Monday, January 04, 2016

Metaphysics and Ontology V

The Question of Demonstrative Science

Like all medieval theologians, Luther was well-educated and very interested in logic.  He knew his Aristotle very well, lecturing on the great philosopher when in graduate school.  It is thus important that we know something about Aristotle's views on demonstration if we are to get clear on what Luther is doing in his more technical work where he thunders against "a logic of faith."

Aristotle argued in the Posterior Analytics that the deepest scientific knowledge of a thing required that thing to be grasped in terms of its necessitating causes.  Accordingly, the demonstrative syllogism produced the deepest knowledge (Eileen Sirene, "Demonstrative Science," in Cambridge History of Later Medieval Philosophy, p. 497).  Through such a syllogism knowledge of the fact was established (demonstratio quia) as well as knowledge of why this fact must obtain (demonstratio propter quid).

Toward the end of the first quarter of the 13th century, Robert Grosseteste became the first in the Latin west to comment on Aristotle's entire Posterior Analytics.  While he agrees with Anselm and others that the truth of a thing is its conformity with the rationes in the divine mind, he holds that the truth of a proposition is found in the conformity between what the proposition asserts and what is the case (Sirene, p. 502).  Grosseteste's commitment to a theory of divine illumination affects his interpretation of the Posterior Analytics.  While Aristotle indicated that experience and induction lead to an intuitive grasp of first premises in demonstrative proofs, Grosseteste grounds first premises in a "direct or indirect irradiation of his mind by divine light" (p.503).  Without such illumination no certainty is possible.

Aquinas downplays illumination as a necessary epistemic feature of this life, claiming with Aristotle that we can grant first principles and definitions through experience.  As it turns out, Aquinas assigns to the role of demonstrative science a small subset of the set of all truths, for most of what we claim to know is opinion, not scientia.  The latter demands both demonstratio quia and demonstratio propter quid, something lacking in the former.

Scotus relaxes the Aristotelian requirement that knowledge of something demands that one know why it necessarily happens.  Because of his commitment to the potentia dei absoluta, Scotus denies that knowing x presupposes that we know why x must be what it is.   The fact that it is an x is completely consistent with the possibility God could have willed ~x.  Scotus thus changes the nature of demonstrative science from the project of discerning what is necessary in nature to finding instead what is possible or compossible within it.  This has repercussions for his theory.  While demonstrative science could establish the connections among general truths, it is incapable of explaining why this particular was instantiated at this particular time.  This cannot be proved because God could always have changed his mind and not brought that particular into being. Here as elsewhere, voluntarism seems to push towards nominalism and the contingency of the individual.  

The great architect of the via moderna, William Ockham follows Aristotle in claiming that better known premises provide warrant to affirm the truth of those propositions entailed by them.  But, he realizes that "the resulting sciences are collections of true propositions, and not necessarily a mirror of the inner constitution of nature" (p. 513).  They can be only contingent propositions because God is the only necessary being.  Ockham does say that knowledge acquired by demonstration is not different in kind from knowledge by experience (p. 514), but understands this to mean that demonstrative knowledge needs to presuppose experience, not the other way around.  Jean Buridan follows Ockham on the difficulties of establishing an Aristotelian demonstrative science of nature, holding instead that such reasonings must allow for linking propositions which are almost always true with others of the same kind (p. 517).

Metaphysics and Ontology IV

E. What is the Role of the Senses in Acquiring Knowledge?

We have been surveying some of the metaphysical issues of the fourteenth century, issues that were still of concern when Luther was studying for his M.A. at Erfurt. We have discussed the question as to the proper subject matter of metaphysics, the relationship between the essence and existence of a thing, the issue of actuality and potency in incorporeal beings, and the question of the ontological status of universals with concomitant inquiry into the nature of individuation and identity.  Another important issue for 14th century theologians concerned itself with the metaphysics of knowing and the reliability of sense perception in acquiring knowledge.  Since the development of Christianity presupposed an Augustinian standpoint in which philosophy is in conformity with the revealed tenants of the christian faith, the task was to retain the harmony of faith and reason while still allowing empirical  access of, and affording general ontological status to, the external, non-divine world.

It is important to recall that Augustine and much of the Christian tradition presupposed the doctrine of divine illumination, holding that the mind confronts not its own concepts or ideas, but ideae, rationes, forms or species.  These were trans-subjective entities, not "subjective mental features" (Owens, "Faith, Ideas, Illumination and Experience," in The Cambridge History of Latter Medieval Philosophy, p. 442).  As Aristotle was rediscovered in the West, however, it became more important to give an account of the possibility and limits of knowledge gained through sensation, an account that sometimes produced considerable tension with the older illumination theory.  The problem was how to proceed in producing such an account, when knowledge was thought to be an incorporeal affair.  In other words,  how could the realm of the corporeal cause the suitable movements in the incorporeal assumed necessary for knowledge?  Whereas the Neoplatonic illumination starting point privileged the ontological status of ideas over material objects, (and in so doing assumed that secondary substance had more reality than primary substance), the Aristotelian focus on the ontology of primary substances seemingly reversed the situation entirely, affording no real existence to ideas -- and demoting secondary substance to a matter of the conceptual.

In the early part of the thirteenth century William of Auxerre tried to reconcile the older view of the divine illumination of religious faith with Aristotle's notion that we can attain knowledge through the senses.  He did this through developing Aristotle's assertion in De Anima that "the soul is in a way all things" (p.445).  William reasoned that although the thing known is potentially in the knower, the material intellect nonetheless had to receive its species from corporeal objects (p. 446).  The material intellect must receive the form abstracted from sensible things, forms called by his time species.   Owens writes: "the existence of things in the Augustinian intelligible world was being aligned with their potential existence in the soul's material intellect, and in each case 'existence' was regarded as metaphorical" (446).

William, however, rejected the Aristotelian notion of the active intellect, believing instead that the material intellect could itself know singulars and universals, and make true judgments about them.  (His view might be regarded as a precursor to the positions assumed by Hobbes, Locke and the other empiricists, for the object itself somehow impresses its species upon the thinker thereby forming an idea.)   Albert the Great, however, writing in 1245 advocates that an agent intellect is clearly needed in order to get the species into the material intellect.  He writes, "".  .  . unumquodque phantasma set particular determinatum: et ideo neccese est ponere agem universale in intellectu" (Summa de creatione II, 55, 1, ad 2m; Owens, p. 448).   The light of the active intellect, supplemented by the light of the uncreated intelligible light, abstracted the species from the sense particular and "lit" up the material intellect by so doing.   In combining the Aristotelian idea of abstracting the species and  forming the potential intellect with the notion of light, Albert attempted to retain Augustinian-inspired illumination theory even while moving towards an Aristotelian position on knowing the objects of the senses.   Roger Bacon, however, rejects what he sees as Albert's concession to Aristotle, holding instead that the operation of the potential and active intellect can be wholly understandable from the standpoint of Augustinian illumination theory.

As is well-known, Thomas Aquinas wholly rejected illumination theory, holding knowledge depended upon an identity in difference between the human knower and the object known.  He writes:  "Secundum autem quod intelligit res alias, intellectum in actu fit unum cum intellectu in actu, inquantum forma intellecti fit forma intellectus, inquantum est intellectus in actu, non quod sit ipsamet essential intellectus . . . quia essentia intellectus manet uno sub daubus formis secundum quod intelligit res duas successive" (Aquinas, Sent., 49, 2, 1, ad 10m; Owens, p. 452).  While Aquinas spoke of universals existing in the thing, this way of speaking was derived from the actual existence of universals only in the mind (453).

Three more thinkers deserve comment, Henry of Ghent, Duns Scotus and William Ockham.  While we mentioned all three before, we did not connect any of the three to the question of illumination and the intellect.   As we discussed earlier, Henry spoke of the intentional object having a type of existence (esse essentia) that could be distinguished from the actual existence of the thing (esse actualis existentiae).  Henry thereby explicitly connects the possession of true sense knowledge with the doctrine of divine illumination (Owens, 454).  Scotus rejected illumination theory, claiming that the divide between particulars that really exist and universals that are mere abstractions from particulars is too sharp, and accordingly there must be some common nature by virtue of which Socrates and Plato are common to men and not Socrates and a tugboat.  Some type of unity and commonness must exist outside the mind, grounding the human mind's abstraction of a common nature among objects.  This nature was thought to be formally distinct from the haeccity (or individuating nature) of a thing.  Scotus held that this nature could be known either intuitively as existing or abstractly without regard to existence.  In a tipping of the hat towards illumination, Scotus admitted that considered abstractly an object's common nature could be seen to lie before the gaze of the mind illuminated by the divine.  William of Ockham rejected the notion of illumination entirely, however, claiming that special divine intervention could cause intuitive cognition in a subject even in the absence of an object.  Accordingly, it was not the character of the object that distinguished abstract and intuitive knowledge, but the nature of the acts themselves (p. 457).

Since there was rich discussion of intuitive and abstractive cognition in the fourteenth century, it might be useful to reflect more deeply on the distinction between intuitive and abstractive cognition.   Scotus held that the fundamental distinction between abstractive and intuitive cognition is modal: the latter deals with what is possible or necessary, while the former deals with what is actual (John Boler, "Intuitive and Abstractive Cognition," in The Cambridge History of Later Medieval Philosophy, p. 465).  Ockham understands intuitive cognition to concern the apprehension by which contingent propositions are cognized, and abstractive cognition simply as a cognition that is not intuitive.  For Ockham, intuitive cognition is "caused by this one rather than that one" (Bohler, p. 468).  Yet, pace Scotus, the object need not exist for Ockham to have an intuitive knowledge of it.  The distinction between the two can be understood this way: Scotus believes that the proper place for an act of knowledge to begin is in the object, Ockham holds that it properly commences in an act of unconditional beginning.  God causing an intuitive act of cognition in the absence of an object nonetheless forms an unconditional beginning to the act. Indeed, God can cause apparent intuitive knowledge of all kinds of non-existents through His potentia dei absoluta, the absolute power of God whereby he can do anything that does not involve a contradiction.  Interestingly enough, however, appeal to potentia dei absoluta did not seem to spur development of skeptical thinking in the 14th century as did Descartes' analogous appeal to the "evil demon" two centuries later.

It is intriguing to contrast Ockham, Scotus and Thomas on knowledge of singulars.   For Ockham, knowledge occurs through the application of the concept to the individual; for Scotus, through the apprehension of unity of the individual represented by a set of characteristics; for Thomas, by means of the "construction" of the object by the intellect through the organization of sensory data (Boler, p. 476).  The intellect, according to Thomas, provides the form by which the sensory manifold is constructed.  While Aquinas' view might have some similarities with Kant, the trajectory of Scotus and Okham is definitely toward the ontology of the individual assumed at the dawn of the Enlightenment.

Saturday, January 02, 2016

Metaphysics and Ontology III

C.  The Question of Potency and Actuality in Incorporeal Creatures and the Possibility of Universal Hylomorphism 

While those defending a real distinction between esse and essentia regarded the latter as in potency to actualization by the former, those rejecting it simply conceived potency as all of that which God could have brought about, even though He had perhaps not done so.  Accordingly, those in the first camp could speak of a "subjective potency" (potentia subjectiva) of the essentia toward existence, while those in the second claimed there was only an "objective potency" (potentia objective) of the nonexistent esse/essentia complex toward existence (Wippel, p. 407).  While subjective potency presupposes there is a subject which could either have existence or not, objective potency simply asserts that while a substance with its qualities in fact does not exist, it nonetheless could.  Thinking of existence E as a predicate, the first claims that there is an x such that Ex, while the second that there is not an x such that Ex.

Universal hylomorphism approached the question by claiming that the form/matter distinction applies to all of created reality, even the realm of the incorporeal.  Advocates included Roger Bacon, Bonaventure and Gonsalvus of Spain.  Critics were legion, including William of Auvergne, Albert the Great, Thomas Aquinas, and Godrey of Fountains.  Those of the first camp generally regarded Avicebron or Augstine as adumbrating their own views, while thinkers of the second group appealed to Aristotle in substantiating their position.  Thinkers divided on the notion of prime matter, with advocates of universal hylomorphism tending to opt for a realm of pure potentiality, e.g., Albert, Thomas, Siger and Giles.  The Franciscans, on the other hand, seemingly advocated that any definite matter whatsoever had some degree of actualization, because actualization is necessary for matter to be definite and particular. Representatives included Richard of Middleton, Scotus, Henry of Ghent and William of Ockham.

D.  The Question of Universals 

 Plato had famously held that universals such as 'man' and 'whiteness' exist part from their instantiation in existent objects.  Those committed to such a view in the Middle Ages are generally termed "realists," asserting that universals are real regardless of their worldly exemplification and  their relationship to the thinker.  Moderate realists, on the other hand, claimed to be following Aristotle in holding that natures really do exist in individual things of which they are their natures.  If a bovine nature exists in Gertrude, Bessy and Bossie -- a general nature by virtue of which each of the three is a cow -- what is it that ultimately individuates Gertrude from Bessie and Bossie?   Is it the accidents of Gertrude that make her not Bessy?  But this seems wrong on Aristotelian grounds because the primary substances which Gertrude and Bessy are must individuate apart from any accidents.  But what could be a metaphysical constituent of a substance that individuates particular cows?  If not an accident, then perhaps it could be an individual nature.  Yet if such a nature exists, what is its relationship to the general nature by which each of the three individuals are cattle?  These issues dominated metaphysical discussion in the fourteenth century.

Duns Scotus famously argued the general nature common to each individual, must someone exist in each individual without a possibility of existing apart from some individual or other.  If Jack is going to be more similar to Jill than a tugboat, then there must be something common to Jack and Jill that is not found in Jack and the tugboat.  This common nature, which exists apart from human awareness, perception, conception and language, is nonetheless not numerically one.  Marilyn McCord Adams writes that for Scotus, "human nature is numerically one in Socrates and numerically many in numerically many distinct particulars, or thisnesses, that are numerically one and particular of themselves and that contract the nature, which is common of itself, rendering the nature numerically one and particular as well" (Adams, "Universals in the Fourteenth Century," Cambridge History of Later Medieval Philosophy, p. 413).  Just as Socrates is particularly white by virtue of the inherence of whiteness in him, so is he particularly Socrates by virtue of the particular contraction of the general nature in him.  Accordingly, human nature cannot be universal in re because it is not numerically one and particular in itself.  For Scotus, it is simply axiomatic that nothing predicable of many can be numerically one and particular.  But while the universal cannot exist in re because it is neither numerically one and particular, Scotus admits that it can exist in mente as an object of thought.

Scotus' position is that the nature which is one from the standpoint of what it denominates, is nonetheless many in numerically distinct particulars.  So what is the relationship of this one and many?  Here Soctus introduces his notion of a formal distinction: "The nature and contracting difference are formally distinct, or not formally the same" (Adams, p. 414).  While Scotus offers different metaphysical accounts of how this is possible, he seems to settle on discriminating between a distinctio simpliciter and a distinctio secundum quid.  While every man is an animal, and man is not metaphysically distinct from animal, they are formally distinct in that animal has "more perfection" than man because it can be predicated of more things (Adams, p. 416).  

William of Ockham took a very dim view of Scotus' metaphysical machinations stating, in fact, that Scotus' position is internally incoherent.  He has a number of arguments that I won't rehearse here.  Maybe the best of his arguments is the following:

  • Scotus holds that the principle of individuation (e.g., what makes Socrates Socrates) or contracting difference is numerically one and particular, and thus cannot be common to numerically distinct particulars.  (Assumption 1)
  • He also assumes that the nature and contracting difference are formally distinct, that is, not formally the same.  (Assumption 2)
  • According to Ockham, however, on assumption 1 it is not metaphysically (or logically) possible for the humanity of Socrates to exist without Socrateity.  This is the case, even though it is logically possible for Socrates to exist without a particular whiteness existing in him.  
  • More generally, no contracting principle that operates on a general nature to particularize it is contingently instantializable; e.g., the humanity in Socrates can only be Socrates' humanity and the humanity in Plato can only be Plato's humanity. Therefore, it is not possible that one and the same nature can exist in many things.  (Contradicting Assumption 2)
There are a number of other positions in the fourteenth century that deserve at least some mention.  Walter Burley attempts a moderate realism claiming that "the whole universal (secundum se totum) exists in each of its particulars and is not numerically multiplied by its existence in numerically distinct particulars" (Adams, p. 423).  Henry of Harclay, along with Ockham, attacked Burley's views, the former holding that "everything that exists in reality is essentially singular -- i.e., logically incapable of existing or, as a constituent of, numerically many simultaneously" (429).   Henry believes that individual substances act on the intellect in two ways, either confusedly or distinctly: "The universal is a thing confusedly conceived, and a particular is the same thing distinctly conceived" (430).   A universal and particular are thus the same thing, although they are distinct in reason.  (One might say, they could be described differently.)  Throughout the 14th century nominalism gained strength, even if it was not always able to show that its realist opponents were committed to explicit contradiction.  At some point, the attempt to save realist vocabulary seemed to many disputants simply obscurantist with regard to the underlying metaphysical facts.