another example of the age-old Thomist trick of forcing everying to bow the knee to Thomas by means of some authority other than the strength of Thomas’ own arguments. So I think I rank Levering slightly above Fr. Barron and Brad Gregory as far as accuracy, truth, and general scholarship is concerned (for in some of his notes he cites genuine scholarship on Scotus’ ethics, even if it is not reflected in the text of his book), but slightly below them as far as fantastical and ungrounded claims are considered.

My previous entry that contained the lengthy quote from A.D. Trapp was supposed to be the first part of a series on the fourteenth century, which was inspired by this post here, but this will probably be the final entry. I will follow my usual practice of quotes with comments.

“The Catholic exegete and theologian Francis Martin has shown that biblical interpreation requries an account of historical reality informed by a scriptural metapysics rooted in relation of “participation” that is creation. [...] Conversely, certain metaphysical presuppositions are inadequate to Christian biblical interpretation. It seems to me that Catherine Pickstock describes just such a set of presuppositions in recounting the impact of Duns Scotus’ thought.” [there follows a long, stupid paragraph from Pickstock]

So, okay. The thought of Scotus is incompatible with Christian biblical interpetation. We’re off to a good start.

“Although the positions of the theological movement in which Pickstock is a prime mover have been criticized for historical sloppiness, her central claims here—that the fourteenth century marks a shift away from the patristic-medieval understanding of “participated-in perfections” and that Scotus, although not a nominalist in the twelfth-century sense, plays a crucial role in this development—find broad scholarly agreement among experts on late medieval thought.”

Hmm. Nice move. He both distances himself from the Cambridge Phantasists and deflects the criticism directed at them, and yet manages to still affirm their conclusion: Scotus=bad. Note that he only denies Scotus is a twelfth-century nominalist, leaving open the idea that he is a fourteenth-century nominalist—which he is not. This paragraph is followed by a page-long endnote of citations. But the experts cited are to a man post-modern theorists; there is not a medieval scholar among them. Perrier might count as a pomo thomist, but that’s hardly an unbiased wordview, and his essay in the Pickstock congradsfest is quite hostile to Scotus. Oddly, in the note on the critics of the Cambridge Phantasists, the articles of Richard Cross are not mentioned; these are quite devastating as far as the representation of Scotus is concerned.

“Olivier Boulnois, the preeminent contemporary interpreter of Scotus’s work, refers to “the Scotist rupture”. The human will for Scotus mirrors the freedom of the divine will, and Scotus denies that the will is an appetite that seeks its fulfillment or perfection. Scotus also rejects the telological framework of “final causality” as “a flight into fantasy (fugiendo finguntur viae mirabiles).” The patristic-medieval tradition prior to Scotus intepreted reality in terms of participation (Platonic) and teleological nature (Aristotelian).”

I would rather characterize Boulnois as the most prominent french post-modern theorist who is the least hostile to Scotus. He certainly isn’t the top Scotist scholar, unless Levering means the top scholar who interprets Scotus through a post-modernist lense. I would say the German Honnefelder is far more prominent, and indeed, so are various scholars from other countries. I assume the following characterizations are derived from Boulnois, and if they are, he is certainly undeserving of the praise heaped on him here (perhaps a subject for a later post). Scotus does not deny the will is an intellectual appetite, only that taken in this sense the will cannot be said to be free. Don’t ask me where this bullcrap about final causality comes from. I’ve read literally thousands of pages of Scotus, and never seen this before. As to participation, well, I’ve come across maybe one paragraph on participation and Scotus did not rule it out. I suspect, however, it is rendered irrelevant by Scotus’ doctrine of intrinsic modes, just like a few other underdeveloped and primitive theories like spiritual matter, and essence-existence composition.

“In contrast to Aquinas, who unites these two approaches [of course!] through a metaphysics of creation, Scotus brings about a “strange fragmentation” in which goodness no longer has its Platonic participatory character. For Scotus, too, God does not know creatures in knowing himself (the strong sense of participation), but rather knows creatures as a conceptual object of the divine mind. While participation remains in Scotus, it does so in a deracinated form: representation rather than exemplarity.”

I’m really not clear on how God’s self-knowledge counts as participation, which I take is how Levering interprets Aquinas’ view that divine ideas are God’s knowledge of his own essence as imitable. And in any case, God does know creatures in knowing himself; the whole bit in Scotus about instants of nature in which the quiddities of created things are generated by the divine intellect, comes about through God’s act of knowing his own essence. I don’t see how this can be an either/or situation; creatures are objects of the divine mind because God knows himself. Aquinas and Scotus are actually quite close on this issue. The last bit is more interesting. Scotus does seem to leave out exemplarity in his account of the divine ideas (though in any case I don’t think this is properly related to participation); but this is precisely the aspect of this theory that was rejected by his immediate and otherwise most enthusiastic followers: Francis of Meyronnes, Petrus Thomae, and William of Alnwick, and in the 18th century, Mastrius. So how can this be the seeds of bad things to come if he was not followed here by the members of his own school?

“Lacking a rich account of participation and analogy, reality is “desymbolized”: human time is no longer understood as caught up in a participatory relationship with God, and history becomes a strictly linear, horizontal, intratemporal series of moments. After Scotus, human freedom may submit to the divine will, but thereafter on the grounds of God’s obligating power rather than on participatory-teleological grounds.”

I don’t think any of the scholastics thought of time and history in this way, nor does there seem to be a necessary connection between time, participation, or voluntarism. Nor does Scotus reject analogy, as I’ve said many times. But I suppose it’s “weak” if he never talks about it. Point to Levering.

p.20: “Does the shift toward understanding human freedom and history as a non-participatory reality—the “rupture’ identified by Boulnois—begin, therefore, with Duns Scotus? That question must be left to medievalists, but it does seem that we can identify in his work certain metaphysical patterns that remain influential today. The question for us is how to assess the theological effects of those patterns.”

More sleight of hand. Maybe it was really st. Francis, or Bonaventure that leads to Scotus that leads to nominalism that leads to humanism that leads to protestantism that leads to Hitler (or whatever. Abortion, The Secular, etc.). But this minor question is the terrain of the medievalist. Hmm. But the mere medievalist does not supply any of the interpretation of Scotus, O no precious. Just the question of where onto-theology begins. Maybe the medievalist can also tell us what these “patterns” are? And where might these ideas be influential today? If Scotus leads to Ockam, then it’s Ockham’s views that are influential today, not Scotus’.

p.37: “Aquinas belonged to the last generation of high-medieval theologians. After the deaths of Aquinas and Bonaventure in 1274, and Albert the Great six years later, theological rationalisms [note the plural] gained ascendancy in the late-medieval universities. As a result, whereas before 1274 the leading theologians had all commented on the Bible, afterward this practice became rare. Describing this situation... [long Hans urs von Balthasar quote, universities allegedly running back and forth between averroism, and nominalism laying the ground for the break of protestantism, blah blah blah] ... It is telling that the greatest theological minds of the period, Scotus and Ockham, did not write commentaries on the Bible, and their formal theological writings relatively infrequently appeal to Scripture or the Fathers.”

This is the first time I’ve seen 1274 as the end of high-medieval theology. And Scotus was born before 1274, in any case. Levering could use a dose of history here. University requirements did not change in the 14th century. To become a master one had to spend a year lecturing on the Bible. One can imagine that when one has to get through the whole bible in a year, one sticks to the literal sense and probably isn’t going to publish the results. But it depends what one means by “leading theologian”; there were numerous 14th century biblical commentaries as well, even from among the dominican nominalists at Oxford like Holcot. So that’s something of a bogus claim. There are records that Scotus wrote several biblical commentaries, but these were probably all destroyed by the prots inspired by Scotus’ evil nominalism. I’m not sure about this “infrequency” claim. The fathers and scripture show up as authorities all the time. But, and perhaps this is what Levering is getting at, the office of the theologian wasn’t primarily seen as reconciling contradictory statements of the fathers and scriptures and forging a harmony between them. It was rather answering the question at hand. Augustine, Hilary, and Damascene are among Scotus’ favorites, but he is not primarily trying to provide exegesis of them. It is also interesting to point out that Scotus and Ockham had very different careers than Aquinas. Aquinas became a master in the mid-1250’s, and died in 1274; so he had a twenty-year career as a master, teaching in various places and writing commentaries. Scotus became a master in 1305 and died in 1308. He had no time to write anything other than Sentence-commentaries. Ockham never became a master, but became embroiled in controversy with the pope and ended his days writing polemical treatises. So Scotus and Ockham might easily have written biblical commentaries had their personal circumstances been different, on top of their evil univocalist voluntaristic ontologies (and Scotus probably did).

Final Summary:

Doctrinal claims:

1. Scotus denies the will is an appetite (false)
2. Scotus denies final causality (false)
3. Scotus denies analogy (false)
4. Scotus favors representation over exemplarity in the divine ideas (true)
5. Scotus didn’t write biblical commentaries, and cited the bible and fathers “infrequently” (needs qualification)

Historiographical/interpretive claims

1. Scotism is incompatible with Christian biblical intepretation (yawn)
2. Scotus causes the fourteenth century shift away from participation (one would have to examine an actual text of Scotus to prove this)

So there you have my thoughts on Levering’s book. To be fair, this material is in his initial chapters, where he is summarizing the results from other pomo theologians, and not the main point of the book. But he is a fairly popular guy for an academic, and since the book is probably read by academics and armchair theologians alike, I thought the view of Scotus should be noted for its errors. And it is quite common among this set to lay out their “narrative” of how Scotus ruined the world before going on to the issues they really want to discuss. But if their foundation is false, their results are questionable as well; since academics aren’t willing to discuss these false foundations, I will do it myself.

This, however, leads the initial question still open: was there a metaphysical shift in the fourteenth century? There does seem to have been one, probably in the 1290’s. When one reads Aquinas and Bonaventure, one rarely comes across them citing contemporary opinions. But later, the main point of the exercise is criticism of contemporary opponents and advancing one’s own views. Rather than “aliqui” or the nefarious “quidam”, we get authors who name names. I suspect a lot of this comes from the correctoria controversy, in which specific arguments were made against Thomism, whether by William de la Mare, or Giles of Rome, which were refuted by close citation and rather acrimonius argumentation. The climate after the 1277 condemnations was then very combative, and the lines were fairly clearly delineated of who was on what side. But none of this has much to do with Scotus, though he may be more extreme than most in his endless attacks on poor crazy Henry of Ghent who never met a platonist he didn’t like. The Trapp article is relevant here, for in the fourteenth century itself the division was seen as between Bonaventure, Aquinas and Scotus (the via antiqua) and Ockham and his followers (the via moderna). As I’ve written many times, it is rather hard to determine the “responsibility” to be assigned to Scotus for Ockham, as the latter generally rejects all of Scotus’ arguments. Ockham as well is looking back to the twelfth century, and as such is rather reactionary. Indeed, I cut him from my dissertation for being too conservative; his theory of divine attributes is basically just the common opinion of the twelfth-century. Ockham saw himself as restoring the tradition interrupted by the radical innovations introduced by Aquinas and culminating in Scotus. So the historiography is far from clear, and our post-modernist theorist friends are not interested in the reality of the situation, being content with the polemical and politically-motivated nineteenth-century thomist theory of the rise and fall of philosophy understood as co-extensive with thomism.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

James of Ascoli on Consecutive causality

Consecutive causality, a rough, probably highly inaccurate translation of "consecutive" appears to mean only the causal dependence something has on something else. I hesitate to use the word "cause", however, as the only locus I have seen it come up is in the discussing the divine ideas. In this context, it refers to the essences of creatures as are eternally related to the divine essence. They are also logically prior to the divine act of thinking. This theory was held by few scholastics, though the more I study the issue, the more the number grows. Peter Thomae holds it as an alternative to Scotus' view, and he appears to have derived it from James of Ascoli. The carmelite John Baconthorpe discusses it and attributes it to his confrere Gerard of Bologna, though I haven't tracked this down yet. Avicenna latinus appears to be the ultimate origin of the idea, though since he is dependent on Alfarabi it may be in the latter's works as well. In any case, the passage below attempts a definition of the term, which I found somewhat interesting and useful, perhaps even worth sharing.

Iacobus de Aesculo, Quaestiones ordinariae, q. 4 (Cambridge, UL, Ms. FF.3.23, f. 126ra): Utrum notitia actualis creaturae praesupponatur in Deo notitiae habituali eiusdem.

Secundo sciendum quod aliquid potest habere esse intelligibile sub alio dupliciter: vel effective vel consecutive. Effective, sicut quidditates rerum creabilium habent esse intelligibile effective ab intellectu agente in quantum intellectus agens causat eas effective in esse intelligibile, secundum ymaginem Philosophi et Commentatoris(p hi et 9iiieris) Consecutive vero habent esse intelligibile ab ipsa specie causata ab intellectu cognoscente. Posita enim specie intelligibili ipsius lapidis in intellectu, consequitur naturaliter esse intelligible lapidis, sicut oppositum corellarium ipsius speciei sine omni causatione effectiva. Species enim lapidis non causat effective proprie lapidem in esse intelligibili, sed solum esse intelligibili lapidis consequitur ipsam spieciem per motum cuiusdam coreins necessarie.

Ad propositum dico quod quidditates in illo priori in quo habent esse intelligibile ab ipsa essentia divina antequam sunt actu immediate non habent esse intelligibile effective ab ipsa essentia quasi ipsa esset eas effectivas in esse intelligibili, quia posita essentia ipsa necessario resultant in esse intelligibli sicut obiecta coreva ipsius essentie, non ad que ipsa essentia referatur, sed magis que ad ipsam referantur sicut posita specie lapidis s ap resultat in specie intelligibili.


Second, it should be known that something can have intelligible being from another in two ways, either effectively or consecutively. Effectively, as the quiddities of creatable things have intelligible being effectively from the agent intellect, insofar as the agent intellect causes them effectively in intelligible being, according to the image of the Philosopher and the Commentator. But consecutively they have intelligible being from the species caused by the knowing intellect. For if it be posited that there is an intelligible species of a stone in the intellect, there naturally follows the intelligible being of the stone, just as the opposed ...? of the species without all effective causation. For a species of a stone does not cause effectively the stone in intelligible being, but rather the intelligible being of the stone follows the spcies by a necessary motion.

To the question at hand I say that the quiddities in that prior [instant] in which they have intelligible being from the divine essence, before they are immediately in act, they do not have intelligible being effectively from the essence as if it would [cause] them effectively in intelligible being, because with the essence posited, necessarily they result in intelligible being, just as objects correlative of the essence, not to which the essence is referred, but more rather they are referred to it [the divine essence], just as with a species of a stone being posited [in the intellect immediately the stone results in intelligible being...?]