Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Divine Simplicity again

There is currently an ongoing internet debate over divine simplicity, between the Thomist Feser and the analytic philosopher Mullins. The latest entry is here.  An indefatigable maker of memes on Facebook sent me a meme about this debate that I paste below. I won't comment directly on the debate, the Scotist position is well known, even if not normally brought up in these debates. Given the nature of this particular debate, even Aquinas' own solution of the rationes is also not at play.

As everyone knows, I did my dissertation on the divine attributes. The medieval debate went through a logical development.
1. Aquinas, adapting Bonaventure, argued that divine attributes all had distinct definitions (rationes) but these rationes were all in the human mind, or at least their distinction. They weren't false, because God verifies them all from afar. God is just undifferentiated perfection, no distinct attributes.
2. someone pointed out that this means that God has no knowledge of his own attributes.
3. all the early Thomists then argued, 'aha, no, see, God knows the contents of the human mind, and thus he has knowledge of divine attributes ex consequenti'.
4. Henry came along, and said that this was all bunk, that the divine intellect and divine will, which are distinct, each generate their own attributes. all attributes are reducible to either intellect or will, that produces them in the divine essence.
5. Scotus comes along and says Henry is bunk, all attributes are already there, formally distinct before even the divine intellect thinks about them.
6. Ockham: the word 'attribute' is causing all this problem, lets get rid of it. 

And that is about it.

here's the meme. It is not really right, since Mullins is denying divine simplicity full stop, and Scotists do defend it with the formal distinction and instants of nature. So they cannot really sit back and watch Feser go it alone. But this time we will. For Scotus' theory of formal distinction, see here

Mayronis was the first Scotist to come into direct conflict with Thomism, in a series of debates at the university of Paris in the 1320's. The debate was over the formal distinction and instants of nature.

Scotus makes the following comment in Lectura I d. 8 p. 1 q. 4 (ed. Vat. XVII p. 48) about the various debates over the distinction of reason "...dicunt aliqui concordando in conclusione principali, sed discordant in modo ponendi, in quo se impugnant; et eorum impugnatio est pax nostra." Basically, they agree that divine attributes are distinct only by the intellect, but disagree how it comes about. 

Mayronis also talks about the peace, but his peace is between the schola minorum and the thomists; he has some interesting rhetoric about the thomist pierre roger disturbing the peace of the schools, and he reformulates it a few times. Anyway, on this see the "Disputatio" volume, just about the only text of Mayronis that has been critically edited.

Update: Feser adds to the debate with an entry on Scotus, here. His point is that divine simplicity has been interpreted in different ways, that attacking Aquinas, even if the attack succeeded, does not suffice for defeating divine simplicity. My co-blogger clashed with Feser on the formal distinction around the time Feser's book on Scholastic Metaphysics was published. In the post linked above he is fairly general about it. I would probably only quibble by saying that the formal distinction, in keeping with the Parisian account, is a diminished real distinction, not a midway distinction between real and rational distinctions. But given the internal Scotist debate over such matters, I don't fault Feser for this. Blander, in his dissertation, attacked the connection between separability and the real distinction, which Feser holds, but this is quite recent research, even for Scotists (see the link to his paper in the combox). I am sympathetic to this, though I wonder how separability fits in, since the separability criterion shows up in the Quodlibet, perhaps Scotus' final work (assuming the final work was not the Quaestio de formalitatibus). 

One could also point out, regarding Feser's post, that the Scotist position on univocity and analogy is that they are compatible in the same concept. This has ever been the opinion of the Scotist school, with the sole exceptions of Mayronis and Bonetus. I have a piece appearing eventually on this topic. But Feser can't be expected to know this, since even Scotus-scholars have forgotten it. The modern study of Scotus, rightly focused on his manuscripts and actual doctrines he held, has unfortunately neglected the study of the ancient school. Thus certain things that should not have been forgotten, were lost.

Anyway, the debate continues.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Eric Perl on Neoplatonism

Eric Perl is a prominent neoplatonist author. He has some Plotinus translations with commentary out there that look interesting. But he doesn't like Scotus.  I give some quotes below that might be of interest to or foster discussion by our readers.

Quote 1:
From Thinking Being: Introduction to Metaphysics in the Classical Tradition, p. 6:

In this perspective, we must concur with those who hold that the principal break in the continuity of western philosophy comes not between ancient and medieval, nor between pagan and Christian, nor even in early modernity with figures such as Galileo and Descartes, but rather between the Platonic and Aristotelian tradition up to and including Aquinas, on the one hand, and the modes of thought represented by Duns Scotus and William of Ockham on the other. It is here, not in the sixteenth or seventeenth but in the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries, that modernity in a philosophical rather than a merely chronological sense truly begins. With Scotistic univocity, the first principle becomes a being, subject to a conceptual grasp and included within the whole of reality as a member of it, as is not the case for the One of Plotinus or the God of Aquinas. Between Scotus' God who is an infinite being (ens infinitum) and Aquinas' God who is infinite existence (esse infinitum), the difference is of world-shattering proportions. it is precisely here that 'metaphysics' in the pejorative, postmodern sense begins, with the reduction of the first principle to a conceptually representabile being and the fading from view of the very question 'Why are there beings, rather than nothing?' And the Ockhamist denial that things really have 'whatnesses' in virtue of which they are what they are, a repudiation of the very foundation of Platonic and Aristotelian philosophy, already carries with it the divorce of thought from being, the loss of intelligibility, the move toward consciousness as 'subject' and being as 'object' and the failing of the vision of all things as the presence and manifestation of the divine.

He gives a single reference to Scotus, shockingly a quote, though he doesn't cite an edition or translator:

Duns Scotus, Opus oxoniense, I, 3, 1: "I say, then, first, that not only can a concept naturally be had in which God is conceived as it were accidentally, for instance, with regard to some attribute, but also a certain concept in which God is conceived by himself and quidditatively".

Comment: as is usual with modern philosophers who are non specialists, it is univocity that ruined good traditional philosophy. For these people, it is more important that philosophy be a tradition than that it be an activity in any way related to arguments. Scotus' arguments are not quoted nor shown to be false, it is just taken to be obvious since the author disagrees with the conclusions of Scotus' arguments. The quote also has some ambiguities. "reality" is not defined. If by "reality" you mean creation, then Scotus would deny that God is part of reality or within the horizon of reality if you prefer to talk in that fashion. But if by "reality" you mean the totality of existing things, then Scotus would agree, even if he would qualify it and say that God and creatures agree in no reality. 

Perl does not provide exegesis of the quote. It is clear that he interprets it as implying that since we can grasp God by a concept that we totally and completely grasp God in a concept, and that there can thus be no divine transcendence. But Scotus would deny this as well, saying instead that even if we grasp God quidditatively we do not have full comprehension of the divine essence, which, since it is infinite, always exceeds our finite minds. Also, the concept that we form of God, infinite being, only imperfectly represents the divine reality, since 'infinite being' is a complex concept and God is simple. This too does not warrant a mention.

Perl's central thesis is that thought and being are parallel, and Scotus, or at least Ockham are a threat to this. Univocity might seem a threat to this, since, in Richard Cross' words, the concept of being is a "vicious abstraction", ie. it does not correspond to any extra mental reality. But the concept of being is the result of an operation (abstraction) performed on the complex concept of a creature, which itself is based on an extramental thing. So Scotus also believes in the parallel of thought and being, but this doesn't mean that we can't perform mental operations the products of which might not themselves be directly parallel. At least, perl would need another argument to show this. Maybe he has one and I will find it as I read his book. We will see.

I am always somewhat bemused by the intense hatred of Scotus by modern neoplatonists, especially in theology. naturally, it is univocity they focus on, which is opposed to the de facto hero of theology, Thomas aquinas. But for centuries Scotus has himself been seen as part of the neoplatonist movement, given the extreme platonism of his doctrine of the Ideas. Renaissance platonists, such as Ficino, numbered him among their own school. But all such niceties have been forgotten these days.

Here's a quote from a different book that caught my eye, and though it is implicitly directed against Scotus, it seems to implicitly embrace univocity of being.

Quote 2 (copied from the David Bentley Hart discussion group on Facebook)
The disjunctive presupposition that 𝘦π˜ͺ𝘡𝘩𝘦𝘳 God chooses between possible alternatives 𝘰𝘳 he is necessitated to create situates God within a total framework of possibilities, as though the logical conditions of possibility and impossibility were prior to and more universal than God, conditions to which even he is subject. This presupposition envisions God either as confronted with a multiplicity of logical possibilities among which he can choose, or as subject to a logical law such that there is only one possibility open to him.
This is precisely the "ontic" conception of God that Plotinus, and Dionysius, are concerned to avoid by declaring him, "beyond being." God is not a being, subject, as are all beings, to the conditions of logical possibility such as the principle of non-contradiction. This is not to say that God can violate that principle; on the contrary, it would be more accurate to say that for the Neoplatonists, God or the One π˜ͺ𝘴 the principle of non-contradiction. For what is that principle but the very condition of intelligibility and therefore of being?
"To be is to be intelligible" means that to be is to conform to the laws of thought, which necessarily apprehends its object as determined by certain attributes and (therefore) as excluding the contradictory ones. The unity, the identity, and therefore the being of any thing consists in its uniformity to this law. That law, therefore, is an expression of God as the unity, the identity, the being of beings.
God is not a being, contained within a framework of possibilities determined by an abstract logic independent of himself. Rather, he is that framework within which all beings are contained, and hence he cannot be considered 𝘦π˜ͺ𝘡𝘩𝘦𝘳 as a being who chooses among a multiplicity of logical possibilities, 𝘰𝘳 as a being confined by principles more universal than himself to a single possibility.

—Eric D. Perl, π˜›π˜©π˜¦π˜°π˜±π˜©π˜’π˜―π˜Ί: π˜›π˜©π˜¦ π˜•π˜¦π˜°π˜±π˜­π˜’π˜΅π˜°π˜―π˜ͺ𝘀 π˜—π˜©π˜ͺ𝘭𝘰𝘴𝘰𝘱𝘩𝘺 𝘰𝘧 π˜‹π˜ͺ𝘰𝘯𝘺𝘴π˜ͺ𝘢𝘴 𝘡𝘩𝘦 𝘈𝘳𝘦𝘰𝘱𝘒𝘨π˜ͺ𝘡𝘦, Ch. 3, "Goodness, Beauty, and Love"

On this quote, see the various posts from the past few months (Foxal, Mayronis, Petrus Thomae) on the principle of non-contradiction. To make God the principle itself, or make it somehow apply to God, is to concede the field to univocity. The reason is that the PNC is the first complex principle; it can be broken down into the first incomplex principle, the notion of being. To posit the PNC as applying to God and creatures is to posit being as common to God and creatures. Unless you want to destroy the PNC by making it apply in a different,unknowable way in God, it must be univocal.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Hoenen on Scotism

From an interesting essay by Hoenen on characteristics of Scotism. in the book John Duns Scotus: Renewal of Philosophy... p. 198:

Scotism claims a special place among medieval schools of philosophy, in that it was not a school in the normal sense of the word. Thomism, for example, originated from the desire to strengthen the coherence of the Dominican order, while Albertism in its later develoment was able to establish itself by virtue of its connection to education at the so-called bursae. Scotism, by contrast, emerged and established itself more or less spontaneously, having its origins in the efforts of individuals rather than in the promptings of ecclesiastical or educational institutions.  

Monday, August 5, 2019

John Foxal on the First Complex Principle

In light of this previous post on the univocity of the principle of non-contradiction, here are some remarks on the same topic from John Foxal, the fifteenth-century English Scotus who spent his career in Italy teaching at Rome and Bologna. Foxal was also part of the circle of Bessarion and became bishop of Armagh but died before taking up his see.

A possibly necessary piece of background terminology: Scotists typically refer to the principle of non contradiction as the first complex principle. The principle of non contradiction contains being as its subject, and so being is called the first incomplex principle.

The following text is from a commentary Foxal wrote at Bologna on the first question of Scotus' Ordinatio, dated to 1465.

"Contra: certum est” etc. pro hoc argumento nota quod prima quaestio prologi Conflatus Francisci de Maronis maxime valet ad confutandum hanc opinionem Henrici, quia in illa multipliciter probatur et demonstratur primum principium tenere in theologia, et ita bene formari in Deo sicut in creaturis et ita applicari ad spiritualia et insensibilia sicut ad corporalia et sensibilia vel materialia. Non adduco autem aliqua de quaestione illa, quia ubique habetur et eandem viam tenet Scotus hic, arguendo contra Henricum. Etiam pro hoc est Aristoteles in pluribus locis qui vult primum principium ita bene applicari ad conclusiones non sensibiles sicut sensibiles, nam in libris Metaphysicae agit principaliter de substantiis non sensibilbus, ut patet in pluribus locis et maxime in 2. xi. et 12, et in 4 libro agit per totum de primo principio complexo ubi ponit illas proprietates qua ponit Franciscus ubi supra in principio quaestionis. Et utique mirum esset quod in illis praedictis libris dixisset tot et tanta de primo principio complexo si voluisset quod illud excludetur a rebus insensibilibus et separatis a materia de quibus agit ibi, et principalius de ipsis tractat librosque Metaphysicae omnes propter illas principaliter ordinavit.
Et ad litteram Doctoris revertendo et probando antecedens ipsius patet quod ita bene potest sciri ab intellectu nostro quod impossibile est quod unus angelus simul sit et non sit, vel descendendo ad specialiores terminos quod idem angelus sit materialis et non materialis aut sensibilis et non sensibilis, sicut quod idem lapis simul sit et non sit, aut simul sit durus et non durus, et sic de aliis, et ita bene poterit primum principium applicari ad insensibilia sicut ad sensibilia, ergo vana est responsio illa.


"Contra: it is certain" [this is a lemma from Scotus' Ord.] for this argument note that the first question of the prologue of the Conflatus of Francis of Meyronnes is maximally valid for refuting this opinion of Henry, because in that it is proved in many ways and demonstrated that the first principle holds in theology, and so also it can be formed in God just as in creatures and so applied to spiritual and insensible just as to corporeal and sensible or material [matters]. I do not adduce anything from that question [of Francis], because it is found everywhere and Scotus holds the same way here, arguing against Henry. Also for this is Aristotle in many places, who intended that the first principle be applied to substances and non sensibiles just as to sensibiles, for in the books of the Metaphysics he treats principally of substances and non sensibles, as is clear in many places, most of all in [books] II, XI, and XII, and in the fourth book he treats throughout about the first complex principle where he posits those properties which Francis posits above in the beginning of the question [i.e. Conflatus prol. q. 1]. And indeed it would be marvellous that in those aforesaid books he would have said to much about the first complex principle if he had intened that that be excluded from insensible things and separated from matter about which he treats there, and principally about them he treated and ordered the books of the Metaphysics principally on account of them.

And returning to the letter of the Doctor and proving his antecedent, it is clear that well indeed it can be known by our intellect that it is impossible that one angle at once is and is not, or by descending to more special terms that the same angel is material and not material or sensible and non sensible, just as the same stone at once is and is not, or at once is rough and not rough, and thus for others, and so can the first principle be applied to insensibles just as to sensibles, therefore that response [of Henry's] is vain.