Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Object of Hope in Thomas and Scotus

A scholar of medieval thought, in an unpublished lecture, notes that Thomas Aquinas, in his Summa Theologiae I-II, q. 62, a. 2, c., says that "the three theological virtues all have God as their object insofar as he exceeds our natural knowledge. The difference between them is in the way that God is the object . . . The difference is not the thing which is the object, but rather a difference in the ratio of the object."

Explaining himself in further detail in his Disputed Questions on Hope, Thomas says that there are two objects (material and formal) to both hope and faith. Quoting Thomas:

The hope of attaining eternal life has two objects, namely eternal life itself, which someone hopes, and the divine help, by which (quo) he hopes; just as even faith has two objects, namely the thing which he believes and the first truth to which it [faith] corresponds.

In this case, the formal object of hope is divine help and the formal object of faith is first truth, that is, God as first truth speaking.The material object of hope can be subdivided: primarily, it consists in eternal life for oneself; secondarily, eternal life for others. Now eternal life is one's attainment of God.

Similarly, Thomas distinguishes between the material object of hope (the attainment of God) and the material object of charity (God in Himself as supremely good). The scholar says, "Thomas distinguishes hope from charity without reference to hope's formal object."

Now, in order for Thomas' later statement to be consistent with his earlier statement, he must say that the attainment of God is the same as God understood under a particular ratio; in this case, one might say, God as attainable. But it does not seem that God as attainable can be man's primary object of hope. On the one hand, God is the same as eternal life: "And this is eternal life, to know you, the only true God." On the other hand, we can distinguish between the attainment of God with God in Himself, for it is one thing to will to be united with Him as He is with no mediating creature, and it is another to will God in Himself to be what He is. In other words, there are two distinct objects of the will: God in Himself and union with God in Himself. And because there are two objects, there must be a distinction between things. From this it follows that man has two different objects to his hope: one is for God in Himself, another for the attainment of God. Clearly eternal life (or attainment of God) as an object of hope must be subordinated to God in Himself, the supreme Good, who is the primary object of hope. Therefore, there does not seem to be a real distinction between the material object of hope and the material object of charity, for both are God in Himself.

Even if the reasoning above is invalid, there still remains a problem with St. Thomas' position that there is a difference between the material objects of hope and charity. The scholar notes that Scotus

"considers the suggestion that hope has as its object the divine goodness for oneself, whereas charity has its object the divine goodness in itself. He rejects this view because, 'that condition or circumstance "to whom" is not a per se condition of the object, but rather such a condition can be added onto the object with the same formal nature of the object remaining.'"

In other words, God considered as "attainable" is not part of God's formality, it is a part of man's relation to God. God has no relation with creatures, but they have a relation to Him.

"The reason why such a circumstance does not partake of the object's formal character is that this circumstance merely belongs to the order of reason and does not really exist in the object, which is God. A being of reason does not make a formal difference in the object. The reason why faith, hope, and charity are not differentiated by their objects' formal ratio is that no real or formal distinction in God explains their difference."

Furthermore, we must insist that a circumstance does not specify a being; neither does it individuate a being. Here I can quote the philosophy thesis of another scholar (who will remain anonymous until he reveals himself):

Scotus lists five possibilities which have been raised by previous thinkers [to explain individuation]: the nature is individuated through 1) an aggregation of accidents, 2)quantity, 3) matter, 4) actual existence, or 5) the relation of the individual to its efficient cause.

Diverse as they are, Scotus finds that the proposed principles all have something in common: they are accidental to the thing they are supposed to individuate. Each one adds something extrinsic to the nature in the form of an accident. Because of this he can argue against all of them as a group.

An aggregate of accidents, or of substance together with accidents, is not a per se being but an accidental being, and as such is not the primary individual. The individual substance “is prior by nature to every accident,” therefore the accidental cannot provide unity for the substantial or determine it;[3] rather substance is what unifies its accidents and provides the ground for them. The aggregate of accidents, like any individual accident, is posterior to the substance it belongs to. Matter[4] and quantity in a thing fluctuate, are replaced or augmented, come and go, while the this they belong to endures; nor are they general enough to individuate everything.[5] Existence belongs to everything actual indifferently, regardless of whether it is this or that, and is determined by rather than determines this. Relation also depends on substance, which is not relative, but absolute.[6] Finally, each of these prospective individuators violates category boundaries.

When I ask why Mittens is not the same as Whiskers, even though both are cats, I’m looking for a difference within “cat,” not outside of it, just as someone asking about the difference between dogs and cats wants a difference falling within the genus “mammal.” But no accident is a difference within that to which it is accidental; accidents rather are extrinsic and posterior. If cats belong to the category of substance, nothing regarding its catness will be altered or differentiated in any given cat by the addition of some accident or property from another category; rather, “that subject will remain universal and will not become any more individualized after the [added] determination than before.”[7]

[3] “Scotus argues that the individuation of something belonging to one of Aristotle’s categories . . . cannot be explained by something existing in another of the categories.” Richard Cross, Duns Scotus (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 142.
[4] Matter is not an accident in the same sense as quantity, etc. Matter is included in the quiddity, but only in general. Both humanity and Socrates must have matter to exist—-humanity is such-and-such a form in such-and-such a material—-but it is not any more essential that Socrates be made up of this particular bit of matter than it is that the nature humanity exist in some particular matter. Indeed his eating, breathing, and elimination show that there is a constant exchange of matter in Socrates without disrupting his continuity as this man. See Scotus, Metaphysics, VII.16.40.
[5] “In the case of physical entities, matter would be a candidate for the principle of individuation, but it would never do in the case of nonphysical entities.” Jorge Gracia, “The Problem of Individuation,” in Individuation in Scholasticism: The Later Middle Ages and the Counter-Reformation, 1150-1650, ed. Gracia (New York: State University of New York Press, 1994), 3. Although at this point Scotus is technically only asking about the individuation of material things, one would like to produce a theory which can expand to become more general.
[6] Scotus, Meta., 190-197.
[7] Ibid., 199.

What is important for my analysis is that 1) Thomas' understanding of the primary object of hope seems inadequate in light of his own principles, 2) Scotus' critique is more encompassing — not only does he show that Thomas' distinction between the theological virtues is problematic, he shows that the deeper problem is Thomas' explanation of how objects of the will are specified. Interestingly, one of the major points of dispute among modern Thomistic moral theologians, a topic which has taken up reams of paper, is how objects of the will are specified according to St. Thomas.


Smiter the Archdeacon said...

How does Scotus distinguish among the three theological virtues?

One thing I found particularly confusing: "God has no relation with creatures, but they have a relation to Him." But surely God willing each individual creature to exist, constitutes a relation of God to creature, not merely a relation of creature to God?

Lee Faber said...

one reason is that relations are categorical items. God is not in a category, ergo etc.

Smiter the Archdeacon said...

I grant that God is not in a category. But there is still the very real fact that I exist only because God wills me to exist. God's will has a precise effect, it causes the effect intentionally, and both the cause and the effect are (partially but not falsely) known. If that is not a relation of God to creature, what is it?

Lee Faber said...

regarding the post, I don't understand why individuation is relevant here, or what the latin term for "condition" is. Accidents are normally individuated by their subjects, and i assume hope and charity, grace, etc. are accidents. they don't need their own heceitates apart from the substance.

Lee Faber said...

Smiter, it may only be a relation of reason. I consulted Scotus, and most of his discussion is devoted to arguing with other scholastics about whether the relation of dependence that creatures have on God is really the same with the creature. God's causality in creation is equivocal and efficient, which doesn't leave much room for a real relation to the creature. And in any case, a real relation requires two real terms, which would require God being in a category.

Asello Guzman said...

Good distinction, Lee.

Thomas would agree that the theological virtues are accidents that inhere in the soul of the virtuous person. Now the statement, "accidents are individuated by their subjects," admits of at least two meanings. 1) Accidents are individuated by the subjects in which the accidents inhere; in this case, the person with the virtue. 2) Accidents are individuated by the content (subject) which they concern; in other words, the "subject" of virtues is their object -- Thomas and Scotus agree that virtues are specified by their objects. They also both agree that the object is in some way God. Thomas seems to argue it is God under a particular ratio. My original thought in bringing up individuation was because I thought it showed that God under one ratio cannot be distinguished from God under another ratio due to a circumstance including an accident. But it seems a better way to say this would be to point out that accidents cannot properly be attributed to God -- it seems to be an issue regarding divine simplicity and not individuation at all.

Also, it seemed that there was a parallel in Scotus' thinking: just as a circumstance does not distinguish one virtue from another, neither does a circumstance make one thing different from another.

In the first case it is because the accident of virtue receives its being from its proper object; and God has no accidents, no circumstances properly attributed to Him. This is because He is pure Being. In the second case, it is because a thing does not receive its being from an accident; in other words, though it is imperfect being, it is more than a circumstance or accident.

In sum, it seemed to me that this was based on a general insight that a circumstance does not distinguish one being from another, whether accident or substance.

Asello Guzman said...

But, of course, this has only been proved for a particular accident (theological virtues) and not all of them.

Brandon said...

I'm not sure I follow the argument here (I may well be missing something). However one understands the specification of the objects of the will, on Aquinas's account of hope, the object of hope in general is good considered insofar as some power makes it possible to have; if theological hope were not for attainable good it could only equivocally be called hope. Thus the object of hope is not God in Himself; but God understood as something good for us (eternal life) that is possible for us given God's power (divine help). It's true that this relation to us is not in God's formal nature, but I don't see why one would think this relevant: our dispositions take relation to ourselves (and others) as part of their objects all the time, because that depends on how the natures of the objects are apprehended: it is only as apprehended that they are objects at all. Hope is one of these kinds of dispositions: nothing can be an object of hope except insofar as it is apprehended as future, as not yet had by someone. As I said, I may simply be missing something.

Does Scotus really think circumstances can't distinguish one virtue from another? That would be a pretty significant divergence from Aquinas; it is absolutely essential to his account of virtue that some of them can.

Smiter the Archdeacon said...

Lee, Asello, if what you say:
a real relation requires two real terms true, then it is not possible for the creature to have a real relation with God, either. That just doesn't seem a sensible conclusion. What are we missing, here? In what way is it possible for God to serve as a real term in relation, even though He is not in a category?

Can we coherently say that, even though God is not in Himself in a category, nonetheless, given His choice to create anything, His economic will in some sense stands for a category that serves as a real term in relating God to creature and creature to God?

Or, can we coherently say that God both is (immanence) and is not (transcendence) in a category?

Lee Faber said...

Smiter, I'll try to write something up more substantive. in the meantime, see the Summa theologiae, pars I q. 13 a.7 on relative names.

Asello, I think you're equivocating on 'individuate'. normally the term refers to contracting a universal to a particular. It generally doesn't refer to the specification or disitnction of powers in a substance. In light of this, I dont think you can say accidents are indivudated by their formal contents. The formal content, for scotus at least, would be the definition or quidditative/formal ratio, which is what it is of itself and in itself is neither universal nor particular (ie, pure formal content would be a common nature).

Smiter the Archdeacon said...

Lee, thanks for the reference. It's been a while since I've looked at that question. Two thoughts:

Art. 5 of this question is on univocity. Aquinas's position on the non-mutual relation in 7 seems to depend on this. But, if one accepts Scotus's argument for univocity, rather than Aquinas's against, does that imply that there is now a real relation of God to creature, instead of a relation of idea?

In Art.7, replies to objections 5-6, Aquinas seems to be carving out room for a kind of real relation of God to creature temporally, subordinate to the relation in idea of God to creature eternally. If I understand what he's doing here, this is very like what I was trying to get at with my previous comment. Would such a "two layer" solution be defensible?

Lee Faber said...


I don't think univocity is directly relevant. Scotus also denies real relations, as I quote in an upcoming post. The discussion in Aquinas is about the signification of names, and so does not involve 'relations' in the sense of Asello's post that I have been defending. In the latin at least, 'relatio' is only used in conjunction with a creature. Aquinas elsewhere is as adamant as Scotus that there are not real relations; in the summa passages they are described as being of 'reason', which scotus would fully allow as well.