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.