Saturday, January 30, 2010

Hervaeus Natalis on the Order of Divine Cognition

This is from (the Thomist) Hervaeus Natalis O.P.'s discussion of the divine ideas. Apparently William of Alnwick was right; the common opinion after Scotus did follow some version of his application of instants of nature to the order of divine understanding and the production of intelligilible being. Note however, that Hervaeus claims there are five stages, as opposed to Scotus' four.

Hervaus Natalis, I Sent. (Lectura, ca. 1303) d. 34 q. 1 a. 3 (ed. Paris 1647, p. 143):

"Secundo sciendum est quod talis videtur esse ordo in agnitione divina secundum quod procedit a cognitione sui, ad cognitionem creaturarum scilicet, quod primo intelligitur essentia divina ut obiectum primum, natum movere intellectum divinum quasi possibilem. Secundo intelligitur actus intelligendi causatus a tali obiecto movente. Tertio intelligitur dictus actus terminati ad essentiam divinam sicut ad primum obiectum et quia in essentia divina intellecta relucent omnia alia ab ea, intelligitur essentia divina, ut idea et exemplar ad cognitionem creaturae. Quarto accipitur ipsa creatura intellecta. Quinto est ipsum intelligi ideae ut idea est, ita quod intelligamus Deum prius idealitate sua, ut medio cognoscendi quo cognoscit creaturam, quam habeat ut obiectum cognitum, licet illud quod est idea sit prius cognitum quam creatura, sicut patuit in exemplo de cognitoine fumi, et de cognitione ignis per fumum, et de cognitione illius mediationis secundum quam fumus est causa cognoscendi ignem."


Second, is should be known that there is such an order in the divine recognition, which proceeds from the cognition of itself to the cognition of creatures. First, the divine essence is understood as first object, naturally suited to move the quasi divine possible intellect. Second, the act of understanding caused a such a moving object is understood. Third, the act terminating at the divine essence as to first object is understood, and because all other things than the divine essence shine forth from it, the divine essence is understood as idea and exemplar for the cognition of creatures. Fourth, the creatures themselves are received as understood. Fifth, the understanding of an idea as it is an idea, so that we understand God prior to his ideality, as a means of knowing by which he knows a creature, which he has as object known, although that which is the idea is known first than is the creature, as appears in the example of the cognition of smoke, and of the cognition of fire through smoke, and of the cognition of that means according to which smoke is the cause of knowing fire.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Contradiction in the Trinity?

Dr Vallicella has another post about the Trinity, here:

I don't assert, but I suspect that it's directed at least partially at me. He writes:

5. Is the doctrine thinkable (conceivable) without contradiction? . . . It is difficult to get some people to appreciate the force and importance of (5) because they are dogmatists who accept the Trinity doctrine as true simply because they were brought up to believe it, or because it is something their church teaches. Since they accept it as true, no question of its logical coherence arises for them. And so they think that anyone who questions the doctrine must not understand it. To 'set the objector straight' they then repeat the very verbal formulas the logical coherence of which is in question. "What's the problem? There is one God in three divine Persons!" They think that if they only repeat the formulas often enough, then the objector will 'get it.' But it is they who do not get it, since they do not understand the logical problems to which the doctrinal formulations give rise.

I suspect that this is directed at me, or at least that he thinks I'm one of these people. In his reply to my first letter to him he wrote As you no doubt will grant, the mere repetition of verbal formulas is not the same as an exposition of those formulas that shows them to be intelligible. After my response to his reply he wrote off the discussion as not worthwhile, then writes the above. I infer that he thinks my response was nothing more than a repetition of verbal formulas and that I don't understand the logical problem involved. Now I think that my response indicated no such thing. What I was attempting to do, at least, was to clarify the true sense that the verbal formulas hold, rather than a false and plainly contradictory sense. Now this is indeed different from directly showing that the doctrine is coherent. But, as I've already said, analyzing the doctrine must only come after getting the doctrine right. Now I suggest that the reformulations of the doctrine by Dr Vallicella and his sources distort it through the lens of a metaphysics not designed to accommodate it, so that the "logical problem" takes on the character of a petitio principii. I believe that the very way that Dr Vallicella presents the problem begs the question.

Now Dr Vallicella writes that "the gist of the Trinity doctrine is as follows:"

1. Monotheism: There is exactly one God.

2. Divinity of Persons: The Father is God; the Son is God; the Holy Ghost is God.

3. Distinctness of Persons: The Father is not the Son; and the Holy Ghost is not the Father or the Son.

And he follows this up with:

The problem is to show how these propositions are logically consistent, that is, how they can all be true, but without falling into heresy. If you cannot see the problem, you are not paying attention, or you lack intelligence, or your thought-processes are being distorted by ideological commitments.

So, presumably, Dr Vallicella thinks that responses such as the one I gave are not worth responding since I fall under one or all three of these deficiencies. Well, I wouldn't presume to make claims about my intelligence, and if my thought-processes were being distorted by ideological commitments I may well fail to observe it, but the problem is certainly not that I am not paying attention, since I have been studying Latin Trinitarian theology for many years now.

Now it's not that I "cannot see the problem," since there is a prima facie difficulty. How is God both one and three? How are the three identical with the one but not with each other? But the logic of the solution is not very difficult, hardly more difficult than the formulation of the problem. The key is to properly define the terms and distinguish the kinds of identity involved. But once this is done there is no logical problem at all, because the doctrine does not affirm and deny the same thing and in the same respect:

2. Divinity of Persons: The Father is God; the Son is God; the Holy Ghost is God.

It is orthodox to reformulate this as:

2a. Divinity of Persons: The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are identical with respect to the divine essence.

And now:

3. Distinctness of Persons: The Father is not the Son; and the Holy Ghost is not the Father or the Son.

It is orthodox to reformulate this as:

3a. The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are distinct with respect to their personally constitutive relations of origin.

So: The divine persons are identical in one respect and distinct in another respect. This is very different from saying "3=1" or "~(things which are equal to the same thing are also equal to each other)".

As far as I'm concerned this dispenses with, at least, any obvious contradiction. The only way to make the contradiction reappear is by importing some such question-begging premise as the one I quoted in an earlier comment thread by Cartwright, from an article cited with approval by Dr Vallicella:

The heretical conclusion [tritheism] follows, by the general principle that if every A is a B then there cannot be fewer B's than A's.

Cartwright claims that this principle "is evident to the natural light of reason," but the examples he gives are not analogous to the case of the Trinity: "Thus, if every cat is an animal, there cannot be fewer animals than cats; if every senator from Massachusetts is a Democrat, there cannot be fewer Democrats than senators from Massachusetts. Just so, if every Divine Person is a God, there cannot be fewer Gods than Divine Persons." But these examples all presuppose a paradigm of the relation of essence to supposit which is explicitly denied in the doctrine of the Trinity, for reasons explained in my last post. In a quote from St Bonaventure I have already pointed out the difference between humanity in Peter and Paul, for instance, and divinity in the Father and the Son. In the first case Cartwright's principle is correct: If every apostle is a man, then there cannot be fewer men than apostles. But the multiplication of apostles involves necessarily the multiplication of individual instances of humanity. On the other hand since deity is not a common nature like humanity, the multiplication of divine supposits cannot be presumed to involve the multiplication of individual instances of deity. Furthermore it should be clear that the claim is not that "The Father is a God," and "The Son is a God, for this formulation, again, presupposes that "God" is a universal and "divinity" a common nature, a "multiply instantiable entity," which I have already denied.*

One may decide that the way that Catholic theology explains the relation of the essence to the divine persons, and their distinction from one another solely according to their personally constitutive relations of origin, is incoherent or otherwise unsatisfying. But in order to do so one must engage this problem and locate the contradiction somewhere further back than where Dr Vallicella does so.

As it stands Dr Vallicella's attempts to grapple with the Trinity are not as off the mark as Dawkins' flying spaghetti monsters or his absurd attempts to refute arguments to a First Cause by resorting to a childish infinite regress argument. The difference, however, is one of degree, not of kind. If Dr Vallicella's aim really is, as stated, to discover whether the doctrine is thinkable without contradiction, then he must attempt to think it as it is thought, without importing foreign premises.

*There is so little danger of Catholic doctrine falling into tritheism or affirming any multiplication of the divine essence that I would be more sympathetic to an objection claiming that the three persons could not be really distinct at all than to this one claiming that they are too distinct to preserve divine unity. After all the word person does not signify a substance at all, but a relation! And the divine persons are defined as internal relations in the one God. Just look at Aquinas, Summa I q.29 a.4: "Distinctio autem in divinis non fit nisi per relationes originis, ut dictum est supra. Relatio autem in divinis non est sicut accidens inhaerens subiecto, sed est ipsa divina essentia: unde est subsistens, sicut essentia divina subsistit. Sicut ergo deitas est Deus, ita paternitas divina est Deus Pater, qui est persona divina. Persona igitur divina significat relationem ut subistentem. Et hoc est significare relationem per modum substantiae quae est hypostasis subsistens in natura divina; licet subsistens in natura divina non sit aliud quam natura divina. Based on texts like this I could give more credence to an objection that there were not really three at all than to the objection that according to this doctrine God is not really one.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Reply to the Maverick Philosopher

Dr Vallicella has honored me by responding to my last post at his blog, here:

Here is most of the reply that I posted there:

According to him: You write that God is a nature, and that this nature is thrice instantiated in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. But the reader may notice that I never wrote any such thing. It is clear that Dr Vallicella taken the word “nature” in the wrong sense, and read “instantiation” into it when this is doctrinallly inappropriate. Again, he writes, Your talk of instantiation suggests that God is a multiply instantiable entity whose instances are F, S, HG.

But I very much wish to deny this. It is central to monotheism that there is only one instance of the divine nature, and so whatever the multiplication of persons in God may be taken to mean, it cannot mean that there is more than one instance of God or individual God, which as he rightly points out compromises monotheism. As St Bonaventure says (In Sent. I.2.1): “It is impossible for there to be several gods, and if the meaning of the word ‘God’ is correctly received it is not only impossible but even unintelligible.”

So his use of “nature” to mean “multiply instantiable entity” suggests that the divine nature is a universal which is individuated in three instances. But the divine nature is not a universal, apt to be applied to or predicated of many, but a “form” which is singular by necessity. Theologians explain this necessity because of God’s simplicity (in order for a universal to be multiply instantiated it has to enter into composition with some individuating factors, but the divine nature is neither composible nor composed), God’s infinity (the divine nature is without limitation, but every case of instantiation involves a delimitation of one instance from all others), and so forth. Duns Scotus writes (in Reportatio I-A 2.3.3), “Whatever is of itself just a ‘this’ cannot possibly be multiplied, but whatever exists in the divine that is of one sort, is just of itself ‘this’ [i.e. is individual per se]”.

Every orthodox theologian, therefore, denies that in the Trinitarian productions – the generation of the Son by the Father or the spiration of the Holy Ghost by the Father and the Son – God produces another God, precisely because the divine nature cannot be multiplied. Again, Scotus (Reportatio I-A 5.1.1): “The essence neither procreates nor is procreated, and all the arguments that I find why it does not generate really come down to this. If this thing generates, then it procreates a real thing distinct from this essence. For no real thing generates itself. Therefore, it procreates some real thing that is not in the divine nature, because intrinsically there is no diversity there . . .”

If the divine nature were multiplied, there would be a plurality of Gods, and so a plurality of divine existences, operations, etc. But it’s intrinsic to the doctrine of the Trinity that the being or existence of the Father and the Son is one being. The operation whereby God creates the world is one operation, equally belonging to all three persons, not three cooperative activites. The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are not one God because they are each a (different) instance of the divine nature, but because they are each the same instance of the divine nature. Scotus once more (Reportato I-A 4.2): God is Father, Son, and Holy Ghost “by a singularity which is shared, by which ‘this God’ is common to all three. And a singularity or haecceity similar to this is not to be found in creatures, because in creatures nothing is a ‘this’ except by the ultimate haecceity, which is completely incapable of being shared.”

That is, for creatures a supposit or hypostasis is only distinguished from another one of the same nature by the multiplication of the nature through an individuating difference. “Humanity” is not a singular individual nature by itself, but only by an additional instantiating factor. But “deity” is a singular individual nature by itself.

This is why the divine persons are said to be distinguished from one another only by their relations of origin. The Son has the very same deity that the Father has, which means he shares every single attribute belonging to the Father, except Paternity. In begetting the Father communicates his numerically identical essence and existence to the Son, and fails to communicate only his ingeneracy, the fact that he is unbegotten. St Bonaventure writes (In Sent. Whatever the Son has, he has either freom himself or from another; but he has deity, and not from himself, for then he would be unbegotten, therefore he has it from another.”

So there is no individuting factor in the three divine Persons except their relations of origin, and these relations are within the single divine nature or essence rather than multiplications of it. Paternity and Filiation are ways in which the one God is related to himself. The divine persons as distinct from one another have only relative subsistence, as opposed to the absolute subsistence of the divine nature. Again, this is contrast to the state of things we’re familiar with, in which for there to be many human persons there have to be many humanities. St Bonaventure once more (In Sent. “Father and Son and Holy Ghost are united in this name ‘God’, not from diverse causes [of individuality] but by reason of one deity or essence. [In contrast] there is a union of diverse causes, for example, when Peter and John are united in ‘man’, but by reason of diverse instances of humanity, because the humanity of Peter is one thing while that of John is another. . . . but Father and Son and Holy Spirit are united in one deity or essence but are distinct by reason of the plurality of persons.”

Any nature except the divine nature is a “multiply instantiable entity”, not individual through itself, and so the multiplication of hypostases, persons, or supposits requires the multiplication of the nature through some individuating factor in addition to the essence, whereby John’s humanity is specifically identical to but numerically distinct from Peter’s humanity. But, as I said before, the divine nature is necessarily individual through itself, and so in the multiplication of supposits in God the nature “deity” remains numerically as well as specifically identical, and the supposits or person are only distinct through their constituting relations.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Substance and Hypostasis in the Trinity

In my experience a lot of the problems in modern philosophy of religion come about from not taking enough care to get right the religious position the philosopher is analyzing. Part of this difficulty stems from the way terminology shifts across the centuries, so that the modern philosopher takes for granted an anachronistic understanding of key terms.

Dr Vallicella and others at Maverick Philosopher have been discussing the logical coherence of the doctrine of the Trinity, as well as giving links to contemporary philosophy of religion discussions of the topic. Here is one of the posts:

More than once Dr Vallicella points out that God's substance can't be understood as matter, which is correct. But he fails to understand what "substance" means in trinitarian doctrine. He writes: "The sense in which water is a substance is not the sense in which God is a substance. Water is a substance in the sense of a stuff; God is a substance in the sense of a hypostasis (that which stands under) or hypokeimenon (that which is placed under), or as I prefer to say, an individual."

From the standpoint of traditional, classical Trinitarian theology, this is incorrect. God is a substance neither in the sense of stuff (hyle) nor in the sense of individual (hypostasis). Here's a representative explanatory snippet from St John of Damascus, showing the universal traditional use of the terms, from "De Fide Orthodoxa" c.48: "Substantia quidem communem speciem et complectivam speciem homoiodon (id est earum quae unum sunt specie) hypostaseon (id est personarum) significat, utputa Deus, homo; hypostasis autem atomon (id est individuum) demonstrat, scilicet Patrem, Filium, Spiritum Sanctum, Petrum, Paulum."

So "substance" here means something like "essence" or "being" (in the sense of ousia) rather than hypostasis; the whole doctrine of the Trinity depends on this distinction between the one nature, substance, being, essence, etc. on the one hand and the three individual persons or hypostases on the other. In most cases where there is one existing human nature (man), there is one individual hypostasis (Peter or Paul); in the case of the Trinity there is one divine nature (God) instantiated in three hypostases (Father and Son and Holy Spirit); conversely, in the Incarnation there are two existing natures (God and man), but only one hypostasis (Christ the Incarnate Logos). It is not good Trinitarian doctrine to say that there is one individual or hypostasis (God) who is identical to three individual persons (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit).

There's no point in discussing the coherence of a doctrine if the doctrine is not first clearly understood. But the doctrine turns into unintelligible mush if these crucial distinctions are not carefully preserved.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Thomism and Freedom in Theology

The following is from the manual Sacrae theologiae summa, by M. Nicolau, S.J. and I. Salaverri, S.J. (BAC, 1962), 4-5:

Porro in quaestionibus, quae inter catholicos bonae notae Theologos libere controvertuntur, omni cura sectari conati sumus aureum illud Pii XI criterium, quo edixit: "Inter amatores Sti. Thomae . . . honestam illam quidem cupimus iusta in libertate aemulationem, unde studia progrediuntur, intercedere, at obtrectationem nullam, quae nec veritati suffragatur et unice ad dissolvenda valet vincula caritatis. Sanctum igitur unicuique eorum esto, quod in Codice Iuris Canonici praecipitur . . . At ne quid eo amplius alii ab aliis exigant, quam quod ab omnibus exigit omnium Magistra et mater Ecclesia: neque enim in iis rebus, de quibus in scholis catholicis inter melioris notae auctores in contrarias partes disputari solet, quisquam prohibendus est eam sequi sententiam, quae sibi verisimilior videatur". Quae sane paterna monita hortationesque, ad proficuam nempe aemulationem, conciliatricem moderationem et ligitimam in studiis libertatem, eo libentius adimplenda curavimus, quod sua etiam fecerit Pius XII atque ipsis sacrorum alumnis servanda commendaverit.

"And then as for those questions which are freely disputed among Catholic theologians of good repute, we have tried with all diligence to follow that golden criterion of Pius XI, where he said "Among the lovers of St Thomas . . . we desire that honest emulation in proper liberty, whereby studies progress, to intervene, but with none of that disparagement which does not help the truth and is good only for dissolving the bonds of charity. . . . for neither, in those things about which the authors of better reputation are accustomed to dispute on opposite sides in the Catholic schools, should anyone be prohibited from following the opinion which seems more true to him". And we have the more willingly taken care to fulfill this sane, paternal admonition and exhortation, very suitable for emulation, conciliating moderation and liberty in studies, because Pius XII has made it his own and has commended it to be kept by the pupils of sacred things."

It should not be forgotten, then, that even as the Church has commended "the principles and doctrine" of St Thomas to be taught in seminaries and held by theologians, She has also defended the legitimacy of scholastic opinions other than those insisted on by Thomism. Even good Thomists should recognize this! Thomas is a sure guide for avoiding heterodoxy and defeating Modernism; let this be fully granted without reservation. Does this mean that we as good Catholic Scotists are not to argue that the formal distinction allows for a more rigorous and coherent articulation of Trinitarian doctrine, or cannot in good conscience suggest that St Bonaventure and Bl Scotus might be better adapted to reconciling the Latin and the Greek traditions than St Thomas? Not, I think, if we are allowed to insist that they are Catholic theologians of good repute, and that in certain (compared to the moderns, very minor) points are on opposite sides in the Catholic schools from St Thomas. Being a Scotist, and disagreeing with Thomas on certain points on universals or individuation or existence as an extrinsic principle, does not make one a nominalist or a modernist! In fact I'm not sure it even makes one a non-Thomist, taking Thomism to mean the exemplar of the scholastic doctrine which the Church prescribes as normative.

Most important to recognize, I think, is that in the matter of theological doctrine Scotism and Thomism are essentially identical, and that this is what the Church prescribes. The differences largely lie in the philosophical (and especially metaphysical) categories and structures in which the theological doctrine is expressed and explained; but as far as this is concerned the Church appears to leave us in perfect freedom, within a general scholastic framework. It's another matter entirely to jettison all scholastic terminology and methods, as modern theologians have done. Another way to express this: the theological disagreements between Thomism, Bonaventureansim, Scotism etc., are only even possible and intelligible because of the vast shared body of doctrine and similarity of method between them. How would a modern Liberation Theologian or someone raised on Heidegger adjudicate between them when he may not share any of their common premises?

Friday, January 22, 2010

Scotus on Church Authority

By the way, in the same question that the last post was based on there is a text that sheds light a post of Faber's from nearly two years ago:

The Ordinatio text parallel to the Reportatio I-A text commented on there clears up any doubt. Scotus is commenting on a past controversy between Richard of St Victor and Peter Lombard, Master of the Sentences. Richard had declared a position of the Lombard's on the generation of the Son from the divine essence suspect or even heretical. Scotus holds that the Church's approval of the Lombard's theology destroys Richard's case. From Ordinatio I.Dist.5 P.1 Q.1 paragraph 26:

. . . non nullam habet pro se auctoritatem, sed habet illam universalis Ecclesiae in capitulo praeallegato, quae maxima est, quia dicit Augustinus Contra epistolam Fundamenti: "Evangelio non crederem nisi Ecclesiae crederem catholicae", - quae Ecclesia sicut decrevit qui sunt libri habendi in auctoritatem in canone Bibliae, ita etiam decrevit qui libri habendi sunt authentici in libris doctorum, sicut patet in canone, et post illam auctoritatem canonis non invenitur in Corpore iuris scriptum aliquod ita autenticum sicut magistri Petri in capitulo praeallegato.

To paraphrase (but only slightly): Richard claimed that the Lombard had no authority (i.e. from the Fathers) to support his position. Scotus declares that, on the contrary, he had the authority of the Church, which is the greatest of all authorities, for as Augustine says, "I would not believe in the Gospel unless I believed in the Catholic Church". And just as the Church has declared which books are to be held as authoritative in the canon of the Bible, so also she has decreed which books, among all the books of the doctors of the Church, are to be held as authentic - just as in the canon! - and after the authority of the canon of Scripture itself there cannot be found any writing given so much authority by the Magisterium as that of Master Peter.

One could take this text by Scotus as laying the theological framework for the practice of declaring Doctors of the Church. And coincidentally the first four such Doctors were declared more or less contemporaneously with the writing of the Ordinatio, i.e. in 1298! However, Peter Lombard himself is not on the list of Doctors. Nevertheless Scotus' text above gives a good foundation for the disposition to hold the writings of St Thomas, St Bonaventure, etc., in higher regard and as of more weight than those of other theologians, including those of our own day (and I would take either over Rahner or von Balthasar a thousand times over), as well as giving extra weight to those who have been repeatedly singled out for praise by the Magisterium, or even used in the expression and formulation of the Church's doctrines--such as, preeminently, Bl John Duns Scotus (whose doctrines, as Faber has pointed out, lie behind the formulation of several important Magisterial definitions, including those of the Beatific Vision and the Immaculate Conception) and Ven. John Henry Newman (whose works - even the Parochial and Plain Sermons, from his Protestant days! - are cited in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, if I'm not mistaken more times than any other non-biblical, non-magisterial, non-patristic source). May they both be enrolled in the list of Doctors soon! Amen.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Formal Distinction, Formalities, and Common Natures

From Scotus' Ordinatio I.Dist.5 P.1 Q.1 paragraph 19. In one mighty sentence Scotus lays out the foundations of the formal distinction and the doctrine of common natures:

In substantiis, quamvis in eadem realiter - etiam quamvis simplici - possint esse perfectiones multae substantiales formaliter distinctae et ibi una formalis ratio possit abstrahi ab alia remanente adhuc concretione utriusque formalitatis ad sua propria supposita (verbi gratia, licet haec sit vera 'substantia intellecta est volitiva' - ubi est praedicatio concretiva perfectionis unius substantialis de alia - tamen haec negatur 'intellectus est voluntas', quia ista significant perfectiones illas ut abstractas a se invicem, et hoc secundum proprias formalitates earum; tamen adhuc ista sic abstraca concernunt propria supposita, quia hic 'intellectus' est intellectus), accipiendo tamen substantiam sive simplicem sive compositam praecise secundum unam rationem formalem quidditativam, tantum est abstractio a supposito propriae naturae communiter, quia non sunt natae concernere aliquid alterius naturae; ideo ista abstractio est maxima.

"In substances, although in the same thing really - however simple they are - there can be many formally distinct substantial perfections, and there one formal ratio can be abstracted from another, the concretion of each formality remaining in its own supposit (for example, although this is true: 'an intellective substance is volitional' - where there is a concretive predication of one substantial perfection about another - nevertheless this is denied: "the intellect is the will', because these [i.e. 'intellect' and 'will'] signify those perfections as abstracted from each other, and that according to their proper formalities; still these things so abstracted concern their own [one and the same] supposit, because this 'intellect' is the intellect [i.e. the intellective faculty belongs to the intellective soul, but the volitive power does too]), nevertheless accepting a substance whether simple or composite precisely according to one formal quidditative ratio, still there is an abstraction from the substance of its proper common nature, because they do not in themselves concern anything of another nature; therefore this abstraction is the greatest."

Notice that in this paragraph he says "formally distinct" while elsewhere in the same question he also says "formal non-identity", leading one to think that there is not much difference between these two formulations.

Don't worry much here about the "greatest abstraction" bit, which is only explained by the succeeding paragraphs. The important point is Scotus' doctrine that two things can be really identical in the sense of absolutely inseparable--like intellect and will in the rational soul, like humanity and Socrateity in Socrates--and yet formally distinct. This means that the two formalities involved do not include one another in their conception or definition, and sometimes means that at least one of the formalities can exist without the other. Socrateity cannot exist without humanity, since it cannot be the case the Socrates is not human, but humanity can exist without Socrateity, since there can be (and are) many men that are not Socrates. Humanity in itself does not concern itself in anything belonging to another formality, so that it is indifferent to Socrateity or Platonity. And similarly, there can be no men which are not animals, but animality itself is indifferent to humanity and equinity, so that the formal ratio--the intelligible structure, as we might want to say--of animality is formally distinct from any specific difference, though in a concrete supposit it never exists without being determined by some such specific formality. (As a universal in the mind, however, it does.)

Monday, January 18, 2010

David Lewis on Philosophy

I have always found philosopher's attempts at explaining what philosophy is to be rather illuminating. The contemporary philosopher David Lewis is no exception; the following quote should provide Aristotelian, Platonist, A-T and A-S theorists alike plenty of food or thought, or grist for the mill as the case may be. The quote is from an article he wrote called "Possible Worlds", anthologized by Loux in "metaphysics: Contemporary Readings" and can be found on p. 163. (NB: the 'm' is not capitalized on the cover).

"One comes to philosophy already endowed with a stock of opinions. It is not the business of philosophy either to undermine or justify these pre-existing opinions, to any great extent, but only to try to discover ways of expanding them into an orderly system. A metaphysician's analysis of mind is an attempt at systematizing our opinions about mind. It succeeds to the extent that (1) it is systematic, and (2) it respects those of our pre-philosophical opinions to which we are firmly attached. Insofar as it does both better than any alternative we have thought of, we give it credence. There is some give-and-take, but not too much: some of us sometimes change our minds on some points of common opinion, if they conflict irremediably with a doctrine that commands our belief by its systematic beauty and its agreement with more important common opinions."

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Petrus Thomae Disagrees With Everyone

The following is from Petri Thomae Quodlibet, Q.3, page 43-44. Petrus has been discussing the transcendentals, and in the present section he is examining various definitions of truth. After a lot of discussion he breaks out in this rash of contradiction:

Ex praedictis concludo corollarie, primo quod veritas formaliter est in re, nam veritas et entitas convertuntur: cum ergo entitas sit in re formaliter, ergo et veritas. Secundo, quod veritas non est formaliter secunda intentio. Tertio, quod veritas non est formaliter et completive id quod est per intellectum, ut ponit Thomas, Parte I, quaestione 16. Quarto, quod veritas non est essentialiter in intellectu tantum, ut dicit Godefridus. Quinto, quod non habet tantummodo esse obiective in intellectu, ut dicunt Hervaeus et Durandus. Sexto, quod veritas non est sola indivisio esse et eius quod est, ut dicit Alexander Minor in Scripto super Primum Sententiarum. Septimo, quod veritas non est formaliter conformitas producti ad producens, ut Scotus dicit Super VIII Metaphysicae: tunc enim non converteretur cum ente, cum non omne ens sit productum, ut patet de Patre in divinis et de ipsa divina essentia. Octavo, quod veritas non est formaliter conformitas rei ad intellectum vel e converso, vel adaequatio rei et intellectus, ut dicunt plures. Nono, quod veritas non est formaliter manifestativitas vel declarativitas, ut dicut alii: haec enim formaliter respectum importare videntur. Decimo, quod veritas non est formaliter assecutio debiti. Undecimo, quod non est formaliter segregatio ab extraneo. Duodecimo, quod non est formaliter ipsa rei quiditas. Tertiodecimo et ultimo, quod vanum est quaerere quid sit veritas, nam quaestio quid est de aliquo, ad quam non potest proprie responderi nisi in praedicamento, videtur vana; sed ad istam quaestionem qua quaeritur quid est veritas, non potest proprie responderi nisi quod veritas est ipsa veritas; ergo vanum videtur de ipsa quaerere quid est.


From the aforesaid I conclude as corollaries: 1) That truth is formally in the thing, for truth and entity are convertible: therefore since entity is in the thing formally, therefore so is truth. 2) That truth is not formally a second intention. 3) That truth is not formally and completively that which is through the intellect, as Thomas says in Prima Pars Q.16. 4) That truth is not essentially in the intellect alone, as Godfrey says. 5) That it does not have only objective being in the intellect, as Hervaeus and Durandus say. 6) That truth is not just the indivision of being and its essence, as Alexander Minor says in I Sent. 7) That truth is not formally the conformity of the produced to its producer, as Scotus says in QQ In Met. VIII: for then it would not be convertible with being, since not every being is produced, as is clear of God the Father and of the divine essence itself. 8) That truth is not formally conformity of the intellect to the thing and conversely, or the adaequation of thing and intellect, as many say. 9) That truth is not formally manifestivity or declarativity, as others say: for these [definitions] seem to formally bring in a relation. 10) That truth is not formally the comprehension of what should [be comprehended]. 11) That it is not formally the segregation [of the essence] from what is extraneous to it. 12) That it is not formally the quiddity of the thing itself. [N.B. 10-12 are aimed at Aureol, who is not named here because Petrus has discussed his opinions by name earlier in the question.] 13) Lastly, that it is vain to ask what truth is, for the question "what is it?" about anything, to which there can be no proper response except in a category, seems vain: but to this question, by which it is asked what truth is, there can be no proper response [because truth is not a categorical formality, but a transcendental], except that truth is truth itself: therefore it seems vain to ask about it what it is.

On the one hand, Petrus seems to have some good points. If truth is in fact considered to be a transcendental, such that it is convertible with being and goodness, then it does seem difficult to see how it can exist in the intellect alone, or as a relation. On the other hand, it's singularly unsatisfying to be told "truth is truth, and that's all there is to it". Earlier he has stated that the term truth is a "simply simple" concept, that that it cannot be reduced to anything more primitive and so is incapable of definition. This is all well and good, but some explanation would be nice.

To be fair to Petrus, after dealing with goodness in similar terms--"goodness is goodness and there's no definition of it"--he does go on to examine and try to explain how truth and goodness as transcendental properties existing in every being are related to their apprehension by the intellect and the will. But the way he goes about here is funny and a little shocking at first.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


Just below I've reposted my series on Scotus' Theoremata from last fall. The only reason for this was so I could combine all the parts into one big post to put in the "permanent posts" section. Feel free to (re?)read or ignore at your pleasure, O gentle three or four readers.

Theoremata Scoti, Partes I-V

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.

Pars II The second part of the Theoremata is concerned with showing the priority of quality over quantity. I note that, if we accept this, there are some interesting implications for the sciences. Mathematical physics, our paradigm modern science, is primarily concerned with what can be quantified, but for Scotus quantity and the quantifiable are not primary substantial traits.

The editors of the new edition number four main conclusions. Why these propositions are called conclusions in Part II and propositions in Part I is unclear to me. In any case:

I. Quality is naturally prior to quantity.

"Because [quality] is found in every substance, but quantity only in corporeal substances." Quantity can be attributed to separated souls, angels, and so forth, only insofar as they are numerable, i.e. insofar as we can mentally collect them into multitudes. In himself an angel has no dimensive quantity, since he has no dimensions.

"Quality is in substance by reason of form, quantity by reason of matter." Form is primary over matter, ergo, etc. Note that this would not be accepted by earlier Franciscans who would admit matter in the angels, but not dimensive quantity, which they would attribute to corporeitas.

"Again, quality is the principle of acting, quantity [is] not. Quality is that by which an agent alters [something]. But alteration precedes augment[ation]. It is impossible for quantity to be induced except through the action of quality, [but] not conversely."

II. Qualities are attributed to God as perfections, not so quantities.

That is, some quality can be seen as a pure perfection, and when existing in an infinite mode can be identified with God himself. For any quantity, however, this is simply nonsense. There cannot be an actually infinite quantity.

III. Qualities have many species in both spiritual and corporeal [things], as light, etc., by which entities attain their ends, as man [attains] beatitude through grace and charity, etc. But continuous quantity has only three species and no being attains its end through it.

This is losing the pithy aphoristic edge a bit, but is there a shorter way to say it? Since quality pertains to the form more than quantity, one can see how it helps to attain a thing's end. No thing attains its end, however, merely or primarily by being a certain size, mass, etc., even if a certain quantity is a sine qua non of its natural perfection. Quantity is of the same sort for everything; it's general, not specific. In other words:

"[Quantity] accompanies any species according to its actuality, not so quantity. According to it is the order of the universe and natural place and motion and rest. According to them as objects are distinguished the powers of the soul."

IV. A being has more perfect [quality] the more perfect it is. Not so with quantity. Neither an angel nor a man has as much quantity as the earth does.

A more perfect tree has more perfect flourishing. A more perfect man has more perfect intelligence. But if my quantity were to increase much I would get less perfect, not more!

This covers about the first third of Part II. The rest is devoted to what I called in my last post one of Scotus' frequent rabbit-trails. Not because they're pointless, but because they lead you down into a hole. Like the rabbit-hole in Alice in Wonderland, Scotus' digressions can sometimes wander into a wonderland of argumentation, in which everything is brilliant and stuffed to the rafters with things to consider, but you never know quite where you are, who's talking, how things got so tangled up, or what's at stake. So here. After the discussion of quality and quantity Scotus starts thinking about accidental inherence in general and asks, "What can be the subject of an accident?" Not God, since he is completely perfect and so not in potentiality to receive new forms. Only things with some perfection--i.e. per se actual existence--and some imperfection can be the subject of accidents. He then considers arguments that 1) substantial form, 2) accidental form, 3) matter, and 4) angels don't meet these criteria, before opposing them.

Pars III

Part three of the Theoremata is divided into subsections, labeled by the editors "A" and "B". These appear to be two versions or two drafts of the same train of thought: Scotus gives some definitions, draws some corollaries, and makes some conclusions, all about conceptual analysis. Then he starts over with the same material, but takes it in another direction. This post looks at the first subsection.

Definition 1: I call that which terminates the act of understanding a concept.

"A concept is called either "object" or "intelligible" or "intellected" [intellectum] or "intention". The first is most common, because [it pertains] to all [intelligible] potencies. The second is common, because [it pertains] to the object understood either in potency or in act. The third is proper [i.e. is properly a concept]. The fourth is how the Arabs Avicenna and Averroes understand it. But just as "intention" is said equivocally of the object and of the act, so also is "concept". But here I take it to be the object."

Definition 2: That is said to be conceived first which is adequated to the intellect.

Scotus explains that by adequation he means that in the "first" concept what is understood is the whole object, not some part of the object.

Definition 3: Whatever is essentially included in the first concept is conceived per se.

For instance, whenever a species is conceived its genus is automatically conceived per se, and so for similar cases. When I conceived of "triangle" I also ipso facto conceive of "figure".

Definition 4: That and only that is perfectly conceived, of which nothing is concealed which is essentially included in it.

"'Perfect' is here understood [to mean] the act, not insofar as it is elicited from its potency, but insofar as it is compared to its object, namely so that nothing intrinsic to the object is unknown, in whatever mode it is being known."

Definition 5: A concept which cannot be analyzed into [simpler] concepts is simply simple.

Definition 6: A concept which is per se one, yet is analyzable into [simpler] concepts, is not simply simple.

For example: "triangle" can be analyzed into simpler concepts, namely "figure", "side", "three", etc. It is a simple concept--it can be grasped as a per se whole--but it isn't simple simpliciter.

Corollary: Therefore "essentially" belongs to more than is said "in quid".

Scotus next offers two premises establishing or assuming that his definitions have actual counterparts. There is something which can be conceived first and perfectly, and there are some concepts which are distinct.

From all the foregoing Scotus now draws several conclusions and corollaries:

Conclusion 1: The analysis of concepts has a stopping-point [status].

Here Scotus inserts a brief discussion of the inability of a finite power, such as the human mind, either to grasp infinites all at once or to be able to run through an infinite series. This is relevant to the following conclusions.

Conclusion 2: No concept [which is] one "in quid" can be predicated of all others.

There is no concept--call it a--which designates "what" something is as a whole which can be predicated of every other such concept. There is no common "what" under which every such concept can be subsumed. This is because, if there were, no other concept other than this hypothetical one a would be simply simple as defined above, since every other concept would include a as a factor or constituent. Therefore one and the same concept--every concept except for a--would include a concept of an infinite in itself, or rather would include actual infinities. For any concept other than a would include both a and something else, and that something else would include a and something else, and so on to infinity.

In addition to this argument Scotus offers two more for the same point.

Corollary: There is nothing in common between the concept of a genus and a difference, nor does one include the other; similarly with matter and form.

"Figure" does not include "Three Sides", when the difference "Three Sides" is added to "Figure" to produce "Triangle". We can't define "Triangle" as "Three-sided Figure with three sides". And so forth.

Another Corollary: Nor is a superior difference, which is included in a genus, included in an inferior difference. Otherwise definition would be pointless [nugatio] and there would be a progression to infinity with difference, because they would differ by their own differences.

This point is similar to the last one. "Animal" cannot include "Rational" and "Rational" cannot include "Animal", since the one is determinable by the other and vice versa.

Conclusion 3: The analysis of concepts will come to a stop at some first [concepts].

Definitions, etc., must be in terms of things which are themselves not reducible to something.

Corollary: a determining and a determinable never include one concept, nor does one of them include the concept of the other per se.

As though it follows from the foregoing, Scotus finishes this subsection, without further explanation or argument, with a conclusion which seems to contradict the theory of conceptual univocity which he holds elsewhere:

Conclusion 5: No identical concept is per se common to the created and the uncreated.

What to make of all this? Stay tuned for more!

* * *

In Theoremata Part III, section B, Scotus starts in the same place as in section A, with the definition of the concept. Here, however, the treatment is fuller and soon veers off down an alternative path. This sort of thing is not unprecedented elsewhere in Scotus' works. It appears that more than once he will begin a treatment of a topic, change his mind about how he wants to approach it, and start over. But because of the unfinished state in which he left so many of his works, both versions end up in posthumous editions of the book as though they were distinct parts. For another example, see the QQ. In Metaphysical VII, questions 14 and 15.

All right, beginning again with the definition of a concept:

I call a concept an object understood in act, namely as it is in the intellect, not as the form [exists in itself], but as it is in the act of thought [in esse cognitum].

"Here 'to be in' is nothing except having an actual relation to the intellect, or the intellect [having an actual relation] to it, or either to either."

It's clear that Scotus is trying to be more clear here than in the parallel definition in section A. The follow-up explanation in part A was about terminology, but here instead Scotus goes on to define subsets of concepts, perhaps a more useful task. He divides concepts into several varieties and explains their differences:

"Every concept [which is] per se one is either altogether simple--that is, of which either nothing is conceived, or else the whole is--or it is not altogether simple, but rather incomplex." *{Interpolated note: That is, it is not composed of potency and act, as [for instance in the concept] of an infinite being.} "Infinite being" is not simple, because I can conceive "Infinite" and "Being" separately, but it's not a complex concept either, since "Infinite" is not exactly a determining characteristic of "Being"--since the latter, after all, is neither a genus nor in a genus.

"A concept is called analyzable, when it essentially includes several concepts, of which one can be conceived without the whole." For instance, "Triangle" can be analyzed into "Three" and "Plane Figure", etc., which can be conceived apart from "Triangle".

"Of concepts which are not per se one, [there are some] which are called aggregate, such as 'white man'; and about a fourth kind, called complex, and a fifth, called discursive, see below."

Now Scotus adds some remarks about how these varieties of concepts are related to one another.

"Every concept [can be] compared to any [which is] not altogether the same as itself: either it is primarily diverse from itk, if it agrees with it in no concept; or different, if it agrees in something and differs in something; or ordered, for instance if one whole [concept] includes another, but not conversely, the one is called including and the other included. Only an analyzable concept can be different [in the just-defined sense] and can include primarily diverse [concepts]; and an included one can itself be either simple or analyzable."

See? That's much more thorough! But the second definition is identical to its counterpart in section A:

Definition 2: That is said to be conceived first which is adequated to the intellect.

The third definition is going in the same direction as its counterpart, but is less clear and making a slightly different point:

Definition 3: Whatever is included in the primary [object] understood is per se not primary.

The fourth definition is similar to its counterpart but formulated differently:

Definition 4: [Something is] perfectly known on the part of the object when nothing pertaining to the object lies concealed.

And two corollaries:

Corollary: Therefore a simple [object], if it is conceived, is conceived perfectly. [Second corollary:] An analyzable [concept] may happen to be conceived imperfectly.

At this point Scotus starts doing something different than in section A. There are no new versions of definitions 5 and 6, but rather than moving directly to his conclusions, there's some additional business. After explicitly making the assumption that there are in fact some analyzable concepts, he looks in some more detail at how the different varieties of concepts are related to each other.

"Some concepts are not included [in others], such as the concepts of all singulars and lone [objects]. All others are included in these and are abstracted by analyzing from these." There follows an interpolated note, to the effect that things are conceived by us confusedly before being conceived distinctly. The main text goes on to say that something is conceived distinctly when conceived according to the way it is distinguished from other things; but is conceived confusedly when indistinctly. Therefore not everything which is not a first or primary object is conceived confusedly, because (for instance) a genus is conceived as distinctly in the concept of a definition as it is per se, yet then it is not conceived primarily, but the definition is primary.

Here Scotus reminds of the principle that "everything per se one and not simple is [contituted] from act and potency or from matter and form." He indicates that this is Aristotelian boilerplate, before going on to draw the following conclusion:

There is some unique and simple act of any composite.

"From that [act] is the unity of the composite in itself and [its] distinction from something else. For the act distinguishes, therefore it is proper. But it is unique, because anything belonging to the composite is potential with respect to it and so is not the act of this composite, although with respect to anything else in the composite it can be called an act. For the some [reason it is] simple; otherwise something belonging to it would be a further act."

Now Scotus seems to be wandering away from conceptual analysis and just doing straightforward metaphysics; for this reason the editors don't number this conclusion with the ones he draws from the definitions. But since this seems like enough for one post already, I will save the conclusions proper for the next sequel.

* * *

Pars IV

The fourth part of Scotus' Theoremata contains little worthy of comment. It consists of a (largely scattered and unconnected) series of notes on some of the questions in books VIII and IX of Scotus' QQ in Metaphysicam. The notes are mostly about the construction of a composite substance, the causes of its constituents and of the whole, and of the causation effected by each. There are no settled conclusions and no immediately discernible order in the notes, and so I'm going to omit any translation from the text.

Part IV supports what I've been suspecting about the nature of the Theoremata, namely that it seems to be a set of--not drafts, exactly--but of preliminary studies on questions that interest Scotus and which he discusses at much more length elsewhere. He's working out in a systematic way the consequences of various approaches to the problems set out in the various parts. Because of this none of it should be taken as Scotus' final word on anything without confirmation from one of the more authoritative works.

This sketch of an interpretation is particularly relevant for how to approach part V, which contains much of interest and which is very disconcerting at first. We'll see tomorrow how plausible it is.

Pars V

art five of Bl. Duns Scotus' Theoremata is a kind of deconstruction of natural theology. In it he attempts to find the fundamental principles upon which natural theology rests and shows how the whole edifice comes tumbling down if those principles are not sufficiently rigorously established.

The context in which we should understand this part seems to me to be clarified by a remark Allan Wolter makes in the Preface to his edition of Scotus' De primo principio, namely that this latter work "may be the most carefully thought out attempt of any schoolman to prove the existence of God within the epistemic norms for demonstration laid down in Aristotle's Posterior Analytics." Anyone familiar with that work will appreciate the justice of that remark, as well as the nature of Scotus' project in proving God's existence and attributes. For the subtle doctor is not satisfied with providing "reasons" to accept God's existence or "ways" by which it can be proved; he wants to provide a really rigorous demonstration, one which if properly grasped will give the human mind certain knowledge.

The fifth part here is jumbled. It is clearly divided into three parts, but the parts seem to have been mixed up, with the apparent beginning only coming in around paragraph 70 in the critical edition, and the final third seeming to be put first. Paragraph 70 is where I start.

Assumption 1: In essentially ordered things one must posit a first, which is unique in that ordered series, and cotemporal with it.

Assumption 2: There is an essential order in every kind of cause.

These are called "assumptions" here, because the ability to prove them is precisely what is called into doubt in this part, although it is on these principles that, for Scotus, natural theology--knowledge about God which cam be proved from natural things and insofar as he is the cause of things known to us--rests. Of course they are not "assumptions" for Scotus absolutely, because he spends a lot of time in other works trying to prove them. But here he says, "These two propositions are assumed, of which the first has three parts [i.e. that God is 1) first, 2) unique, 3) cotemporal with his creation], [but] the second is simple. But although either of these parts, namely 'first', 'unique', [and 'cotemporal'], may be probable, still it would be difficult or perhaps impossible for us to prove it simpliciter by necessary argument and by purely natural [reason]."

Conclusion 1: In the genus of efficient cause one must posit a unique first efficient [cause], which exists now in the nature of things.

This follows from the two assumptions, and this cause is called God.

Conclusion 2: Every efficient [cause] is more perfect than its effect or equally perfect, because nothing acts to a greater extent than it is in act.

Conclusion 3: God is more perfect than every effect.

From Conclusions 1 and 2. If God is the cause of everything else he must be at least as perfect as everything else.

Corollary: And so [God] is the most perfect of all and the highest in every difference of being, which simply implies a perfection, among which are one, true, good, necessary etc., because whatever is such is simply a perfection in some way . . . Put here the boundary of wha tis knowable about God by natural necessary reason; and this is supposing those first two assumptions.

This is classic scotism, showing that natural theology is developed by showing that God must contain in a supereminent way all pure perfections. But the conclusions are only as solid as the ground they're built on, and Scotus now begins to explore the difficulty with providing true demonstrations of natural theology's foundations.

How can the first part of the first [assumption] be proved, namely [that God is] "first" more in essentially ordered causes than [in] accidentally [ordered ones] [since in accidentally ordered causes there is no first cause simpliciter]? How can the second part by proved, [that God is] "unique"? How can it be proved [that God is] "cotemporal?

A primary difficulty that Scotus brings up here is how can it be proved by demonstrative arguments that the God who created the world--the temporally "first" cause--is the same as the principle which stands at the head of the chain of essentially ordered causes in the world now? How do you prove that the creaturely order of secondary causes need to be conserved in being by the first cause, even after their initial creation? Scotus sees that the Big Bang does not prove that God exists now, but only that there was an first cause in the sense of an initial one. Our impulse, of course, is to appeal to God's eternity or immutability, but if the foundations of natural theology haven't been secured yet, we can't appeal to its posterior conclusions. And if we can't prove that the initial cause is identical with whatever is the current "first" [in the ontological, not the temporal sense], then what happens to our natural certainty that God is "one" and "unique"?

The second assumption does not seem to be proved necessarily. For if many effects are so coordinated among themselves, so that none of them has the character of an effect with respect to another--as with a cow and an ass--why are all causes so ordered, that the first [in one causal chain] is always the cause of another [causal chain]? If this name "God" is given to some numerically identical first efficient [cause], it follows from this that it cannot be proved that God exists in the real world now, because if he no longer existed the coordination [of causes in the world] would remain through another [first cause, another God] univocal with him.

Again, remember that Scotus has not yet made his argument for the incompossibility of two first causes, because in this work the conceptual apparatus with which to do so hasn't been developed yet. From comments he makes later on it seems that what Scotus is showing what kinds of problems a thinker proceeding along Aristotelian lines, with principles and arguments from the Physics, is going to run into.

Beyond this, Scotus continues, the second assumption does not prove that any God exists, even a new one like the first, if it cannot be proved that conservation of the created order is needed as much as the original act of creation. Otherwise we can only conclude that a first cause is necessary for the world's becoming, not for its being. Whence it follows only that either exists or did exist once, as from a house it can be proved that a builder exists or did exist once.

Therefore these things, which it seems cannot be proved by necessary arguments from merely natural [reason], are laid out in order in the conclusions, as well as some others which cannot be proved.

That is, if these primary propositions of natural theology turn out to be unprovable, so are whatever less known propositions which follow from them and depend on them.

I omit any detailed discussion of the rest of Part V, in which Scotus lays out the "unprovable" conclusions systematically. It's rather horrible reading, a kind of anti-Contra gentiles in which Scotus insists at great length that unless he who builds metaphysical systems builds his house upon the rock, he labors in vain that builds it.

In any case, the problems that he lays out here are not solved here. The reader must go to the De primo principio or other theological writings to see how Scotus deals with them. As I said yesterday, what seems to emerge is that the Theoremata is a kind of testing-ground where Scotus is working out the consequences of different approaches before giving them a more authoritative treatment elsewhere.

* * *

This series on the Theoremata is incomplete. I may or may not someday get around to bloganalyzing the other parts.

A Rural Seat

A Rural Seat

Nahum Tate (1652-1715), The Choice:

Grant me, indulgent Heaven, a rural seat,
Rather contemptible than great;
Where, though I taste life's sweets, still I may be
Athirst for immortality.
I would have business, but exempt from strife;
A private, but an active, life;
A conscience bold, and punctual to his charge;
My stock of health, or patience, large.
Some books I'd have, and some acquaintance too,
But very good, and very few.
Then (if one mortal two such grants may crave)
From silent life I'd steal into my grave.

Thanks to Laudator Temporis Acti, a blog I've read a number of times before but am only now adding to the blogroll. So this post isn't wholly derivative, here's a complementary piece I came across all by my lonesome in a real live book, by Alexander Pope:

Ode On Solitude:

Happy the man whose wish and care
A few paternal acres bound,
Content to breathe his native air,
In his own ground.

Whose herds with milk, whose fields with bread,
Whose flocks supply him with attire,
Whose trees in summer yield him shade,
In winter fire.

Blest, who can unconcern'dly find
Hours, days, and years slide soft away,
In health of body, peace of mind,
Quiet by day,

Sound sleep by night; study and ease,
Together mixt; sweet recreation;
And Innocence, which most does please
With meditation.

Thus let me live, unseen, unknown,
Thus unlamented let me die,
Steal from the world, and not a stone
Tell where I lie.

Saturday, January 9, 2010


I've just come across something too awesome not to mention: Njal's Saga in Latin. You can get in from Google books here:

Sometimes the Internet rocks.

Maybe I'll print it off and stick it on my shelf next to my Latin edition of the Kalevala.

Scotus in English

Unlike for St Thomas, most of Scotus' writings have not been translated into English. None of his most important theological works have been translated in full. The situation is better for St Bonaventure, but there is still no translation of his Sentences in book form comparable to the excellent and relatively cheap translation of the Summa theologiae by the Dominican Fathers.

That being said, one can go a pretty long way towards studying Scotus in English. This is mostly thanks to the labors of the late Fr Allan Wolter, who was a one-man Scotus publishing powerhouse. Wolter has published both anthologies of excerpts and some complete works, sometimes with commentary and sometimes without. These are the books I would recommend most highly:

Duns Scotus, Metaphysician, published by Purdue. Anthology of long excerpts from different works. Lots of commentary, covers a number of Scotus' most unique or famous arguments and positions.

A Treatise on God as First Principle, published by Franciscan Herald Press. The first complete work by Scotus you want to read, concerning proofs for the existence and attributes of God. Contains probably the most metaphysically complex and sophisticated proof of God's existence ever. My edition, the second (1982) has a very full commentary.

Questions on the Metaphysics of Aristotle by John Duns Scotus, published by Franciscan Institute Press. Read this to test your manhood: it's two volumes of 600 pages each, not for the faint of heart. No commentary. A very impressive, very confusing, very stimulating, very difficult work. I spent a summer trudging through the whole thing (before my Latin was good enough to read the original) and wrote my M.A. thesis on a little bit of it.

A Treatise on Potency and Act, also by Franciscan Institute Press. This consists of Book Nine of the Questions on the Metaphysics just cited, but with commentary and other helps.

All of the above (except the complete Metaphysics Questions) include the Latin with the English, which may come in handy if your Latin is so-so or if you plan on learning it. To really study Scotus or any scholastic, of course, you should learn Latin well enough to not need a translation. If it's any consolation, it takes significantly less effort to learn to read Thomas or Bonaventure than to read Virgil or Livy. Scotus is somewhat of a different matter because his Latin is weird and abstruse and difficult. Of course he's abstruse and difficult in English; there's no getting around it. But he's not syntactically complex or using a huge vocabulary like the classics.

I should mention that Wolter's commentary is not always very helpful. I remember it being pretty good in the "Metaphysician" volume, so-so in the "First Principle" volume (sometimes very illuminating and sometimes baffling), and completely useless in the "Potency and Act" volume.

Also necessary to mention is the Wolter-Bychkov edition and translation of Scotus' Reportatio I-A, also put out by Franciscan Institute, which is in two huge volumes. I didn't mention these above because I haven't read all the way through the first volume and don't have the second, but if you really want to study Scotus' theology and you can't read the Ordinatio in Latin (or can't afford it or find it), you will probably want this.

So there you have it. Just shell out a few hundred bucks, give it a couple years of onerous study, and you can be a Scotist too! While you're at it, learn Latin, dredge up another thousand from somewhere, and buy the Opera Philosophica and what's been produced so far of the Vatican edition! Then, if there's any water left in the well, send some of the good stuff over to us at The Smithy. I'm still missing a couple of volumes.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Benedictio nuptiarum

Our worthy and esteemed Faber was married two days ago and consequently may not post for some time as he adjusts to his new duties. I offer both Mr and the new Mrs Faber my heartiest congratulations. At the end of my Best Man speech I offered a toast in English which I here present in its original form:

Benedictio nuptiarum

Utinam uxoris scientia et sollertia arte Latine
id mariti praestet semper--

Utinam ea usque irrideat ei,
et semper poenitet--

Et ergo impensam librorum suorum
semper ignoscat.

Duns Scotus on Intelligible Being

Intellectus divinus in quantum aliquo modo prior est actu voluntatis divinae producit ista obiecta in 'esse intelligibili', et ita respectu istorum videtur esse causa mere naturalis, quia Deus non est causa libera respectu alicuius nisi quod praesupponit ante se aliquo modo voluntatem secundum actum voluntatis. Et sicut intellectus ut prior actu voluntatis producit obiecta in 'esse intelligibili', ita ut prior-causa videtur cooperari illis intelligibilibus ad effectum eorum naturalem, scilicet ut apprehensa et composita causent apprehensionis conformitatem ad se. Videtur ergo quod contradictionem includit, intellectum aliquem talem compositionem formare et compositionem non esse conformem terminis, licet possibile sit illos terminos non componere, quia licet Deus voluntarie coagat ad hoc quod intellectus terminos componat vel non componat, tamen cum composuerit, ut illa compositio sit conformis terminis hoc videtur necessario sequi rationem terminorum quam habent ex intellectu Dei, causante illos terminos in 'esse intelligibili' naturaliter.

--John Duns Scotus, Ordinatio I Dist. 3 Pars 1 Q.4.268

"The divine intellect insofar as it is in some way prior to the act of the divine will produces these objects in 'intelligible being', and so with respect to these things it seems to be a merely natural cause, since God is not a free cause with respect to anything except what presupposes the will before itself in some way according to an act of will. And as the intellect as prior to an act of will produces objects in 'intelligible being', so as a prior-cause it seems to cooperate with these intelligibles for their natural effect, namely that as apprehended and composed they cause the conformity of apprehensions to themselves. It seems therefore that it includes a contradiction for the intellect to form some such composition and for the composition not to be conformed to the terms, although it is possible for those terms not to be composed, because although God voluntarily co-acts to this end, that the intellect composes or does not compose terms, nevertheless, when it composes, so that that composition may be conformed with the terms this seems necessary, that they follow the ratio of the terms which they have from the intellect of God, naturally causing those terms in 'intelligible being'."

The take-home message is that the platonic heaven of forms in the mind of God is a necessary feature of the divine intellect rather than a contingent one. God does not decide what is possible, or that a triangle has three sides; rather he understands that a triangle has three sides, should one ever exist, and then contingently and freely decides whether to create one.