Tuesday, August 28, 2018

A New Front Opens in the War over Being

Civilization seems to be crumbling around us these days. Governments are corrupt and ineffectual, political rhetoric has become increasingly unhinged, the universities, flush with cash, spend it on hiring legions of non-teaching middle managers. The controversies within the Church grow ever darker and run deeper...

If all this is getting you down, why not spend the remaining years of your life coming to grips with a new 830 page book from Leuven University Press?

For a cool 200 euros, you can own the new critical edition and study of Petrus Thomae's Quaestiones de ente. Available here. This work details various properties of being, such as univocity and analogy, defending the Scotist conception, though reworking the position a fair bit and abstracting from the applications in which Scotus discussed it (i.e. natural knowledge of God, divine simplicity). Thus one could almost say that it is "systematic". It should be noted, that while many theologians and philosophers think that the analogist and univocalist positions are incompatible, Scotists have always held the opposite, that in fact univocity and analogy are complementary. Peter Thomae is no exception, and of all the Scotists, he probably discusses analogy the most. Hence the title of the post: A New Front, in that it is a (today) unknown take on being.

Anyway, here is the publishers blurb:

Editio princeps of Peter Thomae’s De ente
It is generally acknowledged by historians of philosophy that medieval philosophers made key contributions to the discussion of the problem of being and the fundamental issues of metaphysics. The Quaestiones de ente of Peter Thomae, composed at Barcelona ca. 1325, is the longest medieval work devoted to the problem of being as well as the most systematic. The work is divided into three parts: the concept of being, the attributes of being, and the descent of being. Many of the philosophical tools that Peter pioneered in this work, such as the distinction between objective being and subjective being, and various modes of quiddities and abstraction, were adopted by later thinkers and discussed up to the eighteenth century. Apart from defending and further extending Scotistic doctrine, one of Peter’s achievements in the De ente is to fully reconcile Scotistic univocity with the traditional doctrine of the analogy of being.

In addition to the critical edition, the present volume also contains a detailed introduction and study of the philosophy and the manuscripts of the De ente, with an appendix containing the question on univocity by Francis Marbres (John the Canon), who copied extensively from the De ente.

From the Thomist perspective, it must look something like this:


Bubba said...

Makes a great Christmas gift! Just don't put it under the Categorial Tree!

Jim Given said...

It's a shame and a disgrace that such an important- to folks like us - text be shackled with such an absurd price tag.

I already earmarked for this Christmas the translation of Gilson's book on Duns Sotus.

Maybe next year-

Anonymous said...

@Jim Wasn't Gilson's book, by his own admission, outdated and inaccurate?

A general question for whomever: Who are the most important Scotist thinkers after Scotus? In other words, if Scotism is a school, who are the other members in it besides the founder? Are they all as obscure as somebody like Peter Thomae?

Also, have you guys heard about the Alexander of Hales translation project? See here: http://www.dallasmedievaltexts.org/alexander-hales-project/ Looks neat. I don't know Latin, but it seems as though Alexander is a somewhat readable Scholastic, comparatively speaking.

Lee Faber said...

Anonymous, yes, he says so in the preface. He had not realized that Henry of Ghent is Scotus' primary interlocutor, not Thomas Aquinas. But I would say the book is still interesting as a systematic comparison of Aquinas and Scotus, even if it is ahistorical.

As for your other question, well there are legions of Scotists. But scholasticism itself has largely destroyed during the french revolution period, and the Leonine revival focused on thomism. So, it is obscure quoad nos, but perhaps not in se or justifiably. Certainly Mastri has received lots of attention, as has the 17th scotist school in general, which, as the saying goes, was larger than all other scholastic schools put together. I think the most interesting period is probably 1310-1350, but one can only consult manuscripts for most of those thinkers. Anyway, for lists of thinkers see the "Scotism" article on the old catholic encyclopedia website.

Thanks for the link. I had heard about an earlier stage of this. I am somewhat surprised: I have read some of the Glossa and found it fairly boring. A new edition of the Summa would have been better.

Lee Faber said...

Jim, I completely agree about the price. This particular press is generally good in this respect, however, which is admirable. In the present case, I know that the problem came from the way european grant bodies are organized. To publish a volume this big the press needs financial support from the stiftungs, which are run along national lines. But the editor of the present volume is based in Germany, whereas the press is belgian. Neither the Germans nor Belgians would fund the volume.

Jim Given said...

Dear Lee Faber,
I am a scientist and serious amateur philosopher, not a medieval scholar. One understands the historical situation of Jean Duns Scot. But the book is important to me for the reason you address, i.e., it contributes to the big picture of scholastic metaphysics. Gilson was a brilliant dialectician, and would instinctively bring Duns Scotus into a discourse with St. Thomas, as the two major narratives of Scholastic metaphysics. My understanding is that Gilson's picture of Duns Scotus is largely correct, and that the translation is skilled. These matters are important to me. As extended comparison of the metaphysical descriptions (the "big pictures") provided by Aquinas and Duns Scotus, I have only Sylwanowicz' book on contingent causality. Are there any other works that provide such perspective?
It would be a vast misfortune were it to be determined that all Duns Scotus scholarship prior to the present era of computerized database scholarship is simply wrong-headed. It would put Duns Scotus on a par with St. Thomas, all of whose earlier scholars simply failed to understand him, according to the participationists. Amazing - the Modernist belief that one must - or can - Start Over in scholarship!

Lee Faber said...

Jim, two points.

1. Gilson. I have not read the entire thing, but what I have read seemed accurate enough. He avoids-from what I have seen-the 'big picture' claims of static essentialism and unravelling of scholasticism one finds in Being and Some Philosophers. As to other similar books, all I can think of at the moment is Allan Wolter's Transcendentals book, old but largely still good, or Honnefelder, if you read German.

2. Dated Scholarship. The problem is, that Wadding included numerous texts in his edition that are spurious, and these were all accepted as being by Scotus until scholars started studying manuscirpts of Scotus in the 1930's or so. And even then, it was only a small group of radicals that started doing that. So really, I would say non-specialists should not read anything earlier than Gilson's book,save for Wolter's book mentioned above, and longpre's long essay. Harris' two volume comparison of Aquinas and Scotus is a good example of why: he found in the wadding edition the quaestiones de rerum principio, which have among other things, a strong endorsement of spiritual matter. This fit with Harris' view of Scotus as a strong platonist, and he refused to deny their authenticity, which apparently had been challenged even in his day. But some years later the manuscripts were discovered and it was found that the work is not even by Scotus at all, and all the other cases of spiritual matter in Scotus' genuine works are simply mentions as a theory belonging to other masters.

On the whole, though, I don't think we could really have a comprehensive book on Scotus until the Parisian works are edited. There is much modification or explanation there of his Oxford theories. Of course the current trend is to explain all such passages as changes of mind, making Scotus into a sort of weak willed ninny who can't make up his mind and allegedly drastically changes his position all within a few years of going from Oxford to Paris (drops univocity of being, walks back the formal disitnction, etc. etc.). No, I think it is the current period of Scotus scholarship that will end up being obviated once the edition is done. Though at least we know now what Scotus actually wrote!

Bubba said...

We love it when scholars change their mind; it shows how they adjusted their thinking.
The problem with "dated scholarship" is that most people approaching Scotus approach him already knowing what he said. This causes a problem when those people are editors, as they start making editorial choices based on questionable notions of purity, antiquity, and all that. We run into this all the time, on the small scale, but especially on the large scale.

How do they get away with these choices? Well, in part, because the editing of medieval texts is something of a pseudoscience. There's a lot of theories out there, and we can construct tests for some of our hypotheses, but almost nobody does that.

The editions form the foundation for the higher-level analyses, and if the editions are based on questionable choices, then the higher-level analyses start to fail. The apex analyses ("the big pictures") are the most vulnerable.

This is where looking at early Scotists like Petrus Thomae can be fun: you can start to see how Scotus' contemporaries saw him, what they saw as important, and what they disagreed with. They themselves will let you know (sometimes) whether they're normalizing or pushing Scotus' thought. At the same time, no witness, direct or indirect, can ever provide a coherent picture.

The price tag is always a pain, but not even libraries are buying the physical copies these days.

Lee Faber said...

What tests do you have in mind? Peter Thomae might be a good candidate to run them, since the text is fairly short, compared to say a Sentences-commentary.

Bubba said...

Some tests that you can run:

1. Study cases where manuscript A is a direct copy of B. As editors, we throw these out as having zero value as witnesses to the text. But if you look at them, you can find phenomena of transmission. Also, you'll find that a manuscript changes after it's been read: copyists will correct "obvious" faults in their exemplar.
2. Test an editorial method in a case where both the original survives and a decent number of copies circulate. I have some ideas ware we can find something like that.