Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Duns Scotus: Will, Free and Natural

IN PRIOR POSTINGS WE discussed Duns Scotus's teaching on the will and the intellect in man as formal, yet-objectively based distinctions in the human soul. This led us to focus on Scotus's famous distinctio formalis a parte rei which is so central to the entire corpus of his thought. We have also seen how Scotus, while holding the Augustinian and Franciscan notion of the primacy of the will and therefore rejecting intellectualism, eschewed any extreme notion of voluntarism, adopting in its stead a moderate voluntarism. Given this understanding of Scotus's doctrine of intellect and will, we can now approach Scotus's notion of how the will and the intellect interact. But first we should explore in greater detail the interaction of the "natural will" and the "free will" in Scotus's teaching.

In reviewing Scotus's teaching on the interaction of will and intellect, it is important to recall his concept of a "natural will" and "free will," which is how the Franciscan master divides the human will. The will he characterizes as "free will" (voluntas libera) is the will that is able to select in conformity with the affection of justice (affectio justitiae) and the will which is able to chose that which is good in itself, the bonum in se. This should be distinguished from the "natural will" (voluntas naturalis), which is necessarily and not freely moved by natural affection, by the affection of convenience (affectio commodi), which seeks one's own good, the bonum sibi.*

Duns Scotus teaching before Franciscans and Dominicans

With respect to the will, it is hard to understate its importance in the Scotist system. It is particularly difficult to understate the concept of freedom of the will, the will's self-determination, the will's self-movement, its relation to practical reason, and the importance of this concept in the Scotist understanding of the moral act.

In her book The Harmony of Goodness: Mutuality and Moral Living According to John Duns Soctus, Mary Beth Ingham summarizes Scotus's position:

In his discussion of the will's freedom, Scotus places himself within the tradition of medieval thinkers who defined rational freedom in light of the will's capacity for reasoning and choosing. Scotus remains faithful to the Franciscan position on the will as autonomous cause of the act of choice, and inserts the more recent reflection upon freedom within the Anselmian context [that a will is most free when it acts rightly]. His discussion unites [practical] reason and willing within the will and distinguishes it as a free cause from the intellect. In this, he presents his own understanding of [the Augustinian] liberum arbitrium as a single power within the will and as synonymous with the will.

Ingham, 27.

Man's free will, a created free will, participates as it were in God's absolutely free will, and so man's free will is grounded in God's free will. It reflects in a creaturely way God's free will, and in fact is meant to imitate God's free will, in particular in its causal, creative, redemptive, and loving aspects. Moreover, free will also exhibits a sort of lasting, continual dynamism, a firmitas, a constancy or steadfastness. Thus free will is not arbitrary in the sense of fickle, capricious, unstable, unreliable. Quite the contrary, the free will is free to chose, but once it chooses it is steadfast, reliable, trustworthy, and solid. We shall see, moreover, that the free will is not a recipe for self-definition or radical autonomy in some sort of Kantian or Sartrean sense; rather, Scotus will tie the free will into a partnership with practical reason and the natural moral law. Its greatest and highest act is to love the Other for the Other's sake.

With regard to his doctrine on will, perhaps Scotus's most significant emphasis is the self-determination of the will. It is the will's self-determination that makes it free. It is its self-determination which gives it priority over the intellect, for the intellect acts necessarily, naturally, and, in fact, acts under the direction of the self-determining will. Ingham, 37. Scotus distinguishes between natural powers and free powers, and the intellect (as well as the "natural will") he puts in the former category, while the free will he places in the latter, superior, more noble category. When one sees a pipe, the intellect recognizes it as a pipe, and nothing one can do can force the intellect not to accept the pipe as a pipe. It is impossible--unless one is insane--to see the pipe as anything other than a pipe. One cannot say with Magritte when seeing an actual pipe, "ceci n'est pas une pipe." The will does not have this necessary component to it. When confronting an object it can will or decide not to will, or it can will and not will to pursue it. Contrary to the intellect which has truth "forced" upon it so to speak, the freevwill cannot have choice forced upon it. It is self-determinative: it causes its own act, choice.

We have discussed in prior postings the two affections of the will, the affectio commodi (the affection to one's advantage) and the affectio justitiae (the affection towards justice). This Anselmian distinction was borrowed by Scotus and incorporated into his moral thinking. These affections are tied to the two appetites of the will. Duplex est appetitus in voluntate," says Blessed Duns Scotus in his Ordinatio IV, d. 49, q. 10, n. 2, scilicet naturalis et liber." Two appetites are there in the will, namely, the natural and the free.** The natural will is driven by this natural appetite. The free will is driven by the free appetite. So what is the natural appetite? What is the free appetite? How do they related to the affections? How do they relate to themselves?

For help in answering these questions, we might turn to Scotus's Ordinatio IV, d. 49, q. 10, n. 2:

There is a double appetite in the will, namely the natural and the free. I only call "natural" the will's power taken absolutely, but not anything added on to the will. For just as any nature whatever has a natural inclination to its own perfection, so has the intellectual nature, i.e., the will, has a natural inclination to its own perfection. The free appetite, which is to wish freely, is something else. I say of the first appetite that it is not some act elicited by the will, but only a certain inclination.

Ordinatio IV, d. 49, q. 10, n. 2 (trans. by Cruz González-Ayesta, 376-77).

Both the free will and the natural will involve intellectual appetites. However, the natural will works off a natural intellectual appetite which tends or inclines towards one's own benefit, and so does not involve any freely-elicited act. It is tied to what is useful, and the desire that drives it is concupiscent. The natural will is only improperly, or by courtesy, called will. In a strict sense it is not will, if will is defined as free will. This is why elsewhere Scotus can say that "the natural will is not a will, nor is natural volition volition." The free will, on the other hand, is freely elicited: it is entirely unbound from nature's inclinations which govern the natural will. In fact, it can chose to act against the natural will, and this it does when it follows the affection of justice.
The natural will as tending necessarily to the object willed has no elicited act in its regard. It is only a certain inclination in such a nature towards the perfection most appropriate to it. This inclination necessarily exists in nature, even though an act in conformity with such an inclination and nature may not be necessarily elicited. For no act is elicited except by the free will, whether it be conformed or natural or whether it be difformed or against nature. And no matter how much it wills the opposite of that to which it is inclined, that inclination necessarily remains as long as the nature remains.
Ordinatio II, d. 39, q. 2, n. 24 (trans., Cruz González-Ayesta, 378-79). The free will is not driven by a concupiscent desire of wanting, coveting something for one's own sake, but by friendship, by love, which desiring something for the sake of another.

Since the natural will works of of inclinations, the natural will is passive, unlike the free will which is active. But as Cruz González-Ayesta clarifies, there are not really two wills in man, though one can distinguish between the natural and free will:

[The] natural and free will are not two different powers, but rather the same power considered under two different perspectives. Scotus calls the active power to will, nill, or not will, "free will," and the inclination of this same power to receive its own perfections "natural will."
Cruz González-Ayesta, 379 (citing to Ordinatio, III, d. 17, a. un., n. 18).

Scotus insists that that part of the will that is free, really is free, and he resists with great resolve any effort to find something outside the will that determines it, that makes it necessarily to chose something other than what it itself chooses. To Scotus, "free" means that the will is "capable of self-determination between contraries, a capacity that does not disappear when the will is compared to the last end or highest good." Cruz González-Ayesta, 375.

Unlike the Thomistic view of things, Scotus views the free will is not ordered willy nilly to the good (though the intellect may misapprehend what is good). The most that Scotus is willing to concede is that--when faced with the highest good, namely God, the will cannot not will the highest good. Similarly, when faced with the highest evil, rejection of God, the will cannot will the highest evil. However, even then the will has freedom enough to will or decide not to will, to abstain: neque velle neque nolle. Quodlibet, q. 16, n. 5. With respect to all other goods and evil in between the boundaries of absolute good and absolute evil, the will is free to will (velle) or not to will (nolle) regardless of the good or evil involved. There is no compulsion external to the will. The will is compelled by the will's choice. It can even reject happiness, which is a topic we will save for another day.***

The difference between the natural appetite (and natural will) and the free appetite (and free will) is one involving a formal, not real distinction. The distinction is between the will as an intellectual appetite and the will as an active power. Cruz González-Ayesta, 385. The entire moral question stems from the struggle or tension between these two affections, these two appetites, and the battle between the natural will and the free will. If the two wills are properly aligned, there is no tension; however, if, under any given circumstance, there is improper alignment, then the moral act requires that the free will be exercised against the natural will, and so the affectio commodi must give way to the affectio justitiae, and the natural will is "vetoed" so to speak, or overpowered, by the free will.

[T]his affection for justice, which is the first checkrein on the affection for the beneficial, inasmuch as we need not actually seek that towards which the latter affection inclines us, nor must we week it above all else (namely, to the extent to which we are inclined by this affection for the advantageous); this affection for what is just, I say, is the liberty innate to the will, since it represents the first checkrein on this affection for the advantageous.

Ordinatio, II, d. 6, q. 2, n. 49 (trans. Wolter, 469-71).

While the affectio justitiae is a "checkrein" on the affectio commodi, that is not its only function. It has a more significant function in the grand scheme of things. As Cruz González-Ayesta explains:
[I]t is worthwhile to note that the regulative function of the affection for justice over the affection for the beneficial is neither its only nor its main function. Thanks to the affectio iustitiae, one's reason for acting becomes not the perfection one can achieve but the intrinsic goodness of that particular action. In as much as the will pursues the good in itself, moral perfection is achieved although not directly intended.
Cruz González-Ayesta, 391.

In closing this posting, it might be mentioned that the Scotist emphasis on the freedom of the will and its self-determination represents a radical break from the Aristotelian/Thomist teleological view:

The distinctive character of freedom [in Scotus] is seen in the fact that the will is to be understood as the efficient cause of free actions. The distinctive character of freedom is seen in the fact that the will is not aimed at naturally impressed ends that are themselves to be understood as final causes, as Aristotelian-Thomistic naturalism would have it; instead the will can determine itself to action in complete independence from any final cause as coprinciple. This last point implies a thoroughgoing break with a foundational principle of Aristotelian physics and metaphysics . . . . It is his break with this fundamental principle and the teleological interpretation of voluntary action implied by it that permits Scotus to conceive the will as a power for free self-determination.

This Scotist doctrine goes hand in hand with a thoroughgoing critique of the concept of final causality, which is so important in Aristotelian-Thomistic ethics. . . . In an uncharacteristically harsh tone Scotus criticizes the appeal to final causes as a flight into fantasy [fugiendo finguntur viae mirabiles]. Against the backdrop of this altered understanding of what sorts of cause can legitimately come up for discussion, Scotus develops an interpretation of the will that conceives it in sharp distinction to the Aristotelian-Thomistic conception of rational appetite. Here lies the root of Scotus's denaturalized conception of the will.

Hannes Möhle, "Scotus's Theory of Natural Law," The Cambridge Companion to Duns Scotus (Thomas Williams, ed.) (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 324-25.

Summary of Duns Scotus's Teaching on Free and Natural Will
(adapted from "Duns Scotus on the Will: A Summary of Two Key Distinctions," by Scott M. Sullivan)
(Click on image Enlarge)
*It should be noted that the "free will" that Scotus distinguishes from the "natural will" is still part of man's "nature," though in some ways it also transcends it. But it is important to note that the exercise of free will, while a noble faculty in man, is not part of the supernatural calling of man in response to God's grace. Wolter, 40. It should also be noted that the free will (if exercised in accordance with right reason) and the natural will (if properly moderated) both seek good, only in different ways. "Where the affection for justice inclines us to love God for the beautiful and good being he is in himself, the affection for the advantageous inclines us to seek him as our greatest good, because by union with him through knowledge and love, our nature as "capax Dei" is perfected in the highest way." Wolter, 40.
**The Scotist notion of "natural will" and "free will" are different categories from the Thomist notions of voluntas ut natura and voluntas ut voluntas. Cruz González-Ayesta, "Scotus' Interpretation of the Difference Between voluntas ut natura and voluntas ut voluntas," Franciscan Studies 66 (2008), 374 & n. 8. Since Scotus denaturalizes the free will, he also severs from the free will any teleological notion of nature tending towards its own good (voluntas ut natura) and selecting the means (voluntas ut voluntas). As Scotus says in Lectura I, d. 10, n. 24: "Operating by way of nature and operating by way of freedom, however, are ways that have grounds which differ by their very nature." Natural will and free will, in Scotus's view, involve two entirely different worlds, two different ways of acting or operation. Cruz González-Ayesta, 374-75.
***Not only did Scotus sever nature and its telos from free will, he also severed happiness from it. "Hence, when [the will] is shown happiness, it can refrain from acting at all." Ordinatio, IV, d. 49, q. 10, n. 10. On these two counts alone, this obviously makes his ethical theory non-Aristotelian and non-Thomist, as these eudaimonistic theories place much importance on happiness.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Duns Scotus: A Moderated Primacy of Will over Intellect

ON THE MATTER OF PRIMACY of the will or intellect, there is a huge divide between the Thomists and Scotists. St. Thomas, who advocates what is generally characterized as the "Dominican" or "intellectualist" position, puts the intellect ahead of the will, whereas Blessed Duns Scotus, who may be represents what may be called the "voluntarist," "Augustinian" or "Franciscan" position, teaches the primacy of the will. A good, succinct summary of this dispute may be obtained by referring to Alexander Broadie's Gifford Lectures, The Shadow of Scotus:*

Voluntarists and intellectualists are in dispute with each other on a wide range of matters, with voluntarists emphasising the role of will and of our freedom in our relations with the world, in contradistinction to the intellectualists who emphasise the role of intellect and of our theoretical knowledge. The dispute is clearly articulated in the diverse responses to the question whether it is will or intellect that has primacy. Voluntarists say will has primacy and intellectualists ascribe primacy to intellect.

Broadie, L. 2. The issue of whether the will or intellect has primacy is a sort of overarching dispute, and it bleeds rather profusely but messily over into various subjects: metaphysics and the question of universals, theology and the nature of God, and moral theology and the nature of law and good. All these questions are somewhat related: Is Reason or Will preeminent in God? Is Reason behind creation: is God's creation explained best by His Ratio; or is creation better explained in terms of God's Will, His Fiat? Analogously, is Divine Reason or Divine Will preeminent in defining the content and the binding nature of divine law? Derivatively, is human reason or human will preeminent in human law? Morally speaking, is reason or will preeminent in determining the good? In terms of faith, what is preeminent: assent to the intellectual truth that God Is, or that superlative act of will, namely, love, in response to that God Who Is?

Blessed John Duns Scotus

The relatedness of the questions results in a sort of tendency, but it is only a tendency. Those who advocate the primacy of the will tend to be voluntarists in the area of morality, tend to be nominalist in the area of metaphysics, and tend to emphasize faith as an act of will rather than an act of intellect. On the other hand, those who advocate primacy of the intellect tend to place reason as preeminent in questions of morality, tend to be realist in their metaphysics, and tend to stress the intellectual aspect of the act of faith. This is why that scholar of Scottish philosophy Alexander Broadie, and a host of others, have observed that "the debate between voluntarists and intellectualists, between those who assign primacy to will and those who assign it to intellect, comes very close at times to being the debate between nominalists and realists." Broadie, L. 2. It comes "very close at times," but being close and being the same are two different things.**

This is especially true with respect to Scotus, for though he advocates the primacy of the will, he neither advocates a full voluntarism in his morality nor a full nominalism in his metaphysics. There is a rather large "spectrum" and there are significant "shades" in the debate between realism and nominalism, between moral voluntarists and intellectualists, and between those who advance the primacy of the will over intellect or intellect over will. Scotus falls in a "rather shady part of the spectrum, a part in which the two categories [nominalism/realism and voluntarist/intellectualist] apply to him in almost equal measure." Broadie, L. 2. There is, moreover, a significant spectrum and significant shades on the issue of the primacy of the will and the intellect, Scotus situating himself within the extremes of pure intellectualism or pure voluntarism. Scotus's notion of primacy of the will does not ascribe a pure or absolute primacy of the will over the intellect, but rather an attenuated or moderated, though nevertheless real, primacy.

The problem of the primacy of will over intellect is further complicated by the manner in which the intellect and will are distinguished by various parties. As we have seen, St. Thomas believed that man's reason is really distinct from his will, and man's will and intellect are therefore severable parts of man's soul. Henry of Ghent, on the other hand, taught that the will and intellect are essentially identical and not separate parts of a human soul, though they were, in relation to the soul, distinct.** Scotus taught that the distinction between human intellect and human will was somewhere in between--was neither real nor merely intellectual--but was formal but with a reference to reality: distinctio formalis a parte rei, what Broadie calls a "formal objective distinction." Broadie, L. 2. Ockham, of course, went even further than Scotus, indeed, went further than Henry of Ghent, in ascribing a sort of identity between will and intellect and in erasing any real distinction and almost any distinction at all between the two. Obviously, the more these two faculties are distinguished, the more important the question becomes over which has primacy. If will and intellect are one-and-the-same, the question of primacy becomes irrelevant. However, since Scotus rejects a merely rational or logical distinction between will and intellect, and retains an objectively-based distinction between will and intellect, albeit one weaker that St. Thomas, it remains intelligible for him "to ask which of them has primacy." Broadie, L.3.

In understanding Scotus's doctrine that the will is preeminent over reason, we must also recognize that this doctrine applies to what Scotus calls the free will, related to the affectio iustitiae, and not what he calls the natural will, which is related to the affectio commodis. There are natural imperatives, natural desires or wills, over which man has no freedom. Thus, the urge to eat, prompted by hunger, is something over which we have no control. Fear, which is the natural will's desire to avoid death, arises, as it were spontaneously, determinatively, unelicited. Christ's desire that the cup of suffering be taken from him. These are examples of natural will. They are essentially no different than the gravitational desire in a rock to the center of the earth.

On the other hand, there is within us a principle that can overcome the natural will, and it is this other principle which Scotus identifies as free will.
[T]he natural will is really not will at all, nor is natural volition true volition [quia voluntas non est voluntas nec velle naturale est velle], for the term "natural" effectively cancels or negates the sense of both "will" and "volition." Nothing remains but the relationship a power has to its proper perfection. Consequently, it is the same power that is called "natural will" [naturalis voluntas] as regards the necessary relationship it has to its perfection as is called "free" [libera]. The latter term expresses the proper an intrinsic relation that is specifically the will. . . . [The] "natural will" [may be taken] to men the will insofar as it elicits an act in conformity with its natural inclination, which would always be aimed at its own advantage. The will is called free, however, insofar as it lies in its power to elicit an act opposed to this inclination, for it possesses the power to elicit or not elicit and act in conformity with this inclination.
Ordinatio III, dist. 17 (Wolter, 154-55)

Man's free will can overcome his natural will, and he can continue his fast despite his hunger. Likewise, man's free will can overcome his natural will which prompts his of fear death and desire to flee, and face enemy fire. Christ, despite his desire that the cup of suffering be taken from him, can also say, as a result of his free will, that he desires not his natural will, but that his free will conforms to the Father's will. It is this free will, and not the natural will, that Scotus says has primacy over the intellect.

Now given all this, where does the Scotist doctrine of primacy of the will over the intellect lie? To try to locate Scotus, Broadie defines the two extreme positions of pure intellectualism and pure voluntarism.

The extreme intellectualist position is described by Broadie in his third Gifford Lecture:

According to [the extreme intellectualist position, the] will by itself is blind, and requires a judgment of intellect if an act of will is to occur. Thus intellect presents will with an object, a plan of action, and will wills that plan into reality. A corollary of the doctrine that will is blind is that it can do nothing by itself, and requires direction from intellect if it is to act. We are not to think here of a blind act of will as an act which is somehow performed though not directed to any particular goal. The intellectualist would say that on the contrary a will that wills blindly is a will that wills nothing. To will nothing is not to will at all. Hence blind willing is not one form of willing among others; it is instead not any form of willing.

Broadie, L. 3

Scotus finds such intellectualism (which is how he construes St. Thomas) problematic because it seems to rob will of its freedom. If intellect drives will, then it would appear that the will is determined by the intellect, and "intellectual determinism is not the less determinism for being of the intellectual variety." Broadie, L. 3. The intellect is not free: it is ordered to truth, and cannot make truth. Therefore, if freedom is to be found at all, it must be found in the will. Yet if the will is governed, determined by intellect, then free will seems to have disappeared.

On the other end of the spectrum, we have extreme voluntarism, a doctrine which Broadie defines as follows:
For extreme voluntarism declares that will acts freely to the extent that it is not responding to the deliverances of reason.
Broadie, L. 3. In other words, to be free, must freedom be entirely autonomous, autonomous even from the demands of reasons itself? This would be the logical position of extreme voluntarism. Obviously, this extreme voluntarism runs afoul of experience, of revelation, of reason itself. Moreover, such a view is impossible unless one holds will and intellect to be two completely different and distinct faculties. Scotus in no wise advocates such an autonomy, and his notion that the will and intellect are only formal distinctions of one-and-the-same soul would naturally put a brake on any advocacy of such a position. The reason for this is that espousal of such extreme voluntarism requires either that one maintain that man is essentially all will (like Ockham) or that will and reason are entirely separate faculties (such as Aquinas held). It is not possible to adopt an extreme voluntarist position when the will and intellect are formally though objectively distinct, though in reality one in the human soul. As a result of his particular doctrine of will and intellect as distinctiones formalis, Scotus could not advocate such extreme voluntarism because in every human act both will and intellect act, since they are only formal distinctions within one soul acting.

In adopting his notion of the primacy of the will over the intellect, Scotus situates himself, therefore, somewhere in between an extreme intellectualism and extreme voluntarism

That an act of will cannot occur without a prior exercise of intellect, and cannot occur without due account being taken by will of the content of the intellectual act, does not . . . imply that the act of will is fully determined by that prior intellectual act. There are degrees of influence that fall short of full determination, and it is such a limited influence that is at issue in this context. Scotus's phrase is pondus et inclinatio. The deliverances of intellect carry weight with will and incline it; but not more than that. No such deliverance can carry so much weight that will finds it irresistible. When the weight is irresistible will is simply not engaged at all, because for will to be engaged is for it to act as will, and an act of will is a free act. In this context to speak of will as free is to say that it has the power to produce opposite effects. Thus whatever it does now it could in these very same circumstances have done otherwise.

Broadie, L. 3 (citing to Collationes XVI, n. 3, in Scotus, Opera Omnia, ed. Wadding, vol. V, p. 209b-210b)

We shall look more deeply into the interaction of reason and will in the Scotus model.

*Alexander Broadie, The Shadow of Scotus, Gifford Lectures (1994-95). These series of six lectures are available on-line. Quotations in this post are to that on-line text and are referenced by lecture number. The lectures were also published under the title Alexander Broadie, The Shadow of Scotus: Philosophy and Faith in Pre-Reformation Scotland (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1995).
**Broadie attributes the tendency of nominalists in metaphysics to be voluntarists in ethics to the translation of the metaphysical doctrine into the area of values (though the tendency also goes the other way: one's moral doctrine may also impinge upon one's metaphysical view of reality, and therefore "the voluntarist tends to be nominalist on the subject of universals"). Nominalists tend to apply their metaphysical views to the "existential status of values," the result of which is to minimize the extra-mental or intellectual reality of these values, ascribing them therefore to will, rather than intellect. Broadie, L. 2. In this view, voluntarism is therefore nominalism applied to values, whereas intellectualism is realism applied to values. The danger with voluntarism in ethics is that it threatens the rationalism of morality, making morality a matter of divinely revealed will, a will which has not foundation in reason, and therefore is potentially (if not actually) arbitrary. "The moral law is relative to the will which produces it." Broadie, L.2. Without a firm foundation in the Divine Will, moreover, voluntarism in ethics can easily corrupt into relativism, when the act of will is transferred from God to man. Broadie, L.2. For example, a "secular version of the divine command theory is to be found in certain writings of Sartre, and it is even on the title page of John L. Mackie's book on moral philosophy:
Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong." Broadie, L.2.
**This is how Scotus understood it: Opus Oxoniense II, d. 16, quaestio unica, in Scotus, Opera Omnia, ed. Wadding, vol. XIII, pp. 23a–59b.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Duns Scotus: The Distinctio Formalis a Parte Rei

WHAT ARE THE ROLES OF THE WILL AND THE INTELLECT in any moral act according to Duns Scotus? How do these two interact? In answering this question, we must understand that Scotus looks at the will and intellect differently from St. Thomas Aquinas. St. Thomas Aquinas sees a real distinction between the the powers of the soul of intellect and will. "[T]he powers of the soul," says St. Thomas in his Summa Theologiae (S.T. Ia, q. 77, a. 1, ad. 5), "may be said to be a medium between substance and accident, as being natural properties of the soul."* The human power of cognition is therefore really different from human appetition in St. Thomas. The distinction between man's intellect and will is a distinction based upon reality, a distinctio realis, a real distinction.

For Scotus, on the other hand, the distinction between will and intellect not a real difference, yet it is more than merely conceptual or intellectual difference, a distinctio rationis. The difference or distinction between intellect and will is based upon difference with a catch or link with reality, a distinctio formalis a parte rei. Although the distinction between intellect and will is more than a mere concept without any basis in reality, the distinction has a much more attenuated link with reality: it is not a real link, but only a formal link. It refers to two "thinglets" or realitates (the "thinglet" or realitas of intellect and the "thinglet" or realitas of will) in one really indivisible thing or res (the soul).

There is no substantive or even accidental difference between the intellect and the will in Scotus. Scotus takes this position because he will not divide the soul from its powers inasmuch as for him it is not the intellect which thinks and the will which chooses but the soul which thinks through the forms of the intellect and chooses through the form of the will. To see the will or intellect as anything other than formal differences within the soul acting is to attribute to the will or intellect a separateness from the human soul which Scotus finds unacceptable. And yet the distinction between intellect and will is not purely a mental construct: it has some basis in reality. For this reason, Scotus devised a new distinction, one that entered into the annals of philosophy as the distinctio formalis a parte rei. It is central to almost all aspects of his thinking, including his moral philosophy or moral theology.

There are [in Scotus] . . . various 'formalities' in the one human soul, which, though not really distinct (separable) from one another, are distinct with a distinctio formalis a parte rei, since the intellectual [and volitional], sensitive and vegetative activities are formally and objectively distinct; but they are formalities of the one rational soul of man.

Copleston, 536. For Scotus:
[T]he psychological faculties of intellect and will are really identical with the soul but formally distinct from one another, since what it is to be an intellect does not include the will, and what it is to be a will does not include the intellect.
King, 23.

The will and the intellect are therefore much more intimately bound to the human soul and to each other in Scotus's thinking relative to St. Thomas.

The difference between a real distinction and a formal distinction is important to grasp if we want to appreciate the difference between Thomist ethics and Scotist ethics. This is more than esoterica.

The distinctio formalis a parte rei [formal distinction on the side of/with respect of the thing], was a Scotist innovation, and it is a marked feature of the entire corpus of his philosophy. We might quote De Wulf on this:

Scotus invented a new distinction which he called the distinctio formalis a parte rei. While the distinctio realis [real distinction] exists between two really different things, and the distinctio rationis [distinction of reason] multiplies our concepts of one and the same thing, to enable us to consider it from different (d[istinctio] rationis cum fundamento in re [distinction of reason with a foundation in the thing]) or identical (d[istinctio] rationis sine fundamento in re [distinction of reason without foundation in the thing]) standpoints, the distinctio formalis a parte rei points, in one and the same individual substance, to the objective forms or formalities that are realized in it, and really in it, independently of any intellectual act of ours. Having once established this distinctio formalis a parte rei, Scotus makes extensive use of it in his metaphysics. It exists between materia primo prima and its various substantial forms, between God and His attributes, between the soul and its faculties, and in general between the metaphysical grades of being. It pervades the whole Scotist system, and has given the latter a name: by his "formalism" Scotus wished at all costs to remain true to scholasticism.

Maurice De Wulf, History of Medieval Philosophy (P. Coffey, trans.) (London: Longmans Green & Co., 1909), s. 330.

This formal distinction of Scotus is a distinction intermediate between what is merely conceptual (or in the mind) and what is fully real or independent of the mind. We might first try to understand the terms.

A distinctio realis, a distinction in reality, exists between one type of thing and another type of thing: a ball and a peanut are really different, they are different, clearly separable things. There is a distinctio realis, a real distinction, between a ball and a peanut, or between matter and spirit, or between Peter and Paul.

There is a real distinction between a ball and a peanut

The distinction has essentially no origin in the mind, though clearly the mind grasps it. The source or cause of that distinction, however, is entirely or primarily outside the mind: the mind is more or less a passive recipient of that distinction. If there were no mind, the distinction would still exist. St. Thomas would say that the difference between intellect and will is a distinctio realis.

There is a real distinction between Peter and Paul

Some distinctions, however, are entirely mental. We are then dealing with a distinctio rationis. Their origin is only in the mind, and they have no tie to the real at all or their tie to reality may be irrelevant. So, for example, in Ariosto's "Orlando Furioso," we are treated to the distinction between a Griffin, and a Hippogriffin, the Griffin's progeny when mating with a horse. The distinction between these two objects is wholly within the mind since the object has no existence in reality:
For him a filly to griffin bore;
Hight hippogryph. In wings and beak and crest,
Formed like his sire, as in the feet before;
But like the mare, his dam, in all the rest.
Such on Riphaean hills, though rarely found,
Are bred, beyond the frozen ocean's bound.

If there were not some mind--in this instance Ariosto's--to think up this difference between a Griffin and Hippogriffin, it would not exist. This is a distinctio rationis.

There is a mere conceptual difference between a griffin and a hippogriffin

A distinctio rationis can also exist when the mind applies itself to real things, and yet the distinction is a creation of the mind. The distinction has its origin in the mind, though it refers to something real. Again, if there were no mind making the distinction there would be no distinction. There has to be a mind distinguishing for the distinction to exist.

A silver Russian samovar: A decorative heirloom? A means to serve tea?

A silver Russian samovar may be looked at as a means to serve tea or a decorative heirloom. The thing, the res, is the same: a silver Russian samovar. The distinction between it being a means to serve tea or a decorative heirloom is a difference only in the mind's vantage point, in the form taken in the mind. The distinction is in the mind's eye and not in the thing itself. Today may be seen as yesterday's tomorrow or tomorrow's yesterday. Venus may be conceived as the Morning Star or the Evening Star. King, 22.** When referring to Felix, there is no real difference in referring to him as a "black cat," a "chat noir," a "gato negro," or a "schwarze Katze." The distinctions are just names, not in the one cat whoever denominated. Felix, regardless how called, is always the same reality, and calling him the "black cat" or the "chat noir" means nothing outside the mind. Here the distinction is entirely nominal, and nominal rational distinctions do not exist in reality, though they may refer to a real thing.

There are some distinctions that refer to parts of a whole, and yet are real, not intellectual. The difference between Socrates and his hand, between soul and body, between matter and form are real distinctions which we grasp in the mind, but which are real because they have a foundation in reality. In St. Thomas, this is the difference between intellect and will. These are also distinctiones reali.

As King describes the fundamental difference between a distinctio rationis and distinctio realis:
[A distinctio rationis], a distinction of reason, or conceptual distinction . . . is at least partially man-made . . . . In technical terms, the intellect is a total or partial cause of the conceptual distinction. Furthermore, there may be some ground in reality for the mind's drawing a conceptual distinction, a ground which may even cause the mind to do so. But even if there is, what makes a distinction conceptual, rather than real in the broad sense, is not whether there is some objective ground in reality for the distinction [which is irrelevant] but whether the distinction is the product of some sort of mental activity.
King, 22.

Scotus, however, perceived some distinctions that hovered somewhere in between a pure distinctiones reali and a distinctiones rationi. This distinction was less than a distinctio realis, yet more than a distinctio rationis. Scotus found distinctions even here, and he identified formal distinctions and modal distinctions as distinctions hovering between real distinctions and purely conceptual or rational distinctions. As King describes Scotus's "core intuition" regarding formal distinctions, or disinctiones formali:

The core intuition behind Scotus's formal distinction [distinctio formalis] is, roughly, that existential inseparability does not entail identity in definition, backed up by the conviction that this is a fact about the way things are rather than how we conceive them. Since formally distinct items are existentially inseparable, they are really identical, in the sense just defined. Hence, the formal distinction only applies to a single real thing.

King, 22.

A distinctio formalis, a purely formal distinction, is not a distinctio realis. It is, however, not purely a construct of the intellect, a distinctio rationis. A formal distinction exists when one considers the same thing but under different aspects, different perspectives, or different vantage points which have some basis in reality. Some distinctions have some tie to differences or distinctions in the thing, but those these distinctions are not real in the sense that they refer to different things. While they don't refer to different things, they refer to formal distinctions in something one identical thing.

Mount Everest has a North Face and has a South Face. The North Face of Everest is still Mt. Everest, just as the South Face of Everest is still Everest. The North Face of Everest is a realitate or "thinglet" of the thing or res of Everest. It has a link with reality, but it is not a different thing from Mt. Everest. And so also mutatis mutandis for the South Face of Everest. The distinction between the faces of Mt. Everest is a distinctio formalis a parte rei.

The North Face of Everest and the South Face of Everest
A distinctio formalis a parte rei

As King describes Scotus's insight:

The presence of formally distinct items within a thing provides a real basis for our deployment of different concepts regarding that thing, which are thereby anchored in reality. For, by definition, formally distinct items exhibit different properties, and these can serve as the basis for our distinction concepts.

King, 23. While formal distinctions do not refer to different things (res), to real distinctions, yet they refer to distinctions within one thing (res); therefore, one might say that formal distinctions refers to different "thinglets," or different realitates, within one thing or res. [Realitates--"thinglets"--or realitas--"thinglet"--is the diminutive of res--thing (or things, the plural is the same form).] Cf. King, 23. This insight is the famous Scotist distinctio formalis a parte rei.

Again, the formal distinction is more than just conceptual, a parte intellectus: "[f]or the formal and the modal distinctions mark out differences that exist independently of any activity on the part of the intellect." King, 22. The Scotist distinctio formalis a parte rei is more than merely a nominal distinction. It is formal or intellectual distinction of "thinglets" existing in the mind but which are not real "things" with separate existence, but are rather operations or distinctions within the one thing. The distinction is formal, formalis, and yet it has some relation to reality, and therefore it is a parte rei. The distinction which the mind perceives is not wholly one fabricated in the mind; it is a distinction which has some basis in the thing.

In addition to his famous formal distinction, Scotus also identified a modal distinction, a distinctio modalis. This distinction "is meant to be an even lesser distinction than the formal distinction, but nevertheless real in the broad sense." King, 23.

The core intuition behind Scotus's modal distinction is, roughly, that some natures come in a range of degrees that are inseparably a part of what they are, and that this is a fact about the way things are rather than about how we conceive of them.

King, 25.

A modal distinction, certainly based in the real, between Hayek and Wildenstein

For example, despite all her plastic surgery (or perhaps because of it), Jocelyn Wildenstein is uglier than, say, Salma Hayek. There is a modal distinction, a distinctio modalis a parte rei, between Salma Hayek and Jocelyn Wildenstein in the degree of beauty. This distinction is more than just mental: it has an obvious basis in reality. Yet it is a distinction that is not formal since the difference is within the same form (beauty), and expresses a differentiation within that form, based upon a degree of participation or expression of it.
*ST, Iª q. 77 a. 1 ad 5 ("mediae inter substantiam et accidens, quasi proprietates animae naturales."
**Peter King, "Scotus on Metaphysics" in Thomas Williams, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Duns Scotus (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003).

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Duns Scotus: Deus est diligendus! God is to be loved!

DEUS EST DILIGENDUS, God is to be loved, is the first principle of natural morality in the schema of Duns Scotus. The first principle is also revealed in Scripture: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. Cf. Matt. 22:37; Mark 12:30; Luke 10:27; Deut. 6:5; 10:12. But whether natural or revealed is of no moment, for irrespective of the source of morality:

[The first principle of morality, God is to be loved] obligates because it is axiomatic; it is a self-evident consequence of the very meaning of God and love. The principle holds universally--under all possible circumstances, for all rational agents, always.

Wolter, xii. Not only is the self-evident law Deus est diligendus the first principle of morality according to Scotus, it is essentially the only principle of morality in the strict sense. One might say (though this is not in the Scotist vocabulary) that this is the one eternal law. All other moral laws are radically contingent; they arise from the act of creation wherein God ordered his creation to participate in this one dynamic principle in the manner he willed. It is God's will--his decision regarding what relationships ought to exist among his creatures--that further defines the precise manner in which his creatures are to participate in the one law: Deus est diligendus.
Now the interesting point . . . is that among the interrelationships connecting creatures to one another, especially the ones binding man to man, but also man to nature, those that are morally obligatory do not express anything that could not logically or really be otherwise.
Wolter, xiii. According to Scotus, God was free to create the world in whatever manner he wanted subject only to the principle that Deus est diligendus. Creation and its order, just like being, depend radically upon God's will. Morality follows the contingency of creation as "the content of morality participates in the radical contingency of finite reality." This means that morality is likewise radically contingent. The ratio (reason) of creation and the ratio of morality all are bound up in the voluntas Dei (the will of God), and not the ratio of God. Not that the voluntas Dei contradicts the ratio Dei, but that ratio Dei is unlimited in its fecundity, and it is limited only by its decision to act in the manner that the will of God has acted. All creation, and all natural law, is contingent in that, had God willed otherwise, creation and natural law would have been otherwise.

Duns Scotus
(Detail from Painting of St. Albert the Great and Duns Scotus by A. Aspertini)

There is only one slender--though infinitely powerful and invariable--stop to any sort of relativism: the authority of God. While creation and morality may be radically contingent from the perspective of God, once God's will has decided, the morality is binding upon its creation.

The checkrein on moral relativism is Divine Authority. The order of creation reflects a judgment on God's part that certain relationships ought to obtain among finite entities because it is a most suitable and exceedingly fitting way for all things to participate in Divine Love. In the act of creation, therefore, God's decision concerning the harmony of goodness in the universe becomes natural law.

Wolter, xiii. It is as if God were a divine master who decides to paint on the canvas of his creation a painting with the theme Deus est diligendus, and with all the creativity, tools, techniques, and media at his disposal, he paints a particular masterpiece, one among myriads he could have painted. And it is the artisitic will that implements that painting of creation that determines what is good, what is good for the creature (bonum ipsi) and what is good in itself (bonum in se). It is these divinely willed goods that determine the natural law which is ordered to the good. Had God willed the painting another way, good would have been different, and the natural law would have been another, though it still would have expressed in its way the supreme law Deus est diligendus, for this is the one artistic law that is unable to be violated.

For the Scotist, God is not a thinker, a mathematician or logician, God is a lover, and artist, a poet. The vantage point of the Scotist is remarkably different from the vantage point of the Thomist, and yet, are they not seeing the same God and the same natural law in different ways?

The above has to do with the objective aspect of the moral law. We need to look at the subjective aspect. How, once determined by God in the choices made in the act of creation, is the natural law communicated to the rational creature, man? This takes us into the subjective component of Scotist moral thinking. Here, the Scotist settles into a more conventional view: "Scotus is a right reason theorist." Wolter, xiii. Man has been given the means to comprehend and analyze the entire ensemble of components that in the aggregate compose the moral decision: the object of the act, the agent's intent and knowledge, the end of the act, and the circumstances surrounding the act. Wolter, xiii. Taking all these factors into consideration and ordering them by right reason yields the result of what ought to be done and what ought to be avoided.

Duns Scotus takes the concept of the radical contingency of the objective natural law with the concept of right reason as the subjective means for knowing that objective albeit contingent law, and blends them. Some commentators of Scotus have seen these two aspects of his moral thought as irreconcilable. The radical contingency of the natural law and right reason are antinomies. Some have simply ignored Scotus's insistence that right reason can grasp the moral law despite its radical contingency, and have accused Scotus of propagating a version of ethics so voluntaristic and dependent upon an arbitrary will of God that reason cannot know it. But these seem to be misconceptions, as Scotus held not only that the natural law was contingent upon God's will, but that it also could be known through right reason. It is this unique blending which allows Scotus to analyze the so-called second tablet of the Decalogue and address the issue of the precepts relating to murder, theft, adultery, lying, and so forth.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Duns Scotus, Proto-Existentialist

DUNS SCOTUS PRESENTS A MANIFESTLY different doctrine of man, his nature, and morality and natural law relative to St. Thomas's teaching or the teaching of any other Aristotelian-based eudaemonistic ethic. Scotus's emphasis on freedom and the tenuousness of being (which were discussed in the last posting) lead naturally to a "thin" concept of nature, one that while perhaps not completely nominalistic, is certainly less essentialist than an Aristotelian-influenced moral philosophy.

A thin concept of nature means that Scotus must look elsewhere for the basis of moral law, and that "elsewhere" is an ordered freedom, a free act of will that focuses away from one's self and natural desires and is other-regarding and so transcending of one's nature. Indeed, ultimately it is to the Other, to God that Scotus turns. "Scotist morality requires a radical transcendence of the natural," Wolter, xii, and obviously reaches out to the supernatural.

In discussing the role of nature and the need to transcend it, Scotus differentiates between two loves or desires. The first is an affectio commodi, which is a desire that relates to one's self, one's nature, an affection for what is convenient, comfortable, self-satisfying. It looks at activity with a focus on bonum sibi, the good to itself, and not the good of the other. It is a natural appetite, something man would share with all created natures, all "mortal things" whether they be a stones, trees, or a kingfishers or a dragonflies. An act moved by affectio commodi is not so much an act of free will, but rather an act of nature, and so an act not altogether free since it is determined in a real fashion by the impulse of nature.
As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies dráw fláme;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:

Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying Whát I do is me: for that I came.
G. M. Hopkins, "As Kingfishers Catch Fire."

A striking photograph by Charlie Hamilton James
of a kingfisher "catching fire" as it catches a fish

The other affection, upon which the entirety of morality is built and through which one transcends his nature, is the affectio justitiae. This affectio justitiae (affection for justice) takes a person outside himself and his nature so to speak, and so requires an act of free will, a will freed of its nature and therefore transcending that nature. Contrary to the affectio commodi (which is self-regarding and seeks bonum sibi, and leads to natural happiness), the affectio justitiae is other-regarding. It seeks the bonum in se [good in itself] of things, not the bonum sibi [good to one's self] of the affectio commodi. Ultimately, if properly focused upon the Other, that is, God, the affectio justitiae leads to beatitude. It is through the affectio justitiae that man is transformed from beast to human person. "This transformation lies at the heart of rational personhood." Wolter, xii. It is through the affectio justitiae that man does "more" than "what I do is me." It is through the affectio justitiae that the "just man justices" as he regards things, not from his own perspective, but from perspective of the Other, acting "in God's eye," as it were.
Í say móre: the just man justices;
Kéeps gráce: thát keeps all his going graces;
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is –
Christ . . . .
G. M. Hopkins, "As Kingfishers Draw Fire."

Clearly, with his focus on transcending nature--the affectio commodi--and realizing freedom and moral worth through a nature-transcending affectio justitiae, Scotus deprecates nature as a source of morality.

In Scotus' philosophy, "nature" underdetermines the content of morality and the good we achieve through our free will. "'Action in accord with right reason,' therefore,picks out what is reasonable or rational . . . But it is not something suited to the nature of the agent. Being moral cannot be analyzed in terms of an agent's nature, because being free is precisely not being 'in' a nature." In effect, morality arises from the discontinuity between the natural and the voluntary. "Nature" does not suffice to specify the content of morality: it can only give us the good in the eudaemonistic form of the bonum sibi [the good to oneself].

Wolter, xii.

This Scotist doctrine is oddly existential in feel, and more than one commentator has attributed to Scotus an incipient existentialism. In their deprecation of nature, Scotus and Sartre go hand in hand.* Scotus was an existentialist before existentialism was cool. What separates Scotus from Sartre, however, is the role that the love of God plays.

Transcending freedom, of course, has its measure [in Scotus]; it is not arbitrarily open-ended [as it is in, say Sartre], for its object is the bonum in se of things and, most especially, the love of God.

Wolter,xii. In Sartre, man is condemned to be free, and God plays no role. In Scotus, man is called to be free, and he finds his freedom in the single great principle of all law and morality, the love of God. Deus est diligendus! Ord. IV, d. 46, q. 1, n.1. "God is to be loved!" is, for Scotus, the moral absolute, the irreformable, necessary and exceptionless norm of all moral action. It is the Deus est diligendus! which separates Sartre and Scotus and puts them at antipodes of each other. Not all existentialists are the same.

*Sartre's deprecation of human nature as a source of moral standard is discussed in Man is Not a Pickle: The Sartrean Argument Against Natural Law.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Duns Scotus, Freedom's Order, and Synchronic Contingency

BEFORE DELVING INTO THE MORAL THOUGHT of Duns Scotus, we ought to spend some time familiarizing ourselves with his metaphysical doctrine. Two areas and their interplay stand out for special mention.

First, we need to become familiar with Scotus's particular notion of divine freedom, in which freedom itself has its own order. It is this concept of order-in-freedom itself which makes Scotus neither an essentialist or a voluntarist, but someone who thinks and walks outside these categories. Second, we need to look at Scotus's handling of the problem of the contingency of creation on God's will and his notion of what Modern Scotist scholars have called "synchronic contingency." Finally, we need to see how these two interplay: how freedom's order and synchronic contingency operate together to give us reality.

Scotus walks a tightrope, as it were, between a robust Aristotelian essentialism (where all things have natures, and God himself is in a way constrained by the requirements of the essences of those nature in his creation of them or in his ordering them), on the one hand, and a radical Ockhamistic nominalism, where there are no such thing as essences or natures, and all creation, and therefore the law governing that creation, is based upon the arbitrary will of God: voluntarism.

Duns Scotus

Avoiding these two extremes or antipodes, Scotus sought to reconcile God's radical freedom without falling into the anarchy that follows if everything is considered a matter of arbitrary divine will. He also sought to give a nod in the direction of essences or natures of things--which supposes an ordered or reasoned will--without constraining the freedom of God. Scotus's metaphysical thinking on this issue has some importance in morality because if there is no such thing as an essence or nature (i.e., if we adopt a philosophical nominalism, where "man" is not an essence, but just a name (nomine), and the only thing that exists is not "man," but only each individual man), then there no reason in nature from which a universal law can be built. Similarly, if law is based, not upon nature or reason, but upon arbitrary will, then it follows that there is no such reality as good or evil, except as God's will commands. Good and evil, then, and the natural law which proscribes one to do good and avoid evil, likewise, are the result of a command, a fiat, the will of the sovereign. Morality becomes pure positivism--right and wrong are posited by the sovereign God. This is the opposite end of the Euthyphro dilemma.* But it is wrong to put Scotus in either the essentialist or nominalist camp, because his answer is almost sui generis. Scotus is more subtle.

[Scotus]is no standard essentialist, nor is he a familiar nominalist, for the reason that he has not put freedom and reason in fundamental ontological opposition to one another. The order or the reason of nature and action, of cosmology and morality, unfold within the architectonic form of freedom.

Wolter, x.* What Frank in his preface to Wolter's anthology means by the "architectonic form of freedom" is that God's freedom, its liberality, has an order of its own, so that God's freedom, when it freely and generously acts, is not arbitrary, but its exercise comes with its own order, its own rules. God, says Scotus, is debitor ex liberalitate sua, a debtor to his own liberality. Ord. IV, dist. 46. God's will, therefore, is most ordered even in its freedom: it is ordinatissme volens, a most ordered will. Ord.III, suppl., dist.32. Pascal noted that the heart has reasons of its own. In a similar way, in Scotus's view, freedom has reason of its own, even God's freedom. This reason's freedom or freedom's reason is what Walter calls Scotus's "architectonic form of freedom."

With respect to the important concept of "synchronic contingency," we find that Scotus narrowly seems to tread on the boundary of the law of non-contradiction: that something cannot both be and not be simultaneously. Something, say A, logically and really cannot be non-A. In an effort to explain the radical contingency of creation upon God's will, however, Scotus avers that it is both logically and really possible that the opposite of a contingent fact exist even at the time when that contingent fact exists. It is logically and really possible at the time that A, and that non-A be. This concept, of course, gives rise to a striking metaphysics:
The resultant ontology [from the notion of synchronic contingency] is a remarkable achievement, for it means that any finite created entity subsists over against the simultaneous and real possibility that it could be otherwise.
Woltern, xi. Under this sort of ontology, there is of course a certain trepidation, tenuousness, a thin-ice feel to contingent being. It is as if the Damocles sword of non-being always hovers above a contingent, created being. There is always the logical and real void of non-being in view. In Scotus's view, being walks on very thin ice. Contingent being is almost a will-o'-the-wisp. An Aristotelian metaphysics will see natures and essences as having a certain lastingness, a certain thickness, a certain purchase in which one can be confident. Things hold with Aristotle: once one has a purchase or hold on being, one can be confident that it is: it is a thick rope and firm anchor upon which being is belayed. With Scotus one is afraid being may slip into non-being, since being hangs on such thin thread and one's anchors are dangerously set. Being climbs with a little more nervousness. True, the Scotist concept of being has more to rely on that the Ockhamist. Continuing our metaphor, the Ockhamist concept of being is free soloing, and it has no ties whatsoever to safety. With Ockham, being climbs rashly, impetuously, cavalierly. One slip, one careless move and being crashes into non-being: there are no Aristotelian essences or natures, no Scotist order-in-freedom that will save Ockham's being from disappearing into non-being's chasm.

The Scotist notion of synchronic contingency affects one's thinking in morals. An Aristotelian will find something solid in nature, a ratio ordinis in nature: nature has a written, reliable order, one founded ultimately in the order that is in God and which God respects. There is the glue of reason in addition to will. The Aristotelian will find the "glue of the universe" to be in essences, in the natures of these contingent beings which participate in Being through a combination of reason and will. The Scotist, however, finds the "glue of the universe" to be in freedom, in the "architectonic order" of freedom, which presents a unique combination. The Ockhamist finds no glue at all in the universe except the naked will of God, and that will is radically free, free even of the thin order of freedom with which Scotus dressed the otherwise nude and immodest and ungovernable arbitrary will of God.

*The preface to Wolter's work (designated here by small Roman numbers) is William A. Frank of the University of Dallas.
**Briefly discussed in Natural Law's Modern Cousin Germain: Voluntarism and Law.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Duns Scotus and the Natural Moral Law

JOHN DUNS SCOTUS is, perhaps, the Franciscan counterpart to the Dominican St. Thomas Aquinas, though he has to contend with the redoubtable St. Bonaventure for that title. Relative to St. Thomas Aquinas, the common doctor of the Church, Duns Scotus (1265(6)-1308) certainly suffers from less exposure or popularity, especially in the area with which we are concerned, his moral teachings. A clear understanding of his philosophical teachings were somewhat hampered by the uncertainty regarding the authorship of some of the work that was attributed to him, for example, the Theoremata, a work that shows nominalistic leanings not completely compatible with work that he was known to have authored, in particular, his two great commentaries on the sentences and the Opus Oxoniense. This, of course, caused quite a lot of confusion as various efforts were made to reconcile the quite contrary teachings between the questioned Theoremata and his other known works. His moral theology, which stresses the primacy of the will over the intellect, opened the door to voluntarism which, it its extreme form--for example in Ockham--is deeply problematic. For this reason, Scotus has often (and wrongly) tagged a voluntarist in ethics, where, in its extreme form, God can virtually will any act right merely by willing it, there being no other quality of the good other than the fact that God has willed it. Conceivably, then, God could even will men to hate him, and it would be considered good because God willed it. Though Scotus was not a voluntarist in the sense that Ockham was, there is no doubt that will predominates over reason in his moral teachings, and this colors his view of the natural law.

Other works of Scotus that are considered authentic include the Reportata Parisiensia, the Questiones Quodlibetales, the Collationes, and the De primo principio.

Scotus was, in any event, not a dunce, but rather a formidable thinker, and he earned his laurels as a Catholic theologian by his theological reflections and thinking on Mary's Immaculate Conception. His deep reflections and his incisive thinking removed the theological objections to Mary's Immaculate Conception in a manner that even St. Thomas was unable to do. He is therefore also frequently referred to as the Doctor Marianus, the Marian Doctor.

Duns Scotus, the Doctor Subtilis

Known also as the subtle doctor, the Doctor Subtilis, Scotus was born in Maxton, county of Roxburgh, in Scotland. The name Duns came from his family name which is derived from Duns, Berwick County, Scotland, the traditional family home, and Scotus, his country of origin. (An etymological tradition holds that the word "Dunce" came from "Duns," courtesy of the detractors of his teaching who called anyone who held foolish or unintelligible positions to be another "Duns.") Scotus studied at Oxford and Paris, eventually lecturing at the University of Paris. He joined the Franciscan Order in 1278, took the habit of the Friars Minor in 1280, and was ordained a priest in 1291. For reasons not altogether clear, he was transferred from Paris to Cologne, where he taught for the last year of his life.

Scotus is the founder of the school of thought called Scotism, a competitor to Thomism, and scholars debate the extent of the rift between the two thinkers. As Copleston summarized the state of affairs in his day:

Various general interpretations of Scotus's philosophy have been given, ranging from the interpretation of Scotus as a revolutionary, as a direct precursor of Ockham and of Luther, to the attempt to soften down the sharp differences between Scotism and Thomism and to interpret Scotus as a continuator of the work of St. Thomas. The first interpretation . . . can be dismissed, in its extreme form at least, as extravagant and insufficiently grounded, while on the other hand it is impossible to deny that Scotism does differ from Thomism. But is Scotus to be regarded as a continuator of the Franciscan tradition who at the same time adopted a great deal from Aristotle and from non-Franciscan mediaeval predecessors, or is to be regarded as a thinker who carried on the Aristotelian tradition of St. Thomas but at the same time corrected St. Thomas in the light of what he himself considered to be the truth, or is he simply to be regarded as an independent thinker who at the same time depended, as all philosophers must, on preceding thinkers in regard to the problems raised and discussed? The question is not an easy one to answer . . . but it would seem that there is truth in each of the foregoing suggestions.

Copleston, 481. Some differences are apparent. Scotus, in line with the Augustinian/Franciscan tradition emphasizes the superiority of the will over the intellect, rather than, as is typical for the Thomistic tradition, the intellect over the will. A characteristic of his moral teaching is to emphasize freedom even over love, and love over knowledge. One of the distinct features of his moral theology was his view that the first principle of moral action, that is, the "supreme practical principle is that God should be loved above all things." Copleston, 482. As mentioned above, inkeeping with the Augustinian/Franciscan school, Scotus emphasizes God's will as the source of moral obligation, although he does not espouse an extreme voluntarism such as Ockham. Nevertheless, "it can hardly be denied that the elements of voluntarism in his philosophy helped to prepare the way for the authoritarianism of Ockham." Copleston, 485. Some of these voluntaristic tenets influence Scotus's view that the natural law precepts could be divided into primary and secondary precepts (the primary dealing with the relationship between God and man; the secondary precepts involving the relationship between man and man). In Scotus's view, the secondary precepts were not part of the natural law in the strict sense and therefore could be dispensed with by God in a particular case (e.g., in the command to Abraham). Copleston, 485. His moral philosophy is much less reliant upon Aristotle than St. Thomas, and there is a notable departure from Aristotle in the area of virtues ethics or the role of happiness. But we are anticipating our topic.

The Victorian poet and Jesuit Gerard Manley Hopkins, who was deeply influenced by Scotus, described Scotus's fate thus: "[H]e saw too far, he knew too much; his subtlety overshot his interests; a kind of feud arose between genius and talent, and the ruck of talent in the Schools finding itself, as his age passed by, less and less able to understand him, voted that there was nothing important to understand and so first misquoted and then refuted him." Letters, III, 349. For the deeply sensitive Hopkins, Scotus was the thinker "who of all men most sways my spirits to peace."
Of realty the rarest-veinèd unraveller; a not
Rivalled insight, be rival Italy or Greece;
Who fired France for Mary without spot.
Hopkins, "Duns Scotus's Oxford."

Hopkins found confirmation of his unique doctrine of "inscape" in Scotus's works, though it clearly is not a concept identical with Scotus's philosophical doctrine of haecceitas but is rather much more broadly predicated on Scotus's Christological or Christocentric view of the creation. Hopkins found in Scotus a kindred spirit, particularly in what John Paul II called Scotus's characteristic as a "minstrel" of the Word Incarnate. Undoubtedly, the poetic inclinations of Scotus and his deeply Marian piety also resounded with Hopkins.

The Hopkinsean notion of "inscape" is difficult to grasp, but its essential aspect is that the inner nature of any created object contains a revelation of God which is manifested or communicated by its outer characteristics. Each created nature, then, contains a revelation of God, a "word, expression, news of God." Sermons, 129. So, for example, when Hopkins saw a bluebell in bloom, he came to know "the beauty of the Lord by it." Its inscape, "is strength and grace, like an ash." Journals, 199. The link between Hopkins and Scotus in this area of inscape is made clear in one of the entries in Hopkins's Journals where he states that after having read Scotus "when I took any inscape of the sky or sea I thought of Scotus." Journals, 221. This notion of Scotus was carried over by Hopkins (though undeveloped) in an analogous concept of "inlaw," which might be likened to a practical analogue of the theoretical "inscape," and thus may be a deeply Christological notion of the conscience or the natural moral law as a sort of natural calling of Christ in man into intimacy with him.**

His life is succinctly if nakedly summarized by the epitaph on his sarcophagus in Cologne:
Scotia me genuit.
Anglia me suscepit.
Gallia me docuit.
Colonia me tenet.
In 1993, Scotus was beatified by John Paul II.

Over the next several postings, we will take a cursory view over the moral teachings of this much-maligned and often misunderstood Franciscan genius. We will rely largely on Allan Wolter's text and commentary Duns Scotus: On the Will & Morality, though other texts will also be referenced.††

*Copleston refers to Frederick Copleston, S. J., A History of Philosophy (New York: Image Books, 1985), Volume II ("Augustine to Scotus").
**The cites to Hopkins are taken from Sjaak Zonneveld, "Blessed John Duns Scotus and Recent Papal Pronouncements," Revue LISA/LISA e-journal [Online], Vol. VII – n°3 | 2009.
†Latin for: "Scotland borne me. England raised me. France taught me. Cologne has [or holds] me."
††Allan B. Wolter, O.F.M., Duns Scotus: On the Will & Morality (William A. Frank, trans. and ed.) (Washington, D.C., Catholic University Press, 1997).

Monday, September 12, 2011

Determining Rachel

CLASSIC THOMISTIC THEORY OF NATURAL LAW distinguishes between self-evident principles, conclusions, and determinations* of natural law. The self-evident principles and, to a large extent, the conclusions are matters that most will not disagree on, and are generally considered to be those sorts of matters which, in J. Budziszewski's expression, we can't not not know. Self-evident principles are matters such as we ought to do good, and avoid evil. Conclusions include such matters as one ought not to kill an innocent human being or commit adultery. The self-evident principles and conclusions must then be extended out to reach out all sorts of behavior. Some of these determinations are more clear than others (if they, say involve general principles: you should not use artificial contraception), whereas others clearly get into prudential decision and run into the gray of factual determinations (e.g., whether a war is just or not, what punishment, if any, ought to be assessed against certain behavior, e.g., assault with a deadly weapon). These determinations, though they may vary diversely from place to place, from time to time, from culture to culture, are still informed by the natural law, and are therefore binding. The determinations can be made both by individuals (in moral decisions) and by properly constituted authority in laws. In both events, the moral law informs the determinations.

Jacob and Leah by Erwin Speckter (1806-1835)

A classic example of determinations is the rule that one ought to drive on the right-hand side of the road. In England and other places influenced by England, as everyone knows, the rule is to drive on the left-hand side. These are determinations of a general natural law rule that the properly constituted authority has an obligation to pass reasonable laws so as to reduce the fatalities associated with the activities of its citizens to the benefit of the common good. Once, however the determination is made by properly constituted authority (or custom) to drive on the right side of the road, it would be a breach of both that particular law (or custom) and the natural law to drive on the left side.

Sometimes, these determinations are self-imposed as a result of choices that an individual makes. An example that J. Budziszewski gives in his short book Natural Law for Lawyers,** involves marriage. He plays off the biblical story of Leah and Rachel as an example of how a person can freely determine the natural law, but, once having made his decision, the natural law becomes highly specific.

A man (we shall call him Jacob) has the choice of one of two women as wife: Leah or Rachel. Suppose that Leah and Rachel are equally attractive to him, and equally virtuous. Let us suppose that, for whatever reason, Jacob loves Rachel more than Leah, and so chooses her to be his spouse. From a prudential (and moral) perspective, he could have chosen Leah without any fault. From a prudential (and moral) perspective, he chose Rachel, without any moral fault. But he has freely selected Rachel to marry.

However, once having chosen Rachel over Leah, he has chosen "the goodness of who-Rachel-is over the equal but different goodness of who-Leah-is, not because Rachel is more good in herself than Leah but because she seem more good to him." Budziszewski, 85. But this freely-made determination binds him, and makes the general moral precept that he should not commit adultery very specific: he may not engage with sexual relations with anyone except his chosen Rachel.

*The topic of determinations is treated in various prior posts, but is extensively discussed in Natural Law's Modern Cousin Germain: Law's Relationship to Law
**J. Budziszewski, Natural Law for Lawyers (Nashville: ACW Press, 2006).