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.

1 comment:

Marty said...

Brilliant stuff Lee. Keep it up bro.