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.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Duns Scotus: On Synderesis and Conscience

THE NOTION OF SYNDERESIS AS A SORT OF antechamber of conscience, the scintilla conscientiae or spark of conscience, has an interesting history. Some time ago, we had a posting on St. Jerome's contribution on the natural law, and, as part of it, we discussed his injection of the notion of synderesis. See St. Jerome on the Natural Law: The Scintilla of Conscience. In his discussion on Duns Scotus's understanding of synderesis and conscience, Allan Wolter has a good synopsis of this word's curious history:

St. Jerome, in the opening chapter of his Commentary on Ezechiel (PL 25, 22B), is credited with introducing the Greek term "synteresis" into Latin, referring to it as the spark of conscience (scintilla conscientiae) which even Cain's sin could not eradicate from his nature. Derived from the Greek verb "syntereo" (to watch closely, to preserve or keep safe) it seems to have been nothing more than a poetic way of describing conscience. According to De Blic (1949), it was a medieval scribe who made the error of writing "synteresis" (conservation) for "syneidesis" (conscience) in copying Jerome's work on Ezechiel. The error was incorporated into the popular Glossa ordinaria and, through Peter Lombard's Sentences, passed on to the scholastic theologians, who speculated as to its exact nature, usually giving it a special function distinct from conscience.

Wolter, 45. The Scholastics, then, disputed what exactly synderesis was: how it was different from, or how it was related to, conscience; what its role was in the moral life; what its relationship was with the human will, with the human intellect; what its role was with respect to moral habits; and so forth.

With respect to whether synderesis resided principally in the intellect or principally in the will, Wolter gives a quick, if undetailed, summary of the issue:
Peter Lombard cites various views as to what "weights human nature towards good." Referring to Jerome's commentary, he says: "Man is rightly said to will good naturally, because he was established with a good and right will. For the higher 'spark of reason,' which also, as Jerome says, 'could not be extinguished in Cain,' always wills good and hates evil." (Sent. II, dist. 39) This suggests that synderesis might be either in the intellect or in the will or simply in the soul as possessing both.
Wolter, 45.

Since Peter Lombard was rather vague on the location of synderesis--in the will, in the intellect, or somehow in both--commentators on his Sentences naturally took different positions:

In one of the first known commentaries on Peter's book, attributed to Udo (Lottin, 1948, pp. 107-8), synderesis is identified with Augustine's ratio superior.* One of the first Franciscan masters at Paris, John of La Rochelle, went along with this interpretation of Udo. St. Bonaventure, on the other hand, interprets conscience as a habit of practical intellect, which inclines a person to know both general principles of moral rectitude and the goodness or badness of particular actions, whereas he sees synderesis as the "weight of the will whose function is to incline it towards the good in itself" (II Sent., dist. 39, art 2, q. 1; Opera II, p. 910).

Wolter, 46.

Blessed Duns Scotus

Scotus does not follow St. Bonaventure in assigning synderesis to the will. Following Bonaventure, Scotus could have identified his affectio justitiae with synderesis.** But Scotus viewed synderesis as having a role in the intellect, in its formation, prior to any act of will and its inclination towards the good in any free, elicited act. Scotus sees synderesis as nothing other than the practical intellect viewed from the perspective of making judgments based upon general moral principles. Synderesis is distinguished from conscience, since the latter is concerned with particular, concrete actions. Conscience follows synderesis. So while synderesis is not for Scotus as it was for Bonaventure the "weight of the will" which inclines to the good, he did view it as being a component in the prior act of intellect which was a "stimulus to good," particular when the will operated under its superior affectio justitiae, in which the person sought the good in itself, and not the lower affectio commodi, where the person sought the good for himself.

Scotus discusses these issues in his Ordinatio II, dist. 39, qq. 1-2, where he address Peter Lombard's Sentences (II, dist. 39). He asks the question, "Is synderesis in the will?" and then fashions arguments for this position and against this position, ultimately deciding that synderesis is in the practical intellect, and not in the will.

The first argument that Scotus advances as suggestive that synderesis is in the will, and not in the intellect is that synderesis "always protests against evil," and since "protest pertains to the will," it follows that synderesis must be something found in the will and not the intellect. But against this position, Scotus notes that the protest of synderesis arises because "it shows what good ought to be willed," and it is this intellectual showing that is the "occasion for protesting against evil," so it is something intellectual in nature, prior to the exercise of the will.

The second argument that might suggest that synderesis is something in the will is the notion that synderesis is understood to be "that whereby man necessarily is inclined to justice." Since St. Anselm teaches that inclinations toward what is advantageous (affectio commodi) is something in the will and it is willed necessarily, it seems to follow that inclinations to what is just (affectio justitiae) would also be something in the will. But Scotus distinguishes between these inclinations. As we have seen, Scotus divides the human will into two wills: natural will and free will. Free will, which is the power to act freely, is free to chose course between something that is advantageous to it and something that may not be advantageous to it, but rather is something that is just and contrary to its advantage. St. Anselm's statement, then, that the will wills its advantage necessarily mus be understood to refer to the natural will, which necessarily wills its own advantage, and not to the free will which can chose justice. Synderesis relates not to the natural will, but to the elicited act, and so it is something that is unrelated to the natural will that seeks its own advantage.

Similarly, St. Augustine's understanding of the will as something which necessarily inclines towards its own happiness. (Scotus refers to St. Augustine's De Trinitae, XIII.5) It would seem that our inclination towards justice is something similar to the inclination we have towards happiness. Since synderesis is what inclines a man to justice, it would suggest to be something that resides in the will. Scotus counters this argument in the same manner that he counters the argument from St. Anselm. He distinguishes between the natural will (which necessarily wills happiness defined as one's advantage) from the free will (which does not necessarily will either its advantage or justice, but is free to choose one or the other). Synderesis, then, relates not to the natural will, but to the free will, to an elicited, and not a determined and necessary, act.

Finally, Scotus argues that synderesis could be thought to be something related in the will through an argument based upon analogy. Irrational natures tend necessarily to fulfill their natures. The will, then, ought to have some similarity to this, and the "will too will have a principle necessarily inclining it towards the justice it is suited by nature to have." But this is to confuse natures. The nature of irrational objects is not free, whereas it is the dignity of rational natures to be free. So it is improper to analogize from the necessary nature of irrational creation to the free nature of rational creation. Synderesis, then, cannot be part of determined nature.

Scotus takes the position that synderesis is not something of the will, but is something that pertains to the intellect. This, he argues, is the meaning of Peter Lombard's text: "synderesis represents the higher portion of reason," to Lombard, and so it follows that "synderesis is in the intellect which is concerned with contemplation or the theoretical." Ordinatio II, dist. 39 (Wolter, 162)

Scotus also discusses conscience in this distinction. There are some arguments that might be made that conscience is something that pertains to the will. For example, in the Epistle to the Hebrews (13:18) mention is made of "good conscience." Since goodness pertains to the will (one speaks of a good will, not necessarily of a good intellect), this suggests that conscience pertains to the will. But against this, Scotus argues goodness is also attributed to habits of the practical intellect, and not only the will. Granted, goodness, when used of the practical intellect, refers to suitability to the will of what the practical intellect determines is right. So a good will pertains to a right practical intellect. Sometimes the notion of good is thus transferred from the will to the practical intellect. Such expressions sometimes go the other way, so we speak of a right will, though in reality it is the practical intellect that is right, the good will being right because it is in accord with the right as presented by the practical intellect.

Another argument that might be used to argue that conscience is something that is found in the will and not the intellect is that if conscience pertains to the intellect, then one would expect that the more one knew, the more conscientious that person would be. But this is not our experience, since we know that mere knowledge does not lead to conscientiousness. This would suggest that conscience then is not something pertaining to the intellect. Against this position, however, it also known that the will can act against what the practical reason presents to it as good. There are people, as Aristotle pointed out in his Ethics, that can recite the teachings of the philosopher Empedocles even while under the influence of passion. Failure to do what is right, then, may not be a defect of the intellect, but it could be a defect of the will. Therefore, the fact that someone with knowledge of the right may not do the right does not suggest that conscience is something in the will.

Ultimately, Scotus teaches that both synderesis and conscience pertain to the intellect, and not to the will. For Scotus, the free will and the elicited act is never necessary. It neither necessarily tends towards good or necessarily resists evil. To suggest that the will is compelled to do good would mean that there could be no sin. If synderesis always proposes what is right, and always opposes what is wrong, then it is not something that pertains to the free will, and so must be something that relates to the practical intellect. It is something that is proposed to the free will, and the free will can either act in conformity with it or act against it. Likewise, conscience is something that pertains to the intellect. For Scotus, conscience "is produced deductively by way of a practical syllogism." Conscience is not something innate, nor is it some sort of power in the soul; rather, conscience "represents an evident conclusion inferred from first practical principles." Ordinatio II, dist. 39 (Wolter, 164) Clearly, for Scotus, the conscience does not pertain to any appetitive habit or will, but is something that pertains to the practical intellect.

If synderesis is assumed to be something having an elicited act that necessarily and at all times inclines one to act justly and resit sin, then since nothing of this sort is in the will, we cannot assume it to be there. Consequently, it is in the intellect, and it cannot be assumed to be anything other than the habitual knowledge of principles which is always right. For the intellect, in virtue of its own natural light, assents to these principles immediately on the strength of their terms. And then, insofar as it depends in part upon the intellect, the free will is apt by nature to choose in accord with these principles, though such a choice may fail to follow insofar as the other, the principal cause, freely chooses otherwise, because there is no necessitating cause involved here.

According to this line of reasoning, we can also assume that conscience is the habit of making proper practical conclusion, according to which a right choice of what is to be done is apt by nature to follow, and hence it can be called a stimulus to good, insofar as free choice, as a whole, has one partial cause [practical knowledge] disposing it correctly and a volition that is right and good will follow unless there is a defect in the other partial concurring cause needed for willing.

Ordinatio II, dist. 39 (Wolter, 164-65).

*In Book XII of his De Trinitate, St. Augustine divides human reason into ratio inferior and ratio superior, which is analogous to the difference between knowledge (scientia) and wisdom (sapientia). Ratio inferior is concerned with inferior, temporal, contingent matters (quae intendit temporalibus), while the ratio superior is concerned with metaphysical or eternal matters, most notably, God (quae intendit aeternis conspiciendis aut consulendis). See also St. Thomas Aquinas, S.T. Ia, q. 79, a. 9.
**On Scotus's notion of affectio justitiae and affectio commodi, see Duns Scotus, Proto-Existentialist.

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