Thursday, May 17, 2018

Homeric Hermeneutics

This post is not about Scotus.

One of the benefits of no longer being in institutional academia (condolences to my esteemed co-blogger) is that I can study whatever I want without regard to my curriculum vitae or departmental or disciplinary expectations. What I've been studying most lately is Greek. At long last I'm getting close to finishing my first complete read-through of both the Iliad and the Odyssey in Greek. This wonderful experience has confirmed my long-held sense that Homer is the king of all poets: as someone or other said, Homer is the proof that there is no progress in the arts. There may be a very few who could claim to be as great, but there are none greater, none more beautiful, none more insightful, none more intricate. As I reach the end I'm struck more and more by the realization that there is nothing more subtle and psychologically penetrating in all of literature than the final quarter of the Odyssey.

My most beloved writers from antiquity other than Homer, Plato and Vergil, were also surely antiquity's most careful readers of and thinkers about Homer; and he has helped me understand them better. Thanks to the Odyssey I think I've solved two of classical literature's greatest mysteries: the meaning of the end of Aeneid book VI, and the identity of the Athenian Stranger in Plato's Laws.


Penelope tells Odysseus in Od. 19.562-567: "For two are the gates of shadowy dreams, and one is fashioned of horns, the other of ivory. Those that pass through the gate of carved ivory deceive, bringing things unfulfilled; but those that come through the gate of polished horn bring true things to fulfillment, when anyone among mortals sees them." Now Penelope, not openly acknowledging that she recognizes her returned husband, is scheming with him in riddles so that the servants don't understand and betray him to the suitors. She's just described an invented allegorical "dream" in which Odysseus returns and kills the suitors, and she's just about to propose the trial of the bow. So this statement about the nature of dreams, coming between those two moments, is Penelope's way of telling Odysseus how to accomplish his task of winning back his household without getting himself and his family killed.

Ivory is the material of scabbards. Odysseus is given a sword with an ivory scabbard earlier in the poem, and such scabbards were known in the classical world. Horn, on the other hand, is the material of bows. Penelope is telling Odysseus that yes, he must kill the suitors, but not by passing through the gate of ivory, not by drawing the sword, because that way is false, it won't be successful. He must pass through the gate of horn, that is, win the trial of the bow, her own device for getting a weapon only he can use into the hands of Odysseus, when no one else is armed, a device she is about to explain. The false way, the gate of ivory, is the straightforward way of Achilles, the path of sheer immediate brute force; the true way, the gate of horn, is the polytropic, twisty, curved, clever, tricky way of Odysseus, the path of contest-winning (Odysseus won the contest for the arms of Achilles against Ajax, and wins his contests against the Phaeacians), biding one's time, and deception (he, of course, deceives practically everyone he meets in the poem at one point or another).

At the end of Aeneas' journey through the underworld Vergil says (Aeneid 6.893-896) "The gates of sleep are twins; one of which is said to be of horn, whereby an easy outlet is given to true shades (shadows, umbris); the other finished and gleaming with shining ivory, but [through it] the shades (spirits, Manes) send false things to heaven." Aeneas leaves Hades and goes back to the mortal world through the gate of ivory. Why?

The first half of the Aeneid is Odyssean: Aeneas wanders, is troubled by a vengeful god, tells his story, has a love affair with a beautiful woman who offers a tempting alternative to his destiny, and descends to the underworld where he sees the spirit of a deceased, beloved parent and is told about the future. The second half of the poem is Iliadic, or rather Achilleic: Aeneas battles over a woman and a truce-breaking and kills a lot of people. On the basic level, then, Aeneas' passing through the gate of ivory shows his transition from the Odyssean to the Achilleic stage: he ceases to wander over the ocean's curve, unsheathing his straight sword.

On a deeper level I think his taking the ivory gate indicates the fundamentally un-Odyssean character both of the man and the poem. "Arma virumque cano", Vergil begins, "arms and the man I sing", but though a story of arms reflects the Iliad and a story of a man and his wanderings suggests the Odyssey, Aeneas himself is nothing like Odysseus at all. Odysseus is a hated figure in the Aeneid and in the Roman worldview in general; dishonest, dishonorable, undignified and untrustworthy, quite the opposite of pius Aeneas, the archetypal Roman. His journey mirrors Odysseus' in only the most superficial way. Taking the ivory gate informs us that the way of Achilles, the way of the drawn sword, is compatible with the Roman character in a way that the way of Odysseus, the way of the bow and the lyre, is not.

But the Roman, Achilleic way is not the true way. We know this because Homer tells us so. In Hell Odysseus says to Achilles, how wonderful it must be to be the greatest and most honored of all the shades of Elysium! But Achilles replies that he would rather be the slave of the poorest farmer, alive, than king of all the dead. And yet in life Achilles could not abide the disrespect even of a king, while Odysseus stooped to being abused even by slaves in order to get his home and family back.

An easy outlet, Vergil says, is given to true shadows through the gate of horn, while the shades send false things to heaven through that of ivory. A shade, that of Anchises, sends Aeneas back to the living world through this gate; Aeneas is later deified as the founder of Rome; Aeneas is a false thing sent to heaven.

Pious Aeneas' un-Odyssean character is highlighted by his relationship to the goddesses. The three goddesses most important to the Matter of Troy are Athena, Hera, and Aphrodite, or to the Romans Pallas Minerva, Juno, and Venus. These were the goddesses involved in the Judgement of Paris, the cause of the Trojan War. Now it's a curious fact that even though the Odyssey is permeated by the interplay of the themes of love and the family - Odysseus has love affairs with two goddesses, the realm of Aphrodite, but is ultimately determined to get back to hearth and home, the realm of Hera - only Athena takes any interest in the matter. She has a prominent role, while Aphrodite and Hera never appear on the stage at all. Odysseus' story is dominated by the forces of Aphrodite and Hera, but his character is all identified with Athena. This is precisely reversed in the Aeneid: Athena has no part to play, and the two most prominent Olympian actors are Venus and Juno. Like Odysseus, in order to achieve his fate Aeneas must overcome Venus in the form of his love for Dido, and embrace Hera, in the form of Lavinia, the wife he marries to establish a home. But Odysseus' struggle to return to Penelope is what he wants, because he loves her more than than the goddesses Circe and Calypso or the mortal princess Nausicaa (their characters are more alike than any two others in all of Homer); while Aeneas marries Lavinia out of duty and cares nothing about her personally or erotically. But Aeneas is the son of Venus - embracing Hera out of piety is precisely rejecting his own nature, being false to himself. He doesn't seem to recognize this. It's not clear that he knows his own nature, whereas Odysseus does, thanks to Hermes' gift of the moly plant on Circe's island. And so while capitulating to Juno is the price of Juno relenting in her anger against the Trojans, it comes at the cost of the total assimilation of the Trojans into the Latin people, the disappearance without a trace of their language and culture. Trojans "founded" Rome but lost their nature. Aphrodite won the judgment of Paris but lost the war for posterity.

Pallas Athena plays no special role in the Aenead, but someone else named Pallas does, Aeneas' young ally. Pallas is killed by Turnus, and this is the reason Aenead kills Turnus at the shocking, abrupt, brutal conclusion of the poem: "'Pallas strikes you with this blow, Pallas sacrifices you and takes atonement from guilty blood!' Saying this, burning, he buried the iron in his chest. But from that one [Turnus] the limbs were loosed with cold, and his grudging life with a groan fled under the shadows." The echo of the name suggests that in the absence of the wisdom of Pallas (recall from book I of the Iliad and elsewhere that Athena is a special friend of Achilles as well as of Odysseus) Aeneas does not learn the lesson of Achilles, that of compassion for a defeated enemy, and so his poem ends not in melancholic sympathy and understanding, as the Iliad does, but in ugly horror. Aeneas sends Turnus to the shadows, the umbras, which escape easily through the gate of horn, but he himself is sent by the shadows, the manes of the dead, to embrace the lie that Rome's glory can be bought only with violence. But it is a lie: the glory of Rome bought by violence faded into the shadows. The eternal Roman empire was founded only on the reversal of Roma back into Amor, when Rome was planted with the seed of charity, its soil watered with the blood of the martyrs, and the State transformed into the Church.

This is why the medievals thought that Vergil was a magician and a prophet.


Who is the Athenian Stranger of Plato's Laws? The Laws is the only one of Plato's dialogues in which Socrates is not named as a participant. Aristotle says that the Stranger is Socrates even if not named. But Socrates famously never left the environs of Athens except to defend her in war. Cicero says that the Stranger is Plato himself. Leo Strauss suggests that the Laws is a kind of thought-experiment: in the Laws we see what might happen if after the Crito Socrates avoided execution after all, escaped anonymously to Crete, and there had this discussion. Who is right?

1. Throughout most of the second half of the Odyssey Odysseus pretends to be from Crete, either to be a Cretan or at least to have had adventures and come from there to Ithaca ferried by Cretans. In all his stories he mentions how he met Odysseus, knew Odysseus, has all the news about Odysseus and his imminent return. It's a lie, but it's a lie that mirrors the truth: he had adventures on islands, most recently Phaeacia, and was ferried to Ithaca by Phaeacians, and of course he knows all the news about himself. The stories he tells didn't happen, but they say something true, and the Cretan Stranger is himself Odysseus.

2. Plato's Critias tells the story of a war against Atlantis in which the Athenians won a spectacular victory, greater than the victories of the Persian Wars. It's a lie, but a lie that's a mirror-image of the truth: the Athenians did fight a war with a great island, a war greater than the Persian Wars (if Thucydides is to be believed), namely Sicily, but they suffered a terrible and ignominious defeat. The story of Atlantis in the Critias is too good to be true because it comes in the wake of the story of the Republic (whose sequel it is) about a city too good to be true, a city ruled by philosophers, while the bitter truth about Sicily reflects the truth about the real city of Athens.

3. There is one other important Stranger in Plato's dialogues, the Eleatic Stranger of the Sophist and the Statesman. In the Parmenides the original Eleatic philosopher discourses with the young Socrates, teaching him how to think about and overcome the flaws in the simplistic Socratic hypothesis of the independent Forms. At the end of Socrates' life there is a mirror image of this discussion. The Eleatic stranger is not the long-dead Parmenides, but he speaks like him, not to now-old Socrates, but to a mirrored pair of interlocutors, Thucydides who shares Socrates' looks, and another young man who shares his name. The Elder Socrates stands silently by while the Eleatic Stranger teaches the two young Socrateses to correct the inadequacies in both his ontological and his political speculations.

4. In the Laws an Athenian who could not be Socrates, but who thinks and talks like Socrates, comes to the island of Crete and talks with a Spartan and a Cretan politician about founding a city on philosophical principles, a city that would avoid the inadequacies of Socrates' unrealistic Republic. In real life Plato, an Athenian student of Socrates, went to the island of Sicily to persuade a tyrant to run a state on philosophical principles. In real life, the Athenian military expedition against Sicily was a disastrous failure; in real life, Plato's philosophical expedition to Sicily was a disastrous failure too. In the dialogues, Athens won a long-ago, never-never-land but spectacular victory against an ancient island empire; in the dialogues, the Athenian stranger, speaking with the representatives of the deepest Hellenic antiquity, the elderly heirs of the Homeric Minoan and Mycenaean civilizations, makes a spectacular philosophical and political conversion. Cicero is right: the Athenian Stranger is Plato.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Aufredo Gonteri Brito on the Analogy of Being

Aufredo Gonteri Brito was a Franciscan who taught at the Barcelona convent in the early 1320's. He wrote a commentary on the Sentences at Barcelona and one at Paris, the latter around 1322. In many texts, Gonteri copies Henry of Harclay into his own commentary (see the article by Friedman-Schabel-Duba), and the work as a whole is described as a "compilatio" The following text, however, is not from Harclay. It is a discussion of analogy, in which Aufredo offers a definition of analogy. There are resonances here with Scotus' discussion of analogy of attribution in Ord. I d. 8 q. 3.

Gonteri is a Scotist, who helds the common opinion of the Scotists, running from Scotus to the 20th century, that being is both analogical and univocal.

I offer here a translation of the text, which I have cobbled together from two manuscripts. For reference sake, see Vat. lat. 1106, f. 54vb-55ra. Happily, the Vatican library has digitized the manuscript.

Gonteri, Ord. I d. 3 q. 2 a. 1.

Furthermore, it must be known that an analogus concept is a medium between a univocal and equivocal [concept]. And an analogous concept is that by which some things are conceived by one name at once according to a certain relation of one to another or of both to some third. 

Nevertheless, it should be known that analogy is twofold. A certain one is properly said which is between some many things agreeing in one name which are of diverse rationes having a relation of one to another or of others to a third, just as this name 'healthy' is said of health in the animal and in bread and in urine analogically, as is said in IV Metaphysics, because health is formally in the animal, in urine significatively, in bread in virtue of the supposite, in medicine [i. m. = lec. inc.] effectively, and so not according to the same notion [ratio]. The other analogy is between some things in one name which agree in one formal univocal notion [ratio] found in them, nevertheless they participate in that notion according to more and less, prior and posterior, and in that way there is equivocation [and analogy adds. one MS]; in species of the same genus is there equivocation and analogy according to the Philosopher in VII Physics, because, as he says there, many equivocations lie hid in the genera, and such an analogy is always between equivocal causes and their effects. 

Now the first unity of the analogical concept excludes the unity of univocity from those between which it is, but the second unity of the analogous concept, although it is formally other than the unity of univocity, and distinct from it and lesser than it, nevertheless it does not exclude it, indeed it is compatible with it, nor does it restrict it. For although the unity of analogy alone does not posit the unity of univocity properly said, just as neither does the unity of a genus alone posit the specific unity among some things, because a minor unity does not posit a greater, as was said, nevertheless the unity of analogy does not necessarily exclude the unity of univocity properly called from those between which it is, indeed it is compatible with it, just as also the unity of the genus is compatible with the specific unity by which some things are one in genus and one in species concretely, although this unity of the genus is formally other than the specific unity abstractively, as was said.

So. Two kinds of analogy. The first is of many to one or one to another, in which the ratio (definition, meaning, formal character, etc.) is diverse in the analogates, but focused on one central notion. The second is in which there is only one ratio, that itself is said univocally, but it is found in its univocates in relations of prior-posterior, more-less. This latter kind of analogy is that which obtains between God and creatures. So God is prior, creatures posterior; creatures participate in God, and such is seen by Gonteri (and indeed by Scotists) to be compatible with univocity, even in the same concept. The description of analogy as predication of the prior and posterior goes back to the Arabs, and the combination with univocity perhaps is a result of the ambiguity in Avicenna. Avicenna describes being as being said in the prior and posterior way, and yet scholars of the latin and arabic texts have never managed to agree wither or not he holds to univocity as well.

Monday, April 2, 2018

New Book By Antonie Vos: The Theology of Scotus

Antonie Vos' long promised book is finally out from Brill.

There has been a dearth of new books published on Scotus lately, though not in ancient outdated studies republished by the reprint services, and Vos' volume makes a welcome addition. Thus far, I think the field of research in Scotus' theology has been dominated by Richard Cross, at least in English.

Here's the publisher's blurb, which gives a rough overview of the contents.

In this volume, Antonie Vos offers a comprehensive analysis of the philosophy and theological thought of John Duns Scotus. First, a summary is given of the life and times of John Duns Scotus: his background and years in Oxford (12-80-1301), his time in Paris and Cologne (1308-1309) and his year in exile in Oxford and Cambridge (1303-1304). From there on, Scotus' Trinitarian theology and Christology are introduced. Duns not only embraced the doctrine of the Trinity, he also proved that God must be Trinitarian by connecting the first Person with knowledge to the second One with will. Further insights of Scotus' are discussed, such as the theory of Creation, ethics, justification and predestination, and the sacraments. The volume concludes with an overview of historical dilemmas in Scotus' theological thought.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Trollope on Scholasticism

While leafing through various post-1500 commentaries on Scotus and various other genres, the following comment from Trollope came to mind:

In former times great objects were attained by great work. When evils were to be reformed, reformers set about their heavy task with grave decorum and laborious argument. An age was occupied in proving a grievance, and philosophical researches were printed in folio pages, which it took a life to write, and an eternity to read. We get on now with a lighter step, and quicker: ridicule is found to be more convincing than argument, imaginary agonies touch more than true sorrows, and monthly novels convince when learned quartos fail to do so. If the world is to be set right, the work will be done by shilling numbers.

From Anthony Trollope, The Warden, first published 1855. I quote from the London 1976 ed.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Pini's Edition of Scotus' Metaphysics

Giorgio Pini has published a critical edition from two manuscripts of a lost commentary on the Metaphysics by John Duns Scotus. I have not seen the text, so it has hard to tell from the publisher's blurb what it is like. But it sounds like a series of notes. It seems to correspond to cross references in Scotus' Quaestiones super Metaphysicam to a literal commentary. Anyway, here is the link to the publisher, and I have pasted the info below:

Corpus Christianorum
Ioannes Duns Scotus
Notabilia super Metaphysicam 

G. Pini (ed.)

LXXII+256 p., 155 x 245 mm, 2017
ISBN: 978-2-503-57785-2
Languages: Latin, English
The publication is available.The publication is available.
Retail price: EUR 190,00 excl. tax    

John Duns Scotus’s Notabilia super Metaphysicam comprises a series of remarks on Bks. II–X and XII of Aristotle’s Metaphysics. The extant evidence points to their originally being either marginal notes on Duns Scotus’s own copy of the Metaphysics or scrapbook entries linked to the relevant portions of Aristotle’s text by caption letters. It appears that Duns Scotus kept adding to those notes in the course of his career.

The Notabilia offers a unique perspective on Duns Scotus’s interpretation of Aristotle’s Metaphysics. It also contains several original insights on key philosophical issues.

This work disappeared from circulation at Duns Scotus’s death and was consequently thought to have been lost. Several cross-references to and from other writings by Duns Scotus demonstrate both that the Notabilia here edited for the first time is a genuine work by Duns Scotus and that it is his allegedly lost commentary on the Metaphysics.
The current edition is based on the two extant witnesses, manuscript (Milano, Biblioteca Ambrosiana, C 62 Sup., f. 51ra-98rb), which contains the text in its entirety, and manuscript V (Città del Vaticano, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Vat. lat. 2182, f. 58vb-60ra), which contains Bks. II–IV in what is probably an older stage of the text.

Giorgio Pini (PhD, 1997) is professor of Philosophy at Fordham University, NY. He studied at the Scuola Normale Superiore (Pisa, Italy) and was a visiting fellow at the Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies (Toronto), Katholieke Universities Leuven, and All Souls College (Oxford). He has published extensively on later medieval metaphysics and theory of cognition, with a particular focus on the thought of John Duns Scotus.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Bishop Barron Again

As the Scotus Police, I bring to your attention the latest from Robert Barron, Auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles. I won't comment on it, since I have done so elsewhere (see the tags). It is more of the same. It is not really about Scotus at all, but about evangelization. I add it here simply as documentation of the contemporary attitude towards Scotus. His lecture is here on the First Things website.

There is nothing new in the arguments of the New Atheists. They are borrowed from Feuerbach, Marx, Freud, Nietzsche, and Sartre. And what all the atheists, new and old, have in common is a mistaken notion of God, for to a person they construe God as one being among many, an item within the nexus of conditioned things. The roots of this misconception are deep and tangled, stretching back to antiquity, but I would put a good deal of the blame for the present form of the problem on the transition from an analogical to a univocal conception of being, on display in Duns Scotus and especially William of Occam. On Aquinas’s analogical interpretation, God is not one item, however impressive, in the genus of existing things. Indeed, Thomas insists that God is not an individual and is not to be categorized in any genus, even that most generic of genera, the genus of being. God is not so much ens summum (highest being) as ipsum esse subsistens. But if, as Scotus and Occam would have it, being is a univocal term, then God and creatures can be considered under the same ontological rubric, and they do indeed belong to an identical genus. This means, in consequence, that God, though he might be described as infinite, is one being among many, an individual alongside other individuals. Occam would state the principle with admirable economy of expression: Praeter illas partes absolutas nulla res est (“Outside of these absolute parts, there is nothing real”).
I realize that this might seem the very definition of medieval hairsplitting, but a great deal hinges on this point. On the analogical reading, all of finite reality participates in the fullness of the actus essendiof God, and hence God and creation cannot be construed as rivals, since they don’t compete for space, as it were, on the same ontological grid. But on the univocal reading, God and creation are competitive, and a zero-sum game does obtain. The Reformers were massively shaped by the nominalist view that came up from Occam, and they therefore inherited this competitive understanding of God’s relationship to the world, which is evident in so much of their speculation concerning justification, grace, and providence. If God is to get all of the glory, the world has to be emptied of glory; if grace is to be fully honored, nature has to be denigrated; if salvation is all God’s work, cooperation with grace has to be denied. When this notion of God became widespread in Europe after the Reformation, it provoked a powerful counter-reaction, which one can see in almost all of the major philosophical figures of early modernity. The threatening God must be explained away (as in Spinoza), fundamentally identified with human consciousness (as in Hegel), internalized as the ground of the will (as in Kant), or shunted off to the sidelines (as in most forms of Deism). In time, the God of late medieval nominalism is ushered off the stage by an impatient atheism that sees him (quite correctly) as a menace to human flourishing. Thus, Feuerbach can say, “Das Nein zu Gott ist das Ja zum Menschen,” and every atheist since has followed him. Jean-Paul Sartre, in the twentieth century, captured the exasperation with the competitive God in a syllogism: “If God exists, I cannot be free; but I am free; therefore, God does not exist.” And Christopher Hitchens has restated the Feuerbach view, observing that believing in God is like accepting permanent citizenship in a cosmic version of North Korea.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Symposium on Horan's 'Postmodernity and Univocity'

There is now an online symposium up at the "Syndicate" website: here. As my co-blogger once reminded me, this website, devoted to symposia in several academic fields, such as philosophy and theology, shares its name with the terrorist organization in the previous "Mission Impossible" film and indeed in the one currently in production. It is hard to imagine a more apt term to describe current academic disciplines and practices, and I say that as one who has benefited in various ways from the current system.

Regarding the syndicate symposium itself, I did not read it, nor will I do more than skim. It has an entry by Richard Cross, no stranger to readers of this blog, and no stranger to publishing critiques of Milbank. There is an entry by Justus H. Hunter, a theologian who was worked on Grosseteste and some other medieval figures. There is one by another theologian working in medieval, Lydia Shoemaker, on the horizon.

Rather amazingly, they got Milbank to reply. And, given that Milbank usually just trashes Scotus en passant, we have here what may prove to be his lengthiest discussion of Scotus. But it is the same old story. Lots of postmodern verbiage, which, once one pairs it away, all that he says is that Scotus says something different than Aquinas, everything Aquinas says is right or will be right once it gets its proper development, everything in Scotus is bad and leads to bad things in every area of modern life. Some errors here in there, for example in a Deleuze quote that Milbank thinks expresses Scotus' position (no quote here, I paraphrase from memory, in true Milbankian style) in which Deleuze fails to grasp the twofold primacy of being as it pertains to ultimate differences. To give Milbank his due, he does cite one of the most obscure passages in the Ord., in which Scotus suggests that the univocal concept of being may potentially contain God and creatures, in that it is formally neither one (since if that were the case, one could not contract it to what it is supposed to be univocal of). This was against Cross' description of the abstracted univocal concept of being as being only "semantic". Milbank's argument is just that this term does not occur in Scotus, and he adds some remarks that I can't decipher about that if Cross were right, the univocal concept of being would be in a middle ground, the ground the formal and transcendental. That of course is what it is, in Scotus' own terms. In any case, though Milbank, to be fair, seems to have given the status of the univocal concept of being more thought, his particular sniping here at Cross seems to me to reek of a preference for continental jargon over analytic.

Two other points seem worthy of comment.

1. At the beginning, Milbank claims that there were debates among later Scotists regarding whether univocity was a feature of logical being or real being. Milank provides no reference, and I am half tempted to read the whole thing to see what he has in mind. I gather that Milbank takes it to mean whether the concept of being taken as such has or signifies something actually existing or not, i.e. some nature in the world. Indeed, there was some debate on this, which I would describe as being whether the concept of being is "real" or not. By real, Scotus would mean a first intention concept. And here Scotus is unambigouous. The concept of being is a real concept, in the sense that it has been abstracted from the cognition of a creature. There was some debate on this, so Milbank is right, though the debate was mainly between those who defend Scotus' or at least the common 14th (and 21st) century interpretation and those who wanted to have an easier reconciliation with Aquinas and posited univocity as pertaining to second intentions (Peter of Navare, John Bassols). The only thinker who went in a more "real" direction than Scotus was Antonius Andreae, who, despite the fact that most of his question is verbatim quotation and paraphrase from Scotus, did say there was a real similitude on which the concept of being was based. But this was part of a two sentence attack on peter of Navarre that he did not explain in any detail, so it is hard to see what AA was getting at. So this one remark of Milbank's is accurate. I suppose he probably had the info from Boulnois.

2. Milbanks suggests that Gilson is basically right, and that the research of the past decades has rather confirmed his interpretation. Included in this discussion is the claim that the historical claims of causation regarding univocity and other positions of Scotus have been verified by the majority. Of course, Scotus scholars still deny these historical claims. So Milbank seems to think the majority determines truth. Basically, he has won. And he is right: certainly in theology his views on Scotus are the majority, and look to be that way for a long time to come. Perhaps Horan's book will make a dent in the Cambridge hegemony, but it seems unlikely. Cross has been writing against them for years. A scotist could comfort themselves by noting that all the references in the theological majority all go back to a few bad readings, but it really is rather hollow comfort. Or one can ponder how academic trends rise and fall, and hope one's students will be open minded. But in general it seems that to be a Scotist now is more akin to the esotericist or gnostic, blowing on the secret fire and passing it once or twice to a novice whom one judges worthy of teaching.

I didn't see comments on the Syndicate site. Feel free to comment here in the more relaxed atmosphere of The Smithy, where anonymous posting is welcome.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Feast of Scotus, 2017

Happy Feast, dear reader(s)!

For your delectation today I post a poem from a manuscript of the Ordinatio. Naturally, there are variants with the text as found in other manuscripts, but here is the one from Cesena (printed in Vat. ed. I, p. 50*).

Scotia plange, quia periit tua gloria rara,
Funde precem, confunde necem, tibi cum sit amara.
Quam fera, quam nequam sit mors, tribuens tibi legem
Cum reliquis aequam, rapiens ex ordine regem.
Caelum, terra, mare nequeunt similem reparare.
Si quaeras, quare, - probat haec editio clare.
Troia luit florem de viribus Hectora fisum,
Sic luo Doctorem iuvenili flore recisum.
Ergo, legens, plora, quia non huic subfuit hora,
Sed ruit absque mora: pro quo, lector, precor, ora.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Petrus Thomae on Univocity of Being

I have posted on Peter Thomae several times, mostly regarding his treatise that I edited a few years ago, the Quaestiones de esse intelligibili. Now I am finishing up his questions on being, and thought I would share a few arguments in favor of univocity. The De ente is comprised of fifteen questions and these are roughly divided into three parts: discussion of the concept of being (qq. 1-10), discussion of the extent of univocal predication (qq. 11-13), and a section on the parts of being, i.e. God, the categories, finity and infinity (qq. 14-15).

Like most Scotists, Peter defends the analogy of the concept of being and holds that the univocal concept of being is compatible with an analogical concept of the same.

First I give an argument that illustrates the systematic nature of the treatise. Peter stitches together various conclusions that he has proven in other questions, leaving univocity as the only surviving option.

Petrus Thomae, Quaestiones de ente q. 10 a. 1

Major premise: "Furthermore, if the concept of being is not univocal, this will be because [1] being does not have a proper concept, or [2] because its concept is denuded and despoiled from every ratio, or because with [univocity] posited, the [3] analogy of beings [analogia entium] and [4] simplicity of the first being cannot be preserved."

Minor premise: "But [1] does not impede from the fourth and fifth question, nor [2] from the ninth question, nor [3] from the seventh question, nor [4] from the sixth question and what follows (in the tenth question)."

Ergo, etc.

Second, I give an argument from the same section, in which Peter is showing that the denial of univocity is impossible.

Fifth: if the concept of being is not univocal to God and a creature, therefore through the first principle nothing can be proved of God, which is unfitting. The consequence is proved thus: being [esse] is verified of every positive; but God is of this kind; therefore etc. 

I ask in what way is 'being' [esse] taken in the major? For either it means the concept of created being, and then the minor is not taken under the major, or it means precisely the concept of uncreated being, and then the principle is begged [petitur principium], or it means in act the concept of created and uncreated being, and then there will be four terms in the syllogism. Therefore unless being means a proper univocal concept to created being and uncreated being, nothing will be able to be proven of God through some proposition in which being is predicated.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Scotists in the News

Here's a bit of news: a Scotist landed a job! Perhaps we can dare hope that the Scotus edition will be finished one day?

Monday, July 31, 2017

Peter Thomae's Definition of Form

I've been working through Peter Thomae's unpublished De formis, a treatise that like all his treatises defies assignment to a classical medieval genre. Is it natural philosophy? Or metaphysics? It is a thorough investigation utilizing all the knowledge about form from the middle ages. My interest in it is partially because I am comitted to publish it as part of the general Petri Thomae opera series, but also because of its relation, or non-relation to Scotus. As is well known, Scotus left us no commentary or set of questions on the Physics. His followers then had to fill in the gap and develop a "scotist" natural philosophy. Peter seems to use the available works on Scouts, which I suppose is unsurprsing. He relies on the De primo principio for the relation of matter and form, and sometimes cites Scotus' Quaestiones super Metaphysicam and Ordinatio as well. Peter Thomae also uses more Aquinas in this work than he does in others. While elsewhere Peter has a decidedly non-adversarial approach to Aquinas (quoting Aquinas on the primacy of the concept of being without taking him to task over the object of the intellect), here in the De formis Peter is more critical.

Sadly, the De formis survives in only 1 manuscript, that is heavily damaged, and the scribe is the same one from the De esse intelligibili, who is  an extremely poor copyist. Thus this may well be the most challenging entry in the Petri Thomae opera.

Here is Peter's description of form from the beginning of the work, after he has surveyed the definitions of Aristotle, Averroes, Augustine, and Avicenna. Following the definition he breaks it down word by word in true medieval style and offers commentary on it.

Quaestiones de formis, q. 1 a. 2:

forma est pars essentialis compositi, alterius eiusdem partis actuativa simpliciter, ab eo tamen dependens in fieri et in esse, vel in esse tantum vel compositi, principaliter essentiativa vel specificativa.

Form is an essential part of the composite, absolutely actuating the other part of the composite, yet depending upon it both in being and in becoming, or in the being alone of the composite, essentiating and specifying [the composite].

Friday, July 14, 2017

The Mother of All Genealogies

It is an exciting time for Scotism. The De ente of Peter Thomae is currently under peer review, Duba's volume is out, and now we have a very long essay from Trent Pomplun tracing the origin of the genealogy employed by most modern theologians, philosophers and even popes according to which Scotus' primary contribution was to be a critic of Thomas Aquinas, thereby ruining the world. Pomplun's article traces the tale back to the Lutheran historians of philosophy in the 16th century. The essay is "John Duns Scotus in the History of Medieval Philosophy from the Sixteenth Century to Etienne Gilson (+1878)," Bulletin de philosophie medievale 58 (2016), 355-445.

Here's the first line:

The Franciscan theologian and philosopher John Duns Scotus (ca. 1266-1308) has been accused of many things over the years, not least among them formalism, nominalism, skepticism, fatalism, pantheism, voluntarism, individualism, modernism, Spinozism, Kantianism and radical Islamism.

And the last line:

In this, medievalists perpetuate the oldest myth in these histories of philosophy, and one unquestioned from Lambert Daneau to Etienne Gilson: that the conflict between Thomas Aquinas and John Duns Scotus stands at the very center of history, in the middle age of the middle age (as it were), such that any writing about the historiography of the Middle Ages must somehow take as their beginning a departure from the Thomist synthesis, even if that synthesis is less an historical reality than an unfortunate illusion of perspective created by a very longstanding prejudice of the historia philosophiae philosophica.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

New Book on the Rise of Scotism

An important new tome has appeared from the hand of William Duba. Buy it here, for a suprisingly reasonable price.

Here is part of the publisher's blurb:

A rare survival provides unmatched access to the the medieval classroom. In the academic year 1330-31, the Franciscan theologian, William of Brienne, lectured on Peter Lombard’s Sentences and disputed with the other theologians at the University of Paris. The original, official notes of these lectures and disputes survives in a manuscript codex at the National Library of the Czech Republic, and they constitute the oldest known original record of an entire university course. An analysis of this manuscript reconstructs the daily reality of the University of Paris in the fourteenth century, delineating the pace and organization of instruction within the school and the debates between the schools. The transcription made during William’s lectures and the later modifications and additions reveal how the major vehicle for Scholastic thought, the written Sentences commentary, relates to fourteenth-century teaching. As a teacher and a scholar, William of Brienne was a dedicated follower of the philosophy and theology of John Duns Scotus (+1308). He constructed Scotist doctrine for his students and defended it from his peers. This book shows concretely how scholastic thinkers made, communicated, and debated ideas at the medieval universities. Appendices document the entire process with critical editions of William's academic debates (principia), his promotion speech, and a selection of his lectures and sources.​

Buy it now, I say.

It puts me in mind of this old gem...

Sunday, July 9, 2017

New Book on Analogy of Being

An interesting collection of essays on the analogy of being has been issued as an issue of the journal Archivio di Filosofia 84 (2016). It has wide coverage from the ancient world to the contemporary, and varies between systematic study and treatment of neglected figures. For a convenient table of contents, see the page of one of the authors.

Of course, like all modern scholarship on analogy, the volume suffers from complete blindness where the contribution of the Scotist tradition is concerned. The Thomists have successfully buried it with their narrative of Scotus' introduction of corruption and decline into philosophy, theology, social life, etc. Not that medieval Thomists seem to have bothered with it either. I have yet to find a Thomist responding to Peter Thomae's theory of analogy, though, to be fair, no one else did either (save, perhaps for Guillelmus Farinerii). It has been buried in manuscripts since the fourteenth century. Anyway, for a sketch of Peter's theory, which both incorporates the traditional Scotist theory as well as develops it, see this initial stab at interpretation on