Thursday, November 22, 2007

Scotus and Universal Hylomorphism

This topic is somewhat enigmatic; the twentieth century historical-critical scholarship on the topic is agreed that Scotus denies spiritual matter, while nineteenth-century, based on the false attribution of the De rerum principio, assumed he held to it. The usual contemporary claim, example below (from the online Standford encyclopedia article on Scotus by Thomas Williams), is that the doctrine is denied in Lectura II d. 12; when I read this passage I found it not to be the case. But it is a sort of dogma in the scholarship at the moment. What I have seen is that Scotus generally refers to it when it comes up as "alia opinio" and may mention strengths/weaknesses it has, but doesn't definitively reject or hold it.

Second, Scotus denies "universal hylemorphism," the view that all created substances are composites of form and matter (Lectura 2, d. 12, q. un., n. 55). Universal hylemorphism (from the Greek hyle, meaning ‘matter’, and morphe, meaning ‘form’) had been the predominant view among Franciscans before Scotus. Saint Bonaventure, for example, had argued that even angels could not be altogether immaterial; they must be compounds of form and "spiritual matter." For matter is potentiality and form is actuality, so if the angels were altogether immaterial, they would be pure actuality without any admixture of potentiality. But only God is pure actuality. But as we have already seen in his affirmation of the existence of prime matter, Scotus simply denies the unqualified equation of matter with potentiality and form with actuality. Prime matter, though entirely without form, is actual; and a purely immaterial being is not automatically bereft of potentiality.

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