Sunday, March 27, 2011

Sunday Thoughts

I was at a Quaker meeting this morning, and for some reason I remembered a famous story from the Bible, which I looked up when I got home. It's at the beginning of the eleventh chapter of Genesis:

1 And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech. 2 And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there. And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for mortar. 4 And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth. 5 And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children built. 6 And the Lord said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do; and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. 7 Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another's speech. 8 So the Lord scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city. 9 Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the Lord did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the Lord scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth.

I believe this story is usually interpreted as about how humans tried to rival God and were punished. But this seems wrong. I don't think God would ever really worry about human beings as rivals, and I don't think God would simply punish human beings unless the punishment was really a way of making them better. I think the various languages in this story actually stand in for all the various kinds of differences that separate human beings – so not just language or nationality but race or culture, religion or political opinion, gender or sexual orientation, and so on. We are accustomed to see these differences as a problem, as a source of division, as something to be overcome. We wish that we could all just be "of one language, and of one speech." If we could just understand one another, then we could get over all our problems.

What would humans do if these differences did not exist? Apparently, build "a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven." Building the tower is a cooperative and cumulative endeavor: first they make the bricks, then burn them in a kiln, then start stacking them up, etc. The project will probably take a lot of work, but there's no theoretical limit to what it can achieve. Unencumbered by differences, humans can do all "which they have imagined to do" and "nothing will be restrained from them." I was reminded of what Descartes says in the Discourse on Method: the progress of science will allow us to "make ourselves like masters and possessors of nature." I think that this is what the city in the story represents. Is this city something we ought to hope for? Pace Descartes, I don't think so. The point of this story seems to be that our differences were deliberately brought about by God to save us from ever having to live in that city. In short, God has thought up a way of foiling the Cartesian project: he gave us disagreement and diversity. 

Again, I proceed from the interpretive assumption that whatever God does for us in the story is meant to be ultimately for our good. So these differences are actually something that we ought to be thankful for. In my experience, the word "diversity" stirs up cynical reactions in a lot of quarters. But maybe we need to get to the point where we see diversity not just as a reality to be accepted, but a goal to actually be embraced and fought for. At this point, I thought about another famous Bible story, this one from the New Testament, in the second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles:

 1 When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
 5 Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6 When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. 7 Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? 9 Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” 12Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?” 13 Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”

What happens at the Pentecost is really just the same thing that happens at the Tower of Babel: God makes a bunch of people who speak the same language speak different languages. As an aside, I'll say that for a Classicist this is kind of a disturbing story: if everyone today could suddenly just speak Latin and Greek without trying, we would be totally superfluous. For better or worse, we make a living from the differences that exist between people, especially differences between people today and people thousands of years ago. (Different historical epochs are a source of diversity too!)

I think that what the New Testament story adds to the Old Testament one is an assurance that diversity doesn't have to mean conflict. Properly understood, our differences are a manifestation of "the wonders of God." Often in church I hear prayers for Christian unity. I understand the sentiment, but I suppose that ultimately I think ecumenism is a very dangerous idea. (The word "ecumenism" comes from the Greek word οἰκουμένη, meaning "the inhabited world.") I think we should pray for peace and understanding, but not for unity. People who hope that one day all Christians (and maybe Jews and Muslims and atheists and everyone else too) will just overcome everything that separates us and unite in one big church for the entire inhabited world with no institutional divisions are, ironically, trying to build a Cartesian tower. To me, that's a nightmare. I hope that I'll always wake up to a world where some people feel the way I do – and lots of others don't. Not just about little things, but about the big things too.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Duns Scotus, Ordinatio ff.

And, in case you were wondering just what the answers to the questions posed in the last post were, Scotus gives his replies to several of them after the body of the next question (Vives pp. 378-381):

Ad primum argumentum principale, quando arguitur quod non omnes cognoscunt beatitudinem, ergo non omnes appetunt, dicendum quod concludit de actu voluntatis elicito; isto enim actu non omnes appetunt beatitudinem, quando non actu cogitant de illa; sed appetitus naturalis non est talis actus.

Ad aliud, quando arguitur de damnatis si appetant beatitudinem, circa hoc enim duplex videtur dubitatio, una de appetitu eorum naturali, quia si appetunt naturaliter beatitudinem, videtur quod appetitus ille in eis sit frustra, cum sit ad impossibile. Aliud dubium est: Si actu elicito appetant beatitudinem, quia cum apprehendunt eam, possunt habere actum voluntatis circa ipsam, quia circa quodcumque apprehensum possunt habere aliquem actum voluntatis; sed non possunt habere actum nolendi circa beatitudinem; ergo volendi; sed tunc est dubium quomodo possunt velle hoc habere, cum sciant eis beatitudinem esse impossibilem?

Quoad primum respondeo, quod in eis est appetitus naturalis respectu beatitudinis, quia, sicut supra dictum est, appetitus naturalis non addit aliquam perfectionem super naturam absolutam, sed solum inclinationem ipsius naturae ad suam perfectionem, et ideo manente natura, manet ille appetitus. Et si dicas, quod tunc ille appetitus erit frustra, ita dicas quod damnati frustra sunt homines vel Angeli, cum appetitus naturalis non addat absolutum aliquid super naturam eorum.

Unde dico, quod licet illud sit frustra quod caret perfectione sua, et frustratur ea secundum totam speciem, non tamen est frustra, si caret illa in aliquo individuo, ut patet in orbatis et monstruosis; sic autem non est in proposito, quia aliqui sunt beati, qui perficiuntur secundum appetitum eorum naturalem, alii autem non, et ideo non frustratur secundum totam speciem. Illi autem qui ponunt omnes Angelos differre specie, habent ponere appetitum secundum speciem esse frustra, quia impossibile est eis consequi perfectionem suam.

Secundo, quantum ad velle elicitum, dico quod cum habeant cognitionem de beatitudine, et eam considerant, possunt habere volitionem sequentem appetitum naturalem ei conformem, et possunt actu elicito appetere beatitudinem, sicut et mali in via; affectione tamen commodi immoderata, quia non moderata affectione iustitiae, quo iusti appetunt ut commodum eis, et ideo immoderatius appetunt eam, quam iusti, et ideo concedo quod damnati velle elicito appetunt beatitudinem. Non enim credo, quo aliquis habitus possit dari, qui magis inclinaret voluntatem ad non appetendum et detestandum beatitudinem, quam eorum appetitus naturalis inclinat ad volendum eam; et ideo in eis nullus est habitus obstinationis, ut magis actu elicito delectabiliter inclinentur ad oppositum beatitudinis, quam secundum appetitum naturalem velint actu elicito beatitudinem.

Quando ergo dicitur, quod beatitudo ostenditur ut impossibilis eis, et sub ratione impossibilis, et ubi non est spes de consequendo aliquo, vel omnino non appetitur, vel tenuiter, dico quod duplex est volitio. Una est efficax, quae est respectu finis per media ordinata ad illum finem consequendum, alia est simplex seu conditionalis, quae est respectu alicuius finis non exsequendo media ad illum finem consequendum, sed simpliciter appetitur finis ille, et vellet tendere in ipsum si posset, et si obiectum esset secundum se praesens.

Primo modo non est volitio alicuius apprehensi sub ratione impossibilis, sed tantum sub ratione possibilis. Exemplum de sanitate ostensa diversis infirmis. Secundo modo potest esse respectu impossibilis, et maxime intensa, et in tali volitione potest esse meritum vel demeritum, ut si aliquis appetat fornicari, quando ipsum impossibile est habere opportunitatem, et sic damnati maxime volunt beatitudinem ut bonum commodum, et forte intensius quam nos in via, licet eam apprehendant ut impossibilem eis, et maxime delectarent in consideratione illius obiecti, si dimitterentur; et in hoc forte habent maximam poenam, quia sic detinentur ab igne in consideratione sua, quod non permittuntur considerare Deum, ut est obiectum naturalis beatitudinis, et etiam se ipsos, in quibus maxime delectarentur.

Ad aliud, quando arguitur quod non necessario, quia tunc quis non meretur appetendo finem, concedunt aliqui quod non est meritum in volitione finis in universali, sed tantum in particulari, ubi contingit errare; et si hoc est verum, tunc ad hoc quod actus esset meritorius, requireretur quod contingenter competeret volenti actus meritorius apprehenso obiecto, quod esset difficile, contra aliquos; ut si actus meritorius est necessarius, tunc actus elicitus respectu finis est magis meritorius quam respectu eorum, quae sunt ad finem. Sed dixi quod nec finem, nec ea quae sunt ad finem, vult necessario; ideo non video quin actus, qui est finis in universali, possit esse meritorius, sicut ille qui est entis ad finem, omnes enim sunt contingentes.

Aliter potest dici, quod finis dupliciter potest appeti, vel sub ratione boni honesti, et sic est actus meritorius, vel sub ratione commodi, et si sub ratione commodi appetatur, non est meritorius. Alia sunt soluta in corpore quaestionis.

Ad primum argumentum in oppositum, si intelligitur concludere pro appetitu naturali, verum est; si autem pro appetitu libero, actu scilicet elicito, non est verum universaliter, sed in pluribus, ut est ostensum. Eodem modo est dicendum ad secundum.

Ad tertium, quando dicitur quod sicut se habent principia in speculabilibus, etc. dicendum quod est simile quoad hoc, quod sicut veritas conclusionis ordinatur ad veritatem principii et praemissarum, sic bonitas eorum quae sunt ad finem, ordinatur ad finem; et ideo comparando principia ad obiecta et fines, vera est propositio; sed comparando ad potentiam, vera non est.

Ad aliud dicendum quod si in voluntate est affectio commodi sine libertate et affectione iusti, quae moderet appetitum commodi, tunc necessario vellet commodum; sed ubi utrimque est, et affectio commodi et iusti, non oportet, qui ex libertate ibi potest aliud velle quam commodum, sicut dicit Anselmus de casu diaboli, qui fingit unum Angelum, in quo tantum est affectio commodi, ille vellet semper commodum. Ad aliud dico, quo bene concludit de appetitu naturali, non tamen de actu elicito appetitus liberi.

Duns Scotus, Ordinatio 4.49.9

I have been thinking about Duns Scotus a lot, and I recently needed the text of the Ordinatio 4.49.9. It's rather difficult to access. So I just quickly typed up the Latin text for myself, out of the nineteenth-century Vives Opera Omnia (pp. 316-317). And now I offer it to you, in case you need it too. I made minor changes to spelling and punctuation as I went along, like a good medieval scribe, to conform to my own Latinitas.

[Quaero] utrum omnes homines velint de necessitate et summe beatitudinem.

Videtur quod non, quia secundum Augustinum 10. de trinitate, cap. 1, incognitum non potest appeti. Sed ultimus finis non est notus, quia non omnes sciunt beatitudinem; ergo non omnes appetunt eam. Minor patet 1. Ethic. ex diversa opinione circa eam.

Praeterea, damnati non appetunt eam; ergo non omnes homines. Consequentia patet; antecedens probatur dupliciter, primo sic, de quo desperat aliquis, non appetit illud, vel tenuiter appetit, ut dicit Augustinus 10. de trinitate; sed damnati desperant de beatitudine, quia sunt obstinati; ergo, etc. Secundo sic: Appetitus voluntarius non est ad impossibile; sed apprehenditur beatitudo a damnatis ut impossibile ab eis; ergo, etc.

Ad principale, si omnes de necessitate appetant beatitudinem, non merentur appetendo eam; consequens est falsum, ergo et antecedens. Consequentia probatur per Augustinum de libero arbitrio, ubi dicit quod nullus meretur in eo quod vitare non potest. Falsitas consequentis probatur, meremur volendo ea quae sunt ad finem; sed volitio finis est causa volitionis eorum quae sunt ad finem; ergo magis volendo finem, quia propter quod unumquodque tale et illud magis,[1] primo Posteriorum et secundo Metaphysicae.

Praeterea, quod non summe, illa potentia non vult summe obiectum aliquod, quae conpatitur secum actum aliquem circa aliud obiectum, quia distractio ad diversa facit remissionem in actu; sed beatitudo in voluntate compatitur secum actum, qui est uti; ergo non summe vult beatitudinem.

Contra, Augustinus 13. de trinitate, cap. 8, Beati omnes esse volunt, ut veritas clamat. Sed si aliquis, vel omnes vellent contingenter eam, hoc non esset verum, quia tunc aliqui possent non velle; ergo de necessitate volunt eam omnes homines.

Praeterea, quod summe, videtur dicere Augustinus ibidem, cap. 5, ubi dicit quod ardentissime beatitudinem omnes volunt. Praeterea 2. Physicorum et 7. Ethicorum dicit Philosophus: Sicut principium in speculabilibus, sic finis in practicis; sed intellectus necessario assentit principiis; ergo voluntas fini.

Praeterea, Anselmus de concordia praedestinationis et gratiae cum libero arbitrio, cap. 21, dicit quod voluntas non potest non velle summe commodum; sed beatitudo est summe commodum; ergo vult necessario eam. Praeterea, quod summe, Philosophus 1. Ethicorum, dicit quod bene dixerunt bonum esse, quod omnia appetunt, hoc est beatitudo. Ex hoc potest argui, igitur magis bonum illud omnia magis appetunt; sed beatitudo est huiusmodi bonum; ergo, etc.

[1] Cf. Aristotle Posterior Analytics 72a29.

Why I am doing this.

I am a graduate student at a university on the eastern coast of the United States. My opinions are not very consequential, but I occasionally have things I would like to make available to a wider public.