Wednesday, August 1, 2007

De materia

One of the facets of Scotistic philosophy that the uniniated gawk at and find shocking are his views on matter. He is often presented (no references will be supplied; just take my word for it-besides, its just a blog!) as claiming that matter can exist without form. Now, in Lectura II.12 (a locus-possibly erroneous- for what little modern discussion there is on the potentially embarassing question of Scotus and spiritual matter) there is some indication on this, as Scotus says that matter has some positive entity, enabling it to act as a substrate for change, to subsist beneath a succession of forms. The other day, while studying for exams, I came across the following interesting passage from Ord. IV d.11 q.3, the place where Scotus analyzes the merits of transubstantiation, consubstantiation, annihilation. Here he is more explicit than in the Lectura, and analyzes matter in terms of potency as a disjunctive transcendental (transcendental pairs that between them divide being: another example would be the necessary and contingent) and matter as potency to form. The second paragraph is pretty strange; either reflective of ms. problems or just a long run-on sentence.

By the way, when I get back into town I intend to look into the penance issue, and consult the wadding ed. with its accompanying post-Tridentine commentaries to see Scotus's relation to the doctrinal formulations and the analysis by Richard Cross.

Here's the passage on matter (the context is eucharistic conversion):

"And when it is argued against the first, because then matter would be without form, and so in act, and not in act, there is an equivocation regarding 'act', because in one mode act is a difference of being opposed to potency, inasmuch as every being is divided, that is, into act or into potency. In another mode act means that relation [habitudinem: At one point in Book one Scotus says that the terms respectivum, relatio, and habitudo all mean the same thing], which is that of form to the informable, and is to the totality of it. And in the same way there is an equivocation about 'potency', because as it is opposed to act in the first mode, it means diminished being [ens diminutum], to which namely, it is not repugnant to be outside its own cause. Being however in act opposted to that potency, is being complete in its own being [esse] outside its own cause, whatsoever that may be. In another mode potency means a receptive principle of act in the second of the aforesaid modes, just as matter is called potency and form act. [there follows an omitted paragraph reciting passages of Aristotle in support].

"To the question at hand [propositum], matter without form is in act in the first mode, and not in potency, which is proved by the Confessions of Augustine. Note his words: 'matter itself receives from God its imperfect being, which it has, namely in potency,' And it is necessary for him to say this, because he grants that matter is created by God, but before it was created, it was in potency in the first mode. This is proved, because otherwise it would be created, which is impossible to be created, therefore after creation it was in potency, not by that mode, because then by creation there would not have been some entity of produced matter, only therefore after creation was in potency in the second mode, because it was receptive of act in the aforesaid second mode. but then there is ignorance of dialectics [elenchi?], when it is said, matter is in act in the first mode, and not in act in the second mode; therefore it is in act, and not in act. In the same way there is an equivocation about potency here as there."

There's a gloss in the margin here by Wadding or Antonius Hiquaeus Hibernus (the commentary printed in this volume) that refers this matter prior to creation to be first in objective potency and then in subjective potency, which to my mind squares with what Scotus says elsewhere. Basically, what he seems to be saying in the second paragraph here (no latin today) that matter had to be created, but before it was it was in potency; it was potency as disjunctive transcendental/ens diminutum (though I think this latter term is sometimes synonymous with esse cognitum). after creation it was in potency in the second way, as related to form. weird.


Michael Sullivan said...

"uniniate"? Real smooth.

This passage at any rate does not seem to be arguing that matter can exist without being informed, but I'm given to understand he's more explicit other places.

Anonymous said...

Again, my ignorance: is Scotus suggesting, that creation was not ex nihilo? It seems that he is, since "before it was created, it existed in the first mode". But the first mode means diminished being. But whatever existed in the first mode had to be created; but it could not have been created, Scotus seems to be saying, if it didn't already exist in the first mode. Which seems to be saying that it always existed in that way, which means it was uncreated. Or am I missing something, such as what Scotus means by "first mode" or "creation"?

Lee Faber said...

Yes, creation is ex nihilo. see Ord. II d. 1. 1st mode as in objective potency. the classic example is the soul of the anti-christ. for a fuller discussion of potency see the first 3 questions or so of Book IX of the Qq. on the metaphysics.