Thursday, June 2, 2016

A Fantasia on Philosophical Myth in Tarantino and Tolkien

The psalmist says, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" (Ps. 111.10, Pr. 9.10), while Aristotle says that philosophy begins in wonder (Met. 1.1). Fear and wonder meet in awe, which engenders in the soul humility in the face of being and docility before the wise, our teachers.

Quentin Tarantino illustrates this in his philosophical allegory of the soul, Kill Bill. The different possible characters of the soul in its disposition towards knowledge are pictured in the Bride and her alter ego, Elle. Although their enmity is clearly shown from the beginning, its roots in their contrasting characters isn't revealed until Volume 2, in the Pai Mei sequence. The Bride approaches the kung fu master Pai Mei with a spirit of docility and a thirst for knowledge. She submits to his discipline and learns not only skill but wisdom, embracing her ignorance and weakness in order to overcome it. Climbing the stairs to his sanctuary like a pilgrim, she leaves her old life, her assumptions and worldly priorities, behind her in order to empty herself before him. As a reward for her dedication and discipleship the master reveals to her his deepest secrets.

Her rival Elle is not a Bride, but merely a She, a woman in thrall to a male superior but unwed (the Bride, like Elle, had been subject to Bill as his lover and subordinate, but left him to marry a lesser man, but entering a more honest and noble relationship of commitment and fidelity). Elle too learns from Pai Mei; but lacking docility, she learns only skill, not wisdom. Skill suffices to become murderous, and craft can take the place of wisdom well enough to kill the master by treachery, after learning what she could of his art, but she leaves him without having learned his secrets, and deprived of one eye for her insolence. (While Odin's missing eye is a sign of what he has sacrificed for wisdom, Elle's merely indicates her failure to learn it. So she loses her second eye to the Bride in the same way she lost the first, left blind and wretched.)

Just before their showdown Elle reveals the Bride's true name, Beatrix Kiddo, who only becomes blessed when she uses the virtue learned from her master, not for gain or for revenge, but to rescue her innocent offspring, her kid, her mother's heart. Elle on the other hand is as unfruitful as she is unwed. She kills out of a peevish malice. She wants knowledge and power -- Pai Mei's mastery and Hattori Hanzo's swordcraft -- but she wants to take them rather than earn them. Elle's name shows her blankness and emptiness; the Bride's anonymous nickname shows her fundamental difference from her rival in her openness to conjugal fidelity and fecundity, while her true name reveals her inner nature.

(Thinking of the Bride's name leads to thinking of the actress who plays her, Uma Thurman. She triumphs over her enemies with bloody virtue, and is last seen leading along a pure white innocent. How can Uma here not remind us of Una, in Spenser's Faerie Queene, accompanied by her defender, the Redcross Knight of holiness, and leading a pure white lamb? In Spenser too Una has a counterpart lookalike, a false Una who is not a bride, conjured up with twisted and dark skill but barren, for whom the martial strength of the knight fought, but who in the end abandoned her.)

The relation of Beatrix and Elle to the Hanzo swords (Beatrix has one made for and given to her, while Elle wants to kill and steal from the bearer of one) shows how they mirror the relationship between Gandalf and Saruman in The Lord of the Rings. Like Saruman, Elle seeks Baconian or Cartesian domination rather than Platonic wisdom. While Saruman wanted to either forge or steal a ring of power to dominate others, Gandalf was given a ring of power to resist and dismantle the domination of great powers. In the end Elle and Saruman both are shown reduced to sheer animality and then, not utterly annihilated, but denatured and degraded and wholly impotent.

In his boast to Gandalf Saruman calls himself Saruman the Wise, Saruman Ring-maker, Saruman of many colors. Only one of these is true, and not to his credit. He was once wise but is no longer; he hopes to be Ring-maker but, it appears, is not yet. He desires the Ring that is already made, and is thirsty for ring-lore; but only in this self-given title is there any indication that he tried to use this lore to make a ring of his own. Evidently he failed. Furthermore, his palantir which brings him knowledge is Noldorin, his fortress Orthanc which gives him strength and security is Numenorean: what did he make himself? By wisdom he seems, in the end, merely to mean power, but in the process of seeking more and more power he relied on tools which were not his own. This is what "science" means in post-Baconian philosophy: not an object of contemplation but a tool of domination, a tool we use mostly without making or understanding ourselves.

But Saruman is Saruman of many colors. He means this in the sense of appropriating all the other colors to himself, of bringing all other powers under his own sway. But what it really means is that he has broken something: the white light. As Gandalf tells him, "He that breaks a thing to find out what it is has left the path of wisdom." Why? When you break the white light you reveal something of its nature, but it is no longer white. Saruman's quest for power has broken his own soul.

Saruman wants a ring. Now a ring is a rigid circle rounding an empty space. A wreath is a ring made by twisting something straight into a circle. A loop is a non-rigid, non-enclosed ring made by coiling something non-rigid. A loop is an interruption. A knot is a tangled loop. A labyrinth is a path looped by bends and twists and turns. It need not be a knot; the entrance may be the same as the exit, and may or may not have only a single path. A maze on the other hand is a labyrinth with divergences: in it we can lose our way. There are labyrinths in which we are confounded but not lost, because although our sense of direction is confused there's only one path. A knot also has (typically) only one path, but unlike a labyrinth we can't proceed along it because the tangled loops have been drawn tight: the path, in being twisted and then pulled, produces its own obstructions. A knot may or may not be a closed circuit, a ring.

Celtic, anglo-saxon, and norse artwork is full of knots the threads of which are not pulled tight, expanded but not unravelled. The twists and turns are laid out so we can see what they are and follow their paths, but they are not broken. Following their paths produces contemplation, not power.

Being itself has knots: it's twisted, complicated, which means literally folded in on itself. When we're following a question down a given path and hit an obstruction -- an aporia, an impasse -- it's like slipping our fingers along a rope and hitting a knot. The wonder of philosophy can be generated precisely by hitting such a knot (see Joseph Owens, The Doctrine of Being in the Aristotelian Metaphysics, 216: "the aporia of the intellect points to a knot in the object. [Aristotle] seems to view the thing itself as somehow binding the intellect ...") Philosophical wonder is a sort of amazement, being stuck in the sort of knot which is a maze drawn so tight its paths cannot be discerned. The way to solve an aporia is to loosen it, not to untie it or to break it. Untying a knot is a de-amazement. Ariadne's thread, which leads through the labyrinth, is an unravelled knot. It solves the problem, but also eliminates the maze, the originating source of wonder. Unravelling a knot completely gives us a straight line; while loosening it and laying out its folds, open to view, transforms it first from a thing to a maze, in which we are amazed, and then into a labyrinth of contemplation in which thought is folded over on itself, following the path of being. When the labyrinth has been traversed the wonder of bafflement, the amazement at an impasse, becomes the wonder of theoria, seeing the whole as a marvel. Wonder as amazement is the beginning, wonder as marvelling (admiring, ad-mirare, to look at the thing as looking into the mirror of being) the end.

We can also cut through and destroy beings to replace them with beings of our own making. We can break them to find out what they are but eliminate their being; but this power is fraught with peril and, conjoined with the desire for mastery, is deadly. Why is breaking a thing to find out what it is to leave the path of wisdom? Because what it is, is one, and must be understood as one to understand it as it is. When broken it is no longer one and so no longer itself. The breaker may learn something from the pieces; but not what the broken thing was. For what the broken thing was was given in its form, which is the principle of the thing's unity, its truth, its goodness -- and of its being. The alternative to breaking is to unfold the complications of being in thought, enough to follow its paths in contemplation, but leaving its structure as it is. When thumos is subordinated to nous, both ruling over the passions, ring-making can be licit; when desire, especially desire for power, becomes the predominant principle, even wisdom is made wicked. True philosophy teases the loops of the knots apart to behold their weaving, but does not presume to cut the thread.

The aporia is a state of mind, but it is caused by a knot in the thing -- that is, by somewhat in the thing's being less simple or straightforward than the concepts I've hitherto used to conceive it. If I fail to meet, ponder, and loosen the knot, and instead merely cut it -- dispose of it by cutting it down to the concepts already at hand -- I have begun to replace the encounter with reality with the concepts themselves, which leads ultimately to living and thinking in an unreal world, the world of wraiths.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Reportatio IV Now Available!

There is a new Scotus publication from Franciscan Institute Publications!

Now we have a working text of Reportatio IV from Oleg Bychkov and Trent Pomplun.

Publisher's description:

This book, gives the reader, both in Latin and in English translation, a solid working text of the Examined Report of the Paris Lecture of John Duns Scotus, known to scholars as Reportatio IV-A. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

New Book on Baroque Scotism

There is a new book on baroque Scotism about to hit the shelves. The author is Claus Andersen (profile here). The book is: 

Metaphysik im Barockscotismus: Untersuchungen zum Metaphysikwerk des Bartholomaeus Mastrius. Mit Dokumentation der Metaphysik in der scotistischen Tradition ca. 1620-1750


Here is the English description:


Baroque-age Scotist philosophy was, on the one hand, characterised by recourse to the Medieval thinker John Duns Scotus and, on the other hand, by an adaptation to trends in contemporary scholasticism, first of all that of the Jesuits. What kind of metaphysics did this particular constellation within the history of philosophy produce? In order to answer this question, the present book analyses the work on metaphysics by the most important representative of early modern Scotism, Bartolomeo Mastri (1602-1673). In addition, the book investigates a multitude of scarcely or never studied works on metaphysics from the Franciscan scholastic tradition of the 17th and 18th centuries. The peculiar profile of a forgotten philosophical tradition with its astonishing plurality becomes apparent. By focusing on a phenomenon from the history of philosophy outside the mainstream, this work contributes to a more differentiated view on the intellectual culture in early modern Europe.


It seems well documented: 1004 pp.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Lagerlund on Cross

Here is Henrik Lagerlund's review of Richard Cross' book on Scotus' theory of cognition. Lagerlund does not take issue with any of Cross' interpretations of Scotus, at least insofar as they are grounded (or not) in the texts of Scotus.

There still has not been a review from within the Scotus guild. Some criticism of Cross' interpretations can be found in John van den Bercken's recent essay on the powers of the soul. Pini, in his essay on objective being and Scotus seems generally dismissive, and I have some criticisms forthcoming hopefully later this year (I hope... it's been done since 2014). But no review from establishment Scotism.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Umberto Eco: RIP

See Hurtado's blog for some ruminations.

Ashworth on Analogy


"Despite the vast modern literature devoted to Aquinas's theory of analogy, he has very little to say about analogy as such."


Friday, February 19, 2016

Another Review of Brad Gregory

Rather late in the game, a new review of Brad Gregory's Unintended Reformation has appeared, here, by Michael Horton.

He is quite dismissive of the Scotus Myth, even mentioning the names of scholars that actually know things about Scotus (!!!).

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

New Volume of the Scotus Opera omnia Released!

Announced here.

Available for 215 euros, here.

Note it is the first of two volumes of indices,  not texts.

Here is the google-translated announcement:

The first volume of indices, the XV.1 the Vatican series, collects onomastici indexes, bibliographic, of direct and indirect sources of all the volumes of the Ordinatio and the Lectura, as well as the full list of parallel loci of the two works and a concordance updated edition of the Vatican and that of the Wadding-Vives. More than a simple collection of the indexes already appeared in the individual volumes, it is a real reprocessing of those data. A meticulous work was made, first of all, necessary to even out the inevitable methodological inconsistencies within the indexes of the individual volumes published so far, and this extensive revision is also an opportunity for many additions and corrections. The indices have also been updated keeping in mind the publication over the years of numerous critical editions of many scotiane sources. Thus, for example, for all citations of Augustine's works we are now the reference to the three most famous editions: the Corpus Scriptorum ecclesiasticorum Latinorum (CSEL); the Corpus Christianorum Series Latina (CCSL) and the Patrologia Latina (PL), while in the first volume there was limited only to Patrologia Latina; while quotations of the works of Aristotle has been added, where absent, the reference all'Aristoteles latinus, in addition to those already present all'incunabolo published in Venice in 1483, to that edition Iuntina of 1562 and, of course, to Bekker . The same principle has been clearly adopted for all authors.

The book is thus composed of 546 pages of material that, for printing needs, has a typographical body slightly lower than that of other volumes, but thanks to which it is now possible to search the entire work of the Ordinatio and the Lectura as well from a single reference.

All material is preceded by an introduction of some forty pages, which has a triple ambition. First, it constitutes, as is natural, a true to the book's introduction in which you seek to clarify, through examples, the criteria used in the indexing of the sources, in the hope of helping the reader to become familiar with the system of citations. Beyond that, it is, if not primarily, a sort of conclusion to the Commentary on Book IV, which had been published without his editorial annotations. And finally, from these considerations on the Commentary on Book IV are of course also sprung more general considerations on the entire work which, although modest, can be regarded as conclusive.

For these reasons, in this introduction, it was considered useful to offer also the complete list and ordered the manuscripts and editions that have been used for the edition of each volume, clarifying, through a pattern, distribution and use in comment by Scotus to several books Ordinatio is that the Lectura. The codes have been grouped, according to the criterion that led all the work in accordance with their "classes", or the breakdown by key families, and their "reviews", ie according to their greater or lesser harmony with the code in the famous code 137 of the Municipal Library of Assisi, considered by publishers the closest version to unfortunately lost Liber Scotus, which regularly reports on the margin any abnormalities.

Another issue on which we focused in this introduction is that the external and internal evidence proving the authenticity of the work and, in particular, the Commentary on Book IV. It refers here, in particular, to those marginal notes or to those internal textual references that, referring to other parts of the Commentary, in addition to certify the authenticity, also sufficient to enable a work internal chronology.

Monday, February 15, 2016

New Grosseteste Edition

An important new edition of Grosseteste has come out, his commentary on pseudo-Dionysius' De caelesti hierarchia. Available here. For a cool 210,00 euro (!)

I've already added it to the notes of my edition of Petrus Thomae's De ente. (yes, Scotists read Grosseteste and ps.-Dionysius: Mayronis wrote commentaries on the Dionysian corpus).

This edition was begun in the 60's as a dissertation, and handed on to several generations of scholars being published only in 2015. What I found utterly shocking was the mention that McEvoy taught in a department of "Scholastic Philosophy", which eventually closed, perhaps in the 70's. Such bygone times I can't conceive of them, or even imagine what it would be like to be part of a mainstream movement (even if only in the Catholic world).

One nice thing about this edition is that they have retained the internal divisions of the text as it was read in the middle ages. Maybe this wasn't an issue since it is a medieval book. I'm thinking here of the Aristoteles Latinus and Avicenna Latinus editions, which do not report the medieval chapter and book divisions, only Bekker's. This makes it difficult to actually find anything with medieval citation practices (aside from sitting down and reading it straight through, of course). This I find stupid because scholars who work on Aristotle and Avicenna read their works in the original language and pay no attention to medieval translations. And rightly so. These editions are only going to be used by people working on medieval latin material, but the editors have made it more difficult for us on purpose! But, again, happily this is not the case for the volume under discussion here.

Anyway, buy this book and read it:

Corpus Christianorum

Corpus Christianorum Continuatio Mediaevalis (CCCM 268)

Robertus Grosseteste

Versio Caelestis Hierarchiae Pseudo-Dionysii Areopagitae cum scholiis ex Graeco sumptis necnon commentariis notulisque eiusdem Lincolniensis

D. A. Lawell (ed.)

XLII+330 p., 155 x 245 mm, 2015

ISBN: 978-2-503-55593-5

Languages: Latin, English


The publication is available.

Retail price: EUR 210,00 excl. tax

Robert Grosseteste's translation of and commentary on the Celestial Hierarchy of Pseudo-Dionysius.

This volume contains Robert Grosseteste's translation of the Pseudo-Dionysius's Celestial Hierarchy. The Latin text is accompanied by Grosseteste's translation of the Greek scholia as well as his commentary and notes made on the Celestial Hierarchy and scholia. Grosseteste's work presents another insight into the renaissance of Dionysian studies which took place in the thirteenth century, as witnessed by commentators on the Areopagite such as Aquinas, Albert and Thomas Gallus. Grosseteste's commentary is greatly informed by his command of the Greek language which resulted in not only a detailed philological understanding of the Greek but also in a rich interpretation of the mind of Dionysius.

Declan Lawell is a Teacher of Latin in Liverpool. He has already published volumes by Thomas Gallus in the Corpus Christianorum Continuatio Mediaevalis series.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Cross on Scotus on Faith and Reason

From Richard Cross, "Fides et Ratio: The Harmony of Philosophy and Theology in Duns Scotus," Antonianum 83 (2008), 589-602.

This article was a response to Benedict XVI's Regensburg address. Benedect has said something to the effect of voluntarism and maybe nominalism arose with Scotus and led to bad modern things and was similar to Islamic voluntarism. My interest in posting the following excerpt is in Cross pointing out that Scotus treats arguments.

" I have suggested in a different context, scholastic writers are not doxographers; they offer arguments for the theories they adopt. so here, even if the proposed account of Scotus were accurate, it is not sufficient simply to disagree with the position ascribed to Scotus. Scotus presents arguments - he does not adopt positions just to be perverse - and any intellectually principled engagement with his views would need to consider as well the arguments he proposes in favor of his conclusions."

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Happy Feast of St. Thomas Aquinas!

Happy Feast, unless  you prefer to celebrate on March 7. In the meantime, here are some fun quotes from Fides et Ratio:

49. The Church has no philosophy of her own nor does she canonize any one particular philosophy in preference to others. The underlying reason for this reluctance is that, even when it engages theology, philosophy must remain faithful to its own principles and methods. Otherwise there would be no guarantee that it would remain oriented to truth and that it was moving towards truth by way of a process governed by reason. A philosophy which did not proceed in the light of reason according to its own principles and methods would serve little purpose. At the deepest level, the autonomy which philosophy enjoys is rooted in the fact that reason is by its nature oriented to truth and is equipped moreover with the means necessary to arrive at truth. A philosophy conscious of this as its “constitutive status” cannot but respect the demands and the data of revealed truth.

51. This discernment, however, should not be seen as primarily negative, as if the Magisterium intended to abolish or limit any possible mediation. On the contrary, the Magisterium's interventions are intended above all to prompt, promote and encourage philosophical enquiry. Besides, philosophers are the first to understand the need for self-criticism, the correction of errors and the extension of the too restricted terms in which their thinking has been framed. In particular, it is necessary to keep in mind the unity of truth, even if its formulations are shaped by history and produced by human reason wounded and weakened by sin. This is why no historical form of philosophy can legitimately claim to embrace the totality of truth, nor to be the complete explanation of the human being, of the world and of the human being's relationship with God.

78. It should be clear in the light of these reflections why the Magisterium has repeatedly acclaimed the merits of Saint Thomas' thought and made him the guide and model for theological studies. This has not been in order to take a position on properly philosophical questions nor to demand adherence to particular theses. The Magisterium's intention has always been to show how Saint Thomas is an authentic model for all who seek the truth. In his thinking, the demands of reason and the power of faith found the most elevated synthesis ever attained by human thought, for he could defend the radical newness introduced by Revelation without ever demeaning the venture proper to reason.

By the way, comments are still open on the "Thomism and the Magisterium" post!

Update: A reader sent in a link to his blog, with some reflections germane to this topic. It treats the encyclical Humani generis and its relation to Thomas Aquinas.