Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Instants of Nature

The instants of nature (signum naturae, instans naturae) are an analytic tool employed by Scotus. I am unclear as to its origin, however. Vos, in his recent book, mentioned a name or two and then ran on to something else without giving much explanation. I have seen it in Henry of Ghent, though I don't recall ever seeing it in Thomas or Bonaventure. Basically, it seems to amount to analyzing the divine nature through logical or conceptural divisions in divine processes. By processes I mean cognition and volition, not Trinitarian relations or processions. If one is unfamiliar with this, it sounds as if it amounts to saying God can change. But Scotus would clearly deny this; for as we have hopefully shown already on previous blogs, he is very sensitive (far more so than any other scholastic I have read to date) to explicit doctrinal positions that must be held on authority of Church or Scripture. Furthermore, back around d.8 of book I of the Ordinatio he had a question in which he denied that God can change. So at least in his own mind, he's absolved of the charge. He also uses this mode of analysis without calling attention to it, which is also telling. This is to say, he doesn't ever (that I have seen) make an argument for its appropriateness or try to show that it doesn't involved heresy. In his mind, its part of the scholastic package he's inherited from Henry et al. This is confirmed by various places where he does go against the tradition, such as in d. 2 where he introduces the formal distinction/formal non-identity, or d.26 where he advances the idea that the Trinitarian persons are consituted by something absolute, not relative. In the former case, he advances his postion without "prejudicio" and submits it to the judgment of the Church. In the latter, though in the Ord. it is ambiguous, he seems to be saying that it is more probable than the common opinion but gives different sets of answers to the initial objections from both perspectives. In the Lectura he is more explicit and also says that he holds his opinion without prejudice to the common one (or so say the vatican editors; i skimmed through the section but didn't see it). I should probably admit, however, that in d.2 in the Lectura he is a little more brazen about his opinion and says something like "he has understanding, let him undestand. There is no doubt in my mind". Anyway, here's a quote that seems typical of his use of instants of nature. I give this particular quote because it is the first time I've seen "instantibus naturae" paired with "signum naturae" which may or may not be significant.

Here is the objection [almost unintelligible] that he responds to, Ord. I d. 39 q. un. n.8:

"Et praeterea, si primo offeratur intellectui divino aliqua lex universalis (puta esse glorificandum, esse gratificandum), et istam acceptat voluntas divina (et ex hoc statuitur lex sapientiae), et secundo offerat intellectus voluntati Petrum esse beatificandum, - si voluntas illum acceptet, videtur ex hoc intellectum cognoscere Petrum esse glorificandum, et hoc cognitione dictativa, non accepta in se formaliter a voluntate, licet voluntas verificaverit praemissas ex quibus intellectus istam habet."

And furthermore, if some universal law is first offered to the divine intellect (for example, that something should be glorified or gratified/graced [i'm lazy], and the divine will accepts that (and from this the law of wisdom is established), and second the intellect offers to the will that Peter should be beatified - if the will accepts that, it seems from this that the intellect knows that Peter should be glorified, and this by dictative [?] cognition, not received in itself formally from the will, although the will will have verified the premises from which the intellect has it.

Ord. I d. 38 q. un n.10:

"Ad secundum dico quod intellectus divinus non sic cognoscit aliqua, discurrendo, sicut procedit argumentum; sed distinguendo de instantibus naturae, in primo apprehendit quodcumque operabile (ita illa quae sunt principia operabilium, sicut operabilia particularia), et in secundo offert omnia ista voluntati (quorum omnium aliqua acceptat, tam principiorum practicorum quam particularium operabilium), et tunc in tertio signo intellectus scit aeque immediate illa particularia sicut illa universalia, et ita non acquirit cognitionem illorum particularium ex principiis praedeterminatis per voluntatem. Hoc magis patebit in quaestione De scientia Dei respectu futuorum contingentium."

To the second, I say that the divine intellect does not so understand somethings, discursively, as the argument alleges; but by distinguishing out of instants of nature, in the first he apprehends whatever operable (those which are the principles of operables, just as particular operables), and in the second he offers all those to the will (some of all those he accepts, both of practical principles as of particular operables), and then in the third instant the intellect knows equally immediately those particulars just as those universals, and so he does not acquire the cognition of those particulars from principles predetermined by the will. This will be clearer in the question about God's knowledge of future congingents.

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