Sunday, May 27, 2012

Reply to Mark Wauk

A blogger named Mark Wauk last month posted two essays on Scotus and the history of philosophy, here and here, in which he repeats the story of Scotus' villainy with which readers of the Smithy are so familiar. The quality of his understanding of Scotus is amply illustrated by a statement from the second part: "Scotus' thought is best viewed as an Augustinian reaction to that of Thomas Aquinas" - a perspective which has been discredited for at least fifty years. It's telling that nowhere does Mr Wauk cite Scotus directly and that he relies almost entirely on writers like Gilson, Pieper, and McIntyre for Scotus' views as well as for his critiques of them. Now, these are all fine thinkers in their respective departments - I have a great deal of repsect for Gilson especially. But none of these writers are Scotus scholars, the existence of whom Mr Wauk seems wholly unaware. Our friend Faber came across these recently and posted some objections; after Mr Wauk's response I weighed in myself. It appears I made him mad, however, and it looks as though he won't post my comments, so I'm posting them here. This is not a worked-out piece, then, but a series of brief remarks on portions of his first essay - I'm not bothering with the second one - which readers might want to look at in order to make sense of. Or not. But it will at least explain why the following remarks are addressed in the second person.

* * *

Josef Pieper, in Scholasticism, offers us the context in which Scotus' thought must be placed for a proper evaluation: the aftermath of the Condemnation of 1277.

To begin with, this is probably a mistake right here. Scotus' thought was formed at Oxford, where the Condemnations (plural) did not apply, despite some people attempting to enforce them there; and it was formed significantly after the Condemnations and does not really have them in mind, unlike the thought, for instance, of Godfrey of Fontaines, who does tiptoe around them carefully.

the Condemnation was issued from a generally traditional Augustinian perspective that was somewhat less than discriminating, as witness the fact that among the condemned propositions were a number that clearly had Thomas Aquinas in mind. . . .That reaction, however, in the form that the Condemnation took--a somewhat uncritical reassertion of traditional Augustinian thought, had unfortunate consequences.

You're parrotting the Thomist perspective completely uncritically. From the Franciscan perspective the consequences could be characterized as salutary and necessary, and the inclusion of some Thomist theses not particularly problematic, to the extent that some of Thomas' theses are themselves difficult to reconcile with a traditional orthodox perspective, especially in areas such as individuation and the object of knowledge.

In effect, it stifled intellectual inquiry by identifying orthodoxy with a reactionary defensive shell against free use of reason

This is just not true, as the slightest familiarity with the scholastic literature of the early fourteenth century would make abundantly clear. In fact, it's so far from being true as to be ludicrously the opposite of the facts. The thirty or forty years following the condemnations saw a riotous explosion of the free use of reason and competing intellectual systems all attempting to be orthodox, all to varying degrees incompatible with each other, and almost none of them particularly faithful to the pre-1277 style of Augustiniansim. Frankly, this is like modernists today claiming that the teaching mandatum in Catholic universities stifles intellectual inquiry etc. It's just false.

The story you tell by and large is a story constructed to explain the resistances to Thomism in the generations following his death in a way consistent with the Triumph of Thomism its authors want to maintain. It's not based on a sympathetic and objective reading of the primary sources.

unquestionably destructive of an authentic Christian worldview. As Benedict has seen, and understood in part, the thought of Christian champions of divine freedom ended up bearing a striking and unsettling resemblance to the type of Muslim thought that they had set out to oppose. This is particularly true of their portrait of God, who emerges as an inscrutable, arbitrary figure beyond reason, driven by the will to power. Nor was this accidental, for the tactic increasingly adopted by Augustinian thinkers was to defend God's freedom by attacking human reason, severely restricting the scope of reason and those making God unknowable except by revelation

What drives people like my friend Faber and myself mad with frustration is that this does sound somewhat reminiscent of Ockham, but it has no legitimate relationship with anything Scotus actually said. It's a wild distortion, pure and simple. Like Faber, I have spent many years studying Scotus' own texts, and his thought is not like this.

Bonaventure, who can be regarded as the founder of a sort of Augustinian orthodoxy . . .

What you say in this paragraph is by and large misconceived as well. By the turn of the century there weren't really any Bonaventurians. I've heard Timothy Noone say that after Matthew of Aquasparta there weren't really any Bonaventurians at all. Bonaventure was a great thinker and influential on Franciscan thought, but not in the sense of founding any sort of orthodoxy. Henry of Ghent is the illumination guy after 1277, and he's no Bonaventurian. If Bonaventure and Henry are both "Augustinians", the word means little besides "not Thomist".

Sullivan is free to maintain that Aquinas was a Neoplatonist. That's a gross distortion.

I am parodying your own gross distortions.

No serious thinker regards Aquinas as part of the Augustinian tradition in anything like the sense that a Bonaventure, for example, was.

No one who actually knows Scotus and fourteenth century thought subscribes to the views you present here, either, only people with a Thomist axe to grind and people who parrot their distortions. That's my point.

Aquinas sought to reconcile Augustine to his own thought, but was not afraid to flatly disagree when necessary.

This is also true of Scotus, and of most scholastics. I wonder if you're aware of how many so-called "Augustinians" objected to Thomas on the grounds that Thomas was not a good enough Aristotelian? There's a very strong case to be made that on key issues - the essence/existence distinction, for instance - Bonaventure is closer to Aristotle than Aquinas is.

it is not just your conclusion that matters. How you arrive at the conclusion also matters.

I agree completely. How did you arrive at your conclusions? Not, it seems clear, by reading Aquinas, then reading Scotus, then evaluating their arguments. Instead you rely on scholars who begin with the presupposition that St Thomas is correct, and then find reasons for where Scotus went wrong. It doesn't seem to occur to you that Scotus might not have used Thomas' methods or arguments because he thought there were flaws in them, and attempted to give better ones. Instead you simply commit the genetic fallacy, over and over. And you say things like this:

Scotus' vision of human nature is fundamentally the purest Platonism, as mediated by the Augustinian tradition. In other words, man is essentially a soul attached to or even imprisoned in a body.

Look, you can repeat that I'm being "juvenile" all you want, but this is nonsense. It bears no connection at all to Scotus and his relation to Thomas. You quotes from Gilson don't grapple in the least with the reasons for Scotus' views, which have no more to do with Plato or Augustine than Thomas' do. There are problems with Thomas' view of individuation, including human individuation, and his account of knowledge, that are very difficult to reconcile either with experience or with revelation. This is why some scholastics reject Thomas' doctrine.

As MacIntyre puts it:
The relationship of soul to body, indeed the existence of body, had been something of an embarrassment to later Augustinians, even if not to Augustine.

This is, again, a distortion. There is a significant argument to be made that the Franciscan (the so-called Augustinian) tradition lacks the metaphysical horror of matter and the body that in places characterizes Thomism and related doctrines, and this colors their metaphysics in a number of ways. I could point you particularly towards certain illuminating passages in Gonsalvus Hispanus (one of Scotus' teachers) arguing against Thomists and their ilk about the nature of the soul and the relationship between soul and body, if you were interested.

Second, Scotus maintains--again in opposition to Aquinas--that the immortality of the soul cannot be proven by human reason. Here, Scotus, as so often, is restricting the scope of human reason in order to shield Augustinian theological positions from challenge.

Another distortion. The entire motivation for Scotus in disputing the arguments purporting to prove the soul's immortality is that he doesn't think those arguments are as strong as the Thomists do. To an objective bystander Scotus' reluctance to accept these arguments as demonstrative would be evidence of his distance from Platonism.

Scotus, of course, was the most important of the neo-Augustinian theologians

There's no legitimate sense in which Scotus is any more "neo-Augustinian" than he is "neo-Aristotelian".

The Augustinian reaction therefore sought some way to either rehabilitate Augustine's doctrine or to replace it. This was the context in which Scotus began his academic career. . . . Scotus' approach could best be characterized as one of damage control, in which he sought to preserve as much as possible of Augustinian thought--as it had come to be understood since the time of Bonaventure--by repackaging it in a form designed to be more resistant to the newer trends of thought--including Thomism.

It's important to note that, while Bonaventure sometimes speaks this way, if I recall correctly, this comes before 1277 and not part of any "reaction", and while Olivi does too, Olivi presents himself (not entirely truly) as a radical anti-Aristotelian and was not followed in this by his Franciscan contemporaries; but to my knowledge Scotus never ever talks as though rehabilitating, preserving, or replacing Augustine's doctrine is of particular concern to him. This is not what he sees himself as doing or what his contemporaries saw him as doing. If you read Scotus in the light of this story you're going to misread him. In fact it seems that, like most people who talk about this story, you haven't read him at all.

It's important to keep these considerations firmly in mind when discussing Scotus' theory of knowledge, for while it's easy to find Scotus discussing the intellect abstracting ideas from sense experience in a seemingly Aristotelian vein, this is not the true spirit of his thought.

What you should actually keep firmly in mind is that it's more philosophical to actually engage with the arguments for a thinker's position than to reject it based on the purported "true spirit of his thought". Again, this is like modernists embracing the so-called "Spirit of Vatican II" while ignoring or even rejecting the actual documents of the council. You spend your entire long article stating that the spirit of Scotus' thought is Augustinian and Platonist, presuming that these are bad things, without ever actually presenting or countering his arguments.

Weatherby quite correctly characterizes this as “the intellect's utterance of itself in response to the stimulation of the thing.” And, he adds, “ … the phantasm [may be] necessary for cognition as a catalyst to knowledge, [but] knowledge itself springs from the intellect and from the intellect alone.” (KD,79) We may add in support of Weatherby's position--for Scotus is very hard to pin down--

He might be less hard to pin down if you actually quoted his views. You don't. You don't discuss the common nature, for instance, and its relation to the individuating factor. You don't mention the reason for his postulating the intellect as a co-cause of knowledge together with the known object. The "spirit" of his thought is replacing his actual thought.

"Clearly, we are not to regard this as an experientially based philosophical explanation of human knowledge. This is a theologically motivated construct, the aim of which is to preserve a Platonic-Augustinian vision of human nature and of Divine freedom while using Aristotelian terminology."

Again, this is just wrong! Scotus explicitly appeals to his experience in epistemology. The problem with the Thomist account, for Scotists, is precisely that it doesn't square with experience.

Before turning to a consideration of how Scotus' account of knowledge plays into his views on morality, we will simply add that skeptical views are latent in any type of thought that views true reality, the “really real,” as pure intelligibility

Again and again, this is not Scotus. In fact, as you ought to be aware, Scotus gives more "really real" reality to matter than Thomas does. This is one of the things Thomists don't like about him.

Scotus' approach--which identifies being and essence, etc etc

This entire paragraph is again wholly misguided. There is no clue whatsoever as to why a take on the relation of being and essence different from Thomas' will lead to Kant, when you don't state Scotus' views on being and essence or why he held them. Instead you attempt to tar Scotus with guilt by association. In doing so, however, you will be forced to end up with the orthodox Thomist position that there were no decent philosophers in all of history other than St Thomas, including every other saint and doctor of the Church besides Thomas' disciples. This is prima facie an implausible position.

I won't bother going over your statements about Scotus' ethics, since you state that the ethical considerations are based on the epistemological ones, which you have botched. To say in your concluding paragraph that "Scotus, philosophically, runs into a brick wall of skepticism" is enough to discredit you. Scotus was no skeptic and his thought does not "lead to" skepticism unless you are influenced by it in the act of rejecting its key positions, as Ockham was. To say that for Scotus "true being is to be identified with essence, pure intelligibility" and to suggest that this means that for Scotus being is not an act but a concept, is more than enough. You don't understand Scotus' metaphysics or his epistemology. That's okay; most people don't. Scotus' thought is very difficult, much harder that St Thomas'. In Chesterton's words, used in a different context, Scotism has not been tried and found wanting, it has been found difficult and left untried. But your sweeping declarations are not grounded in reality, they're grounded in outdated and faulty scholarship.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

On the identity of Quiddity and Esse

Here's one for the Thomists:

Duns Scotus, Rep. IA d. 11 q. 2 (Wolter-Bychkov I, 420):

Idem enim est quiditas et esse.

Here it is in context:

To the first reason, when it says that relations would distinguish either according to quiddity or according to being, I do not understand nor see what philosophy asserts this. For quiddity and being is the same thing. Hence, each distinguishes, because the being of a relation is 'towards another' just as its quiddity is, for the same thing both remains and passes over [into the essence], both according to being and according to quiddity. What, then, is [this relation] formally? Remaining as 'being towards another'. For it is not towards, or in relation to itself, as Augustine says: "What makes him God is not the same as what makes him Father." At the same time, to pass over is for something to be really the same thing as something else, not to form a composition with the latter. And it is in this way that a relation in the divine passes into [essence], because [then] it is the same thing as the essence, not producing a composition with it. Hence, the aforesaid distinction of a relation is non-existent; for this is to distinguish something into two relationships, one of which is nothing.  For a relation compared to its foundation is a nothing, because then it is not a relation, but only in potency towards an opposite. Hence, a relation in every way in which it is a relation is 'towards another' and is some reality; however according to how one thinks of it as compared to the foundation, it is the mean, as it were, as it is compared to the term.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

On the Compatibility of Liberty and Necessity

Duns Scotus, Rep. IA d. 10 q. 3 (Wolter-Bychkov I, 402):

I respond, therefore, to the question and I say that necessity in acting goes together with liberty.  First, I demonstrate this; secondly, I explain how it is possible.  The first I show in this way:
liberty is some condition intrinsic to the will in respect to its action.  Hence, what is not repugnant to the will in respect to its action is not repugnant to its liberty. But necessity is not repugnant to the will in respect to its produciton; indeed--as has been proved--the will is a principle necessarily producing love, etc.; therefore neither is necessity repugnant to liberty of the will in respect to the same production.

The first bit of the argument sounds like a definition; here it is again, in the original:  libertas est aliqua condicio intrinseca voluntatis ut comparatur ad suam actionem.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Petrus Thomae on Modes of Containment

This is a follow-up post to the one on Scotus' views of unitive containment.  Peter Thomae gives a more systematic discussion of the various modes of containment in a question in his Quodlibet, entitled 'whether it is the same for something to be contained in another virtually, really, eminently, and unitively'.  It is a lengthy question and here I give only the basic description of the different ways something can be contained.  One can find similar accounts in Alnwick's Quodlibet.

Petrus Thomae, Quodlibet, pt. 1 q. 5 a. 1 (ed. Buytaert-Hooper, 67-69):

The second statement (dictum) is that 'containment' is sufficiently divided by quidditative, concomitive, viritual, and eminent containment.
The third statement is that quidditative containment is that which is of quidditative rationes or of those perfecting in primary being [recall Aristotelian distinction between primary and secondary being]. In this mode every inferior contains the rationes of all its superiors.
The fourth statement is that concomitive containment is that which is of those perfections or rationes perfecting in secondary being, in the way in which being contains truth, goodness, and unity, just as also whatever subject contains its proper passions. In that mode as well the divine essence contains attributes.  This containment is called 'concomitive' because it necessarily is subsequent to quidditative containment, for the perfections perfecting in primary being follow upon the perfections perfecting in secondary being.
The fifth statement is that to virtually contain is to have the power or force of the contained, both in being and in operation, and this with excess.  For evidence of this it should be known that just as force or power is diversified, so also the mode of containment.  Force is diversified in several ways, and so also virtual containment.  Whence the thing containing sometimes exceeds the contained in effective power.  Whence the containing sometings exceeds the contained in effective power, sometimes in formal or perfective power, sometimes in final or conservative power.  An example of the first is of the first being, God, who in that mode contains virtually the being of every creature.  In that mode also every equivocal agent contains its effect, for it contains it as far as being and as far as operation is concerned, and this with excess.  It contains as far as being is concerned, because it is able to produce it in being; it contains as far as operation is concerned, because everything which the secondary cause can do, the first cause can do...
The sixth statement is that eminential containment is that by which a more perfect being is said to contain the less perfect, or a superior species contains inferiors.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Recent Dissertation on Univocity and Analogy

Perusing the blogosphere I came across an announcement of a recent dissertation defense by one Domenic D'Ettore in the Houston Thomistic Studies Program.  I wanted to post it here to applaud such research. If I've said it once I've said it a thousand times, there are enough books and articles on the analogy of being in Thomas Aquinas troubling the unhappy world.  What is needed is research into Thomistic attempts to deal with Scotus, who has no theory of analogy at all in his mature writings.  So here have just such a dissertation.

Here's the announcement:

The purpose of D’Ettore’s dissertation, titled “Early Thomists on Demonstration with Analogous Terms,” is to defend the demonstration through analogical terms given by early Thomists, such as Thomas of Sutton (1250-1315/20) and John Capreolus (1380-1444), in the face of objections that such demonstration is fallacious from John Duns Scotus (c.1265-1308) and those influenced by Scotus, such as Henry of Harclay (ca. 1270-1317) and Peter of Auriol (ca. 1280-1322). 

The virtue of the Scotist position is its preservation of the apparent integrity of arguments from perfections in creatures to those same perfections in God. The weakness of this position is that it blurs the distinction between God and creatures. The strength of the Thomist position is the preservation of the distinction of God from creatures. 

D’Ettore’s dissertation considers whether or not the early Thomist tradition provides the contemporary Thomist with an adequate answer as to how Thomas’s doctrine of analogy avoids the problems Scotus and his early successors find in it and what aspects these Thomists left for future Thomists to develop. 

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Leibniz on Scotus and Aquinas

The following quotation is from Leibniz's Theodicy.  It is a section in which Leibniz discusses the idea of equipoise in the will, the Buridan's ass scenario in which the ass is confronted by two equally enticing piles of hay on each side of the road and is unable to choose between them.  Eventually, the Molinist controversy comes up, the immediate context of what follows.

Leibniz, Theodicy, tr. Huggard, p 324.

330. If the Scotists and the Molinists appear to favour vague indifference (appear, I say, for I doubt whether they do so in reality, once they have learnt to know it), the Thomists and the disciples of Augustine are for predetermination. For one must have either the one or the other. Thomas Aquinas is a writer who is accustomed to reason on sound principles, and the subtle Scotus, seeking to contradict him, often obscures matters instead of throwing light upon them. The Thomists as a general rule follow their master, and do not admit that the soul makes its resolve without the existence of some predetermination which contributes thereto. But the predetermination of the new Thomists is not perhaps exactly that which one needs. Durand de Saint-Pourcain, who often enough formed a party of his own, and who opposed the idea of the special co-operation of God, was nevertheless in favour of a certain predetermination. He believed that God saw in the state of the soul, and of its surroundings, the reason for his determinations.

331. The ancient Stoics were in that almost of the same opinion as the Thomists. They were at the same time in favour of determination and against necessity, although they have been accused of attaching necessity to everything. Ciecero says in his book De Fato that Democritus, Heraclitus, Empedocles and Aristotle believed that fate implied necessity; that others were opposed to that (he means perhaps Epicurus and the Academicians); and that Chrysippus sought a middle course. I think that Cicero is mistaken as regards Aristotle, who fully recognized contingency and freedom, and went even too far, saying (inadvertently, as I think) that propositions on contingent futurities had no determinate truth; on which point he was justifiably abandoned by most of the Schoolmen. Even Cleanthes, the teacher of Chrysippus, although he upheld the determinate truth of future events, denied their necessity. Had the Schoolmen, so fully convinced of this determination of contingent futurities (as were for instance the Fathers of Coimbra, authors of a famous Course of Philosophy), seen the connexion between things in the form wherein the System of General Harmony proclaims it, they would have judged that one cannot admit preliminary certainty, or determination of futurition, without admitting a predetermination of the thing in its causes and in its reasons.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012


* I was at dinner with the Scotistic commission the other day and someone mentioned that they thought that William of Ockham was a theological conservative.  Everyone, including me, agreed.

* A while back we had a seminar on medieval biblical commentaries.  So we had a bunch of scholars of these texts in the room.  One of them (it might have been fr. Bellamah, OP, but might not) voiced the claim that the biggest, or one of the biggest, calamities in Church history is the separation of theology from Biblical studies.