Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Aufredus Gonteri on the Modes of Creaturely Being

The following is a snippet from Gonteri's commentary on the Lombard. Gonteri was a Franciscan from Brittany, and lectured on the Sentences at Barcelona and Paris in the 1320's. His commentary is a good example of the practice of reading the Sentences 'secundum alium', that is copying other scholars' commentaries into one's own.  Gonteri takes material from thinkers such as Henry of Harclay, Francis of Marchia, and Gerard Odonis.  This is illustrated by the question on modes of creaturely being; see Duba-Friedman-Schabel, "Henry of Harclay and Aufredo Gonteri Brito,"  in Medieval Comm. on the Sent. of Peter Lombard, p. 304

Gonteri includes (at least) 15 questions from Gerard of Odonis's commentary on Book II. We have edited Odonis's Book II, dist. 1, part 1, qu. 2, which corresponds to Gonteri's Book II, dist. I, qu. 22. Again, Gonteri's choice is impressive, since this question asks "whether before its creation a creature has any being distinct from the being of its cause," and Odonis outlines nine sorts of being that a creature has before creation, in addition to the one being it receives at creation itself. Of the over 300 lines of text in this realist question, Gonteri copies verbatim about 35%, except for transitional statements where he abbreviates, saying for example, et sic de aliis. These ten modes of being are explained in the first 35% of the question, of which Gonteri copies a full 70%. In the second 35% of the question Odonis presents and responds to some objections; Gonteri omits this section entirely. Gonteri then abbreviates heavily in the last 30% of the question, incorporating only about 30% of that section.

Here are the ten modes:

Aufredus Gonteri, Ordinatio/Compilatio super II Sententiarum d. 1 q. 22 (Pamplona, Archivo de la Catedral, Ms. 5, f. 18vb):

Circa solutionem questionis est primo videndum de modis essendi creature ante sui creationem, circa quod sciendum quod creatura habet ante sui creationem 9 modos, et accipit unum per creationem et tunc* sunt X. Primus est esse producibile et potentiale, secundus esse ydeale, tertius esse intelligibile, quartus esse intellectum, quintus esse voluntabile, sextus esse volutum, septimus esse possibile, octavus esse positivum, nonus esse quidditativum, decimus quem per creationem accipit esse positum.

Concerning the solution of the question, first we must treat of the modes of being of a creature before its creation; concerning which it should be known that a creature has nine modes of being before its creation, and it receives one through creation and then there are ten. The first is producible and potential being, the second ideal being, the third intelligible being, the fourth understood being, the fifth willable being, the sixth willed being, the seventh possible being, the eighth positive being, the ninth quidditative being, the tenth which it receives through creation is posited(?) being

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Walter Chatton on Divine Ideas and Representation

These are just notes for myself for an article I'm working on. Enjoy. I think this is inconsistent with holding, as Chatton does, Scotus' Propositio famosa.
Walter Chatton, Reportatio I d. 35 q. 2 (ed. Wey-Etzkorn, vol. 2, 318)

Tertium dubium: quae sit necessitas ponendi, an ad cognoscendum, vel ad producendum, vel ad exemplificandum, vel ad mensurandum? – Dico quod quolibet istorum modorum, modo supra exposito. Nam essentia est ad cuius similitudinem et imitationem res producitur, cognitio autem divina sic est idea quod repraesentat creaturam etc.

Sed nonne essentia divina absolute accepta repraesentat creaturas? – Dico quod sic, quia essentia divina est cognitio divina. Sed si per contradictionem cognitio divina distingueretur ab essentia, cognitio tunc divina repraesentaret omnes res cognoscibiles, et non sic essentia, nisi virtualiter, sicut tunc contineret cognitionem; nam adhuc tunc eo ipso quod esset cognitio perfecta et comprehensiva essentiae, esset infinita, et ita omnis cognoscibilis.

The third doubt: what is the necessity of positing, whether for knowing or producing or for exemplifying or for measuring? I say that in whatever of those ways, in the way explained above. For the essence is to the likeness and imitation of which a thing is produced, divine cognition however is an idea quod represents a creature, etc.

But does not the divine essence understood absolutely represent creatures? I say that it does, because the divine essene is divine cognition. But if by a contradiction [ie. impossibile hypothesis] the divine cognition would be distinguished from the essence, then divine cognition would represent all knowable things, and not so the essence, unless virtually, just as then it would contain cognition; for still by the fact that it would be a perfect and comprehensive cognition of the essence it would be infinite, and so of every knowable thing.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Men Great and Mediocre

"I wish I could make clear from the very beginning that in criticizing great men, as I shall do, I am very far from forgetting what made them truly great. No man can fall a victim to his own genius unless he has genius; but those who have none are fully justified in refusing to be victimized by the genius of others. Not having made the mathematical discoveries of Descartes and Leibniz, we cannot be tempted to submit all questions to the rules of mathematics; but our very mediocrity should at least help us to avoid such a mistake. There is more than one excuse for being a Descartes, but there is no excuse whatever for being a Cartesian."

—Etienne Gilson, The Unity of Philosophical Experience (New York: Scribners, 1937), 7.

Divine Simplicity II: Divine Attributes

This post covers another aspect of divine simplicity, namely, how it can be reconciled with a plurality of divine attributes. This problem itself is an expression of the more general problem of the relation between divine transcendence and human language. Divine simplicity is one way to ensure that God is unlike everything in the created world, for it is, after all, a negative doctrine: God is not composed, does not have parts, etc.

The scholastics came up with three solutions to the problem. The first was largely semantic. God is so transcendent and ineffable that he cannot be grasped by human thought or captured by human language. Divine attributes, such as wisdom and justice, are all one in God; when these are predicated of God, they signify primarily the divine essence as one. But there is also a secondary sense of these terms, which connotes the created realm as an effect of God. Only in the second sense are they considered distinct. Most of the twelfth-century thinkers held this view, and it was revived by Ockham and Auriol in the fourteenth century.

The second solution was primarily concerned with elaborating the role of the human intellect. Divine attributes are distinct only as a result of the operation of the intellect (that there are divine attributes is generally assumed based on the Dionysian via eminentiae). The intellect is too weak on its own in its present state to directly grasp God, so it requires a plurality of concepts. This plurality of concepts corresponds to the plurality of attributes. This second solution was authored by Bonaventure and Aquinas; or, more accurately, Bonaventure sketched it out and Aquinas developed it more fully. But he could never make up his mind about it, and one of his students that held one of his views was secretly investigated, and in general, Aquinas' changing views caused lots of problems for his would-be followers (such as, what "causes" the attributes, how can the divine essence be the fundamentum in re, is a "ratio" just a concept in the human mind or does it have an objective correlate in God?). So we will omit any further discussion of Aquinas. And in any case, Aquinas is irrelevant for understanding Scotus on this issue.

The relevant thinkers are Henry of Ghent and Godfrey of Fontaines (and, to a lesser extent, Thomas of Sutton). Henry has very complicated views on attributes, and they probably do a lot more work in his system than any other medieval thinker I know. For our purposes here, it suffices to note that Henry had a view regarding the origin of the attributes similar to Scotus' theory of instants of nature (see all the posts labeled "intelligible being"). Henry basically applies the three acts of the intellect from the Aristotelian commentary tradition to God. So we have an instant of simple apprehension in which the divine intellect apprehends the divine essence as one simple thing or one simple nature. But "then" it starts to reason about the essence, and by doing this it generates the attributes (attribute=divine essence+ratio from the intellect). However, and this is important, it does not generate the will, even though it is a sine qua non cause of volitional acts. So in the third instant the will is actualized and begins to go through its own series of movements. In the end we have then two fundamental attributes that cannot be reduced to each other, and all other divine attributes are ordered to one of these primary attributes (incidentally, intellect and will serve as the principles for the emanation of the divine persons, but visit the "Henry of Ghent" blog for more on this).

Godfrey of Fontaines thought all this was bullcrap, and instead extended Aquinas' views on divine ideas to help out the problem of attributes. Basically, ignoring his arguments against Henry, Godfrey thinks that God can compare the divine essence to any creature, and since he is omniscient, and because creatures imitate the divine essence in various ways (hence the multiplicity of perfections that are attributed to God), God can compare his essence to the contents of the human mind and see that the human mind, because of its weakness, sees a plurality of attributes in God. So the distinction of attributes is not really in God at all, just the human mind, but God does know that in a derivative sense he has attributes. So in the end, Godfrey cannot avoid positing some movement in divinis either. [this is not entirely accurate, but I don't want to reread either Godfrey or that chapter of my diss.]

We turn now to Scotus. As is probably well known now to all readers of this blog, Scotus has two commentaries on the Sentences of Peter Lombard, a Lectura and an Ordinatio, as well as a series of student reports, Reportationes, the most trusty of which seems to be the one labeled I-A. In the first two commentaries, Scotus’ discussion of divine attributes is in d. 8 q. 4 in Reportatio I-A, although the doctrine is the same (save more possible variations regarding the formal distinction), the discussion of it has migrated to d. 45, which is about the divine will. Consequently, I will focus here on the Ordinatio. I do recommend reading the Reportatio, however, for it adds the notion of the propositio famosa, which holds that whatever is distinct in reason can be treated as if it were really distinct; Scotus uses this principle to help him escape from objections to his views based on the identity of indiscernables (as Scotus puts it, if a is the same as c and b is the same as c, then a is the same as b).

The basic point that Scotus argues is that the attributes are distinct prior to or apart from any operation of the intellect, whether the intellect in question is divine, human, or angelic. To start off, in the solution of d.8 q.4 Scotus accepts that there are distinctions of reason in God, as well as distinct formal objects, that is, between different modes of conceiving the same object. This suffices for distinctions between say ‘wise’ and ‘wisdom’, but not between entities like wisdom and truth. This is because God knows the divine essence intuitively (see here for intuitive cognition), and can only find these entities in the essence; he does not cause them by means of his intellect. Here is the argument to this effect:

Ordinatio I d. 8 q. 4 (ed. Vat. IV, 257):

“Praeterea, intellectus intuitivus nullam habet distinctionem in obiecto nisi secundum quod exsistens est, quia sicut non cognoscit aliquod obiectum nisi ut exsistens, ita non cognoscit aliqua distincta formaliter in obiecto nisi ut exsistens est. Cum ergo intellectus divinus non cognoscat essentiam suam nisi intellectione intuitiva, quaecumque distinctio ponatur ibi in obiecto – sive sit distinctiorum obiectorum formalium, sive ut rationum causatarum per actum intellectus – sequitur quod ista distinctio erit in obiecto ut actu exsistens est: et ita si ista est obiectorum formalium distinctorum in obiecto, erunt ista distincta formaliter (et tunc sequitur propositum, quod talis distinctio obiectorum formalium praecedit actum intellectus), si autem sit rationum causatarum per actum intelligendi, ergo intellectus divinus causabit aliquam intellectionem in essentia ‘ut relationem rationis’, ut est exsistens, quod videtur absurdum.”

"Furthermore, an intuitive understanding has no distinction in an object except according as it is existing, because just as it does not know some object save as existing, so it does not know something to be formally distinct in the object unless as it is existing. Since therefore the divine intellect does not know its essence except by an intuitive intellection, whatever distinction is posited there in the object – whether it is of distinct formal objects or as definitions caused by the act of the intellect – it follows that that distinction will be in the object as it is existing in act; and so if that is of formally distinct objects in the object, they will be formally distinct (and then the matter at hand follows, that such a distinction of formal objets precedes the act of the intellect), if however it is of definitions caused by the act of understanding, therefore the divine intellect will cause some intellection in the essence, as a relation of reason, as it is existing, which seems absurd."

The result of this is that there is a distinction preceding the operation of an intellect, such that wisdom is in God and goodness is in God, but wisdom in God is not formally goodness in God. Scotus thinks he has an argument that proves this.

Ord. I d. 8 pt. 1 q. 4 n. 192 (ed. Vat. IV, 261)
Quod probatur, quia si infinita sapientia esset formaliter infinita bonitas, et sapientia in communi esset formaliter bonitas in communi. Infinitas enim non destruit formalem rationem illius cui additur, quia in quocumque gradu intelligatur esse aliqua perfectio (qui tamen ‘gradus’ est gradus illius perfectionis), non tollitur formalis ratio illius perfectionis propter istum gradum, et ita si non includit formaliter ‘ut in communi, in communi’, nec ‘ut infinitum, infinitum’.

"This is proved: because if infinite wisdom would be formally infinite goodness, then wisdom in common would be formally goodness in common. For infinity does not destroy the formal ratio of that to which it is added, because in whatever grade some perfection is understood to be (which grade, nevertheless, is a grade of that perfection), the formal ratio of that perfection is not taken away because of that grade, so if it [wisdom], as in common, does not formally include [goodness] in common, neither [will wisdom] as infinite [include goodness] as infinite."

This is a pretty compressed argument, and I’m not at all sure what’s going on at the end. This is the clear part:

If infinite wisdom were formally infinite goodness, then wisdom in common would be formally goodness in common.

The likely interpretation of this is that Scotus has in mind his doctrine of ultimate abstraction from Lec./Ord. I d. 5. According to this notion, the mind can perform a series of abstractions from a material object and ultimately arrive at a pure quiddity or definition. With this in mind, the argument means that if wisdom and justice, qua infinite, are the same, then at the level of pure abstraction (that is, with infinity having been abstracted) wisdom and justice must also be the same. Scotus takes this to be false, and the remainder of the quoted passage supports the claim that infinity does not alter the definition of something, in this case, a pure perfection.

Scotus follows this argument with further considerations on what if means to be formally included in the definition of something:

Ordinatio I d. 8 pt. 1 q. 4 (ed. Vat. IV, 261-62)

Hoc declaro, quia ‘includere formaliter’ est includere aliquid in ratione sua essentiali, ita quod si definitio includentis assignaretur, inclusum esset definitio vel pars definitionis; sicut autem definitio bonitatis in communi non habet in se sapientiam, ita nec infinita infinitam: est igitur aliqua non-identitas formalis sapientiae et bonitatis, in quantum earum essent distinctae definitiones, si essent definibiles. Definitio autem non tantum indicat rationem causatum ab intellectu, sed quiditatem rei: est ergo non-identitas formalis ex parte rei, et intelligo sic, quod intellectus componens istam ‘sapientia non est formaliter bonitas’, non causat actu suo collativo veritatem hiuius compositionis, sed in obiecto invenit extrema, ex quorum compositione fit actus verus.

I declare this, because ‘to include formally’ is to include something in its essential definition, so that if a definition of the including could be assigned, the included would be a definition or part of a definition; just as the definition of goodness in common does not contain wisdom, so neither [does the definition of] infinite [goodness contain the definition of] infinite [wisdom]. Therefore there is some formal non-identity of wisdom and goodness, insofar as they would have distinct definitions, if they were definable. A definition, however, does not only indicate the notion/definition caused by the intellect, but the quiddity of the thing. Therefore there is formal non-identity form the side of the thing, and I understand this in such a way that the intellect composing that proposition ‘wisdom is not formally goodness’, does not cause the truth of the proposition by its own comparative act, but it finds the extremes in the object, from the composition of which the act is made true."

The basic idea here is that none of the divine attributes include each other in their definitions or parts of definitions, and this is true apart from any operation of the intellect.

So there you have it. The attributes are distinct ex natura rei (which means they are distinct prior to the operation of any intellect, human or divine), a distinction that is formal (the formal distinction is doing most of the work here, so see the relevant post). In God the attributes all exist under the extrinsic mode of infinity, which safeguards divine simplicity (for more on infinity see the ‘natural knowledge of God’ post in this series). When ultimate abstraction is performed, the intellect discovers that these attributes are distinct because none of them fall into the definitions of the others.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

St. John of the Cross and Natural Reason

St. John of the Cross affirms the natural powers of human reason to a degree that may surprise those less acquainted with the philosophic foundations of his thought. Often people reduce him to the label “mystic” (which for them means something mysterious) and they notice, with a glance at the Table of Contents of his works, that he writes much about extraordinary spiritual phenomena (e.g., locutions, tricks of the devil, union with God that “annihilates” the natural faculties); they then suppose that the Carmelite master thinks that the spiritual life consists mostly in these things. But the following passages highlight a little-emphasized aspect of his teaching: a robust emphasis of the goodness and power of natural reason.

For example, St. John of the Cross discusses why, under the law of grace, we ought to shy away from looking for extraordinary supernatural knowledge. Regarding faith, his basic position is that reason, enlightened by the revelation brought in Christ and purified by grace, is in principle more than sufficient for us to grasp the truths of the faith and all matters touching on or leading up to it (see Ascent of Mt Carmel 2.22.3). St. John of the Cross eschews both what we could call supernaturalism and fideism: the first being the attitude of those who want “special signs” in order to grasp God’s will; the second being those who wrongly think that the mind’s natural powers are insufficient to understand natural truths.These tendencies are interconnected.

A number of scholars have noted the Carmelite’s rejection of supernaturalism (see Garrigou-Lagrange’s discussions about how to treat “extraordinary charismatic phenomena"). His position against any desire for extraordinary supernatural knowledge is best summed up in a passage that simultaneously affirms the power of natural reason as well as reason illumined by faith:

“There is no necessity for any of this kind of knowledge since one can get sufficient guidance from natural reason and the law and doctrine of the Gospel” (Ascent 2.21.4).

We should not that here he is speaking of natural reason freed from slavery to the appetites, purified from all disordered attachments to lower things. St. John of the Cross insists that we give priority to the judgment of reason, which means that we should trust the ability of natural reason to reach a great deal of truth:

“We should make such use of reason and the law of the Gospel that, even though—whether we desire it or not—some supernatural truths are told to us, we accept only what is in harmony with reason and the Gospel law. And then we should receive this truth, not because it is privately revealed to us, but because it is reasonable, and we should brush aside all feelings about the revelation. We ought, in fact, to consider and examine the reasonableness of the truth when it is revealed even more than when it is not, since in order to delude souls the devil says much that is true, conformed to reason, and will come to pass” (Ibid.).

When natural reasoning is working properly, the Carmelite says, “There is no difficulty or necessity that cannot be solved by these means, which are very pleasing to God and profitable to souls.” But, on the other hand, when the power of natural reason is implicitly denied through a supernaturalism, a desire to receive special knowledge through extraordinary means, he says:

“I consider a desire to know things through supernatural means far worse than a desire for spiritual gratifications in the sensitive part of the soul. I fail to see how a person who tries to get knowledge in this supernatural way — as well as the one who commands this or gives consent — can help but sin, at least venially, no matter how excellent the motives or advanced in perfection that person may be” (Ibid.).

Whereas St. John’s rejection of supernaturalism has been appreciated by some, less noticed, perhaps, has been St. John’s rejection of fideism. Without using the language of “fideism”, he says that Moses did not require special supernatural help to arrive at a prudential decision to appoint 72 elders to help him determine matters of law. Sufficient for this was his power of reason which helped him weigh the advice of his father-in-law Jethro:

God approved this advice. But he did not give it, because human reason and judgment were sufficient means for solving this problem. Usually God does not manifest such matters through visions, revelations, and locutions, because he is ever desirous that insofar as possible people take advantage of their own reasoning powers. All matters must be regulated by reason save those of faith, which though not contrary to reason transcend it (Ascent 2.22.13).

The Carmelite friar goes on to explain that sometimes God does indeed give extraordinary communications to people, but that these communications could easily make the recipient worse:

“On judgment day God will punish the faults and sins of many with whom he communed familiarly here below and to whom he imparted much light and power, for they neglected their obligations and trust in the their converse with him and the power he bestowed on them” (Ascent 2.22.15).

One might wonder why God, in communing with his friends, did not reveal their duties and their faults to them. It could seem odd that God would impart them “much light and power” about many things, but not about what is most important for the individual: the state of his own soul. St. John replies: “It was unnecessary for God himself to inform them of these faults, since he had already done so through the natural law and the reasoning powers he had bestowed on them” (Ibid.). Hence, one of the chief faults of those who receive what we now call extraordinary charismatic graces is that they failed to reflect upon certain things which were knowable by reason, that is, truths treated in what is typically called “natural philosophy.” Hence, St. John’s critique of those who confuse matters of natural prudence with those of the faith, or look for supernatural enlightenment regarding natural matters, could be called a critique of fideism understood in a broad sense.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Kinds of Memory according to James of Aesculo

James of Aesculo is one of those lesser lights of medieval philosophy, so small, in fact, that he did not merit to be included in the Noone/Gracia companion to medieval philosophy which included such candle-like figures as Berthold of Moosburg and Landulf Caracciolo. But perhaps (I haven't checked), like Petrus Thomae, James survived this snub by being included in the appendix to the recent Cambridge history of later medieval philosophy. Little is known about him. He was at the trial of Margarite de Porrette, and the council of Vienne. He wrote a Quodlibet, Ordinary Questions, and a thematic index to the works of Scotus (in which he includes references to his own works as well). Only a smattering of questions have been edited, but he does seem to have adopted Henry of Ghent's intentional distinction. As far as influence is concerned, I don't know that anyone has studied this, but I can say that he plays a role in Petrus Thomae's QQ de esse intelligibili, specificially, qq.1-4. The following is a piece of a large question; I have excerpted his preliminary distinctions.

Iacobus de Aesculo, Quaestiones ordinariae, q.2 (Cambridge, UL, Ms. FF.III.23, f. 116r)

* = lectio incerta


I am reposting this post on James of Ascoli because according to the stats it gets several hits a day. So I have added a translation, which I fear is nearly as unintelligible as the latin.

Iacobus de Aesculo, Quaestiones ordinariae, q.2 (Cambridge, UL, Ms. FF.III.23, f. 116r):

Utrum in productione Verbi divini actus memoriae praesupponatur actui suae intelligentiae

Whether in the production of the divine Word the act of the intelligence presupposes the act of memory.

In ista questione primo sciendum quod actus memorie in nobis est duplex in genere. Quaedam est actus primus ut habitus, quidam est actus secundus ut operatio.

Actus primus duplex : quidam est formalis vel quasi formalis, quidam virtualis. Actum primum formale voco representativum formale obiecti formaliter et subiective existens in memoria per quod obiectum tantum intentionaliter et non realiter in ratione obiecti est sufficienter presens potentie ut possit habere actum secundum quidquid sit illud sive species sive habitus quia actum primum virtualem voco quando obiectum est presens realiter ipsi potentie immediate per seipsum sive per ipsam entitatem, non per aliquid subiective existens in memoria et hoc sive sit presens ipsi potenti per realem ydemptitatem *** secundum Augustinum 10 De trinitate, sive sit presens per quamdam assistenciam sive presentiam realem sicut essentia divina est presens intellectui creato et hic est duplex differentia inter istos duos actus.

Prima differentia est quod actus primus virtualis respectu eiusdem obiecti et in eadem potentia est perfectior actu formali. Primo patet quia presentia alicuius obiecti immediate per propriam entitatem est perfectior * presentia habita de illo obiecto per aliquod representativum formaliter perficiens potentiam quia presentia habita de aliquo obiecto per aliquod representativum est diminuta et intentionalis presentia vero habita immediate de aliquo obiecto per propriam entitatem illius obiecti est presentia simplex et realis ens autem simplex et reale est nobilius ente diminuto et intentionali, ergo et actus virtualis actu primo formalis.

Secunda differentia est quod actus primus formalis indifferentis est respectu cuiuslibet obiecti sive presentis sive preteriti sive futuri sive * sive similis cuius ratio est quia similitudo alicuius obiecti indifferens respicit illud sub ratione presentis, preteriti et futuri * vel * sed actus primus virtualis respicit obiectum determinate sub ratione presentis et singularis patet per hoc quia nec preteritum nec futuram potest omne presens immediate intellectui per propriam entitatem sed si presens oportet quod sit presens per aliquid aliud sicut etiam universale non potest esse presens intellectui nisi in aliquo singularis similiter actus primus formalis potest esse indifferenter respectu obiectu tam existentis quam non existentis actus primus virtualis est determinate respectu obiecti singularis actu existentis quod autem actus primus formalis respectu presentis et futuri pertineat ad memoriam et non ad intellectum patet per Augustinum 14 De trinitate et ubi dicit notitiam uniuscumque rei quo inest menti etiam quando de ipsa non cogitatis.

Ad solutionem dicitur memoriam pertinere patet etiam per rationem quia retinere seu concernare dicit esse proprius actus memorie non intelligentie sed intellectus potest retinere similitudinem obiecti presentis sicut presenti et futuri, ergo etc.

In that question it should first be known that the act of memory in us is twofold. For there is a first act which is a habit, and a second act which is an operation.

The first act is twofold: some are formal or quasi formal, some virtual. By “first formal act” I mean a formal representative formally of an object and existing subjectively in the memory, through which an object is sufficiently present to a power only intentionally and not really, so that it can have a second act, whether that is a species or habit, because I call something a “first virtual act” when an object is really present to the power immediately by itself or through its entity, not by something existing subjectively in the memory, and this either is present to the power through a real identity (according to Augustine, 10 De trinitate), or it is present through a certain assistance or real presence, just as the divine essence is present to a created intellect, and here there is a double difference between those two acts.

The first difference is that a first virtual act with respect to the same object and in the same power is more perfect than a formal act. The first is clear because the prsence of some object is immediately more prseent through its own entity than a presence had from that object through something formally representative of it formally perfecting the power, because a presence had from some object through some representative est a diminished and intentional presence; but had immediately from some object through its own entity of that object there is a simple and real presence, more noble than a diminished and intentional being, therefore also a virtual act is more noble than a first formal act.

The second difference is that a formal first act is indifferent with respect to any object whether present or past or future or (different?) or similar, the reason being because an indifferent likeness of some looks to that under the aspect of present, past, and future... but a first virtual act looks to the object determinately under the aspect of present and singular. This is clear because neither past nor future can be entirely present immediately to an intellect through its own entity, but if present, it is necessary that it is present through something other, just as even a universal cannot be present to an intellect except in some singular; likewise a first formal act can be indifferently in respect to an object both existing and non existing. A first virtual act is determinately in respect of a singular object by the act of existing. That however a first formal act in respect of the present and future pertains to memory and not the intellect is clear from Augustine, 14 De trinitate, where he says that the knowledge of each thing is in the mind even when you do not think about it.

For the solution it is said that it pertains to memory. This is also clear by reason, because to retain or contract means to be more properly the act of memory, not intelligence, but the intellect can retain the likeness of a present object just as the present and the future, therefore etc.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Modern Life

In these days in which we live, when existence has become a thing of infinite complexity and fate, if it slips us a bit of goose with one hand, if pretty sure to give us the sleeve across the windpipe with the other, it is rarely that we find a human being who is unmixedly happy. Always the bitter will be blended with the sweet, and in this mélange one can be reasonably certain that it is the former that will predominate.

A severe indictment of our modern civilization, but it can't say it didn't ask for it.

-Wodehouse, Uncle Dynamite

"Inspired Metaphysics"

From a review by Mark Wenzinger of Inspired Metaphysics? Gustav Siewerth's Hermaneutic Reading of the Onto-Theological Tradition by Andrzej Wiercinski.

Much of continental "post-modern" philosophy stands in great need of being disabused of its prejudiced notion that ancient and medieval philosophy is simply onto-theology that seeks only to valorize "presence" by suppressing absence and alterity, all in order to secure a foundation of mastery and control over the totality of the contexts in which human life is lived


.... Inspired Metaphysics serves as a valuable introduction not only to the thought of Siewerth in particular, but also to the hermeneutic manner of reading both the Thomistic and continental traditions in general. Not the least of the book's many merits is its exposition of the unfortunate manner in which Siewerth himself, seeking to distinguish Thomistic metaphysics from that which Heidgger took to be onto-theology, failed in hermeneutical charity by being content to demonize Scotistic metaphysics as the source of Western philosophy's alleged forgetfulness of Being. In like manner, as Wiercinski points out, much of contemporary Catholic theology likewise fails hermeneutically by uncritically accepting Heidegger's equation of metaphysics with onto-theology and an alleged valorization of "presence", a term that is in fact highly equivocal and that need not at all be understood as Heidegger himself understood it. Contemporary Catholic theology therefore needs to find its own way back to a hermeneutically sensitive appropriation of Scholastic thought, which would involve first, the effort to recognize Thomism and Scotism as mutually complementary, rather than mutually exclusive, manners of philosophical and theological thinking, and second, the effort to recognize the continuity as well as the discontinuity that obtains between the Scholastic and continental traditions.... The goal of Inspired Metaphysics is precisely to make philosopher and theologian alike better capable of engaging in the ongoing conversation that ought never to cease both within and between the Scholastic and continental traditions.


Not the least of Wiercinski's contributions to the facilitating of dialogue both between philosophy and theology and between the medieval and continental traditions is his recognition of the baneful effect of Siewerth's reductive and misleading critique of the ontology of Duns Scotus as thought that valorizes conceptually unitary "presence" at the expense of ontological difference and that therefore initiates Western philosophy's forgetfulness of Being. Wiercinski accomplishes for Scotus what Ferdinand Alquie accomplishes for Descartes: a "metaphysical rehabilitation" that shows that Scotus and Thomas can be related to one another in a complementary rather than in a reductively oppositional and antagonistic manner. Wiercinski indicates the possibilities for the renewal of ontology in a post-Heideggerian age that could arise starting with a dialogical reading of the Thomistic and Scotistic metaphysical traditions.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Analytic Appropriations of Univocity

Check out the following two links: Proslogion and Alexander Pruss. For Scotus' texts on univocity see our fundamentals post.

But let's consider whether Aquinas and Scotus disagree.

We know the following:

Scotus thinks there are two conditions for a univocal concept.
1. to affirm and deny with respect to the same results in a contradiction.
2. It can be used as a middle term in a syllogism without there being a fallacy of equivocation.

Aquinas defines univocity (see for example Summa Ia q. 13 and De unioni verbi a. 2 ad 4) as when two things have the same name and the same definition. This is Aristotle's definition from the Categories.

Aquinas also thinks (Summa Ia q. 13 a.5?) that analogical concepts are such that they can serve as the middle term in a syllogism without there being a fallacy of equivocation.

Now some notes about the history of equivocity/univocity. We have seen Aristotle's view of univocity. His view of equivocity is when the name is the same but the definition is different. In the Metaphysics he admits of a kind of equivocity that is "focused" or has related meanings, and uses the health example. This is Aquinas' analogy. Aristotle's analogy shows up in the Ethics and consists of a proportion, and always involves four terms (A:B::C:D). Scotus' definition of univocity allegedly comes from Simplicius' commentary on Aristotle's categories (I say allegedly because I've never been able to find it. Of course, I haven't looked very hard either).

Scotus sees only two options: univocity or equivocity. There is no medium. Analogy is a subset of equivocity, and as such will result in a fallacy of equivocation. Aquinas sees three options: equivocity, univocity, and analogy. Mysteriously, he thinks that analogy is a medium between the extremes and so does not commit a fallacy of equivocation. I tend to side with Scotus on this point, given the history of the problem.

In rather annoying (perhaps, truly Scotistic?) fashion, Scotus also thinks there can be analogical concepts, and never bothered to attack Aquinas' notion of analogy (what may be important today was not necessarily seen as such in the 13th century), save in Collatio 23, which doesn't have a resolution. So we can fault Aquinas for confusing analogy with equivocity, and Scotus for not telling us how univocal concepts relate to analogical ones and for not analyzing Aquinas' position.

What does all this mean? Well, given the 700 year history of this debate, my readers should not be surprised that I arrive at no definitive conclusions. But if we ignore for the moment Aquinas' belief that analogical concepts avoid fallacies of equivocation and focus on his definition of univocity, a way of harmonization presents itself. For it is clear from Scotus' account that he is primarily interested in concepts, and there is no "real" correspondence between the univocal concept of being and being outside the mind. But Aquinas' definition of univocity concerns two things; and given all his other discussions of analogy in which it is clear that univocity is impossible because of the nature of the divine causality (ie., its equivocal), it's clear that Aquinas is primarily concerned with the "real", and that any analogical concepts are isomorphically related to their real foundations (hence, he has to say analogical concepts don't cause fallacies, because otherwise there would be no systematic theology, only mystical experience a la David Burrell's "theology is a dance"). So, to conclude, we could harmonize our medievals by the claim that they are in fact complementary, for Scotus thinks univocity is on the level of the concept, while Aquinas thinks that analogy is on the level of the real.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Education, the Liberal Arts, and Philosophy

In the Forward to The Unity of Philosophical Experience Etienne Gilson writes:

The history of philosophy is much more part of philosophy itself than the history of science is part of science, for it is not impossible to become a competent scientist without knowing much about the history of science, but no man can carry very far his own philosophical reflections unless he first studies the history of philosophy.

I am profoundly convinced of the truth of this claim. Both reason and long experience of philosophers who fail to heed this warning demonstrate beyond question that the thoughts of those that do not learn from past sages are solitary, nasty, brutish, poor and short.

Nevertheless it's a pressing question just how much work to put into the historical side of philosophy before daring to begin to think for oneself. Because in principle there's no reason why one should ever put aside the quest for mastery of past systems and begin to reflect afresh. Many find scholars have never done so.

Gilson's remark reminded me of a comment Vos made somewhere in The Philosophy of John Duns Scotus, which I referred to recently. Vos was discussing the opinions of some scholars who tried to find evidence of Scotus reacting to the teachings of Meister Eckhart and vice versa, and Vos states that the likelihood is all against their having ever responded to each other or read each other's writings. He pointed out that we're interested in possible interactions between them because we remember both of their names today and they were roughly contemporaries, but at the time they were two drops in a very big academic bucket. Vos points out that in Scotus' day there were so many doctors and masters and bachelors churning out thousands of pages of brilliant arguments a year that no one of their contemporaries could ever have kept abreast of them all.

In light of the obvious truth of this statement, how do we approach them as historical figures? It's clearly wrong to read a little Plato, a little Aristotle, a little Augustine and Aquinas, move on to Descartes and a few big-name early moderns, and then only read one's contemporaries. But on the other hand, I know very well how an enthusiasm for Aquinas becomes a passion for Aquinas and Bonaventure, and then a love for Aquinas and Bonaventure and Scotus, and then a compulsion to read Aquinas and Bonaventure and Scotus and Albert and Henry and Ockham and Godfrey and Dietrich and on and on, until you realize that mastering even a few decades of philosophy's richer periods is much more than a life's work.

At the same time we must remember that the liberal arts are a necessary precondition for good philosophy, which means that in order to be good philosophers we have to study other things besides philosophers past and present, for instance history, literature, mathematics and the sciences. I think that even the most devoted scholastic-lover, like the authors of this blog, would have to admit that part of the downfall of medieval philosophy was due to its exaltation of logic above the other liberal arts, leading to an imbalance which was "corrected" in terrible ways by people who abandoned rigor and logic almost altogether. This point is suggested by a passage in Armand Maurer's Medieval Philosophy:

One of the results of the rise of speculative grammar was to crowd out of the universities the reading of the Latin classics, which formed an integral part of the teaching of grammar in the earlier Middle Ages. The arts course came to be centered around logic and philosophy, to the neglect of literary studies. Incidentally, this was one of the main reasons for the decline in good Latin style in the latter Middle Ages. The allegorial poem of Henry of Andelys entitled The Battle of the Seven Arts, written about 1250, describes the defeat of Dame Grammar, the champion of the University of Orléans, supported by the humanists and the classical authors, by Dame Logic of the University of Paris. The Muse of Poetry goes into hiding after this defeat, but Henry of Andelys is not discouraged. He foretells the return to the study of classical literature in the next generation. In fact . . . [his] prophecy came true only in the fourteenth century, when Petrach began to revive classical humanism.

But Petrarch, the "first modern man", herald of the Renaissance, was anti-Aristotle and anti-philosophy. But even among those who did not abandon philosophy, the temptation to turn away from the logic of Aristotle to the poetics of Plato - as soon as this became possible - proved overwhelming for many. And when one reads much 14th century scholastic writings one sees that this is inevitable. Certainly the tiers and banks of careful, precise syllogisms in barbarous Latin are very impressive indeed, and the reader rejoices that reason can do so much; at the same time the mind feels the need for other nourishment. I wonder who in the 14th century would have been capable of writing a Metalogicon or Didascalicon, or if it would even have occurred to anyone.

Still, what's the solution? It took years upon years already to qualify for the doctorate in a medieval university; if the arts course wasn't centered on logic and philosophy, when would it get squeezed in? It was only the rigorous philosophical training theologians of that time endured as youths that made the theological glories of their adulthood, so unthinkable today, possible. When did they have time for the classics? My own education, from primary school to doctorate, took twenty-four years. A lot of that time, especially in the first half, was wasted by bad teachers and useless subjects. On the other hand, I did have time to learn and read a great many of the classics in a number of languages. But there is no question that I can't turn out an argument as could the least of my medieval brethren.

The kind of education I received is the kind that leads men to spend fifty years studying what Aquinas or Scotus wrote in fifteen or twenty, and never get one step beyond them. This is not standing on the shoulders of giants, it's standing on their feet and grasping their knees. I don't know how to balance between the dangers of dilettantism on the one hand and barren specialization on the other. It does seem to me that our modern educational system gives us the worst of all possible solutions, an undisciplined, nearly random, practically endless glut of information but without the cultivation of any of the liberal arts at all.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Wanting to Be Someone Else

Suppose that some person all of a sudden becomes the king of China, but only on the condition that he forgets what he has been, as if he were born anew; practically, or as far as the effects could be perceived, wouldn't that be the same as if he were annihilated and a king of China created at the same instant in his place? That is something this individual would have no reason to desire.

- Leibniz, Discourse on Metaphysics, c.34.

If you wish even to be equal to Peter in glory, you will be; I say "in glory", for you are not able to will to be Peter in person: for if you were to will this, you would will for yourself to be nothing - which you cannot will.

- Alexander of Canturbury, De S. Anselmi similitudinibus, c.64.

This issue comes up in theology, because the Devil's sin is said to be desiring to be equal to God. But how can a creature desire to be equal to God? This would be the same as desiring to be God, which is equivalent to desiring not to be a creature, which is to desire not to exist, or to desire that a finite creature be infinite and uncreated, which is a contradiction, and, as Aristotle says, impossibles do not lie within the realm of choice.

In the Ordinatio, Book II D.6 Q.1, Scotus resolves this difficulty by noting that there are two equivocal ways of understanding choice. One, the kind of choice Aristotle meant when he said that choice is about what is possible, is the termination of a practical syllogism: when I deliberate about the range of means available to achieve my goals, and my mind determines which is the best means for the best end, my will responds by choosing that end. So when I deliberate about how to get from Maryland to California, I weigh the possibility of getting groped by a government goon at the airport against the labor and expense and time of driving, and wonder whether in fact I want to make the trip at all. At length I make my choice. I don't deliberate about whether to teleport or take a wormhole shuttle, because these are not real possibilities for me.

However, in another sense I can incline my will towards anything my intellect can apprehend, whether possible for me or not. And my intellect can apprehend any proposition formed from simple intelligibles. "Being equal to God" is something my mind can grasp, since I can grasp that there is such a thing as God exists; and I can recognize that "Being equal to God" is something the will can desire, since God the Son can will to be equal to God the Father. - Likewise "being the king of China" or "being St Peter" is something I can recognize as intelligible, possible, and willable in itself. This doesn't imply that the object of my apprehension is possible for me and so able to be the subject of my will as a practical choice. Wishing for time travel is like this, in my opinion. The past was once the present, and so "being at such-and-such a date in the past" is intelligible and was once actual for certain people. So saying "I wish I were in 1310" is intelligible. There's no intrinsic contradiction about being in 1310. The only contradiction is in thinking that it's possible for me, as this person here and now, to be in the past. That would be more or less like me wishing to be Peter. Peter may exist, and I may imagine what it's like to be him, imagine having his experiences and so forth; but whoever is having Peter's experiences is Peter, not me. I can imagine the past, and wish that my own present was happening in medieval Oxford rather than modern America, but whoever had a life in medieval Oxford could not be me, since my life is necessarily the one being lived by me right now.

There must be some sort of disorder in the will if one wills for oneself what is impossible for oneself. The implication in such an act of will is that God's will in creating me was wrong, and instead of creating me he should have created something different, or abstained from creating. I thus set up my will in opposition to God's as superior. This is intrinsically different from willing unactualized possibilities for myself, such as being stronger, being wiser, being more virtuous (even being more wealthy), even desiring things which are possible but over which I have no power: that's the point of petitionary prayer.

It strikes me that some such set of distinctions as this can allow us to avoid the pitfalls of Nietzschean resentment, on the one hand, and the Nietzschean will of the eternal return, on the other. For if it's sinful to will in vain that one's life and past and possibilities were those of other people, or that they should consist in incompatible elements, it's also sinful to complacently accept my life, past and present, as completely good, necessary, unchangeable, and perfectly willable, even though this isn't true. Instead I must recognize what is possible but not actual for myself, past present and future, allowing the necessary room for repentance about the past, effort in the present, and resolutions about the future.