September 15, 2003

"Univocity, Analogy and the Mystery of Being According to John Duns Scotus"

Robert Sweetman
Respondent: John Milbank

Sweetmanís Abstract:
ďThis essay begins by noting the small but important role that Scotus plays in the genealogy of our present circumstances elaborated among those thinkers associated with Radical Orthodoxy. John Milbankís treatment of Scotus in Theology and Social Theory provides a relevant example. This essay goes on to focus more narrowly on the univocity of being as Scotus understood it, since that notion is highlighted in R.O. criticism. It asks first whether Scotus adopts a notion of the univocity of being because he rejects any and all understandings of the analogy of being. It asks secondly whether Scotus had Thomas Aquinas in mind when criticising a determinate understanding of the analogy of being, or thirdly whether his criticism would cover Thomas even if it was not directed explicitly at Thomasí understanding. Finally, it asks whether analogy is a truly primary notion in medieval theology, or whether it needs to be seen as a derivative of other more truly basic notions. In the process, the essay argues that a genealogical story that would interpret Scotus in terms of the use made of his theology by Luther, Calvin, Descartes et al. must acknowledge its own relativity. It suggests further that Scotusí understanding of the univocity of being is illumined in at least equally interesting ways if it is inserted into two other stories: one in which Scotusís notion is seen against the Aristotelian backdrop of Avicenna, Averroes and the Condemnations of 1270 and 1277, and another in which it is seen against the backdrop of Scotusí membership in the Franciscan Order and deep intuitions about the world of its founder Francis of Assisi.Ē

(Sweetmanís presentation:)

(He has a book, In the Phrygian Mode, coming out soon.)

In Milbankís Theology and Social Theory, Scotus brings about the division of the disciplines, lays the groundwork for the secular and the later nihilistic reduction of the political to will and violent power. Scotus opposes Aquinasí analogia entis. For Catherine Pickstock also, Scotus is in opposition to Aquinas.

I ask, Is Scotus opposed to all analogies of being or one in particular?
If he opposes a particular one, is his target Aquinasí or someone elseís?
If Scotusí opposition is to Henry of Ghentís analogia entis, does the critique hold for Aquinas?
If he is not attacking Aquinas, what are to make of his arguments?

Is it a criticism of the notion as such? No. Scotus says that Aquinas is correct on at least one analogy of being, the analogical nature of the conception of being in Aristotleís sense. So then, whose analogy of being does Scotus oppose? He rejects the one put forward by Henry of Ghent. Does this rejection apply equally to Thomas?

Letís start with Aristotle. All three share an understanding that the quidditiy of being couldnít be determined as othersí can. All knowledge begins in the senses. Knowledge is expressed most adequately in formal definition. Knowledge is extended to cover nonmaterial substances if quiddity is articulatable.

According to Aristotle, formal knowledge is available for everything. Being functions in our understanding as the genus. Being itself canít be understood in this way. What being is in each instance is not definable, not subject to univocal concept (as are all definitions). But we canít but predicate being of everything. Canít determine sameness; but because being suggests sameness, being is analogical and must be affirmed across differences.

Duns Scotus accepts this, but neither he nor Henry leave it at that. Look at predicated beingsí analogical concepts to see the tendency for late 13th c philosophers.

Ordinatio 1 3 1: Scotus asks, is knowledge of God available to human beings, naturally He seeks positive notions of God, over negative notions of God. He seeks quidditive notions prior to existential judgments (again reversing the traditional understanding). He seeks knowledge. . .prior to the truth of things themselves. He seeks knowledge available to us naturally and in our present condition--a conclusion about God, not creature. He is engaged in natural theology. God is not the object but the end of metaphysics.

Can the mind of a human being naturally have a simple concept by which it grasps God? a basic notion that can only be determinable if being itself functions as determinable? sets in Aristotle's notion of . . . .[[I lost him here]]

Human knowing for Henry of Ghent: If God is the object, we canít know God accidentally, but the knowledge of divine attributes is like the knowledge of God by accidents. All our knowing is substantial knowing.

We canít know via predication. Any predication of the universal with respect to God posits something common to God and creatures. It is only analogical if conceived as quasi-unity with God as an absolute singularity.

And we donít know God as particular via analogy to creatures. So, Henry says that we can have an analogical knowledge of God, but by means of intellectual operations reminiscent of the power of animalsí sensation of intention. Our general knoweldge, as if of some intelligible universal, is acquired as a lamb attains to the intention of its eweís even if changed into a wolf. So knowledge of creatures is knoweldge of God. All knowledge is of God.

Scotusís alternative is that we can have a quidditive knowledge of God through essence rather than attribute (which presupposed the knoweldge of subject and some thing). So to say we know God via attributes is to claim knowledge of God through some quidditive concept, but those are expressed. . .[[lost him again]]

God is conceived not only in a concept analogous to a concept of creature, but God is also conceived in a concept that is univocal when predicated of God and creature:

1) We can have both analogical and univocal concepts of the same thing. Univocation provides sufficient unity, middle terms in arguments, it brings things conceptionally opposed together.
You can be certain about one concept while doubtful of another. For example, you could be certain that a being but uncertain about whether itís God or creature.

A being can be predicated univocally of God and creature for Scotus.

Ghentís could be the same.

Scotus says: what if a being included two concepts that appeared as one concept. He admits abstract possibility, but draws undesirable consequences. If so, then one couldnít establish any concepts predicated of God and creature. Knowledge of God would be impossible. He follows up on doubts about the possibility of natural knowledge of God, and he examines the effect of Henryís argument on the knowledge of creatures. Intelligible species are univocal . Henryís analogy notion would demand that the same could apply to diverse phantasms and intelligible species, if they are distinguishable to imagination. Two different objects produce phantasms, but because they are so close to each other, both the imagination that receives the phantasm and the intellect which produces the species would only come up with one name.

But thatís like saying no natural concept of any one thing would be impossible. False.

3) Henryís analysis presupposes we canít distinguish. But his notion of analogy doesnít hold.

It must be reducible to concepts predicated of God and creatures.

4) A perfection has a concept predicated of God and creature or not. There canít be perfections in creatures but not in God. There canít be perfection only in God and not elsewhere--Anselm presupposes one knows perfection attributable then of God.

Henry of Ghentís notion of analogy is problematic. We either know nothing of perfection from creatures, or we are known from creatures, exalted, and known of God. To deny it, is to be prepared for unacceptable consequences--nothing can be inferred of God from creatures.

The most perfect knowledge of God is not naturally available. He posits a less perfect one, infinite being, fitted to the simplicity of God and names the intrinsic mode of divine entity. [[not sure I got this right]]

According to Scotus, our knowledge of God from creatures. Henryís claim is wrong. We understand how we access God by our access of transcendentals through creatures. This is Aristotleís analogy of being.

Does this critique apply to Aquinas? In the Summa 1 13 5, Thomas addresses this: nothing is predicated of God and creature univocally. It is multiple in creatures, unitary in God. The names for perfections contain creaturely perfection but are insufficient for God. The quality is in the creature; divine nature itself is in God. But it is not predicated purely or equivocally. The claim of philosophy and scripture is that we can know through creatures. Itís a matter of proportionality.

predication of term of God and creature founded on some order of all creatures to God as principle and cause. perfections preexist. single essence as middle term uniting God and creature, but differently disposed. deficient and exceeded.

Essence as middle term uniting God and creature. not purely equivocal. For Thomas, not univocity, but analogy. An unfinished position, subject to elaboration in either a Henry or a Scotus direction.

So, Thomasís position is not included in Scotusís critique of Henry.

Scotus picks up on different side of Avicennaís reading of Aristotle. Aquinas picks up on Avicennaís view of God as essence, and he elaborates this intuition to a real distinction among creatures between essence and esse. Scotus picks up on the essentialism of Avicennan metaphysics--being as ens, quidditive. He follows up Avicenna in the doctrine of common natures: one can abstract an essence or common nature from essence as given in experience. This common nature is a real object of thought, a res. The mode of being of a common being or essence is indifferent to actuality or potentiality, and can be predicated univocally of any actual veins to which it can inhere. The role of this Avicenna metaphysics: Scotus treats being as predicated from being.

But why just those intuitions and not those which animated Thomas?

Scotus is a Franciscan. A central feature is each creature named brother and sister. This encounter with God is mediated through such a brother, the poor and naked Christ. Scotusís entire theological project is an attempt to give theoretical form to St. Francisís sense of the world. The mystery of each creature is a secret hidden in the bosom of God. Each is consecrated by that secret, able to call knowers ever deeper into the formal nature of each creature.

If each creature and being remains a mystery, this is so much more true in respect to the divine exemplar, but we are made to know this God, as mediated by our knowledge of creatures, like ens.

Augustinian sensibility superseded all concepts about creatures first mediated by God. Scotus reverses this--creaturely mediation first, but that occludes the fact that the final cause is God.

All knowledge is theological.

Milbankís Response:

Itís not fair to imply that my cursing of Scotus is trivial. There is a pattern in reactions to treatments of Scotus. Heís not such a big division, people say (and of course we donít say heís the only division--Abelard and Avicenna are involved too, for example), but then proceed to tell us why he was a revolutionary. He abandoned negative theology, argued for the existential over ascension and for the primacy of the univocal, he abandons the experience of creatures mediated by God as exemplary cause, he shifts the meaning of discourse of the perfection of language. . .

But all these shifts are absolutely massive and confirm the idea that Scotus was a revolutionary thinker. Iím more impressed by some Continental Franciscans who have replied : yes, he was a revolutionary, bu this was wonderful and opened up Christianity to recognize the difference between rational thought and empirical thought, reason and revelation, the possibility of a rights discourse, etc. [[not that Milbank would agree with this line of thought, but he imagines it would have more integrity as an argument.]] Then the trajectory is to rethink modern thought in a Scotus guise, and that can be shared by some contemporary analytic philosophers of religion. But even here, there is an equal admission of Scotus as a revolutionary thinker.

Also, the notion of common notions creates space into which transcendental thinking, a la Kant, can take place.

I want to defuse a little some of these arguments. There is lots of common ground about Scotus as a revolutionary, but analysis is the point.

Aquinas not the primary target of Scotus? This account of Ghent is broadly accurate. But i f Scotus is not speaking of Aquinas, the still leaves open the possibility that he is incompatible with Aquinas. French scholars agree he is doing something incompatible.

Aquinas leaves things open? I see it more like a paradigm switch, changing the way people look at things, like a collapse of the participatory world view. We see it most of all in perfection language. Scotus is now saying that the predication of perfections of God must mean that one first of all has a sense of what it is, otherwise one couldnít see that there were created excellences at all. This is manifestly altering Augustine in De Trinitate (Augustine took it for granted that when you see a natural perfection, youíve seen its participation in God). The two fall together, not one first and then the other. Itís a mystical ascent, the more you go abstract--abstract is to rise. But for Scotus, you abstract and then rise. In that space, univocity makes sense.

I donít think he reads Anselm correctly. Anselm is more like Augustine: we donít have abstract perfections without being already involved in the ascent to God.

But already in Bonaventure you can see this shift beginning. It is associated with the Franciscansí take on Avicenna and the essentialist route, common notions which have a root apart from participation.

Also, there is a theory of representation. As soon as there is a freefloating logical realm, you are on the road for thinking that logical notions donít necessarily exist in psychic space, but more in their own possibility space--then there is the primacy of possibility over actuality. Picking out different forms, mind-grasping is somewhat independent --itís a move toward empiricism and transcendental idealism. When you have mind-grasping as independent of what it receives, youíre going to shift away from an Aristotelian theory of knowledge of identity. The mindís grasp of the form is free-floating, independent of reality, a representation of reality.

These are seismic shifts.

All do tend to undo undergirding of guarantee by God of things. Aquinas is only incomplete if youíre not accepting analogy--if you are thinking in terms of a middle term (which Aquinas is not).

[[mba: In last nightís reception, I overheard someone critiquing Milbank and Ward for dismissing something or other as ďjustĒ a metaphor. I would hope that this kind of clarification from Milbank would put such concerns to rest, but I fear it is a major conceptual point that is not easily grasped by those not formed in or resistant to the spiritual senses of interpretation.]]

There really is not a shared third term. Not a third goodness we share with God; God is goodness. This is the point of the way the whole metaphysics of esse works in Aquinas. I can understand Scotusís refusal--you shouldnít think of being in this way, as something you can have more or less of; rather, itís either there or not. Is or is not. God is or is not, like creatures. Making logic more primary. Analogy doesnít obey the law of non-contradiction--the defense of analogy has to go beyond this. So Nicholas of Cusa makes this move.
Scotus moves the debate forward by pointing this out.

You shouldnít assume the primacy of formal logic (adapted to finite things) when talking about God. In effect, for Henry of Ghent and Scotus, analogy has to collapse into univocity of equivocity. It canít be simultaneous like and unlike--but that simultaneous like and unlike is doing justice to the mystery of God and the ontological difference between being as such and just being this or that. So Scotus opened way to idolatry, lost sight of the ontological difference, and started to reduce God to a being.

Nothing belongs to us in our own rights. Aquinas writes that our freedom is entirely in God. Calvin is more like Aquinas in this way.

(Thereís a comment about the possibility of a Milbank for Dummies book, and then the suggestion is made that it should be Milbank for Dunces [Dunses]!)

Questions from the Floor:

?Pickstock argues that Scotus elevated divine will and divorced it from divine good.
Then that would say that Calvinism and the elevation of sovereignty of good is part of that project?

Milbank: The question is, Is Calvin a voluntarist? Aquinas puts more emphasis on Godís simplicity than Scotus. The modus significandi is Godís will and intellect as difference because weíre human, not a real difference (which Scotus suggests).

Remember, the Dominicans helped the poor as well--more balanced. Franciscans a bit sneaky.

There are compromises in Scotus, besides the division between intellect and will. He encourages a sense of bare freedom of choice. Scotus one of the main people behind a shift in freedom and will. The bare field of the will had sinister consequences.

??for Robert Sweetman: What does Scotus do with the goodness of God? Is being more a common category than goodness? Does goodness belong more properly to God or do we share it?

Sweetman: As with Bonaventureís appropriation of Dionysian sense --good as a diffusion of self. The knowledge most proper to us is voluntary, connatural via the affective side of our being, the knowledge that comes from desire for the love of God.

Scotus is a voluntarist, but will is the rational appetite that presupposes the conjunction of intellect and affect--never the naked will that it becomes later. Itís the rational appetite.

Iím not a Scotist, but I wrote this paper to see what Scotus might say for himself.

Milbank-: It is not entirely the rational appetite for Scotus. Thatís ann element, a moment of will surplus to its response to reason.

?? Why is the analogy of proportionality not the real analogy?

Milbank: Godís goodness is infinite, and itís neither individual nor universal. It canít be univocal ever in God. Our understanding of the univocal is bounded, and it canít be like that. Aquinas doesnít deal with this directly. Attribution is his primary sort.

??Bob do you still think John is cursing too much about Scotus?

Sweetman: I read John etc to be saying that their interest in Scotus is in the role he plays in developments toward the conundrums we deal with today. They use a personís future to interpret the person. Iím a historian, and I use a personĎs present and past to interpret. It is not necessarily the case that our stories are incompatible. The connection to Francis and Bonaventure is at least as important as connection to Ockham. I think there is too much Ockham reading in the RadOx analysis of Scotus.

Milbank: The point isnít that we are damning Scotus in terms of what he led to. The point is rather a genealogy in which weíre concerned with characteristic assumptions of modern philosophy. What are the presuppositions? They are often contingent. We are trying to say: to really understand the shift in Descartes and Kant, you have to see that itís not a matter of switching from metaphysics to representation or epistemology, but rather that the metaphysics they assume is already the child of a univocalist metaphysics, where you can deal with being entirely prior to something else.

I donít think there is any natural theology in Aquinas. I want to dethrone Descartes and Kant. They assume an economy between philosophy and theology that hasnít already existed. They were not onto-theolgians. As soon as youíve reduced being to something we can univocally grasp, youíve already made the move into epistemology. Even though the switch towards knowledge as representation went hand in hand throughout the Middle Ages, decisive shifts were made in the Middle Ages, to do with shifts in theological doctrine--how Scotus understands the fall and knowledge before and after.

Iím trying to do a vast genealogical construction. The apparent critical moves of modern thought are founded in questionable theology. Iím not reading things back into Scotus, but trying to get at moves heís made that have consequences.

Sweetman: The beginnings and endings are the same, so perhaps we are still in the same place. Scotus makes the shift from exemplary causality to final causality the ground for the natural knowledge of God, but itís the mystery of God that becomes equivocal. The bit of God we canít know becomes an absolute.

Posted by Margaret at September 15, 2003 08:34 PM