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Monday, April 16, 2012

John Duns Scotus and the Western Crisis, Part 1

To many it might seem hard to believe that a reflection on the thought of John Duns Scotus (1265-1308) could possibly be timely. And yet Benedict XVI, for one, seems to think it is—and with good reason. Benedict mentioned Scotus prominently in one of the earliest public statements of his papacy, an address that sought to set a theme (the recovery of reason) for his entire papacy. And Benedict has returned to the subject more recently. In fact, as Benedict realizes, a consideration of Scotus' thought is important for any understanding of the rejection of reason and of anti-intellectual currents of thought (especially in the field of morality) both in the modern world as well as in the modern Church, since Scotus was a significant figure in the trend toward rationalistic skepticism that has characterized Western thought since the High Middle Ages.  As Alasdair MacIntyre has expressed it:
Scotus thus not only made possible but provoked a good deal of later moral philosophy, directly and indirectly, from Occam all the way to Kant. (Three Rival Versions of Moral Enquiry, 155)
The Historical Setting

Josef Pieper, in Scholasticism, offers us the context in which Scotus' thought must be placed for a proper evaluation: the aftermath of the Condemnation of 1277. This condemnation of a number of philosophical positions was issued by the Bishop of Paris--home of the foremost Medieval university--and was aimed at halting the spread of Aristotelian inspired thought which, to many traditional (i.e., Augustinian) theologians involved a surrender to ancient Greek views that could generally be termed “necessitarian.”  Typically, such views included the idea of an eternal universe, a universe that is a self contained process and which included "God" as an integral part of that whole or process.  Thus, God would not be understood in the Christian sense as the transcendent creator.  Another common position in this worldview was the denial that each individual human is an independent intellectual substance.  In other words, these thinkers maintained that all men share a common, separate “agent intellect” or “world soul.”  This, of course, meant that the individual would not endure beyond death--there was no immortal individual soul, only the common "world soul" or "agent intellect."

Obviously, the Condemnation was issued from a generally traditional Augustinian perspective that was somewhat less than discriminating, as witness the fact that among the condemned propositions were a number that clearly had Thomas Aquinas in mind.  Of course, the West had long been exposed to Greek thought, including the thought of Neoplatonists such as Plotinus, through the mediation of Augustine, but the West had previously been unaware of the full implications of the ancient Greek worldview. It was only natural, therefore, that Christians would react. That reaction, however, in the form that the Condemnation took--a somewhat uncritical reassertion of traditional Augustinian thought, had unfortunate consequences.  In effect, it stifled intellectual inquiry by identifying orthodoxy with a reactionary defensive shell against free use of reason, while doing little to expose the dangerous tendencies that had, in fact, long been latent in Platonized versions of Christian thought that had the sanction of tradition.

Two of the foremost historians of medieval thought are in agreement on the importance of the Condemnation of 1277 as setting a new intellectual tone for the West. Fernand Van Steenberghen (in Le XIIIe siรจcle) calls the Condemnation of 1277 the “true pivot of the intellectual history of this epoch,” and Gilson (in his History ...) states that it changed the “atmosphere of intellectual life … fundamentally.” (quoted in its French edition in Pieper's Scholasticism, 127)  Gilson further maintained that “the Christian worldview, which of course has always been simultaneously theological and philosophical, went over to the defensive against 'worldly' knowledge...” (Scholasticism, 135) The Condemnation represented a circling of the wagons rather than a healthy intellectual confrontation; it was a reaction which failed to address all that was not well with the tradition that it sought to preserve.

In opposition to the “necessitarianism” of Greco-Muslim thought Christian thinkers—and particularly Franciscans of the Augustinian school of thought—focused on safeguarding the freedom of God.  While this reaction was understandable, inasmuch as those types of thought were in fact opposed to the Christian conception of God, too often Augustinian thinkers failed to observe that their positions--especially those, like Divine Illumination, which attacked the independence of man's reasoning faculties--posed obvious threats to the Christian conception of human nature and, crucially, of human freedom itself.  Pieper admirably summarizes the predominant trend of this type of thought, citing Scotus as one of its leading exponents:
“The watchword 'freedom,' which I said characterized Duns Scotus, refers above all to the freedom of God. This may seem to us a purely theological thesis, but we will think otherwise as soon as we see the conclusion which Duns Scotus quickly draws from this: Because God is absolutely free, everything that He does and effects has the character of nonnecessity, of being in a particular sense 'accidental' (contingent). This applies both to God's creative work, and therefore to Creation itself, and to the events included within the history of Salvation.
The direction in which this argument aims is quite plain. In a word: there are no 'necessary reasons' for the work of God. And certainly human reason is incapable of arriving by deductions and arguments at that which has emerged as the result of a free divine act; human reason cannot claim that such results are meaningful 'in themselves,' let alone necessarily intelligible. As far as the absolute freedom of God reaches, no room is left for philosophical speculation. But all of Creation is a work of divine freedom, just as are the redemption and the conferral of grace upon man. Of all this, therefore, we cannot in the least say that it 'must' be 'so' or 'otherwise'--or that it must be 'at all.'” (Scholasticism, 140)
It should be apparent that the Christian Augustinian reaction to necessitarianism (whether Greek or Greek derived through Muslim thought), whatever effect it may have had on the Greek or Muslim worldview, was unquestionably destructive of an authentic Christian worldview. As Benedict has seen, and understood in part, the thought of Christian champions of divine freedom ended up bearing a striking and unsettling resemblance to the type of Muslim thought that they had set out to oppose. This is particularly true of their portrait of God, who emerges as an inscrutable, arbitrary figure beyond reason, driven by the will to power. Nor was this accidental, for the tactic increasingly adopted by Augustinian thinkers was to defend God's freedom by attacking human reason, severely restricting the scope of reason and those making God unknowable except by revelation. They had gotten themselves into the no-win position of exalting the sovereignty of God by denigrating the value of God's creation, especially the crown of that creation: man.  Ironically (or not?), the tools that Christian thinkers used in this endeavor were borrowed from precisely those Greek thinkers whose views they sought to oppose—a fool's errand if ever there was one. But many Christian thinkers had long since confused Platonism for Christianity.

Scotus and the Problem of Knowledge

Benedict and other critics of Scotus focus on his moral thought--which amounts to a rejection of Catholic natural law teaching--but in order to gain an understanding of how Scotus came to hold these views it is best to begin by outlining the influence on Scotus of Platonic-Augustinian theories of human knowledge. Recall that, according to Plato's "philosophical myth" of anamnesis, our knowledge of abstract ideas comes about, on the occasion of sensations, by recollection of corresponding Ideas known before the soul was imprisoned in a body, or known in a previous life. Augustine Christianized this “philosophical myth” by eliminating the idea of a previous existence of the soul and simply asserting that God “illuminates” the human mind with abstract ideas upon the occasion of sense knowledge. Augustine's reasoning in this regard is Platonic to the core.  This Augustinian doctrine of Divine Illumination was championed by Bonaventure, who can be regarded as the founder of a sort of Augustinian orthodoxy.  However, the Augustinian theologians and philosophers who followed Bonaventure (many of Franciscans, like Bonaventuire) were not slow to perceive the difficulties that Augustine's "solution" to the problem of knowledge entailed.  David Knowles sums up the dilemma facing the neo-Augustinian theologians in the late 13th and early 14th centuries, following the Condemnation:
The epistemology, in particular, of the neo-Augustinians was a focus of difficulty. On the one hand, the classical dictum of Augustine, deriving ultimately from Plato, that 'no pure truth can be expected from sensation,' made them distrust the empiricism of Aristotle, with its Thomist corollary, that 'nothing is in the intellect that has not first come through the sense.' On the other hand, the doctrine of the divine illumination of the intellect, which alone guarded an Augustinian from a general scepticism when the pure Platonic doctrine of ideas had gone, was a tenet extremely hard to defend philosophically … (The Evolution of Medieval Thought, 274-276)
Scotus, of course, was the most important of the neo-Augustinian theologians, and Etienne Gilson, in The Spirit of Medieval Philosophy, devotes two chapters to various aspects of Scotus' account of human knowledge. In Chapter XII, “Knowledge of Things,” Gilson begins by discussing the state of Augustinian thought following Bonaventure. Gilson first focuses on the well known Franciscan, Matthew of Aquasparta, who sought to be loyal to the spirit of Bonaventure, and whose thought illustrates the difficulties involved in the Augustinian doctrine of Divine Illumination. Gilson writes:
“To reach conclusions of this kind [that things are not the cause of our knowledge; instead, the Ideas imprinted on our minds by God are] is to admit that pure philosophy is unable by its own resources to secure the foundations of science, and since Matthew of Aquasparta regards the doctrine of illumination as essentially theological, we may say that his epistemology is a philosophical scepticism saved by fideism. That amounts to saying that there is no guarantee of certitude save in faith …” (SMP, 234-235)
Gilson points out that the neo-Augustinians who followed Matthew were not slow to recognize the philosophical weaknesses of Divine Illumination as a doctrine, and he notes that, in fact, Peter Olivi (1248-1298) explicitly makes the connection between the Augustinian doctrine and the Platonic doctrine of anamnesis (recollection)--which rested on the non-Christian notion of the soul's pre-existence.  The neo-Augustinians also recognized that Divine Illumination had serious consequences both for man's freedom and for moral thought.  Clearly, the Condemnation was the easy part; the project of preserving the substance of Augustinian thought would be the tricky part, requiring all the talents of the Doctor Subtilis (the title bestowed on Scotus).

The Augustinian reaction therefore sought some way to either rehabilitate Augustine's doctrine or to replace it.  This was the context in which Scotus began his academic career.  Note that the problem that faced Scotus was complicated by the fact that, while the issues themselves were essentially philosophical, the neo-Augustinians were committed from the outset to come up with a solution that conformed to an Augustinian theological pattern.  Thus, while Scotus recognized the problems facing traditional Augustinian thought, he by no means wished to simply start afresh.  Scotus' approach could best be characterized as one of damage control, in which he sought to preserve as much as possible of Augustinian thought--as it had come to be understood since the time of Bonaventure--by repackaging it in a form designed to be more resistant to the newer trends of thought--including Thomism.  Indeed, MacIntyre as described Scotus as one
whose philosophical enquiries were at every point controlled by his theological conclusions and whose primary interest was in protecting the autonomy of Augustinian theology from the inroads of either Averroist [i.e., Muslim] or Thomistic Aristotelianism.  (TRVME, 155-156)
Above all Scotus, like all Augustinians, was determined to resist any thought which appeared to place constraints on God's freedom.  This, of course, included Greco-Muslim philosophy but, as demonstrated by the Condemnation of 1277, it also brought under suspicion any tendency to (in the Augustinian view) unduly exalt man's natural powers, especially those of the intellect.  Contrary to what Gilson suggests (SMP, 235), therefore, Scotus' aim was not to "rehabilitate the sensible order" per se; rather, he was willing to make some concessions in that direction in order to preserve the substance of the Augustinian position.

In presenting Scotus' thought, Gilson attempts an irenic approach, stressing that Scotus largely came to the same conclusions as Aquinas.  Nevertheless, while contending that Scotus “judged [divine illumination] to be philosophically untenable" Gilson also admits that Scotus "reserv[ed] the right to find some other means of saving whatever truth there is in Augustine's doctrine.” (SMP, 240)

But that is a very significant reservation! It means that Scotus did not, as Gilson would have it, “follow[] St Thomas Aquinas.” (SMP, 235) And we will see that Scotus' treatment of human knowledge differs significantly from the ideas and spirit of Aquinas. Thus, Gilson himself later adds:
“… Duns Scotus' whole noetic tends to strengthen as much as possible the independence of the intellect in respect of the sensible order. It is just this that distinguishes it from the noetic of St. Thomas. Throughout all its emendations of Augustine's doctrine a vein of Augustinianism persists; sense knowledge is never anything more for him than the 'occasion' of intellectual knowledge.” (SMP, 241)
This “vein of Augustinianism” is, in fact, the Platonic spirit that Pieper (Scholasticism, 76) noted, stretching from Augustine to Anselm, through Alexander of Hales, Bonaventura, Albertus Magnus and Duns Scotus to Descartes and Leibniz. And Kant and his progeny as well, we should add.

Gilson next turns (in XIII "The Intellect and its Object") to a consideration of a question that was a touchstone for all Christian thought during the Middle Ages: is God the natural object of our cognitive powers? All Christian thinkers deny that this is the case, although, as Gilson notes, it was “an accusation freely leveled by the medievals against one another” in order to impugn the orthodoxy of their opponents. (SMP, 248).  A hot button issue such as this will provide important insights into the nature of Scotus' thought.

Gilson proceeds by contrasting the views of Thomas Aquinas and Duns Scotus. Aquinas' position is easily summarized. Aquinas agrees with Aristotle that “in this life, we can form no concept unless first we have received a sense impression, nor even return later on to this concept without turning to the images that sense has left behind in the imagination.”  Therefore, since “there is a natural relation, an essential proportion, between the human intellect and the nature of material things,” it follows that “even granting the existence of purely intelligible Ideas, such as those of Plato, the very fact that their nature puts them out of the reach of our senses makes it impossible to regard them as the natural object of the intellect.” (SMP, 249) And since God, too, is inaccessible to our senses, it follows that God cannot be the natural object of our cognitive powers: “an intellect which bears naturally on sensible things cannot naturally have God for object.” (SMP, 250)  Our knowledge of God must therefore be derived by inference from our knowledge of created, material things. The whole matter is easily summarized in about two pages.

The case is entirely different when Gilson comes to consider Scotus, for it will require six very dense pages to give some idea of Scotus' extraordinarily complex position. Gilson emphasizes that, “as far as conclusions go,” Scotus' conclusions are “in entire accord with those of Thomism,” (SMP, 250) which is to say that Scotus, too, concludes that God is not the natural object of the human intellect.  But Scotus' approach could not be more different than Aquinas', and Scotus' approach sheds considerable light on what Pieper recognizes as the essentially Platonic nature of Scotus' thought.

Thus, Scotus begins by rejecting outright Aquinas' starting point: that the cognitive powers of humans are naturally proportioned toward the knowledge of sensible beings. True, says Scotus, man in his current state is unable to form any concept without first turning to the senses. But why is this the case?
“Perhaps--and this is an hypothesis to which Duns Scotus returns with a certain complacency--as a divine punishment for original sin; perhaps again, simply because God desires this strict collaboration between our various cognitive faculties. Whatever the reason may be supposed to be, this at least is certain; that nothing in the nature of the intellect as such, nor even in the nature of the intellect as united to the body, makes it a matter of necessity for it to turn to sense in order to exert its activities. … thus, we can no longer say that the proper object of our intellect is the essence of the sensible thing; still less can we maintain that the pure intelligible is out of its reach on account of its very intelligibility ...” (SMP, 252)
I have already noted that, in his view, it is not on account of its essence that the intellect is obliged to turn to sense ... By birthright, in virtue of its proper nature, its proper object can only be a pure intelligible, exactly as in the case of the angelic intellect to which it is so closely allied. (SMP, 263-264)
Two things are clearly at work here.  Scotus' vision of human nature is fundamentally the purest Platonism, as mediated by the Augustinian tradition.  In other words, man is essentially a soul attached to or even imprisoned in a body.  Thus, while Scotus may have contested the doctrine of Divine Illumination in the traditional form in which Henry of Ghent presented it, we can see that Scotus remains true to his commitment to find some way to preserve the substance of the Augustinian view of man.  Indeed, the history of philosophy is conclusive that such a view of man is ultimately incompatible with a theory of knowledge that integrates man as a unity of body and soul.  As MacIntyre puts it:
The relationship of soul to body, indeed the existence of body, had been something of an embarrassment to later Augustinians, even if not to Augustine. (TRVME, 153)
Second, Scotus maintains--again in opposition to Aquinas--that the immortality of the soul cannot be proven by human reason.  Here, Scotus, as so often, is restricting the scope of human reason in order to shield Augustinian theological positions from challenge.  But this approach has an important consequence, because it implicitly means that human nature is essentially unknown to us from the standpoint of reason.  By withdrawing this issue from the province of philosophy Scotus has not only significantly narrowed the scope of reason itself; he has also relegated the most distinctive element of human nature to the realm of faith, at least in an Augustinian version of faith.  As a direct result, this strategy makes a true natural law morality essentially impossible, since human nature as we experience it has been fundamentally altered by God for reasons unknown and is, in any event, unknowable to us. No wonder, then, that Scotus was forced to adopt a form of voluntarism in ethics.

It's important to keep these considerations firmly in mind when discussing Scotus' theory of knowledge, for while it's easy to find Scotus discussing the intellect abstracting ideas from sense experience in a seemingly Aristotelian vein, this is  not the true spirit of his thought.  Harold Weatherby, in his fascinating study, The Keen Delight (Chapter 4, “Hopkins, Newman, and Scotus”), goes into Scotus' epistemology in a more critical spirit than Gilson, with an eye to Scotist influence on modern skeptical fideism in the thought of Newman and Hopkins. Weatherby, like Knowles and Pieper, begins by recognizing that Scotus is at heart a Platonist, by way of Augustine. And to emphasize the point Weatherby points out, following Bettoni, that even when Scotus appears to be criticizing another Augustinian (like Henry of Ghent) he does so only to purify their ideas, not to contradict them: “he himself [Scotus] moves within the … Platonic-Augustinian line of thought, from which he does not depart unless forced to do so.” (Bettoni, Duns Scotus: The Basic Principles of His Philosophy, pp. 20,21)  Thus, Weatherby notes, whereas a Thomist thinker relies for knowledge upon intelligible species abstracted from existing substances, we can expect an Augustinian to appeal in one way or another to the intellect's supposed direct participation of the forms [i.e. Ideas]. (KD, 77-78)  And since Scotus is an Augustinian we should expect that, no matter what Aristotelian terminology he may use (“abstraction”), he will end up doing the same thing.

Now, Scotus does adopt a form of what he calls “abstraction” to explain human knowledge, but since Scotus' aim is to preserve as much of Augustinianism as possible,
“abstraction as Scotus understands it is radically different from what Aquinas conceives the process to be; for in Scotus's thought the role of the intellect is much more nearly Augustinian than Thomist. For instance, he rejects the fundamental Thomist doctrine that … the mind is moved to know by what the senses perceive. Such a doctrine, in his estimation, infringes upon the prerogatives of the intellect, reducing its role to that of a mere mirror of external things. Therefore he places his emphasis, in typically Augustinian fashion, not on the thing as it impregnates the intellect … but upon a mode of union between intellect and thing in which the soul gives as much as it receives.” (KD, 78)
We need only recall what Gilson wrote:
“… Duns Scotus' whole noetic tends to strengthen as much as possible the independence of the intellect in respect of the sensible order. It is just this that distinguishes it from the noetic of St. Thomas. Throughout all its emendations of Augustine's doctrine a vein of Augustinianism persists; sense knowledge is never anything more for him than the 'occasion' of intellectual knowledge.” (SMP, 241)
to see that Gilson, for all his irenic intent, is in basic agreement with Weatherby.

Indeed, without delving too far into the technical details, Scotus' view is that the “intelligible species, rather than being abstracted from the phantasm by the agent intellect, is engendered by the agent in the possible intellect in response to the presence of the phantasm.” (KD, 78) Weatherby quite correctly characterizes this as “the intellect's utterance of itself in response to the stimulation of the thing.” And, he adds, “ … the phantasm [may be] necessary for cognition as a catalyst to knowledge, [but] knowledge itself springs from the intellect and from the intellect alone.” (KD,79)  We may add in support of Weatherby's position--for Scotus is very hard to pin down--cf. Gilson, History, p. 461 note 65, p. 765-766:
"Scotus ... strongly maintains, against Henry of Ghent, the reliability of sense cognition; consequently he denies the necessity of any Augustinian illumination to insure the possibility of absolutely certain natural knowledge, but he adds that the general motion of our intellect by the divine light is its motion by these "intelligible quiddities,"  The divine intellect has pure and simple being; these quiddities only have in it a "relative being," or being of known object; the same quiddities "move our intellect to the knowing of sincere truths," Opus Oxoniense, I, d. 36, q. unica, n. 10." To which Gilson adds: "There is therefore a trace of the Augustinian cognition 'in rationibus aeternis' left in the noetic of Duns Scotus."
Clearly, we are not to regard this as an experientially based philosophical explanation of human knowledge. This is a theologically motivated construct, the aim of which is to preserve a Platonic-Augustinian vision of human nature and of Divine freedom while using Aristotelian terminology. Thus, Weatherby concludes that
“though Scotus holds to a doctrine of abstraction a sensu … his interpretation of that doctrine is such as to distinguish him radically from St. Thomas. Scotus does not deny the objectivity, the reality, of conceptual knowledge; he does not go so far as Newman does, to say that notions, or the sciences built on notions, are no more than subjective reflections of objective truth or that notions starve and dilute reality. However, one can see how such sceptical views might be said to be latent in his theory of abstraction ...” (KD, 79)
Before turning to a consideration of how Scotus' account of knowledge plays into his views on morality, we will simply add that skeptical views are latent in any type of thought that views true reality, the “really real,” as pure intelligibility—in other words, all those types of thought which, like Platonism, have (in an historical sense) sought to transform the archaic ontology of heavenly archetypes (Eliade) into a scientific (as opposed to a philosophical) explanation of reality. As Gilson maintains, in Being and Some Philosophers (74).
Platonism … like all pure philosophical positions, … has always exhibited a tendency to disengage itself from contaminating elements foreign to its own essence, and thus to recover its original purity.
Which is to say that Platonized versions of Christianity always exhibit a tendency for the Platonic element to become more dominant. 

In the West, that Platonic element was, as we have continually repeated, largely mediated through Augustine, supplemented by the thought of Avicenna (the Iranian Muslim who was well known to the Medieval West). As Gilson demonstrates (BSP, 74-132), Scotus' approach--which identifies being and essence—explicitly mirrors that of Avicenna, whose “essences” (Gilson writes) are “so many ghosts of Plato's Ideas.” (BSP, 76). The influence of the Augustinian Scotus' view of being (and so, indirectly, also of Avicenna's Platonism) extends through the Spanish Jesuit Suarez to Descartes, “the estimable Wolff,” and finally to Kant. As Descartes and Kant wrestle with the epistemological consequences of this view of being, we will see them adopting secularized or, at most, vestigially religious theories of knowledge that are clearly derived from Augustine's doctrine of divine illumination (and thus, ultimately, from Plato's “philosophical myth” of anamnesis). For Descartes, God is a deus ex machina guarantor of the objectivity of our knowledge, while Kant secularizes the whole thing and internalizes it, making man's mind—through its “categories”—the source of meaning. As Gilson observes, with an oblique reference to the doctrine of Divine Illumination, “It may in a sense be said that Kantism consists in attributing to human thought that function of creating intelligibility reserved by the Middle Ages for God.” (SMP, 468, note 14) The heavenly archetypes have, in Kant, become artifacts of the human mind.

Scotus' Moral Doctrine

We have considered Scotus' account of human knowledge at considerable length, stressing the limits that he places on man's ability to develop a knowledge even of worldly natures--especially human nature--and his strong tendency toward skepticism.  This matter is of more than historical or theoretical interest.  When coupled with Scotus' views on Divine freedom, his account of knowledge will feed into a voluntarist view of morality.  Indeed, as we have already stressed, Scotus has striven in his account of knowledge to preserve as much of traditional Augustinian elements as possible in his account of knowledge precisely in order to enhance Divine freedom.  What effects this will have on moral philosophy we must now consider.

Scotus' name has come to be closely associated with voluntarism, the doctrine that acts are good or bad only because God so designates them—a matter of God's will alone (voluntas). His partisans, of course, do their best to defend him from this charge, claiming that he was not a voluntarist. Benedict defends Scotus only within limits, seeking to insulate Scotus from the most extreme forms of voluntarism. For example, in his address at the University of Regensburg (2006) Benedict acknowledges that voluntarism “in its later developments” can, indeed be traced to Scotus, although presumably Scotus himself would, in Benedict's view, not have endorsed those later developments that Benedict compares to the Islamic view of God:
there arose with Duns Scotus a voluntarism which, in its later developments, led to the claim that we can only know God's voluntas ordinata. Beyond this is the realm of God's freedom, in virtue of which he could have done the opposite of everything he has actually done. This gives rise to positions which clearly approach those of Ibn Hazm and might even lead to the image of a capricious God, who is not even bound to truth and goodness.
In a later general audience (2010) Benedict follows the same tack:
Duns Scotus has developed a point to which modernity is very sensitive. It is the topic of freedom and its relationship with the will and with the intellect. Our author underlines freedom as a fundamental quality of the will, introducing an approach that lays greater emphasis on the will. Unfortunately, in later authors, this line of thinking turned into a voluntarism, ... Indeed, an idea of innate and absolute freedom - as it evolved, precisely, after Duns Scotus - placed in the will that precedes the intellect, both in God and in man, risks leading to the idea of a God who would not even be bound to truth and good. The wish to save God's absolute transcendence and diversity with such a radical and impenetrable accentuation of his will does not take into account that the God who revealed himself in Christ is the God "Logos" …
While Benedict's words are carefully chosen, we believe that Pieper's view gets closer to the heart of the matter:
“... it seems to me not at all a matter of chance that this appellation [voluntarism] has repeatedly been attached to [Scotus].”

Duns Scotus in fact … says that the will is determined by nothing else than the will itself.” (Scholasticism, 141-142)
And, in fact, it should come as no surprise that Christian thought that has strayed into the latent form of skepticism we have been describing should be tempted to also embrace one form or another of voluntarism—a counterpart in moral thought to fideism in metaphysics. To understand why this is so we need only review what Pieper said about Scotus' watchword: “freedom.”
“The watchword 'freedom,' which I said characterized Duns Scotus, refers above all to the freedom of God. This may seem to us a purely theological thesis, but we will think otherwise as soon as we see the conclusion which Duns Scotus quickly draws from this: Because God is absolutely free, everything that He does and effects has the character of nonnecessity, of being in a particular sense 'accidental' (contingent). This applies both to God's creative work, and therefore to Creation itself, and to the events included within the history of Salvation.
The direction in which this argument aims is quite plain. In a word: there are no 'necessary reasons' for the work of God. And certainly human reason is incapable of arriving by deductions and arguments at that which has emerged as the result of a free divine act; human reason cannot claim that such results are meaningful 'in themselves,' let alone necessarily intelligible. As far as the absolute freedom of God reaches, no room is left for philosophical speculation. But all of Creation is a work of divine freedom, just as are the redemption and the conferral of grace upon man. Of all this, therefore, we cannot in the least say that it 'must' be 'so' or 'otherwise'--or that it must be 'at all.'” (Scholasticism, 140)
It follows from these principles that there can be in Scotus' thought no question of a natural law, in the sense that orthodox Christianity understands it. How could there be, if we cannot know or say that human nature 'must' be 'so'? If this is clear in principle, we may ask with Benedict: did Scotus draw back from the consequences of his principles? The answer that modern scholarship gives is that Scotus, in point of fact, was well aware of those consequences and embraced them. Thomas Williams has usefully summarized the shape of Scotus' thought in Reason, Morality, and Voluntarism in Duns Scotus.

Williams turns to Scotus' commentary on the Decalogue, the Ten Commandments (Ordinatio 3, d. 37), and quotes Patrick Lee's summary of Scotus' position, in opposition to those who claim that Scotus, in fact, “recognizes a close connection between human nature and the moral law.” Writes Lee:
[F]or both Aquinas and Scotus God's absolute power extends to everything that does not involve a contradiction. Where they differ is precisely here: does a dispensation from a precept of the second table of the Decalogue involve a contradiction? Aquinas says yes, and Scotus says no. For Aquinas the obligations expressed in the Decalogue's second table somehow necessarily belong to man's nature, so that just as God could not create a man without a rational soul so He could not create a man not obliged by those precepts. For Scotus this is not the case.
The practical effect of what Lee is saying is simply this: Scotus maintains that the first table of the Decalogue—commands that pertain to God himself, such as worshiping God, not taking God's name in vain, etc.--cannot be revoked, even by God, since that would involve a contradiction. However, commands that do not pertain to God—those that forbid murder, theft, lying adultery, and so forth-- are contingent because they deal with contingent beings. These commands God can dispense or even revoke without contradiction. In fact, says Williams, “Scotus argues quite explicitly that God can, without contradiction, create human beings and yet not establish the commandments of the second table,” and he provides Scotus' own words:
For in the things that they prescribe there is no goodness necessary for the goodness of the ultimate end that turns one towards the ultimate end, and in the things they prohibit there is no badness that necessarily turns one away from the ultimate end. So even if that good were not commanded, the ultimate end could be loved and attained; and if that evil were not prohibited, the attainment of the ultimate end would be consistent with that evil. With the commandments of the first table, however, it is otherwise, since they have to do immediately with God as their object.
As if that were not enough, Scotus goes on to argue his case using the example of murder, maintaining that God can, if He wills so, revoke such commandments. As Williams comments:
This argument illustrates just how uncompromising Scotus's voluntarism really is. For it shows not merely that the prohibition against killing this man does not follow from any facts about human nature, but that this prohibition does not follow from any facts whatsoever, other than God's will.
As I have argued, this uncompromising voluntarism commits Scotus to the view that there is no valid argument for any contingent moral truth. Scotus is quite aware of this implication, as we can see by examining his treatment of particular moral questions.
Williams then illustrates Scotus' mindset by providing Scotus' argumentation against the proposition that lying is always wrong. To make a long story short, Scotus maintains that lying is wrong only because God designates it as wrong. Thus, if God were to revoke the command against lying or even against murder, those deeds would no longer be wrong and might even be meritorious. All of this flows quite logically from Scotus' views on divine freedom. Since freedom is, for Scotus, rooted in the will alone, no reasons can be given for God's freely willed decisions. There are precisely no reasons on which a natural law theory could be based.

And yet Scotus also maintains that no act can be fully morally good unless it is consciously chosen as morally right by the agent of the action. How does Scotus square this with his position that man is unable to determine by discursive reasoning what God has willed? Scotus quite simply invokes God, as a deus ex machina guarantor of man's ability to act morally. And here we can do no better than to quote Williams' summary from The Unmitigated Scotus:
Since Scotus holds that the moral law does not follow from anything other than the divine will, and since he does not think we can know the divine will apart from supernatural revelation, he cannot hold that our natural knowledge of the moral law is discursive. In other words, since the moral law does not follow from any naturally knowable truths, any inference from such truths to a moral proposition will be invalid. The texts show that Scotus was aware of this implication of his voluntarism, and indeed embraced it.
But the fact that we cannot know the moral law discursively does not mean that we cannot know it at all. We know it non‐discursively; in Scotus’s terminology, we know it immediately. That is, God has given us moral intuitions to suit the moral order that he freely and contingently established. In the words of St Paul that Scotus was fond of quoting in this context, the moral law is “written on our hearts.”
We may profitably recall Gilson's comment regarding the thought of Scotus' fellow Augustinian theologian, Matthew of Aquasparta. Like Matthew, Scotus' thought amounts to “a philosophical skepticism saved by a fideism. That amounts to saying that there is no guarantee of certitude save in faith …” But let us be clear. The reasons that Scotus, philosophically, runs into a brick wall of skepticism are twofold. The first is that his conclusions are dictated by his theological concern to preserve God's utter and absolute freedom—regardless of any consequences that might appear to contradict human experience. This is strictly a theological concern, not truly a philosophical conclusion--even though the issue in question is a philosophical issue. The second reason is that Scotus' acceptance of the Platonic-Augustinian position that true being is to be identified with essence, pure intelligibility (derived, as we have seen, from the archaic ontology of heavenly archetypes), ineluctably leads every thinker who accepts this as a principle to insoluble epistemological problems. The only solution to these problems, as we have also seen, is in the philosophy that Aquinas derived from his Christian faith (faith, understood as reasonable belief, not as mere subjective certitude). That faith rests on rational insight into the created status of all limited being, and into the identification of being as act—not as concept.  This was a key part of the early Christian faith, as we have demonstrated, and the recovery of that faith is key to rectifying the wasteland that the Augustinian tradition has helped to create in the West.

24 comments:

Lee Faber said...

Look, I'll try to be civil, but have you read Scotus? Thomists have been the enemies of Scotus since the middle ages, and all the scholars you cite, save T. Williams (whose articles are part of a debate with Allan wolter, both of whom have been demolished by Dumont) are thomists, some even writing before there was a critical edition of scotus.

Pieper is wrong about just about everythiing, however. For example: according to scotus, the essences of creatables are contained in the divine essence and the intellect by knowing the essence knows the creatable world. the essences and structures of the creatable world are not then arbitrary unknowable choices by the diivne will. the divine will actualizes what is shown to it by the divine intellect, which in turn looks to the essences contained in the divine essence. contingency only comes into play at the final stage. So there are plenty of 'necessary reasons' for the work of God, if you want to call them such (aquinas doesn't).

The comment from macintyre that scotus was utterly controlled by trying to save augustinianism is utterly ludicruous. Scotus is sui generis. as a franciscan he has sympathies, perhaps, but he is developing his own system, modifying the tradition as he sees fit.

Macintyre is embarassingly bad. The point of the bit on knowledge is not that the soul is incidentally related to the body, or that the soul is trapped in the body. It is the basic problem of natural knowledge of God, which all the scholastics claim is possible. Aquinas claims the object of the intellect is the material quiddity; fine, but God is not a material quiddity; therefore the human intellect cannot know God. Scotus' discussons of univocity and the object of teh intellect are designed to avoid this conclusion. Aquinas is forced to posit some lumen gloriae which elevates the intellect. But scotus claims this radically changes the nature of teh power such that you can no longer call it an intellect. so scotus' claim that in this life te intellect is restricted to the material quiddity is an attempt to show what is actualy case now, but still allow for knowledge of God. You may disagree, but you should actually give the argument.

Lee Faber said...

Well, I don't have time to debate this all day, so i'll close by looking at the abstraction bit.

First, the divine ideas are a distinct issue from abstraction. all the scholastics wrestle with making a space for the 'aeternal rationes' of Augustine, even aquinas. Scotus probably gives them the weakest interpretation of all, and makes these rationes are knowledge of imitation as it is in Aquinas, but rather the creature itself as known (creatura intellecta).

Second, scotus doctrine of abstraction is different than that of aquinas, but not as different as presented. scotus has the same apparatus of partiular senses, common sense, imagination; sense data is synthesized in the imagination. the agent intellect then performs the abstraction, which scotus explains by the metaphor of intelligible light. (if this gives you the heebie geebies, recall that aquinas, who you claim rejects illumination--dont tell millbank--restricts illumination to the light of the agent intellect). But look, both agent intellect and the phantasm are involved here; so Scotus actually states that the object in the phantasm and the agent intellect are the co- causes of the intelligible species. the intelligible species is produced into the memory, from whence it actualizes the possible intellect, which is when we can say there is actual knowledge. but the senses certainly are not just incidental to the process; there would be no knowledge without them. where scotus differs from aquinas is by positing intelligibility int he singular prior to any human activity concerning the singular. he is in fact trying to guarantee the certainty of our knowlege apart from illumination, similar to the way in which aquinas posits (in some cases) the identity of te form in the thing and te form in the intellect.

mark wauck said...

Lee Faber obviously has a Scotist axe to grind, and so relies heavily on invective. He resolutely ignores the context of Scotus' thought vis a vis Aquinas as well as the rest of the Augustinian tradition--which Pieper and the other authorities cited are at pains to stress as essential to a proper understanding of Scotus' thought. Equally, he ignores a characteristic of Scotus that contributes mightily to the difficulties in developing a consistent interpretation of his thought: his use of Aristotelian terminology to defend fundamentally Augustinian goals. This goes very much to MacIntyre's point. In his comments re MacIntyre, Faber unwittingly ends up confirming that--despite Scotus' use of Aristotelian terms--Scotus' views on the nature of the intellect are fundamentally Platonic/Augustinian, just as MacIntyre maintains. Perhaps most importantly, Faber ignores the close connection between Scotus' views on human knowledge and morality--which occasioned Benedict XVI's criticisms. That connection goes back to the historical context that Faber ignores and the watchword "freedom" that is so fundamental to an understanding of late medieval thought.

Lee Faber said...

I'm not sure how explaining Scotus' actual arguments is invective. all of your authorities, and those of Macintyre are Thomists, who themselves have thomist axes to grind.

But I don't know why one would read them, or Benedict XVI to find out about Scotus. Some of Scotus' works are available in transation are there decent discussions that don't rely on the decline and fall model of medieval philosophy.

I'm not sure how Scotus defends essentially Augustinian goals. He rejects divine illumination, for example.

I "ignored" the connection between views on cognition and morality because the explanation of the top half of the post was heavily inaccurate. One point Aquinas and Scotus agree on: everything that the will wills is shown to it by the intellect. Aquinas takes this to mean that the intellect is the effective cause of volition, Scotus however maintains that the intellect and will both contribute. So Scotus does not believe in a arbitrary creator, or an arbitrary human will. Both are fundamentally aligned with the dictates of reason.

Lee Faber said...

But let's say you're right: everything Scotus does and writes is in the interest of defending every minute point of Augustine, and the Aristotelian terminology (you know, Aristotelian terminology like 'quidditas' 'modus intrinsecus' 'contentiva unitiva'); Augustine is a doctor of the church, and if Scotus' who is a full blooded Augustinian caused all those modern errors, well the blame doesn't stop with blessed Duns but goes all the way back to Augustine.

mark wauck said...

1. It's notable that you refuse to engage most of the authorities I cite. Gilson--who wrote comprehensive books not only re Aquinas but also re Augustine, Bonaventure, and Scotus--is one example. Van Steenberghen and Knowles are two more--both, with Gilson, are respected historians of Medieval thought. And there are more.

2. "I'm not sure how Scotus defends essentially Augustinian goals. He rejects divine illumination, for example."

That comment is offered in very obvious bad faith. The authorities I cite repeatedly note that Scotus rejects the classic Augustinian doctrine of divine illumination. Even Pieper, whom I don't specifically quote to that effect, does refer to Scotus' "emendations" of the Augustinian theory of knowledge.

3. The same authorities--and Gilson most explicitly--are in general agreement that Scotus agrees with many if not most of Aquinas' main conclusions. What they emphasize, however, is that Scotus takes a very different route to those conclusions and that those differences have important consequences.

4. "let's say you're right: everything Scotus does and writes is in the interest of defending every minute point of Augustine"

Per #2, more very obviously bad faith commenting. What these authorities all agree on is that Scotus is intent on preserving as much as possible of the substance of Augustinian thought. I quote them to that precise effect several times.

5. "Augustine is a doctor of the church, and if Scotus' who is a full blooded Augustinian caused all those modern errors, well the blame doesn't stop with blessed Duns but goes all the way back to Augustine."

Aquinas, in the Summa contra Gentiles, argues that the blame goes all the way back to Plato. That fits in nicely with Whitehead's view that most of Western thought is simply a series of footnotes to Plato. That's also an important theme of this blog.

If you want more details, read the blog. It would have been helpful had you done so before commenting.

Lee Faber said...

"Bad Faith" is a bit strong. Over-zealous perhaps. I've read thousands of pages of scotus in the original. The authorities you cite, with the exception of Gilson, have not.

1. The authorities you cite are just not competent to discuss Scotus because they have not read him, and they read him under the lense of outdated 19th c. historiography. Gilson is an exception; he read a great deal of Scotus, but unfortunately all before the critical edition. He apologizes in his own book on Scotus and basically says it's not worth reading.

Van steenberghen was very much part of the earliest phase of modern medieval scholarship, when everyone was trying to affix labels as a means to understanding thinkers. Many scholars have criticized his views on the delineation of different schools, and even question if there was such a thing as an "augustinian/neo augustinian" school. Knowles I have only skimmed. Pieper's views of Scotus are just plain false, which isn't surprising since he wrote prior to the advent of the critical edition (which is very different than the leonine edition of Aquinas; Scotus' main edition was full of many spurious works, including works actually by later nominalists). Most of your authorities are Thomists, who have their own axe to grind and as such are generally (notiously) untrustworthy on Scotus. Thomas Williams is fine, though his interpreation of Scotus' ethics have been heavily criticized by Allan Wolter and I think Mary Beth Ingham, as well as Dumont (probably the top three interpreters of Scotus' ethics, though one could add Hoffmann, who is himself half thomist). Benedict XVI i don't consider a source because his knowledge of Scotus is clearly the kind that was current circa 1950, as his citations reveal. Much as i would like to take praise of Scotus where I can get it, his positive statements on Scotus are more inaccurate than his criticisms.

5. At least you are more consistent in your use of the genealogical approach/fallacy than most, who just use it to trash Scotus. But why stop with Plato? the authority of Whitehead? Cause really it was the Sophists fault for causing plato to respond like he did, and so on, until you get to God, who created man, who made bad arguments and pissed off other men.

Maybe you should read my blog, where I quote the Thomist historians in detail all the time and then quote texts of Scotus in latin and English to show the scholars' errors. My point with the original post was to take an issue or two as examples of how your presentation/authorities were distorting Scotus.

2. You can't get more Augustinian than divine illumination. And Scotus has a host of doctrines utterly unconnected: formal distinction, intrinsic modes, univocity, and so on. Some are influenced by Avicenna, such as individuation. If you read the works of the Franciscan "Augustinians" after Scotus,and I do, and compare them to Scotus, one finds that he ignores or rejects key Augustinian theses: seminal reasons, spiritual matter, in addition to divine illumination. Also, he gives only one sentence to the debate on essence and existence, which the Augustinians were busily attacking aquinas on. So, what, he's "Augustinian" because he has a more robust notion of the will than Aquinas? MacIntyre's claim, however, is just plain laughable.

3. Having read thousands of pages of Scotus in latin, I'm not sure he does usually arrive at the same conclusions with different reasons. Most of the time, Aquinas isn't even in the picture; usually it's Henry of Ghent, Godfrey of Fontaines or William of Ware. Aquinas takes on a bigger role in Scotus' Parisian works (which we are currently editing), but Aquinas was a much Bigger Deal at Paris than he was at Oxford. Sure, on big issues, like the existence of God, transubstantiation, object of intellect, but most of the time he's just different.

mark wauck said...

OK, we'll call it over zealous.

I believe it's over zealous to suggest that all the authorities I cite--with the exception of Gilson--"are just not competent to discuss Scotus because they have not read him, and they read him under the lense of outdated 19th c. historiography." Two points in that regard: 1) it's necessary to consider the purpose for which I present their views, and 2) the overwhelming majority of the references to Scotus are based on Gilson's reading and are sourced to what was then known as the Opus Oxoniense.

In general I cite the historical studies for the proposition that there was an Augustinian tradition in the West that was, from a philosophical standpoint, inspired by ultimately Platonic influences--through the Neoplatonic influenced thought of Augustine himself as well as through other sources, importantly including Avicenna. That there was such a tradition is, in my view, indisputable. In addition to individual thinkers (Anselm and Bonaventure come immediately to mind as thinkers whose names will be readily recognized by general readers) this tradition was also institutionalized in the form of the Sentences of Peter Lombard. This is not to suggest uniformity within the tradition--all the authorities are perfectly clear on that point--but rather a common point both of reference and of view. You will not find Pieper, for example, cited for specific details of Scotus' thought, nor most of the other authorities whom you so manifestly detest.

Further, most of these authorities--including Pieper--are in agreement that this Augustinian tradition of thought was concerned to preserve the freedom of God against what they viewed as strains of "necessitarianism" deriving from Greco-Muslim sources as well as the basic Augustinian view of man, which was fundamentally Platonic in structure. The "ridiculous" MacIntyre also points out that Scotus was driven by theological concerns--not surprising in a professional theologian--that his thought was influential on later moral thinkers, and that Scotus was influential in "set[ting] the scene ... for the emergence of philosophy as an autonomous discipline or set of disciplines, with its own defining problematic." MacIntyre specifically states that he writes these words from a Thomist perspective, which does not render his views ipso facto suspect. All these authorities recognize--in fact, stress--that Scotus was keenly aware of shortcomings in the philosophical underpinnings of traditional Augustinian thought, most especially with regard to the doctrine of divine illumination.

At no point do you claim that Gilson has misrepresented Scotus or used spurious works as authority for his account of Scotus' thought. You appear determined to focus on the individual trees and to ignore the bigger picture, which is your choice. What is more disturbing is that you continue to make statements regarding matters that are addressed or referenced in my posts as if that were not the case.

Michael Sullivan said...

Mr Wauck - or is it Dr Wauck? - here's the problem with your analysis:

In general I cite the historical studies for the proposition that there was an Augustinian tradition in the West that was, from a philosophical standpoint, inspired by ultimately Platonic influences--through the Neoplatonic influenced thought of Augustine himself as well as through other sources, importantly including Avicenna. That there was such a tradition is, in my view, indisputable.

It is indeed indisputable. Hey, do you know who belonged to this tradition in the scholastic middle ages? Everyone. Including St Thomas.

In addition to individual thinkers (Anselm and Bonaventure come immediately to mind as thinkers whose names will be readily recognized by general readers) this tradition was also institutionalized in the form of the Sentences of Peter Lombard.

Do you know whose name comes immediately to mind as a prominent and massive commentator on Peter Lombard? Perhaps someone who thought an excessive Aristotelianism needed to tempered by "Augustinian" themes or doctrines to avoid the excesses of someone like Siger of Brabant? Perhaps someone who wrote detailed and sympathetic commentaries on Neoplatonic texts like the Liber de causis or Pseudo-Denys? Oh wait, that sounds like St Thomas.

most of these authorities--including Pieper--are in agreement that this Augustinian tradition of thought was concerned to preserve the freedom of God against what they viewed as strains of "necessitarianism" deriving from Greco-Muslim sources

Can we think of anyone else besides "Augustinians" like Anselm, Bonaventure, Henry, and Scotus, who were concerned to preserve the freedom of God from pagan and Muslim misconceptions? Oh yes, that's right, St Thomas.

which was fundamentally Platonic in structure

Can we think of the most well-known intellectual synthesis of the thirteenth century which a great number of modern scholars have characterized as fundamentally Platonic or Neoplatonic in structure? Oh yes, wait for it, it's Thomism. Mid-20th-century Neo-Thomists like Gilson and Maritain love to inveigh against the "Spirit of Platonism" and claim that Thomism alone maintains is antiplatonic purity, but that's pretty much nonsense. Do you know who else has a philosophy which is "fundamentally Platonic in structure"? Aristotle, of course.

for the emergence of philosophy as an autonomous discipline or set of disciplines, with its own defining problematic.

Hey, can we think of anyone else who is lauded to the heavens by his followers for carefully maintaining the faith/reason distinction and the autonomy of philosophy with respect to theology, as opposed to "Augustinian" thinkers like Bonaventure who at times tend to conflate them or collapse philosophy into theology? Oh, oh, I can think of one! St Thomas.

Much of what scholars who are not competent in Scotus continue to claim about Scotus is false. Much of what is true, on the other hand, is as true for Thomas as it is for Scotus, only it's presented as world-historically great in Thomas and world-historically disastrous in Scotus, because a Thomist historiographical narrative has arisen and uncritically adopted which is determined to cast Thomas as the savior of thought and Scotus as the chief villain. This is the forest you want to focus on. If you focus on the individual trees you might come to realize that the forest is fictional.

mark wauck said...

Michael Sullivan's juvenile attempts at sarcasm are sadly misguided.

Sullivan is free to maintain that Aquinas was a Neoplatonist. That's a gross distortion. Yes, scholars have gone into the relationship in great depth, but I know of none who would subscribe to to Sullivan's views. In any event, they're mistaken. True scholars are aware of the substantial differences. No serious thinker regards Aquinas as part of the Augustinian tradition in anything like the sense that a Bonaventure, for example, was. Aquinas sought to reconcile Augustine to his own thought, but was not afraid to flatly disagree when necessary.

Sullivan's reference to Peter Lombard is especially juvenile--my own reference was intended to highlight the institutionalization of Augustinian ideas in the schools of theology, of which Aquinas was, of course, a member. I guess I knew that Aquinas wrote that commentary.

All Christian thinkers of the Middle Ages were concerned to defend God's freedom, but the way that Aquinas went about it was simply different than the way the Augustinian tradition did. Which is the point I've been making and for which I cite people like Gilson--it is not just your conclusion that matters. How you arrive at the conclusion also matters.

As for the Platonism of Aristotle, I've commented on that more times than I can recall. Anyone who has read Gilson is also aware of this fact.

Maintaining the distinction between faith and reason is quite different than MacIntyre's notion of philosophy as a tradition of enquiry rather than an academic discipline.

mark wauck said...

Re Lee Faber's comment regarding Scotus' doctrine of abstraction, Faber does not attempt to engage with the authorities whom I cite, who point out the differences that Scotus introduces into this (in origin) Aristotelian doctrine. Faber maintains that those differences are "not as different as presented," but does not see fit to expand. My discussion does, however, touch on precisely the points that Faber lists as if they had never been discussed.

mark wauck said...

Michael Sullivan has begun bombarding me with comments--in addition to the very childish one that I posted and to which I responded, there are now 5 fresh comments from him. I'm loathe to post comments that I lack the time or desire to respond to. Basically, Sullivan thinks he understands where I'm coming from, without having read much of what I've written. He assumes that I regard Aquinas as an Aristotelian. He hasn't bothered to read anything I've written on the nature of Platonism. In his very simple intellectual universe he appears to assume that those he calls Thomists are motivated by pure partisan spirit and that Scotus was motivated by pure love of truth--Thomist, from this standpoint, serves more as a term of opprobrium than as a useful descriptor. He has nothing to say about Scotus' views on moral philosophy, which are closely related to his views on human knowledge. Having discussed so much of this previously, and at great length, it's not clear to me why I should go to the trouble of explaining it all afresh.

Michael Sullivan said...

I won't bother going over your statements about Scotus' ethics, since you state that the ethical considerations are based on the epistemological ones, which you have botched. To say in your concluding paragraph that "Scotus, philosophically, runs into a brick wall of skepticism" is enough to discredit you. Scotus was no skeptic and his thought does not "lead to" skepticism unless you are influenced by it in the act of rejecting its key positions, as Ockham was. To say that for Scotus "true being is to be identified with essence, pure intelligibility" and to suggest that this means that for Scotus being is not an act but a concept, is more than enough. You don't understand Scotus' metaphysics or his epistemology. That's okay; most people don't. Scotus' thought is very difficult, much harder that St Thomas'. In Chesterton's words, used in a different context, Scotism has not been tried and found wanting, it has been found difficult and left untried. But your sweeping declarations are not grounded in reality, they're grounded in outdated and faulty scholarship.

Michael Sullivan said...

Mr Wauk, I hope you will do me the courtesy of either including all of my comments or deleting them all, since I've now gone to the trouble of responding to your initial post at length.

It's true I haven't read anything you've written on the nature of Platonism - this is the first time I've seen your blog. However, it also seems true that you haven't read much Scotus, which is surely a relevant point here.

You say that I live in a very simple intellectual universe. Fine. But I do have a Ph.D. in philosophy and wrote my dissertation (under reputable scholars) on Bonventure, Thomas, and Scotus, so I have some idea of what I'm talking about.

mark wauck said...

Michael Sullivan apparently feels that I have wronged him, or that I may wrong him, by referring to a number of his comments that I have thus far not posted. There are 7 such comments at last count.

I would first of all point him toward my comments policy, which in relevant part states that I wish to avoid abusive, nonconstructive or non-pertinent comments. Yes, his comments re Scotus are relevant, but they are also unnecessarily abusive (or "over-zealous" as his friend Lee Faber corrected me). I do understand that it would be unreasonable for me to expect every person who wanted to comment on a specific topic to first read 5 years of my posting in order to properly understand my overall perspective and purpose. However, Michael Sullivan's juvenile first post (see above) was a clear indication that his intent wasn't constructive, and I've seen nothing to change my view on that.

If I do decide to respond to these 7 additional comments in detail I will, of course, post them in full.

Michael Sullivan said...

From my brief perusal of your blog you appear to be a faithful Catholic with pious motives. So perhaps you can understand that if I am over-zealous it is in defense of saints, doctors, and blesseds of the Church, and of their philosophy and theology, produced in faithful service to the Church, and of arguments and propositions none of which have ever been censured by the Magisterium or found to be incompatible with the orthodox faith, brought forward from the light of reason and in philosophical good faith; a defense against a constantly-repeated calumny grounded in misunderstanding and falsehood.

mark wauck said...

I certainly regard myself as a faithful Catholic, and my blogging is intended to reflect that. However, I'm afraid there's no short or simple way to distinguish my stance from yours. My primary concern is to develop a theory of revelation that is rooted in a theory of man in history. My views on what I term "Platonism," are connected with that effort and owe a lot to the work of Christopher Dawson, Mircea Eliade and Frank Moore Cross. This in turn has led me to rather sweeping reevaluations of ... many things. I would ask that you not judge too quickly, as these matters are not simply complex but also are obscured by historical misunderstandings.

Credo In Unum Deum said...

Ah. I love the debate within the Church among faithful Catholics. Of course, Bonaventure and Aquinas have equal authority in the Church and, as Paul VI put it, Scotus is the perfecter of Bonaventure, which would logically give Scotus quite a bit of authority as well. Remember that we are Catholics and the real enemy is Protestantism and other non-Catholic worldviews. I feel a little bit of anger in the blogair. But please, keep up the argument. Full disclosure, I love Faber and Sullivan, and I am one who has "converted" from Thomism to Scotism. But I still love both very much.

mark wauck said...

In the spirit of "keeping up the argument," Credo in Unum Deum may be interested in my new post.

Lee Faber said...

1. JP II canonized non-existent people? Ergo, papal infallibility is false.

2. I tend to agree with Sullivan's view of Thomism as partisan. Thomism has aimed at thought-control since the very beginnning. The Dominicans at their general chapter in 1280 or 1282 in Strasbourg imposed Thomism on the whole order, and persecuted those who deviated (such as Durandus). The Franciscans never made Scotus their official doctor until the 17th cen. Thomists themselves have always trashed other thomists for not thinking with the text of thomas, like protestants, always claiming that they are the only ones to have understood st. thomas. Yet in the 19th cen. they managed to impose thomism on the whole church, and exiled the non compliant from the roman seminaries, and even tried to impose the 24 thomistic theses. One can find thomists claiming that faithful catholics are obliged to hold, by assent of intellect and will, every proposition of st thomas save where the thomistic commentary tradition itself is divided as to the interpretation. So it is a matter of faith that one hold thomas' theology as well as philosophy. and yet it is Scotus who allegedly screwed up the faith-reason dynamic? Power. Thomism has always been about power.

3. No mention yet of participation, surely a Platonic-Augustinian doctrine which scholars of what I term the American Biblical Thomists as well as radical orthodoxy stress as one of the defining features of Aquinas thought. Yet Scotus for the most part ignores it. He does not reject it outright, however, as is often claimed, and it is found throughout the Scotist tradition.

mark wauck said...

I think I'm starting to get it: the fear of Thomism is the beginning of wisdom, right?

Re participation, it's not my fault that you haven't read this blog.

Roberto Lopez said...

An incredibly scholarly post (almost a paper) in an non-academic setting. Congratulations. I am still digesting the post and the comments.

Roberto Lopez said...

Now I see. It is a very interesting debate, but unnecessarily acrimonious. In my opinion, the noise in the debate was sparked by begining a comment of this blog with "Look, I'll try to be civil, but have you read Scotus?"

But, tone aside, congratulation also for the debate.

mark wauck said...

Thanks, Roberto. I'll admit to being taken somewhat by surprise by the degree of acrimony that was generated.