Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Robert Barron on Univocity and Voluntarism

Fr. Robert Barron recently made the following comment on this blog post, in the comments of which there was some discussion of the link between univocity and voluntarism in Scotus.

I would like to respond to the charge that I “erred” in linking Scotus’s voluntarism to his univocal conception of being. There is indeed a strong connection between the two. Once God is construed as one being, however supreme, among many, then the metaphysical links that tie creatures to God are severed and therefore the relation between us and God is established primarily through will. To see the details of the argument, I’d recommend my book The Priority of Christ, but that’s the very real connection between voluntarism and a univocal conception of being.

Now, I have written on fr. Barron before, but since he is so influential in popular catholicsm I think his views need to be addressed again since it is clear he will continue to misrepresent Scotus' views by relying on postmodernist jargon that avoids dealing with Scotus' arguments. To see the effects of this view in action, simply read "Nick's" review of Fr. Barron's book mentioned in his quotation at google books.  Nick gives an extremely bad "narrative" (I put this in quotation marks because it is the sort of word these people like, even though it is inherently relativistic and only shows them to be compromised by the very "secular values" they so decry in Scotus), despite his having studied the book directly with the author.

So lets review Fr. Barron's The Priority of Christ, with special attention to the relation between univocity and voluntarism. First, some quotations.

(p.  12-13):

There have in recent years been numerous accounts of the etiology of modernity. Jurgen Habermas, Hans Urs von Balthasar, John Milbank, Colin Gunton, and Louis Dupre, among many others, have offered explanations of the transition from the premodern to the modern. I subscribe to the proposal that liberal modernity can best be seen as an energetic reaction to a particular and problemaitc version of nominalist Christianity. Early modernity saw itself as a salutary response to oppressive and obscurantist strains in Christian culture, but since it was reacting to a corruption of true Christianity, it itself became similarly distorted and exaggerated. As a result the two systems settled into a centuries-long and terribly unproductive warfare. Even when the two attempted a reconciliation (as in all forms of liberal Christianity in the past two centuries), the results were less than satisfactory, precisely because each party was itself a sort of caricature.

The trouble began with Duns Scotus's option for a univocal conception of being in contradistinction to Thomas Aquinas's analogical understanding. For Thomas, God, as the sheer act of to-be itself (ipsum esse subsistens), is that through which all creatures exist. What follows epistemologically from this metaphysical claim is that the meaning of "to-be," in reference to God and creatures, must be analogical, with God as primary analogue and created things as secondary. In accord with this intuitition, Aquinas maintained consistently throughout his career that God is inescapably mysterious to the human intellect, since our frame of reference remains the creaturely mode of existence, which bears only an analogical resemblance to the divine mode of being. We may say that God exists, but we're not quite sure what we mean when we say it; the "cash value" of the claim that God exists is that there is a finally mysterious source of the to-be of finite things.

In an effort to make the to-be of God more immediately intelligibile, Duns Scotus proposed a univocal conception of existence, according to which God and creatures belong to the same basic metaphysical category, the genus of being. Though God is infinite and therefore quantitatively superior to any creature or collectivity of creatures, there is nevertheless no qualitative difference, in the metaphysical sense, bewteen the supreme being, God, and finite beings. Whereas Aquinas insisted that God is categorizable in no genus whatsover, Scotus held that God and creatures do belong together to a logical category, that in a real sense, transcends and includes them. The implications of this shift are enormous and, to my mind, almost entirely negative. If the analogical conception of being is rejected, creatures are no longer seen as participating in the divine to-be; instead, God and creatures are appreciated as existing side by side, as beings of varying types and degrees of intensity. Furthermore, unanchored from their shared participation in God, no longer grounded in a common source, creatures lose their essential connectedness to one another. Isolated and self-contained individuals (God the supreme being and them any creatures) are now what is most basically real

Scotus's intuition was confirmed a generation later by his Franciscan successor William of Occam. Congruent with his nominalism, which denied ontological density to the unifying features of being, Occam held that there is nothing real outside of disconnected individual things (praeter illas partes absolutas nulla res est). As for Scotus so for Occam, God and creatures are set side by side, joined only through a convention of logic that assigns them to the category of "beings". A consequence of this conception is that God and finite things have to be rivals, since their individualities are contrastive and mutually exclusive. Just as a chair is itself precisely in the measure that it is no other creaturely thing, so God is himself only inasmuch as he stands over and against the world he has made, and vice versa. Whereas in Aquinas's participation metaphysics the created universe is constituted by its rapport with God, on Occam's reading it must realize itself through disassociation from a competitive supreme being. A further concomitant of this indivdualistic ontology is voluntarism. Since the metaphysically dense and natural link between God and creatures has been attenuated, any connection betwen the divine and the nondivine has to be through will. God's relation with his rational creatures is therefore legalistic and arbitrary. This understanding of divine power influenced Occam's conception of the human will as well. Finite freedom is, for him, absolute spontaneity, an action prorpted by nothing either interior or exterior to the subject. Accordingly, human power is a distant mirror of divine power: both are self-contained, capricious, absolute, and finally irrational. The most obvious practical consquence of this nominalist and voluntarist metaphysics is that divine and human freedom find themselves pitted against one another, God imposing himself arbitrarily on a necessarily reluctant and resentful humanity.

Both Martin Luther and John Calvin were formed according to the principales of late-medieval nominalism ...

[p. 193 repeats basically the same regarding univocity. Note that here the category that God and creatures allegedly share is a metaphysical one]

[p. 194]

"God" becomes but the collectivity of creatures considered as a totality. In this sense, modern pantheism is the logical fulfillment of Scotus' adoption of a univocal conception of being: God and the world can be spoken of univocally because there is finally no difference between them

[p. 202, following a quote from William James]

How like Scotus's claim that God and creatures are both beings, though the former is infinite and the latter finite, one the biggest part, the other smaller parts. God, in sum, is a being among others, capable of influencing lower relaitites without comporomising them, exisiting in the same universe as they and subject to the same metaphysical constraints.

Summary of Barron's position:
1. There are bad things that happened in the past that influence the present.
2. There is a popular narrative held by popular theologians that lays the blame for the clash of Christianity and modernity at Scotus' door.

Barron's statement of Scotus' position:

1. Scotus proposed a univocal conception of existence.
2. He did this to make God more intelligible.
3. On Scotus' view, God and creatures share the same metaphysical category, the genus of being.
4. God is infinite and quantitatively superior to creatures, but there is no qualitative difference between God and creatures "in the metaphysical sense".
5. Scotus held that God and creatures are contained in a logical category that transcends them.

Barrons's view of the consequences of Scotus' position:

1. If the analogical world-view is rejected, creatures no longer are seen as participating in the divine "to-be".
2. God and creatures are "appreciated" side by side, as beings among beings, differing only by degrees and intensity.
3. Once participation is gone, creatures are no longer connected to each other.
4. The "most basically real" becomes isolated and self-contained individuals.
5. As a result of their being individuals, God and creatures somehow become rivals.
6. Voluntarism: "Since the metaphysically dense and natural link between God and creatures has been attenuated, any connection betwen the divine and the nondivine has to be through will".  I'm not sure, but this "link" must be participation.
7. A laundry list of the usual alleged bad effects of voluntarism: capriciousness, problems with freedom, law, etc.

Contra Robert Barron:

Some general observations:

*Fr. Barron cites only pomo theologians, no primary sources; so in the end it is an argument from authority.
*Scotus, Aquinas, and Ockham aren't interested in "intuitions" but arguments.
*I'm not sure, but fr. Barron might be assuming that all the scholastics had a common, shared view on existence. But this is not the case, for Aquinas' views were quite idiosyncratic and controversial at the time.  Remember Scotus' comment from Ord. IV: "I know not that fiction that states that essence and existence are really distinct" or somesuch.
*For much of what I will say I rely on my previous posts in the fundamenta series wherein I quote and explain Scotus' views on univocity.

Against Barron's statement of Scotus' position:

(1). False. Scotus proposed a univocal concept of being, a concept which does not correspond to any external, extramental reality. As Richard Cross likes to say, it is a "vicious abstraction". See the fundamenta posts for the arguments that Scotus uses to establish this. He didn't just propose it, he thought he had arguments to support it.

(2). False.  Scotus did it to ensure that the arguments that theologians make about God don't commit the fallacy of equivocation. Scotus is quite up front about this in Ord. I d. 3.

(3.) False. Scotus says directly the opposite in Ord. I d. 8 q. 3 (ed. Vat. IV, ca. p. 200). A metaphysical category would be a real extramental category (Barron can't make up his mind whether God and creatures share a metaphysical or logical category).  But everyone since Aristotle agreed that being can't be a genus. Scotus also agreed with this.  Scotus thinks that if being were a genus that contained God and creatures divine simplicity would be compromised because God there would be a reality for the genus (being) and another reality for the specific difference (divine).

(4.) This one I don't understand. I suppose infinity was often thought of in quantitative terms, but in Scotus it is an intrinsic mode of the divine essence and he conceives of it (ie. infinity qua intrinsic mode) on the model of quality, which admits of degrees. But to say that in the metaphysical sense there is no qualitative difference between God and creatures is simply false.

(5). False. Scotus denies that God and creatures are both contained in a category. See above (1) and (3).

So there you have it. All of Fr. Barron's statements about Scotus' actual position are false.  Consequences are a nasty business, as they basically amount to character assassination by blaming Scotus for Ockham.  But we could just as easily blame Aquinas for Scotus, and therefore also for Ockham.  I will comment on some of the consequences.

Against Barron's "Consequences"

(1). Scotus never rejected analogy. As one can read in the fundamenta post on univocity, Scotus argues for a concept that is "not only analogical but univocal". So he accepts analogical concepts as well as univocal concepts. Also, Scotus never rejects participation.  And in any case, analogy is a doctrine about terms, while participation is a metaphysical doctrine. So while they may be connected, I don't think they are necessarily so.

(2). I don't know what "appreciated" means here. But yes, Scotus thinks God and creatures differ by degrees: infinite ones.

(3.) Scotus doesn't deny participation. Also, participation is in God, not in other creatures. Creatures are connected only insofar as they share the same form. I suppose one could say humans participate in the species-form of humanity.

(4). Um, but that's true. I don't know about the "isolated" part, but everything enjoying actual, extramental existence presumably is an individual (I'm not a platonist, I confess).

(5) Nonsense.

(6) This is what Fr. Barron's blog post that I quoted above was about. But since Barron already thinks that univocity makes God just a being among beings, it seems more plausible that we would have much greater access to and knowledge of God, and so we wouldn't have to rely purely on his will to know what to do.  But if this won't do, note that the claim seems to be about the loss of participation.  But I already pointed out, Scotus doesn't deny participation, nor does he deny analogy.

Lee Faber's prescription for dealing with modern chaos in theology: develop a post-theological Christian theology. We can do this by
(1)  getting rid of inherently relativized terms such as "culture","value", "narrative", "genealogy", and so on, and talk about arguments.
(2) Reading primary sources.


Marty said...

Hey Lee,

Excellent stuff mate. It's incredible how the intepretation of Western history that Barron follows still has adherents when it's been soundly refuted by so many people (both Protestant and Catholic!).



Michael Sullivan said...

Fr. Barron cites only pomo theologians, no primary sources; so in the end it is an argument from authority. . . . All of Fr. Barron's statements about Scotus' actual position are false.

This is a really damning indictment, not only of Fr Barron's work but of the whole body of scholarship he's depending on. No one but the most narrow ultra-specialist can read all of the primary sources connected to everything one might want to speak about. But if the entire body of scholarship of the tradition one's working within fails to give even basically accurate accounts of the rudiments of the positions one is discussing, then any kind of general claims are simply impossible.

Sadly, for the people writing the sorts of books you're discussing, any kind of general claims that can be taken seriously are impossible. So much of what people say about Scotus (and about medieval philosophy and theology, and by extension philosophy and theology which relies on reason) is simply bullshit, in the technical sense (http://press.princeton.edu/titles/7929.html).

The thing that baffles my mind is, if Scotus is so hard that people can't read him carefully to find out what he thinks - and Scotus is hard, enormously hard - why don't people just refrain from talking about him? Even if people don't think there's much intrinsic value there, why don't they just shut up about it? It's clearly because of this driving need to make one's case in the form of a historical narrative that wraps up all the problems of thought in a tidy package which doesn't itself require actual thinking to handle and deal with.

As you say, the biggest problem with the continental tradition as a whole is its lack of real arguments. This makes rapport between it and the scholastic tradition extremely difficult, since the scholastic tradition proceeds almost entirely by way of argument.

I agree completely with your prescription of reading primary sources. I'm tempted to coin an aphorism parallel to Newman's "To be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant", along the lines of "To be deep in primary sources is to cease to be a postmodernist". Sadly I'm not sure this is true. Perhaps if all one received in school was a pomo hammer then everything will continue to look like a pomo nail, no matter how much of it you have.

For myself I've spent an exponentially greater amount of time reading Thomas, Scotus, Bonaventure, Ockham, Henry, Godfrey and so on than I have reading scholarship about them. The way these contemporaries of mine think, about theology and philosophy themselves, but also about the figures I spend my time actually reading, is strange and foreign to me, and usually either boring or risible too. Sadly, to my mind the best scholarship these days is of the map and guidebook, not the landscape painting, variety, since the former, though dull, is at least likely to give some helpful orientation through land I intend to travel myself. I don't have your fortitude, Faber, in wading through stuff like Fr Barron's.

Lee Faber said...

Yes, it would be far more interesting to actually talk about whether Scotus' arguments work than to argue about narratives and who caused the reformation, or whether or not one can be a good catholic without being a thomist. Thomists as a group seem to be more impressed by authority than arguments (obviously there are exceptions).

RP said...

Reading primary sources is fine for specialists in one or another field of philosophy but for others it's impossible. We have to rely on the specialists to tell us what Scotus and Thomas and others said, what it means, what is true, what is false, how it affects our lives. For us, the only argument is the one from authority and the only question is: who can be trusted.

Michael Sullivan said...

RP, I'm not sure what you're saying is true. An intelligent and diligent student can read far, far more primary sources than is commonly done, and rely less on textbooks. There will always be a place for general surveys and scholarly tools, but I think in academia today overuse of them is the problem rather than excessive devotion to and acquaintance with the core texts.

Of course, as I admitted before, Scotus is enormously hard and most people never will or can read him well. That's why I indicted not merely Fr Barron but the whole terrible range of scholarship he's relying on to tell him about Scotus. His sources have clearly let him down.

Who can be trusted? For Scotus, the answer today is, only Scotus specialists. General medievalists have not thoroughly absorbed the scholarship of the last fifty years and have almost certainly not read Scotus, and sweeping narrative-theologians most certainly have done neither. Furthermore, few but the specialists have even mastered the vocabulary and thought-patterns necessary to approach Scotus - they don't even read Aquinas well, who is far easier.

Who can be trusted? When it comes to theology and the history of theology and the relation of theology to philosophy, as a Catholic, I have to reluctantly say, no one after Vatican II can be trusted without serious scrutiny. Without falling into schismatical territory - I don't deny the validity of the Council! - it's unquestionable that mainstream theology after the Council became more concerned with 20th century thought than with the first 19 centuries, with a consequent distortion of its perception of the whole tradition. If I want a modern perspective on a theological point, my first point of call is my copy of the 1962 Sacrae Theologiae Summa, perhaps the last of the great manuals to both take advantage of modern scholarship and tools and to be rooted in the scholastic tradition. For philosophy, I will start by reading the books myself, and use a scholarly tool to help me understand what is being said, not to absorb an overarching narrative about what is being said.

Again, if someone doesn't want to or can't read Scotus, and doesn't want to find out or can't tell who the reliable scholars are who have actually read and understood Scotus - which leaves out people like John Milbank and his crew, as far as one can tell - one always has the option to not talk about him.

RP said...


Thanks for your response.

But I'm not talking about students or those in academia, but farmers, masons, salesmen (or in my case retired military and then retired computer programmer). And, too, much of Scotus is not yet in English. And even if it were I couldn't afford to buy the books.

For Aquinas there is Pieper, or Gilson, or even Maritain and many others that are pretty reliable and helpful in understanding what Aquinas wrote (I've read much of it - in translation); there is not many that have done the same for Scotus and even fewer for other medieval thinkers.

I will say I find The Smithy reliable and trustworthy and have even come to accept some of Scotus' thought.

Michael Sullivan said...


I see what you're saying. It's true that most of Scotus isn't translated and that there are few popular presentations of his thought, none on the level of the better works by Gilson or Maritain or Pieper. There's a lot of historical reasons for that which we've talked about occasionally here, but there's also the fact that Scotus is a very different kind of thinker than Aquinas is and maybe not as apt to be digested for non-academic readers.

But, again, if one realizes that one doesn't have the wherewithal to speak about non-Thomistic medieval thought, one could simply remain silent. I don't expect popular catechists and evangelists to go out and become technical specialists. Nor do I want to disrespect Fr Barron's (as far as I can tell) laudable intentions. But there is a point at which one should know one's limits and stop making claims.

For us here all the Scotus-bashing is a bit like hearing someone say that Newman preached the evolution of doctrine and is largely responsible for the creep of modernism into Catholic theology. Those of us who have read Newman know very well that he fought against modernism and that his development of doctrine has nothing to do with evolution. People should know better.

Brandon said...

I think one could argue that Catholics should refrain from criticizing important doctors of the Church, especially the beatified and canonized, except where they themselves have in hand specific evidence about where they go wrong (in which case they should present it so the evidence speaks for itself). God knows the major theologian-saints get enough unfounded criticism without Catholics themselves contributing to it.

What generally bothers me about these sweeping narrative claims is not the narratives themselves, since I think there is a genuine place for that sort of thing, but that, even when they don't get things grossly wrong, they degenerate easily into mere chains of association (and become, as here, arguments for guilt by association, where the association is some tenuous line of influence among tens of thousands you could pick out). As Lee says, it becomes quite arbitrary: why blame Scotus in particular given that he wasn't sitting there telling Ockham or Luther what to argue, and that so many of his views are obviously inconsistent with theirs?

Lee Faber said...

An increasing number of Scotus' works are becoming available in translation, from Franciscan Insitute Publications:


They have Book one of the Reportatio, and the Complete questions on the Metaphysics. Translations of complete works are a little expensive, but there are a number of shorter selections that are affordably priced.

Michael Sullivan said...

Brandon, I agree with you completely.

Anonymous said...

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Chance said...

I agree with both Dr. Sullivan and Dr. Watson, but I think there is a genuine place for narrative in intellectual history. Now, of course, I am familiar with the famous Kantian dictum that doing the history of philosophy is not the same as doing philosophy itself. But there might be something lacking in this marginalization of the history of ideas. Much of pomo philosophy was based on a particular narrative. We see this in Heidegger, Derrida, Foucault, et al. Now we can point to individual chapters of their narratives and quibble with their accuracy, but, like Dr. Watson, I see genuine good in trying to provide a narrative. From a Catholic perspective, for instance, something has to explain the advent of things like the Reformation, the so-called Enlightenment, the Nazi regime, etc. I would be interested to see a prescribed method for accounting for the development of historical ideas. I think we all agree that ideas have consequences, but there might be some disagreement regarding the methodological elucidation of these consequences.

Anonymous said...

As graduate student in political theory who has just begun following this site, I find myself nonplussed by the denigration of narrative here. To complain about its prevalence in pomo won't just do; it's NOT a venture solely confined to the work of Continental philosophers practicing genealogy, but a core part of the philosophical discipline. And that includes me. I'm interested in the influence of scholastic thought upon early modernity, not only its influence on the reformation, but as it relates to philosophical developments in metaphysics, ethics, and political theory in early modernity. Until recently, the books I've read have indicted Scotus for his voluntarism. (For examples in Political Theory, see Michael Allen Gillispie's Theological Origins of Modernity and Jean Bethke Elshtain's Sovereignty: God, State, and Self. Both are narratives about the rise of modernity that begin with Scotus as departing from Aquinas in significant ways and Ockham radicalizing these themes further.) It wasn't until I came across David Bentley Hart's Beauty of the Infinite, which briefly addresses the misplaced attribution to Scotus of the univocity of being as an alternative to analogy, that lead me to investigate the accuracy of these claims. But not all are so fortunate and these histories are being increasingly read and widely circulated beyond theological circles. And for good reason: the West has been facing a crisis for nigh a century now. In order to understand this, to understand itself, it needs to look into the past. Bemoaning a focus on narrative over careful argumentation does nothing to address this.

So then if you want to vindicate Scotus and set the record straight, more than a corrective for each problematical narrative is needed: an alternative one needs to be advanced. Merely clarifying his thought each time it is maligned is insufficient. How did Scotus differ from Aquinas? How did this influence Ockham? What was it about the legacy of scholasticism that lead to its abandonment by the early moderns? What had these moderns internalized from it (e.g. nominalism/conceptualism, voluntarism, etc.)? How did these intellectual developments interplay with political and social developments (e.g. the rise of science, emerging commercialism, power struggles between Church and state, etc.)? Of course you cannot answer all of the questions given the focus of your work--though I would think with a philosopher and a historian on this sight, insight could be gleamed into at least one of them, if not a full answer--but that doesn't render these questions unimportant. Rather, these questions draw people toward these moments and thinkers. The exposure to the material from a historical vantage has lead me to consider Aquinas' work on his own terms, of which I have begun reading. Similarly, I plan to eventually read many of the other scholastics as well (after I learn Latin). The point is that if you want people to seriously consider scholastics and if you unfortunately don't care about historical narrative, then use narrative as a foil to draw them into reconsidering scholastic thought on its own terms. Otherwise, most people, as I once did, will look at your work and think of it as a morbid preoccupation with extinct theories, rather than high philosophy unparalleled by anything in the last five hundred years.

Lee Faber said...


You wrote " I would be interested to see a prescribed method for accounting for the development of historical ideas"

I would like to see this too. I think this is what is lacking on the contemporary scene. I wasn't attacking the older sense of narrative as say a sequence of events. Clearly, for undergrads or beginniners or what not, one needs to relate a basic sequence of events, whether political or philosophical. What I object to is the lack of explanation for the causality of tehse events and teh sense of narrative that assumes that truth is unattainable, so we tell each other stories and because that's what the human experience is limited to.

Lee Faber said...

So on this view, "theology" isn't a "scientific" discipline as the scholastics say, but the stories about how we relate our experiences to the wadnering of the hebrews in the desert (Brad Gergory) or perhaps the story of how minorities experience catholicism.

Lee Faber said...

I would also like to comment on the Hahn/Barron video at the link in my post.

In the video, Fr. Barron equates participation with theosis, or seemed to do so. But clearly, they are distinct. All created beings participate in God, but the damned do not share in theosis. Consequently, even if Scotus rejected participation (he doesn't), this would not require him to reject theosis as well.

Lee Faber said...


Actually, I think a focus on arguments could solve some of the problems the west is facing. Relativism is certainly a big problem in the west right now, and relativism can be refuted by means of arguments. My dislike of narrative and the complaints I make of it are that as it is used by the post modernist crowd it seems to me to be inherently relativistic.

As far as I can gather, "what happened" in medieval philosophy, or, if you prefer, my "coutner-narrative", is that a. Thomas was not considered to be authoritative by anyone other than dominicans during the middle ages, and that the dominicans were interested in using thomas to further political control of the church.

During the late middle ages, there were three schools, who in teh 15th century began a perhaps titannic clash known as the "wegenstreit", the controvery of the ways. this controversy was never resolved. Luther was educate in one of these ways. but all three, including independent authors such as durandus and giles of rome, were incorparted into early protestant scholasticism.

In catholic circles, the nominalist school doesn't seem to have survived the council of trent. the scotist school doesn't seem to have survived the upheaval of the french revolution, napoleanic wars, and the french revolution. in the mid to late 19th century, there was a reaction in catholic circles to modern philosophy, and thomas began to be sutdied again. (continued)

Lee Faber said...

thomas was ideal for such a revival, because he is easier than the other scholastics, and was certainly the clearest writer of the lot. So it was natural to rely heavily on thomas during this early reaction to modern philosophy and to continue to do so later in the century. Leo XIII's encyclical made thomism mandatory, for teachers at catholic universities and seminaries. At this point, thomism was triumphant all other schools were banished, and we have all the horrors of neo scholasticism that we've all heard about. I see a revolution around the time of vatican two against neo thomism (perhaps using the council as an excuse), and much of catholic history sense on the intellectual plane seems to me to be struggles between modernists and vanguard actions of the thomists. I think all of this could have been avoided had the openness (within some bounds, of course) of the medieval university could have been revived. I dont' think any school should have been given prominence, because of their behavior during the wegenstriet (they all would ban each other from universities once they gained control of them).

Lee Faber said...

My own work then I see as trying to lay out the path not taken in catholic thought in the twentieth century: the scotist tradition. However, the scotist tradition is hightly techinical and difficult, hence all the posts on obscure topics. But I myself am attempting to explore what happened after Scotus, what influence he actually had and what the relation between his ideas, Ockham's and Aquinas actually was.

Mark said...

I am a new philosophy grad student, doing an M.A. program, and I myself have been wondering about the importance of the history of philosophy. Here are a few of my thoughts, feel free to tell me why I am wrong (or right).

I can see why history of philosophy is important. Generally speaking, history is itself important. So, you can be a historian, and instead of focusing on the history of technology (for example), you can focus on the history of philosophy, by which is meant the history of philosophers and what they have said, etc.

I can even see why history of philosophy is instrumentally good, for philosophical arguments and philosophical truths arrived at by argument. Being acquainted with what good philosophers have written just does give you things that help when doing philosophy: good arguments, subtle considerations, revealing distinctions, truths which you didn't previously know, etc.

BUT, I don't see how history of philosophy is itself (as history) necessary to doing philosophy. Can't someone be a philosopher without knowing much of anything about the history of philosophy?


Marty said...

Hey Lee,

I took the time to watch that Hahn interview to which you have a link. I find it quite unacceptable.

1. Hahn's understanding of the via moderna is out of date, and unaware of the work of people like Obermann and William Courtenay et. al.

2. The link between the via moderna and Protestantism is highly tenuous not least because not all the reformers were voluntarists! Some of them were Thomists (Bucer, Zanchi etc.). Witness also someone like Wyclif who was an extreme realist.

Hahn seems spellbound by Louis Bouyer's rendition of the Western tradition, which is well out of date.