Friday, March 23, 2012

Burley on being

There is an interesting post from the Maverick today on the being-essence distinction. About this question "you have no idea how much ink, and vitriol too, has flooded the scholastic backwaters". Very true. He mentions Aquinas, but there were many others. Here is a link to my translation of Walter Burley's discussion of the question, with parallel Latin text. Walter provides a nice summary of the origins of the question in Boethius, and Avicenna and Al-Ghazali, as well as the different positions held by the main thirteenth century philosophers (Albertus Magnus, Thomas Aquinas, Giles of Rome, Henry of Ghent and Godfrey of Fontaines). Walter agrees with Godfrey that existence (i.e. being) and essence are the same:
Concerning this [Godfrey's] position, it should be understood that nothing is actually in a real genus unless it actually exists. Which is clear from this: the Philosopher (Metaphysics VI at the end), divides being into true being outside the soul, and diminished being that only has being in the soul, and that being he excludes from his consideration. Next, he divides true being outside the soul into the ten categories, and thus every category is true being outside the soul, and nothing is actually in a category unless it actually exists outside the soul.
Maverick's discussion has more in common with the question of individuation, however, over which much ink was also spilled.

[Edit] I am right.  The question of whether it is existence that determines numerical distinction is discussed by Scotus in Question 3 of the third distinction of Book II of his Ordinatio.  The third distinction is all about the problem of numerical individuation.  Angels are immaterial, they have no matter in which their form is embedded.  But angels are numerically distinct, and if so, the distinction cannot be grounded in different material of which they are made, for they aren't made of material at all. In the six questions of this distinction, Scotus considers different answers to the problem, before settling on his own answer: numerical distinction and hence individuation must be grounded in some positive feature, some intrinsic 'thisness' or haecceity (from the Latin haec meaning 'this').  I never got round to working on questions 4-6 because they are so difficult, and not on account of the Latin.  Scotus is one of those writers - Sartre is another - whose prose becomes more obscure and more difficult in proportion to the difficulty of the question.  Why not the other way round?

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2 Comments:

Blogger David Brightly said...

>> and not on account of the Latin. <<

Not sure I appreciate the implication here. Are you saying that the Latin is easy to translate but it goes over into hard to understand English?

>> Why not the other way round? <<

Perhaps because we say a question is difficult iff it's discussed in obscure and difficult language. Counterexample?

8:49 am  
Blogger Edward Ockham said...

>>Not sure I appreciate the implication here. Are you saying that the Latin is easy to translate but it goes over into hard to understand English?

Sort of. Some Latin (e.g. Vergil, other Augustan poets) is hard because of the highly convoluted word order, and the vocabulary. Scotus and all the scholastic writers use a limited vocabulary, and a word order close to that of modern language. So the Latin is easy to translate. But the meaning is very difficult to understand in either language. Partly for the reason that philosophy tends to be difficult. Partly because Scotus uses sub-arguments and sub-sub arguments. Reading Scotus is rather like following indentations in computer code, but without the benefit of the indents. (If you're familiar with coding, think of the highly nested code which goes on for so many pages you completely lose track of which loop you are in – Scotus is exactly like that).

>> Why not the other way round? <<
>>>>Perhaps because we say a question is difficult iff it's discussed in obscure and difficult language. Counterexample?

Interesting. Very clever point. Perhaps a counter-example would use the analogy of the nested code. Often one can explain what the code is doing by explaining the top level loop, then descending to the next part of the loop and so on – a 'top down' explanation. Scotus always seems to start from the very bottom. Sartre is difficult for different reasons, mostly the obscure and strange language.

3:17 pm  

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