Wednesday, July 7, 2021

William Desmond, Being and the Between

 The title above is a book I have been reading lately. usually I will be excited for a month with a new acquisition and then the taedium sets in and I abandon the book. My shelf of "current books" grows ever longer. Surprisingly, I have stuck with Przywara's Analogia entis, though it doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me in either German or English.

Desmond is a scholar of continental philosophy, mainly of Hegel it seems, with little to no interest in medieval philosophy. The book listed in the title of the post is loosely based on Aristotle, Plato, and the moderns. The auther seems rather adverse to scholastic thought; consider the following, from p. 12:

But were there no happening of astonishment, metaphysics would be a mere scholastic juggling of empty abstractions, perhaps with great virtuosity in the formal mastery of argumentation, but ontologically barren nonetheless.

The author, though not possessing knowledge of Scotus' position on univocity, effectively rules out Scotus' position at the very beginning. p. 3:

Hence, the question of being is not first one for philosophers, understood as an elite of thinkers. It transcends the difference of the few and the many, for it strikes our humanity simply in virtue of its being, as mindful of itself and what is other to itself. Of course, this matter may degenerate into platitude. Then being will be said to be the emptiest of abstractions--a vacuous generality, indifferently applicable to everything and anything, and hence not applicable with illuminating power to anything in particular. Against this degrading of being we must fight strenuously. There may be a sense of the universal, and the community of being that transcends any abstract universal.

As nice a short summary of Scotus as was every written. But we might fight against it.

Finally, a word of warning: be careful when buying academic books! I bought my copy from Amazon, which sells it, I found, as a print on demand volume. But alas, every page of the text, as well as the front and back cover, contains the stamp "copyrighted Material". One would think this could have been dispensed with, given that there is a copyright page, but no. The stamp even covers page numbers and sometimes obscures the last line of the text on a page. So find a used copy, if you want to read this book.

Saturday, June 19, 2021

Byzantine Univocity

 I recently came across an essay on univocity among the Byzantine theologians that might be of interest to our readers. Essay is here.

Johnathan Bieler, "Christ: the mystery of God truly made manifest? Leontius of Byzantium and the Univocity of Being."

From the conclusion:

After reading this long passage we cannot go into all the details but we will summarily say that Leontius opposes univocity and equivocity. He accuses his opponents of adhering to a pure equivocity of terms in Christology and Trinitarian Theology by separating the terms from their definitions. Thus, equivocity negates the true manifestation of the divine in the manifest mystery of Christ. Naturally, for Leontius as well as for the Severian interlocutor, God in himself is hidden and beyond word, intellect and nature. However, for Leontius this God has truly revealed himself in Christ and thus we must speak in univocal terms of the Trinity and Christ. He achieves the univocity of God and the world by subsuming all beings (God, angels, human beings etc.) under one single definition of existence as such, which ousia stands for when defined simply.

In this respect, Leontius falls short of Ps-Dionysius’ strong language for the transcendence of God as beyond ousia or being, even though he knows his writings and quotes him even by name.7 Leontius seems to make a bit of a desperate move here and puts all beings and God under the same category of existence as such. In this, Leontius even found a successor in Duns Scotus, who also holds a univocal concept of being, ens, for God and the world. A few questions are in order to point to the problems of Leontius’ view: Is the transcendence of God not corrupted if he is put in the same genus of existence as the world? Does not the world then somehow share in God’s uncreated and eternal being, as both share the same sort of existence? This would remind us of the Origenist doctrine of the fall of beings from some sort of unity with God. Can Leontius’ univocal use of the term ousia still fully affirm the distinction of the created and the uncreated existence, which was so important for example to Athanasius as well as Ps-Dionysius and in turn, Maximus the Confessor? Part of an answer to these questions has to be given by an analysis of the relation between predicative logic and ontology in Leontius which I cannot serve with here. At any rate, we have a sense now for the task of later authors so diverse as John Philoponus and Maximus the Confessor to reject PsDionysius or integrate him into a Theology that holds together both transcendence and true manifestation of God without falling into the simple alternative between univocity and equivocity. Maximus, in my view, will come forward with a solution that resembles more Aquinas’ analogy of being than Duns Scotus’ univocity of being.

Sunday, June 6, 2021

 Here is a recent post about Scotus, with many interesting reflections and reminiscences of the particular writers experiences in grad school.

He had some discussion of what he thought Scotus was trying to do that I think is not right, but worthy of consideration and reflection nevertheless.

The question I was trying to get to a little earlier was whether Duns Scotus was himself, ironically, rather less committed to the procedures of Scholastic philosophy than he seemed. By this I mean that there are at least two ways to do Scholastic philosophy though, I am sure, there are really many more than two ways. But we can establish at least these two possibilities. You do Scholastic philosophy in good faith, because you basically believe that it can deliver the goods, as it were, or you do it in bad faith, you do it in order to show what it can’t do. You run it into the ground. It’s possible that Duns Scotus was more or less of the latter sort. He was playing Scholastic philosophy against itself. To some degree. He was using the tools of Scholastic philosophy in order, in a sense, to break them, to destroy those tools. That’s probably too strong. But it was a tricky business, I think, what Scotus was up to.

Take the concept of haecceity, for instance, which must be one of the more unwieldy sort of words (how do you pronounce it?) in the history of philosophy and which is one of Scotus’ great gifts to us, though actually his students, the Dunses, came up with the word as their best shot at naming an idea that Scotus had elaborated in his philosophical treatises. Haecceity comes from the Latin word haec, which means ‘this’. So haecceity is best translated as ‘thisness’. Duns Scotus was trying to isolate the particular thisness that makes each thing a ‘this’ and therefore completely and totally unique. This is a rather perverse thing for a metaphysician to do. To focus on thisness is, in the mood of it, to turn philosophy on its head. It’s to say that the strange, unaccountable, irreducible quality of all things, that which makes each thing of creation just what it is, that this is the central and unsolvable mystery. The only way you are going to come into contact with thisness, and thus to know and to relate to anyone else, anything else, is to pay attention to that thing, that person, that object in its ineluctable, weird, unique specialness. That’s not really the sort of thing that a philosopher, especially a medieval Scholastic philosopher, is supposed to say. That’s the sort of thing a poet or a mystic says (Gerard Manley Hopkins, for instance, loved Scotus). But Scotus said it. He just said it with the words of Scholastic philosophy, so it sounds like a bit of philosophy when, in fact, it is a thought by which philosophy collapses in on itself. Or maybe truly becomes itself, finally. You could say that as well, maybe.

Thursday, January 7, 2021

Was Scotus Irish?

Recently I was sent a discussion about the national origins of Duns Scotus. It is here. There was a big controversy about this among the 17th century Scotists. Many of the Irish Scotists claimed him as their own. They did not, however, assign a town where he was born.

The author of the piece linked to above rejects the current scholarly view that Scotus was Scotish. The problem is, the Irish thesis is based purely on hearsay. There is no positive evidence in the form of a medieval document.

What about the Scottish claim? The author claims that "Scotus" could mean someone from Ireland or Scotland, that we don't know when it changed to mean only someone from Scotland. Think of the other "Scotus", Eriugena, who unquestionably was Irish. According to the author, people in the thirteenth century could be described as being either 'hibernicus' or 'scotus' depending on their racial origins as native Irish or Norman invaders.

But whether or not such a distinction is true or not, it isn't relevant to the question of Scotus' origins. For we have a contemporary document that contains enough evidence to show Scotus' Scottish ancestry. This is the adhesion list of 1303. In the dispute between the pope and the king of France, the king sent officials to the various religious houses at the university and had them affix their names to a list accepting the king's claims or denying them. Scotus is on the list denying. The most recent edition of this list is in Courtenay.

“Early Scotists at Paris: A Reconsideration,” Franciscan Studies 69 (2011), 175-229

This list describes people from England as 'de anglia,' those from Ireland as 'de hymbernia', leaving 'Scotus' to be Scottish. What is more, the list organizes people by regions: thus, on the page on which Scotus appears, we have scholars from the Iberian peninsula, followed by Scotus, the English, the Irish, and then the beginning of the Germans.

I quote the list from Courtenay , p. 226:

fr. Poncius de Catelonia

fr. Gondissalvus magister

fr. Martinus ejus socius

fr. Petrus de Villa franca

fr. Franciscus de Colimbria [Coimbra]

fr. Femandus

fr. Johannes scotus

fr. Thomas eius socius

fr. Johannes65. Johannes de Anglia

fr. Johannes Crombe

fr. Thomas anglicus

fr. Ricardus yberniensis

fr. Odo yberniensis 67. Odo de Ymbernia

fr. Dyonisius yberniensis 68. Dyonisius de Ymbernia

fr. Thomas Coloniensis

fr. Henricus saxoniensis

fr. Johannes saxoniensis

fr. Bemardus saxoniensis

fr. Eglosus almannus

fr. Henricus almannus

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Mayronis on the Analogy of Being

 Just in time for Christmas I have uploaded a fresh collation of Mayronis' Conflatus q. 12, the question on analogy, to the Digital Conflatus. There is some interesting annotation identifying the opinions of the Scotists, Thomists, Artists, and Aureolists, though the content of the question is not terribly exciting. Mayronis rejects analogy at least for the purposes of philosophy and theology (whether he accepts 'real' analogy remains to be seen). The basic reason is how he classifies analogy, which he does by placing it under equivocity, like Boethius and most of the Latin tradition.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Latin Help from Robert Pasnau

 Bob Pasnau reviews a book aimed at helping people move from reading classical Latin to Medieval Latin, and adds some helpful discussion of his own, here.

New Book on the Analogia entis

 Several Italian scholars have put together an anthology of texts, available for free here. It has the original language plus Italian translations and introductions to the texts. but they are all important, from Aristotle, the Greek commentators on Aristotle, Avicenna and Averroes, Aquinas, Scotus, Eckhart and Cajetan. The volum jumpts from Eckhart to Cajetan, omitting the author who wrote the most about analogy, in the middle ages, at least, Petrus Thomae. An odd omission, since there was a section in the companion volume on Peter Thomae by Porro. Also, Alexander of Alexandria has a fair bit on analogy in his commentary on the Metaphysics. But enjoy what we have.

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

New Scotus essay

 Scotus seems to be in danger of becoming more mainstream. I came across the announcement of a forthcoming article in the American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly today, abstract is below.

Yul Kim
Why Does the Wood Not Ignite Itself? Duns Scotus’s Defense of the Will’s Self-Motion
The goal of this paper is to analyze the response of John Duns Scotus to Godfrey of Fontaines’s argument against Henry of Ghent’s theory of the will’s self-motion. Godfrey’s argument is that, if the object is assumed to be causa sine qua non and the efficient causality is totally attributed to the will in the act of volition, it would also follow that not only the will’s motion but every motion in nature, such as, for example, the igniting of wood, is a self-motion. In this paper, I will explain that Scotus’s refutation of this argument in Reportatio II, d. 25 is based on his reflection upon the general possibility of self-motion as well as upon the indeterminacy of the will’s act. In doing so, I will show that the development of Scotus’s theory of the will’s motion is closely related to his universalized theory of self-motion.

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Feast of Scotus 2020

 Happy feast dear readers!

Here is a link to a terrible song about Scotus for your entertainment. well, they tried at least. 

Here's an old poem that appears in some mss of Scotus' works:

Scotia plange, quia periit tua gloria cara,

Funde precem, confunde necem, tibi cum sit amara.

Troia luit florem de viribus Hectora visum (!).

Sic luo Doctorem iuvenili flore recisum.

Caelum, terra, mare nequeunt similem reparare.

Si quaeras, quare, - probat hae editio clare.

Quam fera, quam nequam sit mors, tribuens tibi legem

Cum reliquis  aequam, rapiens ex ordine regem.

Lux, lex doctorum rex, iudex philosophorum,

Ut documentorum demonstrant dicta suorum.

Fletibus immensis urbs plorat Parisiensis,

Nuda suo flore, solo spoliata decore.

Ergo, legens, plora, quia non huic subfuit hora,

Sed ruit absque mora: pro quo, studens, precora, ora.

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Alexander Lugo's Metaphysical Controversies

While perusing various Scotus-related google search results, I came across an interesting volume. The Latin title is Controversiae metaphysicalium inter Scotistas in quibus potiores difficultates examinantur atque germana mens Scoti aperitur. a single volume printed at Bologna in 1653. Here is a link to the volume.

The author is Alexnder de Lugo, regarding whom I have copied the following from the Franciscan Authors website:

Alexander Rubeus/Rossus (Alessandro Rossi da Lugo, 1607-1686)

OFMConv. Spanish friar. Born on 14 November 1606 as the son of Alessandro Rossi da Lugo and Isabella Mengacci da Bagnacavallo. He joined the order in 1624, finishing his noviciate in Cesena. Afterwards, he received his philosophical, religious and theological education in Parma, Cesena (under Mastrius and Belluto), and in Bologna (under the regent master Paolo Antonio Losi da Carpi and Guglielmo Plati da Montaino). After completing his studies, he was regent in Piacenza, Baccalareus in the Assisi friary, regent in Urbino and later in regent in Assisi and Bologna (together with Lorenzo Brancati da Lauria). Subsequently active as order secretary. Later in life, he was again regent master of Bologna and 20 years lector of the Franciscan seminary of Lugo and guardian of the Lugo friary. In 1680, he became order procurator and in 1683 provincial minister of the Bologna province. He died on 2 November 1686. Alessandro Rossi was a propagator of Scotist thought

 The controversiae concern the classic debates in Scotist thought:

Controversia 1: an conceptui formali entis correspondeat propria realitas

Controverisa 2: An conceptus entis dicatur de ultimis differentiis modis et passionibus et quomodo

Controversia 3: An ens dicatur univoce de ente reali et rationis

Controversia 4: An ens rationis possit fieri ab intellectu divino

Controversia 5: An voluntas possit facere ens rationis formale

Controverisa 6: An ens habeat passiones de ipso demonstrabiles et quomodo

Controverisa 7: An dentur formalitates seu realitates passiones et naturae communes ex natura rei distinctae a rebus quarum sunt formalitates passiones et naturae

Controversia 8: Quam unitatem conservet natura communis in suis individuis

Controversia 9: An natura communis ut prior haecceitate possit intuitive cognosci

Controversia 10: An si natura per impossibile esset sine existentia et singularitate esset etiam sine duratione

Controversia 11: An substantia suscipiat magis et minus

Controversia 12: An generatio fiat in instanti vel potius in tempore

Controversia 13: An potentia receptiva formarum ex natura rei distinguatur a substentificativa earundem

Controversia 14: An totum integrale distinguatur relaiter a suis partibus

Controversia 15: An actus sit causa partialis habitus an solum causetur ab ipsa potentia

Controversia 16: An natura dicatur de principio passivo tantum

Controversia 17: An cessante actuali dependentia effectus creati ad propriam causam restet in ipso alia relatio qua actualiter referatur ad causam

Some of the names whose opinions are discussed in the text are: Scotus, Lichetus, Bargius, Henry (of Ghent), Mastrius, Thomistas, Scotistae, Pontius, Nolanus, Vulpes, Canonicus (=Marbres), Bassiolus, Mayronis, Aureolus, Pater Franciscus Pontelongus de Faventia, Rada, Bonetus, Ockham, Soncinas, Augustine, Aristotle, Tataretus, Faber, Cajetan, Molina

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Reading Proclus open-access

 Two volumes of a projected three on Proclus edited by Dragos Calma (Dublin) are now available:

Reading Proclus and the Book of Causes: vol. 1, vol. 2.

Here is the description from the publisher's website:

Reading Proclus and the Book of Causes, published in three volumes, is a fresh, comprehensive understanding of the history of Neoplatonism from the 9th to the 16th century. The impact of the Elements of Theology and the Book of Causes is reconsidered on the basis of newly discovered manuscripts and evidences. This second volume revises widely accepted hypotheses about the reception of the Proclus’ text in Byzantium and the Caucasus, and about the context that made possible the composition of the Book of Causes and its translations into Latin and Hebrew. The contributions offer a unique, comparative perspective on the various ways a pagan author was acculturated to the Abrahamic traditions.

Friday, October 16, 2020

Conference on Scotus' Quodlibet

 It's a Zoom conference, so anyone from any continent can attend!

Tuesday, September 22, 2020


 Just a cheap trick to drive up the clicks. But Duns Scotus does make an appearance in the current issue of Faith and Philosophy. Here is the abstract:

Accounting for the Whole - Why Pantheism is on a Metaphysical Par with Complex Theism
Pantheists are often accused of lacking a sufficient account of the unity of the cosmos and its supposed priority over its many parts. I argue that complex the­ists, those who think that God has ontologically distinct parts or attributes, face the same problems. Current proposals for the metaphysics of complex theism do not offer any greater unity or ontological independence than pantheism, since they are modeled on priority monism. I then discuss whether the for­mal distinction of John Duns Scotus offers a way forward for complex theists. I show that only those classical theists who affirm divine simplicity are better off with respect to aseity and unity than pantheists. Only proponents of divine simplicity can fairly claim to have found a fully independent ultimate being

Friday, September 18, 2020

Update on the Ordinatio translation

 Dear all, I received a note from Peter Simpson, the indefatigable translator of the Ordinatio. He informed me that his translation of Ordinatio IV is now complete, and he is moving to I d. 3, just to fill in the gaps. A monumental accomplishment, a translation of the entire Ordinatio into English. All interested in Scotus owe Simpson our thanks. I trust many libations will now be poured out in his honor. Someone should send him a bottle of that Duns Scotus scotch.

Digital Conflatus

 Here. Don't laugh. Volunteers welcome.