Tuesday, December 18, 2012

More on Thomism and Vatican II

Here's an interesting article on Thomism and Vatican II by fr. Komonchok.  My favorite lines:

"Vae hominis unius libri! Vae Eccleisiae unius doctoris!"

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Should we Worship the Divine Ideas?

Ioannes Baconthorpe, Quodlibet II q. 3 (ed. f. 32r):

As far as the second is concerned, it seems it can be said that if 'idea' is understood as entirely the same as the divine essence and not as distinguished in any way, it is adored by latria. But  a distinct being of reason, distinct but which is the same as the divine essence, is to be adored with latria. But on account of another I do not say 'per se' or distinct so that its identity with the essence is not thought of, but as if it is a certain ratio not extraneous from God but rather connatual or by some other mode than itself it befalls God; so it is to be adored per accidens.
From these it is clear that it is not proved that an idea is not a creature as understood in respect to itself outside of God, because as is clear from the premises, everything is to be adored per se as per se divine or on account of the immediate union with God, just as the human nature in Christ, or on account of mediacy, as in those which are adored per accidens as clothes on account of a saint, holy on account of God.
From these I argue that the ideas or whatsoever other ought to be adored. This is according as they have some comparison or union with God, but in the proposed question we do not dispute that the ideas are creatures known by comparing the ideas to God, but rather by comparing the creatures themselves in understood being to themselves outside God; therefore from that adoration of the ideas it is not proved that ideas are not the creatures themsevles known. 

Baconthorpe was a Carmelite, writing during the 1320's, who defended the Scotist view of a divine idea as the 'creature as known'. He also holds, at least on issues pertaining to the divine ideas, similar views to Petrus Thomae, Alnwick, and James of Ascoli. The latin was a bit choppy, and I translated it in a hurry, so enjoy the resulting mishmash.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Feast of the Immaculate Conception

It's strange, but I have yet to find a mention of Duns Scotus on the catholic blogosphere today, the feast of the immaculate conception. At mass the priest read a long quote from Garrigou-lagrange without ever mentioning Scotus (though my old hand missal mentioned Scotus briefly in its blurb about the history of the doctrine).  All I can find online is Mark Shea's post from a few weeks ago that contained the comment I complained about in the previous post. Scotus really has been cast out of catholic thought these days. He not good for much save a prologue to bashing protestants or condoms.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Voluntarism Again

There was a comment over at the Register (the same site on which I couldn't post a comment) that voices a common misunderstanding of voluntarism. This particular formulation is garbled, but I thought it best to use an example from the wilds of the internet:

If Mary’s rational soul and so her capacity for sin was only infused into her body post conception on what grounds could such an immaculate conception take place? Duns Scotus used Franciscan voluntarism to ‘solve’ his problem where the will rather than the intellect takes precedence. Which taken to its logical conclusion causes all kinds of problems for the principle of non-contradiction [God could create a square circle if He wanted to, perfection could be less than perfect if He wanted to be. Etc.] If St. Thomas (and Dun Scotus) et al had modern biology to base their philosophy and theology upon then there would have been no debate at all. But then if we diden’t have franciscian voluntarism its unlikely we would have had nominalism, conceptualism and the general nuttiness of modern philosophy and theology. 

So the complaint is that if the will has "precedence" or "precedes" the intellect, lots of bad thing follow. Philosophically you get God able to create a square-circle, or be less perfect, or whatever. Historically, Scotist voluntarism "causes" (read Brad Gregory for an explanation of this causality) nominalism, conceptualism, and everything the one making the claim doesn't like about the modern world.

The philosophical claim underlying all this seems to be that according to Scotus, possibility and impossibility are dependent on the divine will.

The passage in Scotus to examine is I d. 43 of his commentaries on the Sentences, the Lectura, Ordinatio, or Reportatio.

One thing we find is that the will plays no role in whether something is possible or impossible. For Scotus, possibility and impossibility is a feature of terms (or  natures, essences) which are generated by the divine intellect. The divine intellect generates say, 'rational' and 'animal'; there is no repugnance between these terms, so the species human being is possible.  The terms 'square' and 'circle' are repugnant, so a square-circle is impossible. This is even true if per impossible, God did not exist. If God did not exist, and neither did anything else, a square-circle would be impossible because the terms are repugnant, and human being would still be possible because the terms are compatible. This is what Scotus calls logical potency, and the result of it seems to be that modality is grounded in things themselves or their essences, rather than on God or some feature of God. Now on this tricky point Scotus actually says that possibility is "principiative" from the divine intellect. The idea is that while the terms are repugnant or non-repugnant based on their natures, for there to be any terms or essences at all there must be the divine intellect to generate them.

So whatever other philosophical problems voluntarism might have, at least for Scotus we are not in danger of a world of square-circles or impossible objects walking the streets, or God making himself not-God. Possibility and impossibility arise from the relation of the divine intellect and its thinking about essences.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Alnwick on Virtual Containment

I've been writing on Alnwick's theories of containment lately. He has three: exemplaric containment in the divine intellect, eminent/perfectional containment in the divine essence, and virtual containment in the divine omnipotence.  Here I am going to post some arguments he makes about virtual containment, one of those scholastic notions that has a neo-Platonic origin at least as far back as the pseudo-Dionysius (and therefore Proclus) and gets ridiculed from time to time today. The basic point from the pseudo-D. is that effects are contained in their cause in a more noble manner than they exist as effects. Scotus builds his notion of unitive containment on this notion, and several other versions of Dionysian containment were developed by other Scotists during the early fourteenth century.

The arguments Alnwick makes are meant to defend the claim that "the creatures contained in God virtually according to their perfection are distinguished from God really and formally". Recall that the various modes of containment are attempts to explain how and in what way creatures pre-exist in God prior to their creation.

Guillelmus de Alnwick, Quodlibet q. 8 (ed. Ledoux, 448-9):

Every positive perfection is contained in God formally or virtually; but the perfection of a creature, inasmuch as it is distinguished from God, is some positive perfection, because creatures are distinguished from God by their positive perfections; therefore, the perfection of a creature, inasmuch as it is distinguished from God, is contained in God virtually or formally. Not formally, for so then it would not be distinguished from God absolutely (simpliciter); therefore it is contained as such in God virtually. Then I arguo thus: the perfection of a creature, inasmuch as it is distinguished from God, is contained by God virtually, as now has been proved; therefore the perfection of a creature, inasmuch as it is contained in God virtually, is not the same as God. And so it is clear that the perfection of a creature, insofar as it is contained in God from the side of itself [ex parte sui], is not the same as God.

Again, fourth: whatever is produceable by some agent is contained in it virtually, because nothing is produced by something which is not contained first in its produtive power; but a stone according to its own proper nature is produceable by God; therefore a stone according to its own proper nature is contained in God virtually. But it is clear tha a stone according to its own proper nature is not God, therefore a stone, inasmuch as it is virtually contained in God, is not God but is distinguished from him.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

A Counter-Narrative for Brad Gregory

See this post for photos of Duns Scotus in colonial Mexican art. Note especially the winged Scotus and Scotus treading upon the Lutherans.

Friday, November 9, 2012

A Note from Peirce

"Scotism died out when the strong Scotist died."

C.S. Peirce, quoted in rem in sepisa cernere, p. 188

Scotistic Commission of America

A link to the page of the American commission, editing the Parisian works.  Here.

The ms. photo is from the famous Vienna ms., showing the famous colophon at the end of Reportatio I:  "Explicit reportatio super primum sententiarum sub magistro Iohanne Scoti et examinata cum eodem vernerando doctore"

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Festum Scoti

Nov. 8 has come again. Time to celebrate the feast/optional memorial of John Duns Scotus.

Here's the collect and poem from last year:

The collect:

Domine Deus, fons omnis sapientiae, qui Beatum Ioannempresbyterum, Immaculatae Virginis assertorem,nobis magistrum vitae et scientiae dedisti, concede, quaesumus,ut, eius exemplo illuminati, et doctrinis nutria,Christo fideliter adhaereamus. Qui tecum vivit. 

And a poem, De morte Duns Scoti [From Ioannis Duns Scoti Opera Omni I, 50*] 

Scotia plange, quia periit tua gloria rara,
Funde precem, confunde necem, tibi cum sit amara.
Quam fera, quam nequam sit mors, tribuens tibi legem
Cum reliquis aequam, rapiens ex ordine retgem.
Caelum, terra, mare nequeunt similem reparare.
Si quaeras, quare, - probat haec editio clare.
Troia luit florem de viribus Hectora fisum,
Sic luo Doctorem iuvenili flore recisum.
Ergo, legens, plora, quia non uic subfuit hora,
Sed ruit absque mora: pro quo, lector, precor, ora.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Scotus on Participation

It's a common claim made by contemporary intellectuals of various disciplines (I have in mind the Brad Gregorys, Fr. Barrons, the Cambridge fantasists, etc.) that Scotus denies participation. They never bother to cite a text of course, because none of these people have ever bothered to read Scotus. The claim is usually linked to univocity. To hold univocity is to automatically reject analogy and particpation. I've talked about analogy before, how Scotus holds analogical concepts but just isn't interested in talking about them. I've known for a number of years that the same is true of participation, but I never bothered to write any of the passages down. This time I did and offer for your delectation an unequivocal endorsement of participation.

Reportatio II d. 16 q. un. (Wad.-Viv. 23, 70-71):

Ad aliud alterius Doctoris dicit unus Doctor quod nihil agit per essentiam, nisi solus Deus, et ipse semper agit. Vel potest dici quod 'per essentiam' potest accipi dupliciter: aliquando ut distinguitur contra illud, quod est per participationem; aliquando ut distinguitur contra per accidens. Primo modo, dico quod nihil est per essentiam nisi Deus, quia omnis veritas, et entitas creata est talis per participationem, et isto modo agens per essentiam semper agit. Secundo modo agens per essentiam, hoc est, non per accidens, non semper agit necessario.
To the other [argument] of the other doctor, one doctor says that nothing except God alone acts through essence, and he always acts. Or it can be said that 'by essence' can be understood doubly: sometimes as it is distinguished against that which is by participation, sometimes as it is distinguished against 'per accidens'. In the first way, I say that nothing is by essence except God, because every truth and created entity is such by participation, and in that way an agent always acts through its essence. In the second way an agent by essence, this is, not per accidens, does not always act necessarily.

Not much, sure, but clear enough to show that simply because Scotus does not talk a lot about a particular feature of the philosophical tradition does not allow us to infer that he rejects it.

Thomistic Essence and Existence as the Primary Christian Truth

Go here for a discussion of how the Thomistic doctrine of esse and essentia is a primary truth of Christian metaphysics, (conveniently) indemonstrable. What I can't get my mind around is the claim that every Christian thinker thinks this. Perhaps despite all the exposition of Aquinas it is not the specifically Thomistic view that is being argued for, but rather just that essence and existence are distinct in some unspecified way? For otherwise, how can we account for the dozens of scholastic theories on the topic?

Tuesday, October 30, 2012


If one takes a look at the Scotus commission's website (they appear to have renamed themselves the 'Officina Scotista'), one will see an announcement for the festivities surrounding this year's celebration of Scotus' feast day November 8. One of the lectures is about the completion of the Ordinatio. There is only one volume left to go, and it seems they have finished it and will be unveiling it at the celebration. So lets raise a glass and salute the completion of their long labors. The first volume came out in 1950, based on work they had begun around 1938. So they've been at it a long time and deserve some props. I now expect Ave Maria university in Florida to establish a center of Scotistic renewal for the Church (which will of course require hiring 15 Scotists) and no doubt we will soon hear an announcement from Wyoming Catholic College that they are also setting up a center of Scotistic studies to aid in the production of the first English translation of the Ordinatio (with face-to-face Latin). Here's me starting to hold my breath...

Monday, October 15, 2012

Fr. Ruggero Rosini, 20th Century Scotist

From the Absolute Primacy of Christ website:

The author of this treatise, perhaps the only truly comprehensive presentation of Scotus’ Mariology in modern times, Fr. Ruggero Rosini, was born in 1913, in the small town of Zanigrado di Lonche (Villa Decani) near Pola (Pula), then in the Austro-Hungarian empire, annexed to Italy at the end of the first world war, then at the end of the second world war made part of Yugoslavia, now belonging to the Croatian Republic. As a teenager Fr. Ruggero entered the Franciscan Province of Venice, was professed in 1930 and ordained in 1938. He studied under the famed Croatian scotist, Fr. Charles Balic, and after being awarded the doctorate in theology was associated with Fr. Balic in the work of editing the works of Scotus and promoting the cause of Scotus and Mary. He died at the end of 1998 in the hospital of Motta di Livenza.

Friday, October 5, 2012

More on Descartes' Relation to the Scholastics

David Clemenson, Descartes' Theory of Ideas, Continuum 2007, p. 5:
The philosophy of cognition contained in these texts [Descartes' Jesuit textbooks at La Fleche] is mainstream Scholasticism, but it is not the Thomism of the great Dominican commentators Cajetan and Poinsot (John of St. Thomas). The intellectual tradition of the Franciscan order, especially Scotism, exerted an important influence on Jesuit cognitive philosophy, including that of Fonseca and the Coimbran school. Not that the Jesuits were doctrinaire Scotists. But they do reject Aquinas, in favour of Scotus or his early fourteenth-century Franciscan successors, on at least three controversial points in the philosophy of cognition: (a) the possiblity of a direct and immediate (human) intellectual perception of singular matter-form composites (and not just of universal forms, as Aquinas thought), (b) the possibility of direct intellectual cognition of non-existent objects and (c) the doctrine of objective or intentional esse as an intrinsic denomination of the perceived object. Descartes sides with the Jesuits (and thus the Franciscans) on each of these points.
See! Brad Gregory and Fr. Robert Barron were right!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

A Comparison

In Reportatio I-A, Dist.2 Part I Q.1-3.11, in the Wolter-Bychkov text, we read:

Nam primum in quolibet genere praeeminet alteri posteriori illius generis, et tamen non est causa illius. Primitas enim exemplaris non distinguitur a primitate efficientiae, quia primum exemplans alia in esse intelligibli, non est nisi primum efficiens per intellectum; et sicut naturale efficiens non distinguitur contra efficiens, immo continetur sub eo, sic nec exemplaris distinguitur ab efficiente. Sunt ergo duae causalitates contra se distinctae, scilicet causae efficientis et finalis.

Judging the soundness of the Latin text is well beyond my competence; that's Faber's domain. The present edition isn't a critical one (it includes no variants), but until the critical edition is available it's what we have to go on, though it has come under some pretty severe criticism from trustworthy critics. Taking the Latin as it is, though, I want to look for a second at the English translation. This passage gives a good example for why, granted all the good he's done for Scotist scholarship, the reader should be wary of relying on Wolter's translations for a precise grasp of Scotus' thought. Wolter's translation:

For the most eminent [species] in any genus excels each less eminent [species], and yet is not its cause. Note also that the primacy of exemplarity is not distinguished from that of efficiency, for the first to model another in thought is nothing other than a first efficient cause endowed with an intellect. Now just a natural efficient cause is not distinguished from efficient cause - indeed it is a subdivision thereof - so neither is the exemplar cause. Hence, there are only two sorts of causality that are distinct from each other, namely what pertains to an efficient cause and final cause respectively.

Here is my own translation:

Now the first in any genus is preeminent over another posterior member of that genus, and yet is not its cause. For the primacy of exemplarity is not distinguished from the primacy of effectivity, for the first thing exemplating another into intelligible being is nothing but the first thing effecting another through intellect; and as a natural effecting [cause] is not distinguished against an effecting [cause], but rather is contained under it, so neither is an exemplary cause distinguished from an efficient one. There are therefore two causalities distinct over against each other, namely that of an efficient cause and that of a final one.

Some of the differences in my translation are mere quibbles. I don't like Wolter's "efficiency", since the ordinary meaning of the English word seems just too far from its meaning here. More seriously, I don't see why he twice inserts the bracketed "species", which does not seem obviously demanded or implied by the sense of the passage. Some are not quibbles, however. While in places Wolter's translation is extremely literal, "for the first to model another in thought is nothing other than a first efficient cause endowed with an intellect" seems to me intolerably loose. It's almost as though he doesn't grasp the crucial point here, and so doesn't know how to render it precisely, and thus totally glosses over the relevance of this passage to the problem of intelligible being.

When I "model something in thought," there are two ways for me to do it, depending on what exactly I am modeling. Say I am modeling in my thought some mathematical object, the five platonic solids; or say I'm a detective modeling out scenarios to match the evidence of a crime scene. In these cases the objects of thought are already intelligible before I think of them, before I form my mind so that their intelligibility is activated in my intellection. The task is to bring what is already in itself potentially intelligible by the nature of its intrinsic formal integrity to being actually thought-out.

On the other hand, when I "model in thought" something like this blog post, or the plot of a detective novel, I am in a sense creating a new intelligibility, not discovering in thought what is already out there to bring into thoughtfulness. My act of intellection causes rather than is caused by the intelligibility of the intelligible object. However, my intelligible productions are artifacts. Like material artifacts, they don't have substantiality beyond that of the material from which they are produced. I can't create intelligibility any more than I can create physical things; I can only make new things by taking intelligible content and rearranging it in new ways. I can't invent a new platonic solid, although I can produce a new mathematical proof or pedagogical technique concerning the five that are always already there.

Now, the most pressing question about intelligible being concerns, not the way we think intelligibles, but the way God does. I can't make substances, only artifacts. But the substantial, natural world is in its entirety like an artifact of God's, who makes it. Is this true for the intelligible world as well? Does God think things, "model them in thought", in the first way or in the second? Does he think thinkables because they are first thinkable or are things thinkable because he first thinks them? If the former, one has to explain why finite things don't have some kind of eternal existence apart from God, in the separate platonic heaven of forms. If the latter, one has to explain how forms can have any internal necessity or non-arbitary features, and why in this case the potential seems logically posterior to the actual. By its looseness and imprecision Wolter's translation here totally obscures the fact that Scotus thinks that God produces intelligibles into intelligible being, a position which some later Scotists found untenable and ultimately incoherent. Someone reading only the English would not only be unable to tell which position Scotus takes, but even that this passage is relevant to the question at all. The question is not whether God is "endowed with intellect", but whether intelligibles are intelligible through the activity of his intellect or prior to his intellection.

A final note: in my opinion Wolter's "only" in the last sentence is neither justified in the Latin, nor correct. Scotus is not, I think, saying that efficient and final causality are the only kinds of causality; here he's talking about extrinsic causes, those which produce something into being, and not about the intrinsic causality of matter and form, which of course he recognizes. The point is that among extrinsic causes natural and exemplary causality are species of efficient causality, but that final causality is not; the point is not that there are no other kinds of causes.

So I reiterate a point I've made before: this sort of thing is not at all uncommon in Wolter's translations. Taken as a whole his work has been enormously beneficial for the study of Scotus in English; but it should never be relied on in place of the Latin for matters of detail.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Ockham the Scotist? Part II

The following excerpts are taken from Rega Wood's translation and commentary Ockham on the Virtues, in the second chapter of her Introduction. I offer a few comments in bold.

As an Oxford theologian, Ockham was preoccupied with the works of Scotus. Few of Ockham's important philosophical or theological doctrines can be fully understood without reference to Scotus's views. [In this respect the relationship between Ockham and Scotus is reminiscent of that between Scotus and Henry of Ghent. Scotus serves as the default starting point for Ockham as Henry does for Scotus. This of course doesn't imply in the least that Ockham is just a heterodox Scotist, any more than Scotus is just some kind of Henrician. What it implies is that, for most of the great medieval thinkers, reading widely is essential for grasping the author at hand. One can read much of Descartes or Hume or Husserl in relative isolation and grasp at least a great deal of their thought. But if one picks a given medieval philosopher to read in isolation one is overwhelmingly likely to misunderstand or fail to grasp a great deal of what is being said. Most works of medieval philosophy and theology are not self-standing treatises but entries in a vast discussion and debate. Even though the debater usually tries fairly to sum up his opponents' points, we really need to listen to the other participants to properly follow it. This is true even for Aquinas and his readers often unfortunately fail to notice it. However it's less true for Aquinas than for most other thinkers of the time. Aquinas doesn't use, say, Albert as his default starting point in the way mentioned here, and the monumental character of his his greatest works can produce the illusion of independence from his context.] But Ockham's citation practice serves to conceal the extent of the influence. Ockham often borrows the basic elements of Scotus' view tacitly, naming Scotus only in connection with disagreements, even when the point in dispute is minor. Most notably, Ockham disagrees with Scotus on the problem of universals: Ockham denies the existence of common natures and attacks realism. But even when he disagrees with Scotus, his respect is evident; for example, when treating universals, he takes care to distinguish misinterpretations of Scotus from the views themselves, which he quotes extensively. Once, when criticizing Scotus, Ockham remarks that Scotus probably would not have disagreed, given his great knowledge of logic. [This almost seems to obscure the importance of the rift on universals, which permeates the two philosophies and their differences in tone and emphasis as well as substantive content to a degree impossible to overstate.]

But respectful as he was, Ockham shows no special reverence in citing Scotus; he normally refers simply to John or Brother John, in De connexione virtutum and in his early Reportatio commentary on the Sentences. Subsequently Ockham does refer to Scotus as the Subtle Doctor, adding that he is so called because he exceeds others in the subtlety of judgment, but noting that Scotus is not an authority for him in the same way as he is to his followers. Ockham does not mince words when he thinks Scotus is mistaken.

Ockham's manner of reference contrasts with that of Adam Wodeham, his student, in about 1330, who refers to Scotus as "Our Doctor," - that is, the Franciscan Order's doctor. Ockham did theology precisely in the period when Franciscans first began to venerate Scotus. Ockham's less deferential approach to Scotus may explain in part the hostility with which he was regarded by such fellow Franciscans as John Reading and Walter Chatton. The dispute between Ockham and Scotus's defenders was as much a matter of attitude as of doctrine, and it has served to obscure both the extent of Ockham's debt to Scotus and the degree to which Ockham influenced Scotists, such as Reading and Chatton. [It's hard for me not to read into this some connection with Ockham's attitude, his lack of reverence and quickness to label disagreement heresy, towards the Pope. I rather suspect that when people try to trace the Reformation back to Ockham the similarity they find between himself and the Reformers is more one of personality and attitude than in the real content of his thought. Aquinas and Scotus were both saints; Ockham was not.]

If Ockham's criticisms of Scotus were a product of intimate familiarity, his knowledge of Aquinas was much more limited. Indeed, instead of discussing Aquinas, when contending against views associated today with Aquinas, he often has other medieval authors in mind . . . [Wood mentions Giles of Rome, Richard of Middleton, and Peter of Spain here. It should go without saying that this same point applies when reading many authors of the time.]

Studies showing that a superficial reading of Ockham understates his debt to Scotus should not be taken as evidence of a lack of originality. They are a sign rather that we cannot understand Ockham without knowing Scotus. In the end, a "strong reaction" may be as important a manner of developing a philosophy as there is.

It's a good idea to read Ockham even if you think his philosophy is fundamentally flawed, as I do. First, because one can't read much of him without realizing very clearly that he was a great genius, greater than many more-studied moderns. He may be wrong, but he's smart. If Scotus' defining quality is his subtlety, and it surely is, the overwhelming impression given by reading Ockham is that he is sharp, extremely, penetratingly, keenly sharp. He cuts through all the intellectual morass and puts his scalpel right into the heart of the problem in play.

Second, because although he is most famous for his razor Ockham makes an excellent whetstone. My doktorvater T.B. Noone (from whom I also took courses in Bonaventure, Scotus, and Ockham), has said in my hearing many times that you can't know if you're really a Scotist without studying Ockham extensively. In a sense you have no right to cleave to a position before having confronted its most trenchant critique; in a similar way any metaphysician ought to seriously confront Nietzsche. In my opinion Scotus makes the most powerful case for realism and Ockham gives the best counterpoint. As a kind of mirror-image inversion of Scotism Ockham is extremely useful for the Scotist, but the Thomist would do well to consider him too. Most Thomists typically read few other scholastics and see Thomas as superior to all competitors, but for them those competitors are usually the ancients and the moderns. Of course I think that Thomists should read Scotus, but for expansion and correction, rather than sheer contrast. Ockham provides a real alternative philosophy that inhabits the same intellectual world as Thomas, with the same habits of argument and the same authorities, but with grossly different arguments and conclusions. Coming to grips with those arguments, rather than merely rejecting the conclusions, will make a better Thomist (even if dealing with Ockham will make you more likely to depart from the letter of the Summa, which is not suited to handle all objections).

Third, Ockham may be helpful simply in understanding Scotus, in a different way than the helpfulness of modern scholarship. Scotus is subtle; he's also disorganized and a poor writer; reading him is harder even than the intrinsic difficulty of his thought requires. Ockham, by contrast, is limpid and straightforward, and seeing how he approaches a Scotistic problem can clarify for us exactly what Scotus himself is up to (reading later Scotists can have the same salutary effect), even when his critiques and his own solutions turn out to be too neat and oversimplified to match reality. Along these lines, reading Ockham is just more enjoyable than reading Scotus (and many other scholastics), at least in certain moods when one is not inclined to relish the feeling of being lost in the woods.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Against the Real Distinction of Essence and Existence

In what follows I post some arguments against the real distinction of the Thomists by the super-famous thinker Himbertus de Garda. They are from a fascinating article that I have been meaning to do a post on, as it is full of material to delight both loremasters and the most hard-headed of philosophers. Here's the citation: William Duba, Christopher Schabel,  "Ni chose, ni non-chose: The Sentences-Commentary of Hibertus de Garda, OFM," Bulletin de Philosophie medievale 53 (2011), 149-232

Reminder of the meanings of the terms:

A distinctio ex natura rei is any distinction obtaining apart from the activity of the intellect, including the divine intellect.

A distinctio realis (or distincta realiter) is a distinction between entities that can exist without each other. Probably a subset of the ex natura rei distinction. Sometimes, as in the case of body and soul, only one of the items can exist without the other.

A distinctio formalis obtains ex natura rei but the items so distinguished (definitions, quiddities, formalities, parts of definitions, etc.) are not separable.

Ratio: probably here means definition, or a formal nature.

From Himbertus, Rep IA d. 36 a. 2 (ed D-S, 199-200):

There is a second mode of speaking, which is of our Doctor [=Scotus], that essence and actual existence are not really distinguished. Which is proved thus: whenever some things are really distinct, and one descends from the other, if that which descends is real, then that which remains will be real, as is clear regarding whiteness in a wall; but actual existence descends from essence, and essence remains,  and nevertheless is not real; therefore they are not really distinguished.
The second argument: if essence and actual existence are really distinguished, essence will actually exist without actual existence, because whenever some things differ really, one is able to be [esse] without the other; but essence is not able to actually exist without actual existence; therefore they are really the same.
Here are two doubts. It is said that essence is distinguished from actual existence: is it distinguished formally? I say that it is not, because when some things have the same definitional and quidditative ratio, they are the same formally; but essence and actual existence have the same definitional and quidditative ratio; therefore they are the same formally. The major premise is proved, for the formal ratio is taken from the definitional and quidditative ratio. The minor premise is also clear, because neither something else nor a new quiddity is acquired through actual existence.
Second thus: that which does not vary the formal ratio of something does not differ formally from that which it does not vary; but actual existence does not vary the formal ratio of essence; therefore it does not differ formally from it.
The second doubt is if essence and actual existence are distinguished ex natura rei. I say that they are, because whenever it is the case that something befalls one which does not befall the other, those are distinguished ex natura rei, if it befalls them ex natura rei; but it befalls essence that it is not in act, but in potency, and [it befalls] actual existence that it is in act; therefore they are distinguished ex natura rei.
Again, it befalls essence that it is indifferent to being and non being; but actual existence is not indifferent, because it is in act. Whence I say that actual existence and essence are the same really.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Ockham the Scotist?

Ockham begins his Ordinatio with a three hundred seventy page epistemological Prologue, a precedent established in Henry's Summa. The first, seventy-five page, question, misleadingly titled "Whether it is possible for the intellect of a Wayfarer [i.e. a human being still in the present state of life] to have evident knowledge of the truths of theology," is in fact mostly about establishing the distinction between intuitive and abstractive cognition. This distinction was pioneered by Scotus (I've written about it over here), but quickly became standard and is one of the major indicators of earlier versus later scholasticism.

Ockham's account differs from Scotus' in a number of ways. Probably the most significant is that for Scotus intuitive cognition is by definition characterized by the actual existence and presence of the intuited object to the cognitive power apprehending it: when I consider something in the abstract it might exist or might not exist, so far as my ability to think about it is concerned, but if I'm going to see something it really has to be there in front of me; for Ockham, on the other hand, the existence of the intuited object is not strictly necessary. He has a simple argument for this: the object is one thing; the intuitive act, as a quality of my mind, is another, wholly distinct thing; of two separate and distinct created things either one can exist without the other, at least by the power of God; therefore the mental act can exist without the object. - Never mind the problems this raises!

As I mentioned, Scotus seems to have originated the distinction and when Ockham was writing it was not universally established. Some people must not have liked the use Ockham was putting it to, because he seems to have been accused of introducing dangerous novelties into his theology, and he defends himself by appealing to Scotus. This is rich, since Scotus is a kind of intellectual arch-enemy to Ockham, although he's deeply indebted to him even when he's engineering his antipodes. This is an interplay we've written about before. In any case, in this first question Ockham quotes and alludes to Scotus' writings on intuitive and abstractive cognition pretty extensively. Some Scotists seem to have accused him of misinterpreting the Doctor. In places Scotus talks as though the only thing we have direct intellectual intuition of in this life are our own internal acts, while Ockham says that we also have intuition of external sensible objects. He attempts to show that at least in certain places Scotus thinks the same thing. And then, in a remarkable passage:

And if someone should say that elsewhere he claims the opposite, that moves me but little, for I don't take him as an authority, nor do I hold this opinion because he said it, but because I think it true. And if elsewhere he says the opposite, I don't care. But here he holds it, and therefore his followers ought not to condemn it as a novelty.

Et si dicatur quod alibi ponit oppositorum, illud parum movet me, quia non allego eum tamquam auctoritatem, nec dico praedictam opinionem quia ipse dixit eam, sed quia reputo eam veram. Et ideo si alibi dixit oppositum, non curo. Hic tamen tenuit eam, et ideo sequaces sui non debent eam contemnere tamquam novam.

Am I the only one who senses in this outburst of attitude a big chip on Ockham's shoulder about Scotus and the Scotists? This is how Peter Olivi sounds sometimes about Aristotle. Attitude aside, however, it's a salutary sentiment worthy of a real philosopher.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Yet Another Review of Brad Gregory

Here. This one is devestating.  Some snippets.

BUT IF YOU DON'T buy that story, Gregory has another. This one, which has little to do with the Reformation, focuses on transformations in medieval theology and early modern philosophy. This is not his specialty (nor mine), which is perhaps why the writing here is clotted and the thoughts seem second-hand; positions are stated rather than argued, and without regard to well-known objections and rebuttals. Essentially the issues come down to the old quarrel between affirmative theology and negative theology—very roughly, over whether we can speak meaningfully of the attributes of God, or whether He is the He of whom nothing can be said. As Gregory rightly insists, how one thinks about this question affects how one thinks about nearly everything else. That is what makes the history of medieval Christian theology and philosophy so fascinating to study: every possible permutation of every possible argument about every possible subject is to be found there. The more one encounters it in all its variety, the more derivative subsequent philosophy seems.
Medieval Christian thought was hyper-plural—which is why Thomas Aquinas hoped that his Summa Theologiae would resolve its fundamental antinomies and make order out of chaos. Brad Gregory, though, is committed to the view that before the Reformation the harmony of the heavens was mirrored in Christian life and thought. And so he makes the bald assertion (argument would be too strong a word) that before the late-medieval writings of Duns Scotus and William of Ockham, something called “traditional Christian metaphysics” held sway, and leaned in a somewhat negative theological direction. According to “traditional Christian teaching,” he writes, “God is literally unimaginable and incomprehensible.” It is hard to know what he means by “traditional” here, given the centuries of disagreement about just what it means to say that God is, or acts providentially, or performs miracles, or was incarnated, or can be understood, or is present in the Holy Eucharist. Or how such a metaphysics manifested itself at the popular level, where ordinary clergy and common believers thought of God as the Big Bearded Being, took miracles to be the direct work of His hands, venerated the saints and their sacred relics, practiced magic, and swallowed the host whole, lest their teeth add wounds to the flesh of Christ.
Modern Thomists have long asserted that the departures from the Summa by Scotus and then Ockham unintentionally paved the way for modern philosophy and science. The (simplified) argument goes like this: Scotus compromised God’s transcendence by claiming that a single concept of being applies both to Him and to His creation, whereas Thomas had said that only an analogy could be established between them. Once God and creation were thought to inhabit the same mountain, so to speak, the question arose how far up the slope one needed to go to explain things farther down. The answer of modern science would be: not very far. God is a hypothesis that we can, for practical purposes, do without. For Thomists such as √Čtienne Gilson, the decoupling of modern science from theology, and subsequently from morality, was foreordained by these two subtle theological departures from the grand Summa.
Gregory, though, is not interested in defending Thomism—or even theology, which he appears to distrust, believing perhaps that it is incapable of proving what he wants it to prove. So like many American theoconservatives, he makes a populist turn. He is annoyed not only that “religion is not and cannot be considered a potential source of knowledge,” just “a matter of subjective opinion and personal preference,” but also by the contemporary secular assumption that “knowledge must be based on evidence, it must make sense” and that it “must be universal and objective: if something is known or knowable, its content is not contingent on who discovers it.” He wants to defend other “ways” of knowing, which he calls “salvific participatory” and “experiential,” along with “a sacramental view of reality.”
At this point a narcotic haze descends on the book. Gregory wants us to believe that medieval Christendom before the theological fall seamlessly harmonized distinct “kinds” of knowledge, blending theology, natural science, and “individually differentiated participatory knowledge of the faith and its shared way of life, based ultimately and above all on God’s actions in Jesus.” And what was the nature and content of that knowledge, exactly? Gregory never explains. Perhaps by its very nature it cannot be communicated verbally. The most we are told about Christian life in the old days is that “the better that one lived it—the holier one was—the clearer did [God’s] truth become, a sapientia beyond mere scientia. The lived holy wisdom of the saints, quite apart from whether they were erudite or brilliant, embodied most conspicuously this sort of knowledge.” I leave the reader to make sense of those words. The meaning of the following sentence, though, is perfectly clear: in medieval Christianity, “the pursuit of knowledge for some other end, or as an end in itself, was literally vain in the sense of purposeless.”
Faith seeking understanding, with a curfew at eleven—that’s Gregory’s historical, and apparently future, ideal. So what happened? Well, late scholasticism, which pursued its dialectical games late into the night, mindless of the lived faith of others, shares part of the blame. Then, of course, the Bible was “let loose among the ‘common man’” by the Reformation. After that, states and universities became divided by confession, knowledge became a tool of state power, scripture was subjected to the higher criticism, and disciplines became separated from each other. In Europe, Wilhelm von Humboldt’s modern research university distanced itself from religious questions and affiliations, and in the United States religious colleges governed by milquetoast liberal Protestants eventually succumbed to this German virus, giving birth to our centerless multiversity, which spawned today’s anti-rational, anything-goes postmodernism.
And that’s how we got from scholasticism to structuralism.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Scotus on the Divine Intellect and Cognition

Edward Feser has a recent post about the divine intellect here, the comments in the combox of which has inspired me to supplement the A-T view with the A-S view. But before we look at Scotus' view of the matter, we must recall some of the presuppositions upon which Scotus builds his account.

1. 'Intellect' can be univocally predicated of God and creatures. In God it is found conditioned by the intrinsic mode of infinity. For his arguments, see the various posts listed on the sidebar.

2. The formal distinction. Scotus argues that divine simplicity requires only real identity, not formal identity. So one can posit a formal distinction between various aspects of the divine nature such as intellect, will, being, goodness, etc. without damaging divine simplicity. Again, for discussion see the sidebar. This distinction obtains apart from the consideration of any intellect.

Perhaps I should also note that there is no uniform interpretation of divine simplicity, that one finds different formulations of it in various philosophers. Some have a very strong sense, such as Plotinus, for whom the very distinction between subject and object in knowledge is enough to place the divine intellect outside of the one as a separate hypostasis. Others, such as Scotus, have a weaker sense of divine simplicity, for whom it is enough to deny the presence of a real plurality.

Scotus' discussion of the divine cognition is found in dd. 35 and 36 of book I of his various commentaries. He presupposes a number of things from previous discussions: God is intelligent, the divine essence is first or primary object of the divine intellect, that God understands all intelligibles, not in potency or quasi potency but in act and simultaneously. Additionally, as Scotus is working within the tradition of pre-modern Western philosophy (often called the 'perennial philosophy'), he presupposes a number of other principles, such as the Aristotelian notion of powers, acts, and objects as well as hylomorphism.

Scotus notes that three things have to concur for cognition: the knowable object, the intellect, and a means of knowing (ratio intelligendi). No doubt this alone will be anathema to the Thomistae, though it shouldn't be. Scotus' statement here is a paraphrase of Henry of Ghent's Quodlibet IX q.2; Henry has a more developed theory of analogy than does Aquinas, so such a statement should be compatible with the doctrine of analogy. Here the relevant knowable object is the essence of a creature, the intellect of course is the divine intellect, and the means of knowing is the divine essence (God does not know the created world 'directly' apart from his essence because then his knowledge would depend on creation and be subject to change). For there to be distinct divine knowledge (indistinct knowledge is an imperfection and so must be denied of God), there must be a distinction either in the object or the power. Scotus does not think that there is a distinction in the power, for there is not such a distinction in the human intellect and it is able to understand multiple intelligible objects (at root here is the Aristotelian notion that the intellect becomes all things).

Scotus rejects the notion that a divine idea is a relation of imitability, that is, the common view of the thirteenth century held by seculars, Franciscans, and Dominicans. The reason for this is his notion of what a relation is and how it is known. Basically, a relation consists of two terms as well as the relation itself. In order to know a relation, one must already know the terms and compare them. So the divine ideas can't be relations of imitation or God simply knowing that the divine essence can be imitated in a variety of ways because in order to know this relation of imitation God must first know the terms, the divine essence and the essence of a creature, before he knows the relation that obtains between them. "before" here means logically prior, or in a prior instant of nature. It does not mean a temporal instant. In addition to a number of arguments along these lines, Scotus illustrates how this is the case with an example, which I have posted before:

God in the first instant understands his essence under a merely absolute conception; in the second instant he produces the stone in intelligible being and understands the stone, to that there is a relation in the understood stone to the divine intellection, but still none in the divine intellection to the stone. But the divine intellection terminates the relation of the stone as understood to itself. In the third instant, the divine intellect can compare its own intellection to any other intelligible to which we can compare, and then by comparing itself to the understood stone can cause in itself a relation of reason. And in the fourth instant it can quasi reflect over that relation caused in the third instant, and then that relation of reason will be known. So therefore there is not a necessary relation of reason for understanding the stone-just as prior to the stone-as object, indeed it as caused is posterior (in the third instant), and it will still be posterior as known, because in the fourth instant.

The point here is that the divine intellect knows the essence of a creature prior to knowing the relation of imitation. This also means that for Scotus, a divine idea is defined as the creature as known, creatura intellecta. The usage of instants of nature found here was somewhat controversial among certain Franciscans, but it was adopted by others (such as Scotus' erstwhile opponent Richard of Conington, who put together all possible instants involving Trinitarian production as well as divine knowledge and causation ad extra into a series of eleven instants), even Thomists such as Herveus Natalis (who posited five instants, though he upheld Aquinas' view of the definition of a divine idea).

Another thing to notice in this passage is that Scotus says that the divine intelligible objects are produced into intelligible being. Now, what might this being be? Scotus tries to address this in I d. 36 of his commentaries by claiming that it is diminished being, a notion that was somewhat traditional by Scotus' day as it had been toyed with by Aquinas, Henry, and others. Real, extramental being Scotus characterizes as being simpliciter (absolute, unqualified), while the being enjoyed by the quiddities once they have been produced into intelligible being is being secundum quid (qualified being). The qualification 'secundum quid' diminishes the being of the quiddities, rendering it of another order of bieng entirely than that enjoyed by real, simpliciter beings. Determinations such as "being in opinion," being in intellection", "being exemplated", "being known or represented" diminish the being of that of which they are predicated. 

Scotus agrees with a number of features of the Thomistic account: that there are divine ideas, that there is a plurality of them, that there such things as powers, object, and acts, etc.. He disagrees on the definition of a divine idea, and probably the extent to which one can talk about different elements of the divine nature. Scotus thinks one can outline the logical stages or conditions that the divine intellect runs through, which gives him a different problem than Aquinas: the appearance of a plurality of eternal beings, which is contrary to both religion and philosophy. He resolves the difficulty in scholastic fashion by distinguishing, here between being secundum quid and simpliciter. Elsewhere  he also has some discussion about objective vs. subjective being (a way to distinguish between the content of thought and the psychological mechanics of thought) and real vs. metaphorical productions, but more on this another time.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Aertsen on Peter Thomae's De ente

From his giant new tome, Medieval Philosophy as Transcendental Thought (756 pp.), 468-9:

Peter's work De ente is the most extensive account of transcendental being in the fourteenth century. It is a collection of questions that are the product of disputations held in the studium generale in Barcelona. De ente is still unedited, which causes a serious lacuna in the history of the doctrine of the transcendentals in the era after Scotus. Peter also refers to this work as De transcendentibus, and the reason for this title becomes apparent from the prologue, in which he assigns a fundamental epistemological place to the transcendentals. Knowledge of the communia, it is argued, is a precondition for knowledge of the propria. Since transcendentia are the communissima, it is "opportune" for the acquisition of any knowledge whatsoever to deal with them. Among the transcendentals being itself (ens ipsum) has the first and principal place, and the concept of being should therefore be examined first. Peter realized only this first part of the project.
De ente comprises fifteen questions. [Lee Faber dicit: actually, there is a sixteenth question found in only one ms. that claims to be a retraction] From the table of questions in the prologue it is evident that their main concern is Scotus's doctrine of the univocity of the concept of "being" and the univocal predication of being. Thomae examines whether the concept of being is one solely "through the unity of equivocation" (q.8), "through the unity of confusion" (q.9) [NB: this is the longest question of the treatise] or "through the unity of univocity" (q.10). He criticizes Auriol's position that the concept of "being" does not have one determinate ratio but is fully indeterminate and possesses only a "unity of confusion". Q.11 ("Whether the univocity of the concept of being is real?") discusses one of the fundamental difficulties in Scotus's doctrine: How can there be a common concept of what is wholly diverse in reality? Thomae argues that there is a real (and not a purely rational) unity corresponding to the univocal cocnept of "being". The common concept must be real, otherwise metaphysics were [sic] not a real science, and the intellect would have no real adequate object. Because of the distance between real being and being of reason Peter denies the possibility of a concept of being univocally common to ens reale and ens rationis in the final question (q.15) [NB: in De modis distinctionum Peter revisits the topic of De ente q.15] The questions 12 and 13 deal with Scotus's questionable claim that being is not predicated in quid of the transcendental propreries of being (q.12) and of the ultimate differences (q.13). Peter Thomae contradicts the opinions of William of Alnwick and Peter Auriol that being is quidditatively predicated of all differences and maintains instead that it is predicated of none.

Aertsen doesn't credit Peter Thomae with writing the first independent treatise on the transcendentals; that honor goes to Francis of Meyronnes, though, the date supplied by Dumont for Peter Thomae's treatise is earlier than that supplied for Francis' treatise, but let that pass for now. Neither treatise can be securely dated.

Peter Thomae's work is fairly long, roughly half that of Scotus' Reportatio I. So to get a sense of this, just take one of the volumes of the Wolter-Bychkov edition that recently appeared. So the edition will take quite some time.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Duns Scotus and the Brockie Forgeries

What follows are some brief thoughts on the volume I linked to earlier, Blessed John Duns Scotus: Marian Doctor by Fr. Stefano Manelli, FI. It is published by the Franciscans of the Immaculate, who also have several other volumes on Scotus for sale. Let me say at the outset that I am more than pleased that they are attempting a popular presentation of Scotus. Given the current position held by Catholic Academia (Scotus is evil), it is encouraging that there are those who promote his thought.

Unfortunately this volume relies on the Brockie forgeries. Which is odd, because these were exploded over fifty years ago.  More on Brockie below. The information that comes from the forgeries is that Scotus had an uncle named Elias, his father was named Ninian and was a wealthy landowner. These facts are also found in just about every internet  biography of Scotus, as I am reminded every Nov. 8 when all the 'saint of the day' blogs post this erroneous info. It was also present in the Duns Scotus movie, which was produced by the same Franciscan group.  The Manelli volume also includes lots of other pious myths, but unfortunately he gives no references so I cannot trace them down. Normally, the lack of notes in a volume meant for popular consumption would not bother me, but given there is so much myth-making involved I would like to know where it comes from. For example, the author claims Scotus was a big dummy but prayed to the Virgin who made him smart (this was also in the movie). Also, Scotus allegedly held the Christ child on one Christmas eve during 1290's. Also, before his famous debate at Paris over the immaculate conception, he passed a statue of the Virgin on the facade of the royal chapel and asked the Virgin's favor. The statue nodded, and henceforth was known as "Our Lady of Duns Scotus", but was broken up and thrown in the Seine by the French revolutionaries, and was eventually dredged up by another order and became known as 'Our Lady of Good Health'. Finally, Scotus is alleged to have suffered a breakdown in disputing with Beguines and Beghards and died soon after (perhaps a none too subtle attempt to make him a martyr and so an automatic saint). All of these tales are alleged but no reference provided. No doubt they are part of Scotus' hagiographical tradition and not simply fabricated by Fr. Manelli, but in the absence of notes it's impossible to tell.

But regarding the Brockie forgeries about Scotus' origin there is no excuse, as a lengthy article was published in the first Studia Scholastica-Scotistica series.

Henry Docherty, "The Brockie Mss. and Duns Scotus" in De Doctrina Ioannis Duns Scoti, Rome 1968, 327-360.

Marianus Brockie (1687-1755) was a Benedictine of the abbey of St. James in Regensburg, Bavaria. He attempted to write a history of the religious orders called the Monasticon Scoticanum, though it was never published. This volume was examined early in the twentieth century by a historian, Dr. Easson, and Longpre, the famous Scotus scholar. Easson was suspicious of some of it, but it was not until Docherty wrote his article that the true extent of the fabrications became clear.

Here's a choice quote from Docherty's article, a comment on a passage about "Elias Duns", p. 357:

In other words, in his anxiety to substantiate his unique thesis on the origin and early life of Duns Scotus, Brockie actually introduces the allegedly relevant clause from the Tweedie Codex and Register [both fabricated] in no less than three different original versions, all variously corrected and two duly cancelled, and with the bold emphasis of its having been found "his verbis", "nominatum" and "expressis verbis". This is surely the high-water-mark of Marianus Brockie's catalogue of bogus charters, fictitious histories, imaginative hagiography, outright mendacity and crass effrontery. On his testimony alone has rested the popular Maxton-Littledean theory on the birthplace of John Duns Scotus, and not the least contribution to the seventh centenary of that event would be its timely and final erasure from the standard manuals and other works of reference: to that end this study has been directed.

on p. 358 he summarizes his results:

1. Marianus Brockie was himself guilty of forgery in compiling his Monasticon Scoticanum
2. This was by no means an isolated instance or occasional lapse; rather, it permeates the whole of his Dominican history and almost constitutes entirely that of the Friars Minor Conventual.
3. The so-called "Codex Tueedianus" - in so far as he intended its acceptance as a primary source - simply did not exist, except in his own incredible imagination.
4. Quite clearly the alleged Register of the Franciscan Conventuals at Haddington comes into the same category.
5. So also - I venture - does the elusive William Tweedie, "scriba primarius" of Haddington, not to mention Elias Duns and the other kindred of John Duns Scotus.
6. The total number of documents which I have found to be certainly fabricated by Brockie in respect of the Scottish Dominicans and Friars Minor Conventual is at least sixty-five, plus three probables, i.e. where the holograph copy is missing. From the nature of these we can also evaluate his references to ohers, including alleged diplomas of Alexander III, David II and James I, which "had been eaten-away by book-worm". Nor does the list include his countless "extracts" on personalities and other items, apparently taken from the codices containing the documents. Of the latter forgeries, six royal diplomas, twenty-seven other charters and one indenture from the Tweedie Codex refer to the Franciscans, while twelve others (including one probable) from the same source apply to the Dominicans. No less Brockie's own composition, although falsely ascribed to other sources such as Guthrie and the Baillies of Castelcary, are three royal diplomas and sixteen charters, plus two probables, for the Friars Preachers also.

Ironically, Manelli includes the letter of Paul VI, "alma parens", which was written for the conference in which Docherty's article appears.

Manelli also includes an address of John Paul II to the Roman Scotistic Commission; JPII is more positive in his assessment than is the current Pope. See Manelli, p. 112:

With his splendid doctrine on the primacy of Christ, on the Immaculate Conception, on the primary value of the Revelation and of the Magisterium of the Church, on the authority of the Pope, on the capability of human reason to make the great truths of faith accessible, at least in part, and to show their non-contradictory nature, Duns Scotus is even today a pillar of Catholic theology, and original teacher, full of ideas and incentives for an ever more complete knowledge of the truth of the faith.

Final estimation of Manelli's book: most of it is pious myth, the section on Scotus' positive doctrine is short (and seeks include Scotus as a defender of the title 'co-redemptrix' for Mary), but the translation of 'Alma parens' and JPII's address is well worth the price ($4.25).

Friday, August 10, 2012

Durandus Edition

A volume of the new Durandus de Sancto Porciano edition has been published, containing distinctions 1-5 of Book II. It retains for the surprisingly reasonable price of 69 euros.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Two Arguments for the Formal Distinction in divinis

In the midst of a discussion about whether generation and spiration are distinct or not, Scotus lodges an objection against his position such that the divine intellect and will are not present ex natura rei (remember, this phrase means that something is present prior to and not dependent upon the act of any intellect, even the divine intellect), but instead the divine intellect and will (the productive powers of the Trinitarian persons), divine essence, and Trinitarian persons are indistinct prior to being distinguished by the operation of the divine intellect (Cf. ed. Vat. V, p. 98). I translate Scotus' response to the objection below.

Ordinatio I d. 13 q. un. n. 64-65:

If some things are there distinct by the act of the [divine] intellect, let them be [called] A and B. Then I ask, either they are distinct ex natura rei, and if so, you contradict yourself, if not, but [they are distinguished] by the intellect, therefore the intellect under the aspect [ratio] of the intellect and not under the aspect of nature distinguishes; or therefore before their distinction the intellect is there under the aspect of intellect, and I have what I am trying to prove [habetur propositum], that it is there ex natura rei; or not, but the intellect under the aspect of intellect is there produced by the act of the intellect 'engaging' [negotiantis: a technical term of Henry] and distinguishing, and then one must ask about that intellect, by which act it is produced -- either ex natura rei, or by the intellect as intellect -- and so on into infinity, or wherever you stop, there the intellect will be insofar as it is intellect ex natura rei, or the first distinction which will be posited there will be ex natura rei, the opposite of which you posit.
Furthermore, God ex natura rei is formally blessed and not formally [blessed] in relations of reason; his beatitude, however, formally consists in intellection and volition; therefore the intellect and will, which are the principles of [those acts] are there ex natura rei.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

New Book on Scotus

New from Ignatius Press:

Blessed John Duns Scotus, Marian Doctor.
Fr. Stephano Manelli

The famous Franciscan theologian, Bl. John Duns Scotus, even before his untimely death in 1308, was renowned for his defense of the Immaculate Conception and known as Marian Doctor par excellence. This book aims at acquainting the general public with the admirable figure of this Scottish-born friar. It does so, above all, to promote the knowledge and love of Christ Jesus and His Mother, the Virgin Mary, in the teaching and life of this holy theologian. Scotus, as a son of St. Francis of Assisi, stresses the primacy of love in theology. All else is ordered to love, and in love everything is perfected. For God is love and who abides in love abides in God and God in him (I Jn 4: 16). As taught by Scotus, the absolute primacy of Jesus and Mary - root and synthesis of all creation, heavenly as well as earthly - is the most perfect revelation of this divine love.

Currently, the web sale price is $4.25 so I advise everyone to order a copy.

New Site on the Primacy of Christ

Here's a new website on Scotus and other Franciscan teachings regarding the primacy of Christ. Be sure to check it out:

Absolute Primacy of Christ.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Number and Existence

I haven't posted much lately, because I've been studying a lot of things unrelated to Scotus and I'm always uncertain how far afield this blog should roam. For the last week, for instance, I've been reading Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit pretty intensively, along with Kalkavage's commentary, but I don't know that Smithy readers want to read about that.

They may not want to read about this, either, but I've seen a couple of references to Bill Vallicella's post about Inwagen and existence. Brandon Watson has a post on it, for instance, saying that Vallicella went too easy on Inwagen. I agree, and I also think that Watson went to easy on Vallicella, since in my opinion Inwagen's argument is worse than either of them indicate.

Here is the Maverick Philosopher:

Van Inwagen begins by noting that number words such as 'six' or 'forty-three' do not "mean different things when they are used to count objects of different sorts." Surely he is correct: "If you have written thirteen epics and I own thirteen cats, the number of your epics is the number of my cats." So the first premise of the argument is the indisputable:

1. Number-words are univocal in sense: they mean the same regardless of the sorts of object they are used to count.

I am okay with this. But not with this:

"2. "But existence is closely allied to number.". . . Van Inwagen proceeds: "The univocacy [univocity] of number and the the intimate connection between number and existence should convince us that existence is univocal." The conclusion of the argument, then, is:

3. Existence is univocal.

Vallicella is not okay with it either, but to my mind not for the right reason. Vallicella accepts that "existence is closely allied to number", but doesn't give a good reason for thinking so. He says, "to say that unicorns do not exist is equivalent to saying that the number of unicorns is zero, and to say that horses exist is equivalent to saying that the number of horses is one or more." I don't see that this is necessarily true at all. It depends on whether we're already talking about existence or not.

Take the following two statements:

a) The number of cats in the room right now is two.

b) Of the four hobbits that set out for Mount Doom, the number that arrived is two.

Now, the number "two" is univocal in both statements; the number two means the same thing regardless of the sorts of object it is used to count. And the two statements are true: my cats are two and Frodo and Sam are two, and in the same sense. But obviously the two hobbits don't have existence in the way that the cats do: my cats have actual existence and the hobbits don't and never did. Number numbers existing beings, but it can be used equally well to number things without existence. Non-existing things are numbered by the same number as existing things. So whence comes this "existence is closely allied to number"? I would propose that "to say that unicorns do not exist is equivalent to saying that the number of unicorns is zero" is only true when it's already clear that our domain of discourse is the actually existing world, which it often is not.

And what about numbers themselves? Do they exist? Do they exist in just the same sense that cats and dogs do? The number of cats in the room is two; does it make sense to ask what is the number of twos in the room? Numbers can be numbered; the number of primes between 1 and 10 is 4 (2,3,5,7). Do these four primes exist, then? But there are good reasons to claim that there cannot be an actually existing multitude; but the number of numbers is infinite. Do numbers then not exist, or just not all of them? Does a number have to number an existing multitude of things to exist? Call the number of existing particles in the universe (x); do the numbers (x) and (x+1) have the same kind of existence? The number of things that can be numbered by (x) is 1 (the collection of particles in the universe); the number of things that can be numbered by (x+1) is 0. Does this mean that the number (x) exists but that (x+1) doesn't? Do negative numbers etc. have actual existence or are they beings of reason?

Note that I'm not saying these issues can't be resolved, or that (for token Scotus relevance) we don't have a univocal concept of being, but that, while existing things can be counted or more generally quantified, not everything that can be counted or quantified exists. In this sense, the sense that whatever exists can be numbered, though number does not exhaust the being of anything that actually exists, we might say that "existence is closely allied to number." But then whatever exists can be cognized, so we might also say that "existence is closely allied to thought," or any number of similar statements. But we shouldn't infer anything about the nature of existence from this kind of thinking. We might as well argue that color as applied to men and holograms is univocal, since we see color in a hologram of a man and an actually existing man in the same way, so holograms and men have color in the same way, therefore holograms and men have the same kind of being.

Update: On further thought, I think a more useful approach would be to consider the transcendental convertibility between unity and being. Aristotle and his followers all agree that something has being just to the extent that it is one. But this unity is not numerical unity, the unity of counting, because different sorts of beings, e.g. fictional hobbits and real cats, can be counted with the same numbers. Scotus recognizes a less than numerical unity, the unity of universals; there is numerical unity, the unity whereby a thing can be counted as one item; perhaps we should also recognize a more than numerical unity, the unity of a real being, which comes in degrees.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

On the Use of Scholasticism

Well before de Lubac and Nouvelle Theologie, a Dominican Master of the Order defended the scholastic method against "modern" positive theology:

Without scholasticism, the theologian would have little depth in understanding dogmatic truths, and little precision in formulating them. Indeed, it is scholasticism which explains the truths of our faith in a way that is fair, methodical, and according to the rigor of the terms. It is also necessary for defending religion against the cunning assertions of heretics, because it grasps with precision what is false and weak in their reasoning; that is why they unleash so much animosity against it. Moreover, scholasticism has, if not as declared enemies, at least as disparagers, the supporters of novelties and of misunderstood progress in the sacred sciences, because it displeases them by belittling their false brilliance, or shows clearly that, behind these novelties, are hidden dangerous and suspect ideas relating to religious teaching.

The objection will perhaps be raised that scholastic theology contains much quibbling that wastes our time. But even the best things, in the hands of men, are subject to abuse. If such useless things are found in certain books, this is not a consequence of scholasticism, but the deficiency of some authors who, on forgetting that theology has God as its object, Sermo de Deo, lose themselves in fanciful questions or give to points of secondary utility as much importance as if it were a question of establishing against heretics the principal articles of our faith. As for genuine scholastic theology, after having used authority to establish each religious dogma against its adversaries, it then explains them by well-linked arguments drawn from the principles of the faith which are suited to convince our reason. Finally, it clarifies the metaphysical subtleties by which the heretics try to obfuscate dogmas, so that no shadow of a doubt remains in the mind. It is on this account that, in the School, there are many questions which at first glance seem useless, but which are, in fact, necessary to rebut the quarrels of the enemies of the Church or to establish our sacred beliefs by means of reason.

 Without overlooking in prejudice the services which positive theology offers, we especially, as Friars Preachers, should therefore apply ourselves to scholastic theology more than to anything else. Should we hear some persons praise the former and denigrate the latter, we must remember that positive theology — besides the fact that it lacks the advantages of scholastic theology enumerated above — can fall into the drawbacks about which it reproached its rival. Indeed, many of its proponents also propose useless problems, concerning, for example, facts of history which have no connection with dogma, morality, or ecclesiastical discipline. They treat these historical questions too extensively; they lose sight, in the midst of many citations and incidents, of the center of the question. Instead of clarifying, they can even inject uncertainty by including a number of contradictory inferences which baffle the mind. In short, discernment is needed to study theology, whether scholastic or positive, and to profit from either of them.

   --Bl. Hyacinth Cormier, seventy-sixth Master of the Dominican Order (1832-1916)