Monday, September 7, 2009

Theoremata Scoti, Pars I

The first part of Scotus' infamous Theoremata is concerned with the universal, and its relation to the singular existent on the one hand and the intellect on the other hand. There are six main propositions, with explanations and--as always with Scotus--some rabbit trails. This preliminary study will be English-only, since I don't feel like typing in the Latin (hey, if you want real scholarship, read a print journal!), but for the record I'm using as my text Vol. II of Scotus' Opera Philosophica.

I. The intelligible precedes intellection by nature.

"Which is because reception [passio] presupposes an agent and every action is about something." If we are to understand something there must be something to understand. The intellect does not create all of its own intelligible content, any more than the sense power creates the objects of the senses: sight presupposes the visible object as well as light and a working eye. Unlike sight, of course, the intellect can create some of its intelligible content.

II. It is impossible for the first intelligible to be caused by intellection.

"Which is from comparing intellection and the intelligible to the same intellect." Even if the intellect received no information from outside itself it would still have to understand something other than its own concepts: no intellect could know nothing but logic. The intellect itself is an intelligible object before it understands or is understood.

III. We understand the universal first.

Scotus spends a lot of time arguing this point. Unlike, say, Thomas, Scotus admits that the singular is intelligible per se, since for him singularity is a formal property, not some material detritus. Why then is the singular not the first intelligible object? After all, it is the singular thing which acts, not its abstracted universal nature, and so the singular should be the first thing to act on the intellect. Scotus reminds us, however, that there is for us no science of the singular, that the intellect forms a universal by separating the intelligible nature from the leftover singularity. "It is true [that it is the singular which acts], but not insofar as it is singular. For the nature is the ratio of acting." Just as in natural generation the species is multiplied, but not the individual, so in cognition the singular gives rise to an intelligible universal, not a proper concept of the singular.

Our lack of knowledge about the singular per se is neither because we fail to actualize our capacity for it, nor because the singular is unintelligible per se, but because our intellect is too imperfect to achieve it. Just as an intrinsically visible object might not be seen by feeble eyes in weak candlelight, the light of our intellect is strong enough to illumine the nature but not the singularity. Our knowledge then is always imperfect. "For although in a precise comparison the nature is a more perfect knowable than the singularity, nevertheless the cognition of a singular nature is more perfect than that of the nature alone, because it is more distinct."

Scotus goes on to discuss possible reasons for this weakness of the intellect at some length, with more comparisons to the sense powers.

IV. To any universal there corresponds in reality [in re] some grade of entity, in which the things contained under the universal itself coincide.

Scotus says this should be clear from I. and II. For if the universal is not created by the intellect then it must have something corresponding to it in reality. This correspondence is not fictional, but real, or else there could be no true quidditative predication and metaphysics would not differ from logic.

V. In essential predication it is impossible to go to infinity.

Otherwise nothing would be knowable, since we can't pass through an infinite series, nor can our finite intellect apprehend an infinite series all at once. Definition has a limit, and we can really know what something is, even if only confusedly.

VI. It is simply impossible for the first and most universal to be plural.

There cannot be a plurality of first and most universal concepts or grades of entity. In analyzing we always proceed to the simpler concept, and therefore eventually to the first and simplest. And as in any order it is impossible to find two firsts, it is even more so in the highest order, to which multitude is more repugnant.

To conclude:
I. The universal, although produced by the agent intellect, is strictly speaking not caused by it, because something in reality corresponds to it. II. That universal, insofar as it has being in something or with something singular, we first understand as a kind of primary whole object, although the intellect from its imperfection can per se understand the nature as a quasi-part of the primary whole object, and can distinguish this from that [i.e., can distinguish the nature as such from the whole object], while not conceiving the other part, namely the singularity.--For which intellection the action of the agent intellect is required. Whence any part of the first whole object can be first for the intellect, and afterwards the intellect can per se distinguish it from another. Whence a child first distinguishes his father from non-man, then from non-father.

1 comment:

Lee Faber said...

Great. It's about time someone wrote about this.