Monday, August 5, 2013

Scotus the Spinozist

Here is an interesting historical tidbit that I don't believe I have posted on: the Kleutgen-Stockl model of medieval philosophy. They were mid-19th century Jesuits who developed the model of medieval philosophy that we all know and love today: all previous human philosophical endeavours lead up to the pinnacle of Aquinas, who was immediately followed by a catastrophic decline into filthy Scotism, Ockhamism, modernism, protestantism and so on. You can read all about it in John Inglis, Spheres of Philosophical Inquiry and the Historiography of Medieval Philosophy (Brill 1998). Here I post Inglis' summary of Kleutgen's judgement of Scotus.

Inglis, p. 97

Duns Scotus and his followers are termed "formalists" by Kleutgen because they fail to appreciate that physical things are more than mere forms. Kleutgen argues that since, for Scotus, the individualizing principle of any particular thing is yet another form, he does away with actual individual subjects, and in doing so abolishes the philosophical foundation that is necessary in order to distinguish between individuals. What we have in Scotus is, according to Kleutgen, an endless number of predicates with no subject to which they could adhere. Since the Scotists offer a view of forms without subjects, they must conclude that the entire world is a single subject. Even though Scotus and his followers do not claim to be pantheists, the logic of their view leads inevitably to the conclusion that all is one.

So one begins to understand why at the dawn of the 20th century, Scotists such as Parthenius Minges were compelled to write articles defending Scotus from the pantheist charge. Luckily he was successful in this, even if the general model of decline and fall remains.

9 comments:

James A. Given said...



Is this identification natural because "The haecceity is a very, VERY specific form" ?

Standard claims of this kind should be numbered for easy reference-

Jim Given

Lee Faber said...

I assume so. I think Kleutgen's reasoning goes like this:

1. Everything in Thomas is true a priori
2. Thomas holds that the principle of individuation (POI) is matter.
3. Therefore the POI is matter.
4. Scotus denies that the POI is matter, therefore he has an insufficient understanding of matter, indeed, cannot account for matter.
5. Therefore for Scotus, individuals are only forms, or predicates without subjects
6. Therefore there is just one subject, "the world"
7. therefore, all is one.

awatkins69 said...

I'm sorry, but I have to admit I laughed a little bit at this one!

James A. Given said...


I hope the argument is better than that. (I ordered the Inglis book used because I have no text on the history of the doctrinal dispute between Scotists and Thomists.

I thought the most common explanation of why "Scotists don't believe in individuals" is that they deny the real distinction between essence and esse; and only "having esse" or "really existing" makes one an individual, not merely having a completely specified or determinate form, i.e. a haecceitas.

BTW, my other example of a Standard List of Erroneous Assumptions (ones so commonly deployed they should be numbeered for easy reference) is the list of claims by Bible Christian acquaintances who say, "Well, I used to be a Catholic, until I found out that they believe .....".

Jim Given

Lee Faber said...

Jim, I guess I've never heard that one before. Denying esse and essence are really distinct would seem to mean all essences have some degree of existence, and so be individual.

Michael Sullivan said...

I think the implicit argument really goes something like this:

1. A Haecceity is a form.
2. All forms are universal.
3. Therefore, a haecceity is a universal.

The hidden presumption is still that the Thomist account of matter as the principle of individuation is not only the true, but even the only sensible or really thinkable one.

The most irritating thing is how many basic things in the Scotist account you have to ignore to get to this conclusion. Of course Scotus believes in matter - he assigns it more actuality than the Thomists do! Of course he believes in individual subjects - he assigns the individuality a more noble position than the Thomists do! This strategy of argumentation reminds me of certain Orthodox gentlemen we used to argue with who would always condescend to inform us what the Filioque really meant and really led to, even though Catholic theologians and the magisterium never made the inferences they were supposedly bound to make.

There's something similar going on with the being/essence issue. If you take for granted that the real distinction is valid, and the Scotists say that there is no separate principle of esse, that must mean that for them there is no such thing as being and things don't really exist! All is form! Platonism! Let's by all means not try to understand what Scotus actually thought about what it means to exist.

Michael Sullivan said...

I'm continuing to find the claim bizarre that Scotus can't distinguish between individuals because the haecceity is a form. (Yet another form, as though Socrateity were another form in addition to humanity, so that Socrates has two substantial forms!)

Let's say that Gollum eats Sam. They're both hobbits; how to distinguish them? For the Thomist as long as Sam is uneaten we can distinguish them by counting their individual matters: here's a complete chunk of hobbit here, there's another one over there. But after the crunching, you only have one hobbit! And that hobbit has all the individual matter of Gollum, and also all the individual matter of Sam! Sam has become Gollum!

It makes much more sense to say that neither Gollum nor Sam can exist without matter, because their forms are not self-subsistent; but it's not this matter that makes Sam this; it's this Samitas that makes this matter Sam's.

Matthew said...

Where might one find copies of the relevant articles by Parthenius Minges, inter al., regarding this issue?

Lee Faber said...

Harris, Duns Scotus, vol. 2. p. 62, notes that Bayle and Haureau make the pantheism charge, based on Scotus' doctrine of universals. Univocity of being is also grounds for the pantheism charge.

Seraphim Belmond, "L'etre transcendant d'apres Duns Scot," Revue de philosophie, 1909

Minges, "Scotismus und Pantheismus," Philosophisches Jahrbuch 31 (1918) 226-29.