Sunday, March 30, 2008

Duns Scotus on the Existence of God

Here is an interesting bit on the proposition "God exists" (Deus est); as we all know, Scotus, like all the other scholastics, argues from effects to a cause in his proof for the existence of God. While the following quote will surprise no one, it is interesting as it sheds some light on what he thinks can be known about this proposition. From Reportatio IA d.2 pars 1 q.3 n.10:

As far as the first question is concerned (Whether some being is simply first), I say that, as was said before, according to no concept possible to us in the wayfaring state per se known [Wolter translates per se nota as "self-evident"] about his existence by a demonstration propter quid, because the middle term for demonstrating existence of him is unknown to us, namely the essence of God as this or deity under the aspect of deity. And therefore this proposition "God exists" is not known per se by us nor known propter quid, nor should we despair of knowing him [I suppose...haec propositio Deus est non est per se nota nec nobis nota propter quid, nec est desperatum a nobis cognosci]. Therefore by a demonstration "quia" alone can he be known by us now, as the middle term is taken from an effect. Relational properties are more immediately known by us in a cause than are absolute properties, because according to relative properties we say that he relates [respicere] to every effect according to the properties of causality and productability; and therefore from properties of this sort we must first establish our thesis [I've paraphrased wolter a bit here...sometimes there just aren't enough verbs!]

Merlin and Giles of Rome

An amusing quote from Aegidius Romanus, which I came across in Pini's article on the Quodlibets of the same, in the Schabel volume p. 249 n.81:

Quodl. I, q.1, Utrum angeli cognoscant futura contingentia. Giles reformulates this question in general terms, i.e. whether angels know contingent future events, but he recollects that the question was posed specifically concerning the knowledge that demons gave to Merlin the Magician. "Et inducebatur haec quaestio propter angelos malos et propter Merlinum. Dicitur enim de Merlino quod ille natus fuerit per auxilium daemonis, ut per artem succuborum et incuborum, et quia ille Merlinus dixit multa contingentia futura quae a multis creditur diabolus eum docuisse, et quia non potuit eum docere nisi ea quae sciret, erat quaestio utrum angelus malus vel diabolus cognoscat futura contingentia.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Natural Reason and Theology

Reportatio IA Prologus q.2 a.2-3 n.221 ff.:

Some random quotes...

I argue against that and make a threefold major. All our natural cognition which we have of God is caused in us by an equivocal effect. Also, all our natural cognition of God is indistinct. Also, it is obscure, which is clear because it is not of an object evident to the intellect according to intellectual existence.

From the first proposition I argue so: all our cognition of God which we have naturally is caused in us by an equivocal effect and is imperfect. But some other cognition, intuitive, which is of him as he exists presently, is possible for us. Therefore from purely natural powers we are not able to arrive at all possible cognition about God.


Again, from the third proposition it is argued so: what is of perfection in an inferior power is not repugnant to a superior power of the same genus. But it is of perfection in the lower power, sensitive apprehension, to know its object clearly and intuitively in its existence, just as is clear about sight. Therefore this is not repugnant to the intellect with respect to its per se object. God is of this sort, as was shown. Therefore the obscure cognition of him is not the most perfect possible about him.


From what has been said, the response to the question is clear, namely that some truths can be known about God naturally and some not. For whatever from those things which are nown about God in effects can be known by us by a demonstration "quia" and a posteriori, namley by effect. But many are such which can be known about God from effects, as is clear from the sciences of the philosophers. Many truths are knowable about God which we are not able to know about God by natural reason. Because whatever in a cause cannot be known from those things which are known in effect, cannot be known by us by natural reason. There are many truths knowable about God which are of this sort, as the Trinity of persons and unity of essence and the articles of this sort pertaining to deity, therefore etc. Nevertheless, we can known them supernaturally, as was shown.


If it is asked further whether theology is maximally one, it is clear that it is because its subject is maximally one. For the subject of the sciences of the philosophers is only one according to reason and apprehension of the intellect, but the subject of this science is maximally singular, indeed it is singularity itself as this deity as this, or this essence as this.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Science and Theology

Ha! Here you thought this would be a post relevent to the world of Today and not about Scotus. Too bad. While researching Scotus's views on the nature of theology and how it is a science in Reportatio I-A, I came across the f0llowing question (and a particularly interesting quotation I shall share below): Utrum veritates per se scibiles de Deo sub ratione deitatis possint sciri ab intellectu viatoris (As Wolter translates it, "Can truths that are knowable per se of God as deity be kown by the intellect of the pilgrim?"). Scotus begins the question with a discussion of Thomas' view that our theology is subalternated to the theology of the blessed in the beatific vision. The principles of the science of theology are not known in the science itself, but are had by the blessed; in this life, they are only believed, not known. Scotus makes five or six arguments against this position which I won't go into here, though they are interesting. Scotus also runs through the debate between Henry of Ghent and Godfrey of Fontaines about Henry's view that theologians have a certain lumen medium by which they know theological truths. As Godfrey (according to Scotus) had used one argument of Averroes against the Christians against Henry's list of saints, Scotus says he ought to be more derided than Henry, even though Henry's position is a bit crazy too. So, Scotus thinks they're both wrong.

His own view is that many truths knowable per se by the wayfarer can be known, not only a posteriori but also a priori, "under the aspect of deity by a form of cognition that is superior and more noble than any knowledge by faith". He proves one part of this by saying that an intellect able to understand a subject under the aspect of a subject [ie the subject of a science] can understand a principle virtually included in the subject, and further conclusions contained in a principle, because as the term of the subject is the cause of the principle so is the principle the cause of a conclusion. The object of the science of theolgy Scotus thinks can be known by means of abstractive cognition (as distinguished against intuitive).

The second part of his position, that the cognition the wayfarer has of God under the aspect of deity is more perfect and more certain than all cognition of faith, Scotus supports with the claim that whatever God can do by means of a second cause, he can do per se efficiently without it. But God by the mediation of some object can cause certain knowledge and certain assent so that the will is not able to dissent. Therefore God can do this per se without a medium (Scotus is thinking of the prophets here, who couldn't dissent from what was revealed to them. apparently).

Now comes the interesting part, and our quote for the evening:

"From this I infer two conclusions. The first is that in the cognition of God there are five grades. The first is to know truths intuitively, truths which are knowable about God and knowable distinctly by the notion of the subject known intuitively and distinctly, and that grade is not commonly possible to the wayfarer. The second grade is to know something certitudinally in something representatively distinctly known, and that grade is possible for a wayfarer. The third grade is to know something with certitude so that its certitude is not subject ot an actof the will, and that grade was in the prophets. The fourth grade is to know explicitly those things which are contained in the Scriptures by which brings pious aid and defends agains the impious by knowing how the solve the doubts of others and to fortify them with good arguments, and that grade is of the great ones in the church ['maiorum':Wolter translates this as elders]. The fifth grade is to know those things which are necessary for salvation, which is of the simple ones, because they are not able to search through all things contained in scripture."

The second conclusion he derives is that the light Henry talks about is not something that comes with extended study, but is there by a supernatural infusion who possesses it as a free gift to the intellect. Which is about as much as I've seen Scotus ever grant to the notion of divine illumination.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Ordinatio I d. 22: On the Divine Names

[distinctio 22, quaestio unica

Whether God is namable by us by some name signifying the divine essence in itself, as it is a “this”]

Concerning distinction twenty-two I ask whether God is nameable by us wayfarers by some name signifying the divine essence in itself, as it is a “this”

[I. Opinion of others]

It is said that just as God is understood by us, so he is able also to be named by us. According to the diverse ways some people think about the cognition of God by the intellect of a wayfarer, consequently they speak in different ways about naming God—and those who deny a common univocal concept between God and creatures and posit two analogous concepts (of which each one, which is of a creature, is attributed to the other, namely, to that one which is of God) will say because of this that God is nameable by a wayfarer by a name expressing that analogous concept.

But I argue specially against that opinion, because every real possible concept that can be had of the divine essence, comes to be in the intellect by the power of that essence (which is proved, because also any minimal intelligible object, naturally makes every real concept that can possibly be had of it); but according to them, only a single concept can be had of the divine essence by its power, although the intellect considering [negotians] can cause and fabricate many concepts concerning that object; therefore, whatever object makes some knowledge of God in our intellect, will make-according to that opinion—a concept of it as it is “this essence”, and so it will be nameable by a wayfarer by a name signifying “this essence” as it is a “this”.

[II. Scotus’s response]

It can be said to the question, briefly, that that proposition common to many opinions—namely that ‘just as it is understood, so also it is named’—is false if understood precisely, because something is able to be signified more distinctly than it can be understood.

Which seems to be persuaded by this, that since substance is not intelligible by a wayfarer unless in the common concept of being (just as was proved in distinction 3), if it cannot be more distinctly signified than understood, no name imposed by a wayfarer would signify some thing of the genus of substance, but just as some property from which a name is imposed is conceived precisely by the intellect of the wayfarer (which property commonly is expressed by the etymology of the name), so precisely such a property would be signified by a name: for example, by the name of stone something of the genus of substance would not be signified, but only something from the genus of action, such as “wounding of the foot”, which the etymology expresses and from which the name was imposed.

And so it can be argued about all other names, with things from the genus of substance having been imposed, because none of them signify something except some accidental property which is understood by the one imposing—or it is necessary to say that a name signifies more distinctly than the one positing it understood.

This may be possible in such a way, it can be understood so, according to the way of Augustine VI De trinitate c.6, in which he proves there to be composition in every creature. For many accidents are conceived by some, concurring in the same, supposes such quantity and such quality, --and neither of those is proved to be the other, because each of them remains without the other; each of those is proved also to have a common subject [??utrique illorum aliquid aliud esse subiectum commune], because each of them can be destroyed with the other not destroyed: therefore something is concluded to be the subject of each, as quality and quantity,--that however which is underneath [subest], is not conceived in a quidditative concept except of being, or of ‘this being’. And when frequently it comes about that such quantity and such quality are joined in something and elsewhere they are not conjoined, and this is not from the nature of quality and quantity, as it was shown—it is concluded that this is from the nature of that third, in which both of those are founded. Not however are things so much joined in that total, as much as in that: for from which they are joined in different ways in diverse things, it is concluded that the substrate of these is different from the substrate of those, and from this it is concluded that this is another from another third. But those others, so distinct (whatever that may be which is joined with them, which are being understood), imposing a name to something. That seems to be the proper sign of “this”, under the aspect which it is “this”, so that by imposing a name, one intends to signify that essence of the genus of substance: and just as one intends to signify, so the name which he imposes is a sign, and nevertheless he does not understand that distinctly, which he intends to signify distinctly by this name or this sign.

Example: is someone were to impose hebrew characters, unaware of hebrew utterances in particular—nevertheless knowing that some utterance is first and some second and some third, he would impose so “something is first, and whatever that is, I intend that it be signified by such a name and such a character’ those characters would be signs of those hebrew utterances, which some hebrew would distinctly know the objects of such signs, a non hebrew however even if he should understand what was being signified by those figures, would not understand that distinctly, but only under the aspect of the first utterance or the second.

Briefly, therefore, it can be said that at least many names are imposed which signify God in common, because so he can be naturally conceived by a wayfarer, as appears in distinction 3; or if it is true that he ‘can be signified more distinctly than conceived’, God can be named by a wayfarer by a name signifying ‘this essence’.

Whatever the case may be about this, it is similar to name God by such a name, and this or that name is imposed by God himself, or by an angel knowing him, or by a wayfarer. For it is similar that there are many names in scripture, signifying that essence distinctly—just as the jews say about the name of God which they call “Tetragrammaton”, and God seems to say in EX. 3: “Say this to the sons of Israel: He who is, sent me to you,’ that is, this is my name; an elsewhere, “I am the God of Abraham,” etc., “this is my name” and “I have not shown my great name of Adonai to them”.

Therefore God is nameable by a wayfarer signifying by a proper name the divine essence as it is ‘this essence’, because the wayfarer can use that sign and intend to express the signified of that sign, or he imposed that sign or another one who knew the signified; and by such a sign or name the wayfarer can use it as a name, although he is not able to impose it as a sign. And if that proposition would be true that ‘no name can be imposed to something more distinctly than it can be understood,’ this is false because ‘no one can use a name, more distinctly signifying a thing, than he himself can understand’ and therefore it must be granted that the wayfarer can use many names, expressing the divine essence under the aspect of the divine essence.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Change--Yes We Can!

Apologies to our legions of adoring fans for not giving you more of what you want--the golden medium aevum, philosophy, theology, and Latin!--and instead wasting precious electrons on politics and the Renaissance. But I read this bit today and in light of the political spirit of the age it seemed so appropriate that I had to share:

To my mind, in public affairs there is no course so bad, provided it is old and stable, that it is not better than change and commotion. Our morals are extremely corrupt, and lean with a remarkable inclination toward the worse; of our laws and customs, many are barbarous and monstrous; however, because of the difficulty of improving our condition and the danger of everything crumbling to bits, if I could put a spoke in our wheel and stop it at this point, I would do it with all my heart . . . The worst thing I find in our state is instability, and the fact that our laws cannot, any more than our clothes, take any settled form. It is very easy to accuse a government of imperfection, for all mortal things are full of it. It is very easy to engender in a people contempt for their ancient observances; never did a man undertake that without succeeding. But as for establishing a better state in place of the one they have ruined, many of those who have attempted it have achieved nothing for their plans.

--Michel de Montaigne, "Of Presumption"