Tuesday, November 13, 2018

My MicroNarrative

The common Thomist narrative of the rise of theology and philosophy to its zenith in the thought of Thomas Aquinas, the common doctor of all and the angelic doctor, a rise which soon turned into a flaming nosedive needs no introduction here. It is so widespread that Milbank can refer to it as "scarcely then controversial". The text-base defense of Scotus seem to have all failed, at least rhetorically. The "semantic" defense of Scotus has been effectively undermined by Milbank (in the linked piece) on the grounds of a-historicity (think about that for a minute, then try not to spill your beer). The narrative normally focuses on the "twin scissors" (to use Hans Boersma's turn of phrase) of univocity and voluntarism that snipped the "sacramental tapestry" that Scotus had inherited from Christ and the Apostles via Thomas Aquinas.

Here I want to propose a counter-narrative, though it is more fact-based than interpretative, so it probably does not count as a narrative. And it does not explain the present, but is the sequence of what went on in the 12th-14th centuries. The narrative is ultimately more driven by the waves of Aristotelian translations than anything else.

Step 1: In the twelfth century, the common opinion among the theologians was that perfections or attributes are said univocally of God and creatures. The basic sense of univocity was that of Aristotle's Categories.

Step 2: Aristotle's Metaphysics and Posterior analytics were translated. Aristotle's view in the former is that being is said in many ways. This sense is what became the "analogy of being". Following the Arab commentators one could posit it as "midway" between equivocity and univocity, or following Boethius, one could take the division of the Categories as immediate; there is no medium between univocity and equivocity, analogy becomes  equivocity, in particular, 'equivocal by design', as opposed to pure equivocity. Aquinas himself seems a bit ambiguous here. He often says analogy is a middle way between the extremes, but he clearly knew the Boethian definition, for in Summa contra gentiles when he rejects equivocity he rejects "pure" equivocity. But he does not identify analogy as an equivocal by design. At this step, there is no attempt to unite the metaphysics with the notion of a science in the Posterior analytics

Step 3: The posterior analytics' criteria for science are applied to the science of being, requiring univocity. An early defense of univocity was launched in the 1280's, though I have not found who it was. Their attempt posited a real agreement between God and creatures. Scotus himself attacks this person, as did William of Ware and Peter Sutton. Scotus also posits univocity, at some stage, the univocal concept of being may well be common to God of creatures, the object of the intellect, and the subject of metaphysics. Scotus retains the analogy of being.

Step 4: Criticism of Scotus. Scotus is the locus of the discussion. Early critics reject his position and return to equivocity of being, linked to some 12th c. discussions as well as Porphyry and Boethius. Ockham jettisons analogy.

With the emerge of Ockham, the basic positions of the scholastic discussion are set until the dissolution of scholasaticism itself: equivocity of being, univocity of being with analogy, univocity alone, analogy of being alone. There was much discussion of the issue during the 14th century. I have found little discussion in Franciscans of the fifteenth century on the topic. Perhaps I haven't looked hard enough. Most mention it, but say nothing interesting and don't devote questions to it. Thus there is some justice in Mastri's comment that there was little discussion of analogy before Cajetan. Cajetan revived the debate (note I deny the existence of a distinction between first or second scholasticism and the fanciful claims made today about Cajetan restarting scholasticism). By Mastri's day (17th c.) there were extensive debates among the schools about analogy and univocity, long after the RO narrative has jumped to Luther and Kant. In truth, analogy was never abandoned by anyone save Ockham and the nominalists, certainly not by Scotus and the Scotists.

Get to work in the comments and tear this apart!


  1. By the way on that old, decrepit 'decline' narrative of Thomism, you probably already know this, but Schmutz came out with a great article rebutting that notion historically, at least for Thomas' Summae: https://www.academia.edu/36543372/From_Theology_to_Philosophy_The_Changing_Status_of_the_Summa_Theologiae_1500_2000.

  2. Well, what to make of this? A translation of Gilson's book on Scotus is out in a month, with an introduction by Trent Pomplun and an afterword by John Millbank. Those seem like strange bedfellows to me.

    Link: https://www.amazon.com/John-Duns-Scotus-Introduction-Illuminating/dp/0567678687/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1542797232&sr=1-2

    Look also at the blurb from Matthew Levering (who has come in for criticism before on The Smithy), who seems a bit chastened in his Cambridge Phantasist leanings:

    “This classic book offers a way of understanding Scotus, as well as contemporary interpretations of Scotus. In his Preface, Gilson cautions that 'it is always imprudent to extract in Scotus's name consequences that he has not deduced.' The timeliness of this warning--which henceforth I intend to heed--makes clear the importance of this translation.”

    Is that a result of Pomplun's intro, I wonder? What saith The Smithy on this volume?

  3. A bit overpriced. Wow.

    They had a conference on this at ND before I left, with all those folk save Milbank.

    I think it should be treated like a historical document, if it has to be translated at all. As it is, it will be used by non specialists mainly. I mean, I think they update all the references to the Vat ed. The presence of Milbank is somewhat obscene. I haven't seen it yet, and probably won't, given the price.

  4. Pomplun's trustworthy, though, right? But shame on the price, I agree.

  5. Oh indeed, he is. Check out his massive exposition of Scotus' role in modern historiography. he lays it all bare. It was in the Bulletin de phil. med. two or three years ago now.

  6. Wow, a 90 page article? He should pad that into a book.

  7. I think he is working on one now. His day job is Tibetan studies, so it might be a while.

  8. I envy his language abilities....