Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Conference on Peter Thomae's De ente

For those in Europe, there is an upcoming conference dedicated to the recently published Quaestiones de ente by Petrus Thomae:


Adams said...

I know commenting on the internet is not as much a priority as it once was, but is there any chance you could say something about Feser's most recent post about voluntarism? I'm strictly an amateur on medieval philosophy, and interested more in other subjects anyhow. But I've always thought that the voluntarism of Scotus and even Ockham was more plausible than Aquinas's intellectualism. His take seems fishy to me, and when he hedges about "the two views being more complicated" I get more suspicious still. But I am generally out of my depth. I'd love to hear some thoughts from Scotus's perspective.

Lee Faber said...

Hi Adams, I always like getting comments.

As for Feser, well, I find it ironic that he, a Thomist describes the 'voluntarist' personality as one that is fideist, authoritarian, etc., and yet he begins his post with appeals to papal authority to back his position. and Thomists are well known to be authoritarians, as can be seen from the "thomism and the magisteriium post" in which Thomism is enjoined on all and sundry based on papal documents.

As to the rest, well, it may be that some voluntarists somewhere said what he imputes to them. He seems to think that only intellectualists think the act of the intellect precedes the act of the will. But the medieval voluntarists all agree on that. That is not what the debate is about. Indeed, Scotus says quite up front that the will is not an apprehensive power; it needs the intellect to provide it with an object to will. But the intellect is entirely conditioned by the object; it cannot not understand something, whereas the will can not will something that the intellect shows it.

The medieval debate is rather on a different sense of "prior"; not prior in time, rather prior in nobility (Feser is unclear here). If the will is nobler, then it plays a more active role in the beatific vision, which accords greater importance to the acts proper to the will, such as love (all the medieval guys are theologians, after all; the theological application is really what they are interested in). Sure, the intellect gives you the actual vision. but is that the only act, or the most important act?

Anyway, it is hard to give a definitive statement on what Scotus thinks, since much of it is in book II of the Reportatio or the Quodlibet, both of which lack reliable editions. Scotus thought at Oxford, at least, that the intellect and will are co-causes of acts of volition. At Paris, there is debate among scholars regarding his meaning. Some think he shifted and dropped co causality in favor of a stronger voluntarism in which the will can do what it wishes apart from the intellect. This would open him to charges of the capricious will, if it is an accurate interpretation. But there are other passages where Scotus seems to drop the notions of the itnellect and will as distinct powers, and simply posits the soul acting in different ways. So all in all, not very useful for polemical purposes.

Adams said...

Thanks for the response. I should have been more confident in my knowledge, because my first reaction to reading Feser's piece was "that doesn't sound like any voluntarist I'm familiar with, not least because I'm not familiar with any who think that the act of the will doesn't need the act of the intellect." But then sometimes it's hard to put that together when you're faced with the full force of the magisterium supporting Thomism.

I'm surprised, too, though perhaps I shouldn't be, that someone like Feser appears so ignorant when it comes to other Scholastic philosophers other than Aquinas. He wrote a book on the subject! I suppose I should have remembered your co-blogger's review of it and taken it more to heart. I expect that ignorance from other quarters. I once spent an evening in the company of a close compatriot of Bishop Barron, who spent some time telling me how voluntarism and nominalism were the same thing and all the evils of the world descend from them, etc. I asked him about Henry of Ghent, metaphysical realist and generally considered a voluntarist, and John Buridan, nominalist but not a voluntarist when it comes to ethics. And he hemmed and hawed and said it really wasn't about specific people and what they said but general trends. So I discovered it really takes only the bare minimum of knowledge about the middle ages to unmask the narrative - I mean, I run out of things to say about Henry of Ghent after about five minutes, but at least I know about him, and I know that his voluntarism is not the same as Scotus's, and if I wanted to know whether one of them were true or not I would have to read what they said, and not just make general claims about so-called general trends. But you know this: you have a blog archive that says this many times already.

The real tragedy, as I see it, is that this ignorance leads to more division and argumentation (not the good kind) among people who should be allies. I find in my catholic circles that saying I'm not a Thomist inspires more anger than if I had said I was an atheist. I'm not sure either of those should inspire anger, but there you go.

Thanks again for your thoughts, and it always makes me feel a little better knowing I'm not the only one who goes through this.