Sunday, August 21, 2011

Scotus on whether Relations Individuate

On the Thomistic view of individuation, matter is the individuating factor (or "signate" quantified matter depending on what work of Aquinas you happen to be reading).  But this leaves a problem for Thomists in the case of human souls, which are supposed to subsist after death.  For there is no matter remaining at all (Aquinas famously rejects spiritual matter). Consequently, we should expect subsistent human souls to be universals, or perhaps to be absorbed in the common nature of humanity (... but Aquinas thinks common natures have no being or unity...). Not so fast says the Thomist (or, if you prefer, the A-T theorist; this subject recently came up on Feser's blog), the soul still has a relation to its body. It is this relation that keeps the soul a particular (other Thomists have told me that the soul is individuated at the instant of its creation and just stays that way).  Scotus rejects this line of thought in the passage I have translated below.  This question is something of an embarrassment for Scotists of the strict observance (including the editors), for Scotus endorses spiritual matter (that old foolish doctrine that Thomas allegedly refuted for all time). Well, sort of. The following quote is labeled (without evidence) as "ad mentem Guilelmi de la Mare". For details on Scotus' views on spiritual matter (for example, who actually wrote the following section), see our co-blogger Michael's dissertation.

Duns Scotus, Quaestiones de anima, q. 15 n. 10-(Opera Philosophica V, 131-2):

I respond that probably [probabiliter] it can be said that there is matter in the soul, and this according to the Philosopher and those who posit the contrary. One [argument] is that the plurality of individuals in one species requires matter in those individuals, just as is clear from XII Metaphysics, where it is said " that there are not many in the same species moving heaven, because the first does not have matter." This is also clear from diverse [thinkers] positing matter to be the principle of individuation; but in the species of the rational soul there are many individuals, also when it is separated from the body; therefore, etc.

You might say, just as the contrary [party] does, that the soul has matter which it perfects or is made apt to perfect, namely the body. And by reason of the aptitude for diverse perfectible bodies, the [separated soul] can be plurified, not however does it have matter from which it is made.

Against them:

The soul does not exist on account of the body, but rather contrariwise; therefore neither is the distinction nor plurality of souls on account of the distinction of bodies, but rather contrariwise. Whence the Commentator VII Metaphysics says that the members of a lion differ from the members of a deer, because their souls differ; and not contrariwise.

Again, with the foundation or term of a relation destroyed, there is no relation; but that inclination or aptitude to the body is a certain relation; therefore, with the body destroyed after death, there is no inclination of the soul to the body.

The argument is confirmed: because there is no real relation of being to non-being, for relatives are simultaneous in nature; the soul is separated, not however the body which it informs; therefore, etc.

Again, if the distinction of souls is from the side of bodies only, God cannot create two souls without bodies; because there would not be distinguished by bodies, nor also by an inclination to a body; therefore, etc.

Again, every relative form presupposes something absolute in which it is founded; but that inclination to the body is a certain relative form founded in the essence of the soul which is so inclined; therefore the essence of the soul is prior to that inclination; the prior however is not distinguished by the posterior just as neither is it constituted by it, but rather contrariwise; therefore, etc.

Again, that inclination is not of the essence of the soul, because the soul is an absolute nature in itself; therefore it can be understood by an essential understanding [?? intellectu essentiali] without such an inclination, and consequently one is distinguished from another without an inclination to diverse bodies.

Again, because the soul is a 'this', therefore it has such an inclination to this body, not contrariwise; therefore, etc.


Michael Sullivan said...

I argued in a corner of my dissertation [cough, cough] that rather than "ad mentem Guilelmi" this section ought to be labelled "ad mentem Gonsalvi," since the views expressed here track Gonsalvus Hispanus' formulation much more precisely than William's. Be that as it may, except for this question Scotus seems to consistently reject spiritual matter, though there is little to no positive argumentation against it. Nevertheless I suspect Scotus would still accept, as I would, the following bits:

"The soul does not exist on account of the body, but rather contrariwise; therefore neither is the distinction nor plurality of souls on account of the distinction of bodies, but rather contrariwise. . . . with the foundation or term of a relation destroyed, there is no relation . . ."

Scotus' reasons why spiritual matter can be rejected without falling into the problems that Thomists fall into rely on conceiving of the nature of forms along quite different lines than either Thomas or the earlier more neoplatonic Franciscans.

Michael Sullivan said...

This post reminds me that I've been browsing through Henry again and thought of putting up a few things. It's certainly my turn.

Lee Faber said...


Anonymous said...

Dear Messrs. Faber and Sullivan,

First of all, allow me to extend to you my sincere gratitude for your respective responses to the comment I recently posted in one of the comboxes located somewhere (I forget where) on your blog; they proved quite helpful. So sorry for not thanking you sooner.

I was wondering if you'd mind answering a few questions for me. First, as Catholics, what are we to take as the status of any document promulgated by the Sacred Congregation of Studies? Is it an organ of the Magisterium, and, if so, would we have to take as infallible whatever it asserts? (Yes, I'm thinking of the famous--infamous?-- "Twenty-Four Thomistic Theses). Also, to what extent would you take an adoption of Scotus' position on, say, individuation, to require one, under pain of inconsistency, to take up his other positions on various metaphysical questions as well? (It appears to me that Scotus is right on individuation, but I follow Aquinas in maintaining the essentia/esse distinction, God's non-inclusion in the analogy of Being--He's not, strictly speaking, one being among others--, and in holding that being is naturally known by the mind--i.e. the concept of being is infused in the mind by God; most Thomists appear to fail to see this in the Summa, De Veritate, inter alia). Lastly, would you happen to know of some work in which the thought of Scotus is compared to that of Aquinas in a fair and thorough manner? If you would be so kind as to answer these questions (or point me to places in which you already have done so), I'd greatly appreciate it.

Thank you both for your time, and thanks for all the work you've done by means of this blog!

Cheers, and God bless!

Matthew Guertin

P.S. I tried posting something earlier, but it didn't seem to go through. If it did, and you end up getting duplicate, or nearly duplicate, comments from me, I apologize.

Lee Faber said...


For what it's worth, here are my thoughts.

1. Sacred congregation of studies. I don't know that anyone would say that every little dicastery in Rome issues infallible statements. An entity such as you mention I imagine would hold the force of canon law and would oblige seminaries and those in charge of priestly formation.

The 24 theses were controversial even among Thomists (only a few italian thomists were picked to come up with them, and Thomists are notorious for disagreements regarding the mens Thomae). There is a recent article in the American version of the journal Logos that traced the develoment of papal pronouncements on Aquinas, up to JPII basically saying that the church does not oblige one to any system of philosophy.

2. Doubtless one will eventually take up more of Scotus' positions the more one accepts them. This happened to me. I was a happy little Thomist until I read Scotus. Little by little I found I agreed with more and more of it. Now I am no longer a Thomist. But I never sat down and thought, does haecceity oblige one to hold Scotus' theory of the eucharist? or whatever doctrine you please. And currently I have thought myself out of Scotus' theory of divine ideas, but this is because (in my pride, perhaps) I think I am being more true to scotus' principles than he was.

You mention analogy: this is a minefield. Most people assume that one has to hold either analogy or univocity, but Scotus himself said that God could be known "not only by an analogical concept but by an univocal one". And Petrus Thomae, in his QQ de transcendentibus (the longest medieval treatise on the transcendentals probably even the longest discussion from the entire medieval period: but still unedited and uncited by all those books on the medieval theory of transcendentals), has a giant question in which he reconciles the two as well, that involves 12 grades of univocity, 12 grades of analogy, and numerous other grades of mysterious things like equilogia and unilogia.

3. I don't know of a good work that compares Aquinas and Scotus. You could probably start with Mauer's History of medieval philosophy or gilsons history of the same. The problem is, half of Scotus' works remain unedited (but we are hard at work, that I can assure you). Sure, they've been around, but in very poor editions.

Anonymous said...


Thanks for your reply!

With regard to the first point, I must say I'm glad to hear this; while I had thought that the Church does not require one to adopt this or that philosophical system (though it has sentenced some, in a way, such as ontologism, a la Malebranche), I had worried about the twenty-four theses in question due to their (perceived) relation to the encyclical "aeterni patris," as I was more or less uneasy with Aquinas' attempted solution to the problem of individuation but wanted to remain a loyal son of the Church. But I still wonder: if the Church has proposed Aquinas as a model theologian and philosopher, and if he is wrong about individuation and, consequently, a great deal more, how might this reflect on various pronouncements from the side of popes on him and his work?

Which brings me to my next point: what you say is certainly true: one takes up this or that position once he accepts it, which itself follows upon his being convinced by it; but this does not speak to my question. What I would most like to know is to what extent this or that position of Scotus intends, points to, implies, this or that other position (Haecceitas, for example), irrespective of whether or not some finite mind adopts them. If Scotus did not develop his thoughts in a systematic way (as some might like to maintain), then it might not be the case that one of his teachings implies one or more others; but if he did so systematically, then it seems that at least some of his teachings would, as, for instance, the teachings of the Church on the Eucharist somehow imply those regarding the Incarnation (or vice versa), or papal infallibility somehow intends the veracity of this or that papal pronouncement. Your thoughts on the matter, and even those of Mr. Sullivan, would be greatly appreciated.

I've read Mauerer on Scotus, but not Gilson; I'll look into the latter's work.

Anyway, thank you very much for all of your work; I greatly appreciate it!



P.S. If you happen to recall the title of that article you mentioned, please let me know.

Lee Faber said...


the thing is, the popes have recommended a lot of people. Bonaventure, Alexander of Hales, Albert the Great, and yes, there are papal endorsements of Scotus too. So you can either assume that since the doctors contradict each other the popes must too, or else hold that no particular doctrine is being endorsed when a thinker is.

In modern times Aquinas has been held up as pre-eminent, but I generally interpret this to be binding the instructors of seminarians to Thomism rather than requiring religious assent to philosophical proposiitons. I would say Aquinas is great for seminarians, for he is the clearest writer among the scholastics as far as beginniers are concerned, even if he isn't the most convincing once one reads around a while. But at the time (19th c.) when most of the pronouncements favoring thomism were made, the enemies were modern philosophers and philosophy, not other scholastics. I certainly would like to think that all the Church's claims regarding the harmony of faith and reason don't just mean we have to bow to Thomas and check our reason at the door; such would be a more monstrous theologism than ever Scotus was accused of.

Regarding the second point, I suppose one could write a book on such matters. One thing to note is that there certainly is a scotistic system, but it is not expressed in the same way that the thomisic one is. You have to keep in mind, that Aquinas had a 20 year career as a master of theology, while Scotus had a 2 year career. So most of what survives of Scotus' writings are the equivalent of different versions of a giant phd. dissertation.

But yes, there are a number of principles, tools, methods, etc. that lie at the heart of what one finds in his commentaries on the Sentences. The most important are probably the doctrine of common natures, the formal distinction, univocity of being/transcendentals, the propositio famosa, co-causality, ultimate abstraction.

As an example of one doctrine implying another, or presupposing it, is the formal distinction of the divine attributes and univocity. The formal distinction does not play a role in arguments establishing univocity of being. One could also perhaps claim that the formal distinction, at least in the created realm, is logically independent of univocity. One could claim that the two criteria for formal distinction are inseparability in the same subject, and in possession of distinct definitions. but if you want to posit the formal distinction in God, Scotus relies on univocity. His basic argument that the divine attributes are formally distinct from each other and the divine essence is that since pure perfections are really distinct in creatures (because they are separable: Socrates can lose his musicality), as the perfections are ultimately abstracted and univocally common, no two divine attributes share the same definition; therefore, since they are inseparably united in the divine essence, they must be formally distinct.

That's one example. All I can really say is that many of Scotus' bedrock princples are logically independent, but often they work together in a particular problem.

The place to start ot find out about this is Scotus' Theoremata, which is written in the geometrical style (it has been critically edited in vol. 2 of the opera philosophica).

Lee Faber said...

Also, email me and i'll send you the article.

Anonymous said...


Thanks for your latest responses!

With respect to what you've said about papal pronouncements regarding the various scholastics, that is intriguing. Would you happen to know of encyclicals, or papal bulls, in which the thought of Scotus was somehow recommended? If not, where would you suggest I look for these things if I wanted to find them within a fairly limited amount of time?

While I would certainly agree that the church has never, and will never, advocate a substantive form of fideism, given all her teachings regarding the relationship of reason to faith, and vice versa, and that to take any of her teachings as suggesting as much to be something that must needs grow out of an erroneous interpretation of the same, I still am perplexed by the suggestion on the one hand that the church does not require some kind of loyalty to the thought of this or that thinker, and her encouragement of the study of Aquinas and the fact that she basically requires loyalty to the thought of the Angelic Doctor on the part of seminary instructors; unless the thought of Aquinas and, say, Scotus happens to be complementary (and it seems to me that they ultimately are not, but I'm not entirely competent to judge in such matters), and if commitment to Aquinas requires one to commit to various errors that follow logically upon a commitment to his philosophical thought within Theology (as would seem to be the case, if we are to be consistent), then the church is requiring her seminary instructors to somehow commit to, and teach, error--in some way. I would imagine that you, having read far more than I, I'm quite sure, see a way out of this; I'd be very intrigued to see what you have to say on the matter.

Ah, yes, that all makes a great deal of sense. I will make it a point to read through the Theoremata at some point in the near future; I'm intrigued to see to what extent, say, a follower of Aquinas might be able to learn from, and utilize, whatever insights Scotus has achieved, and even the extent to which an error on the part of Scotus might, or might not, logically imply other errors elsewhere in the Subtle Doctor's work. I look forward to looking into all of this as time goes on.

Lastly, I'll e-mail you shortly--thanks for digging up that article!

Once again, thank you for all you've been doing!

Lee Faber said...

One other point that I'm not sure was clear, but my claim that the church only requires seminary instructors to adhere to Aquinas is temporally limited. I think it quite clear that such adherence was de facto abandoned immediately after Vatican II and de jure in the 1983 code of canon law. In one of his encyclicals JPII even said that the church doesn't require adherence to any system or propose any system. So I don't see the 24 thomistic theses or adherence to thomism a problem any more.

Also, there is a book called "Duns Scotus and the holy see" that collects the documents. There are also the canonizaton docs, and Benedicts recent audience on the matter.

Anonymous said...


I'd be wary of giving ready credence to whatever happened de facto within various institutions after Vatican II; the change found in the 1983 code of canon law, however, is something I'd immediately deem worth considering. Thank you for the information.

I've searched for that book you mentioned in both English and French, but I haven't met with any luck yet. Might the title be a little different from what you had suggested?

Also, I've read Benedict XVI's recent General Audience and letter on Scotus; I was intrigued to see him speak of Scotus' work on both the Incarnation and Freedom of Will with approval; I'll look into the canonization documents soon.

Speaking of which, would you happen to know how much momentum the cause for Scotus' canonization has gained of late?

Once, again thank you for all of your help!