Schopenhauer on “Scholastic Philosophy”

Schopenhauer makes a good point in his “Critique of Kantian Philosophy,” which is an appendix to his great Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung. He observes that “den dritten” service Kant performed for philosophy was “den völligen Umsturz der Scholastischen Philosophie, mit welchem Namen ich hier im Allgemeinen die ganze vom Kirchenvater Augustinus anfangende und dicht vor Kant schließende Periode bezeichnen möchte” (518). That’s an astonishing way of characterizing the history of Western thought (and Schopenhauer knows this, as we’ll see below), particularly today, when the history of ideas is so driven by accounts of rupture and radical transformation, not least at the origins of “modernity.” Whether the key figure is Descartes, Ockham, or Scotus, the landscape of philosophy is supposed to have changed radically with the dethroning of Aristotelian physics, the rise of experimental science, and the turn to the “subject” as the starting point for inquiry. (Whether the last of these has much to do with the first two is an open question for me.) And the rise of the modern isn’t the only apparently deep fissure in the period that Schopenhauer defines as “scholastic” — after all, the rise of scholasticism, in the 13th century, is often regarded as emerging from the church’s wracking confrontation with and eventual assimilation of the rediscovered Aristotle.

So what could Schopenhauer have in mind? He goes on to explain: “Denn der Hauptcharakter der Scholastik ist doch wohl der von Tennemann sehr richtig angegebene, die Vormundschaft der herrschenden Landesreligion über die Philosophie, welcher eigentlich nichts übrig blieb, als die ihr von jener vorgeschriebenen Hauptdogmen zu beweisen und auszuschmücken” (518). From Augustine to (say) Wolff, the great philosophers nearly all seek to confirm the fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith, and in particular the existence and classical perfections of God. There is deep continuity in this respect among Augustine, Anselm, or Bonaventure, and Descartes, Locke, or Leibniz, in some ways more continuity than any of those philosophers share with a more unreconstructed Aristotelian such as Aquinas — but even then, there’s deep continuity between his thought and that of Augustine or Descartes as well. (As Lloyd Gerson points out in Aristotle and Other Platonists, Aquinas repeatedly rediscovers standard Neo-Platonist readings of Aristotle (e.g., that the God of Metaphysics Lamba thinks all possible creaturely forms in thinking himself), with an eye to demonstrating his compatibility with this or that element of Christian doctrine. The great exception in Aquinas’s case is epistemology, where he is much more of a “naturalist” and an empiricist than Augustine or Bonaventure.) Certainly some great early-modern philosophers don’t fit this bill — Spinoza, for instance, despite his deep theism (it’s the world he denies, not God), or even Hobbes, despite his efforts to maintain an appearance of Christian orthodoxy. But in general, the  “modern” philosophers attempt to integrate the insights of the new sciences with an old, Christian picture of the world as God’s creation.

As I said above, Schopenhauer of course grants the presence of discontinuity — he simply thinks it’s mostly superficial. “Die eigentlichen Scholastiker, bis Suarez,” he proposes,

gestehn dies unverhohlen: die folgenden Philosophen thun es mehr unbewußt, oder doch nicht eingeständlich. Man läßt die Scholastische Philosophie nur bis etwan hundert Jahre vor Cartesius gehn und dann mit diesem eine ganz neue Epoche des freien, von aller positiven Glaubenslehre unabhängigen Forschens anfangen; allein ein solches ist in der That dem Cartesius und seinen Nachfolgern nicht beizulegen, sondern nur ein Schein davon und allenfalls ein Streben danach. Cartesius war ein höchst ausgezeichneter Geist, und hat, wenn man seine Zeit berücksichtigt, sehr viel geleistet. Setzt man aber diese Rücksicht bei Seite, und mißt ihn nach der ihm nachgerühmten Befreiung des Denkens von allen Fesseln und Anhebung einer neuen Periode des unbefangenen eigenen Forschens; so muß man finden, daß er mit seiner des rechten Ernstes noch entbehrenden und daher so schnell und so schlecht sich wiedergebenden Skepsis, zwar die Miene macht, als ob er alle Fesseln früh eingeimpfter, der Zelt und der Nation angehörender Meinungen, mit einem Male abwerfen wollte, es aber bloß zum Schein auf einen Augenblick thut, um sie sogleich wieder aufzunehmen und desto fester zu halten; und eben so alle seine Nachfolger bis auf Kant (519-20).

As Etienne Gilson noted in his introduction to The Spirit of Medieval Philosophy, despite his loud protests on behalf of the totally presuppositionless character of his philosophy, Descartes in fact develops (in his Principia Philosophiae, for instance) an account of the divine nature that’s deeply shaped by the church’s struggle to articulate the doctrine of creation ex nihilo (cf. e.g., PP I, 21).

This line of thought is of interest to me principally because I’m writing a dissertation that traces the continuity between the accounts of creation offered by Augustine, Bonaventure, and (esp. the late) Berkeley, and I’ve found that I have to deal with a deep, visceral aversion on the part of theologians to saying anything favorable about an “Enlightenment philosopher,” no matter how much continuity between his account of creation as divine language and the theology of Bonaventure I can put on the table. The fact is that Berkeley is engaged in an apologetic theological project that Augustine or Bonaventure would’ve recognized as their own, and that it’s this project that Kant more than anyone else sought to rule out of court and so banish from the world of intellectual inquiry. All “dogmatic” thinkers now find themselves in the trenches, allied against the “critical” turn…

Posted in Augustine, Berkeley, George Berkeley, Immanuel Kant, Kant, Thomas Aquinas, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bonaventure Scoops Malcolm

Norman Malcolm famously argued that Anselm developed two versions of the ontological argument for God’s existence in his Proslogion, the first of which (in P. 2) turns on the premise that existence (in re) is a perfection, so that the greatest possible being must exist both in re as well as in cogitatione (p. 44), and the second of which (in P. 3) turns on the premise that necessary existence is a perfection: “His first  ontological proof uses the principle that a thing is greater if it exists than if it does not exist. His second proof employs the different principle that a thing is greater if  it necessarily exists than if it does not necessarily exist” (p. 46). Malcolm interprets necessary existence as existence that doesn’t depend on others (in the way that fragile dishes depend on gentle handling — otherwise identical dishes that were unbreakable would be “superior” dishes) or that’s unlimited by outside constraints (in the way that an engine that could drive 100 mph with no fuel would be greater than a similarly fast engine that required fuel) (cf. p. 47). Malcolm takes it that the first proof falls prey to Kant’s criticism that existence isn’t a predicate (since otherwise it would be impossible to form a concept of anything that happened not to exist), but that the second doesn’t —  necessary existence really is a great-making property, and so belongs necessarily to the greatest possible being, whose existence must thus either be impossible or necessary (p. 49-50). 

Now Malcolm suggests that Anselm didn’t distinguish these proofs, and I don’t know of any evidence that he did. However, a passage from Bonaventure’s Quaestiones Disputatae de Mysterio Trinitatis makes me wonder if he distinguished them in something like Malcolm’s way. Bonaventure sketches three different proofs from Anselm, the first and third of which seem to me to correspond to the proof from necessary existence as a perfection, and the second of which corresponds to the proof from existence as a perfection. We’ll take the second first: 

Ens, quo nihil maius potest cogitari est talis naturae, quod non potest cogitari, nisi sit in re; quia, si est in cogitatione sola, iam ergo non est ens, quo nihil maius cogitari possit: ergo si tale ens cogitatur esse, necesse est, quod non posset cogitari non esse” (q. 1, a. 1, sec. 23; Quaracchi, v. 5, p. 47a).

Here, the proof turns on existence as a perfection which the greatest possible being must possess. It’s obviously drawn from Anselm’s first formulation of the proof, in Prologion 2:

Certe id quo maius cogitari nequit, non potest esse in solo intellectu. Si enim vel in solo intellectu est, potest cogitari esse et in re; quod maius est. Si ergo id quo maius cogitari non potest, est in solo intellectu: id ipsum quo maius cogitari non potest, est quo maius cogitari potest. Sed certe hoc esse non potest. Existit ergo procul dubio aliquid quo maius cogitari non valet, et in intellectu et in re.

It’s curious, and perhaps revealng, that Bonaventure presents the proofs out of order — I wonder if he brings this one out second because he regards it as the weaker of Anselm’s two formulations…

In any case, the first and third versions of the argument sketched by Bonaventure clearly turn on the premise that  necessary existence is a genuine perfection:

Deus est quo nihil maius cogitari potest; sed quod sic est, quod non potest cogitari non esse, verius est, quam quod cogitari potest non esse: ergo si Deus est quo nihil maius cogitari potest, Deus non poterit cogitari non esse (Ibid., sec. 22).

This draws on Anselm’s second formulation of the proof in Proslogion 3:

Quod utique sic vere est, ut nec cogitari possit non esse. Nam potest cogitari esse aliquid, quod non possit cogitari non esse; quod maius est quam quod non esse cogitari potest. Quare si id quo maius nequit cogitari, potest cogitari non esse: id ipsum quo maius cogitari nequit, non est id quo maius cogitari nequit; quod convenire non potest. Sic ergo vere est aliquid quo maius cogitari non potest, ut nec cogitari possit non esse.

After sketching Anselm’s two overt constructions of the ontological argument, Bonaventure offers a third derivation of the proof, from a later comment in the Proslogion about the criterion for ascribing properties to God:

“Tu solus es quidquid esse melius est quam not esse” (cf. P. 9); sed omne verum indubitabile melius est quam omne verum dubitabile; ergo Deo magis est attribuendum esse indubitabiliter quam dubitabiliter (Ibid., sec. 24).

In context, Anselm’s comment was about God’s being “iustus, verax, beatus, vel quidquid melius est esse quam non esse”: Bonaventure suggests that this criterion requires that God’s existence be regarded as “indubitable” rather than “doubtful.” Here again, it’s not that God has to possess existence outside the mind rather than only in the mind; it’s rather that God’s existence must be of the sort that the mind can’t coherently doubt it at all, because it is possible and (by definition) unconditioned by anything else.

That Bonaventure regards these as two different arguments is clear from the way he formulates and addresses objections to the indubitability of God’s existence. For instance, he considers Gaunilo’s argument that if Anselm proves anything, he proves too much, since the ontological argument can be reformulated to prove the existence of “an island, than which nothing greater can be thought,” which is only such if it exists in re as well as in cogitatione (Qu. Disp. de Myst. Trin. a. 1, q. 1, obj. 6; Quar., v. 5, p. 48b). Now this objection is clearly aimed at the argument of Proslogion 2, and Bonaventure defuses it by proposing that the idea of a island greater than which nothing can be thought is incoherent, since “insula dicit ens defectivum” (Ibid., ad 6, p. 50b). Maximal greatness isn’t repugnant to the concept of God in the same way as it is to the concept “island.” (Bonaventure clearly thinks that this argument works just as well as the next one, and I think he and Anselm have a point — but the point of this post is to show that Bonaventure already recognized two distinct arguments in Anselm, rather than just one.)

He immediately goes on to consider a different objection, this time to the second formulation of the ontological proof: how, the objector wonders, can you say that God’s non-existence cannot be thought? It’s obvious that I can assert his non-existence. And if you say that those assertions are false, then you’re not saying anything more than can be said for all necessary truths, many of which are plainly dubitable (Qu. Disp. de Myst. Trin. a. 1, q. 1, obj. 7; Quar., v. 5, p. 48b). (An extreme case is Fermat’s Last Theorem, which is apparently true, but known (rather than believed) to be so only by a few people in the world.) Bonaventure’s response to this objection is strikingly similar to Malcolm’s interpretation of Anselm’s second ontological argument: it’s not that we can’t form the thought, “Deus non est,” but rather that “ipsum adeo est evidens in se et certum cognoscenti, quod si recte considerare velit, non est aliquid, per quod possit ab hac veritate avelli. Est enim verum evidentissimum et praesentissimum, quod nulli deest loco, nulli tempori, nulli rei, nulli cogitationi; nec sic est de aliis veris creatis” (Ibid., ad 7; Quar. v. 5, p. 50b). The reason that God cannot coherently be thought not to exist, is that if he exists at all, he exists in such a way that his existence is totally unconditioned by anything else (so that “non est aliquid, per quod possit ab hac veritate avelli”), because that existence totally conditions everything else (“nulli deest loco, nulli tempori, nulli rei, nulli cogitationi; nec sic est de aliis veris creatis”).

Posted in Anselm, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Christ’s “Munus Triplex” at His Baptism

The Synoptic accounts of Jesus’ baptism evoke powerful Old Testament allusions which confront the reader with ears to hear with Christ’s munus triplex, as prophet, priest, and king. At Jesus’ baptism, the Father declares, “σὺ εἶ ὁ υἱός μου ὁ ἀγαπητός ἐν σοὶ εὐδόκησα,” as “καταβῆναι τὸ πνεῦμα τὸ ἅγιον σωματικῷ εἴδει ὡς περιστερὰν ἐπ’ αὐτόν” (Lk. 3:22). (This analysis works with Mark or Matthew as well, but let’s just consider Luke for now.) What does this verse tell us about the identity of the Son, Jesus?

First, we might posit, with Darrell Bock, that the Father’s words evoke Isaiah’s Servant, particularly as imaged in Isaiah 42, and so evokes the Son’s office as prophet.[1] The Servant is the one upon whom God’s spirit rests (Isa 42:1 LXX) while in Isa 41:8, God addresses, “παῖς μου Ιακωβ ὃν…ἠγάπησα.”[2] In particular, the Spirit’s descent “ἐπ᾽ αὐτόν” at Jesus’ baptism is difficult to account for apart from an allusion to Isaiah. This Spirit-anointing also evokes Jesus’ later account of his prophetic vocation as the one sent to announce the “ἐνιαυτὸν κυρίου δεκτὸν”: at the opening of that manifesto of liberation, the prophet declares, “πνεῦμα κυρίου ἐπ᾽ ἐμέ” (Lk 4:18-19 / Isa 61:1-2). Further confirmation that the Father’s words at the baptism ought to be read in terms of Isaiah 42 comes in Lk 9:35, at the Transfiguration, where the Father this time addresses Jesus as “ὁ υἱός μου ὁ ἐκλελεγμένος,” which much more clearly mirrors Isaiah 42:1 than does Luke 3:22.[3]

However, Jesus is not only a prophetic Son, but also a priestly Son: the Father’s words cannot be accounted for solely in terms of Isaiah, but equally evoke the Binding of Isaac from Genesis 22. As Leroy Huizenga has brilliantly argued,[4] the Father’s naming Jesus, “ὁ υἱός μου ὁ ἀγαπητός” unmistakably evokes Isaac: in Genesis 22:2 (LXX), God commands Abraham to sacrifice “τὸν υἱόν σου τὸν ἀγαπητόν,” and this phrase occurs nowhere else in Scripture (whether LXX or MT). As Huizenga shows, the intertestamental period saw a flourishing of interpretations of Isaac as a willing martyr.[5] Pairing this reading with Gen 22:16-18[6], in which the trial of the Akedah is made the warrant (ἀνθ᾽ ὧν) for God’s promise of land, descendants, and blessings for all nations,[7] the Akedah can be read as an account of a substitutionary trial undertaken for the world’s salvation.[8]

Finally, the Father’s words to the Son evoke Psalm 2:7 (“υἱός μου εἶ σύ”), and so his office as the world’s true King.[9] In the Psalm, the one named “son” is the “βασιλεὺς” established on Zion (2:6), the “Χριστός” (anointed one) against whom the nations band together (2:2). The Book of Acts takes the Psalm as a paradigm for Jesus’ suffering and vindication: the apostolic Church prays Psalm 2 as a depiction of the warfare carried out by the Jewish and Roman authorities against Jesus, God’s persecuted and vindicated Son (4:25-26), while later in Acts, Paul offers Ps 2:7 as a prophecy of Jesus’ vindication by his Father in the resurrection (13:33).

[1] Darrell Bock. Proclamation from Prophecy and Pattern. JSNT Supplements Series, 12. Sheffield Academic Press: Sheffield, UK, 1987, p. 103.

[2] Is “the Servant” a consistent figure linked across the Book of Isaiah? After all, in Isa 53 the servant is anonymous, in Isaiah 42 he is identified with “Israel” (42:1), and with David in Isaiah 37:35. Fortunately, our thesis does not requires that either Isaiah (or his editors) or Luke conceived of every instance of “servant” in Isaiah as representing a single figure; but the Servant material that Luke uses – Isa 41-42 and Isa 53 – is clearly linked even in Isaiah, most notably by the Servant’s silence (Isa 42:2, Isa 53:7).

[3] Cf. Bock 1987: 103.

[4] Leroy Huizenga. The New Isaac: Tradition and Intertextuality in the Gospel of Matthew. Supplements to Novum Testamentum, 131. Brill: Boston, 2009.

[5] Huizenga compendiously documents inter-testamental readings of Isaac as martyr, as in Judith 8:24-27; Liber Antiquitatum Biblicarum 18.5; 4 Maccabees 7:13-14 (p. 93-117).

[6] “καὶ ἐνευλογηθήσονται ἐν τῷ σπέρματί σου πάντα τὰ ἔθνη τῆς γῆς ἀνθ᾽ ὧν ὑπήκουσας τῆς ἐμῆς φωνῆς.”

[7] That such a declarations do not mesh straightforwardly with the seemingly unconditional promise of Gen 12:3, or Abraham’s receipt of “δικαιοσύνην” in Gen 15:6 because “ἐπίστευσεν…τῷ θεῷ,” is an occasion for some dispute in the New Testament. St. James seems to resolve the problem by making Gen 15:6 a prophecy of Abraham’s faithfulness in the Akedah (James 2:21-23). St. Paul seems to have had a rather different solution – describing what that was, would unfortunately require a rather different paper.

[8] This “priestly” reading of Jesus as New Isaac appears elsewhere in the Gospels, notably in the Parable of the Vineyard, which describes the brutal murder of “τὸν υἱόν μου τὸν ἀγαπητόν” (Lk. 20:13), and in Gethesemane, where Jesus is arrested by a crowd “μετὰ μαχαιρῶν καὶ ξύλων” (Lk 22:52): as Huizenga observes, these are exactly the implements Abraham brings to slaughter Isaac – wood for the altar (22:9), and a “sword” for the slaying (22:10, LXX) (250-251).

[9] Cf. Luke Timothy Johnson, The Gospel of Luke: Sacra Pagina Series, Vol. 3. The Liturgical Press: Collegeville, MN, 1991, p. 69. Oddly enough, the Letter to the Hebrews 5:5 also links Ps 2:7 to Jesus’ identity as the Son; but here the link is made on the basis of his priestly work!

Posted in Bible, Jesus, OT in NT, OT in the NT, Threefold Office, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Paul’s “Spiritual Body” and Ezekiel 37

Consider a possible echo of Scripture in a letter of Paul, namely, Ezekiel 37:1-14 in 1 Corinthians 15:35-49. This connection occurred to me in my recent wrestling with Troels Engberg-Pedersen’s Cosmology and Self in Paul, which prompted me to ask, “If it’s not principally for Stoic reasons, why does Paul describe the resurrection body as a ‘σῶμα πνευματικόν’?” The answer that eventually occurred to me is that Paul’s description of the resurrection body is an allusion to Ezekiel 37:1-14, which is the subtext for the whole of 1 Cor 15:35-49. However, to my surprise, and despite no little effort, I’ve yet to track down any exegesis of this section which explicitly flags that dependence.
The link between these passages seems straightforward enough: Ezekiel 37 is the OT text par excellence for the trope of resurrection, which of course occurs there through the Spirit’s working in and through humanity: “δώσω πνεῦμά μου εἰς ὑμᾶς καὶ ζήσεσθε” (Ezek. 37:6, cf. also 37:10, 14). It’s no surprise that when Paul describes the resurrected body, he chooses “πνευματικός” as a summary term for the human being as revived, reordered, and reoriented by the LORD’s Spirit. (Cf. also Rom 8:11 for the same thought, if not under the same description, and cf. 1 Thess 4:8 for an allusion to Ezekiel 37:5 in reference to the gift of the Spirit to the baptized.) And his having Ezekiel 37 in mind would make sense of Paul’s use of “πνευματικόν” to denote, not composition out of “spirit” (pace Engberg-Pedersen) but rather transformation or direction by the Spirit, since that’s just what Ezekiel 37 describes (or so it seems to me).
Now, I know that Paul’s most explicit engagement with the OT in this section is with Genesis 2:7 (1 Cor 15:45) — my suggestion is that he’s reading Genesis 2 through Ezekiel 37. (The noisy echo of Genesis 2:7 (LXX) in Ezekiel 37:5 (LXX)  perhaps creates some exegetical pressure in that direction quite apart from Paul’s own interests.) Genesis 2:7 tells Paul that “ὁ θεὸς…ἐνεφύσησεν εἰς τὸ πρόσωπον αὐτοῦ πνοὴν ζωῆς καὶ ἐγένετο ὁ ἄνθρωπος εἰς ψυχὴν ζῶσαν”; the last phrase is clearly on Paul’s mind in 1 Cor 15:45. But if Genesis 2 is all that Paul has in view in 1 Cor 15:45ff., then a couple of things are still puzzling:
1) Since the πνοὴν ζωῆς (which might be in part the basis for Paul’s saying of the second Adam, “[ἐγένετο] εἰς πνεῦμα ζῳοποιοῦν”) is logically and temporally prior to the “ψυχὴν ζῶσαν,” why does he immediately insist that the “ψυχικόν” comes first, and then the “πνευματικόν”? (1 Cor 15:46) Perhaps it’s because he has in mind Ezekiel’s vision of Israel as “dead” in exile, already east of Eden (so to speak), to whom God promises, “ἐγὼ φέρω εἰς ὑμᾶς πνεῦμα ζωῆς” (Ezek 37:5). (Additionally, this verse, while still echoing Genesis 2:7, is verbally closer than Genesis to Paul’s formulation in 1 Cor 15:45.)
And 2) Genesis 2 alone doesn’t explain why it’s only at the resurrection that the second Adam becomes “πνευματικός.” Just before his discussion of Genesis 2:7, Paul writes, “σπείρεται σῶμα ψυχικόν ἐγείρεται σῶμα πνευματικόν εἰ ἔστιν σῶμα ψυχικόν ἔστιν καὶ πνευματικόν” (1 Cor 15:44), and it seems to me that he intends this same logic to apply in the following verse (“οὕτως καὶ”). Genesis 2:7 doesn’t include any indications of either death or resurrection, for the obvious reason that death is still in Adam’s future. But if Ezekiel 37 is on Paul’s mind as a kind of post-lapsum recapitulation of the creation narrative from Genesis 2, then Paul’s reasoning clear and cogent. (I’m beginning to wonder if Paul’s “γέγραπται” doesn’t encompass Genesis 2 and Ezekiel 37 (esp. v. 5) at once…)
Posted in Paul, St. Paul, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Unamuno’s Private Language Argument

In his Del Sentimiento Tragico de la Vida, published in 1912, Miguel de Unamuno takes aim in passing at a particular picture of “interiority” familiar in modern philosophy at least from Descartes on, and he does so in a way that strikingly anticipates Wittgenstein’s “private language argument.” He writes, for instance, ““Preguntarle a uno por su yo, es como preguntarle por su cuerpo. Y cuenta que al hablar del yo, hablo del yo concreto y personal; no del yo de Fichte, sino de Fichte mismo, del hombre Fichte” (6). The Cartesian — and later Fichtean — exploration of the “I” as a being apart from the embodied person is a mere abstraction; there is no “I” but the person who can say “I.” He defends this position, as Wittgenstein will, by reflecting on language: “Pensar es hablar consigo mismo, y hablamos cada uno consigo mismo gracias a haber tenido que hablar los unos con los otros…El pensamiento es lenguaje interior, y el lenguaje interior brota del exterior” (15). The thought of the naked “I” is the thought of a world apart, in which the self holds court with itself, freed from all commerce with the objective world in which its body immerses it. But this is an illusion: the privileged language in which we express our “mental states” (e.g., “I am pain,” a statement which, if true, must be known incorrigibly and on no basis) is in fact just a special case of the language in which we converse with others, and indeed depends on it. (The word “pain” must have a public meaning, applicable to others, if I am to apply it to myself.)

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Anselm’s Unbelievers

To what end did Anselm write his Cur Deus Homo, and what convictions are presupposed in its ideal reader? The answers to these questions are intertwined. Cur Deus Homo is aimed at assuring Christian believers of the reasonableness of their faith, but the believers it addresses have clearly been touched by the doubts of “unbelievers,” who repeatedly voice their objections through the dutiful Boso (e.g., 1.1, 265). What do these “unbelievers” believe? Well, they’re monotheists, to start, who accept “that the rational creation was created righteous, and was so created for the purpose of being happy in the fact of God’s delighted approval?” (1.9, p. 277) They also seem clearly to accept the view that humanity has sinned against God (1.10, 282). However, they maintain, against the church, that God could have saved humanity “through the agency of some other person, angelic or human, or simply by willing it” (1.1, p. 265). They also “object that we are inflicting injury and insult on God when we assert that he descended into a woman’s womb” (1.3, 268).

It should be obvious enough that these unbelievers described here at neither atheists (who of course were rather hard to turn up in this period), nor Christian heretics, nor even the stray Lithuanian animist, but rather Jews and Muslims. The latter group especially would’ve been apt to be on Anselm’s mind as he wrote Cur Deus Homo, which he completed in 1098, two years into the first Crusade. (It’s all the more telling that Anselm dedicated this work to Pope Urban II, of Dieu le veut fame.) This only become fully clear at the work’s end, when Boso comments, “You prove that it is a matter of necessity for God to become man, and you do so in such a way that…you [provide] something which would satisfy not only Jews, but even pagans” (2.22, p. 355).) Applied to contemporaries, of course “pagani” or “paynim” is simply the medieval Christian’s most ordinary way of referring to Muslims. And interestingly, Anselm’s biographer Eadmer reports that Anselm got to know some Muslim mercenaries of the Duke of Sicily who were besieging nearby Capua in 1098, as he was finishing Cur Deus Homo (cf. Vita Anselmi 111-12, apud Asiedu, “Anselm and the Unbelievers,” p. 547).

The point of the work, on this reading, is to equip Christians to understand how the theological commitments they share with Muslims and Jews require the Incarnation. After they’ve elaborated the plight of sinful humanity, Boso wonders, “How then will man be saved, if he does not himself pay what he owes, and is bound not to be saved if he does not pay?” (1.25, 313). And to this, Anselm responds, “You ought to demand an answer now from those people, on whose behalf you are speaking, who do not believe that Christ is necessary for the salvation of mankind” (1.25, 313). The punchline of the first part of the Cur Deus Homo is that you can’t accept the createdness and sinfulness of humanity and not also accept that there is a Jesus-shaped hole in the biblical story.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

“In him we live and move and have our being”

“In him we live and move and have our being…”

Acts 17:28 is Berkeley’s favorite biblical gloss for his philosophy of immaterialism. But, as he noticed early on as well, it was equally a favorite of so straightforwardly pantheist (or acosmist) a thinker as Spinoza. In his notebooks, he wrote, “Spinosa (vid. Præf. Opera Posthum.) will have God to be “omnium rerum causa immanens,” and to countenance this produces that of St. Paul, “in Him we live,” &c. Now this of St. Paul may be explained by my doctrine as well as Spinosa’s, or Locke’s, or Hobbs’s, or Raphson’s, &c.” (52). It’s not insignificant that this conflict between the pantheist Spinoza and the Christian Berkeley seems to reprise the original conflict implicit in St. Paul’s offering that line as a gloss on the doctrine of the Stoic Aratus. The Christian doctrine of creation does seem to be drawn naturally toward pantheist turns of phrase, even as it struggles to differentiate itself from them. Why?

Stephen Daniel is interesting on this. He suggests that, for Berkeley, “God is not a subject or self but rather the discursive domain in terms of which we are initially able to speak about minds, ideas, and their relations…God is the semantic matrix of reality, the place or space in which all things (including minds and ideas) have identities and are originally differentiated” (“B’s Pantheistic Discourse,” 180). To say that the world is “in God” is to say that God means in and through the world – the entire order of being, as significant, stands to the LORD as signifier.

But this equally gives us some things to say about the difference between body and mind for Berkeley. Daniel goes on to observe that Berkeley says that sensibles “exist,” meaning that it “is thought as having a determinate identity by some mind,” while minds “subsist,” meaning “that they are the particular patterns of association by means of which things in the world are identified as having meanings” (187). (Cf. PHK 90, Dialogues 212, 235-6.) A mind, then, isn’t some radically distinct kind of substance from the beings (ideas) it perceives, but rather is the transcendent act of ordering those ideas; the mind is the world viewed as active, as willing and understanding, rather than willed and understood.

What does the LORD do, then, in creating? He crafts a discourse, whose moments – which is to say, creatures such as trees and stars and quarks – are legible to us only by virtue of their standing in a set of grammatical relations to every other moment. And where are we in that discourse? Daniel suggests that, for Berkeley, we “are expressions of the syntactic alignments in terms of which relations in nature are identified” (188-9). This brings to mind an interesting comment by David Hart in The Beauty of the Infinite, where he suggests, “All creation declares God’s glory, and so should be understood not simply according to a logic of substances, but first as a free and flowing succession of semeia, within which ‘substances’ are constituted as the relative stability of the ‘notes’ or ‘moments’ that whole discourse (the Logos) calls forth” (209). (Hart’s comment points the way to a richer ontology than Berkeley seems to be interested in, wherein impersonal creatures might have a place as well…)

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Time Psychologized

Time Psychologized

Augustine is famous as the originator of a psychological conception of time: “tempora sunt tria, praesens de praeteritis, praesens de praesentibus, praesens de futuris. Sunt enim haec in anima tria quaedam et alibi ea non video, praesens de praeteritis memoria, praesens de praesentibus contuitus, praesens de futuris exspectatio” (Conf. 11.20.26). Future and past don’t exist out there somewhere; nor indeed does the “present” really exist, since the present is merely the extensionless horizon across which the future gives itself over to the past. Each of the three tenses is rather a stance the knower adopts to the world: what I see now, I see as present; what I remember, I remember as past; what I anticipate, I anticipate as future. Augustine even says, “In te, anime meus, tempora metior” (Conf. 11.27.36). Time’s measure isn’t in the external world; rather, as Pegueroles glosses this passage, “Cuando medimos el tiempo, lo que medimos es la resonancia que causa en la conciencia las cosas pasajeras” (Pensamiento filosofico, 63).

This has quite radical consequences for his metaphysics of creation. We might construe it in either a Kantian or a Berkeleyan sense. Perhaps, you might say, what Augustine means is that there is a fully mind-independent world of sensibles that is spatially extended, but whose temporal extension is a (mind-dependent) secondary quality. Kant’s Transcendental Aesthetic (at least on the two-worlds reading) is essentially a radicalized version of this thesis, now taken (as it inevitably must be) to link together space and time. In a letter in 1792, Kant wrote, “Herren Eberhard’s and Garve’s opinion that Berkeleian Idealism is identical to Critical Idealism (which I could better call ‘the principle of the ideality of space and time’) does not deserve the slightest attention. For I speak of ideality in reference to the form of representation while they construe it as ideality with respect to the matter, i.e., ideality of the object and its existence itself” (Gersh & Moran, 250). About this passage, Karl Ameriks comments: “It is hard to imagine a more direct expression of a clear understanding on Kant’s part of the fundamental point that his idealism allows, where Berkeley denies, the existence of representation independent entities” (Ibid.). But, on this picture, it’s quite easy to see why Kant would insist that we cannot say anything at all about these representation-independent Dingen an sich, except that they constitute a “bare something = x.” It’s also hard to imagine a better recipe for skepticism.

We might, however, take Augustine’s psychological account of time in a Berkeleyan sense. In his notebooks, Berkeley suggests that time is nothing more than the mind’s successive acts of apprehending objects. Two entries are particularly relevant: “Time is the train of ideas succeeding each other” (58). From this, he concludes, “The same τὸ νῦν not common to all intelligences” (58). Interestingly, Pegueroles draws a similar conclusion about Augustine’s theory of time: “El presente solo se da en una conciencia. La realidad del presente es de orden psicologico, no espacial” (63). (There are difficulties here about how to explain our ordinary “clock-time,” by which we fix temporal reference in everyday life. Cf. Grayling for discussion of this in relation to Berkeley…)

On this Berkeleyan reading of Augustine (or properly Augustinian reading of Berkeley), we might say that sensibles attain to the status of unities (sc. beings) at all only by virtue of being unified by the mind’s apprehension of them – the mind is the activity of unifying sensibilia, in finite and approximate instances in the case of creaturely persons, but infinitely and perfectly in the case of the LORD. As Pegueroles comments, “El espiritu creado esta a medio camino entre el instante fluyente del cuerpo y el instante pleno del Espiritu infinito” (64). Berkeley returns again and again to this theme, not least in Siris, where he writes, that if the physicist “ascends from the sensible into the intellectual world, and beholds things in a new light and a new order, he will then change his system and perceive, that what he took for substances and causes are but fleeting shadows; that the mind contains all, and acts all, and is to all created beings the source of unity and identity, harmony and order, existence and stability” (§295).

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Anima Forma Corporis

On my principles, can one say “anima forma corporis” (the soul is the form of the body)? Doesn’t that require a kind of dualism of soul from body that I’m trying to abjure? I don’t think so. “Form” is equivalent to “actuality,” and I very much want to say that “soul” is the way to pick out the existent as actual, as active, as a knowing and willing agent. On the other hand, insofar as the existent is finite, passive, patient of and vulnerable to the world, it is body — the two, as Berkeley emphasizes in Siris — are opposing concepts, not distinct substances.

But isn’t one point of the “anima forma corporis” line to insist that the soul can exist in separation from the body? Distinguo. My soul can exist in separation from the sensible form in which it appears now, but the act of that separation (death) reconstitutes that sensible form as something other than a human body (it becomes, as the Thomists rightly insist, a mere trace of a body). I deny, however, that any soul can exist without body at all — a soul without any trace of passivity or finitude would simply be the LORD. As Dante rightly saw, souls in the intermediate state have bodies, of a sort, which make them available in certain ways (to the stones the proud carry, to the thread that draws shut the eyes of the envious), but not in others (they cannot embrace one another, they aren’t opaque to sunlight).

Berkeley, of course, simply denied the existence of the intermediate state, taking the resurrection to follow immediately upon death — but even if doctrinal commitments preclude some Christians from affirming that thesis, they needn’t reject the inseparability of soul and body as such (as Griffiths’s Decreation demonstrates).

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Natural Teleology and Divine Language

There’s a deep intimacy between Aquinas’s proof for the existence of God from natural teleology and Berkeley’s account of the world as divine language. Let’s consider them each in turn, and then reflect a bit on their interrelations.

The proof from natural teleology comes in the famous discussion of the Five Ways in ST 1.2.3. A preliminary observation: yes, these are in fact proofs, despite the assiduousness with which some recent Thomists have sought to avoid that conclusion: “Deum esse quinque viis probari potest” (Ibid.). I see no possible way of interpreting “probari” as not at all involving rational demonstration. This doesn’t mean, however, that Aquinas thinks that this kind of demonstration, while engaging natural faculties for knowing, is available apart from revelation. In the Treatise on Faith, he goes so far as to declare that pagans’ attempts to speak about God fail “omnino totaliter” (ST 3).

The fifth of these proofs is essentially an inference from the intelligibility of creation to an intelligence who stands behind it. “The fifth way,” Aquinas writes, “is taken from the governance of things.” That is, some things that lack cognition still “act with regard to an end (propter finem), which is apparent from the fact that they act always or frequently in the same manner…whence it is clear that it is not by chance, but by intention that they arrive at the end.” It’s important not to confuse this argument with arguments from “irreducible complexity” made on God’s behalf by advocates of Intelligent Design. I lack the competence to pass judgment on those arguments, but they have nothing to do with the problem to which Aquinas directs our gaze here. He has his eye on a much wider and more ordinary field: do you ever notice, he effectively wonders, that even inanimate objects seem to behave as though they have intentions or aims? As C.S. Lewis points out in The Discarded Image, the medieval favored metaphors of will (the stone longs to return to the earth), whereas we talk in terms of the even less plausible metaphor of intelligence (the stone obeys the law of gravitation), but both idioms capture the strangeness of the world: natural objects, themselves pretty clearly not intelligent, belong to a world of overwhelmingly intelligibility.

Aquinas goes on to observe that things without cognition only arrive at an end when directed by something with cognition (like an arrow by an archer). Intelligibility cascades downward from intelligence to what it orders; it doesn’t he insists, well upwards from the unintelligent. We might wonder if modern physics or evolutionary biology hasn’t refuted this line of thought (doesn’t matter simply spontaneously organize itself in accord with natural laws? Doesn’t natural selection blindly mold simpler life forms into more complex ones?). This intuition rests on a confusion, born from taking something for granted: most fundamentally, natural order only seems spontaneous if you take for granted the presence of the natural laws themselves. But why the actual world and not a much less interesting alternative? Aquinas is unwilling to take the fact of order for granted; he agrees with Berkeley that “a blind agent is a contradiction,” that action is for an end, and that an end is something intended. If this is right, then, “there is something intelligent, by which all natural things are ordered to an end, and we call this God.”

Berkeley was likewise struck by the excessiveness of natural order, which he insisted could only be explained as a manifestation of intelligence – not yours or mine, of course, but God’s. His most detailed discussion of this problem comes in Alciphron, where Euphranor observes, “From motions, therefore, you infer a mover, or cause: And from reasonable motions (or such as appear calculated for a reasonable end) a rational cause, soul, or spirit” (4.4). But the motions of nature are even more reasonable (sc. manifesting a wise ordering) than human motions: “doth it not follow then, that from natural motions, independent of man’s will, may be inferred both power and wisdom, incomparably greater than that of the human soul?” (4.5) But the free-thinker Alciphron objects that ascriptions of personhood to whatever causes natural phenomena are far-fetched: “I have found that nothing so much convinces me of the existence of another person as his speaking to me”; but, “you will not, I suppose, pretend that God speaks to man in the same clear and sensible manner, as one man doth to another” (4.7).

Euphranor seizes the nettle in the objection, albeit gradually. He suggests that they think about the perception of distance, which is complicated by the fact that we perceive the three-dimensional manifold of space by way of a two-dimensional image projected onto the retina. That is, distance is “a line turned end-wise to the eye,” which consequently cannot “project more than one single point on the bottom of the eye.” As such, “the appearance of a long and a short distance, is of the same magnitude, or rather of no magnitude at all, being, in all cases, one single point” (4.8). But this means that distance itself isn’t “immediately perceived” (4.8). Rather, we infer distance from the relative sizes of objects: “I find by experience that, when an object is removed still farther and farther off, in a direct line from the eye, its visible appearance still grows lesser and fainter: And this change of appearance, being proportional and universal, seems to me to be, that by which we apprehend the various degrees of distance” (4.8). But notice that the connection b/w distance and “faintness” isn’t (logically) necessary; the latter only suggests the former by way of constant conjunction (4.8). (Optics accounts for perception of distance in terms of the angle of light’s reflection, but that’s not what we use in inferring distance, 4.8.)

It follows from this that “the littleness or faintness of appearance…can no more suggest different degrees of distance…to the mind, which hath not experienced a connexion of the things signifying and signified, than words can suggest notions before a man hath learned the language” (4.9). (Berkeley at once approaches and stiff-arms Kant’s theory of the transcendental aesthetic, which argues that to experience anything at all is to experience it in space. It’s not a difference, though, about the contribution the mind makes to the perception of space, but rather about whether that contribution is innate and immediate or acquired and gradual.)

Our perceptions of light and shade signify (come to count as perceptions of) changes in distance, but they do so conventionally. Euphranor thus feels entitled to conclude, “It seems the proper objects of sight are light and colours, with their several shades and degrees; all which, being infinitely diversified and combined, form a language wonderfully adapted to suggest and exhibit to us the distnaces, figures, situations, dimensions, and various qualities of tangible objects: not by similitude, nor yet by inference of necessary connexion, but by the arbitrary imposition of Providence: just as words suggest the things signified by them” (4.10). That is, light and color signify visible objects. With this, Alciphron finally gets it: “I see, therefore, in strict philosophical truth, that rock only in the same sense that I may be said to hear it, when the word rock is pronounced” (4.11).

Oddly, in Alciphron Berkeley explicitly restricts the “divine-language” thesis to visual phenomena; the other senses lack sufficient “articulation, combination, variety, copiousness, extensive and general use, and easy application of signs” to qualify as a language in this sense (4.12). This, it seems clear to me, is a particularly egregious human parochialism on Berkeley’s part, owing to the fact that vision is by far the richest part of our sensory experience of the world. If we had a canine auditory and olfactory system, however, I doubt very much that Berkeley would have found this a remotely plausible claim.

Fortunately, he eventually seems to have overcome this prejudice, whether consciously or not. When Berkeley reprises the divine language argument in the Siris, he expands it to include all of the senses, and also demonstrates its classical pedigree: “There is a certain analogy, constancy, and uniformity in the phaenomena or appearances of nature, which are a foundation for general rules: and these are a grammar for the understanding of nature, or that series of effects in the visible world, whereby we are enabled to foresee what will come to pass, in the natural course of things. Plotinus observes, in his third Ennead, that the art of presaging is in some sort the reading of natural letters denoting order” (§252). He goes on to write, “The phaenomena of nature, which strike on the senses and are understood by the mind, form not only a magnificent spectacle, but also a most coherent, entertaining, and instructive discourse; and to effect this, they are conducted, adjusted, and ranged by the greatest wisdom” (§254).

Aquinas argues from the inescapability of treating the world as intelligible to the fact of a superintending intelligence who renders it so; Berkeley argues from the inescapable fact of treating the world as significant to a speaker who signifies by way of it. John Roberts captures the essence of this argument beautifully: “According to Berkeley, the necessary precondition of having any kind of knowledge at all is the adopting of the personal stance—not to this or that particular thing but to reality as a whole” (A Metaphysics for the Mob, 83).



Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment