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Spinoza as a Scotist: Formally Distinct and Univocal

Posted Here is a lengthy selection from Gilles Deleuzes’ 1968/1992 monograph on Spinoza, in which he presents the essentially Duns Scotus foundation of Spinoza metaphysics, resting on both a principle of univocality and the formal distinction. It is an important point connecting Spinoza to Scholasticism, but also, perhaps much to Deleuze’s chagrin, to Decartes as well…

I believe it takes nothing away from Spinoza’s originality to place him in a perspective that may already be found in Duns Scotus. The analysis of how Spinoza for his part interprets the notion of univocality, how he understands it in an altogether different way from Duns Scotus, must be postponed till later. It will suffice for the moment to bring together the primary determinations of the attribute. Attributes are infinite forms of being, unlimited, ultimate, irreducible formal reasons; these forms are common to God whose essence they constitute, and to modes which in their own essence imply them (49)…

“It was without doubt Scotus who pursued farther than another other the enterprise of a positive theology. He denounces at once the negative eminence of Neoplatonists and the pseudoaffirmation of the Thomists, and sets against them the univocality of Being: being is predicated in the same sense of everything that is, whether infinite or finite, albeit not in the same “modality.” But the point is that being does not change in nature, in changing modality – that is, when its concept is predicated of infinite being and of finite beings (so that, already in Scotus, univocality does not lead to any confusion of essences).

[Footnote 19: Duns Scotus, Opus Oxoniense, (Vivès edition): for the critique of eminence and analogy I.iii.1-3; on the univocality of being I.viii.3 It has often been noted that univocal being allows the distinction of the “modes” to subsist: when it is considered in its individuating modalities (infinite and finite), rather than in its nature as Being, it ceases to be univocal. Cf. E. Gilson. Jean Duns Scotu (Paris 1952 pp. 89, 629]

And the univocality of being itself leads to the univocality of divine attributes: the concept of attribute that may be taken to infinity is itself common to God and creatures, as long as it be considered in its formal reason or its quiddity, for “infinity in no way abolishes the formal reason of that to which it is added” [Duns Scotus, O.O. I.viii.4 (a2n13)]. But formally and positively predicated of God, how can infinite attributes or divine names not introduce into a God a plurality corresponding to their formal reasons, their quiddities?

This is the problem to which Scotus applies one his most original concepts, which compliments that of univocality: the idea of formal distinction. It relates to the distinct quiddities that nonetheless belong to the same subject. This must obviously be referred to [sic] an act of understanding. But the understanding isn’t merely  expressing an identical reality under two aspects that might exist separately in other subjects, or expressing something analogically in relation to some other realities. It objectively apprehends actually distinct forms which yet, as such, together make up a single identical subject. Between animal and rational there is not merely a distinction of reason, like that between homo and humanitas; the thing itself must already be “structured according to the conceivable diversity of genus and species.” Formal distinction is definitely a real distinction., expressing as it does the different layers of reality that form or constitute a being. Thus it is called formalis a parte rei or actualis ex natura rei. But it is a minimally real distinction because the two really distinct quiddities are coordinate, together making a single being. Real and yet not numerical, such is the status of formal distinction. One must also recognize that in the order of finitude two quiddities such as animal and rational are connected only through the third term to which each is identical. But this is not the case in the infinite. Two attributes taken to infinity will still be formally distinct, while being ontologically identical. As Gilson puts it, “Because it is a modality of being (and not an attribute), infinity can be common to quidditatively irreducible formal reasons, conferring on them an identity of being, without canceling their distinction of form.” Thus two of God’s attributes, Justice and Goodness for example, are divine names designating a God who is absolutely one, while they signify different quiddities. There are here as it were two orders, that of formal reason and that of being, with the plurality in one perfectly in accord with the simplicity of the other.

The attribution of such a status to formal reason finds a dedicated opponent in Suarez, who cannot see how formal reason is not to be reduced either to a distinction of reason or a modal distinction. It says either too much or not enough: too much for the distinction of reason, but not enough for a real distinction. Descartes, when the question arises, is of the same view.

[Footnote 27: Caterus had in the First Objections to the Meditations invoked formal distinction in relation to soul and body. Descartes replies: “As for the formal distinction which this very learned theologian says he takes from Scotus, I reply,  in brief, that it is no different from the modal, and only covers incomplete beings…” (AT IX.94-95)]

We still find in Descartes the same repugnance toward conceiving a real distinction between things which does not lie in different subjects, that is, which isn’t attended by a division of being or a numerical distinction. The same in not true of Spinoza: in his conception of a nonnumerical real distinction, it is not hard to discern Scotus’ formal distinction. Furthermore, with Spinoza formal distinction no longer presents a minimum of real distinction, but becomes real distinction itself, giving this an exclusive character.

1. Attributes are, for Spinoza, really distinct, or conceived as really distinct. They have irreducible formal reasons; each attribute expresses, as its formal reason or quiddity, an infinite essence. Thus attributes are distinguished “quidditatively,” formally: they are indeed substances in a purely qualitative sense.

2. Each attributes its essence to substance, as to something else. Which is a way of saying that to the formal distinction between attributes there corresponds no division of being. Substance is not a genus, nor are attributes specific differences. So there are no substances of the same species as the attributes, not substance which is the same thing (res ) as each attribute (formalitas ).

3. This “other thing” is thus the same for all attributes. It is furthermore the same as all attributes. And the latter determination is no way contradicts the former one. All formally distinct attributes are referred by understanding to an ontologically single substance. But understanding only reproduces objectively the nature of the forms it apprehends. All formal essences form the essence of an absolutely single substance. All qualified substances form only one substance from the point of view of quantity. So that attributes themselves have at once identity of being and distinction of formality. Ontologically one, formally diverse, such is their status..

Despite his allusion to the “hodgepodge of Peripatetic distinctions,” Spinoza restores formal distinction, and even give it a range it did not have in Scotus. It is formal distinction that provides an absolute coherent concept of the unity of substance and the plurality of attributes, and give real distinction a new logic…

What then becomes of primary interest is the way that Spinoza uses and transforms the notions of formal distinction and univocality. What in fact did Duns Scotus call an “attribute”? Justice, goodness, wisdom and so on – in brief, propria. He of course recognized that the divine essence could be conceived without these attributes; but he defined the essence of God by intrinsic perfections, understanding and will. Scotus was a “theologian” and, in this capacity, was still dealing with properia and beings of reason. Thus formal distinction doe snot with him have its full range, and is always at work on beings of reason like genera and species, and faculties of the soul, or on propria  such as the supposed attributes of God. Furthermore univocality in Scotus seems compromised by a concern to avoid pantheism. For his theological, that is to say “creationist,” perspective forced him to conceive univocal Being as a neutralized, indifferentconcept. Indifferent as between finite and infinite, singular and universal, perfect and imperfect, created and uncreated. For Spinoza, on the other hand, the concept of univocal Being is perfectly determinate, as what is predicated in one and the same sense of substance in itself, and of modes that are in something else. With Spinoza univocality becomes the object of pure affirmation. The same thing, formaliter, constitutes the essence of substance and contains the essence of the modes. Thus it is the idea of immanent cause that takes over, in Spinoza, from univocality, freeing it from the indifference and neutrality to which it had been confined by the theory of a divine creation. And it is in immanence that univocality finds its distinctly Spinozist formulation: God is said to be cause of all things in the very sense (eo sensu ) that he is said to be cause of himself (63-67).




One response to “Spinoza as a Scotist: Formally Distinct and Univocal

  1. Pingback: A River Runs Through it: Scotus, Spinoza and then Davidson « Frames /sing

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