Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Leibniz on Parsimony

Theodicy, Essays on the Justice of God... pt. 2, n. 124:

To multiply one and the same thing only would be superfluity, and poverty too. To have a thousand well-bound Vergils in one's library, always to sing the airs from the opera of Cadmus and Hermione, to break all the china in order only to have cups of gold, to have only diamond buttons, to eat nothing but partridges, to drink only Hungarian or Shiraz wine--would one call that reason?

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Does Existence have a Quiddity?

Below are some thoughts from Alexander of Alexandria's Quodlibet. For those of you who don't know, Alex was a Franciscan theologian who lectured on the Sentences just after Scotus, in 1306-1307. The question excerpted below is about intuitive cognition, which Alexander extends to a discussion of divine foreknowledge.

Alexander de Alexandria, Quodlibet, q. 9 a. 2 (London, British Library, Ms. Add. 14077, ff. 158? I can't remember).

... quod Deus cognoscat hoc fore in tali instanti difficle est videre

Quidam enim dicunt quod hec est quia Deus est suum esse et ideo cognoscendo suum esse cognoscit existere cuiuscumque [rei].

Hoc dictum primo videtur dubium, nulla enim consequentia videtur esse 'Deus est suum esse, ergo cognoscit existentiam cuiuscumque rei' nisi aliter probaretur.

Secundo videtur dubium quia supponunt unum quod non est concessum ab omnibus, scilicet quod in omni creatura differt esse et essentia, in solo autem Deo est indifferens unum ab alio.

Tertio quia et si Deus videndo suum esse videat existentiam cuiuslibet rei, inquantum existentia est quedam quidditas et hec esse quidditativa; possumus enim dicere quod existere est quedam quidditas, quia potest dari aliquis conceptus de eo, tamen quod cognoscendo suum esse cognoscat hoc fore in tali instanti est dubium, cum hec dependeat a voluntate divina. Ideo enim hoc erit quia Deus vult hec esse.

Alii dicunt quod Deus cognoscendo essentiam suum vel ydeam alicuius rei cognoscit hoc fore.

Sed hoc est ita dubium sicut primum, quia ydea ut ydea, ut videtur, aspicit proprie esse quidditativum et quid est hec et non aspicit fore vel non fore; erit ideo completa contingentia per eam non cognoscuntur, licet enim per ydeam hominis cognoscitur homo et per ydeam certus? cognoscatur cursus, tamen per istam ydeam non cosnoscetur istud hoc curret nisi aliud concurreret. Posset ergo dici sicut alias dixi quod Deus hoc cognoscit cognoscendo determinationem sue voluntatis, quod autem scientia talium aliquo modo dependeat a voluntate patet: certum est enim secundum omnes quod Deus non necessario vult ea que sunt ad finem, non enim necessario vult a fore. Si autem non necessario vult, sequitur quod potest velle et nolle. Si autem potest velle et nolle, potest scire et non scire et totum sine mutatione sui, sicut habet declarari in tractatu de prescientia de sedero tantum? de sedeo?


... it is difficult to see that God knows this to be in such an instant.

Some [idiots] say that this is because God is his own being [or, 'act of being' or 'existence'] and therefore by knowing his own being he knows the existence of everything else.

This statement seems doubtful, first, for 'God is his own being, therefore he knows the existence of every other thing' does not seem to be a valid consequence unless it be proved in some other way.

Second, it seems doubtful because they presuppose something which is not granted by all, namely, that esse and essence differ in every creature, and in God alone is one indifferent with respect to the other.

Third, because even if God by seeing his own esse would see the existence of every other thing, insofar as existence is a certain quiddity and quidditative esse, for we can say that existence is a certain quiddity because a concept of it can be granted, nevertheless that by knowing his own esse he knows this to be in such an instant is doubtful, since this depends on the divine will. Therefore, this will be because God wills this to be.

Other [idiots] say that God knows this to be by knowing his own essence or the idea of something.

But this is doubtful just as was the first, because idea as idea, as it seems, is directed toward quidditative esse properly and what something is and does not consider something to be or not to be; therefore the complete contingency[?] is not known through it, for although man is known through the idea of man, and through the idea of running a runner is known, nevertheless that this one runs is not known through the idea unless the other concur.  Therefore it can be said, as I have said elsewhere, that God knows this to be by knowing the determination of his will; that however the knowledge of such things depends on the will in some way is clear: for it is certain according to all that God does not will necessarily those things which are for the end, for he does not will necessarily that a will be. If however he does not will necessarily, it follows that he is able to will and not-will. If however he can will and not-will, he can know and not know the total [creature?] without any change in himself, as I have to declare in my treatise on foreknowledge...

Todd Bates

In case you haven't already heard, Todd Bates recently died. See Brandon Watson's blog for details.  Bates was a contributor to the Cambridge Companion to Duns Scotus and recently published a book on Scotus' theory of universals.

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Franciscan Convent at Avignon

About three years ago there was a conference at Notre Dame on the subject of the studia of the religious orders and the papal court of Avignon (the proceedings may be out soon, I hear). There were some talks about the papal court and the Dominican studium at Avignon, but nothing about the Franciscan house. I haven't looked much into this yet (and I would prefer if someone else did the looking; I have enough projects at the moment), but perhaps this was because there was no studium proper, just a convent where friars passing through town and visiting the papal court happened to stay. But surely there was a library? My pet theory is that the pseudo-Franciscus de Mayronis Formalitates treatise was composed at Avignon, for, if there was a library, it would make sense if it contained the works of both Francis of Meyronnes and Petrus Thomae.

From a brief run through the Noone-Gracia companion to Medieval philosophy I have compiled the following list of friars who might have stayed at the house (except of course Petrus Thomae, who was not included in said companion).

1322-1346: John of Reading
1323-1328: Francis of Meyronnes (probably in and out various times)
1324-1328: Francis of Marchia
? - 1328: William of Ockham
1330?-1333: William of Alnwick
1332?-1339: Petrus Thomae (carted off to jail in 1339, died 1340)
1333-1343: Walter Chatton

With the exception of Ockham, I think all of these Franciscans had finished their major works by the time they would have been in Avignon. So there would have been a collection of major thinkers (well, for the early fourteenth century), in their prime, sitting around the house waiting for their day in court or whatever. I wonder what the dinner conversation was.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Dionysian Scotism

A common complaint against Duns Scotus is that he is at odds with the Christian tradition, which, depending on the author can mean something as simple as Thomism, or as broad as the Fathers, the Nicene creed, or Christian Platonism.  One also meets attempts to classify Scotus in terms of the dominant -isms of the late thirteenth century (for example, avicennizing-aristotelianism). I'm thinking now of pseudo-Denys; I don't think I have ever seen anyone classify Scotus as Dionysian. It is true that one rarely meets with citations of the pseudo-Dyonisius in Scotus' works. Yet Scotus owes at least one significant doctrine to pseudo-Denys, that of unitive containment, which is based on the notion that God pre-eminently contains the perfections of creatures within himself, albeit in a higher and ineffable way.  But the relative paucity of citations is not true of the works of Scotus' followers. I was struck by the prevalence of Denys-citations recently while reading three very different Scotists: Francis of Meyronnes, Petrus Thomae, and William of Alnwick. Petrus Thomae is constantly citing pseudo-Denys in his Quaestiones de ente, although interestingly they do not appear at all in his Quaestiones de esse intelligibili. In the case of Alnwick, questions 6-8 of his Quodlibet are basically and extensive defense and explanation of unitive containment and the Dionysian principle of pre-eminent containment.

So the modest contribution of this blogpost is that we have an important -ism to add to our taxonomy of Scotism: Dionysianism.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Leibniz on the Will and Possible Worlds

Another Leibniz post. Apologies to all the hardcore medievalists out there.  Leibniz strikes me as having a pretty weak account of the will in general (mainly, he is pretty vague whether the will is a power or appetite/inclination and is unclear on the relation between the will and acts of willing; plus, if, as is his wont, the soul just is thinking, what is the relation between willing and thinking?). I found the following quote interesting, mainly because he was so uncharacteristically explicit.

Theodicy, p. 151:

 51. As for the volition itself, to say that it is an object of free will is incorrect. We will to act, strictly speaking, and we do not will to will; else we could still say that we will to have the will to will, and that would go on to infinity. Besides, we do not always follow the latest judgement of practical understanding when we resolve to will; but we always follow, in our willing, the result of all the inclinations that come from the direction both of reasons and passions, and this often happens without n express judgement of the understanding.

52. All is therefore certain and determined beforehand in man, as everywhere else, and the human soul is a kind of spiritual automaton, although contingent actions in general and free action in particular are not on that account necessary with an absolute necessity, which would be truly incompatible with contingency. Thus neither futurition in itself, certain as it is, nor the infallible prevision of God, nor the predetermination either of causes or of God's decrees destroys this contingency and this freedom; That is acknowledged in respect of futurition and prevision, as has already been set forth. Since, moreover, God's decree consists solely in the resolution he forms, after having compared all possible worlds, to choose what one which is the best, and bring it into existence together with all that this world contains, by means of the all-powerful word Fiat, it is plain to see that this decree changes nothing in the constitution of things: God leaves them must as they were in the state of mere possibility, that is, changing nothing either in their essence or nature, or even in their accidents, which are represented perfectly already in the idea of this possible world. Thus that which is contingent and free remains no less so under the decrees of God than under his prevision.

Scotus, and his Sequelae, would ask what the origin of these possible worlds is.  Do they originate in the divine intellect, or are they eternally represented by the essence, or what? Elsewhere Leibniz made the odd claim that the divine ideas are represented by the divine intellect, but what could that mean? If the divine intellect does the representing, what is perceiving the representation? Generally, ideas, or the things that there are ideas of, are represented to the intellect, that is, if one is going to use representation at all in conjunction with the divine ideas. One question we might want to ask Leibniz is if the essences of possible things are eternal, since God does not alter their essences or apparently generate them. But if they are eternal, are they then divine or necessary, and doesn't this posit a plurality, indeed an infinity, of eternal beings?

Friday, June 3, 2011

Leibniz on the History of the Faith-Reason Problem

From his Theodicy, preliminary discourse, p. 76-77 (Newhaven 1952):

The question of the conformity of faith with reason has always been a great problem. In the primitive Church the ablest Christian authors adapted themselves to the ideas of the Platonists, which were the most acceptable to them, and were at that time most generally in favor. Little by little Aristotle took the place of Plato, when the taste for systems began to prevail, and when theology itself became more systematic, owing to the decisions of the General Councils, which provided precise and positive formularies. St. Augustine, Boethius and Cassiodorus in the West, and St. John of Damascus in the East contributed most towards reducing theology to scientific form, not to mention Bede, Alcuin, St. Anselm and some other theologians versed in philosophy. Finally came the Schoolmen. The leisure of the cloisters giving full scope for speculation, which was assisted by Aristotle's philosophy translated from the Arabic, there was formed at last a compound of theology and philosophy wherein most of the questions arose from the trouble that was taken to reconcile faith with reason. But this had not met with the full success hoped for, because theology had been much corrupted by the unhappiness of the times, by ignorance and obstinacy. Moreover, philosophy, in addition to its own faults, which were very great, found itself burdened with those of theology, which in its turn was suffering from association with a philosophy that was very obscure and very imperfect. One must confess, notwithstanding, with the incomparable Grotius, that there is sometimes gold hidden under the rubbish of the monks' barbarous Latin. I have therefore oft times wished that a man of talent, whose office had necessitated his learning the language of the Schoolmen, had chosen to extract thence whatever is of worth, and that another Petau or Thomasius had done in respect of the Schoolmen what these two learned men had done in respect of the Fathers. It would be a very curious work, and very important for ecclesiastical history, and it would continue the History of Dogmas up to the time of the Revival of Letters (owing to which the aspect of things has changed) and even beyond that point. For sundry dogmas, such as those of physical predetermination, of mediate knowledge, philosophical sin, objective precisions, and many other dogmas in speculative theology and even in the practical theology of cases of conscience, came into currency even after the Council of Trent.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Cajetan on Scotus

Be sure to check out James Chastek's post on Thomism and Scotism over at Just Thomism.  The topic is Scotus' argument that the personal properties of the Trinitarian persons are formally distinct from the divine essence (though Cajetan reads this as 'really' distinct, perhaps uncharitably) because the property of paternity is communicable and the essence is not. Cajetan's response is to deny the principle of excluded middle as applied to God in the hard sense of 'real' as well as a few other red herrings. His point that there is only one formal ratio in this sense of real is similar to the points that Pierre Roger argues in the Disputatio I've been blogging about.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Subordination to Metaphysics

Principles can be known in two ways. One is by confused knowledge, as when terms are apprehended through the senses and experience, and this suffices for scientific knowledge of the terms in any special science, as in [knowing] that a line has length, while being ignorant of whether its quiddity is substance, quantity or quality, etc. Another way principles can be known is by distinct knowledge, knowing to what category their quiddity pertains, with definitions of terms known distinctly from the evidence of the terms themselves, and this happens through the science of metaphysics through division and composition. And in this way all sciences can be called subordinate, namely to metaphysics. And therefore, given the science of metaphysics, principles of any science whatsoever are known more perfectly than they are suited by nature to be known in that science through its own proper principles. And as a consequence, another science is known more perfectly if one knows metaphysics.

- Scotus, Reportatio I-A, Prol. Q. 2, trans. Wolter and Bychkov