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Tuesday, March 30, 2010


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I don't have anything to say about the philosophy of this, but I have a question of exegesis. Where is Peterson getting the idea about the 'scholastic view'? I've said many times here and elsewhere that there is no such definite thing as the 'scholastic view'. Opinions in medieval times were many and varied, moreover they spent most of their time arguing with other and often being incredibly rude about each other. "Quot capita, tot sententiae" says one of them, quoting Terence. "There are as many opinions as there are heads" i.e. no one agreed with each other. No different from modern philosophy then.

I recognise the view that universals are in the mind of God - this was used to explain how 'a triangle has three sides' might be true when no triangles exist. Suarez criticises the view, and attributes it to Thomas (I think, I will check when I get back to my library). Others such as Scotus and the late 13th century 'essentialists' think that universals (or rather 'essences') are things, but 'things as understood'. A puzzling but interesting notion - a 'thing as understood' (res ut intelligitur) is neither wholly in extramental reality nor wholly in the mind (in anima) but some queer entity in between. This is the early Scotus, the view has some affinity with his later idea of a 'formal distinction', a distinction which is not exactly in reality but not exactly mental either.

Ockham is very rude about the essentialist view and argues for a return to pure Aristotelianism.

As I say, none of this helps with the philosophy.

Perhaps one day (changing the subject) we must have a thread about philosophical rudeness. I just found a passage from Roger Bacon who says ""well I knew the worst and most foolish [author] of these errors, who was called Richard of Cornwall, most famous among the foolish multitude. But among the wise he was ‘insane’ and reproved at Paris for the errors which he devised". I don't think any modern philosophers would be quite as rude, mentioning a colleague by name, as Bacon. Ockham is similarly rude, but I don't have any choice examples to hand. It also looks as though nominalists (Bacon, Ockham) are much ruder than realists, but this is hardly a statistical sample.

>>As I say, none of this helps with the philosophy.<<

I agree!

>>we must have a thread about philosophical rudeness.<< I agree with that too.

Two quick thoughts. In philosophy it is very difficult, if not impossible, to prove or establish anything, to arrive at a RESULT. This is of course true outside of philosophy as well, except for mathematics and the hard sciences. (But even in physics, at the 'edges,' there is speculative stuff that is virtually indistinguishable from philosophy.) This fact we find frustrating and it leads to a certain peevishness, intolerance, dogmatism. Not being able to definitively establish that the opponent's view is mistaken, we label it a 'lunatic view,' etc. etc.

The other thought is that philosophy matters deeply and dearly to us. We have doxastic security needs and we don't like it when our deepest beliefs are questioned. So there is a tendency to take it personally.

Now if you benighted nominalists would just set aside your prejudices and show us the courtesy of studying our pellucid arguments with the attention they deserve -- which may of course be impossible given your crude fetishization of the individual and the tangible -- then perhaps you would see the light of day and we would all come to agree. [GRIN]

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