Summary Of Medieval Philosophy In Context By Steven P Marrone

1 Sincere thanks to Fr. Roland J.Teske, S.J., and especially to Prof. Richard C. Taylor for their helpful suggestions on earlier drafts of this chapter.

2 The references to Avicenna and Maimonides provided in the Latin edition are inaccurate. An older Latin edition ascribes the so-called De intelligentiis to Avicenna. However, as Albert Judy notes, the work is in fact a late twelfth or early thirteenth-century compilation of Christian derivation, originally entitled Liber de causis pritnis et secundis et de fluxu qui consequitur eas. It was assembled from the writings of the pseudo-Dionysius, John Scotus Eriugena, Avicenna, and the other Liber de causis (Judy 1975a, 361). Notwithstanding its apocryphal character, I find no denial of a divine essence in this work. For the Latin text, see De Vaux 1934, 83-140. The same holds true for the Maimonidean citation (Maimonides, Guide 57-58; 132-37, Pines). At no point does Maimonides deny God an essence, although he does discount the possibility of predicating affirmative attributes to God.

3 Judy remarks, "What is perhaps more striking is the fact that William of Auvergne's sequence of divine attributes pertaining to God's simplicity corresponds exactly to a similar sequence in Avicenna's Metaphysics, VIII, 4. That God is uncaused while everything else is caused, that he is entirely 'stripped' of all particularizing differences or accidents, that nevertheless he is not common being, and that he thus had no quiddity or definition are conclusions common to both expositions" (Judy 1975a, 364).

4 Armand A.Maurer, e.g., in a note accompanying his translation of Aquinas' De ente et essentia, places William of Auvergne, along with Avicenna, in the company of those who deny that God has quiddity or essence (Aquinas, On Being and Essence; 60, Maurer). Elsewhere, Maurer maintains that for William "there is no distinction in God between his essence and his existence: he is existence itself in all purity, so that he has no essence or definition" (Maurer 1982, 114).

5 With Aquinas we can speak of God having essence only if not too much weight is placed on the verb "to have." For God, properly speaking, does not have various perfections or attributes, but rather is identical to them (Aquinas ST 1.3.4; 1:17, Marietti; SCG 1.21.2; 13:63-64, Leonine). For a helpful account of Aquinas' views on this matter, see Thomas 1986, 394-408.

6 Avicenna composed a series of notes on the so-called Theologia Aristotelis, a pseudo-

Aristotelian work which actually represents a paraphrase of Plotinus' Enneads 4-6. The text of this work is published in Aristu 'inda al-Arab (Badawi 1947). For a French translation of the Arabic text, see Vajda 1951, 346-406. With respect to Avicenna's use of the Theologia Aristotelis, see Gardet 1951, 333-45; Zimmermann 1986, 183-84; D'Ancona-Costa 1996, 139-41. For a general overview of Avicenna's relationship to Neoplatonism, see Fakhry 1983, 19-31, 107-62. The Plotiniana Arabica, consisting of the apocryphal Theologia Aristotelis, as well as the Dicta sapientis graeci and the pseudo-Farabian Epistola de scientia divina, contains a number of statements attesting to the completely transcendent character of the One. E.g., the first cause is depicted as "only being" (anniyya faqat), without any attribute (sifa) attached to it. It has no shape (hilya) and no form (sura) belonging to it (Dicta sapientis graeci 1.11) (Badawi 1977, 185). For an English translation, see Lewis 1959, 2:281. For a more detailed discussion of this dimension to the Plotiniana Arabica, see Taylor 1998, 223-26; D'Ancona-Costa 1995, 144-46.

7 For example, Plotinus, as the architect of the Neoplatonic system, states, " .the One must be without form [aneideon]. But if it is without form [aneideon] it is not a substance [ousia]; for a substance [ousia] must be some one particular thing, something, that is, defined and limited; but it is impossible to apprehend the One as a particular thing: for then it would not be the principle, but only that particular thing which you said it was" (Plotinus, Ennead; 5:173, Armstrong). In sharp contrast to Aristotle, Plotinus points to the ultimate principle as "beyond being" (epekeina ousias), and as standing outside of any conceptual framework or claim to knowledge (Plotinus, Ennead; 2:234, Henry and Schwyzer).

8 Since I am particularly interested in how Avicenna relates to the Latin West, especially with respect to Aquinas' critique, I will emphasize the Avicenna latintts. I will, however, also incorporate the other Avicennian materials in order to remain faithful to Avicenna's actual doctrines. For those works of Avicenna that were available to the Latin West, see D'Alverny 1993. With respect to the Arabic text for the above Avicennian citation, see al-Shifa ', al-Ilahiyyat; Anawati and Zayed. For the non-Arabist, a French translation is available (Avicenna, La métaphysique du Shifa '; Anawati). The numbers in the brackets following the abbreviation "A" refer to the pagination of the Arabic text. References to the Liber de philosophia prima sive scientia divina will be abbreviated "PP." Unless otherwise noted, all translations of the Latin are mine.

9 The Arabic term anniyya stands behind the Latin anitas (D'Alverny 1959, 59-91; Frank 1956,

181-201). Without presently involving the reader in a detailed discussion of the etymology for the term "anniyya,"it is enough to note that the word does possesses a close conceptual relationship to the usual Arabic term for being (or existence), namely wujud, although at times it has a more "essential" connotation. For an interesting discussion of the term's etymology, see Judy 1975b, 572-78. Judy suggests that the term is probably derived from the Arabic conjunction "'f " (that), which corresponds to the Greek word "hoti. "Even as with Aristotle's distinction between to hoti (that something is) and to ti estin (what something is) (Aristotle, Posterior Analytics 89b23-35), so in Arabic anniyya ("whetherness") is set off from mahiyya ("whatness"). Judy holds that the best rendering for anniyya is "the individual essence, considered an existent" (Judy 1975b, 578). Judy also notes that some scholars have traced the origin of anniyya to the Arabic personal pronoun of the first person, namely, ana (I). "By the addition of the abstract suffix -iyya there would result """"'"meaning ' :I-ness.' Most reject this etymology on grammatical grounds, but there are examples of the use of this word which demand that its meaning tend in this direction. Avicenna's famous thought-experiment of the suspended man in the De Anima concludes at one point with the remark that, under the given conditions, a man would know

'the existence of his amuyya as one something" (Judy 1975b, 575). In the passage before us, the term anniyya "carries existential overtones in contrast with mahiyya, although it is not precisely equivalent to existence (wujud)" (Judy 1975b, 578).

10 When considering the adventitious character of being (esse/wujud) in Avicenna's metaphysical program, it is difficult to determine whether its "accidental" nature merely reflects a logical distinction in a finite entity, or whether it is an external property that is really or ontologically other than a thing's quiddity. Averroes certainly took the latter interpretation; (Averroes, Tahafut al-tahafut 5; 1:179-80, Van Den Berg). Averroes' reading has been the overwhelming viewpoint of Western scholarship (Goichon 1937; Gilson 1952; De Raeymaeker 1956; Mondin 1975; Elders 1993). However, recent studies have argued that Avicenna regards being (wujud) as a necessary and internal constituent of substances (Rahman 1958, 1-16; 1981, 3-14; Morewedge 1972, 425-35; Cunningham 1974, 185-218; Shehadi 1982; Burrell 1986a, 53-66). Yet, notwithstanding the strong evidence for a logical distinction, such an assessment may be incomplete. Beatrice H.Zedler and Oliver Leaman maintain that Avicenna's doctrine of emanation ultimately pushes the logical distinction into the ontological realm (Zedler 1976, 504-21; Leaman 1988, 115). Avicenna's discussion does seem to suggest that an outside factor, taken at the metaphysical level, is a vital aspect in the explanation of the existence of objects in the world.

11 Cf. Flynn 1973-74, 60-62; Avicenna, Metaphysices compendium; 130-31, Carame. Carame's Latin translation is of the metaphysical section of Avicenna's Kitab al-Najat. For a later Arabic edition, compare Avicenna. al-Najat; al-Kirdi.

12 Paiviz Morewedge claims that the above passage, besides what is stated in the fl'"5f?i/fl ,js the only place in the Avicennian corpus where the necessary being (wajib al-wujud) is denied a substance jawhar) (Avicenna, Metaphysics 125, Morewedge). Such, however, is not the case. Avicenna. e.g.. states, "...and He [the necessaiy being] is neither a substance nor an accident" (Avicenna. af-'Arsbtyyaij^ Hourani 1972).

13 For a more detailed analysis of the argument, see Judy 1976, 201-8. For some of the paradoxes that arise on account of Avicenna's denial of a divine substance (jawhar), see Morewedge 1973, 51-54. Avicenna's denial of substance (jawhar/ousia) to the first existent would not have alarmed Aquinas. For the Angelic doctor himself closely follows Avicenna in making such a move (Aquinas, SCG 1.25.9-10; 13:77, Leonine). For an in depth look at this feature of Aquinas' thought in relation to Avicenna, see Judy 1976, 185-208; Gilson 1974, 111-29. Even though the terms substantia and essentia are often used interchangeably in the Latin West, Aquinas is willing to single out the former, never the latter, as not being applicable to the divine in some important sense. Aquinas' complaint against the Avicennian view of God's "whatness," then, cannot be over the non-substantiality of the divine. Interestingly enough, when it comes to the divine, Augustine also reflects a preference for essentia over substantia (Augustine, De trinitate 7.5.16-19; 50:261, Corpus Christianorum: Series Latina). Cf. Teske 1985, 147-63.

14 Some commentators think so. Maurer, e.g., states, "Indeed, Avicenna denies to God an essence, properly speaking, for an essence is communicable to many, whereas God is unique. He alone exists necessarily through himself; he alone is pure existence" (Maurer 1982, 97-98). No doubt with Avicenna in mind, Al-Ghazali argues against the philosophers who hold that because the first is simple, that is, pure being, there is no quiddity or reality to which being is related (Al-Ghazali, Incoherence 8; 118-20, Marmura). Yet, even here Al-Ghazali acknowledges a position that does not so much deny the divine a quiddity as identify that quiddity with being itself. In other words, God's quiddity consists in his being necessary. In any case, Averroes later chastises Al-Ghazali for misrepresenting the viewpoint of the philosophers, namely that the first is without a quiddity. The philosophers only deny God the type of quiddity that pertains to other existents. In point of fact, they do not assume an existent absolutely without a quiddity (A399); (Averroes, Tahafut al-tahafut

8; 1:240, Van Den Bergh). For a profitable discussion of the various Arabic thinkers on the question of a divine "whatness," see Shehadi 1982, 56—57, 83—85, 111—13.

15 The Latin text of William of Auvergne's De trinitate is that of Switalski. Translations of the De trinitate are taken from Teske and Wade 1989. References to the De trinitate are abbreviated "DT." The numbers in the bracket refer to the pages of the Latin and English publications respectively.

16 Here the term substance (substantia) is used synonymously with essence and quiddity. Accordingly, when William denies a divine quiddity, in some sense he entertains the non-substantiality of God, corresponding to Avicenna's own discussion. Both show definite similarities to the epekeina ousias (beyond substance or being) orientation of Plotinus.

17 Earlier in the chapter, there appears a similar statement (PP 8.4 [398—99/A344]); but unfortunately it is rather garbled in the Latin. Edward M.Macierowski, in appealing to the Arabic text, has offered helpful comments for extricating the confusing lines (Macierowski 1988, 81—82).

18 For another instance, see PP 6.1 [2:297—98/A261—62]. This passage has been translated into English by Hyman and Walsh 1973, 250.

19 For the differences in terminology, see Goichon 1938, 82—84, 134—36, 386—87.

20 William attributes this principle to Boethius, "Concerning this matter you read in the book, The Hebdomads of Boethius that 'every simple has its being (esse) and what it is as one'" (DT 1.3 [17/66]). For further comments on this aspect of William's thought, see Caster 1995, 108—52; 1996, 320—30.

21 William finds Scriptural justification for this orientation, "Thus it is not without reason that he gave his name to Moses in Exodus III as 'He Who Is' (Ex. 3:14), and this testimony of the faith surely suffices for certitude about what we have said" (DT 4.15 [32/78]).

22 The expression "ensper essentiam"occurs at least a dozen times in the fourth chapter of the De trinitate alone.

23 It must be admitted here that for William there are only a few properties that have their true and proper signification in God (William of Auvergne, De universo 2—1.33—34; 1:834—35, Hotot). As Steven P.Marrone explains, "No sooner had William introduced the idea of God as the truth of creation than he began to qualify what he meant. Strictly speaking, God did not represent the truth of all things in the universe but rather of a modest number of objects of the mind. Certain words used to speak about things in the world more properly signified qualities belonging to the Creator Himself, and they found their fullest meaning when applied to Him. Whenever they were used to describe something in creation, they could not be said to have this full meaning, since their referents would then be mere shadows of what they were designed to denominate" (Marrone 1983, 47—48). Cf. Teske 1998, 127—30.

24 In this regard, William stands, of course, in a long theological tradition. Boethius, e.g., takes up this same line of reasoning in his first theological treatise or opuscula sacra, namely the De trinitate, especially in the second and fourth chapters. Cf. Boethius, De trinitate 2, 4; 10, 18—20, Stewart and Rand. For Augustine's treatment of this theme in the context of God's simpleness, see Rosheger 1996, 72—83. Augustine's doctrine rallies around the claim that God is what he has (hoc est quod habet) (Augustine, De civitate Dei 11.10.23; 48:330, Corpus Christianorum: Series Latina).

25 Judy's interpretation is based largely on a questionable translation of the Latin text. For a review of this difficulty, see Macierowski 1988, 80—82. For Maurer's denial of a divine "whatness" in Avicenna, see notes 4 and 14. The overwhelming majority of the secondary literature interprets Avicenna as speaking of a divine quiddity (mahiyya). See, e.g., Goichon 1937, 344—46; Gilson 1963, 139; Flynn 1973—74, 54—55; Shehadi 1982, 112—13; Burrell 1986b, 26—27, 29—40; Macierowski 1988, 81.

26 David B.Burrell summarizes the situation as follows: "So asked whether God has a nature, Ibn-Sina was inclined to answer no: there is no quiddity in God, For that is what the form of the question presupposes: what is that basic feature (distinct from existing) whereby God is divine? Yet not wishing to rule the question: what is God? out of court, he qualified the no: there is no quiddity other than its to-be. And since that response is expressly paradoxical, in his own terms, a just summary statement of his position would say: for Ibn-Sina, God has no quiddity. But God's essence (dhat) is existing—and this is intended as a formulation of necessary existence" (Burrell 1986b, 40). While acknowledging that Avicenna views the quiddity of God as identical with his being, Burrell's position has Avicenna retreating from the expression "mahiyya" (quiddity), emphasizing instead the term "dhat," which also answers to the question, what is it?

27 In addition, Aquinas argues that to deny essence of God would be to deprive him of what in this world is a perfection. To the extent that all perfections subsist in God in a preeminent manner, essence must necessarily apply to divine being (Aquinas, DEE 5.3; 378, Leonine). As Leo J.Elders states, "God is not, of course, marked by the imperfections of essence (such as its limiting function and potentiality) but possesses in an eminent way the positive contents of essence. The philosophers who unilaterally stress God's esse to the exclusion of what constitutes the perfection of essence, risk reducing their concept of God to pure spontaneity" (Elders 1990, 154).

28 Even Plotinus, with all the emphasis that he places on the "beyond being" (epekeina ousias) aspects of the One, at times must speak of the first principle in substantial and ontological terms, not unlike the later developments of Neoplatonism as detected in the thought of Avicenna and William of Auvergne. For evidence of Plotinus' ontological understanding of the ultimate principle, cf. Enneads; 3:267;; 3:255;; 3:249, Henry and Schwyzer. In this respect, I would have to agree with Netton's assessment that Avicenna's necessary being is closely related to the One of Plotinus (Netton 1989, 160). It seems that what Plotinus understands by ousia and wishes to deny of the One is precisely what Avicenna and William also wish to eliminate from the first existent. Plotinus himself has other terms to designate the existence of the One, such as hypostasis (Ennead; 3:267, Henry and Schwyzer) or esti (Enneads; 3:254;; 2:246, Henry and Schwyzer). Morewedge does not sufficiently appreciate the differences of terminology in Plotinus' metaphysics, and thereby sets up a faulty comparison between Avicenna and Plotinus (Morewedge 1973a, 238). For some studies that accentuate the ontological character that underpins Plotinus' discussion of the One, see Rist 1973, 75-87; 1967, 21-37; 1962, 169-80; Bussanich 1988; O'Meara 1975, 98-99. Lloyd P.Gerson claims that when Plotinus speaks of the One as being "beyond being" it does not mean that it has no nature or essence, rather its essence is identical with its existence and therefore is unqualifiedly simple (Gerson 1994, 6).

29 For Aquinas, essence serves as the principle of knowledge (Aquinas, DEE 2.1; 370, Leonine). Now granted, we cannot know what God is, only what he is not (Aquinas, SCG 1.14.2; 13:40, Leonine). However, the fact that God transcends finite categories of thought does not necessarily indicate that he is irrational and devoid of understanding to himself. Aquinas would maintain that the nature of God is perfectly intelligible, clear, and rational in itself. Of course, with respect to a person's limited intellectual capacity, an entirely different situation presents itself. To us (quoadnos) God's essence is beyond human comprehension. However, in himself (in se), God is self-evident and as such is intelligible (Aquinas, ST 1.2.1; 1:10-11, Marietti). In the context of discussing the docta ignorantia, Avicenna makes the same distinction, "De la chose supérieure le point extrême peut être ignoré, à raison de l'impuissance de l'inférieur, non parce que ce point est inconnaissable [en lui-meme]; [inversement,] le point extreme de la chose inférieure peut être ignoré, en tant que ce point extrême particulier est inconnaissable en soi" (Vajda 1951, 374-75).


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