Sunday, December 09, 2007

Scotus claims that there are only two kinds of active powers: natures or wills

As a kind of summary of the important aspects that we have encountered in Scotus’ account of the will thus far, I offer the following. First, Scotus claims that there are only two kinds of active powers: natures or wills. At the heart of his distinction is the self-determination of the will, which points to the intrinsic difference that accounts for the distinctive modality of the will (which acts freely) in contradistinction to a nature (which acts necessarily). In the midst of this discussion, Scotus also introduces what is now called synchronic contingency, which speaks of the unactualized possibility that is always present as a real possibility.
Here we see, as A. Vos and others have noted, Scotus’ amazement at the wonder of contingency permeating his entire account of the will. In addition, according to Scotus, the will can will or not will, nill or not nill, or will or nill this or that. If such is the case, and the will in fact is self-determining, then the question naturally arises as to how such an indeterminate active potency is reduced from potency to act. Here Scotus offers a rather original proposal with his idea of superabundant sufficiency or positive indeterminacy, which allows for a self-limiting capability on the part of the agent, and which is seen as a perfection rather than a limitation.
Lastly, as a possible and in no way damaging criticism to Scotus’ overall conclusions as presented in this paper, I wonder whether Wolter’s first inclinations with regard to Scotus’ twisting the wax nose of authority in reference to Aristotle are perhaps worth revisiting-after all Wolter does admit that Aristotle himself “never speaks of the will as a potency in so many words,” much less an active, self-determining potency.[1] If this is the case, why not highlight Scotus’ unique contributions to the history of our understanding of the will as insights not available to Aristotle as a non-Christian thinker?
Though it is my understanding that the context in which Scotus worked demanded to a certain degree that theology conform to Aristotelian science, and Christians of course want to recognize the truth wherever it can be found, still one might question whether it is the case that this demand to conform with Aristotelian science is in fact the proper direction that Christian theology should take.
Moreover, when one factors in Scotus’ conception of the dual affections inherent to the will, particularly the ability of the affectio iustitiae to transcend the agent’s natural telos, one wonders just how compatible Scotus’ claims really are with those of Aristotle when viewed in an architectonic manner. That is, perhaps Scotus’ generous reading of Aristotle is a bit too generous given the latter’s non-access to divine (biblical) revelation-revelation which no doubt served as an important source for Scotus’ contemplations on the subject of the will and its freedom.

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