Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Symposium on Horan's 'Postmodernity and Univocity'

There is now an online symposium up at the "Syndicate" website: here. As my co-blogger once reminded me, this website, devoted to symposia in several academic fields, such as philosophy and theology, shares its name with the terrorist organization in the previous "Mission Impossible" film and indeed in the one currently in production. It is hard to imagine a more apt term to describe current academic disciplines and practices, and I say that as one who has benefited in various ways from the current system.

Regarding the syndicate symposium itself, I did not read it, nor will I do more than skim. It has an entry by Richard Cross, no stranger to readers of this blog, and no stranger to publishing critiques of Milbank. There is an entry by Justus H. Hunter, a theologian who was worked on Grosseteste and some other medieval figures. There is one by another theologian working in medieval, Lydia Shoemaker, on the horizon.

Rather amazingly, they got Milbank to reply. And, given that Milbank usually just trashes Scotus en passant, we have here what may prove to be his lengthiest discussion of Scotus. But it is the same old story. Lots of postmodern verbiage, which, once one pairs it away, all that he says is that Scotus says something different than Aquinas, everything Aquinas says is right or will be right once it gets its proper development, everything in Scotus is bad and leads to bad things in every area of modern life. Some errors here in there, for example in a Deleuze quote that Milbank thinks expresses Scotus' position (no quote here, I paraphrase from memory, in true Milbankian style) in which Deleuze fails to grasp the twofold primacy of being as it pertains to ultimate differences. To give Milbank his due, he does cite one of the most obscure passages in the Ord., in which Scotus suggests that the univocal concept of being may potentially contain God and creatures, in that it is formally neither one (since if that were the case, one could not contract it to what it is supposed to be univocal of). This was against Cross' description of the abstracted univocal concept of being as being only "semantic". Milbank's argument is just that this term does not occur in Scotus, and he adds some remarks that I can't decipher about that if Cross were right, the univocal concept of being would be in a middle ground, the ground the formal and transcendental. That of course is what it is, in Scotus' own terms. In any case, though Milbank, to be fair, seems to have given the status of the univocal concept of being more thought, his particular sniping here at Cross seems to me to reek of a preference for continental jargon over analytic.

Two other points seem worthy of comment.

1. At the beginning, Milbank claims that there were debates among later Scotists regarding whether univocity was a feature of logical being or real being. Milank provides no reference, and I am half tempted to read the whole thing to see what he has in mind. I gather that Milbank takes it to mean whether the concept of being taken as such has or signifies something actually existing or not, i.e. some nature in the world. Indeed, there was some debate on this, which I would describe as being whether the concept of being is "real" or not. By real, Scotus would mean a first intention concept. And here Scotus is unambigouous. The concept of being is a real concept, in the sense that it has been abstracted from the cognition of a creature. There was some debate on this, so Milbank is right, though the debate was mainly between those who defend Scotus' or at least the common 14th (and 21st) century interpretation and those who wanted to have an easier reconciliation with Aquinas and posited univocity as pertaining to second intentions (Peter of Navare, John Bassols). The only thinker who went in a more "real" direction than Scotus was Antonius Andreae, who, despite the fact that most of his question is verbatim quotation and paraphrase from Scotus, did say there was a real similitude on which the concept of being was based. But this was part of a two sentence attack on peter of Navarre that he did not explain in any detail, so it is hard to see what AA was getting at. So this one remark of Milbank's is accurate. I suppose he probably had the info from Boulnois.

2. Milbanks suggests that Gilson is basically right, and that the research of the past decades has rather confirmed his interpretation. Included in this discussion is the claim that the historical claims of causation regarding univocity and other positions of Scotus have been verified by the majority. Of course, Scotus scholars still deny these historical claims. So Milbank seems to think the majority determines truth. Basically, he has won. And he is right: certainly in theology his views on Scotus are the majority, and look to be that way for a long time to come. Perhaps Horan's book will make a dent in the Cambridge hegemony, but it seems unlikely. Cross has been writing against them for years. A scotist could comfort themselves by noting that all the references in the theological majority all go back to a few bad readings, but it really is rather hollow comfort. Or one can ponder how academic trends rise and fall, and hope one's students will be open minded. But in general it seems that to be a Scotist now is more akin to the esotericist or gnostic, blowing on the secret fire and passing it once or twice to a novice whom one judges worthy of teaching.

I didn't see comments on the Syndicate site. Feel free to comment here in the more relaxed atmosphere of The Smithy, where anonymous posting is welcome.