Friday, December 30, 2011

Marilyn Adams on History of Philosophy

From the Dewey lecture, "God and Evil among the Philosophers", in the APA proceedings and Addresses vol. 85 issue 2. Emphases are in the original

Certainly, medieval scholastics were analytic philosophers: they were distinction-drawers and argument-inventers par excellence. But they were not only generalists (ranging over all of the major sub-fields of philosophy) in the way Pike recommended; they were systematic philosophers. To get a grip on what they were saying about omniscience or omnipotence or perfect goodness required a wider understanding of their metaphysics and epistemology, their conceptions of agency and normative grounds, and of how they fitted these together.

Working on my Ockham book, I became convinced that their theological disagreements were rooted in philosophical differences, which were at bottom contentious. Most of their arguments for their own and against their opponent's positions involved premises to which the other would not consent. Although they were as interested as Pike was in analyzing whether Divine foreknowledge is incompatible with free will, they did not see themselves engaged in a meta-discipline, but in theory construction. They were beginning with doctrinal givens and philosophical commitments and working in different ways to integrate these into a philosophically coherent system. Their debates forced refinements in their own theories. Together they furnished detailed maps of theoretical alternatives.

Throughout my studies of medieval philosophical theology, I have remained a metaphysical realist about philosophical claims: there is such a thing as Reality with a capital "R" and well-formed theories either do or do not correspond with it. But refereeing their philosophical disputes, I became a sceptical realist, holding that it is impossible for us to prove in a  way convincing to every rational person, which theory is true and which false. The philosophical task ought to concentrate on theoretical development and understanding.

It also struck me that scholastic method was an antidote for dogmatism. True, there were theological givens that medieval scholastics had to number among the phenomena to be saved. But questioning and disputing required each to get inside the other's theory enough to understand its strengths and weaknesses, the better to appreciate the plusses and minuses of their own. Such exercises foster intellectual flexibility and imagination that is able to do comparative anatomy and cost-benefit analyses on philosophical competitors and to recognize that the same problem can be solved in different ways. When, over the years, colleagues and graduate students have murmured that history of philosophy isn't really philosophy, my contrary reply has become that history of philosophy is a way of doing philosophy and wholesome medicine against the dogmatism that sometimes plagues our field.

In my generation, we by and large changed the way history of philosophy is done by philosophers trained in the analytic tradition. There is a spectrum of practice. Some do philology and edit texts. More spend time on the institutional settings and wider intellectual milieu in which past philosophers worked. There are those who focus more on the interpretive and philosophical problems found in the texts themselves, while others move on from this to build bridges to contemporary thought. All of these are important. Whatever one's specialty, one has to learn from them all. My own work on Ockham benefitted enormously from the generosity of the editorial team at the Franciscan Institute, where critical texts of Ockham's works, discoveries and perspectives, and hospitality were shared. Anachronism and mis-readings are to some extent inevitable. My own advice is to resist attempts to take the weirdness out of great past philosophers. Letting them be as weird as they are is the way to guarantee that we learn something that we didn't know before.

Anglo-American analytic philosophy borrowed its sense of the philosophical canon from Oxbridge: ancient and modern classical, at least Plato and Aristotle, at least Descartes, maybe Leibniz, certainly Locke, Berkeley, and Hume. During the seventies and eighties, Kant was re-entering the mainstream. Medieval philosophy has been central to the canon of philosophy in Roman Catholic schools since 1880 when Pope Leo XIII declared Aquinas the patron of the Catholic schools. Fortunately for me, a tradition of covering medieval philosophy had begun at UCLA when Ernest Moody, the famous pioneer in the study of medieval logic, joined the philosophy faculty in the late fifties and helped launch the Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies. In leading analytic graduate departments, however, medievalists were and still are rare.

My generation failed to secure a place for medieval philosophy within the canon of analytic philosophy, but not for want of trying. In the late seventies, the quality of medieval sessions at the APA had sunk so low, that we specialists formed the Society for Medieval and Renaissance Philosophy, which has since mounted its own double sessions (one on the Latin west and the other on Jewish and Arabic philosophy) at divisional meetings. This was good advertising: the Middle Ages was too a period during which real philosophy was done! The Society also built bridges between secular non-catholic and Roman Catholic schools and widened the circle around which work was shared. These were significant fruits. Certainly, I have learned a lot about Aquinas from Catholic Neo-Thomists, who have spent their adult lives steeping themselves in his works. Over the course of my career, more and more works have been edited and translated with the result that most professionals now know: Augustine and Aquinas were not the only philosophers between Aristotle and Descartes! But medieval philosophy is every bit as technical as contemporary metaphysics is. I suspect many think it would be too much trouble to master it. More's the pity, because medieval philosophy is full of distinctive insights and theories in metaphysics, ethics, philosophy of language, and philosophical theology, overall a  fascinating diet of contrasting ideas.

Analytic Philosophy Reconceived: Studying medieval philosophy not only acquainted me with content to analyze; it gradually brought about an imitative shift in my own method. Medieval philosophical theologians were not practicing a meta-discipline; they were involved in theory-construction. By the early to mid-seventies, however, analytic philosophy was recovering its sense of vocation to theorize as well. Hilary Putnam revived talk of natural kinds. Saul Kripke made de re necessities and mind-body dualism respectable. David Lewis' clear and penetrating discussions lent further credibility to the enterprise of metaphysics. Philosophy of mind went inter-disciplinary with the rise of cognitive psychology, and diversified with many and various materialist theories of the mind. Philosophy of language forged ties with linguistics. Enriched conceptual machinery from the present and retrievals from the past made it increasingly natural for me to see the project of philosophy of religion in terms of theory-construction, of articulating theological claims using philosophical conceptuality, of arguing for them--at least in part--on philosophical grounds, of adjusting concepts and theses to achieve theoretical coherence. Such a shift blurs the boundaries between philosophy of religion and philosophical theology. In fact, my own methodological turns were part of a trend that spawned a significant movement: the Society of Christian Philosophers.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Read the Original - If You Can

Translated sources attract errors just as translated scriptures foment heresies, and when the inexperienced attempt their own translations, the results can be even worse.

Although it is off the topic of this blog, the review from which the quotation above was taken may be of interest. It exposes recent amateurish histories of Columbus, Vasco da Gama, and John Cabot--all explorers of the New World. The critique has distinct similarities to critiques found here of amateurish theologians who attempt a coherent historical narrative of "how we got here" without bothering to read the original sources. The problem is similar for both groups: pastry-makers posing as scholars convince others by the tastiness of their concoctions. The author concludes his book review:
I could multiply the dispiriting litany of errors, but it is more interesting to try to understand what drives these writers to parade their inadequacies in the marketplace. It is tempting to blame postmodernism, which has blurred the difference between drivel and truth; or the popularity of television-history, where no standards of veracity or scholarship apply; or the temptations aroused by vulgar sensationalists, who have made fortunes by proclaiming the peripeties of the Holy Grail and "proving" that the medieval Chinese discovered Rhode Island. I suspect, however, that the very virtues of my discipline are responsible for the vices of the writers who abuse it. Because history is the people's discipline, books about it are relatively salable—invitingly so, to indolent cupidity. History's accessibility to non-specialists makes it seem dangerously, delusively easy.

Academic historians tend to welcome recruits from other ranks, like owls nurturing cuckoos, and applaud the intrusions of neophytes with a glee that physicians, say, would never show for faith-healers or snake-oil salesmen. I am afraid it is time for historians to wipe the smiles from our jaws and start biting back. If escape from the poverty of your own imagination is your reason for exploiting the stories history offers, or if you are taking refuge from another discipline in the belief that history is easy, without bothering to do the basic work, you will deserve to fail.

--Felipe Fernández-Armesto

Friday, December 23, 2011

more Latin scans online

Anticipating disappointment with your Christmas gift? Looking for more Latin texts but short on cash? Your family doesn't know the difference between Roger Bacon and Francis Bacon and wants you to bring home the bacon? Look no further for a holiday munus legitimum, provided you have sufficient bandwidth and hard drive capabilities.

Two extremely useful sites for scans of Latin texts, especially those regarding scholastic philosophy  from the Medieval period onward:



For each link, the readers of this blog may notice the works of a number of Scotistic Franciscans and certain Dominicans who opposed them. And Suarez is there to boot.

Stocking stuffers: 

Thursday, December 15, 2011

New Doctor

There is going to be a new Doctor of the Church.  Scotus? No, Hildegard. Huh. Apparently Albert was also declared doctor before being canonized.  So there is no reason why Scotus couldn't be as well.  So why hasn't he?  Oh right, thanks radical orthodoxy, Brad Gregory, Fr. Robert Barron, 99% of Catholic intellectuals.

A Ramble on Ockham, Scholarship, and Other Matters

The other day I mentioned that I'd been reading Armand Maurer's The Philosophy of William of Ockham in the Light of Its Principles. I picked it up last week and have read about a third of it so far.

Now, Maurer's book isn't a replacement for or a competitor to Marilyn Adams' William Ockham, which must be one of the most impressive books on mediaeval philosophy of the last fifty years. At almost 1,400 pages, Adams' book is more than twice the length of Maurer's; it's enormously detailed and enormously comprehensive; it treats a vast range of arguments in precise detail, not only Ockham's, but those of many of Ockham's interlocutors and influences, including Aquinas, Henry of Ghent, Scotus, Chatton, Aureol, etc. Anyone who wants a good introduction to post-Thomistic philosophy and doesn't need it gentle would do well to study Adams' book carefully, together with John Wippel's The Metaphysical Thought of Godfrey of Fontaines: A Study in Late Thirteenth-Century Philosophy. (By the way, as long as I'm throwing out generalized recommendations, if you'd like to round out your education, gentle reader, you should pair these books with John F. Quinn's massive The Historical Constitution of Bonaventure's Philosophy, which is however unfortunately very difficult to obtain. I don't have a copy, but I worked my way through it while writing the old dissertation.)

There are, however, problems with Adams' book. For one thing, did I mention that it's freakin' huge? It takes some real stamina. I'll admit that I didn't finish it. When I was taking Timothy Noone's course on Ockham in grad school I started reading it, but about two-thirds in to the book and the semester, I stopped. It's not just the size, but the size combined with the presentation. Adams writes the kind of anglo-analytic scholastic stuff that I've never found very palatable, medieval arguments presented with a heavy 20th century veneer: lists of numbered propositions and labelled arguments, variables with subscripts and superscripts, occasional modern notation, etc. This is not necessarily bad in principle: Scotus himself used some of these techniques (he and Ockham have good claims to be the first real anglo-analytic philosophers, if the term implies an English-speaking origin, preoccupation with logic, linguistic analysis, a highly compressed (for Scotus) or lucid (for Ockham) style as opposed to a florid or elaborate one (like Henry's or Bonaventure's)), apparently for his own convenience, since it does not make him easier to read. But Adams uses them, presumably, for the convenience of and to appeal to a mid-20th-century mainstream analytic audience. This limits the book in some ways, since for a broader audience, continentals or people like me who are actually more familiar with the scholastic tradition than the 20th-century one, understanding Ockham through Adams sometimes means having to mentally re-translate her modernizations back into something like what Ockham might have really said. It's a little like a Latin trying to read Aristotle as translated and commented on by the Arabs - much better than nothing, for sure, but of course you'd rather have it straight from the Greek. And it's a real question whether the mainstream analytic tradition, not used to thinking in medieval patterns, will care enough about any scholastic thinker to master a book like Adams'. I'm afraid the whole Adams-Stump-Kretzmann-Kenny etc. project of dragging medieval philosophy into the mid-20th-century has been more or less a failure, given the fact that contemporary philosophy has moved on without really assimilating their work, making their books targeted at an audience that is fast ceasing to exist and so dated in a way that many books by the likes of Gilson or Maritain or Yves Simon aren't.

In any case, I was talking about Maurer. His book on Ockham may be no substitute for Adams', but in many ways I'm liking it better. It's extremely well written, very clear and even enjoyable. There's a huge amount of erudition behind it - Maurer has clearly mastered the corpus of Ockham's writings and the secondary literature - but I find the presentation clean, uncluttered, and very intelligible. Maurer's writing in English but he presents Ockham as a medieval, not as a modern anglo-philosopher in disguise. He's light on his feet, which is a pleasing contrast to some other scholars whose projects are similar. I'm thinking for instance of Wippel, whom respect and filial piety (he was one of my teachers and on my dissertation committee) forbid me to criticize too harshly. His (fairly few) books are magisterial and indispensable. But The Metaphysical Thought of Thomas Aquinas: From Finite Being to Uncreated Being is not exactly fun to read.

Maurer is not writing a really comprehensive survey, but as his title indicates, is seeking to understand the various facets of Ockham's thought as reflected in his few basic principles. The first part of the book treats these principles in themselves, with two long chapters on "Logic and Reality" and "Philosophy and Theology" which provide a very good summation of the central stances of Ockhamism. The second and third parts are about the application of these principles to God and Creatures respectively. Maurer presents Ockham without espousing Ockhamism, as he indicates in his introduction, but extremely fairly and straightforwardly, with only the very occasional criticism or caveat.

I'll post a longish excerpt soon, but right now I want to notice something Maurer says in the prefatory blurb right at the beginning of the book:

Martin Heidegger once declared, "Every thinker thinks but one single thought." The original and focal point of Ockham's thought is the singular or individual thing (res singularis), as common nature (natura communis) is the central conception of Scotism and the act of existing (esse) is of Thomism. With Ockham the traditional conjugations of being come to signify the thing itself in its ineluctable unity.

With all due respect to Heidegger, I'm not so sure about this. No doubt some thinkers can be reduced to one single central thought, but I have my doubts about both Aquinas and Scotus. Certainly some modern Thomists have acted as though all of Thomism depended on his doctrine of esse, but there's a lot more to Thomas himself than that. In fact when I think of Thomas what primarily strikes me is a certain kind of order which sets him apart from his competitors (recall his remarks about order in the first chapter of Summa contra gentiles). St Bonaventure is another extremely orderly thinker, but Bonaventure's sense of order is artistic and graceful, where Thomas' is schematic and pedagogical. Not for nothing is Thomas the patron of teachers. He excels at being able to talk intelligently about everything, and above all to produce the sense that everything fits. This is why Thomism gets compared to a Gothic cathedral. It's huge, it's varied, the variety is subordinated to a single great design. On the other hand the range of issues that Scotus or Bonaventure deal with is more restricted. Bonaventureanism is less like a cathedral and more like a fantastically illuminated manuscript.

It's more fair, however, to say that esse is an "original and focal point" for Thomas than it is to say that the common nature is for Scotus. That just strikes me as wrong. Scotus' mind does not evince either Bonaventurean or Thomistic order: opening his books frequently produces the sensation of falling into a profound but chaotic abyss of insight. His method is not systematic and his thought is not easily systematizable. Vos' book The Philosophy of John Duns Scotus tries to reduce it to some semblance of order by orienting his achievement around some central conceptual accomplishments, like synchronic contingency, but with in my opinion very limited success. The common nature is, of course, very important for Scotus, but the notion of the irreducible individual is no less so - in fact the Scotist insistence on the primacy of the individual is in my opinion one of its great strengths over Thomism. Haecceities, the formal distinction, intrinsic modes, essentially ordered causes, and many other distinctively Scotist ideas work together in a complex and delicate balance in which no one of them takes priority over the others and all are fitted into a more general Aristotelean substrate from which they only emerge as needed in the particular instance. There are certain basic Thomistic notions which Aquinas deploys over and over again in a hundred contexts with almost monotonous regularity - esse, the real distinction of being and essence, immateriality or separability from matter, etc. - in a way that Scotus doesn't. If Thomas' thought is like a cathedral, Scotus' is like a piece of enormously complex polyphony sung over a drone of Aristotelianism and a cantus firmus of revelation. You can't grasp it all at once because it's essentially developmental and progressive. You can't reduce it to a leitmotif because the various melodic themes arise when needed by the music as a whole in one or another voice, and the importance is less in any particular voice or theme than in their fugal interplay. What's happening now depends on what happened in the debate a moment ago more than on the demands of some architectonic conceptual structure.

All this rhapsodizing is, of course, taking us away from Ockham again. For Ockham I do think it's fair to say, as our own Ockham said the other day, "It seems Ockham took a handful [of] basic and already established principles then applied them relentlessly and consistently in places they had never been applied before." But if Ockham's strength is to show what happens when you join genius and fearless persistence to such a technique, damn the consequences, it would be a mistake to assume that other thinkers are trying less successfully to do the same thing.

As I noted, in a while I'll post a lengthy excerpt from Maurer's book. I may also say something soon about the other book I bought at the same time and am reading simultaneously with it, Sokolowski's Phenomenology of the Human Person, which I'm enjoying very much.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Scotus' Razor

From The Extremely Subtle Questions on the Books of Metaphysics of Aristotle, Book VIII, Q.1, n.22:

Aliter dicitur ad quaestionem quod paucitas semper est ponenda quando per ipsam salvantur apparentia . . . Et ideo positio plurium semper debet dicere necessitatem manifestam propter quam ponantur tot; nihil autem apparet in accidentibus propter quod debeant poni composita ex duabus partibus essentialibus, communiter loquendo . . .Ideo communiter negatur talis compositio.

"Otherwise it should be said to the question [which is whether accidents are simple or composite] that we should always posit fewer things when the appearances can be saved thereby . . . therefore in positing more things we should always indicate the manifest necessity on account of which so many things are posited. But there is no apparent reason why accidents should be taken to be composed of two essential parts, commonly speaking . . . therefore such composition is commonly denied."

Scotus is a big fan of what has come to be called Ockham's Razor. Of course we find it in Aquinas too, for instance in Summa theologiae Pars 1 q.2 a.3.1: quod potest compleri per pauciora principia, non fit per plura, what can be accomplished with fewer principles doesn't happen through more. The origins of the Razor go back to Aristotle and his insight that nature does nothing in vain. It was commonly known to the scholastics, but Scotus was particularly fond of invoking it. Why then is it so associated with Ockham rather than Scotus? Is it that Scotus balances it with a judicious use of the Anti-Razor, keeping a full toolkit and insisting that we not deny more entities when they are necessary to explain the appearances, whereas Ockham uses his fewer tools more ostentatiously and vigorously?

This is, of course, the self-serving scotist interpretation. The issue has been on my mind, however, since I've been reading Armand Maurer's fine book The Philosophy of William of Ockham in the Light of His Principles. I'll say something about it here soon.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Robert Prentice and Illuminationism

Since we have gotten back onto the topic of narratives of late, I offer one from Robert Prentice.  Now in the current common opinion of Thomists, Historians, Theologians, and Philosophers, before Scotus there was a nice, warm, caring, generally happy golden age of participation-analogical metaphysics that the Bible, Fathers, Doctors, and the common man on the street singing his troubadour songs all held in common.  Then the evil univocalist onto-theology was introduced by Duns Scotus, which created the "secular".  Contrast this with:

Robert P. Prentice, An Anonymous Question on the Unity of the Concept of Being (Attributed to Scotus), p. 109 n. 6:

Platonism, Neo-platonism, Gnosticism, all incorporated some form of divine illuminationism within their systems. The theory of reminiscence, e.g. in Plato, is basically an expression of the idea that the divine world is the proximate source of true intelligibility and personal possession of truth. Aristotle's theory that the agent intellect performs the work of illuminating the sense world to render it an intelligible one is actually an extension of Plato's reminiscense theory by explaining the 'mechanics' of how reminiscence could take place, as one can discern by the reading of chapters 4, 5, and 6 of Book III of Aristotle's De anima. Moreover, there is not lacking a sense in which chapter 5 can be interpreted in which the Agent Intellect is a divine agency existing separately from men, which performs the function of "intelligibilizing" the sensible world after the manner of the God of reminiscence. It is then understandable that with St. Augustine, still processing reality in the Neo-platonist mould, a Christianized version of the reminiscence theory and of the agent intellect should surface in Christian illuminationism. It is then psychically comprehensible that the illuminationism of Augustinianism became factually involved with the substance of the faith itself. Hence when the conscious manifestation of the "pagan" psychic roots of the seemingly Christian theory of illuminationism was brought to the attention of the then current scholasticism by means of the "strange" theories of Averroes who posited that there was an Active or Agent Intellect existing apart from man, an understandable conflict between the unconscious cultural formation and the surfacing higher conscious rationality should take place. It is only in this sense that one can find a proportional answer to the violence of the doctrinal controversies turning around the agent intellect during the dozen or so years incorporating the condemnations of 1270 and 1277 of the Latin Averroism of Siger of Brabant. When one examines some of the 13 theses condemined in 1270 and, above all, some of the 219 condemned in 1277 by Stephen Tempier, Bishop of Paris, in the name of the Christian faith, one must look elsewhere than in the faith for the explanation of the particular condemnations. The whole conflict was a result of an emerging conscious secularized vision of reality detached from the illuminationism rooted in Hellenized Platonism pitted against the threatened unconscious attachment to an entrenched cultural vision. In a definite sense, St. Thomas' tract De unitate intellectus contra Averroistas represents a historical step in the process of the desacralization of knowledge.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Brad Gregory's New Book

You remember Brad Gregory, Notre Dame's golden boy.  Well he has a new book out.  Generating lots of buzz, probably awards in the offiing.  But it doesn't look like he learned his lession.  Here's a quote from the introduction, p.5, of The Unintended Reformation: How a Religious Revolution Secularized Society

Finally, until Funkenstein's Theology and the Scientific Imagination from the Middle Ages to the Seventeenth Century (1986), no one would have suspected any connection between late medieval metaphysics and contemporary neo-Darwinian atheism. But the metaphysical and epistemological assumptions of modern science and of antireligious, scientistic ideologies are clearly indebted to the emergence of metaphysical univocity that Funkenstein identified in medieval scholasticism beginning with John Duns Scotus.

Some more from his 2009 Logos article:

Funkenstein showed both that there was a deep affinity between theology and science among major intellectual figures in the seventeenth century and why this symbiosis proved fleeting: the underlying ontology— God “is” just like creation “is”—meant that God had to beat a progressive retreat as science explained more and more about the natural world. Scotus’s initial move is anything but an arcane curiosity from the distant past because it led through an unanticipated series of intellectual developments that include the scientific revolution, Isaac Newton’s physics and post-Newtonian deism, Immanuel Kant’s metaphysics and his sharp distinction between phenomena and noumena, the philosophical framework of nineteenth-century liberal Protestantism, and eventually the neo-Darwinian, scientistic atheism of the New Atheists.

And it turns out that Scotus believed in a different God than did the Biblical authors, Church Fathers, Aquinas, and millions of Christian lay people.

Well, of course, it will be argued—what “other” ontological framework could there be? One in which God is not conceptually domesticated, but is rather regarded as radically distinct from and noncompetitive with his creation, as the traditional doctrine of creation ex nihilo implies.


God conceptualized in this manner is not an “entity or being” at all; he cannot be conceived or visualized; he cannot be represented directly in any human categories whatsoever, whether visual, verbal, or conceptual. This is the same God written about with acuity by contemporary Catholic philosophers such as Robert Sokolowski and theologians such as Robert Barron. This is the same God in whom faithful Catholics believe today, whatever their level of explicit philosophical or theological awareness (my ninety-five-year-old grandmother, with her eighth-grade education, believes in, worships, and prays to this God).

We really ought to take away all that NEH money for the edition, burn all works of Scotus, and excommunicate  anyone who says his name aloud.  Because in the end, we all know that  Aquinas was right about everything (except the immaculate conception...).


In leafing through Funkenstein's book, I came across a discussion of univocity on p. 26 that claims that existence is a divine attribute for Scotus (assuming, like the Thomists, that Scotus holds the same view on essence and existence as Aquinas). He cites as his proof for this and univocity generally the spurious Expositio in Metaphysicam, known since at least the 1920's to be spurious. But Funkenstein, like Brad Gregory, is an historian, which means they don't need to worry about such matters.

So it looks like the intellectual giants of our time are agreed and we have a common opinion: Scotistic univocity is bad and is the root of all evil in the world, and we know this because of all its bad effects on society. It is in fact so obviously bad and stoopid we do not need to make a single argument against it.  Thus say the philosophers, theologians, and historians of our time.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Ocham on Vallicella and Scotus on Future Contingents

Our friend Ocham has a good post which includes a bit of Scotus on two different ways of referring to future contingents. He translates the following passage:

It must be understood that a proposition about the future can be understood to signify something in the future in two ways. So that the proposition about the future signifies it to be true now that something in the future will have to be true [verum esse habebit] (for example, that ‘you will be white at a’ signifies it now to be in reality so that at time a you will be white). Or it can be understood that it signifies now that you will be white then: not that it signifies that it is now such that then you are going to be white, but that it signifies now that then you will be white. For to signify it to be [the case] now that you will be white at a, signifies more than to signify that you will be white at a.

So Scotus notes two possible ways of talking about the future:

1) I say what the future is determined to be: "It is now true that tomorrow you will be white".

2) I say something determinate about the future, which at the moment is indeterminate: "I am now saying that tomorrow you will be white", even if what is true now is that tomorrow you may be white or you may be red.

Saying that I think that things will turn out so-and-so is not the same thing as saying that there is something in reality now which determines that in the future things will be so-and-so, but that I think that, when the causal determinators determine how things turn out, they will end up making things so-and-so rather than such-and-such.

And we have to distinguish between statements like:

a) "In three years grass will still be green"


b) "In three years Obama will still be President of the U.S".

(a) is in one sense a future contingent. It may turn out in three years that there is no more grass, or that there is a massive drought and all the grass is yellow or brown. But "grass is green" will still be true in the sense that greenness will still belong to the essence of grass, even if no existing grass can actualize that essential property due to accidental circumstances. (a) is really not a statement about a given moment or time period at all, but a statement about the nature of grass, which is invariant across all the times in which grass exists in its normal state. It's analogous to "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet", which taken by itself is not so much about nomenclature as about horticulture.

But (b) is different. Obama's being President will be a purely contingent fact, since it is not in the nature of anything for that to be the case, but will be due only to the aggregate of choices voters will by then have made. So when I (as I would if I were a pundit) say that Obama will or will not be President after the next election, I'm saying that I think most voters will end up making a certain choice; I'm not saying that (since the truth about the future is determinate) there will be no choices, or that they have already made their choices. Rather, every such projection carries with it the implicit caveat, "If current trends continue . . ."

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Deep Thoughts from a Neuroscientist

I think we will get over the idea of free will and and accept we are a special kind of machine, one with a moral agency which comes from living in social groups. This perspective will make us ask new kinds of questions.

Link to Neuroscientist Gazzaniga's interview.


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The New Scotist Commission

Besides Richard Rufus, another group was awarded a NEH grant to produce medieval critical editions: the new Scotist commission.  It will be based at Notre Dame and will edit the Opera Parisiensis of Duns Scotus.  Here is the press release from the Notre Dame website.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Gerard of Bologna on Divine Ideas

Mostly a note for myself.

From Xiberta, De scriptoribus scholasticis saeculi XIV ex ordine Carmelitarum, p. 101-102:

Not clear what he is citing, either Quod. I q. 8 or Summa q. 26

Essentia absoluta contentiva omnium creaturarum, ratione cuius dicitur exemplar et paradigma. Divina essentia est illud absolutum quod est idea et exemplar, in quo inspiciuntur creaturae omnes et omnes conditiones et proprietates et habitudines earum ad invicem tamquam in unico perfectissimo repraesentativo omnium. Et sic accipiendo nomen ideae, non est nisi unica idea; sed accipiendo ideam pro respectu consequente, sic sunt ideae multae.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Richard Rufus of Cornwall

An article on Richard Rufus of Cornwall

Some choice quotes:

Richard Rufus of Cornwall may be the most important figure in Western philosophy you’ve never heard of. A project based at Indiana University and funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities aims to change that.

“Still, if we want to learn how the Western university curriculum was shaped, we need to know the works of Richard Rufus, works that were entirely lost between 1350 and 1950 and which are just now beginning to be published,” Wood said. “The importance of the project explains why the NEH has supported the project with modest funding for more than a decade.”

“Indiana University proudly partners with the National Endowment for the Humanities in support of basic research in the humanities,” said Sarita Soni, IU Bloomington vice provost for research. “Without critical editions such as those that the NEH supports, higher-level interpretative scholarship and teaching would lack a solid foundation. We take special pride in the research accomplishments of our entire faculty, so we are particularly pleased when exceptional achievements such as Dr. Wood’s are recognized nationally.”

Rufus is the earliest Western philosopher whose commentaries on Aristotle’s Metaphysics and natural sciences are known to have survived. He played a key role in the transformation of philosophy and theology as a university lecturer in Paris and Oxford between 1231 and 1255. When Rufus began lecturing, the university curriculum focused only on the liberal arts, and the teaching of Aristotle’s Metaphysics or his natural philosophy was forbidden. Within two decades, the libri naturales were required reading, and all students were examined on them.

These works established the foundations of philosophy and were fundamental to Western science — without the translations and commentaries in the 13th century, “not only would medieval science have failed to materialize, but the scientific revolution of the 17th century could hardly have occurred,” wrote IU Distinguished Professor Emeritus Edward Grant.

Rufus not only restated Aristotle’s arguments for his contemporaries, but he also frequently challenged them, Wood said. In so doing he influenced the great Scholastic philosophers who followed him. His influence can be seen in Roger Bacon and Bonaventure on cosmology, in Albert the Great’s theory of universals, and in John Duns Scotus’ account of individuation.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


I have the character defect (not too rare, perhaps) of, whatever I am or ought to be doing, wishing I were doing something else - even when what I am or ought to be doing is something I very much want to do. Throughout school I had this problem: whatever I was studying, I wanted to study something else. When I was supposed to be learning calculus I was reading Thomists. When I was supposed to be studying Greek and French I was teaching myself Latin on the side.

Now that I'm in school not as a student but as a teacher this fault hasn't gone away. Last week I was teaching Hume's Enquiry, but Hume got me thinking of other British Empiricists I'd loved and lost, and I ended up rereading Berkeley's Dialogues of Hylas and Philonous instead of focussing on class preparation. This week it's Kant's Prolegomena, and I find myself feeling the pull, which I haven't felt in a very long time, of the Critique of Pure Reason.

{Autobiographical Interlude}

Locke, Berkeley, Hume, and Kant were the first serious philosophy books I ever read, back as a fifteen-year-old novice. I might have glanced at a little Plato first, but I don't recall. Until then the extent of my philosophy had been largely C.S. Lewis and various things along the lines of Francis Schaeffer. At fifteen I hoarded my pennies until I could afford to buy a set of the 1952 edition of the Britannica Great Books. I read here and there as inclination and ability led me, but I knew I wanted to get to the philosophy. As I say, I don't recall how much Plato I looked at, but it couldn't have been much. A short acquaintance showed that Aristotle and Aquinas were too hard to start with, and I thought I'd look at the English thinkers. The Locke-Berekely-Hume volume was just right.

On the whole these guys weren't a bad place to start philosophy. Their great advantage is that they are very good and clear writers, a fact I've come to appreciate more and more after spending so much of my subsequent years with either Germans or scholastics. I read the empiricists avidly but never felt taken in by them. I couldn't at the time put my finger on where they were going wrong but I felt sure they must be; nevertheless my appetite was whetted. They incited my curiosity without settling my opinions or even my inclinations. When in the Introduction to his Principles of Human Knowledge Berkeley said

It were an endless as well as an useless thing to trace the Schoolmen, those great masters of abstraction, through all the manifold inextricable labyrinths of error and dispute which their doctrine of abstract natures and notions seems to have led them into

he didn't dissuade me from doing so myself. It turns out that following the schoolmen through their labyrinths - of error sometimes, of dispute always, of wisdom, I hope, occasionally - is indeed an endless thing, but not, I have found, a useless one. When at the end of the Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding Hume said

When we run over libraries, persuaded of these principles, what havoc must we make? If we take in our hand any volume; of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance; let us ask, Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact or existence? No. Commit it then to the flames: for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion

I didn't take his advice. My volumes of divinity and school metaphysics have multiplied a hundredfold since then. But it was a start.

I have to confess that I didn't read Kant next because he was the logical step after Hume, but for a much stupider reason. Nickelodeon used to show a cartoon called "Rocko's Modern Life", and in one episode Rocko discovers that his friend, who he had always considered a dim bulb, is actually a prodigy. He visits his friend's house to find him reading the Critique of Pure Reason, decides that he can't be bested by his friend, and goes home to read it himself, resulting in an amusing montage of mental anguish and existential horror (this is how I remember the episode; it's been more than fifteen years). I took this as a challenge and started to read the Critique myself. Kant daunted me as it daunted Rocko - I had to take notes to follow the argument, the first time I had done that with a book, and I didn't finish it - but I took it as a challenge to come back to.

Of course, speaking of challenges to come back to, thinking of the possibility of picking up the Critique reminds me that I never did finish Hegel's Phenomenology. We spent many weeks reading sections of it my senior year in college, and at the time it didn't leave me wanting more. Some years after that it was the only book on my comprehensive reading lists in graduate school that I didn't finish. Last year I bought a commentary on it by my favorite undergraduate teacher, thinking that he if anyone would teach me to love Hegel as he deserves, but the commentary has so far gone as unfinished as its commentatum.

* * *

So, reading the opening sections of the Prolegomena to any Future Metaphysics is filling me with an irrational desire to read Hegel side by side with a 500-page commentary. I think I'll manage to hold out for now. But I do the same thing with literature. Earlier this summer I was rereading The Canterbury Tales. I took a break to read The Faerie Queene for the third time, and when I was done, instead of going back to Chaucer, I've instead gone back to a series of Icelandic sagas. Right now I'm in the middle of a translation of Njalssaga which is more literally faithful than the last one I read, so I'm enjoying it. But I confess that I'm taking a break from it in order to read The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, a little book that I find improves with age. I've decided just now that the third poem, "Errantry", is an allegory of the philosophical life, and it includes an episode on the hero's attempt to win love and reward from that harsh mistress Academia:

He sat and sang a melody,
his errantry a tarrying,
he begged a pretty butterfly,
that fluttered by to marry him.
She scorned him and she scoffed at him,
she laughed at him unpitying,
so long he studied wizardry,
and sigaldry and smithying.

It turns out that the pursuit, like so many pursuits, is just a distraction. The butterfly squanders his gifts and falls to bitter quarreling; the hero abandons her and looks elsewhere, but in his journeying and tourneying forgets his message and his errand. I need to beware of distractions. The real thing is the study - the wizardry and sigaldry and smithying.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Thomas Aquinas on Kinds of Sleep

hora est iam nos de somno surgere. Rom 13:11
Now is the hour for us to rise from sleep.
Quod quidem intelligendum est non de somno naturae, qui quandoque dicitur mors, secundum illud I Thess. IV, 12: nolumus vos ignorare de dormientibus, quandoque autem est quies animalium virtutum, secundum illud Io. XI, v. 12: si dormit, salvus erit. Nec enim intelligendum est de somno gratiae, qui quandoque dicitur quies aeternae gloriae, secundum illud Ps. IV, 9: in pace in idipsum, etc., quandoque autem est quies contemplationis etiam in hac vita. Cant. V, 2: ego dormio, et cor meum vigilat. Sed intelligitur de somno culpae, secundum illud Eph. V, 14: exurge, qui dormis, et exurge a mortuis, etc., vel etiam negligentiae, secundum illud Prov. c. VI, 9: usquequo, piger, dormies? Tempus ergo est surgendi a somno culpae per poenitentiam Ps. CXXVI, 2: surgite, postquam sederitis, etc., a somno vero negligentiae per sollicitudinem bene operandi Is. XXI, 5: surgite, principes, accipite clypeum. Eccli. XXXII, 15: hora surgendi non te tristet. Deinde, cum dicit nunc enim, etc., assignat rationem eius quod dixerat, dicens nunc enim propior est salus nostra, quam cum credidimus. Quod quidem secundum intentionem apostoli intelligitur de salute vitae aeternae, de qua dicitur Is. LI, 8: salus autem mea in sempiternum erit.
 This certainly is not [said of] the sleep of nature, which in some places is called death, as in 1 Thess 4:12: "we do not wish you to be ignorant of those who have fallen asleep," but which in other places is the sleep of animal powers, as in John 11:12, "if he sleeps, he will be well." Nor is it to be understood [to speak] about the sleep of grace, which in some places is the of eternal glory, as in Ps 4:9: "in peace, in the selfsame I will sleep," but which is sometimes the rest of contemplation even in this life, as in Song of Songs 5:2: "I sleep, but my heart keeps vigil."
 But it is to be understood [to speak] about the sleep of sin, as in Eph 5:14: "arise, sleepers, and arise from the dead, and Christ will enlighten you," or also [the sleep] of negligence, as in Prov. 6:9, "How long will you sleep, O sluggard?" Therefore the time for rising from the sleep of sin is through penitence: Ps 126:2, "Rise after you have sat down," but from the sleep of negligence, through solicitude to good works: Is 21:5, "Rise princes, and take up the shield"; Ecclus 32:15, "at the hour of rising be not sad." Afterwards, when he says, "for now is the day of your salvation," he assigns his reason that he said it, saying, "for now our salvation is nearer than when we believed." Here indeed according to the intention of the apostle to be understood to speak of the salvation of eternal life, of which it is said in Is 51:8: "for my salvation will be unto eternity."
Here Thomas delineates six types of sleep:
  (1) The sleep of nature, or death
  (2) The sleep of vital powers
  (3) The sleep of eternal glory
  (4) The sleep of contemplation in this life
  (5) The sleep of sin
  (6) The sleep of negligence.

For each type of sleep, he provides a corresponding Scriptural reference, showing that there is Biblical precedent for the extended use of the term. It seems that sleep in itself signifies a lack or a rest from something. Some thoughts:

 1. The sleep of nature is cessation of the natural operation of living as a thing composed of form and matter. Scientists now debate the precise time of death. Part of the difficulty is that many do not acknowledge a spiritual soul, so they do not identify death with the separation of the soul and body. But this definition only points to the difficulty of determining when that separation takes place. If one holds to a plurality of forms, the question would then be multifold: what indicates that the rational soul has separated from the body? Is that separation the definition of "human" death if a lower form remains?

 2. The sleep of vital powers is rest from the waking operations of the animal soul, such as sensing. This is ordinarily what we would call "sleep."

 3. The sleep of eternal glory is rest from the operation of living in this life, which is not properly an operation but a combination of them; or we could say it is a rest from life in the fallen world. This is more properly said to be a waking state, because in eternal glory the person and his faculties is most fully actualized.

 4. The sleep of contemplation in this life is rest from all activities that are contrary to contemplation. Some of the mystics who experienced extraordinary graces in prayer including St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila, speak about how there are some moments of contemplation in which the faculties are suspended. In this life, the body, affected by original sin, is a hindrance to the quies contemplationis. Indirectly, of course, the body helps a person begin a life of contemplation because one learns through the senses. In the next life, however, the resurrected body enjoys, in its own mode, the contemplation of the soul which is the beatific vision.

 5. The sleep of sin is the cessation of living in a state of grace. From this sleep some can wake by their own power, or ordinary grace: the remedy of venial sin found in prayers, sacrifices, and so on. But others cannot wake from this sleep without an extraordinary grace: to go from the state of mortal sin to that of grace is greater than the creation of the universe out of nothing.

 6. The sleep of negligence is rest from doing the good one ought to do. We can identify this with sloth.

Sleep: deaths ally, oblivion of tears
     Silence of passions, balm of angry sore
Suspense of loves, security of fears,
     Wrath's lenitive, heart's ease, storm's calmest shore
Sense's and soul's reprieval from all cumbers,
     Benumbing sense of ill with quiet slumbers.

  ---St. Robert Southwell, St. Peter's Complaynt

Sunday, November 13, 2011


I've been following the debate between Maverick Philosopher and our friend Ocham on whether there are "truthmakers" with great interest. The most recent entries are here and here, respectively. The most interesting thing for me is largely the fact that Ocham, who by all indications is a filthy nominalist and so ought to be anathema to us Scotists, seems to make more sense than Vallicella, with whom as a realist-leaning semi-Platonist I ought to agree more. Not because Vallicella comes across as wrong, exactly, so much as that his approach seems to highlight everything I dislike about contemporary anglophone analytic philosophy. I just can't figure out for the life of me what is the use of all the talk about facts and truthmakers. (By "use" I mean "helpfulness in making sense of the world".) It seems riddled with ambiguity and equivocation and a preoccupation with the way we talk about things at the expense of an inattention to the way things are. I've been wondering whether and how to put in my two cents for a while now, but luckily Vallicella's latest post provides a very helpful summary of the status quaestionis, and I will use it as a platform for my own comments.

Let us confine ourselves to true affirmative contingent nonrelational predications. If you deny that there is any extralinguistic fact or state of affairs that makes it true that Tom is smoking [another oft-used example is Vallicella's is "Al is fat"], then what is your positive theory? Here are some possible views, 'possible' in the sense that they are possibly such as to be held by someone whether fool or sage or someone in between.

So Vallicella will lay out what he sees as the possible alternatives.

1. A contingently true sentence like 'Tom is smoking' is just true; there is nothing external to the sentence, nothing at all, that plays any role in making it true. There is no more to a true sentence than the sentence. Thus no part of the sentence has a worldly correlate, not even the subject term. On this view there is no extralinguistic reality -- or at least no extralinguistic reality that bears upon the truth or falsity of our sentences -- and thus no ontological ground of any kind for the truth of true contingent representations, whether declarative sentences, propositions, judgments, beliefs, whatever the truth-bearers are taken to be.

This alternative is plainly unacceptable. On my view a linguistic expression, such as an sentence, is a (complex) sign. A sign is defined as something that brings to mind something else. A sentence can either be true or false if it asserts something, truth being understood as a sign-relation such that the sign accurately signifies the signified, and falsity as a sign-relation such that the sign does not accurately signify the signified. On this account, then, a sign "all by itself" is neither true nor false. A sign signifies something; if it signifies truly it signifies its significate as it is.

2. A rather less crazy view is that our sample sentence does have something corresponding to it in reality, and that that item is Tom, but nothing else. On this view 'Tom is smoking' has a truth-maker, but the truth-maker is just Tom. On this view the truth-maker role is a legitimate one, and something plays it, but there are no facts, and so no fact is a truth-maker. Note carefully that the question whether there are facts is not the same as the question whether there are truth-makers. It could be that the truth-making riole is played by non-facts, and it itr could be that there are facts but they have no role to play in truth-making.

This must be wrong. "Tom", supposing that "Tom" signifies such-and-such an existing man, does not signify "Tom is smoking", but just "Tom", i.e. "this man". It seems to me that before we can figure out the relationship between the complex sign "Tom is smoking" and the truth it signifies (assuming Tom is in fact smoking) we should understand the relationship between the simple sign "Tom" (the name, vocal expression, written characters, thought) and the existing man Tom. But no one in the debate has tried to do that, as far as I've seen.

Note that in my view Tom cannot be the "truthmaker" for "Tom is smoking" or for any other assertion, because Tom is not signified by "Tom is smoking" in my thought or speech or other true expression, but by the name "Tom", and the name is neither true nor false, being non-assertoric. "Hamlet" (the name of a non-existing fictional character) signifies just as well as "Tom", and is also neither true nor false.

3. On a variant of (2) it is admitted that besides Tom there is also an entity corresponding to the predicate, and the truth-maker of 'Tom is smoking' is the set or the mereological sum, or the ordered pair consting of Tom and the entity corresponding to the predicate.

This is where Vallicella starts to lose me. But the reasons are hard to explain given the way he sets out the alternatives, which is partially why he loses me. Let me present the fourth alternative as well before saying what my problem is.

4. A more radical view is that the truth-maker role is not a legitimate role, hence does not need filling by the members of any category of entity. On this view there are no truth-makers becsuae the very notion of a truth-maker is incoherent. One who takes this line could even admit that there are facts, but he would deny that they play a truth-making role.

The presumption seems to be that "truthmaker" will be a sort of being, a categorial entity, and determining what a truthmaker is means determining what category it falls under. But this presumption is indeed incoherent. A truthmaker could only be a category of entity if every entity about which there were truths fell under the same category; but they don't. I would make the exact same objection to the notion of "facts" as a kind of entity. I admit that there "are" facts and truths, in the sense that many thoughts and sentences are true, and that they are true insofar as they correspond to the facts; but I deny that facts and truthmakers are a kind of category of being.

Let's look at the examples. What makes "Tom is smoking" true? The "fact" that Tom is smoking. But what is this fact? Is it a being? I'm not at all sure that this question is going to get us anywhere. Instead I would ask, what is Tom? and, what is smoking? Now Tom is a man, which means he is a kind of substance. And smoking is an action. So to say that Tom is smoking is to say that a certain substance is performing a certain action. Which is to say that a certain accident belongs to a certain substance. So what are the entities involved in the truth that Tom is smoking? Only, Tom's substance and one of his accidents. The "fact" that Tom is smoking is not something other than these. But note that the "truthmaker" is not the substance Tom nor the accident the action of smoking, but the inherence of the accident in the substance, the "ens per accidens" that is Tom as smoking.

So I'm saying that a "truthmaker" is an accident? No, because here what makes "Tom is smoking" or "Al is fat" true is not the accident "smoking" or "fat" but the inherence of the accidents in their subjects. So I'm saying that a "truthmaker" is a mereological sum? No! First, I deny that a substance and its accidents can be understood as parts of a whole. What makes "Tom is smoking" true is not {Tom}+{smoking}, but the fact that Tom is smoking, the statement of fact being not an assertion of summation but an assertion of inherence. Since Tom is a substance and smoking is an accident, they belong to different categories, and I deny that entities of different categories can be added together as parts of a whole, except on an equivocal understanding of "whole".

So a "truthmaker" is a fact constituted by the inherence of an accident in its subject, like fatness in Al or smoking in Tom? No! Because a truthmaker is defined as the entity that makes its truthbearer true. Now simply stated like this there must be truthmakers, if their denial means that true statements are just true for no reason. That would be crazy, as Vallicella rightly notes. But we're asking what kind of entity a truthmaker is, and it seems clear to me that it can be no kind of being. Because if what makes "Tom is smoking" true is the inherence of an accident in its subject, then it seems that truthmakers are accidental inherences or facts about accidental inherences. But this can't be right, because there are many kinds of truths other than truths about accidental inherences, for instance, the truth that Tom is a man. What is the "truthmaker" for "Tom is a man"? It can't be the inherence of any accident in Tom, because humanity is essential, not accidental, to Tom. "Humanity" is not something that inheres accidentally in Tom but is part of what it is to be Tom. And the statement of fact that Tom is a man is not an assertion of inherence but an assertion that Tom has a certain nature. But essences and accidents are not the same kinds of being, i.e. an action and an essence belong to different categories. So if when I call Tom a man and when I say that Tom is smoking I say that these are two facts about Tom, I cannot be saying that there is one kind of entity, facthood, to which "Tom's-being-a-man" and "Tom's-smoking" belong. Rather there are (here) two kinds of entity, essences and accidents, and Tom has a certain essence and Tom has a certain accident.

In other contexts, however, we might want to state truths about entities that are non-categorial entirely, e.g. God. God exists in no genus, and when I say "God exists" or "God is wise" I'm not predicating a species of a genus or an accident of a subject. Nevertheless I want to say that my assertions are (at least possibly) true. The truthmaker then for such an assertion can't be a substance or an accident or an inherence or anything of the sort.

So let's say that facts are the ways things are, and that truthmakers are what make propositions etc true. If so, then facts and truthmakers cannot belong to a certain category. Because among the things that are, are things belonging to many different categories; and not everything that is belongs to any category. So, to ask "what kind of an entity is a truthmaker?" is in a certain sense a category mistake. A truth maker is not a kind of entity, but an entity of whatever kind. Is this what Vallicella's fifth alternative suggests?:

5. On a still more radical view, there is an extralinguistic reality, but we cannot say what categories of entity it contains.

This is not what I'm saying, since I'm saying that there is an extralinguistic reality, and it contains many categories of things, and there is also some being which is in no category.

On this view one abandons the notion that language mirrors reality, that there is any correspondence or matching between parts of speech and categories of entity. Thus one would abandon the notion that truth is correspondence, that the 'Al is fat' is true just in case the referent of 'Al' exemplifies the property denoted by 'fat.' One would be abandoning the notion that language is any guide at all to ontology.

I do deny that language mirrors reality, in the sense that reality has to have (as Vallicella calls it in several places) a "proposition-like structure" in order for propositions about reality to be true. "God is wise", "Tom is a man", "Tom is smoking", "Al is fat", all have the same linguistic structure, but the "facts" to which they refer, that is, the beings about which they are true, have very different entitative structures.

It occurs to me to ask why we should think that, just because our speech can express what is, language ought to be "any guide at all to ontology". I suppose this is me doubting the usefulness of the whole "linguistic turn". Why should an examination of how we say things tell us anything special about the way things are? Shouldn't we examine the way things are and then ask if the way we talk about them is true or false? However, I certainly agree that Al's being fat is the reason it is true to say "Al if fat", and that Al's and Tom's being human is the reason it is true to say "Al and Tom are men".

So perhaps it seems that I'm suggesting that there's an alternative Vallicella left out. Between the notion that a truthmaker must be some category of entity and the notion that no category of entity can be a truthmaker, perhaps we should say that any categorial or supracategorial being can serve as a truthmaker? In this case, however, why should I ever talk about "truthmakers" or "facts"? Why shouldn't I just talk about being? It's totally clear and obvious that there are beings, and it also seems obvious to me that metaphysics ought to study what being is like: what are the categories, what falls under them, what belongs to no category, etc. But if "truthmakers" and "facts" are just beings, or rather, ways of talking about being in relation to our assertions, and in such a way as to render it enormously confusing whether they are supposed to be some special sort of being or not, what is the "value added" of dragging these terms into metaphysics?

Ocham seems to agree that if it is true to say "Tom is smoking" or "Al is fat", this is because in reality Tom is smoking, or Al is fat. That is to say, our speech is true because of the way being is. But the beings in question are Tom and his activities and Al and his qualities and quantities. Do we need to drag in beings other than this? Or are the "truthmakers" of our sentences and the "facts" supporting them just these beings, but considered under a certain aspect, as related to our speech? If this is Ocham's confusion, then I share it, along with his dubious attitude towards the need to talk about truthmakers and facts as distinct from the beings our assertions are about at all.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

What is a Formality II: Antonius Andreas

For Part 1, see here.

Today we are going to look at what Antonius Andreas has to say about the matter. Antonius was from Aragon-Catalonia, might have studied a Paris (though there is no evidence of this), and taught at Monzon and Lerida in Catalonia.  He wrote numerous  commentaries on Aristotle from a  scotistic point of view and was dead by the 1330's.

Oddly, the same text of the definition in Assisi 668 has "subiectalis" rather than "obiectalis".

Antonius Andreas, QQ. in Met. IV q. 2 a. 1 (ed.  ?, unfoliated)

Utrum negatio habeat distinctam formalitatem ab affirmatione cui opponitur.

Quantum ad primum, primo premittam rationem ‘formalitatis’ quam describo sic: formalitas est ratio obiectalis in re apprehensa ab intellectu ex natura rei quam non oportet semper movere intellectum dummodo actum intellectus possit terminare.

Quod dico pro tanto quia licet aliquid posset terminare actum intellectus, non tamen semper potest intellectum ad sui intellectionem movere, sicut communiter dicitur quod relationes non movent intellectum ratione dependentie et quia non sunt aliquod absolutum, et tamen terminant actum intellectus. Similiter proprietates individuales ex eo quod non habent rationem quid, ideo non movent intellectum et tamen terminant actum eius. Similiter(?) negationes terminant licet non moveant intellectum quatenus non sunt entia, ita(?) per(?) tria(?) requiruntur ad hoc quod aliquod moveat intellectum: primum quod sit ens, secundum quod sit absolutum, tertium quod habeat rationem quid vel essentie. Propter primum removentur negationes, propter secundum relationes, propter tertium omnis proprietas ypostatica vel proprietas personalis in divinis et | proprietates individuales, que omnia licet actum intellectus terminent, non tamen movent intellectum.

Ex ista descriptione concludo correlarie quod quecumque possunt distincte concipi per intellectum habent distinctas formalitates ex natura rei.


Whether a negation has a formality distinct from that to which it is opposed

As far as the first article is concerned, first I premise the definition of "formality", which I describe thus: A formality is an objective ratio in a thing apprehended by the intellect from the nature of the thing, which it is not necessary to always move the intellect, provided that it can terminate the act of the intellect.
I say this for the reason that although something could terminate the act of the intellect, nevertheless it is not always able to move the intellect to the intellection of it, just as commonly is said that relations don't move the intellect by a notion of dependence, and because they are not something absolute, and nevertheless they terminate the act of the intellect. Likewise individual properties from this that they do not have the notion of a 'what', therefore they do not move the intellect and nevertheless they terminate its act.  Likewise negations terminate [the act of the intellect], although they do not move the intellect, because they are not beings.  To clarify this, it should be known that three things are required for something to move the intellect: first that it is a being, second that it is absolute, third that it has the notion of a 'what' or an essence.  On account of the first negations are removed, relations on account of the second, on account of the third every hypostatic property or personal property in the divine and individual properties, all of which, although they terminate the act of the intellect, nevertheless do not move the intellect.
From that description I conclude as a corollary that whatever can be conceived distinctly by the intellect has distinct formalities from its nature.

[recall that for Scotus, "ex natura rei" means "prior to the operation of the intellect", so "real"].

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Happy Feast of Scotus!

Er, or is it an optional memorial in the Archdiocese of Cologne and the Francsican order?

Here's a link to the festivities at the Antonianum.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Some Elementary Metaphysics

Define a substance as the actuality of an essence which in its act of being (essendo) does not depend on another essence subjectively sustaining it in the same supposit. By an essence I mean an intelligible ratio. By "subjectively sustaining" x I mean acting as a subject for x. By a supposit I mean a singular concrete existent.

All right, then: a substance so defined exists. I take it for granted that something exists. Call it x. If x is not essentially dependent on anything in its supposit, x is a substance. If what you admit exists is dependent on something subjectively sustaining it in its supposit - if x is dependent on y - I ask whether y is independent or whether it depends on another. On pain of infinite regress we have to come to something which is not essentially dependent in the sense defined, and this will be the substance sustaining x.

Granted that substances exist, accidents can be shown to exist from the fact of change. In change a substate x remains itself while becoming different in some respect: Socrates sitting becomes Socrates standing, xa-->xb. That x remains the same is presupposed by the notion of change; otherwise we would have mere annihilation of a and subsequent creation of b. But if x is identical across xa and xb, then x does not essentially depend on a or b, while either a or b may belong to x; therefore in both xa and xb a and b are accidental to x.

Cf. Scotus, Quaest. in Metaph. VII. Q.2 n.24.

Friday, November 4, 2011

An Argument for the Distinction of Intellect and Will

An old one, perhaps.  This is one of the principal arguments from an anonymous question traditionally (since Ledoux's edition in the 1930's) attributed to William of Alnwick: utrum simplicitas divina compatiatur secum aliquam distinctionem ex natura rei previam distinctioni persone.

f. 87rb: Quandocumque sunt aliqua idem ex parte rei totaliter, quidquid convenit uni et alii; si ergo intellectus et voluntas sunt idem totaliter et ut precedunt distinctionem personarum, ergo intellectus vellet et voluntas intelligeret et cum intellectus intelligeret malum culpe voluntas vellet.


Whenever there are things that are totally the same from the nature of a thing, whatever befalls one will also befall the other; if therefore the intellect and the will are totally the same and as they precede the distinction of [the Trinitarian] persons, therefore the intellect will will and the will will understand and when the intellect understands the evil of fault, the will will will it.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Harmonization of Thomas and Scotus on Univocity

From Petrus de Attarabia, a Franciscan who taught at the studium at Barcelona around the same time as Petrus Thomae (1320's).

I tend to rag on Thomism a bit on this blog, so I thought I would post an attempt to show how Scotus and Thomas actually agree on the issue of univocity. A modest olive branch, if you will.

This position is the sort of thing generally left out of the grand narratives of the decline of the West in general and scholasticism in particular, being as they are in a rush to jump to Ockham and link Scotus' voluntarism with Ockham's.

Petrus de Attarabia sive de Navarra, Sent. I d. 3 pt. 1 q. 1 a. 3 (ed. Sagues Azcona vol. 2, 189-92):

As far as the third [article], I say that, as it seems to me, the first [opinio Thomae] and second [opinio Scoti] do not in fact disagree (I speak of the principal doctors who posited the aforesaid opinion; but [if] some others have declared otherwise, I don't care). 

For harmonizing therefore each opinion, it should be known that an univocal concept is understood in two ways. In one way an univocal concept is taken from the unity and indifference of those things to which it is common and a mode of conceiving.  And in that way it is univocation properly said, and of such as many the philosophers speak, and in that way genus and species are called univocal and other universals and also the categories.

In the other way an univocal concept is received only from the indifference of the mode of conceiving. Example: some man is individual, vague, common, univocal to all individual men under individual differences; but to individuals as such nothing is common unless from the mode of conceiving. This univocal is not a real universal, but is common only by a community of reason and mode of conceiving, just as is posited in the divine that  'person' is something common by community of reason to the three divine persons.

To apply this to the matter at hand: by taking univocation in the first way, being is not univocal, because then it would be a genus, nor would the statement of the Philosopher be true, I Physics, where he says that "since being is said in many ways" etc.; nor his statement in IV Metaphysics "that being is said of beings just as health of animal and of medicine." And the arguments adduced for the first opinion efficaciously prove this. And I believe that it is impossible that being is univocal in this way, because God and creature are entirely distinguished; otherwise God would not be irreducibly simple.

Therefore by taking univocation in the second way, namely which is received from the indifference of the mode of conceiving, I say that being is univocal to God and creature, substance and accident, because our intellect conceives being under indifference, not that that indifference is from the part of the thing or things, but the intellect has this from its own nature. And in that way being is not a real universal or genus, but is said common by such unity that it suffices for preserving a contradiction and for avoiding equivocation in the middle term of a syllogism. And in that way common propositions and first [propositions] are one, and likewise the questions "is it?" and "what is it?" etc. II Posterior analytics. And in this way all the arguments of the second opinion conclude. All [doctors] have denied univocity in the first way, but not in the second way, at least some [have not denied it].

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Contingent Will

I read St Thomas' Commentary on the Metaphysics in my 1935 Marietti edition, but the following, lifted from The Logic Museum, saves typing:

lib. 6 l. 2 n. 13 Contingens autem ad utrumlibet, non potest esse causa alicuius inquantum huiusmodi. Secundum enim quod est ad utrumlibet, habet dispositionem materiae, quae est in potentia ad duo opposita: nihil enim agit secundum quod est in potentia. Unde oportet quod causa, quae est ad utrumlibet, ut voluntas, ad hoc quod agat, inclinetur magis ad unam partem, per hoc quod movetur ab appetibili, et sic sit causa ut in pluribus. Contingens autem ut in paucioribus est ens per accidens cuius causa quaeritur. Unde relinquitur, quod causa entis per accidens sit contingens ut in pluribus, quia eius defectus est ut in paucioribus. Et hoc est ens per accidens.

1183. But that which is contingent, or open to opposites, cannot as such be the cause of anything. For insofar as it is open to opposites it has the character of matter, which is in potency to two opposites; for nothing acts insofar as it is in potency. Hence a cause which is open to opposites in the way that the will is, in order that it may act, must be inclined more to one side than to the other by being moved by the appetible object, and thus be a cause in the majority of cases. But that which takes place in only a few instances is the accidental, and it is this whose cause we seek. Hence it follows that the cause of the accidental is what occurs in the majority of cases, because this fails to occur in only a few instances. And this is what is accidental.

Here is a good succinct statement of the Aristotelian-Thomist (A-T) doctrine of the will: the will is primarily and for the most part a passive, moved, faculty, an appetite inclined to an appetible object and determined and moved by the appetible object acting as final cause and by the intellect presenting objects to it.

The contrary doctrine is the Augustinian-Scotist one. Just the other day I was rereading portions of Augustine's De libero arbitrio and was impressed by how exactly his view matches up with Scotus': the will is not determined either by its appetites or by what the intellect presents. The will is active and self-determining. There is no cause for why the will wills {a} rather than {b} other than the determination of the will itself. The will has real contingency in itself. Its manner of causality is separate from that of nature, which acts always or for the most part in a determinate way and fails only per accidens. The will's power over opposites is not of itself inclined towards either of the two opposites and is free to choose between them even if the appetites are inclined one way or the other and even if the will often or typically follows them.

The lecture from Aquinas' commentary on Metaphysics book VI does not return to the will and does not provide anything helpful in the way of showing where the contingency of the will comes from or how it can occasionally and per accidens avoid being determined by the appetites. That's not a criticism, since Aristotle's text is about per accidens being in general and Aquinas only brings up the will as a brief example. Still, I think there's a hint of a problem here which is never really resolved. In my opinion the A-T theory ends up giving an unsatisfactory account of freedom compared to the A-S one, and this has implications for everything from human nature up to the contingency of creation and the internal divine operations.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Christian Philosophy

Some of us over the years have wondered about Dr William Vallicella's religious views. Now he tells us clearly: he is not a Christian. He indicates his own position as being closest to the following formulation. Christian dogmas:

are false and/or incoherent in many of their formulations, but hide nuggets of truth that can excavated and refined and reformulated in ways that are rationally acceptable. An example of this is Kant's project in Religion Within the Limits of Reason Alone.

Dr Vallicella posits five possible attitudes towards Christian dogmas. What he does not do is distinguish the attitude of the Christian philosopher against any possible attitude of the non-Christian philosopher. The attitude of the Christian philosopher is, in its classic formulation from St Anselm, who got it from St Augustine, credo ut intellegam, I believe so that I may understand.

Now I agree, with Fr John Wippel against Etienne Gilson and the earlier Maritain, that there is no such thing as a "Christian philosophy". There is just philosophy, practiced by Christians and by non-Christians. Sometimes the practice of philosophy can be a praeambulum to Christianity, as in the case of St Justin Martyr and many other famous and less-famous cases. But philosophizing per se is not a religious activity and has no essentially religious content. Philosophy is the unrestricted and holistic application of reason to life.

That being said, philosophizing doesn't happen in a vacuum. Man is a rational, but also a religious animal. Socrates questioned the stories of the poets about the gods, but, contrary to his accusers, did not challenge or reject the gods of the city, much less the existence of the God of philosophy, the One - whoever he was - that gave him his vocation. And Aristotle always took as his starting-point on any particular issue the doxa, the opinions of the common man and of his own philosophical predecessors, rejecting what was faulty or inadequate in favor of a better formulation, but never assuming that the doxa were to be utterly rejected and replaced by complete novelties. This would be hubristically and arrogantly to assume that oneself is already wise and that all other men have always been fools.

The Christian philosopher, then, doesn't have some special kind of philosophy that atheists or pagans don't have; but at the same time he doesn't begin philosophizing neutrally, as though everything he believes might just as well turn out to be false. If modern philosophy has given us one apodictic certitude it's that radical Cartesian doubt is foolish, that it begins with nothing and ends with nothing, or worse. This is not to say that the philosopher holds rigidly to his beliefs no matter what the result of his reasoning, either: otherwise the notion of rational conversion would be absurd. But philosophes have not only gone from Christianity to apostasy and libertinism under the influence of reason; they have also gone from any number of positions to a rational Christianity. I myself am a convert to the Catholic Church.

One does not reason to Christianity or reason to Catholicism in the sense that philosophy ever proves (in any sense) that the Christian doctrines are true. On the other hand, neither does one prove against Descartes or Kant that we experience the world, or that we are awake. We can't prove everything, because doing so would produce an infinite regress. We can however show that to believe that I am now, as I write, am asleep is absurd, that to deny that I experience the world is unreasonable. We can also argue that the doctrines of Christianity are not unreasonable. This does not show that they are true, but it shows that I might reasonably believe that they are true. And if I believe that they are true, I can think about them rationally and philosophically as truths.

The orientation towards religious doctrines as truths - not as puzzles, not as myths, not as more or less acceptable attempts at formulating truths - is the attitude of the credo ut intellegam. It is fundamentally different from the attitude an unbeliever like Dr Vallicella will take towards them. The Anselmian formulation is paralleled by the Augustinian one, "unless you believe you will not understand" - not because the doctrines of the faith are unreasonable or unintelligible, but because without the light of faith the thinker will remain like Aristotle's blind man reasoning about colors: the syllogisms may be logically valid but the thinker will have no way to know to what extent they relate to reality. It's as though a Cartesian were to entertain, but merely as an amusing hypothesis, his existence outside of his brain-vat; except that (in my opinion) real existential Cartesian doubt is absurd and impossible, but real religious doubt is not. The existence of a subjective world of beings beyond my experience of an objective world constituted and co-caused by my mental activity is self-evident, its contrary formulated only with enormous difficulty and under the influence of powerful sophistries; I don't perceive the truth of religious doctrine in the same way or with the same rational force.

There is an ineradicable element of will in belief, analogous to accepting that someone loves me. I can know that my wife exists and that she has a mind like mine; but that she loves me, and that her love is the key fact whereby I ought to interpret her words and actions towards me rather than some more cynical alternative, is not unreasonable, but is also unprovable: I must choose to accept or not accept it, and act accordingly. The unbelieving philosopher, like the suspicious spouse, has access to all the same data as the believer, but sees that the data can rationally be taken another way, and wills so to take it or to abstain from committing to a judgment one way or the other.

The Christian philosopher then is not simply a thinker who chooses to think about the dogmas of Christianity, rather than some other puzzles, or one who finds the traditional dogmatic solutions to the puzzles the most rationally satisfying (this is the entirely modern phenomenon of "philosophy of religion" which, insofar as it is separate on the one hand from metaphysics and on the other from theology, I abominate and abhor). Like the philosopher of the ancient schools, or the modern existentialist, his discipline is not (merely) a logical game or a quasi-scientific method or technique, but an approach (among possible approaches) to being. He is a philosopher who believes in God, Christ, the sacraments, Mary and the Saints, sin, heaven and hell, as he believes in friendship and in love, as unprovable but obviously there; who approaches his God rationally as he approaches his own soul and the world, as concrete beings in need of rational explication; who looks to philosophy to help him both think and live, but who looks to religion, as to direct experience, to provide the things to think about and live among and towards.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Swift on Scotus

From Gulliver's Travels, pt. 3.  The scene is an island of a necromancer who calls up the dead. Gulliver calls up all the greats of history in order to ask them about what really happened.

I introduced Didymus and Eustathius to Homer, and prevailed on him to treatm them better than perhaps they deserved; for he soon found they wanted a Genius to enter into the spirit of a Poet. But Aristotle was out of all Patience with the Account I gave him of Scotus and Ramus, as I presented them to him; and he asked them whether the rest of the Tribe were as great Dunces as themselves.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Argument for the Formal Distinction

I was leafing through my copy of Summula Philosophiae Scholasticae by J.S. Hickey (Dublin, 1912), and in volume 1, page 315, I came across the following passage in a long footnote given in English. It's attributed to a Jesuit named Rickaby, but there's no complete bibliographical citation. As far as I can tell - it's a little unclear - it's from a book called First Principles of Knowledge:

The Scotists within what, as a thing, is undifferenced, profess to find actually different "realities," which they also call "formalitates." . . . The individual man, Peter, is one undifferenced object, yet the individuality, considered formally as the individuality is not the humanity considered formally as the humanity. Hence the Scotists argue that there must be some real difference between them a parte rei, in the object itself: it need not be a difference between thing and thing, but at least it is a difference between a real formality and another real formality in one thing. Their opponents deny that the conclusion follows from the premises: they affirm that our method of abstracting one aspect from another is such, that two different aspects can be taken of an object which in itself presents no real distinction of its own, to correspond with that which we mentally make. Of itself it offers to the mind a ground for drawing the distinction, but it does not do more. There is then a virtual distinction, but there is not an actual one. This explanation seems intelligibly to meet all the requirements of the case: whereas the Scotist distinction between res and realitas is an enigma, which its proposers have no right to force upon our acceptance. Either they mean no more than our explanation admits, or if they do mean more the addition is not acceptable. For it would drive us to suppose, that whenever the weakness of our intelligence obliges us to conceive an object by a succession of ideas, one of which does not include the notes contained in another, there we come across some actual distinction in the object conceived. A doctrine which fits in better with a sound system of philosophy is, that what in itself is undistinguished is to us distinguishable by mental abstraction.

This is a pretty fair account of the formal distinction and sounds like a pretty fair critique. The problem that I have with it is twofold:

1) First, the notion of the "undistinguished in itself" which nevertheless provides a "ground" for the distinction of reason, which in the thing remains "virtual", is specious. Either Socrates' humanity and Socrateity are in every respect absolutely identical, or they are not. If so, what is the "ground" in the thing for distinguishing between them in abstraction? If not, and if all agree that Socrates' humanity and his individuating factor cannot be separated and are not really distinct, then we need some intermediate distinction.

2) I deny that the Scotist distinction between res and realitas is an enigma. On the contrary, it is quite clear. Socrates is one and self-identical. Socrateity and humanity in Socrates are not altogether and in every respect the same. Socrateity is of itself individual; humanity is common. Socrateity exists only in Socrates; humanity exists both in Socrates and in Plato. While it is the case that humanity is inseparable from Socrateity, in the sense that this particular instance of humanity cannot exist apart from Socrates, because Socrates without this humanity is not Socrates, just as Socrates without Socrateity is not Socrates, nevertheless humanity as a common nature, as existing both in Socrates and in Plato - and it does not belong to humanity as common and as a specific formal ratio to belong to Socrates, but only insofar as it is also a this, which is outside its formal ratio and provided precisely by the additional determination of its individuating factor - it can and does exist outside of Socrates. Therefore this really existing humanity in Socrates and the individuating formal factor in Socrates cannot be separated in reality, and yet they are not wholly identical, but are distinct to the extent just explained, and so are distinct in this sense prior to any consideration by the intellect. So they are formally distinct.

Similarly, the poem the Iliad is a single intelligible matter (this collection of words) with a single intelligible form (this arrangement of those words). Within this poem many formal realities can be distinguished, examined individually, and considered apart from one another. For instance, the character of Achilles is not the same thing as the plot of the poem as a whole; neither is the same as the style of the poem; nor are any of these identical with the hexametric rhythm. All of these - the character of Achilles, the plot, the style, the rhythm - pervade the poem and are in some sense present in all its parts (Achilles' character is present throughout, for instance, as the (proximate or remote) efficient and final causes of most of the action, even when he's not onstage). None of these elements are really distinct from these words in this order, nor consequently from each other. However, they are clearly not all absolutely identical with each other either. None of them could be removed from the Iliad without destroying the poem; but any of them can exist somewhere else without the others. As this, as actually existing in this poem, they necessarily coeexist; as considered as formal ratios in themselves, they need not necessarily coeexist. For instance, the style is almost inevitably lost, along with the hexametric rhythm, in a translation which retains the plot and the character. Or a new poem could be written containing the character of Achilles, but not the plot; or the same plot could be recycled with different characters, and so on. This clearly shows that the distinction between these different elements is not purely a product a product of my mind, but rather my mind's distinguishing follows from what in the poem is already distinct.

We don't posit the formal distinction, then, because the "weakness of our intellect obliges" us to conceive of things as different which are really inseparable; but because our intellect grasps the different realities which, although in the thing as individually existing are really and inseparably identical, are not wholly identical and may in some circumstances, in another individually existing thing, exist apart.

In the main text Hickey, after giving another summary account of the formal distinction, says, along with a quote from someone else named Liberatore (I'm clearly not completely up on my manualist writers):

Atvero invenire . . . quamdam tertiam distinctionem, subtilius est quam quod intelligi possit. Porro, "haec opinio . . . est vana et periculosa. Est vana, quia ad distinguenda ea, propter quae adstruitur, sufficit distinctio rationis cum fundamento in re. Est autem periculosa, quia, quum istae formalitates a natura rei proponantur ut totidem distinctae perfectiones, officit simplicitati divinae naturae."

I translate:

And they find a certain third distinction, unthinkably subtle. Yet "this opinion is vain and dangerous. Vain, because a distinction of reason with a foundation in the thing is sufficient to distinguish those on account of which it is added. Dangerous, because, since those formalities are proposed as being on the side of the nature of thing, as so many distinct perfections, it impedes the simplicity of the divine nature."

Of course, from our point of view, and as we have argued here and elsewhere many, many times, the beauty of the formal distinction is precisely that, without positing any composition whatsoever in God, it serves to render meaningless any difficulties that might arise from positing an absolute identity between, say, the intellect and will in God. Because the formalities are not really distinct - they are not, for instance, different parts - they don't detract from perfect and complete simplicity. But because they do not formally include one another and so are not absolutely and in every respect identical, it is possible, for instance, that God understands something which he does not create, or understands necessarily what he creates contingently.

More on the formal distinction, among other places, here.