Thursday, July 29, 2021

The Poetics of the Equivocity of Being

 Here are some poetical remarks on the equivocity of being by William Desmond. Enjoy!

Desmond, Being and the Between, 87


The war of philosophers against unintelligibility has made them generally hostile to the equivocal. This is manifest in the oscillation with the univocal we examined in the last chapter. It is no less true that this war is never finished, and many victories turn out pyrrhic, indeed brief lulls before the hydra of the equivocal sprouts another head to replace the one just chopped. The equivocal is a hydra that cannot be completely killed by univocity; for to kill its many heads demands many hands, and univocity has only one hand at a time. Indeed, I think equivocity is not to be killed but charmed from being a mythic monster into a fabling of the plurivocity of being. We must come to terms with the beautfy of the beast. Logical murder, murder repeated methodically, will not do.


Wednesday, July 7, 2021

William Desmond, Being and the Between

 The title above is a book I have been reading lately. usually I will be excited for a month with a new acquisition and then the taedium sets in and I abandon the book. My shelf of "current books" grows ever longer. Surprisingly, I have stuck with Przywara's Analogia entis, though it doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me in either German or English.

Desmond is a scholar of continental philosophy, mainly of Hegel it seems, with little to no interest in medieval philosophy. The book listed in the title of the post is loosely based on Aristotle, Plato, and the moderns. The auther seems rather adverse to scholastic thought; consider the following, from p. 12:


But were there no happening of astonishment, metaphysics would be a mere scholastic juggling of empty abstractions, perhaps with great virtuosity in the formal mastery of argumentation, but ontologically barren nonetheless.

The author, though not possessing knowledge of Scotus' position on univocity, effectively rules out Scotus' position at the very beginning. p. 3:

Hence, the question of being is not first one for philosophers, understood as an elite of thinkers. It transcends the difference of the few and the many, for it strikes our humanity simply in virtue of its being, as mindful of itself and what is other to itself. Of course, this matter may degenerate into platitude. Then being will be said to be the emptiest of abstractions--a vacuous generality, indifferently applicable to everything and anything, and hence not applicable with illuminating power to anything in particular. Against this degrading of being we must fight strenuously. There may be a sense of the universal, and the community of being that transcends any abstract universal.

As nice a short summary of Scotus as was every written. But we might fight against it.

Finally, a word of warning: be careful when buying academic books! I bought my copy from Amazon, which sells it, I found, as a print on demand volume. But alas, every page of the text, as well as the front and back cover, contains the stamp "copyrighted Material". One would think this could have been dispensed with, given that there is a copyright page, but no. The stamp even covers page numbers and sometimes obscures the last line of the text on a page. So find a used copy, if you want to read this book.

Saturday, June 19, 2021

Byzantine Univocity

 I recently came across an essay on univocity among the Byzantine theologians that might be of interest to our readers. Essay is here.


Johnathan Bieler, "Christ: the mystery of God truly made manifest? Leontius of Byzantium and the Univocity of Being."


From the conclusion:


After reading this long passage we cannot go into all the details but we will summarily say that Leontius opposes univocity and equivocity. He accuses his opponents of adhering to a pure equivocity of terms in Christology and Trinitarian Theology by separating the terms from their definitions. Thus, equivocity negates the true manifestation of the divine in the manifest mystery of Christ. Naturally, for Leontius as well as for the Severian interlocutor, God in himself is hidden and beyond word, intellect and nature. However, for Leontius this God has truly revealed himself in Christ and thus we must speak in univocal terms of the Trinity and Christ. He achieves the univocity of God and the world by subsuming all beings (God, angels, human beings etc.) under one single definition of existence as such, which ousia stands for when defined simply.

In this respect, Leontius falls short of Ps-Dionysius’ strong language for the transcendence of God as beyond ousia or being, even though he knows his writings and quotes him even by name.7 Leontius seems to make a bit of a desperate move here and puts all beings and God under the same category of existence as such. In this, Leontius even found a successor in Duns Scotus, who also holds a univocal concept of being, ens, for God and the world. A few questions are in order to point to the problems of Leontius’ view: Is the transcendence of God not corrupted if he is put in the same genus of existence as the world? Does not the world then somehow share in God’s uncreated and eternal being, as both share the same sort of existence? This would remind us of the Origenist doctrine of the fall of beings from some sort of unity with God. Can Leontius’ univocal use of the term ousia still fully affirm the distinction of the created and the uncreated existence, which was so important for example to Athanasius as well as Ps-Dionysius and in turn, Maximus the Confessor? Part of an answer to these questions has to be given by an analysis of the relation between predicative logic and ontology in Leontius which I cannot serve with here. At any rate, we have a sense now for the task of later authors so diverse as John Philoponus and Maximus the Confessor to reject PsDionysius or integrate him into a Theology that holds together both transcendence and true manifestation of God without falling into the simple alternative between univocity and equivocity. Maximus, in my view, will come forward with a solution that resembles more Aquinas’ analogy of being than Duns Scotus’ univocity of being.

Sunday, June 6, 2021

 Here is a recent post about Scotus, with many interesting reflections and reminiscences of the particular writers experiences in grad school.

He had some discussion of what he thought Scotus was trying to do that I think is not right, but worthy of consideration and reflection nevertheless.


The question I was trying to get to a little earlier was whether Duns Scotus was himself, ironically, rather less committed to the procedures of Scholastic philosophy than he seemed. By this I mean that there are at least two ways to do Scholastic philosophy though, I am sure, there are really many more than two ways. But we can establish at least these two possibilities. You do Scholastic philosophy in good faith, because you basically believe that it can deliver the goods, as it were, or you do it in bad faith, you do it in order to show what it can’t do. You run it into the ground. It’s possible that Duns Scotus was more or less of the latter sort. He was playing Scholastic philosophy against itself. To some degree. He was using the tools of Scholastic philosophy in order, in a sense, to break them, to destroy those tools. That’s probably too strong. But it was a tricky business, I think, what Scotus was up to.

Take the concept of haecceity, for instance, which must be one of the more unwieldy sort of words (how do you pronounce it?) in the history of philosophy and which is one of Scotus’ great gifts to us, though actually his students, the Dunses, came up with the word as their best shot at naming an idea that Scotus had elaborated in his philosophical treatises. Haecceity comes from the Latin word haec, which means ‘this’. So haecceity is best translated as ‘thisness’. Duns Scotus was trying to isolate the particular thisness that makes each thing a ‘this’ and therefore completely and totally unique. This is a rather perverse thing for a metaphysician to do. To focus on thisness is, in the mood of it, to turn philosophy on its head. It’s to say that the strange, unaccountable, irreducible quality of all things, that which makes each thing of creation just what it is, that this is the central and unsolvable mystery. The only way you are going to come into contact with thisness, and thus to know and to relate to anyone else, anything else, is to pay attention to that thing, that person, that object in its ineluctable, weird, unique specialness. That’s not really the sort of thing that a philosopher, especially a medieval Scholastic philosopher, is supposed to say. That’s the sort of thing a poet or a mystic says (Gerard Manley Hopkins, for instance, loved Scotus). But Scotus said it. He just said it with the words of Scholastic philosophy, so it sounds like a bit of philosophy when, in fact, it is a thought by which philosophy collapses in on itself. Or maybe truly becomes itself, finally. You could say that as well, maybe.

Thursday, January 7, 2021

Was Scotus Irish?

Recently I was sent a discussion about the national origins of Duns Scotus. It is here. There was a big controversy about this among the 17th century Scotists. Many of the Irish Scotists claimed him as their own. They did not, however, assign a town where he was born.


The author of the piece linked to above rejects the current scholarly view that Scotus was Scotish. The problem is, the Irish thesis is based purely on hearsay. There is no positive evidence in the form of a medieval document.


What about the Scottish claim? The author claims that "Scotus" could mean someone from Ireland or Scotland, that we don't know when it changed to mean only someone from Scotland. Think of the other "Scotus", Eriugena, who unquestionably was Irish. According to the author, people in the thirteenth century could be described as being either 'hibernicus' or 'scotus' depending on their racial origins as native Irish or Norman invaders.


But whether or not such a distinction is true or not, it isn't relevant to the question of Scotus' origins. For we have a contemporary document that contains enough evidence to show Scotus' Scottish ancestry. This is the adhesion list of 1303. In the dispute between the pope and the king of France, the king sent officials to the various religious houses at the university and had them affix their names to a list accepting the king's claims or denying them. Scotus is on the list denying. The most recent edition of this list is in Courtenay.


“Early Scotists at Paris: A Reconsideration,” Franciscan Studies 69 (2011), 175-229


This list describes people from England as 'de anglia,' those from Ireland as 'de hymbernia', leaving 'Scotus' to be Scottish. What is more, the list organizes people by regions: thus, on the page on which Scotus appears, we have scholars from the Iberian peninsula, followed by Scotus, the English, the Irish, and then the beginning of the Germans.

I quote the list from Courtenay , p. 226:


fr. Poncius de Catelonia

fr. Gondissalvus magister

fr. Martinus ejus socius

fr. Petrus de Villa franca

fr. Franciscus de Colimbria [Coimbra]

fr. Femandus

fr. Johannes scotus

fr. Thomas eius socius

fr. Johannes65. Johannes de Anglia

fr. Johannes Crombe

fr. Thomas anglicus

fr. Ricardus yberniensis

fr. Odo yberniensis 67. Odo de Ymbernia

fr. Dyonisius yberniensis 68. Dyonisius de Ymbernia

fr. Thomas Coloniensis

fr. Henricus saxoniensis

fr. Johannes saxoniensis

fr. Bemardus saxoniensis

fr. Eglosus almannus

fr. Henricus almannus