Friday, November 23, 2012

Voluntarism Again

There was a comment over at the Register (the same site on which I couldn't post a comment) that voices a common misunderstanding of voluntarism. This particular formulation is garbled, but I thought it best to use an example from the wilds of the internet:

If Mary’s rational soul and so her capacity for sin was only infused into her body post conception on what grounds could such an immaculate conception take place? Duns Scotus used Franciscan voluntarism to ‘solve’ his problem where the will rather than the intellect takes precedence. Which taken to its logical conclusion causes all kinds of problems for the principle of non-contradiction [God could create a square circle if He wanted to, perfection could be less than perfect if He wanted to be. Etc.] If St. Thomas (and Dun Scotus) et al had modern biology to base their philosophy and theology upon then there would have been no debate at all. But then if we diden’t have franciscian voluntarism its unlikely we would have had nominalism, conceptualism and the general nuttiness of modern philosophy and theology. 

So the complaint is that if the will has "precedence" or "precedes" the intellect, lots of bad thing follow. Philosophically you get God able to create a square-circle, or be less perfect, or whatever. Historically, Scotist voluntarism "causes" (read Brad Gregory for an explanation of this causality) nominalism, conceptualism, and everything the one making the claim doesn't like about the modern world.

The philosophical claim underlying all this seems to be that according to Scotus, possibility and impossibility are dependent on the divine will.

The passage in Scotus to examine is I d. 43 of his commentaries on the Sentences, the Lectura, Ordinatio, or Reportatio.

One thing we find is that the will plays no role in whether something is possible or impossible. For Scotus, possibility and impossibility is a feature of terms (or  natures, essences) which are generated by the divine intellect. The divine intellect generates say, 'rational' and 'animal'; there is no repugnance between these terms, so the species human being is possible.  The terms 'square' and 'circle' are repugnant, so a square-circle is impossible. This is even true if per impossible, God did not exist. If God did not exist, and neither did anything else, a square-circle would be impossible because the terms are repugnant, and human being would still be possible because the terms are compatible. This is what Scotus calls logical potency, and the result of it seems to be that modality is grounded in things themselves or their essences, rather than on God or some feature of God. Now on this tricky point Scotus actually says that possibility is "principiative" from the divine intellect. The idea is that while the terms are repugnant or non-repugnant based on their natures, for there to be any terms or essences at all there must be the divine intellect to generate them.

So whatever other philosophical problems voluntarism might have, at least for Scotus we are not in danger of a world of square-circles or impossible objects walking the streets, or God making himself not-God. Possibility and impossibility arise from the relation of the divine intellect and its thinking about essences.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Alnwick on Virtual Containment

I've been writing on Alnwick's theories of containment lately. He has three: exemplaric containment in the divine intellect, eminent/perfectional containment in the divine essence, and virtual containment in the divine omnipotence.  Here I am going to post some arguments he makes about virtual containment, one of those scholastic notions that has a neo-Platonic origin at least as far back as the pseudo-Dionysius (and therefore Proclus) and gets ridiculed from time to time today. The basic point from the pseudo-D. is that effects are contained in their cause in a more noble manner than they exist as effects. Scotus builds his notion of unitive containment on this notion, and several other versions of Dionysian containment were developed by other Scotists during the early fourteenth century.

The arguments Alnwick makes are meant to defend the claim that "the creatures contained in God virtually according to their perfection are distinguished from God really and formally". Recall that the various modes of containment are attempts to explain how and in what way creatures pre-exist in God prior to their creation.

Guillelmus de Alnwick, Quodlibet q. 8 (ed. Ledoux, 448-9):

Every positive perfection is contained in God formally or virtually; but the perfection of a creature, inasmuch as it is distinguished from God, is some positive perfection, because creatures are distinguished from God by their positive perfections; therefore, the perfection of a creature, inasmuch as it is distinguished from God, is contained in God virtually or formally. Not formally, for so then it would not be distinguished from God absolutely (simpliciter); therefore it is contained as such in God virtually. Then I arguo thus: the perfection of a creature, inasmuch as it is distinguished from God, is contained by God virtually, as now has been proved; therefore the perfection of a creature, inasmuch as it is contained in God virtually, is not the same as God. And so it is clear that the perfection of a creature, insofar as it is contained in God from the side of itself [ex parte sui], is not the same as God.

Again, fourth: whatever is produceable by some agent is contained in it virtually, because nothing is produced by something which is not contained first in its produtive power; but a stone according to its own proper nature is produceable by God; therefore a stone according to its own proper nature is contained in God virtually. But it is clear tha a stone according to its own proper nature is not God, therefore a stone, inasmuch as it is virtually contained in God, is not God but is distinguished from him.

Monday, November 19, 2012


Blogs are starting to irritate me more and more. Mainly because I find it increasingly difficult to beat the spam filters. Case in point: Mark Shea has a post up on the Immaculate Conception. There is a Thomist in the combox spouting off about voluntarism leading to ruin of all that is good and holy. But can I comment? Of course not, because I can't beat the automated spamguard!

PS: New post coming soon, in the grand tradition of The Smithy: look for a long boring translating whipped off hastily that concerns Scotus' use of the word 'essence' and 'res'.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

A Counter-Narrative for Brad Gregory

See this post for photos of Duns Scotus in colonial Mexican art. Note especially the winged Scotus and Scotus treading upon the Lutherans.

Friday, November 9, 2012

A Note from Peirce

"Scotism died out when the strong Scotist died."

C.S. Peirce, quoted in rem in sepisa cernere, p. 188

Scotistic Commission of America

A link to the page of the American commission, editing the Parisian works.  Here.

The ms. photo is from the famous Vienna ms., showing the famous colophon at the end of Reportatio I:  "Explicit reportatio super primum sententiarum sub magistro Iohanne Scoti et examinata cum eodem vernerando doctore"

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Festum Scoti

Nov. 8 has come again. Time to celebrate the feast/optional memorial of John Duns Scotus.

Here's the collect and poem from last year:

The collect:

Domine Deus, fons omnis sapientiae, qui Beatum Ioannempresbyterum, Immaculatae Virginis assertorem,nobis magistrum vitae et scientiae dedisti, concede, quaesumus,ut, eius exemplo illuminati, et doctrinis nutria,Christo fideliter adhaereamus. Qui tecum vivit. 

And a poem, De morte Duns Scoti [From Ioannis Duns Scoti Opera Omni I, 50*] 

Scotia plange, quia periit tua gloria rara,
Funde precem, confunde necem, tibi cum sit amara.
Quam fera, quam nequam sit mors, tribuens tibi legem
Cum reliquis aequam, rapiens ex ordine retgem.
Caelum, terra, mare nequeunt similem reparare.
Si quaeras, quare, - probat haec editio clare.
Troia luit florem de viribus Hectora fisum,
Sic luo Doctorem iuvenili flore recisum.
Ergo, legens, plora, quia non uic subfuit hora,
Sed ruit absque mora: pro quo, lector, precor, ora.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Scotus on Participation

It's a common claim made by contemporary intellectuals of various disciplines (I have in mind the Brad Gregorys, Fr. Barrons, the Cambridge fantasists, etc.) that Scotus denies participation. They never bother to cite a text of course, because none of these people have ever bothered to read Scotus. The claim is usually linked to univocity. To hold univocity is to automatically reject analogy and particpation. I've talked about analogy before, how Scotus holds analogical concepts but just isn't interested in talking about them. I've known for a number of years that the same is true of participation, but I never bothered to write any of the passages down. This time I did and offer for your delectation an unequivocal endorsement of participation.

Reportatio II d. 16 q. un. (Wad.-Viv. 23, 70-71):

Ad aliud alterius Doctoris dicit unus Doctor quod nihil agit per essentiam, nisi solus Deus, et ipse semper agit. Vel potest dici quod 'per essentiam' potest accipi dupliciter: aliquando ut distinguitur contra illud, quod est per participationem; aliquando ut distinguitur contra per accidens. Primo modo, dico quod nihil est per essentiam nisi Deus, quia omnis veritas, et entitas creata est talis per participationem, et isto modo agens per essentiam semper agit. Secundo modo agens per essentiam, hoc est, non per accidens, non semper agit necessario.
To the other [argument] of the other doctor, one doctor says that nothing except God alone acts through essence, and he always acts. Or it can be said that 'by essence' can be understood doubly: sometimes as it is distinguished against that which is by participation, sometimes as it is distinguished against 'per accidens'. In the first way, I say that nothing is by essence except God, because every truth and created entity is such by participation, and in that way an agent always acts through its essence. In the second way an agent by essence, this is, not per accidens, does not always act necessarily.

Not much, sure, but clear enough to show that simply because Scotus does not talk a lot about a particular feature of the philosophical tradition does not allow us to infer that he rejects it.

Thomistic Essence and Existence as the Primary Christian Truth

Go here for a discussion of how the Thomistic doctrine of esse and essentia is a primary truth of Christian metaphysics, (conveniently) indemonstrable. What I can't get my mind around is the claim that every Christian thinker thinks this. Perhaps despite all the exposition of Aquinas it is not the specifically Thomistic view that is being argued for, but rather just that essence and existence are distinct in some unspecified way? For otherwise, how can we account for the dozens of scholastic theories on the topic?