Friday, April 19, 2013

Scotus as Underrated Philosopher


An excerpt:

Which brings me to his greatest philosophical achievement: the only proof of God’s existence I’ve ever seen worth the name. Sure, there are others like Pascal and Kierkegaard who write great arguments for believing in God, but to make a good argument that the Big Honkin’ Omnieverything that’s not respectable for someone who reads Simone de Beauvoir to think exists really does exist, and it does all the things a BHOe should do…well, that’s impressive.** Sure, it takes him 70 pages to do it, which is 69 more than most intro philosophy courses think Scholastic Godproofs should get, but what you get out of them…
It’s one thing to write a Godproof that logically works, getting you from premises to some conclusion. It’s another thing entirely to write one that’s so compelling, such a brilliant work of the intellect, that it forces you to agree with it, even if you’re suspicious of Godproofs on general principle.
And so the proof puts along in its rather disorganized and cosmological fashion, showing the triple primacy, that Aquinas’s five ways are really three ways, and then can be shown to be, in the end, synonymous (and thus referring to the same being, rather than five different beings), that this triple primacy does God things, and that Anselm’s ontological argument can be saved.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Francis of Marchia's Metaphysics

According to the Quarrachi website, Francis of Marchia's Commentary on the Metaphysics is now available for 90 euros. Marchia is one of the many cogs in the wheel of ontotheology, for he was the first to distinguish between special and general metaphysics, which, as we all know, is eeeeeeeeviiiiiiiil. The editor is N. Mariani, who has come under criticism in the past (for among other things, publishing two questions from Scotus' Reportatio as Francis of Marchia's Quodlibet). I saw an announcement by the team publishing through Leuven a while back and it appears that they are also doing an edition of this, so we may have duelling editions one day.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Medievalists get some Props!

Some words of praise and appreciation for editors of medieval philosophical texts, here.

Scotus on Baptism of Jews and Muslims

Our BFF blog "laodicea" has recalled to everyone's memory Scotus' comments on forcible baptism of Jewish and Muslim children and points out it has been criticized by a pope. Here. I too have posted on this issue. Here (sorry, can't find it; it was years ago). It also came up in our discussion with Mark Wauk, here. And also David Lantigua discusses it here. There is currently a scholar from Brazil researching early modern scholasticism in latin America at Notre Dame who told me randomly the other day that the passage in question was widely misinterpreted. For what that's worth.

I quote Laodicea's post and comment below.

“Scotus in book 4 [of his Commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard], dist. 4, q. 9, no.2, and in questions related to no. 2, thought that a prince could laudably command that small children of Hebrews and unbelievers be baptised, even against the will of the parents, provided one could prudently see to it that these same children were not killed by the parents…. Nevertheless, the opinion of St Thomas prevailed… it is unlawful to baptise Hebrew children against the will of their parents” – Postremo mense Benedict XIV

Comment: Great. Thank's for sharing. I was unaware of this text and I am glad to learn of it. I don't think anyone today would follow Scotus on this point. It's hard to blame Scotus, however, for as the Thomists of the Strict Observance inform us, it is impossible to understand the meaning of the terms used in theology unless one uses them as St. Thomas did (which is why all Thomists everywhere agree on what every text of St. Thomas means and certainly never write articles about how the entire Thomist tradition up to them has misinterpreted a fundamental point of St. Thomas).

One question: what is the deal with the ellipses? They are also present in the latin text on the Vatican website.

Benedict XIV goes on to say this does not apply if the child is abandoned or in danger of death. It is interesting that Scotus should have held this objectionable opinion given the connection Benedict XVI drew in his Regensburg Lecture between Scotism and religious violence.

“In all honesty, one must observe that in the late Middle Ages we find trends in theology which would sunder this synthesis between the Greek spirit and the Christian spirit. In contrast with the so-called intellectualism of Augustine and Thomas, there arose with Duns Scotus a voluntarism which, in its later developments, led to the claim that we can only know God’s voluntas ordinata. Beyond this is the realm of God’s freedom, in virtue of which he could have done the opposite of everything he has actually done. This gives rise to positions which clearly approach those of Ibn Hazm and might even lead to the image of a capricious God, who is not even bound to truth and goodness.”
Comment: Not to beat a retired horse, but come on! First an exegetical point: Laodicea says that there is a connection between "Scotism" and religious violence. But all Benedict XVI says is that "there arose with Duns Scotus a voluntarism which, in its later developments...". He doesn't say Scotists.

So what is a Scotist? The normal "narrative" here (and why is it that all Thomists become relativists when it comes to history and historical "narratives"?) is that Scotus leads to Ockham who makes the potentia absoluta/ordinata distinction a central feature of his thought, which then leads to protestantism, modernism, war, abortion, murder, nuclear war, and certainly nothing good like increased quality of life via advanced medical care or pepparoni pizza. But is Ockham really a Scotist? This would mean everyone who disagrees with someone is really a follower of that person. So I would be a Lutheran and a Kantian (as well as being a Thomist and a Laodiceist!). Ockham disagrees with Scotus on almost every point. But he was influenced unconsciously by him you say. Fine. But then Scotus was influenced by Henry, making him really a Henrician and not a Scotist, and Henry was influenced by Thomas, which makes him a Thomist, which places the blame for Ockham at St. Thomas' door (narratives are problematic for a variety of reasons, not just their relativism).

Laodicea is also shifting emphasis here from a particular censure of a Scotist opinion to a general false association with "Scotism" and violence. But it's a blog post, so we can let our present comments suffice.

Thursday, April 4, 2013


As is well known, the two main doctrines in which the contemporary postmodern theological homogeneous hegemony faults Scotus are analogy and participation. I have responded to these charges in the "fundamental positions" series. Scotus is not interested in Thomistic analogy at all, but rather Henrician. His discussion is on the order of concepts, not reality. The Thomists, nouvelle theologists, Cambridge phantasists, Balthasarians and other hegemonists assume Scotus affirms univocity in the same sense that Aquinas rejects it. As for participation, it just never comes up. Scotus seems to just assume it's true on the "real", that is extramental, level.

Now the above-mentioned crowd (which includes Brad Gregory, who teaches at the premier American Catholic university and who - the rumor has it - has been promoted to a position of even higher prestige) generally takes Ockham as the logical development of Scotus' ideas. Which is a little strange doctrinally, as Ockham argues against Scotus all the time. Now maybe you might say, well, but he just takes things farther than Scotus was willing to go with 'potentia ordinata, absoluta' etc. Perhaps, perhaps, but then Scotus just goes farther than Aquinas is willing to go with the same distinction (this crowd never gives an explanation of how Scotus' use of potentia ordinata/absoluta is bad but Aquinas' use is good). But a far more likely guide to the "inheritance" if you will of Scotus is the (ahem) Scotist school (yes yes, debate over medieval schools is intractable, but there was a self-conscious Scotist school by 1320, the year of Pierre Roget' and Francis of Meyronnes' debate). I've started some preliminary research on F. of M.'s views on analogy and participation, and will report more on him later. (in the meantime, see this earlier post).

But another character springs to mind, the inestimable Petrus Thomae. I have been laboriously editing his QQ. de ente for the past three years (there are hundreds of isolated accidents per ms. per question). This work is probably the first independent treatise on the transcendentals ever written (depending on how one balances the relative chronologies of Peter thomae and Francis of Meyronnes, who also wrote a Tractatus de transcendentibus). Whether or not it was the first, it certainly is the longest. Francis of Meyronnes and John de Prato both weigh in at under 100 pages, while Petrus thomae's work is ca. 600. And what are the contents? Lengthy discussion of early 14th century critics of Scotus, massive quotations and discussion of the entire previous tradition concerning univocity and analogy, from Aristotle, Boethius and their commentators up through arabic philosophy to early 13th century authors such as Grosseteste, and yes, Aquinas.  Significantly for my present musings, Peter is all for the analogy of being (he has ten or twelve grades of analogy) as well as participation.

So perhaps Scotus' legacy consists in more rigorous versions of analogy and participation?

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

More on Postmodernism

A great example of the "narrative" of Scotus' ruination of the world:

Joseph M. de Torre,  "Thomism and Postmodernism", in Postmodernism and Christian Philosophy, 248.

From the nominalism and voluntarism of William of Ockham (1300-1350), already adumbrated by the formalism of Duns Scotus (1266-1308), to the skepticism of Montaigne (1533-1592) and Francisco Sanchez (1522-1623), there was a logical development, aided by the so-called religious wars occasioned by Protestantism and, in the previous century, by the Hussite revolt in Bohemia as well as the lingering conflict with the Moslem Turks. The attention of philosophers was diverted to politics, economics and experimental sciences with the consequent weakening in metaphysical insights.

No footnotes or proof of any kind is offered. It is a rather hysterical tirade about how all Thomists before the 20th century were infected with Scotus' "formalism" and "essentialism" and how we must all return to the actus essendi to redeem the world. Oh well, what do you expect from a conference paper delivered at the top-secret invitation-only Maritain conferences at Notre Dame? I only post this as the best summary of the narrative of the decline of philosophy that began the instant someone first criticized Thomas Aquinas.