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, October 16, 2011

Duns Scotus: On the Pursuit of Happiness

DUNS SCOTUS EXPLORES THE ISSUE OF HAPPINESS, and, in so doing, critiques the Aristotelian and Thomistic eudaimonistic doctrines. Scotus asks the question: must happiness be desired necessarily? Is happiness the motor which drives all our willing?

I answering this question, Scotus relies on his basic distinction between the "natural will" and the "free will," a distinction we have covered in prior postings discussing Duns Scotus's moral philosophy. One can review this distinction by accessing the posting Duns Scotus: Will, Free and Natural. For Scotus, the issue of happiness as the end of man is influenced by the matrix of his distinction between the natural, unelicited, and ever-present will and a free, elicited will. The former necessarily is inclined towards its perfection through the affectio commodi, the desire for its own advantage. The latter is not so disposed, as it seeks something beyond its own perfection, a good beyond its own good, through the affectio jusititiae, the desire or affection toward justice. That latter wills its own good necessarily, the latter only contingently.

Blessed Duns Scotus

In reference to the natural will: it always and necessarily seeks happiness as defined by its own perfection:

If it is the natural rather than the free appetite [or will] that is referred to [in the question of whether happiness is desired above all else and is the rationale or impetus behind the will], then the reply to the question is clear, for the [natural] will necessarily or perpetually seeks happiness, and this in regard to a particular happiness.

That it does so necessarily, is obvious, because a nature could not remain a nature without being inclined to its own perfection. Take away this inclination and you destroy the nature. But this natural appetite is nothing other than an inclination of this sort to its proper perfection; therefore, the will as nature necessarily wills its perfection, which consists above all in happiness, and it desires such by its natural appetite.
[I]f the will as nature is determined necessarily to seek happiness, then as nature it seeks it above all.

That it seeks happiness in particular in this fashion, is evident, because this appetite is directed toward a perfection in which the will really perfected; but real perfection is not something general or universal, but something singular. Therefore, it desires happiness in particular.

Ordinatio IV, suppl., dist. 49, qq. 9-10 (Wolter, 156-57)

Scotus next asks whether the free will, as distinguished from the natural will, necessarily wills happiness, both in general and in particular. His answer departs from the Thomistic formula which holds that the free will necessarily seeks happiness and good in general, but not necessarily in particular. In the Thomistic view, all men are compelled--determined--to seek the universal or general good, but are not so similarly compelled--they are free--to chose particular goods. Though a particular good is chosen under the light of the general good, the choice is not compelled: and for this reason, man is free to select a particular good which, in fact, may not be to his good, may not, in the particular instance, lead to his perfection, to his good, to happiness. It is this distinction between the determined general inclination toward the good and the free will in choosing the particular that allows the Thomist to preserve free will, but also to preserve the notion that all men seek good and happiness.

Scotus opposes himself to this doctrine. He sees the distinction between the general and the particular good, the former desired willy nilly, the latter involving free choice, as one involving a contradiction. In his view, the particular good or particular happiness involves good or happiness in a sort of concentrated or more perfect fashion, and if the general good compels necessarily, then it follows that particular good, which is the general good found in a more concentrated or more perfect way, compels necessarily. The particular good ought to have even greater "pull" on the will than the general good. Moreover, to Scotus, it seems that the will involves an inclination to particular goods, and less strongly one to general goods, and so if the will's inclination is necessarily to good in general, it follows that the will necessarily is inclined to good in particular. The inclination toward the general good, when informed by the intellect as to a particular good being a concretization of the general good, would appear to compel necessarily.

Scotus therefore offers a different approach. In his view, the will does not will necessarily the general, but freely the particular good. In his view, the will contingently wills both the general and the particular good. Man contingently wills both happiness in general and happiness in a particular instance.
[T]he will of a pilgrim in this life for the most part wants happiness, whether known in general or in particular, namely, where the intellect judges or asserts without doubt that happiness is to be found in this particular. Nevertheless, it does not of necessity will happiness either in general or in particular. . . . I say therefore that the will contingently wills the end and happiness both in general and in particular, although in most cases it seeks happiness in general, and also in particular when the intellect has no prior doubt that happiness consists in this particular thing.
Ordinatio IV, suppl., dist. 49, qq.9-10 (Wolter, 158)

The reason why the free will only contingently wills both general and particular happiness is because the free will for the most part follows the inclinations of the natural appetite or will. The natural will necessarily wills happiness, and so for the most part the necessary compulsion of the natural will informs the free will. "For it is impossible," Scotus says, that the free will " be habituated or inclined to will something to any greater degree than it is inclined by its natural appetite." As an example, Scotus points to a just person who confronts martyrdom: one's death is difficult to chose precisely because it goes against the habit or inclinations of our natural desire to preserve our own life.

While the free will in general follows the natural will, it is not compelled to do so. It may act in a manner that opposes itself to the natural will, and it may oppose itself either by choosing something against authentic happiness (e.g., hedonistic pleasure) or something more noble than its natural perfection (e.g., martyrdom). Therefore the free will only contingently wills its general and particular happiness in accordance with its natural inclination. The will is not forced to will the happiness towards which its nature inclines it.

The contingency arises from the fact that one can fail to want something because of happiness. This can be done negatively, that is, this can be done because one can seek something without considering the ultimate end of happiness. In such a case, happiness has no bearing on choice. Moreover, something can be chosen without ordering it towards happiness, without fitting it in to happiness, and at such a time, happiness is not a relevant determinant of choice. Finally, one can oppose authentic happiness and pleasure, and can chose the latter over the former. As an example, a person with faith can conceive happiness as sharing the beatific vision in God the Trinity, and at the same time think of the pleasures of fornication which are entirely opposed to the first happiness. If he continued to think of fornication, though it is not ordered to happiness, he could will to seek it, chose it, and engage in an act that contradicts his own good, his own happiness. This establishes, in Scotus's view, that one is never compelled to act, either in general or in particular, to choose good. Though the free will in the run-of-the-mill situation conforms itself to the natural will, and so generally and in particular seeks its happiness, it always remains radically free to oppose itself to the authentic good, and so will something that is not ordered to its own perfection or happiness. It also remains radically free to chose something greater than its own good, and so go beyond its own nature.

In summary, for Scotus, one is never compelled to seek happiness in general necessarily. Both in general and in particular, one's happiness is always something contingently sought by one's free will. Though one's natural will is necessarily inclined to both its general and particular good, and one's free will generally follows, it is not necessarily the case that the free will has to follow the lead of the natural will. The free will's activity is contingent and remains always free--to chose something that is opposed to our natural happiness, either because it seeks something that is more base than our natural happiness (and sins), or it seeks something that is above and beyond our natural happiness (the supernatural life).

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