Vii. the World (cosmology)

In determining or defining the relationship of God with the world, Aquinas departs not only from the doctrine of the Averroist Aristotelians, but also from the teaching of Aristotle himself. For Aristotle matter was uncreated and co-eternal with God, limiting the divinity itself (Greek dualism). Aquinas denies this dualism. The world was produced by God through His creative act, i.e., the world was produced from nothing.

Besides, all becoming in matter is connected with God, since He is the uncaused Cause and the immovable Mover of all that takes place in created nature. God has created the world from nothingness through a free act of His will; hence any necessity in the nature of God is excluded. Again, we know that Aristotle did not admit providence: the world was in motion toward God, as toward a point of attraction; but God did not know of this process of change, nor was He its ordinator.

For Aquinas, on the contrary, God is providence: creation was a knowing act of His will; God, the cause and mover of all the perfections of beings, is also the intelligent ordinator of them" all that happens in the world finds its counterpart in the wisdom of God. Now, how the providence and the wisdom of God are to be reconciled with the liberty of man is a problem which surpasses our understanding. It is not an absurdity, however, if we keep in mind that the action of Divine Providence is absolutely distinct and can be reconciled with the liberty of man without diminishing or minimizing this latter.

VIII. The Human Soul (Rational Psychology)

Besides God, the spiritual substances are the angels and human souls. Angels are not destined to inform any matter; the human soul, on the contrary, is ordered to be the form of the body. Hence the question arises as to the nature of the soul and its relations with the body. In regard to the first question, at the time of Aquinas, the Averroists held that "the agent intellect" was a form existent per se and that it was separated from human souls, in which, however, it made its appearance occasionally in order to impress the intelligibles on the passive intellect. The logical conclusion in this theory is that the human soul will perish when the conditions of the body make impossible the presence of the Unique Intellect.

Aquinas was always a strong opponent of Averroism. He rejected the unity and transcendence of the agent intellect not only for theological but for philosophical reasons.

As Aquinas observes 1, he who receives an intelligible form does not thereby become an "intelligent being." For instance, a house which receives the intelligible form of the idea of the artist, is intelligible but not intelligent.

Man not only is intelligible but also intelligent; he is intelligent, because he make intelligent operations. The principle of these intelligent operations, therefore, must be the soul itself and not a separate intellect. 2 The second question deals with the relationship of the human soul to the body. In man there are many operations -- vegetative, sensitive, and intellective. Now, unquestionably the intellective operations are performed by the rational soul. But who performs the others? Platonic-Augustinian philosophy solved the question by admitting a multiplicity of inferior forms which are subordinated to the rational soul. Thus there was a sensitive form as well as a vegetative form.

Aquinas, following Aristotle in this matter, denies any multiplicity of substantial forms in the same individual. The form for man is one as is the form for any individual thing; in man this form is the rational soul. It is the principle of all operations, whether material or spiritual. We know that the one soul understands and performs all the operations. We express this identity of the subject when we say: "I understand and I feel, and I see."

Proper to the human soul is the understanding, which does not need the cooperation of any organ in its operations. But the human soul is also the "form of the body"; and just as every form is the principle of all the operations of the informed matter, so also the human soul is the principle of all operations performed by the body through its various organs. 3 The doctrine that "the soul is the form of the body" gives rise to another difficulty, which seems to spring from the same principle of matter and form taken from Aristotelian metaphysics.

According to Aristotle, the forms of natural bodies depend on the conditions of matter, so that when these conditions become unfit the permanence of the form is no longer possible; then it will be corrupted and another form will take its place. Hence the doctrine of the soul as the unique form of the body seems to lead logically to the mortality of the human soul. Aquinas overcomes the difficulty with the same Aristotelian principles. The operations of any being follow from its nature; thus any form leading only to organic operations is bound to matter and follows the conditions of matter, as, for instance, the animal soul, which is corrupted with the organism. But the human soul has superorganic operations.

The intellect does not need any organ in its understanding; hence the human soul is a superorganic substance, not dependent for its being upon any matter. And despite the fact that the human soul is the form of the body, it will last as a separate substance of intellectual nature, even when the conditions of the body render impossible the functioning of the soul as the form of the body. 4

Thus the doctrine of Aquinas concerning the soul in general and the human soul in particular, may be summed us as follows:

When the form in matter is the origin of immanent actions, it gives origin to life and as such is more particularly called the "soul." There is a vegetative soul, such as the principle of plants, whose activity is fulfilled in nutrition, growth, and reproduction. Superior to the vegetative is the sensitive soul, which is present in animals; besides the processes of nutrition, growth and reproduction the sensitive soul is capable of sensitive knowledge and appetition. Superior still to the sensitive soul is the rational soul.

The rational soul is created directly by God; it is distinct for each man; it is the true form of the body. The human soul performs the functions of the vegetative and sensitive life, but besides these functions it has activities which do not depend upon the body, i.e., understanding and volition.

The intellect and the will are the faculties of the soul, the means through which it operates. The intellect has for its object the knowledge of the universal, and operates by judging and reasoning. The will is free; that is, it is not determined by any particular good, but it determines itself.

From an analysis of the intellect and the will, Aquinas proves the spirituality, the simplicity, and the immortality of the soul. The intellect has, in fact, for its proportionate object the universal, the understanding of which is a simple and spiritual act. Hence the soul from which the act of understanding proceeds is itself simple and spiritual. Since it is simple and spiritual, it is by nature also immortal.

The same conclusion is reached through an analysis of the will, which, as we have said, is free, i.e., not determined by any cause outside itself. In the physical world everything is determined by causal necessity, and hence there is no liberty. The faculty which is not determined by causal motives declares its independence of these causes and hence is an immaterial faculty. The soul upon which such a faculty depends must be of the same nature as the faculty; that is, the soul must be immaterial.

The human soul, since it is immaterial and performs acts which are not absolutely dependent upon the bodily organs, does not perish with the body -- although, as Aquinas says, the soul separated from the body is not entirely complete but has an inclination to the body as the necessary instrument for its complete and full activity.

IX. Ethics and Politics

In opposition to the voluntarism of Augustinian thought, Aquinas holds the primacy of the intellect over the will. Reason precedes volition. Aquinas extends this law even to God. Creation is founded upon the essence of God in so far as this essence is known by God's intellect and can be produced through the creative act. The divine will freely selects from among the possibilities in the divine essence. Thus even in God this present order of creation has been willed because it was reasonable, and not vice versa, reasonable because willed. Analogously, in man the act of understanding precedes the movement of the will. Nevertheless the will is free and hence is not constrained to select necessarily what the intellect presents to it as reasonable.

In order to demonstrate the freedom of our will, Aquinas goes to the very root of the will. The will is determined by good as is the intellect by truth. Thus if the will were presented with an object which is essentially good -- good under every aspect (God) -- the will in this case would not be free, because it would find itself confronted with the adequate object of its nature.

But our will is dependent on the intellect, and the intellect, as we know, is dependent upon sensations, i.e., upon particular goods, which may be good from one standpoint and evil from another. In this case the will is free to select from among the various objects presented to it by the intellect.

But all of this is not yet sufficient to form the moral act in its entirety. Freedom of the will and the free volitional act are the subjective part of morality. To complete the moral act, it is necessary to have also the objective part, or the conformity of volition to the supreme norm of morality. This supreme norm is called by Aquinas the eternal law; it resides in God and is the norm of the order established by God in the creature. The eternal law, in so far as it is manifested and recognized by the intelligence, constitutes the natural law. This latter, then, is none other than the eternal law in so far as it is manifested to our conscience.

The morality of an act depends upon its conformity to the law of conscience and hence to the eternal law; nonconformity brings about moral evil, sin. The more regularly moral law is observed, the easier such observance becomes; hence, virtue consists in the habitual and conscious conformity of action to the moral law. The natural virtues, for Aquinas as for Aristotle, are four: prudence, temperance, fortitude, and justice. In opposition to Augustinian teaching, which affirmed that society is not natural but is the consequence of original sin, and in conformity with Aristotle, Aquinas discovers the necessity of society by analyzing human nature.

Society is necessary for the perfection to which man by his nature has been destined. Man is hence a political animal. The first form of society is the family, an imperfect society because it is destined by nature solely for the propagation of the species.

Society has for its end the common good, and man does not exist for society, but society exists for man. The duties of society are of a positive and a negative nature; i.e., the state not only must provide for the defense of its citizens and for their free exercise (negative duties), but must also provide educative and formative measures for the elevation of the members of society.

Since the end of the state is the common good of material nature, the state must recognize another society, the Church, to which has been entrusted the spiritual good of the same citizens; and since the material must be coordinated with the spiritual, the state, although complete in itself, must recognize the rights of the Church in matters of morality and religion.

The Philosophy of John Duns Scotus

1265 or 66-1308 "The Subtle Doctor"

I. Life and Works

John Duns Scotus (picture) was born in Scotland, probably in the village of Maxton (now Littledean), in 1265 or 1266. While very young, he entered the Franciscan Order. After his ordination to the priesthood in 1291, he was sent to Paris to study at the famous university there, and on his return to England he taught at Oxford. In 1303, as a student at the University of Paris, he wrote his commentary on the Book of Sentences. He returned to Oxford but by 1304 was teaching in Paris. Here he propounded his celebrated thesis on the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin. In 1308 Scotus was in Cologne as lector in the Franciscan Scholasticate, and there on the eighth of November of the same year he died.

His principal works are: Opus Oxoniense (named so from Oxford), his great commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard (this work contains the better part of Scotus' thought); Quaestiones subtilissimae in metaphysicam Aristotelis; Reportata Parisiensia, which are new notations on his commentary on the Sentences; Quaestiones quodlibetales, which contains twenty-one questions; De primo principio, which contains a profound exposition of Scotist theodicy.

General Note on the Thought of Scotus

Scotus is the greatest champion of Franciscan Augustianianism. The reconstruction of Augustinianism by St. Bonaventure, likewise the reconstruction of Aristotelianism by St. Thomas had already been made before Scotus began to teach. But Scotus was not a mechanical repeater of either of them. A serious and constructive thinker, he was convinced that truth may shine more brightly as a result of profound investigation: "In progressu generationis humanae semper crevit notitia veritatis." Endowed with extraordinary subtle penetration of mind, Scotus became the faithful servant of truth by undertaking the task of criticism in regard to his predecessors' work. In his teachings he abandons certain theses which were dear to the Augustinian tradition, while he interprets others in the light of the new contribution of Aristotelianism. From this treatment flows a new and original view of the major philosophical problems which has come to be known as Scotism or Scotist thought.

II. Theory of Knowledge

Scotus does not accept Augustinian illumination. Instead, he bolds that intellectual cognition takes its origin from sensation through the process of abstraction. He distinguishes, however, between the proper object of the intellect and its de facto object. The proper object of this faculty is "being" -- the entire field of being without restriction ("ens in quantum ens") -- through which the intellect can know immaterial essences, even without the aid of sensations. In the field of fact (Scotus' "objectum de facto") or in actual conditions and as a consequence of original sin, what moves the intellect is only those things that are presented to sensation ("quidditas rei sensibilis"). The passage between sensation and intellectual cognition (ideas, concepts) is abstraction.

Now, for St. Thomas abstraction consists in an act on the part of the active intellect which illuminates the phantasm (sense image). But for Scotus the universal concept is the result of causality by which the phantasm itself supplies the physical universal. The intellect, determined in a certain causal way by the physical universal, gives it intentional being -- or in other words, makes it a real concept predicable of many. From this mutual causality comes the logical universal which exists in the intellect; the objectivity of this logical universal is founded upon the physical universal that exists in individuals outside the mind.

**III. Metaphysics

General Metaphysics**

As a general metaphysics Scotus accepts the Aristotelian principle of matter and form, but to these two elements he gives a different interpretation than St. Thomas does. For St. Thomas prime matter takes its act of existence from the form. For Scotus existence belongs to the matter, independent of the form, because one cannot conceive of a being constituted outside its cause without the act of existence. Consequently, according to Scotus, prime matter can exist as such, separate from the form. Furthermore, there is no real distinction between essence and existence. Matter, then, is a constitutive element of every being, even of the separate forms, such as angels, in whom spiritual matter is present.

Regarding the concept of being, Scotus holds that it is univocal, as against St. Thomas, who teaches that it is an analogous concept. Still, the division of the univocal concept of being into "ens a se" and "ens ab alio," into substance and accident, is not to be conceived of as a reduction of the genus to its specific differences. "Ens a se" and ens ab alio" are not specific differences but transcendental notes which clothe the entire essence of being under difference aspects.

More profound is the difference between St. Thomas and Scotus regarding the principle of individuation. St. Thomas had affirmed that the reason for the contraction of the form to the individual depends upon "materia quantitate signata" -- matter signed with quantity. Scotus does not accept this solution, but observes that quantity is an accident, that therefore in St. Thomas' system individuality would be reduced to the level of an accident. Thus, according to the Subtle Doctor, individuality must be derived from the form, which is the basis of being. This new entitative perfection, which comes to the species (forma) and which indicates the passage from specific difference to individual determination, Scotus calls "haecceitas" or "thisness." This "haecceitas" is the ultimate step of the form (and hence of the entire composite) toward real existence. "This reality of the individual is never meant as a new form, but precisely as the ultimate reality of the form."


Scotus, in opposition to the Augustinian doctrine and in accord with Thomism, holds that the existence of God is not intuitive, but is only demonstrable a posteriori. The proofs for the existence of God adopted by Scotus can be reduced to two processes.

The first is entirely an a posteriori process. The objects of our experience are changing realities, or beings in the course of "becoming." Now that which changes possesses in itself neither the sufficient reason for its existence nor for its activity. Hence we are led to admit the existence of a being that is outside the chain of succession and change, and that justifies the existence and action of beings in various stages of becoming. Substantially, this process had its philosophical development in the first three ways of St. Thomas.

The second process consists in a development of the argument of St. Anselm. To give validity to this, Scotus inserts a posteriori elements, i.e., the analysis of the possibility (contingency) that is affirmed by our experience. For Scotus, to say that God is "Id quo majus cogitari non potest" is to say that God is infinite. Now, according to Scotus, the weakness of St. Anselm's argument does not rest with the transition from possibility to real existence, but in this: that St. Anselm did not prove that the concept of the infinite is possible. Scotus proves this possibility negatively by showing that the concepts of an "ens infinitum" involves no contradiction.

If it did involve a contradiction, our mind, which has for its object "ens in quantum ens," would notice it. Positively, Scotus begins with the data of experience, which tells us that many things are possible. But all possible series of beings are related to the Uncaused Being, which, since it is uncaused, is infinite Perfection. Hence an infinite being not only is possible, but actually exists. "Thus, absolutely speaking, the primary efficient cause can exist in its own right; hence it exists by itself." (Opus Oxoniense, n. 16.)

Regarding the attributes of God, Scotus holds that the essential attribute is His infinity. In regard to the other attributes, Scotus does not differ from the common opinion of the Scholastics, i.e., that God is one, uncaused, the Creator, and so forth.

The World: Cosmological Doctrine

In determining the relationship between the world and God, Scotus accepts the common doctrine of Scholastic tradition. On certain points, however, he withdraws from tradition and gives us a new and personal contribution.

First of all, he is not in accord with St. Thomas on the foundation of the essences of created and creatable things. Certainly God knows the essences of real and possible beings; but what is their foundation? St. Thomas had said that the essences, the "rationes aeternae," drew their origin from the divine essence, which is by nature imitable in an infinite manner; the divine intellect took cognizance of this imitability. This manner of explaining the origin of essences is snot accepted by Scotus for the simple motive that if it were accepted the divine intellect would lose the dignity of its independence. Hence it seems to Scotus that the origin of the possibles must be placed in the very intellect of God, which, in knowing the divine nature, produces such essences in their intelligible "esse"; as a consequence of this, possibles are imitable "ad extra." The eternal ideal existence of things is not distinct from the act by which God conceives them.

Furthermore, in opposition to Thomistic intellectualism, Scotus, at one with the whole Augustinian tradition, affirms the primacy of the will, a primacy which he extends also to God. God has created the world through an act of His will. For Scotus there could not be free essences in secondary causes (man) if these did not proceed from a free cause, i.e., from the divine will.

This Scotist voluntarism profoundly affects not only Scotus' cosmology but also his theory of knowledge and psychology. Everything becomes radically contingent. Thus God in creating has assigned to every thing its own nature: to fire that of heating, to water that of being cold, to the air that of being lighter than earth, and so forth. But since God is free, His will cannot be bound to any object. Hence it is not absurd that fire be cold, water hot, earth lighter than air -- in other words, that the universe be ruled by laws opposite to those which presently govern it.

Of Scotus' psychology we shall speak in a moment. Concerning the theory of knowledge, Scotus' voluntarist doctrine reveals that many metaphysical and theological truths which are for St. Thomas demonstrable by reason are not so for Scotus once he advances the principle that the passage or transition from effect to cause is not always legitimate.

The Human Soul

Scotus, led by his doctrine that prime matter has a complete essence, separate and distinct from that of form, admits that in every individual there is a multiplicity of forms. In man there would be the form of the body and that of the soul, and the unity of the person would result from this: that the form of the body is coordinated with that of the soul. The soul is complete in itself and hence can exist even without the body; and granted, as we have said, that the proportionate object of the intellect is "ens in quantum ens," the human soul can know the essences of things even when the soul is separated from the body.

Concerning the immortality of the soul, the argument of St. Thomas and of the entire Scholastic tradition is that the immaterial nature and hence the spirituality and immortality of the soul are deduced from the fact that the object of the intellect is the immaterial essences of things. For Scotus this argument has the value only of possibility, of non-repugnance. Since the will of God is not bound to any contingent thing, and is free to do anything that does not imply contradiction, Scotus concludes that the alternative is also possible; namely, that the soul can perish with the body. Hence Scotus affirms that we must rely upon faith for the truth of the immortality of the soul. It is faith which gives us the assurance that the immortality of the soul has real foundation.

Thus in Scotus we find a resurgence of the Augustinian doctrine that there is no clear distinction between reason and faith, and that reason needs the assistance of faith in many of the conclusions which for St. Thomas are simply rational truths. Let us note that the voluntarism of Scotus does not destroy the principle of contradiction but holds that God is free to choose any alternative only in the field of the contingent and provided the opposite is not contradictory; the will of God is therefore not bound to one side more securely than to the other. (Thus, for example, it would not be contradictory for fire to have a different action, so that would not burn.) The absolute truths, which are over and above the field of contingency, and whose opposite would be contradictory, do not depend upon the will of God but upon His essence; such truths are always valid, and their opposite is certainly false -- for example, the statement "Being is."

IV. Ethics

In his ethics, Scotus reaffirms the voluntarist doctrine against the intellectualism of St. Thomas. However, Scotist voluntarism does not, as has often been falsely charged, give place to moral positivism in which the just and the unjust depend on the exclusive will of God. Indeed, this mild voluntarism leads to principles and conclusions that are common Church doctrine.

In God, as in man, the will has primacy over the intellect. This does not mean that the will of God is blind and directed by caprice: God, Scotus declares, is "intelligentissime et ordinatissime volens." This means that the will of God is illumined by the divine intellect and that the primacy of the will of God does not negate this natural order, which is valid also in God.

Presupposing the action of the intellect, which points out to the will all the possible modes of the divine essence, the actual realization of one series of possibles rather than another depends not on the intellect but on the divine will. God finds within His will the motives for self-determination. But even in determining itself to the realization of one series of possibles rather than another, the will of God does not act capriciously.

First of all, says Scotus, "the will of God of necessity loves God's goodness." Consequently, all that is essentially bound up with the essence of God is also willed necessarily by the divine will -- as, for example, the first three commandments of the Decalogue. Regarding the rest of the entire field of possibles which forms, as we have noted, the field of pure contingency, the will of God is free; but this is not to say that it acts indeliberately.

From the moment God is "intelligentissime et ordinatissime volens," He chooses that order in which His goodness is more greatly manifest, without being necessarily bound to this particular order of contingency (God is bound only to will His own essence). Hence He is always free to will the opposite when this change contributes more greatly to His goodness. Scotist voluntarism therefore contains nothing that contradicts Church orthodoxy.

The moral act for Scotus is the result of due proportion between the potency (the will which must be free), the object (which must be good in itself), and the end (which must tend toward God in place, time, and manner). While for St. Thomas an object which in itself is evil, but which through ignorance is apprehended as good, is the object of a morally good act, Scotus denies that this can be so: the object also must be good. This is the basis for another point of divergence from St. Thomas; in other words, for Scotus there is a third class lying between morally good and evil acts: indifferent acts, that is, acts which have nothing to do with progress or retrogression in the matter of attaining the ultimate end.

Furthermore, Scotus, along with St. Augustine and in opposition to Aristotle and St. Thomas, affirms that virtue is an act of love which directs us to God. And finally he holds that the essence of eternal life does not consist, as St. Thomas states, in the beatific vision of God, but in love of God. There is no contradiction here, for love and knowledge are not of the same order. Distinct acts of distinct faculties cannot be opposed in such a way. In all created beings, the act of loving is really distinct from the act of knowledge. One and the same thing can be the object of knowledge and of love, but the viewpoint is different; for as regards knowledge, the thing is "truth," and as regards will, or love, it is "good."

So the question: Is God Truth before Goodness or Goodness before Truth, does not make any sense. Considered as the object of love, God is Goodness. Considered as the object of knowledge, God is Truth. Which comes first? Again this question makes no sense. Considering the rational subject in the act of his intelligence, he knows God as Truth. Considering him in his act of love, he adheres to God as Goodness. There is no priority, but merely a difference in viewpoint. The Beatific Vision is an act of possession of the unity of God by the soul, in the highest degree of its own unity.

To put the same thing in other words, do we know in order to love, or do we love in order to know? Both these questions are wrongly directed. We are, in order to possess. By being men, we have both rational intellectual and rational appetitive faculties; these are coexisting and simultaneous. By our knowledge we are informed of the object of our love. By our love, we are attracted to the object of our knowledge. We can love only what we know. We can know only what we are affectively in contact with. Whenever we possess an object, we do so both through our intellect, by understanding the object, and through our will, by reacting affectively to it.

________________________ 1. Contra Gent., II, 76). 2. Summa Theol., Part I, q. 79, a. 4 and 5). 3. Summa Theol., Part I, q. 76, a. 1; Contra Gent., II, 57 and 58). 4. Summa Theol., Part I, q. 75, a. 6' Contra Gent., II, 78, 79 and 82).