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.

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.

1 comment:

  1. I think Broadie is a bit misleading here. It's not that Scotus isn't a "full nominalist", he's not a nominalist at all, and directly attacks the nominalist position almost as Ockham would expound it later (see Ord II d. 3, trans. in Spade's five texts on the problem of universals). In fact, Scotus is more of a realist than Thomas, since he advocates common natures, while Thomas denies they have any being.