Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Ockham against Robert Cowton on the substratum view

One of the more obvious problems with Henry's theory is that it seems to entail that the divine essence is imperfect. By all standard medieval accounts, matter is less perfect than form because it has less actuality than form, and here 'actuality' refers to causal oomph (among other things). If Henry wants to say the divine essence is matter, it would seem to follow that the divine essence has less causal oomph, less actuality, or less perfection than it would if it were a form.

This is certainly not a consquence that Henry wants to draw. Robert Cowton, one of Henry's followers, attempted to address this problem by arguing that Henry's model of material production accurately applies to the Son's production, but only if we remove any imperfection from the model. For Robert, divine production is like material production, free from imperfection.

In material production, there is a producer and a product, so let's call these x and y, respectively. Both the producer and the product are composed of matter and form, so let's call the matter M and the form F, and let's use subscripts for x and y to specify the matter or form of x or y: the matter Mx and the form Fx of the producer, and the matter My and the form Fy of the product.

The same goes for divine production. There is a producer and a product, and let's call these x and y, and the producer and the product are each constituted from the divine essence and a personal property, so let's call these E and P, and let's use subscripts for x and y to specify the essence and the personal property of x and y: the essence Ex and the personal property Px for the producer, and essence Ey and the personal property Py for the product.

According to Robert, in material production, there are three imperfections that need to be removed in divine production. First, there is one lump of matter in the producer, and another lump of matter in the product, so the matter of the producer and the matter of the product are not numerically identical. Thus, in material production, we have:
(M1) Mx and My are not numerically identical.
But this is an imperfection, so Robert says we should remove this for the divine case. In divine production, the 'matter' is the divine essence, and it will not be numerically distinct in the producer and the product, so we have:
(D1) Ex and Ey are numerically identical.
In the production of the Son, the divine essence in the Father is numerically identical to the divine essence in the Son. Between the Father and the Son, there is just one divine essence that they share.

Second, the lump of matter that a product is made from is in potential to the form of the product. When a sculptor makes a statue out of a lump of clay, the clay is in a state of potentiality to the form of the statue, thus:
(M2) My is in a state of potentiality to Fy.
But this is also an imperfection, so Robert claims we should remove this from divine production. Thus, in divine production:
(D2) Ey is not in a state of potentiality to Py.
When the Father produces the Son in the divine essence, the divine essence is not in a state of potentiality to being a Son. Presumably, this means that 'before' the divine essence is a Son, it is not in a state of potentiality, It is always in a state of pure actuality.

Third, in material production, when a producer produces a product, this occurs by changing a lump of matter into a product. This means that the matter was first potentially the product, and after the production, it is actually the product. For example, when a sculptor turns a lump of clay into a statue, the clay changes from being potentially a statue to actually being a statue. Thus:
(M3) Before x produces y, My is potential. After x produces y, My is actual.
But this is an imperfection, so Robert says we should remove this imperfection in the divine case:
(D3) Ex and Ey are actual.
In divine production, then, the divine essence does not change from being potentially the Son to being actually the Son. Rather, the divine essence is always actual. D3 follows straightforwardly from D2.

In addition to the three imperfections just discussed, Robert thinks there are three perfections in material production that apply to divine production. First, in material production, the lump of matter in the producer is the same kind of thing as the lump of matter in the producer. Thus:
(M4) Mx is the same kind of thing as My.
This is a perfection, so this also applies to divine production:
(D4) Ex is the same kind of thing as Ey.

Of course, D4 follows directly from D1. If Ex and Ey are numerically the same thing, then there can only be one thing, E, so Ex and Ey will be whatever kind of thing E is.

Second, in material production, matter helps, along with a form, to constitute the product. When a sculptor produces a statue out of a lump of clay, the clay is part of what constitutes the statue. Thus:
(M5) My partially constitutes y.
This is a perfection, so this also applies to divine production:
(D5) Ey partially constitutes y.
Third, Robert claims that in material production, a product is not produced ex nihilo. Rather, a product is produced from some matter. Thus:
(M6) y is not produced ex nihilo.
Again, this is a perfection, so it applies to divine production too:
(D6) y is not produced ex nihilo.
When the Father produces the Son, he does not produce the Son from nothing. Rather, the divine essence already exists, and the divine essence is one of the ingredients in the Son.

(I must admit that I don't see why M6 would be a perfection. Surely Robert would think that an act of creating some y from nothing would be more perfect than producing y from some already existing matter. After all, to produce y from nothing would take more effort, as it were, than producing y from something already existing. Perhaps Robert is stretching for one more reason why material production could apply to the divine case, but whatever his reason, Robert takes this as a perfection of material production.)

As I have already explained, Ockham doesn't think we have any reason to say a model based on matter is any better than a model based on form. But Robert thinks there are reasons why this model of matter maps onto the divine case better than a model of form would. Much of Robert's argumentation for this relies on the fact that most of M1-M6 (and thus D1-D6) seems to require that the 'matter' is prior to the form.

For example, if D1 is true, that is, if Ex is identical to Ey, then when x produces y, E exists in x prior to its existence in y. Likewise, if D5 is true, that is, if Ey partially constitutes y, then Ey will be prior to y. Robert thus infers that whatever role E is going to play in the model, it will be prior to the product because it exists in the producer prior to the production, and because it partially constitutes the product. In material production, matter is prior to the product in just these ways, so matter is a good canditate for this role.

Ockham agrees that the divine essence is prior to the product, but this does not mean that the divine essence is more like matter than form. Presumably, Ockham is thinking of the example where God creates some matter under an already existing form. In such a case, the form is more prior than matter to the product, so mere priority is not enough to say the divine essence is more like matter than form.

Besides, in the divine case, the personal properties are really identical to the divine essence, and for Ockham, this should prevent any attempt to compare the divine essence and the personal properties to matter and form. Matter and form are really distinct entities, so it is simply not appropriate to talk about the divine essence and the personal propreties in hylomorphic terms.

All of this suggests that for Ockham, explaining the production of the Son in terms of material production is, at best, just an analogy. The divine essence is not literally matter, so Henry and his followers can only say this in an extended sense. Of course, one could ask: this is just an analogy, so why can't we use this analogy, or even many analogies, to explain divine production? It seems to me that Ockham finds material production to be a particularly bad analogy. At the end of the day, we have to remove so many features from the model of material production that we are hardly left with much of a model. If we go with material production, then we end up with a fairly thin model, a model with very few features that can't do much explanatory work. What Ockham wants, I think, is a thick model, a model with many features that can do some explanatory work.

2 comments:

Scott Williams said...

Good post; are the Cowton's texts only in the Ockham critical edition, or do you know whether there are Cowton critical editions?

I imagine that Henry's view is constrained by his physics and metaphysics. If his physics and metaphysics are 'true', then if he's going to postulate an acct. of the trinity, he is going to have these as his tools by which to construct his acct. of the Trinity. And, further, I imagine he thinks this is part of Trinitarian theology, to take features from creatures and see how they apply to God by making certain affirmations and denials. Perhaps the 'qualifications' (e.g. action and passion in God does not require motion) fits with a 'mystical' ascent in the contemplation of God. A model 'getting thinner' is a sign of one's spiritual ascent, perhaps?

I haven't finished it yet, but Kent Emery has a long essay on Henry and how he was received by e.g. Meister Eckhart. Apparently, there is a direct link from Henry to Eckhart, only was corrected by the theologians (e.g. Ockham), but Eckhart was censured by the church.

JT Paasch said...

I don't know of any Cowton critical editions. The apparatus in the OTh cites a manuscript, and that's it. I don't know if there any older editions out there. I would guess not, but you never know.

I doubt very much that a thinner model is a sign of spiritual ascent. To these medieval sort of rigorous philosophical thinkers, a thinner model is just a worse model. A thicker model is a better model. Henry goes to waaaaay to much effort to explain the details and features of his model. He obviously wants it to do some explaining.

But in any case, yes, these accounts are consciously constrained by their physics and metaphysics. But that doesn't matter here. Ockham's point is why not choose another model from our physics and metaphysics? Say, one based on form rather than matter?