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.