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Tradiciones y Diรกlogo intercultural: Conferencias


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4 I. The Non-Aristotelian Character of Aquinas’s Ethics: Aquinas on the Passions By Eleanor Stump Introduction: Scholars discussing Aquinas’s ethics typically understand it as largely Aristotelian, though with some differences accounted for by the differences in worldview between Aristotle and Aquinas. T.I.Irwin, for example, summarizes his discussion of moral virtue in Aquinas’s thought this way: “[Aquinas’s] account of moral virtue emphasizes the aspect of Aristotle’s account that connects virtue with correct election. Aquinas has not only Aristotle’s reasons, but also some reasons of his own, for emphasizing this feature of the virtues…. Aquinas’ claims about action and freedom agree with Aristotle’s claim that correct election is the mark of moral virtue.” 1 Ralph McInerny highlights what he sees as the Aristotelianism of Aquinas’s ethics in the Summa theologiae this way: “The dominant voice in these questions is that of Aristotle. … It is fair to say that these discussions would have been unthinkable apart from the influence of Aristotle, particularly, though by no means exclusively, of his Nicomachean Ethics.”2 Anthony Kenny explains Aquinas’s attempt to weave the beatitudes into his discussion of what Kenny takes to be fundamentally an Aristotelian ethics by saying, “The endeavor to bring together the evangelical and the Nicomachean texts can hardly be regarded as successful…. What is remarkable about this rapprochement is not that it is done successfully but that it is done at all. Moreover, it is noteworthy that the Christian texts are distorted to fit the Aristotelian context, rather than the other way around.” 3 See, for example, T.I.Irwin’s treatment of virtue in Aquinas’s thought in Irwin’s The Development of Ethics. A Historical and Critical Study, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), vol.1, p. 544 [footnotes omitted in quotation]. 2 Ralph McInerny, The Question of Christian Ethics, (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1993), pp.25-6. 3 Anthony Kenny, “Aquinas on Aristotelian Happiness”, Aquinas’s Moral Theory, ed. Scott MacDonald and Eleonore Stump, (Ithaca, 1


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Taking Aquinas’s ethics as fundamentally Aristotelian has become almost scholarly dogma by now, and there is some reason for it. Aquinas’s ethics is a virtue ethics, centered around a list of the virtues that includes some which, at least on the surface, appear to be identical to those on Aristotle’s list: wisdom, justice, courage, and temperance. On the Aristotelian ethics that many scholars suppose Aquinas accepts, a moral virtue is a habit which is acquired through practice and which disposes the will to act in accordance with reason in varying circumstances. Given this strong connection between virtue and reason, the passions are at best an ancillary to moral virtue and at worst an obstacle to it. As Irwin interprets what he takes to be Aquinas’s Aristotelian view of the passions, “Passions are constituents of a virtue in so far as they are subject to reason and moved by reason.”4 Adopting a similar view, Peter King says, “Aquinas holds contra Hume, that reason is and ought to be the ruler of the passions; since the passions can be controlled by reason they should be controlled by reason…”5 For some contemporary thinkers, the Aristotelian focus on reason and the apparently concomitant rejection of a significant role for emotion is necessary for any ethics able to guide human life. So, for example, in a recent New York Times article,6 the influential Princeton scholar Robert George is quoted as praising an Aristotelian ethics of this sort, which he attributes to Aquinas. For George, “moral philosophy… is a contest between … Aristotle and … David Hume.” 7 On George’s view, an ethics such as that of Hume, which centers ethics in the passions, can never give us an objective ethics. For George, the Aristotelian ethics of Aquinas is preferable to that of Hume because, on George’s view, Aquinas’s Aristotelian ethics grounds all virtue, all moral excellence, in reason. “In a well-ordered soul,” George says, “reason’s got the whip hand over emotion.”8 Whatever the truth of this view may be as regards Aristotle’s own ethics, it is certainly false, in its central claims, as regards the ethics of Aquinas; and some opposition to it has already begun to find a voice in the scholarly literature. So, for example, Jean Porter says NY: Cornell University Press, 1999), pp.15-27. 4 Irwin 2007, p.522. 5 Peter King, “Aquinas on the Passions”, in Aquinas’s Moral Theory, ed. Scott MacDonald and Eleonore Stump, (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1999), p.126. 6 The New York Times Magazine, Dec.20, 2009, pp.24-29. 7 Ibid. p.27. 8 Ibid., p.27.


6 “[There is] a … tendency among Aquinas scholars, … misleading and … prevalent, … to read Aquinas as if he not only baptized Aristotle, but is himself little more than Aristotle baptized.”9 But I would make the point more strongly. Aquinas recognizes the Aristotelian virtues, but he thinks that they are not real virtues. In fact, Aquinas goes so far as to maintain that the passions – or the suitably formulated intellectual and volitional analogues to the passions – are not only the foundation of any real ethical life but also the flowering of what is best in it. 10 The vast difference in culture between Aristotle and Aquinas Before I give the evidence for this conclusion, I want step back and call attention to the context for this debate about Aquinas’s ethics. Aristotle and Aquinas inhabit vastly different cultures, one pagan and one Christian, and their metaphysics are correspondingly different. The ultimate foundation of reality for Aquinas is the Trinity, and this is clearly not the ultimate foundation of reality for Aristotle. As Aristotle sees the categories of things in the world, they are categories of being, which is transcendental to everything there is. On Aristotle’s view and also on the secular worldview pervading much of contemporary Western culture, persons are reducible to something non-personal – in physics, to fundamental bits of matter, in metaphysics, to a mode of being. On the doctrine of the Trinity, however, God is being, AND God exists in three persons. And so persons and relations among persons are the ultimate foundation of all reality, on the Christian worldview. The persons of the Trinity are not reducible to anything else at all. The difference of worldviews in the Christian and pagan cultures can be seen in an iconic way in the inscriptions on the oracle at Delphi, which encapsulate the wisdom of the Greeks. Consider just the inscription attributed to the wise man from Sparta (Chilon): 9

Jean Porter, “Right Reason and the Love of God: The parameters of Aquinas’ Moral Theology”, The Theology of Thomas Aquinas, ed. Rik van Nieuwenhove and Joseph Wawrykow, (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2005), pp.167-191. See also her essay “Virtues and Vices”, in The Oxford Handbook of Aquinas, ed. Brian Davies and Eleonore Stump, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011). 10 For a thorough and persuasive argument that Aquinas’s ethics is not Aristotelian but in fact takes the second-personal as foundational for ethics, see Andrew Pinsent, "Gifts and Fruits”, in The Oxford Handbook of Aquinas, ed. Brian Davies and Eleonore Stump, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011). See also his Joint Attention and the Second-Personal Foundation of Aquinas's Virtue Ethics, PhD Dissertation, St Louis University, June 2009; and his review of Robert Miner’s Thomas Aquinas on the Passions, Notre Dame Philosophical Review, February 2010.


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“Nothing in excess” (Chilon of Sparta) [meden agan] 11. The maxim clearly highlights the value of temperance, but it seems much less applicable to relational goods such as love. Of course, Aristotle recognized that there are some things which cannot be had in moderation because the names of those things are such as to imply either what is virtuous or what is vicious.12 Temperance itself is an example; there is no excess of temperance. But Aristotle was not willing to make the same kind of exception to the Delphic maxim for relational goods. One of the problems with the young, on his view, is that they ignore the Delpic maxim “Nothing in excess”; and that is why, he says, they love in excess, not in moderation. 13 But, on the Christian worldview Aquinas accepts, there is no excess of love, and it is not good to love in moderation. And love is not the only relational good for which moderation is ill-suited. There are many others. Consider forgiveness, for example. On Aquinas’s Christian worldview, forgiveness is meant to be unstinting, not moderate. The difference in culture between Aristotle’s pagan worldview and Aquinas’s Christian worldview about the ultimate foundation of all reality has farranging effects in many areas of philosophy, and most notably ethics. It should therefore not be a surprise that Aquinas’s ethics is non-Aristotelian. What would be genuinely surprising is if, with this different in metaphysical worldview, the ethics of the two philosophers were the same. Aquinas’s ethics is not Aristotelian With these reflections as context, we can now consider the evidence for rejecting the claim that Aquinas holds an Aristotelian virtue ethics. As Aquinas rightly sees it, each of the dispositions on Aristotle’s list of ethical excellences – wisdom, justice, courage, and temperance -- is meant to be both a virtue and an acquired characteristic. That is, a person gets an Aristotelian virtue or moral excellence by practicing it, by doing acts of the sort that yield the disposition of the virtue when those acts have been done often enough. Furthermore, each Aristotelian virtue is an intrinsic characteristic, a property that can be gotten and preserved by an individual acting by himself as an agent in his own right. The problem with thinking of Aquinas’s ethics as Aristotelian is that none of these things true of the items on Aristotle’s list of the virtues is true of the things Aquinas takes to be real virtues. Speaking of Aquinas’s virtue theory, Robert Pasnau and Christopher Shields define virtue for Aquinas this way: “A virtue is a habitus [a disposition] that informs a reason-governed power in such a way as to perfect the activity of that power.” 14 11 12 13

See Aristotle, Rhetoric 1389b 14. [Nicomachean Ethics II.vi.18] Rhetoric 1389b 14

Robert Pasnau and Christopher Shields, The Philosophy Aquinas, (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2004), p.229. 14

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This is perhaps an acceptable definition of an Aristotelian virtue, but it is not Aquinas’s definition of what he takes to be a virtue. Aquinas himself affirms Augustine’s definition of a virtue: “A virtue is a good quality of the mind by which one lives righteously, of which no one can make bad use, and which God works in us without us.” 15 This is manifestly an un-Aristotelian definition, not least because it is impossible to acquire for oneself by practice a disposition that God works in a person without that person.16 Commenting on this definition, Aquinas says, “This definition comprises perfectly the whole formula of virtue.” 17 Aquinas recognizes that the Aristotelian virtues, acquired through practice of the acts correlated with a virtue, do not fit this definition because of its last clause: “which God works in us without us”. He says, “acquired virtue, to which these words do not apply, is not of the same species as infused virtue.”18 And so, unlike the infused virtues, acquired virtues are not habits that contain, as Aquinas says, the whole formula of virtue. Whatever benefits the Aristotelian virtues, with their source in human reason, might have for their possessor, on Aquinas’s views, a person who has only the Aristotelian virtues is not yet in accord with the true moral good, whose measure is the divine law. He says, ST I-II q.55 a.4. In this paper, with a very few alterations, I am using the translation of the Fathers of the Dominican English Province, (Westminster, MD: Christian Classics, 1981), because it has become standard and because there are few cases in which I think I could improve on it substantially. There are some quotations where I have altered the Dominican translation in minor ways (as in the quotation to which this footnote is appended) or even significantly (as in the quotation to which the designation for footnote 15 is appended); but I have left those alterations generally unmarked, thereby erring on the side of giving more credit than is due to the Dominican translation. 16 Aquinas thinks that God gives such grace without in any way precluding the freedom of a person’s will. For detailed discussion of the way in which, on Aquinas’s views, God does so, see Chapter 13, on grace and free will, in my Aquinas, (London: Routledge, 2003). 17 ST I-II q. 55 a.4. 18 ST I-II q.63 a.4 s.c.; cf. also, for example, Quaestiones disputatae de virtutibus in communi q.un aa.9-10 and ST I-II q.55 a.4. 15


9 “human virtue directed to the good which is governed according to the rule of human reason can be caused by human acts… But virtue which directs a person to good as governed by the divine law, and not by human reason, cannot be caused by human acts, the principle of which is reason, but is produced in us by the divine operation alone. That is why Augustine in giving the definition of such virtue inserts the words ‘which God works in us without us’.” 19 In discussing the thesis of the unity of the virtues, Aquinas maintains that the thesis does not hold of the Aristotelian virtues but does hold of the infused virtues. Explaining this distinction, he says, “Moral virtue may be considered either in its perfect or in its imperfect state. An imperfect moral virtue, temperance for instance or fortitude, is nothing but an inclination in us to do some kind of good deed, whether such inclination be in us by nature or by habituation. If we take the moral virtues in this way, they are not connected…. But perfect moral virtue is a habit that inclines us to do a good deed well; and if we take moral virtues in this way, we must say that they are connected….”20 And a little later in the same question he says, “if a person exercises himself by good deeds in regard to one matter, but not in regard to another, for instance by behaving well in matters of anger but not in matters of concupiscence, he will indeed acquire a certain habit of restraining his anger; but this habit will lack the formula of virtue…” 21 Finally, Aquinas is emphatic that there can be no moral virtue at all without the infused virtue of love. He says, “It is written: He who does not love abides in death” (I John 3:14). Now the spiritual life is perfected by the virtues, since it is by them that we live rightly, as Augustine states (De libero arbitrio ii). Therefore, the virtues cannot be without love.”22 He considers the following objection to this view of his: “moral virtues can be acquired by means of human acts… whereas love cannot be had otherwise than by infusion… Therefore it is possible to have the other virtues without love.”23 In response to this objection, he says nothing more than this: 19 20 21 22 23

ST ST ST ST ST

I-II I-II I-II I-II I-II

q.63 a.2. q. 65 a.1. q.65 a.1 ad 1. q.65 a.2 s.c. q.65 a.2 obj.2.


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“This argument holds good of moral virtue in the sense of acquired virtue.” 24 From his point of view, then, the claim that the acquired virtues can be had without the infused virtue of love is no objection to his claim that NO virtues can be had without infused virtue of love. And this conclusion can be true only if, in his view, the acquired virtues are not real virtues at all. In fact, on Aquinas’s account, it is possible to have all of the acquired virtues and still not be a moral person. A person in mortal sin is a person whose moral condition is bad enough that his soul is in peril; but, for Aquinas, a person could have all the acquired virtues and still have mortal sin. That is why he says, “Mortal sin is incompatible with divinely infused virtue…. But an act of sin, even mortal sin, is compatible with humanly acquired virtue.” 25 (This conclusion is, of course, what one might have expected given Aquinas’s position on the unity of the virtues thesis.) In another question, Aquinas asks whether it is possible to have the infused virtue of love without also having the moral virtues; and, in response, he says (again, as one would expect from his position on the unity of the virtues thesis), “All the moral virtues are infused simultaneously together with love.” 26 If this is true, Aquinas goes on to ask, why, then, do some people who have the infused virtue of love still have difficulty with some acts of moral virtue, contrary to Aristotle’s claim that a person with a virtue does easily the acts correlated with that virtue? In reply, Aquinas explains that what is at issue for Aristotle is only the acquired virtues; but these are not the real virtues. For this reason, it is true that the acquired virtues are not part of what is infused when all the moral virtues are infused together with love. And Aristotle’s claim about the acts associated with a virtue is not true with regard to the real (that is, the infused) moral virtues; it is true only of the acquired virtues.27 There are many other places one might cite, but these are sufficient, it seems to me, to show that Aquinas’s account of the virtues is not Aristotelian. Although Aquinas certainly recognizes a role for reason in the ethical life, the virtues around which his ethics is based are the virtues infused by God. Aquinas’s three-layered theory of moral dispositions To understand Aquinas’s own theory of ethics, it is important to see that he recognizes three kinds of things that can be considered moral dispositions: 24 25 26 27

ST I-II q.65 a.2 ad 2. See, for example, ST I-II q.63 a.2 ad 2. ST I-II q.65 a.3. ST I-II q.65 a.3 ad 2.


11 the Aristotelian or acquired virtues, the infused virtues, and the gifts of the Holy Spirit.28 There are seven gifts of the Holy Spirit: pietas, courage, fear of the Lord, wisdom, understanding, counsel, and knowledge. The list of the things that are dispositions acquired by practice includes Aristotle’s main four: wisdom, justice, courage, and temperance. The list of the infused virtues includes some that have the same names as the acquired virtues and some that do not, most notably the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love. Although there is some apparent overlap between these two lists and the list of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the gifts are radically different from both the acquired and the infused virtues, because, in Aquinas’s view, the gifts are a product of an on-going relationship between a human person and the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, which somehow is within that human person. As I have been at pains to illustrate above, for Aquinas, the infused virtues are the real virtues and are necessary for the moral life. Nonetheless, on Aquinas’s account, the heart of the moral life lies in the gifts of the Holy Spirit. It is not possible, on his view, to have one’s rational faculties of intellect and will be in a good state without the indwelling Holy Spirit; and when a person does have the indwelling Holy Spirit, that person also has the gifts that the Holy Spirit brings with it. Without the gifts of the Holy Spirit, Aquinas thinks, it is not possible to be a moral person or to be in union with a perfectly good God. 29 Aquinas gives a relatively clear explanation of the function of the gifts. They are something like enzymes for the theological virtues, and especially the theological virtue of love, which is the sine qua non of the whole ethical life. An enzyme can bind with one active ingredient of a biochemical reaction and, altered in form and function by that binding, it can interact with another ingredient to catalyze a reaction which would go very imperfectly without the enzyme. In the same way, for Aquinas, the gifts of the Holy Spirit have the effect of anchoring the infused theological virtues more deeply in a person’s psyche and enabling them to have their desired effect there. The gifts of the Holy Spirit cement the infused virtues into the psyche.30 Nonetheless, even with so much clarification of their function, it is not immediately apparent what the gifts of the Holy Spirit are, on Aquinas’s account. In this connection, it is worth noticing that, although each of the four main Aristotelian or acquired virtues have analogues among the infused virtues, each also has a correlate among the gifts of the Holy Spirit. The list of the gifts includes courage and wisdom, each of which is also on the Aristotelian list of acquired virtue; and the other two on that list, justice and temperance, also have correlates among the gifts, although under different names. Turned into gifts, temperance becomes fear of the Lord, and justice becomes pietas.31 To begin to see what the gifts of the Holy Spirit are and something of the way in which the ethical theory Aquinas bases on them is meant to work, take, There is another story to be told about the way in which the gifts of the Holy Spirit are mediated by the sacraments, but this subject is outside the bounds of this paper. 29 See, for example, ST I-II q. 68 a.2. 30 See, for example, ST I-II q.68 a.2 ad 2. 31 See, for example, ST II-II q. 19 and q.121 a.1. 28


12 for example, courage. On Aquinas’s theory, courage can be considered as an Aristotelian virtue, as an infused virtue, or as a gift of the Holy Spirit. Courage as an Aristotelian virtue is a disposition which an agent acquires for himself and which facilitates reason’s governing that agent in such a way as to make him a good citizen of an earthly community. 32 Considered in this way, courage can fail to be a moral disposition; and it can be had even by those who are not moral people. Courage considered as an infused virtue is a disposition which is infused into a person by God and which makes that person suitable for the community of heaven.33 Considered in this way, courage is a real virtue, but it is not courage in its full form. For courage in its full form, one needs courage as a gift of the Holy Spirit. Considered as a gift, however, courage is very different even from courage as an infused virtue. Taken as a gift, courage manifests itself in a disposition to act on the settled conviction that one is united to God now and will be united to God in heaven when one dies.34 Considered as a gift, courage, like the rest of the gifts, stems from relationship with God, whose indwelling Holy Spirit manifests itself first in a human person’s enhanced openness to God in love. By filling a person with joy in love with God, Aquinas says, the Holy Spirit protects people against two kinds of evils, which might otherwise make them give way to fear: “[it protects them] first against the evil which disturbs peace, since peace is disturbed by adversities. But with regard to adversities the Holy Spirit perfects [us] through patience, which enables [us] to bear adversities patiently. . . . Second, [it protects them] against the evil which arrests joy, namely, the wait for what is loved. To this evil, the Spirit opposes long-suffering, which is not broken by the waiting.” 35 The gift of courage in the face of adversity is thus one result stemming from the indwelling Holy Spirit. The second-personal in Aquinas’s ethics

See, for example, ST I-II q.63 a.4. For the general discussion, see Quaestiones disputatae de virtutibus in communi q. un. a.9 and Quaestiones disputatae de virtutibus cardinalibus, q. un. a.2. Cf. also ST II-II q. 124 a.2 ad 1, and q.123 a.5, 6, and 7 and q.140 a.1. 34 See, for example, ST II-II q. 139 a.1. 35 Aquinas, In Gal 5.6. There is an English translation of this work: Commentary on Saint Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians by St. Thomas Aquinas, trans. F. R. Larcher and Richard Murphy (Albany: Magi Books, 1966). Although I have preferred to use my own translations, I found the Larcher and Murphy translation helpful, and the citations for this work are given both to the Latin and to the Larcher and Murphy translation. For this passage, see Larcher and Murphy, p.180. Cf. also, In Gal 5.6 (Larcher and Murphy, p.179) and In Heb 12.2. 32 33


13 With this much clarification, we are in a better position to understand the nature of the gifts. For Aquinas, salvation from sin and the moral excellence that is part of it require the gifts of the Holy Spirit. So, for example, he says, “Of all the gifts, wisdom seems to be the highest, and fear the lowest. Now each of these is necessary for salvation…. Therefore the other gifts that are placed between these are also necessary for salvation.” 36 But the gifts of the Holy Spirit are not states that are wholly intrinsic to a person, and they cannot be described adequately in either first-personal or thirdpersonal terms. Rather, as the very name suggests, the gifts of the Holy Spirit are second-personal in character. Recently, attention has been focused on the second-personal because of the outpouring of research on autistic spectrum disorder in children, which has an impairment in the capacities for second-personal connection at its root. This research has made philosophers as well as psychologists and neuroscientists more reflective about the fact that human beings are social animals and that they are designed for what philosophers now call ‘mind-reading’ or ‘social cognition’. We can think of mind-reading or social cognition as a non-propositional knowledge of persons gained through second-personal experience. 37 Such knowledge is an achievement of the operation of a set of cognitive capacities that share many features with perception: they are direct, immediate, intuitive in character, and basically reliable. The deliverances of these cognitive capacities give one person Jerome an understanding of the mind of another person Paula. In particular, these cognitive capacities enable Jerome to know in a direct and intuitive way what Paula is doing, to what end Paula is doing it, and with what emotion or affect she is doing it.38 For Aquinas, it is open to every human person to have a second-personal connection with God; and, because of this connection, it is possible for there to be as-it-were mind-reading or social cognition between a human person and God too. A human person can know God’s presence and something of God’s mind in a direct and intuitive way that is in some respects like the mind-reading between human persons.39 On Aquinas’s views, ST I-II q.68 a.2 s.c. For a discussion of the knowledge of persons, see Chapter 4 in my Wandering in Darkness. Narrative and the Problem of Suffering, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010). 38 For a summary of some of the literature on this subject and its significance for understanding second-personal interaction, see Chapter 4 of my Wandering in Darkness. Narrative and the Problem of Suffering, op.cit. 39 For a detailed argument for this claim, see my “Eternity, Simplicity, and Presence,” in The Science of Being as Being: Metaphysical Investigations, Gregory T. Doolan, (ed.), (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 2011). See also my “Simplicity”, in The Oxford Handbook of Aquinas, ed. 36 37


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“There is one general way by which God is in all things by essence, power, and presence, [namely,] as a cause in the effects participating in his goodness. But in addition to this way there is a special way [in which God is in a thing by essence, power, and presence] which is appropriate for a rational creature, in whom God is said to be as the thing known is in the knower and the beloved is in the lover…. In this special way, God is not only said to be in a rational creature but even to dwell in that creature …..” 40 On Aquinas’s view, the gifts of the Holy Spirit are an outgrowth and a manifestation of a second-personal connection to God. Every gift of the Holy Spirit has its source in God’s indwelling in a human person; and, in addition to its other functions, it results in a person’s being attentive to God and apt to follow the inner promptings of God. Speaking of the gifts, Aquinas says, “These perfections are called ‘gifts’, not only because they are infused by God, but also because by them a person is disposed to become amenable to the divine inspiration….”41 And a little later he says, “the gifts are perfections of a human being, whereby he is disposed so as to be amenable to the promptings of God.”42 In fact, for Aquinas, the Holy Spirit fills a person with a sense of the love of God and his nearness, so that joy is one of the principal effects of the Holy Spirit.43 Aquinas says, “the ultimate perfection, by which a person is made perfect inwardly, is joy, which stems from the presence of what is loved. Whoever has the love of God, however, already has what he loves, as is said in 1 John 4:16: ‘whoever abides in the love of God abides in God, and God abides in him.’ And joy wells up from this.”44 “When [Paul] says ‘the Lord is near,’ he points out the cause of joy, because a person rejoices at the nearness of his friend.” 45 Brian Davies and Eleonore Stump, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011). 40 ST I q.43 a.3. 41 ST I-II q.68 a.1. 42 ST I-II q.68 a.2. 43 See, for example, In Rom 5.1. 44 In Gal 5.6; Larcher and Murphy, pp.179-80. 45 In Phil 4.1. For an English translation, see Commentary on Saint Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians and the Letter to the Philippians by St. Thomas Aquinas, trans. F. R. Larcher and Michael Duffy (Albany: Magi Books, 1969), p.113.


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On Aquinas’s view, a second-personal connection of love between two human persons enables them to grow in what Aquinas calls connaturality with each other. So, for example, if Paula and Jerome love each other and are united to each other, then Paula and Jerome will tend to become more like each other. 46 Their judgments and intuitions about things will become similar too. For Aquinas, a second-personal connection between a person Paula and God will have the same sort of effect. It is possible also to have connaturality with God. If Paula has a second-personal connection with God, then Paula will grow in connaturality with God. Connected to God in this way, Paula’s intuitions and judgments will naturally grow to be more like those of God; and her secondpersonal connection to God will enable her to interact in some mind-reading sort of way with God, too. On Aquinas’s view, because of his commitment to the unity of the virtues thesis, which encompasses also the gifts of the Holy Spirit, this is the optimal ethical condition for a human person. In this condition, Paula will not need to try to reason things out as regards ethics. She will be disposed to think and act in morally appropriate ways because of her connection to God, not because of her reliance on reason. And her second-personal interaction with God will allow her judgments to be informed by God’s judgments and God’s will. So, for example, in explaining wisdom as one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit (rather than as an infused or an acquired virtue), 47 Aquinas connects wisdom as a gift with the will. He says, “wisdom denotes a certain rectitude of judgment according to the eternal law. Now rectitude of judgment is twofold: first, on account of perfect use of reason, secondly, on account of a certain connaturality with the matter about which one has to judge. … Now sympathy or connaturality for divine things is the result of love, which unites us to God… Consequently wisdom which is a gift has its cause in the will, and this cause is love…” 48 The idea that the heart of ethics is second-personal has most recently been called to the attention of philosophers by Stephen Darwall, 49 though in the past it has often been associated with Levinas. But, as these brief remarks show, an emphasis on the second-personal is central to Aquinas’s ethics, too. For Aquinas, however, unlike Levinas or Darwall, God is one of the relata; to be a moral person is a matter of having a right second-personal relationship to God. The gifts of the Holy Spirit are ethical excellences that are second-personal in character too. They stem from the Holy Spirit’s indwelling in a human person See, in this connection, ST I-II q.27 a. 3 and q.28 a.1. The question of ST at issue is on wisdom as a gift. The first article asks whether wisdom should be numbered among the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and Aquinas, of course, answers in the affirmative. 48 ST II-II q.45 a.2. 49 Stephen Darwall, The Second-person Standpoint: Morality, Respect, and Accountability, (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006). 46 47


16 Jerome, having a second-personal connection with Jerome, and thereby enabling Jerome to have a mind-reading connection with God. For Aquinas, true, second-personal moral excellences arise when the second-personal connection between God and a human person has produced in that human person a kind of connaturality with God. Passion: sense appetite and intellect With this much understanding of the three-layered character of Aquinas’s theory of ethics, we are in a position to understand better the role of the passions in Aquinas’s ethics. That is because there is also a certain three-layered character to Aquinas’s account of the passions. As will be readily apparent, here, too, there is overlap among his lists. For Aquinas, the fundamental passion, that is, the passion that underlies the others, is love; and the principal passions, that is, the passions that are the source of the others, are joy and sadness, hope and fear. 50 But Aquinas actually has three different lists of the passions or analogues to the passions. Love and joy are on all three lists; and sadness, hope, and fear are represented on two. 51 It is helpful to begin with the lowest level of Aquinas’s three-layered lore of the passions, namely, with ‘passion’ taken in its most basic sense. 52 Aquinas supposes that there are two different appetites in human beings, the sensory and the intellective. Each of these is a power whose outputs are desires. The sensory appetite produces desires on the basis of information coming into the mind from the senses. A desire for bread which is produced just by the smell of bread baking is a passion in the most basic sense of ‘passion’. If a passion is taken in this lowest level sense, it is in its own nature neither good nor bad. Its moral character is derivative from its connection to reason, in a way characteristic of Aristotelian ethics. But, for Aquinas, passion can also be understood in an extended sense. In this sense, a passion is not in the sensory appetite but rather in the intellective appetite or will. The intellective appetite produces desires on the basis of all the See, for example, ST I-II q.25 a.4. There are intellective analogues for the basic passions of sadness, fear, and hope; and hope, of course, is also on the list of the infused virtues. Depending on how one understands fear as a gift of the Holy Spirit, it may be that fear should also be reckoned as on three lists, one of which is the gifts. In this paper, I have separated the three-layered account of ethics – acquired virtues, infused virtues, and gifts of the Holy Spirit – from the three-layered lore of the passions --- passions in the most basic sense, passions in their intellective analogues, and fruits of the Holy Spirit. As these brief remarks about fear show, however, there are also connections between these two sets of three lists. Nonetheless, in the interest of brevity, I am leaving these connections to one side here. 52 For the basic Thomistic lore of the passions, see Robert Miner, Thomas Aquinas on the Passions, (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2009). 50 51


17 information coming into the mind. In the intellective appetite, the desire is not so much a bodily feeling prompted by a perception as it is a conative attitude prompted by the mind’s understanding.53 So, for example, although in its most basic sense love is a passion in the sensitive appetite, there is a different sense of love in which love stems from deliverances of the intellect and is an expression of the intellective appetite. As an expression of the intellective appetite, love is also a passion or, more strictly, an analogue to the passions. So understood, love – and also the other passions such as joy, hope, and the rest – are, on Aquinas’s view, the formal part of passion without the material part, that is, without the part which is tied to the body, namely, the senses and the sensitive appetite. 54 Passions in this analogous or extended sense are the second layer in Aquinas’s three-layered lore of the passions. Considered in this extended sense, some of the things on Aquinas’s list of the passions can be had even by an impassible God. God has no passions in the basic sense of ‘passion’ in virtue of having no body and thus no senses. But, on Aquinas’s view, God does have love and joy, for example. 55 It is important to see in this connection that two of the infused virtues have the same names as two of the primary passions: love and hope. Taken as the formal part of passion without the material part, then, love, which is the foundational passion in the sensory appetite, and hope, which is one of the principal passions, can also be dispositions in the intellective appetite infused into a person by God. As infused virtues in the intellective appetite, love and hope are not morally neutral. They are always good. In fact, as I explained above, on Aquinas’s account, love as an infused virtue is essential to all the real moral virtues; and, without love, no real moral virtue at all is possible. But this is not yet the end of the story. There is still the third layer to Aquinas’s lore of the passions. Just as the virtues have analogues in the gifts of the Holy Spirit, so the passions also have analogues in the fruits of the Holy Spirit. There are twelve fruits of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, longsuffering, goodness, benignity, meekness, fidelity, modesty, continence, and chastity. The first two items on this list, love and joy, are, of course, also on the list of the primary passions and their intellective correlates. As Aquinas explains the first five fruits of the Holy Spirit, they are in fact all consequences of shared love between a human person and God. The remaining seven have to do, one way or another, with the love of one’s neighbor understood as beloved of God or with suitable love of oneself and one’s body. 56 Like the gifts of the Holy Spirit, all the fruits of the Holy Spirit are secondpersonal in character. Aquinas explains the first three fruits of the Holy Spirit -love, joy, and peace – this way: “[God] himself is love. Hence it is written (Rom.v.5): The love of God is poured forth in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who is given to us. The necessary result of 53 54 55 56

See, for example, ST I-II q. 26 a.1. See, for example, ST I q.20 a.1 ad 2. See, for example, ST I. q.20 a.1. See, for example, ST I-II q.70 a.3.


18 this love is joy, because every lover rejoices at being united to the beloved. Now love has always the actual presence of God whom it loves. So the consequence of this love is joy. And the perfection of joy is peace… because our desires rest altogether in [God].”57 For Aquinas, then, the contribution of the fruits of the Holy Spirit to the moral life is not a matter of the passions being governed by reason, any more than it is in the case of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Rather, the fruits of the Holy Spirit are a matter of having emotions, spiritual analogues to the passions, transformed in second-personal connection to God. This is a far cry from Robert George’s view of Aquinas as basing the moral life in reason’s having the whip hand over emotion. Conclusion So here is where things stand. It may be true that for Aristotle the moral life is a matter of living in accordance with reason and disciplining the passions so that at best they help an agent live in accordance with reason. But Aristotle’s culture is Greek and pagan. Things are very different when it comes to the theory of the ethical life formulated by Aquinas, whose culture takes the ultimate foundation of reality to be the Trinity of persons that is God. For Aquinas, there are passions, in an analogous or extended sense, which are infused by God into the intellective appetite or which are the fruits of the Holy Spirit and stem from second-personal connection to God. These passions or analogues to the passions are foundational to all virtue and to the whole of the ethical life. On Aquinas’s view, no moral virtue is possible without all the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit, and any moral virtue requires all of them. What makes Aquinas’s focus on the passions in his three-layered account different from Hume’s focus on the passions in his ethical theory has entirely to do with relationship, with the second-personal. Hume recognizes that human beings are capable of a kind of mind-reading of one another. He says, “The minds of men are mirrors to one another, not only because they reflect each others’ emotions, but also because those rays of passion, sentiments, and opinions may often be reverberated.” 58 And that is why Hume says of himself, "A cheerful countenance infuses a sensible complacency and serenity in my mind, as an angry or sullen one throws a sudden damp upon me." 59 ST I-II q. 70 a.3. Hume, Treatise on Human Nature, Book 2, Pt.2, section 5. I am indebted to Annette Baier for this reference. As she herself makes clear, Hume’s philosophy emphasizes the importance of what he calls ‘sympathy’ for all of ethics. 59 Hume, Treatise of Human Nature, Book 2, Pt. 1, section 11. I am grateful to Annette Baier for this reference, and I am grateful 57 58


19

Nonetheless, for Hume, a passion is just an intrinsic characteristic of an agent, which the agent has in himself alone as the individual he is. By contrast, from Aquinas’s point of view, the gifts and the fruits of the Holy Spirit are not intrinsic characteristics but relational ones. The gifts stem from second-personal connection to God, from second-personal interaction in as-it-were mind-reading with God; and the fruits are the emotions that result from this second personal connection. What differentiates Aquinas from Hume, then, is not that Aquinas privileges reason while Hume privileges passion in the ethical life. Rather, it is that the emotions Aquinas highlights as essential to the ethical life have to do with relationship to God. Understood as the infused virtues of hope and love, or as the fruits of the Holy Spirit, the flowering of second-personal connection with a personal God, passion in its analogous sense is for Aquinas the touchstone of all morality.

to anonymous referees for Faith and Philosophy comments on an earlier draft of this essay.

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21 II. Avicennan Troubles: The Mysteries of the Heptagonal House and of the Phoenix By Dr.Thérèse Druart Avicenna, as the Persian philosopher Ibn Sînâ (980-1037) is known in Latin, often presents his philosophy in such a dry style that at times one wonders what exactly he is talking about, particularly in the Metaphysics of his encyclopedic alShifâ’, a text written in Arabic and translated into Latin in the Middle Ages. So the reader is pleasantly surprised to find in Book V, ch. 1, of this text examples of the three ways in which universals are said. First, universals are said of a meaning actually predicated of many, such as the human being. In this standard case the universal has several instantiations and the example is traditional. Second, universals are said of what it is permissible to say of many, even if it is not a condition that these many should exist in actuality, for example the heptagonal house. In its nature this universal can be said of many, but it does not follow necessarily that these many must exist--not even one of them. This second case deals with a less common type of universal, since such universals may have either only one instantiation or even none at all. The example of the heptagonal house is not traditional, as Greek sources, such as Porphyry and Simplicius, instead use the phoenix. The third case addresses another kind of less common universal, one whose meaning can be said of many but some external cause--and this can be proven—prevents such attribution to many. Thus, this universal has only one real instantiation, for example the sun and the


22 earth, which both for the Greeks and for Avicenna are eternal. 60 This third kind and its illustration are traditional and attested in Greek sources. My paper focuses on the second kind of universal, and in particular its illustration, the heptagonal house, which Avicenna substituted for the traditional phoenix, and for which some Latin readers of Avicenna, returning to the Greek sources and referring to this very passage, reinserted the phoenix and omitted the heptagonal house. Why did Avicenna substitute the heptagonal house for the phoenix and why did some of his Latin readers, such as Nicholas of Cornwall, return to the phoenix?61 The first part of my paper will explain why this substitution of the heptagonal house for the phoenix is puzzling and will reject some of the interpretations previously given. The second part will explain why in metaphysics or logic Avicenna could not use the phoenix or any other mythological bird or animal in order to illustrate this kind of universal and the third and last part, which is more speculative, will suggest why he substituted the heptagonal house for the phoenix in the Metaphysics of the Shifâ’. I. The problem and some false solutions The substitution of the heptagonal house for the phoenix has puzzled later disciples of Ibn Sînâ writing in Arabic and clearly some of his Latin readers since they dropped the heptagonal house and returned to the phoenix, as well as contemporary scholars. But before dealing with interpretations, it seems wise to look at other parallel texts in Ibn Sînâ, even if they were not translated into Latin. For the Arabic, see Ibn Sînâ, Al-Shifâ’, Al-Ilâhiyyât (1) (La métaphysique), ed. by G.C. Anawati 7 Sa’id Zayed, with an intro. by Ibrahim Madkour. Cairo: Organisation Générale des Imprimeries Gouvernementales, 1960, p. 195, from now on referred as the Cairo ed. For the Cairo text, minus the apparatus criticus, and with an English translation, see Avicenna, The Metaphysics of The Healing, A parallel English-Arabic text transl., introduced, and annotated by Michael E. Marmura (Islamic Translation Series). Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 2005, pp. 148-49, nn. 1-3. For the medieval Latin translation, see Avicenna Latinus, Liber de philosophia prima sive scientia divina, V-X, ed. S. Van Riet, with an intro. by G. Verbeke. Louvain: Peeters & Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1980, pp. 227-28. Consultation of the apparatus critici of both the Cairo edition and the critical edition of the Latin version as well as consultation of the corrections to the Cairo edition in Amos Bertolacci, The Reception of Aristotle’s Metaphysics in Avcienna’s Kitâb alShifâ’: A Milestone of Western Metaphysical Thought (Islamic Philosophy, Theology and Science, 63). Leiden: Brill, 2006, p. 511, reveals that there is no alternative reading to the “heptagonal house.” 61 On Nicholas of Cornwall, see Alain de Libera, La querelle des universaux. De Platon à la fin du Moyen Âge. Paris: Seuil, 1996, pp. 234-38. On the three meanings of “universal” in Avicenna and the shift from the phoenix to the heptagoanl house and back to the phoenix, see his L’art des généralités. Théories de l’abstraction, (Philosophie). Paris: Aubier, 1999, pp. 509-15. 60


23 The Shifâ’, which, as we said, introduces the heptagonal house, preceded all of them. It was followed by a revised, abbreviated form of the Shifâ’ called the Najât and later on by a text in Persian, the Dânesh-Nâmeh or Philosophy for ‘Alâ’-ad-Dawla, also known in its French translation as The Book of Science.62 In the logic section of these two texts Ibn Sînâ avoids the problem of the heptagonal house and the phoenix by simply listing only two kinds of universals, the standard one with its example of the human being and the second, less common one, that of the universal with one eternal instantiation, such as the sun. 63 The metaphysical section of these two texts focuses on the ontological status of universals, but does not list the kinds of universals nor does it define them. Things become more interesting but still more confusing when we consider the logic section of the last of the parallel texts, the Ishârât also known both as Pointers and Reminders and as Admonitions and Remarks, the metaphysical part of which yields nothing useful. In its logic section, the first and third kinds are still those of universal with several instantiations and universal with only a single, eternal instantiation whose singleness derives from a cause external to the intelligible content of this universal, each kind provided with its traditional example, the human being, for the first, and the sun, for the third. The second kind speaks of universals common in potency and possibility and no longer gives the example of the heptagonal house but that of the sphere in which is inscribed the regular dodecahedron whose faces are pentagons rather than heptagons. 64 Now Ibn Sînâ has replaced the heptagonal house with a sphere containing one of the five regular solids that can be inscribed therein. The theorem dealing with the inscription of five regular solids in a sphere was already known at the time of Plato, since Plato, who was a solid geometry buff, used it in the Timaeus, but had some trouble with the construction of the dodecahedron. As Euclid’s Elements were translated into Arabic, this theorem was well-known in Islamic lands. Whether one considers the heptagonal house or the sphere in which a regular dodecahedron is inscribed, it is clear that Ibn Sînâ is referring to some difficult geometric construction and to an artifact. Our original question of why Avicenna replaced the phoenix, which, if it were to exist, would be a natural kind, with a heptagonal house, seems to have become the following: why did he substitute for the phoenix, a fabulous animal, an artificial object whose geometric construction either had not yet been discovered or was difficult, which rendered instantiations either impossible or very rare? For the chronology of Ibn Sînâ’s main texts, se Dimitri Gutas, Avicenna and the Aristotelian Tradition: Introduction to Reading Avicenna’s Philosophical Works (Islamic Philosophy and Theology, 4) Leiden: Brill, 1988, p. 145. 63 Ibn Sînâ, Najât, ed. by Dânesh Pazhuh. Theran: Dâneshgah Tehran, 1985, p. 10, and Avicenne, Le livre de science, I: Logique, Métaphysique, transl. by Mohammad Achena & Henri Massé (Traductions de textes persans). Paris: Les belles lettres/UNESCO, 1986, p. 68 [reprint of 1955]. 62

Ibn Sînâ, Al-Ishârât wa-t-tanbîhât, part I, ed. by Solaymân Donyâ. Cairo: Dâr al-ma’âref, 1983, p. 149. 64


24 Alain de Libera claims that some unspecified scholars assume that Avicenna rejected the phoenix because this was a mythical bird unknown to his culture and so replaced it with some other mythical “thing” more familiar to his readers, the heptagonal house. He rightly points out that this does not make much sense as in fact Ibn Sînâ in other unspecified texts refers to the phoenix, 65 or more exactly a mythical bird of his own culture, the ‘anqâ’, at times also called in a more flowery manner ‘anqâ’ mughrib, meaning the marvelous ‘anqâ’. He does so in the De interpretatione of the Shifâ’,66 The Letter on the Disappearance of the Vain Intelligible Forms after Death,67 and his Refutation of Astrology, all texts unknown to the Latins.68 The famous translator from Greek or Syriac into Arabic, Ishâq ibn Hunayn, had already used this ‘anqâ’ to translate the word “sphynx” in Aristotle’s Physics at 208a29f69 and Avicenna’s predecessor, the philosopher/logician al-Fârâbî (870-950) had added the ‘anqâ’ as an example of a fabulous animal parallel to that of the famous ‘goat-stag’ in his Long Commentary on Aristotle’s De Interpretatione, 16a9-19.70 Ibn Sînâ follows suit in his own De interpretatione section of the Shifâ’ in a passage in which he tortures the Arabic language into construing two different formulations of the sentence “the ‘anqâ’ is not endowed with eyesight,” one that is true as it does not have existential import, and another that is not true as it has existential import, and, therefore, assumes the real existence of the ‘anqâ’.71 On the level of terminology for people working on translations from Arabic things get rather confusing as ‘anqâ’, the Arabic name of this fabulous bird, gets

de Libera, L’art des généralités, p. 512 Ibn Sînâ, Al-Shifâ’, La logique, III De l’interprétation (alibara), ed. by Mahmoud el-Khodeiri, Preface by Ibrahim Madkour, Cairo: Dar el-Katib al-‘arabi, 1970, pp. 77, 82-5, 89, 108-111. 67 Arabic text and French translation by Jean R. Michot, “ ‘L’épître sur la disparition des formes intelligbles vaines après la mort’ d’Avicenne,” Bulletin de Philosophie médiévale, 29 (1987): 152-67. English translation and introduction by Jean Michot, “Avicenna’s ‘Letter on the Disappearance of the Vain Intelligible Forms after Death,” Bulletin de Philosophie médiévale, 27 (1985): 94-103. 68 Avicenne, Réfutation de l’astrologie, ed., translation, intro., and notes by Yahya Michot (Sagesses musulmanes, 5), Beirut: Albouraq, 2006. 69 See F.W. Zimmermann, Al-Farabi’s Commentary and Short Treatise on Aristotle’s De intepretatione (The British Academy Classical and Medieval Logic Texts). London: Oxford University Press, 1981, p. 15, n. 4. 70 Ibid., p. 15. 71 De l’interprétation, p. 82 and a similar passage in Najât, p. 28. On relevant aspects of Avcienna’s logic, see Allan Bäck, “Avicenna on Existence,” Journal of the History of Philosophy, 25 (1987): 351-67, and particularly, p. 360, n. 34, for his translating ‘anqâ’ as griffon. 65 66


25 translated by some as “phoenix” (Black) 72, by others as “sphynx” (Zimmermann)73, and by still others as “griffon” (Bäck).74 But what is this famous ‘anqâ’? Charles Pellat describes it as a fabulous bird similar to the phoenix. According to a hadîth reported by al-Mas’ûdî (d. 957) and referring to pre-Islamic times, the ‘anqâ was created by God with all sorts of perfections but became a plague and was eliminated by some pre-Islamic prophet.75 In this version of the legend it becomes an extinct species. “After Islam,” writes Pellat, “the ‘anqâ’ was definitely assimilated with the sîmurgh, which plays some part in Iranian mythology.”76 In his Refutation of Astrology Ibn Sînâ dedicates one paragraph to explaining how human beings came to imagine or to believe in the ‘anqâ’ mughrib and so gives us some glimpses of which version of the legend he is thinking of. People would have liked to see far-away cities and kingdoms, as well as their inhabitants and marvels, but found travels painful and difficult, particularly if they did not own a she-camel, and so thought that flying would make things easy. They, therefore, imagined a flying human being, which they dubbed ‘anqâ’ mughrib. Afterwards they invented marvelous stories and tales and attributed them to learned people. Such tales about the ‘anqa’ are well known among the nations but “this thing [, i.e., the‘anqâ’,] is impossible (muhâl) as one knows with a minimum of reflection.”77 What that minimum of reflection is remains unexplained. We can now safely conclude that Avicenna did not substitute the heptagonal house for the phoenix because he had no way to deal with a Greek fabulous bird or to find some kind of equivalent in his own culture. We begin to suspect that the substitution may be deliberate and, therefore, philosophically significant. Confirmation that Ibn Sînâ’s oriental disciples found the “heptagonal house” puzzling and knew about the ‘anqâ as a possible candidate for a type of universal Deborah L. Black, “Avicenna on the Ontological and Epistemic Status of Fictional Beings,” Documenti e Studi, 8 (1997): 425-53. 73 Al-Farabi’s Commentary, p. 15. 74 In one text in Arabic, The Book of Definitions, definition 97, Avicenna alludes to this bird but in using its Persian name “qaqnus.” See Kiki Kennedy-Day, Books of Definition in Islamic Philosophy: The Limits of Words. London: RoutledgeCurzon, 2003, p, 113 for the translation and pp. 145-47 for a commentary. The same goes for the Physics of the Shifâ’, IV, 3, Cairo ed., 267.7 (reference kindly given to me by Jon McGinnis). In both case the “qaqnus” is simply an illustration for something white in color. 75 Entry “’Ankâ’” in Encyclopaedia of Islam, 2nd. ed, p. 509. This may explain why according to Lane ‘anqâ’ mughrib may also mean a calamity or disaster. 76 Pellat, p. 509. 77 Réfutation de l’astrologie, Arabic, p. 6, ll. 3-11; French, pp. 58-59. On the importance of estimation to explain fictitious beings, see Deborah L. Black, “Estimation (Wahm) in Avicenna: The Logical and Psychological Dimensions,” Dialogue, 32 (1993): 227-32. 72


26 is given in a gloss to the first edition of Ibn Sînâ’s Metaphysics, the 1885 Tehran lithograph, as indicated by Fr. Anawati in his notes to the French translation of Ibn Sînâ’s text.78 Anawati in his introduction indicates that he will provide notes only when the text is difficult. As explanation for the listing of the three kinds of universals, he offers a gloss by a certain Mulla Sulayman: There are six kinds of universals: 1. The universal, which includes only one individual and excludes any other, God; 2. The universal that includes no particular and excludes that any exist, for instance, any being associated to God; 3. The universal that in principle does not include any particular but could exist, such as the griffon [al-‘anqâ]; 4. The universal that includes one particular, but could include more, for example, the sun; 5. The universal that includes an infinite number of individuals, such as the human souls for the philosophers; and 6. The universal that includes a finite number of individuals, such as the seven planets.” Sulayman then further explains 3, i.e., the universal that in principle does not include any particular but could exist, such as the ‘anqâ’, as a Common notion according to the mind: this accepts that several particulars instantiating this universal could exist outside the mind, for instance, the heptagonal house. One can even say that it is not necessary that there even exist one particular in concrete existence, for instance the griffon (al-‘anqâ).”79 Notice that originally the ‘anqâ’ was first listed and that the heptagonal house comes as a secondary explanation. Sulayman considers the heptagonal house as something of which several instantiations could exist outside of the mind, whereas in the case of the ‘anqâ’ none does. Further, if Avicenna had substituted the heptagonal house for the phoenix to replace a Greek fabulous animal with something as fabulous but known to his contemporaries, then we would need to assume, as Hasnawi did in a discussion long ago, that the heptagonal house is mythical because regular heptagons cannot be constructed. This, as Hasnawi himself grants, creates problems because Jan P. Hogendijk in a 1984 article established that no less than 12 correct constructions of the regular heptagon were known or discovered by specialists in geometry in Islamic lands and five of them date from the late 10 th century.80 We know that Ibn Sînâ was much interested in geometry as 1. In his autobiography he claims to have worked out by himself the whole of Euclid’s Avicenne, La métaphysique du Shifâ’, Livres I à V, transl. with intro. and notes by George C. Anawati (Etudes musulmanes XXI) Paris: Vrin, 1978, pp. 363-64. Mullâ Sadrâ al-Shîrâzî (ca. 15721640) easily refers to the ‘anâq’, see Cécile Bonmariage, Le réel et les réalités. Mullâ Sadrâ Shîrâzî et la structure de la réalité (Etudes musulmanes 41). Paris: Vrin, 2007, p. 20, n. 2; p. 207, and p, 193, in particular n. 5. 79 Avicenne, La métaphysique du Shifâ’, Livres I à V, transl. with intro. and notes by George C. Anawati (Etudes musulmanes XXI) Paris: Vrin, 1978, note 195,5, pp. 363-64. 78


27 Elements, and 2. In his Shifâ’ he provides a section on geometry. Therefore, he must have been aware that it was possible to construct a regular heptagon. One interpreter Jules Janssens claims that the heptagonal house is not fictitious and refers to a particular, which is possible but unrealized. 81 As for Ibn Sînâ’s Latin readers they too may have rejected the heptagonal house as an example of a mythical being, since they knew how to construct regular heptagons, as the church of Rieux Minervois in the Aude Department in France testifies. It is a twelfth-century church, circular on the outside, but with an internal heptagonal plan and a cupola crowned by a heptagonal tower. Therefore, contrary to what de Libera assumes the Latins were very far from having no idea of a heptagonal house82 and so some may have returned to the phoenix, precisely because they knew that a heptagonal building was not mythical and that there could be several instantiations of it. De Libera offers the hypothesis that Avicenna introduced the heptagonal house to show how in a certain measure an artifact may be considered as a universal, even though it is not a “natural kind.” 83 Whether one should follow Aristotle in assuming that artifacts are not really substances and, therefore, not really universals, was already discussed by Alexander of Aphrodisias and recently considered once again by Katayama. 84 Avicenna does not discuss the issue in the Metaphysics of the Shifâ’, but in Book VI, ch. 2, the famous chapter that carefully distinguishes physical from metaphysical causes, i.e., accidental causes preceding their effects in existence from essential causes simultaneous with their effects, while speaking of essential causes, he does not differentiate between natural kinds, illustrated by the human being, artifacts, exemplified by the house, and the four elements, the forms of all of which are given by the famous “dator formarum”, i.e., the Agent Intellect. We can conclude, then, that the point of the heptagonal house does not seem to be that it is an artifact. Besides, if the point were simply to introduce artifacts, why specify that the house be heptagonal and not simply speak as in VI, 2 of a house, without further qualification? The conclusion of this preliminary inquiry is that the “heptagonal house” is substituted for the phoenix neither to illustrate a point dealing with a mythical being, be it a “natural” kind or an artifact, nor to illustrate the case of artifacts or man-made objects in general. II.

Why Ibn Sînâ could not use the phoenix or some other fabulous animal

Jan P. Hogendijk, “Greek and Arabic Constructions of the Regular Heptagon,” Archive for History of Exact Sciences, 30 (1984): 197-330. 81 “Avicenne,” in Le vocabulaire des philosophes, Supplements I, Vol. V, p. 59. 82 L’art des généralités, p. 512. 83 Id., p. 513. 84 Errol G. Katayama, Aristotle on Artifacts: A Metaphysical Puzzle (SUNY Series in Ancient Greek Philosophy). Albany: State University of New York Press, 1999. 80


28 Before proceeding further we need to consider first why the phoenix was introduced by Porphyry. Porphyry wished to present less common types of universals of which there are only one instance. In the case of the sun the only instance is eternal. The phoenix interested Porphyry and Simplicius after him because the legend assumes not only that the phoenix uses a very unusual mode of reproduction in dying on a pyre of which it itself fans the flames in order to be born again from its own ashes, but also claims that at every point in time there is only a single phoenix for the whole world—and by the way this single phoenix is often considered to be living in Arabia-- and so the single instance is not eternal but exists by succession in time in contrast to the case of the celestial bodies, such as the sun, which are eternal. Porphyry in his questions and answers On Aristotle’s Categories puts it very clearly: Q. You also gave the species as predicated of several enumerable things. Does this hold in general? A. No, only for the most part. The bird species phoenix is not said to belong to several things differing in number if indeed only one phoenix ever comes to be. If it is said of several things, they differ by succession (diadokhê), not in number.85 The mythical aspect of the phoenix did not interest the Greek commentators but rather its ability to be an apt example of a universal with a single instance by succession. So for Porphyry and for Simplicius, who follows suit, the phoenix as well as the sun illustrates the case of a universal with a single instantiation in contrast to the standard case of a universal with multiple instantiations. Avicenna seems to follow the same line of thought as his second and third kinds deal with universals with less than two instances, i.e., only one, eternal or not, or even none as in the case of the heptagonal house. That Ibn Sînâ would be concerned by the issue of universals with only one instantiation or even none at all, as long as their conception is not opposed to multiplicity, does not surprise anyone who knows the two definitions of logical universals given by his eminent predecessor, al-Fârâbî, who follows the Arabic text of Aristotle’s De interpretatione, 7, 17 a 39: “By the term “universal” I mean that which is of such nature as to be predicated of more than one” 86 and repeats Porphyry, On Aristotle’s Categories, 82, 33-37, transl. by Steven K. Strange. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1992, p. 68. Greek text in Porphyre, Commentaire aux Catégories d’Aristote, critical ed., French transl., and notes by Richard Bodéüs (Bibliothèque des textes philosophiques). Paris: Vrin, 2008, pp. 206-08. For Simplicius, see de Libera, L’art des généralités, p. 511. Both Porphyry’s Commentary on the Categories and that of Simplicius were known in Arabic, see Cristina D’Ancona, entry “Aristotle and Aristotelianism,” in Encyclopaedia Islamica, 3r ed., (2008, 1), p. 163 for Porphyry and p. 164 for Simplicius. 86 Ilai Alon, Al-Fârâbî’s Philosophical Lexicon, vol. I, Arabic Text, Vol. II, English Translation, p. 410. The Greek had “of a number of things” but the Arabic specifies that it is more than 85


29 this definition nearly word for word in his Commentary on this passage.87 He also writes in his Eisagoge that “the universal is such that two or more resemble it….Further, the universal is such that it can be predicated of more than one.” 88 In metaphysics and in logic Ibn Sînâ wishes against Aristotle and al-Fârâbî’s well-known definitions to emphasize and illustrate that there can be logical universals that have only a single instantiation or even none at all. As the point of the example of the phoenix was not the use of a fabulous animal but rather the giving of an example of a universal with a single instantiation or even none at all, it becomes clear that Ibn Sînâ may not have felt any particular inclination to substitute the Arabic ‘anqâ for the phoenix, particularly if the ‘anqâ’ is not necessarily conceived as being a species with a single instance at every point in time. Besides, if, as Pellat claims, one version of the legend makes clear that this bird is an extinct species, annihilated by a pre-Islamic prophet, then this would not have been at all palatable to Ibn Sînâ, who is convinced of the eternity of the species and even curiously claims in the Shifâ’s Metaphysics, X, 4, that “[by marriage] is achieved the continuity of the species, the permanence of which is proof of the existence of God.”89 These reasons could already explain why Ibn Sînâ would not be enthusiastic about adopting the ‘anqâ’, but a philosophical difficulty grounded in the mythical aspect of the ‘anqâ’ compelled him to reject it. In the Shifâ’ text the “meaning” of the heptagonal house was used to illustrate a universal that could be said of many but did not require that it be instantiated in more than one concrete being or in any at all. This formulation does not seem to exclude the ‘anqâ’ simply because there is no instance of it. The philosophical reason becomes clear in the text of the Ishârât: [The universal] is that the very conception of his meaning does not prevent it to receive commonality. If it is so prevented, then it is prevented by a cause external to its intelligible content. 1. Some of them are common in actuality, for instance the human being; 2. Some are common in potency and possibility, such as the sphere enclosing the pentagonal sides of the regular dodecahedron; and 3. Some are neither common in actuality nor in potency or possibility because of a cause outside the intelligible content one. 87 Alfarabi’s Commentary on Aristotle’s Peri Hermeneias (De interpretatione), Arabic ed. with an intro by Wilhelm Kutsch & Stanely Marrow. Beirut: Imprimerie catholique, 1960, p. 60, ll. 22-23. 88 Arabic, Dunlop ed., 119,3 and transl. by Ilai Aon, p. 748. 89 Marmura’s Arabic and translation, p. 372; this sentence is preceded by the following: “The first of the legislator’s acts must pertain to marriage resulting in issue. He must call and urge [people] to it.” The Latin is somewhat different: “Deinde quod primum debet instituere in civitate coniugum est, quod inducit generationem, et ut faciat illud nimis concupisci; per ipsam enim remanet species, cuius permanentia signum est divinae clementiae.”


30 itself, such as the sun for someone who does not allow for the existence of another sun.90 First, between the Shifâ’ and the Ishârât, the formulation of the definition of a universal has changed. In the Shifâ’ the logical universal is “that whose very conception does not prevent its being said of many.” The Ishârât shifts the emphasis to the commonality of the meaning of any universal, which can only be prevented by a cause external to it, and this leads to the introduction not only of actuality and potency but also of possibility, an important modal concept for Ibn Sînâ. The commonality of universals—i.e., their ability to be shared by multiple instantiations-- is now characterized by whether concrete instances exist in actuality, the first kind illustrated by the human being, or in potency and possibility, the second kind illustrated this time by the sphere in which one has inscribed a dodecahedron, or even in non actuality, non-potency and nonpossibility, but because of an external cause, the third kind, that of the sun. In itself a second sun is possible but this possibility is prevented by an external cause. This discloses to us the real problem with the ‘anqâ’ or phoenix: this being is impossible in itself. As we have seen Ibn Sînâ points to this impossibility in his Refutation of Astrology, but he makes it abundantly clear in his Letter on the Disappearance of the Vain Intelligible Forms after Death also known as The

Al Ishârât Wa-t-Tanbîhât, ed. by Solaymân Donyâ, part I, Cairo: Dar al-Maaref, 1983, p. 149, my translation. This edition comes with comments by al-Tûsî (1201-1274), who too claims that there are six kinds of universals: 1. Those with an infinite number of multiple instantiations, for example, the human being; 2. Those with a finite number of multiple instantiations, for example, the stars; 3. Those with only one instantiation, but which could exist in many, such as the sun for those who allow for the existence of another one similar to it; 4. Those with only one instantiation and that could not exist in many due to a cause different from their intelligible content, God; 5. Those which do not exist at all, but which could exist in many, such as the sphere in which the regular dodecahedron is inscribed; 6. Those which could not exist at all due to a cause different from their intelligible content, such as a being associated with God (p. 150). Al-Tûsî does not refer to the ‘anqâ’ and his classification in six kinds does not fully fit with that of the gloss on the metaphysics of the Shifâ’ by Mulla Suayman. He also understands the sphere in which a regular dodecahedron is inscribed as something that does not exist at all, but which could exist in many. The vocabulary of this formulation is less philosophically precise than that used by Ibn Sînâ. 90


31 Letter on the Soul.91 In this brief text Ibn Sînâ refers at least four times to the ‘anqâ’ as an impossible form or as something impossible (muhâl).92 This letter answers a question about what happens after death to forms of unreal things that had been present in a human being. It takes as its paradigmatic example the ‘anqâ’: Every form which exists in the soul in such a way that it is possible for the intellect to admit in it commonality is universal and intelligible. Now among the impossible forms, there are some which have this characteristic, for example, the belief that the ‘Anqâ’ Mughrib exists in concrete singulars. Whoever admits its existence in concrete singulars also admits that it can be more than one individual. He, therefore, believes something universal and this thing is intelligible.93 So a being contrary to the real is impossible in itself, but, if conceivable as instantiated in more than one individual, it is intelligible and universal and its conception takes its origin in the imagination as we saw in the Refutation of Astrology. The Letter on the Soul tells us that: When the imaginative faculty imagines some form, whether impossible or not impossible, the intellect accomplishes its specific action in it and makes it become intelligible.94 Curiously and not very clearly the text, on the one hand, argues that such forms contrary to the real are not in any agent intellect because if they were, they would be instantiated, but, on the other hand, claims that such forms flow from these agent intellects. This seems contradictory but the contradiction can be resolved, if, following Jon McGinnis, we consider that what the agent intellect grants is not the specific content of these forms but rather simply the accident conferring universality to some conception already present, but as a particular, in the imagination.95 In some loosely written passages as is this one, Ibn Sînâ does not distinguish the intelligible content from the accidents of universality or particularity, linked to his famous doctrine of the indifference of the quiddity. As Deborah Black also speculates, I think that forms contrary to the real are impossible and, therefore, 1. are not present in the agent intellects, and 2. cannot be instantiated, because Ibn Sînâ accepts, as the Neoplatonists apparently did, Arabic text and French translation by Jean R. Michot, “ ‘L’épître sur la disparition des formes intelligbles vaines après la mort’ d’Avicenne,” Bulletin de Philosophie médiévale, 29 (1987): 152-66. English translation and introduction by Jean Michot, “Avicenna’s ‘Letter on the Disappearance of the Vain Intelligible Forms after Death,” Bulletin de Philosophie médiévale, 27 (1985): 94-103. 92 Arabic text, p. 155, l. 11; p. 156, ll. 21 & 22; p. 157, l. 28. 93 Michot’s translation with slight modifications, p. 98. 94 Michot’s translation, p. 99. 95 “Making Abstraction Less Abstract: The Logical, Psychological, and Metaphysical Dimensions in Avicenna’s Theory of Abstraction,” Proceedings of the American Catholic Philosophical Association, 80 (2006): 169-83. 91


32 some form of the principle of plenitude that requires that possibles be realized either at every point in time or at least at some point in time. 96 In The Letter on the Soul Avicenna tells us: It is not possible, we say, for these forms to exist in the permanent and everlasting things nor in the active intellects. The active intellects apprehend things in so far as they are concomitants of their essences…. But everything that is concomitant of something existing in actuality is inevitably existing in actuality. If something impossible was concomitant of the active intellects, it would thus necessarily exist in actuality. As the consequence is impossible, it remains that nothing impossible is concomitant of the active intellects and that they do not apprehend it, since we have said that they apprehend their concomitants. 97 The concomitants of the active intellects seem to be the universals they are understanding and such universals concern only eternal beings, for instances the celestial bodies, which each are the single member of their own species, and natural kinds, instantiated through succession in time, as required by the eternity of species and the doctrine that God knows only universals. Phoenixes and other fabulous birds, if they were to exist, would be natural kinds and, therefore, eternally instantiated. As they are not so instantiated at all, they must be impossible and so they are not apprehended by the intelligences or God. Therefore, I would qualify Allan Bäck’s claim that “Avicenna does not hold the strong principle of plenitude, sc., that whatever is possible must exist in re at some time,”98 which is based on a study of logical texts that does not include The Letter on the Soul. Avicenna, it seems to me, holds a very strong principle of plenitude for natural kinds as they must be instantiated not only at some time but rather at every point in time, but may not hold any principle of plenitude for artifacts. If this is the case, it may also be true that God knows only universals of natural kinds and not of artifacts. If artifacts are possible in themselves, their universals may at some stage be instantiated or remain for ever uninstantiated, though imagined at some point in time by some human being, whereas the ‘anqâ’ as member of a natural species must be instantiated at every point in time.99 The impossibility of the ‘anqâ’ or any other fabulous animal explains why Avicenna did not wish to use it to illustrate universals of things possible in themselves but with only one instantiation or even none at all. Latin readers, Black, “Avicenna on… Fictional Beings,” p.p. 429-31. Michot’s translation with some modification, p. 99; Arabic text, p. 156, ll. 17-21. 98 “Avicenna’s Conception of the Modalities,” Vivarium, 30 (1992), 233 & 219. 99 On God’s knowledge of universals and of some particulars in a universal way in Avicenna, see Michael E. Marmura, “Some Aspects of Avicenna’s Theory of God’s Knowledge of Particulars,” in his Probing in Islamic Philosophy: Studies in the Philosophies of Ibn Sina, al-Ghazali and other Major Muslim Thinkers (Binghamton, N.Y.: Global Academic Publishing, 2005), pp. 71-95 (originally published in 1962). 96 97


33 who neither held any principle of plenitude nor accepted the eternity of the world and species, could safely return to the phoenix. But in what concerns Avicenna, a new question arises: why did Avicenna not list a fourth kind of logical universal, though a very parasitic one, that of impossible but conceivable beings since in The Letter on the Soul he defends the view that the ‘anqâ’ is both intelligible and universal, though impossible in itself? Once again a rather unclear passage of this Letter gives an answer. Forms contrary to the real dissolve after death because “evil only proceeds from the Creator when indispensable. These forms that are opposed to the real were only flowing from Him as necessitated by the imagination” and so after death such forms “necessarily no longer flow from Him, whereas the real forms carry on doing so since it is good.”100 Why 1. such forms are not simply vain but evil and 2. how the imagination necessitates their flowing from God remains unexplained. One can only speculate that since for Avicenna one of the greatest evils is ignorance, they are evil since they give a false certitude to those who believe that the ‘anqâ is really instantiated.101 Avicenna does not wish to waste his time on “false” universals, except maybe in a footnote so to speak or when someone raises the issue as in the Letter on the soul. Besides, in the Metaphysics of the Shifâ’ the presentation of the kinds of universals follows a moderate realist stance on the ontological status of the universals in relations to concrete instances, offered in the Eisagoge, I, 12. 102 In the Metaphysics the consideration of the kinds of universals serves to introduce the famous doctrine of the indifference of the quiddity to actuality and potency, universality and particularity. As a quiddity can be neutrally considered, so to speak, but always exists either in the concrete or in the imagination or the mind, and mental existence is very important for Ibn Sînâ, the ‘anqâ’ can inhabit the imagination but becomes an evil if it is also assumed to exist in the concrete.103 III.

Why did Ibn Sînâ use the heptagonal house?

Michot’s transl. with some modification, p. 100; Arabic, p. 158, ll. 45-49. 101 On Avicenna’s conception of evil, see his Metaphysics of the Shifâ’, Bk IX, ch. 6. On this also see Shams Constantine Inati, “An Examination of Ibn Sînâ’s Theodicy: Dissolving the problem of Evil,” The New Scholasticism, 58 (Spring 1984): 170-86 and her The Problem of Evil: Ibn Sînâ’s Theodicy. Binghamton, N.Y.: Global Publications, 2000 and Carlos Steel, “Avicenna and Aquinas on Evil,” in Avicenna and his Heritage, ed. by Jules Janssens & Daniel De Smet (Ancient and Medieval Philosophy, 28) (Louvain: Leuven University Press, 2002), pp. 171-96. 102 For a translation with comments of this chapter of Ibn Sînâ’s Eisagoge, see Marmura, “Avicenna’s Chapter on the Universals in the Isagogue of his Shifâ’,” in Probing, pp. 33-59 (originally 1979). See also in this volume his “Quiddity and Universality in Avicenna,” pp. 61-70 (originally 1992). 103 On the importance of mental existence for Avicenna, see Deborah L. Black, “Mental Existence in Thomas Aquinas and Avicenna,” Mediaeval Studies, 61 (199): 45-79. 100


34 I have argued earlier that the second kind of universal refers to universals that have only one instantiation or none at all in contrast to the first kind, which has multiple instantiations. Though Olga Lizzini in a note refers to de Libera’s interpretation of the heptagonal house as needed to speak of artifacts in general, in her introduction to the chapter she explains this kind of universal as “that which could be said of many, even if in fact these many do not exist. In this case the plurality of individuals is only in potency and, as in the case of the heptagonal house, there may not be even a single individual to correspond to the intention.” 104 Yet, she does not explain the choice of this particular example and does not highlight as much as I do the contrast between universals with multiple concrete instantiations and those with a single instantiation or even none at all. So why the specific illustration of the heptagonal house? To my knowledge it is only in the Metaphysics of the Shifâ’ that Avicenna does offer the heptagonal house as an example of a universal whose meaning could be said of a single instantiation or even of none at all. True universals of this type cannot be meanings of natural kinds, since these must always be instantiated. Therefore, Avicenna had to illustrate them with some artifact, but not just any artifact would suffice, as most of the usual artifacts have many instantiations at many points in time. Avicenna, therefore, needed to find an artifact that was possible in itself but so difficult to realize and probably of so little practical utility, that either no instances would exist or only one at the utmost. He was certainly aware that new tools and techniques had been invented and, therefore, had not always been instantiated, but tools and techniques are useful and so once known get multiplied. He had also to find something that was not only possible in itself, but whose instantiation was not prevented by some external cause, as was the case for the sun. All these requirements rendered the choice of an example difficult. How could one ensure that something whose concrete instantiations had never been observed was really possible in itself and could be demonstrated to be so? Geometry offered solutions as things could be proven to be geometrically possible, and, therefore, in principle able to be instantiated, even if such things at the time of the discovery of their geometric properties could not be constructed because of technical difficulties, that could only be overcome at some later stage. If Ibn Sînâ was aware, as I have argued he is, that geometers could construct heptagons, he was also aware that now there were multiple drawings of regular heptagons and such drawings though they fit the requirement of being demonstrably possible did not fit the requirement of having only one instantiation or even none at all. He needed, therefore, to think of some heptagonal object that could be produced but that no one, except an eccentric, would produce as it would have no utility. What would be the point of producing a heptagonal house? The heptagonal shape would not have a practical purpose and not being easy to Avicenna, Metafisica, con testo arabo e latino, ed. by Olga Lizzini & Pasquale Porro (Il pensiero occidentale). Milan: Bompiani, 2003, n. 3, p. 1143 and p. 427. 104


35 realize such a house would be probably more expensive than those of usual shapes. The heptagonal house fitted all the criteria to illustrate something that could demonstrably exist but had little chance of being instantiated and so could remain for ever a mere possibility or be only rarely realized. As far as I can understand, people are still puzzling why the church in Rieux has a heptagonal shape, said to be unique. One hypothesis is that seven, a sacred number, is somehow linked to Our Lady and a heptagonal shape would be in her honor, but, of course Marian symbolism is alien to Ibn Sînâ. If the Shifâ’s heptagonal house nicely fits the requirements to be possible in itself, difficult to realize, and without practical usefulness, one may then wonder why in the Ishârât Avicenna replaced it with a sphere in which a regular dodecahedron is inscribed. First, just as the heptagonal house, this sphere is grounded in geometry. The theorem that proves that in any sphere one can inscribe five types of regular solids, among them the dodecahedron, was well known. Hence such a sphere too is possible but it seems more difficult to construct than a heptagonal house and of still lesser utility. Even a heptagonal house is a house and can fulfill the usual purpose of any house or building, but such a sphere with its inner dodecahedron seems a fruitless enterprise as anyone can understand the theorem without looking at such a sphere or even at a regular dodecahedron. Maybe at this later stage of his life Avicenna had become more aware that heptagonal houses were more likely to be built than he had originally suspected and so was looking for something rarer or he simply did not care much about which specific geometric example to offer as long as it was unlikely to be instantiated. Conclusion Examining various texts of Ibn Sînâ and taking into account information from the history of science, from architecture, and from legends, as well as from texts in various languages, helped me to dig deeper in the philosophical issue of a kind of universals in Ibn Sînâ.


36


37

III. Seeing the Face of God, Being the Face of God: Imitatio Dei, Ethics and Revelation in Maimonides and Levinas (Or: Maimonides’ “Hylomorphic Apophasis” and the Levinasian Turn) By Sarah Pessin In this study, I set out to show a genuine Levinasian strain in Maimonides. But before embarking on such a project, it is important to start with some overt methodological words of caution: Maimonides and Levinas are, prima facie, part of two very different philosophical world-views. Even in spite of Levinas’ occasional positive references to Maimonides (including a short essay of his in which he praises Maimonides’ account of creation as a Kantian critique of reason), any careful look at Maimonides’ overall philosophy would seem to reveal precisely the kind of cognition-centered and onto-theological approaches to Being and human being that Levinas’ own phenomenological approach expressly rejects. At least on the face of it, Maimonides’ system is metaphysical in precisely the sense rejected by Levinas’ phenomenology. Levinas seems dramatically separated from Maimonidean metaphysics in light of a certain hermeneutical sensibility and a phenomenological project that dethrones thinking – and with it, it would seem, much of ancient, medieval and modern systems of philosophy, including the overall trajectory of Maimonides’ thought. In setting out on any comparative study of Maimonides and Levinas, then, it is important to start with this strong reminder of the dramatic prima facie differences between their two projects. Emphasizing the key differences helps make clear that if we are to draw any genuinely philosophically interesting points of comparison between the two, we will need to do much more than merely find some similar sounding sentiment in both: the mere fact that they both like the idea of imitatio dei, for example, will in no way expose any genuinely interesting point of intersection. Appreciating the dramatic differences between their respective metaphysical and phenomenological projects amounts to appreciating that even what might sound like a shared sentiment in the two thinkers might, in the end, not only not reveal true commonality, but might actually – when pushed up against the boundaries of their respective world-views – reveal deep difference. That said, in this paper, I will pursue what I take to be a genuinely philosophically interesting point of comparison between the two thinkers – one that genuinely moves beyond the mere appearance of similarity, to a real shared point of contact. In particular, I will focus on what I call a “hylomorphic apophasis” in Maimonides – a new understanding, as I will explain, of transcendence in Maimonides that opens up for us a new understanding of God’s essential


38 unknowability. As I will show, it is precisely this new understanding of unknowability – related to a new sense of transcendence – that will reveal a genuine point of contact with Levinas. Before getting started, in further way of introduction, let me frame my project with two more points of consideration: 1) In drawing a link between Maimonides and Levinas through a focus on “unknowability,” I will explicitly reject what we might call the “mystical” approach to Maimonides’ on God’s “unknowability” – related in spirit, I might note, to Thomistic readings of Maimonidean via negativa. Essentially, the “mystical” reading is a radical “via negativa” reading which reads Maimonides’ negative theology in terms of a complete rejection of God’s knowability: Other than the fact of His existence, God, on this reading of Maimonides, cannot be known in any way whatsoever. Furthermore, on this reading, God’s transcendence is emphasized in a decidedly other-worldly sense: God is entirely beyond the realm of nature and entirely beyond the realm of ordinary Being – a further way of emphasizing His utter unknowability. The new idea of “hylomorphic apophasis” that I will present in this study takes a very different approach to “unknowability” in Maimonides. Whereas the mystical readings start and end with an emphasis on the utter unknowability – and transcendence (meant in the sense of utter “de-worlded-ness”) – of God’s essence, my reading will start, on the contrary, with an emphasis on the knowability – and “worlded-ness” – of God’s essence for Maimonides, and will end with a new sense of (a) the transcendence and (b) the uknowability of God for Maimonides. And it is precisely in this joint new sense of transcendence-anduknowability in Maimonides (based precisely on a sense of God’s immanenceand-knowability) that I will identify the Levinasian turn in Maimonides. 2) Furthermore, in rethinking the Maimonides-Levinas link, my reading will challenge some of the ways we have understood Maimonides on God, on Being, on transcendence, and on negative theology. In this sense, my reading will also challenge as flawed many of the calcified categories we have grown used to using in our various tellings of the history of ideas – including the medieval (mystical and Thomistic) sense of Maimonides’ via negativa as blocking any real knowledge of God, and including the modern sense that Maimonides is only engaged in precisely the kind of onto-theological metaphysics that thinkers like Heidegger and Levinas move beyond. My recovering in Maimonides a Levinasian insight will recapture a lost Maimonidean voice, and will in this way challenge not only our understanding of Maimonides, and not only our understanding of the possibility for a Maimonides-Levinas link, but also our overly calcified tellings of the history of philosophy (a critical point which I have also made in my work on Solomon Ibn Gabirol and the tradition of Neoplatonism). If we can find a genuine point of contact between Maimonides and Levinas, then we need to rethink our general methods for telling the history of philosophy as a


39 story of progress, with a neat – and I would say, false – sense of “this is what medieval philosophers did and said,” and then “this is what modern phenomenologists did and said,” a storyline whose linear neatness suggests a false sense of philosophical knowledge improving from thinker to thinker in a clear progression through history. Consider the case of the so-called “preSocratics.” While Aristotle’s own sense that his philosophy surpasses that of the pre-Socratics might help contribute to our linear sense of “progress of philosophy over time,” Heidegger helps us reject that linear sense of progress when he himself finds in the pre-Socratics a more phenomenologically sensitive approach to Being than in the ancient philosophers who came after them. So, as a point of method: while I promise my audience to be wary of too quickly suggesting real connections between Maimonides and Levinas based simply on surface similarities (as per my starting word of warning), I ask that my audience embrace at the outset that there is nothing anachronistic in setting out to find Heidegger in Thales, or – as is the case for my study today – in setting out to find Levinas in Maimonides. With these starting reflections in place, we are now ready to proceed. In the study that follows, I will develop my thesis – of a new link between Maimonides and Levinas through the identification of what I call “hylomorphic apophasis” in Maimonides – in three parts: 1) First, I will turn to Maimonides’ analysis of God’s so-called “positive attributes of action,” and his analysis of the “face of God” through a treatment of Exodus chapters 33 & 34 – the Biblical account of Moses asking to see the Face of God. I will show how Maimonides in the end is best understood as emphasizing the knowability of God’s essence – in the sense of the manifesting of God’s essence in the order of nature. 2) Second, I will show how a proper consideration of God’s essential relation to nature in Maimonides reveals a truly Levinasian impulse at the heart of Maimonidean ontology and theology, and a Levinasian sense of transcendence as “transcendence-in-immanence” in Maimonides. I go on to show how this introduces a new sense in which the divine essence for Maimonides is unknowable (a new sense of unknowability grounded in God’s knowability in nature). This leads us into a new sense of Maimonides’ negative theology that I call “Hylomorphic Apophasis.” 3) Third, I will end by tracing this new theology of transcendence as “transcendence-in-immanence” into Maimonides’ own treatment of the Divine Face – in particular, I will present a reading of Maimonides on which the Divine Face is expressly made manifest through the Divine Back. 1. Divine Attributes of Action: Knowing God’s Essence in Nature Exodus 33 and 34 hold special interest for Maimonides. In these two chapters, the Bible speaks in confusing back and forth terms of God’s on the one hand


40 speaking to Moses “face to face” while on the other hand denying to Moses a revelation of his face, as it speaks too in confusing back and forth terms of Moses on the one hand asking to see God’s ways, and on the other hand asking to see God’s glory; and in the mix, there is also God’s hand and His back. While the Biblical text, and rabbinic interpretations of the text, describe Moses as having made 3 requests of God, for Maimonides, there are two Mosaic requests: One request consisted in him asking Him, may He be exalted, to let him know His essence and true reality. The second request, which he put first, was that He should let him know His attributes (1.54, p. 123) Before moving to Maimonides’ commentary (and our own interpretation of Maimonides’ commentary), and, for the interest of time, without here reading Exodus 33 and 34 (though I have included the key passages on your handout), let us summarize the Biblical text and schematically pull out what Maimonides identifies as Moses’ two requests, and God’s 2 answers: • Moses’ request #1: Moses asks to see “God’s ways” (Exodus 33:13) • Moses’ request #2: Moses asks to see “God’s Glory (kavôd)” (Exodus 33:18) • God’s reply to request #1: o Promise, part 1: God promises to make all His goodness pass before Moses (Exodus 33:19) o Promise, part 2: God promises to proclaim the name of the Lord before him (Exodus 33:19) o Act, part 1: God “passes by before him” (34:6) o Act, part 2: God proclaims 13 names and / or descriptions of Himself (Exodus 34:6-7) • God’s reply to request #2: o “You cannot see My face, for man shall not see Me and live” (Exodus 33:20) o God explains that His Glory (kavôd) will pass by Moses, but that He will cover him with His hand until He passes (Exodus 33:22) o God explains that He will then take away His hand and that Moses will then see “God’s back,” but not “God’s face” (Exodus 33:23) Already just from the text, we can see the following correlations (correlations which, in any case, become key for Maimonides): God’s Ways, All of God’s Goodness, the “name/s” of God, God’s Back vs. God’s Glory (kavôd), God’s Face


41 Turning to Maimonides’ interpretation (an interpretation that in many ways runs throughout the entire Guide of the Perplexed, with special emphasis at Guide 1.21, 1.37, and 1.54), we can start with a few basic premises: 1) Maimonides identifies the 2nd request, to see God’s glory, as the more important of the two requests, and for that reason he addresses it first, and 2) Maimonides introduces the philosophical distinction between God’s “essence and true reality” and his “attributes of action”. These two points in mind, we may revise our above chart as follows: GOD’S ESSENCE (AND TRUE REALITY) = God’s Glory (kavôd), God’s Face vs. GOD’S “ATTRIBUTES OF ACTION” = God’s Ways, All of God’s Goodness, the “name/s” of God, God’s Back Looking to Maimonides’ follow-up treatment of God’s Essence and of the “attributes of action,” scholars open the door to what we have identified as the “mystical” reading of Maimonides’ negative theology as staunchly apophatic and ruling out any knowledge of God. For, in most readings of Maimonides, God’s Essence will turn out to be completely unknowable (mirroring in this sense the Biblical claim at Exodus 33:20 that one cannot see God’s face). As for the positive “attributes of action,” these too will, for most readers of Maimonides, reveal the strongly apophatic denial of any true knowledge of God; here, deviating (at least on its face) from the Biblical sense that Moses does come to know God in knowing these attributes, a careful reading of Maimonides reveals that in fact, God does not have any attributes, and that the claim, for example, that “God is merciful” in the end tells us nothing about God. And so, for many readers of Maimonides, Moses – symbolizing, among other things, the heights of human intellect – does not know God at all: He cannot know God’s essence in any way, and claims like “God is merciful” do not indicate any knowledge of God: not knowledge of God’s attribute of mercy (for God does not have attributes) and not knowledge of God’s essence (for again, God’s essence is unknowable). And so, the “mystical” reading of Maimonides emerges (seen too in the via negativa reading by Aquinas) in which God is absolutely unknowable. As promised, though, my reading of Maimonides is decidedly different. While I will in the end identify a kind of divine unknowability for Maimonides, I start by emphasizing in fact the extent, for Maimonides, of God’s essential knowability. Let us turn, then, to the sense in which Maimonides’ God is knowable. God’s knowability can in fact be found in a careful reading of Maimonides’ analysis of the attributes of action. Reflecting at least in part on the Bible’s own move from Moses’ request to see “God’s ways” to a response that takes on the form of God listing a list of divine names and descriptions (His “attributes”),


42 Maimonides emphasizes that God’s so-called attributes are not really attributes of God, but rather, they are ways of referring to the “works [as “ways”] of God,” which is to say, they are ways of referring to the entirety of creation. Emphasizing that God’s works are related to the lawful order of nature, Maimonides notes that Moses was shown these works so that he might apprehend their order (the way they are “mutually connected” [1.54, p. 124]) so that “he will know how [God] governs them in general and in detail” (1.54, p. 124). We can root this equation on Maimonides’ part of God’s so-called attributes with works of nature in the Biblical detail that God answers the request to see His “ways” by stating “'I will make all My goodness pass before you” (Exodus 33:19). As Maimonides emphasizes, “all [God’s] goodness” overtly refers to the entirety of created nature – a claim which Maimonides roots in the Genesis verse “And God saw everything He had made, and behold it was very good” (Genesis 1:31) – a verse which, for Maimonides, expressly supports our equating God’s “Goodness” with His creations, which is to say: with the entirety of terrestrial and celestial nature. For Maimonides, when Moses asks to see God’s ways, He is shown the entirety of nature. Herein lies the connection between God’s ways as His works (and, as we will see, His “attributes”) with the entirety of nature. Important for our purposes, though, is that Moses is not just shown nature; he is, rather, made to know nature (or, we might say, made to know something about nature – or we might even say, to know something in addition to knowing nature) in a pretty unique way clearly related to intellectual apprehension; as Maimonides emphasizes: [God] drew [Moses’] attention to a subject of speculation through which he can apprehend to the furthest extent that is possible for man. For what has been apprehended by [Moses], peace be on him, has not been apprehended by anyone before him nor will it be apprehended by anyone after him (1.54, p. 123). In Maimonides’ analysis of Moses’ request to see God’s ways being answered by God “passing all His goodness” before Moses, we find not one, but two critical pieces of information: (1) God’s ways are shown to Moses through an encounter with all of terrestrial and celestial nature, and (2) the nature of this encounter for Moses is a fairly intense form of apprehension or knowing that is not common for the human mind, but which is a possible act of human intellection nonetheless. In fact, and here is the most important point of all, we may add a 3 rd critical piece of information that emerges from Maimonides’ analysis, viz. (3) there is absolutely no difference between our speaking of “God’s attributes” and our speaking of God’s bringing us to an intense intellectual apprehension of some sort through an encounter with nothing more than nature. In other words, while the Biblical text seems to suggest that God does two things in response to Moses, viz. 1) pass all of His goodness – which is to say, the entirety of creation


43 – before Moses, and 2) make known to Moses his 13 attributes (see here the dual promise at Exodus 33:19, and the semblance of separate actions [viz. passing and proclaiming] at Exodus 34:6), in fact, the “passing” before him and the “proclaiming” of the different names or attributes are simply two simple ways of describing one fact, viz. that God brings Moses to an intense intellectual apprehension of some sort through an encounter with nature – an experience, moreover, which will lead Moses to say things like “God is merciful.” It is not, of course, an experience of God’s mercy (since, again, for Maimonides, God does not have attributes He) but an experience of nature, which is to say, of God’s works, which leads Moses to say things like “God is merciful” – a claim which sounds like a claim about God’s having attributes, but which is not actually suggesting that at all. In what sense would an experience of nature lead one to say “God is merciful” – and in such a way that allows us to recognize that in fact, God does not literally possess the attribute of “mercy”? Consider Maimonides’ analysis of how the expression “God is merciful” refers not to traits of God, but to something about our experience of nature, in this case, embryology, in the following passage: For instance, one apprehends the kindness of His governance in the production of the embryos of living beings, the bringing of various faculties to existence in them and in them who rear them after birth – faculties that preserve them from destruction and annihilation and protect them against harm and are useful to them in all the doings that are necessary to them. Now actions of this kind proceed from us only after we feel a certain affection and compassion, and this is the meaning of mercy. God, may He be exalted, is said to be merciful…It is not that He, may He be exalted, is affected and has compassion. But an action similar to that which proceeds from a father in respect to his child and that is attached to compassion, pity, and an absolute passion, proceeds from Him, may He be exalted, in reference to His holy ones, not because of a passion or a change… (1.54, p. 125) For Maimonides, “God is merciful” means that there is something about the world – a world that is invested with and manifests God’s Wisdom – which reveals what we humans would identify as ‘mercy.’ Notice how this is a two-step move away from attributing to God the actual trait of ‘mercy’: (1) we move from casting our gaze onto God per se, to considering the impact of God on the world, and (2) even in considering the impact of God on the world, we recognize that ‘mercy’ is a human concept that, for various human reasons, we are moved to invoke when we reflect on the world – e.g. when we reflect on (or, in light of what we have seen above, attend with great intellectual apprehension to) the details of, say, embryology (and, we might add, the overarching details of how embryology itself fits into the whole of the order of terrestrial and celestial nature). In both of these above points, what we find is that we have moved (in the sentiment that “God is merciful”) from trying to directly set our intellectual gaze on God as subject, to the


44 sense that we are actually setting our intellectual gaze upon the world – with the added insight that when we successfully apprehend the world, we will undoubtedly be moved to think of “mercy”: when faced with the rhyme and reason of the cosmos, which is to say, when we are struck by the design of the universe as manifesting [a wise] order, we will be moved to cry out “God is merciful.” In Pythagorean and Platonic fashion, we here enter into a sensibility about the microcosm (here, the cosmos) revealing the order of a perfectly ordered macrocosm – that macrocosm here signifying the essential wisdom of God. That an embryo has all the resources – both inside and outside the womb – needed to fulfill its own reality is no coincidence but is, rather, a manifestation of God’s own essential wisdom. The order of the microcosm of nature reveals the order of the divine Mind. And it is precisely this teaching that lies at the core of Maimonides’ analysis of the claim that God is merciful: we say “God is merciful” when we are moved, in and through being intellectually struck by the order of the natural world. “God is merciful” (a claim which technically is false if meant to denote that God has attributes) in this sense reveals two true claims 1) the world is well-ordered: for we assert “mercy” of God precisely in apprehending the wisdom of this design, which, in human terms, suggests a “merciful design,” and relatedly, (2) this kind of order in nature is the manifestation of the actual essential divine Wisdom. It is here that we have revealed the sense in which God, for Maimonides, is truly knowable. For notice on this analysis that we both have not and have said something true about God in our claim “God is merciful.” While these words do not truly reveal God as having attributes (mercy or otherwise), these words do truly reveal an actual intellectual apprehension of the essential divine Wisdom manifest in nature. As in Plato’s Theaetetus claim that wonder (thaumazein) is the origin of philosophy (see Theatetus 155d3), and as in the Timaeus reflection on the path from astronomy to philosophy in terms of what Philo later describes as a “being smitten” by the contemplation of the celestial order, so too here, Maimonides’ analysis relies upon our having truly been struck – meant in an intellectual sense – by the actual essential wisdom of God manifest in the cosmos. While our words “God is merciful” come from us, the reality of the essence of God in Divine Wisdom that moves us, in apprehension, to even utter the words “God is merciful” (e.g. when studying embryology) comes from God – or, to put it another way: when we are truly intellectually struck by the order in nature, we truly are apprehending the manifestation of God’s essential wisdom in the world – and in this sense, we are, in a critical sense, knowing God’s essence. In all of this, my reading emphasizes – in the very context of Maimonides’ apophatic treatment of the so-called “divine attributes of action” – a very real sense for Maimonides in which we can know God’s essence as manifest in the order of the cosmos. This emphasis is precisely where I part company with the more “mystical” reading of Maimonidean apophasis – as seen too in Thomistic readings of Maimonides in terms of an absolute via negativa – that focuses only on the extent to which, for Maimonides, we cannot know God. On the contrary, I


45 would like to focus on the extent to which, for Maimonides, we can know God – the extent to which we can know the essence of God in and through the workings of the universe. Let us consider a few supporting pieces of evidence for this reading. 1) Emphasizing the “Yes” Consider the relevance in this regard of Maimonides, in his analysis of Exodus chapters 33 and 34, not focusing on the answer to Moses’ request to see God’s face as being “no”. In fact, Maimonides simply cites the relevant passage and gives it no further attention – and he doesn’t even quote the whole (rather dramatic) verse; Maimonides simply at one point in his overall analysis of the Exodus story notes: In answer to [Moses’] second demand, he was told “You cannot see my face,” and so on (1.54, p. 124) Maimonides literally tucks this sentence into a paragraph devoted to Moses’ other request, viz. his request to “see God’s ways” to which God provides an affirmative “yes” response. While Maimonides does elsewhere refer to God’s negative response to the request to see His Glory or essence (though nowhere at length), in the context of his in-depth commentary on Exodus 33 & 34, Maimonides’ entire treatment of God’s saying “no” to the request to see His Glory consists in the above one sentence (in which he doesn’t even quote the key part of the verse, viz. the part about “one cannot see My face and live”). To address God’s apparent denying Moses’ request to see His Glory or essence, Maimonides provides nothing more than a short throw-away sentence that he literally sandwiches in between two other sentences about knowing God’s ways, and God’s affirmative “yes” answer to Moses’ request for the knowledge of His ways. In light of what we have already learned from Maimonides about the extent to which God is knowable in nature, I am led to conclude that Maimonides’ lack of emphasis on God’s saying “no” to the request to see his essence is precisely related to the very real fact that, in the end, Maimonides does not really think that God’s answer to the request to see His essence was a “no.” In fact, further supporting this, consider Maimonides’ revealing locution in claiming …that God, may He be exalted, is known through His attributive qualifications; for when he would know the ways, he would know Him (1.54, p. 123) Maimonides is here basically describing the final outcome of the story as Moses in fact coming to “know God” – a state which, as we have seen earlier, he further correlates to a certain unique and exalted mode of apprehension, one moreover


46 related, as we have seen, to a certain encounter with the order of nature. Maimonides here invites us to describe that state of “knowing God’s ways” as “knowing God.” Maimonides does not want us to focus on God’s answer to the request to see His Glory and essence as being a “no”; on the contrary, Maimonides wants us to come to understand the very real sense in which God’s showing Moses the entire sweep of existing things (which, as we have seen, will lead him to say things like “God is merciful”) is in fact a “yes” answer not only to the request to see God’s ways, but is also a “yes” answer to the request to see His Glory and essence! In light of what we have already discussed, this “yes” amounts, in particular, to God revealing His essence to Moses through nature – and, in so doing, inspiring into Moses thoughts like “God is merciful”; God strikes Moses into a state of strong apprehension precisely through the beauty of the order of the entirety of the cosmos which reveals God’s Essence. 2) Glory in the Praise of Rocks Further evidence that Maimonides wants us to consider the Essence of God in the folds of nature can be seen in one particular manner in which he exposits the term “Glory” (kavôd) – a term which is linked to the Essence of God. In his lexicographical chapter (1.64) devoted to the term “Glory,” Maimonides talks of the way in which all things (including minerals) “praise” God “through the very fact that by their very nature they are indicative of the power and wisdom of Him who brought them into existence” (1.64, p. 157). Another clear instance of Maimonides’ linking Glory – that which names the essence of God – with the world of nature, Maimonides goes so far as to highlight the connection by, in the context of that chapter, using the special phrase “understand this” – a rhetorical strategy used throughout the Guide to alert readers (by way of hint) to especially important points whose full implications are not spelled out in the chapter at hand, left for the careful reader to piece together through a fuller reading of the entire Guide, and especially other relevant chapters. For me, the “hint” in this chapter is the suggestion that God’s Glory can in fact be known in nature, a teaching which is only more fully revealed when we come to understand Maimonides’ conclusion – at 1.54 (with support too elsewhere) – that Moses’ final experience, in being shown the entire sweep of the cosmos (as per Exodus 33&34), results not simply in a state of “seeing nature” but in a state of knowing God. Adding further support to knowing God’s essence through the order of nature, Maimonides here tells us that we ought to think of “Glory” – the ultimate term for the Divine Essence – as referring us to the order of nature (and, as such, the sense in which even rocks sing God’s praise – or, we might add in light of what we have already seen, the sense in which even rocks can lead properly attentive humans to sing God’s praise – leading them to say things like “God is merciful”). Maimonides even adds that if you interpret “Glory” this way in various passages “You shall thus be saved from great difficulty” (1.64, p. 157). One difficulty we


47 might be saved from, for example, is our incorrect sense in so many tellings of the history of ideas (especially in efforts to ensure our concretized sense of the so called Maimonidean “via negativa” vs. Aquinas’ “via analogia”) that for Maimonides, God is absolutely unknowable. 3) God’s Grace as Providence: Invitation to Knowledge of God Through Nature […] 4) “Face” as Providence: Another Invitation to Know God Through Nature […] 5) “His essence cannot be grasped as it really is”: Rethinking “Knowing God” I would like to end this section of my study with what might appear, on its face, to be a great piece of textual evidence against my reading. We have already addressed part of this quote earlier, though not the part that seems to run counter to our thesis about the knowability of the divine essence through nature: The answer to the two requests that He, may He be exalted, gave him consisted in His promising him to let him know all His attributes, making it known to him that they are His actions, and teaching him that His essence cannot be grasped as it really is. Yet He drew his attention to a subject of speculation through which he can apprehend to the furthest extent that is possible for man. For what has been apprehended by [Moses], peace be on him, has not been apprehended by anyone before him nor will it be apprehended by anyone after him (1.54, p. 123) In our earlier discussion, we emphasized how the latter part of this quote makes clear that, for Maimonides, the final situation of Moses – in the story of his request to see God’s face – is an exalted and unique state of apprehension. In particular, we saw that Moses comes to apprehension in God’s showing him the entire span of the cosmos (i.e. “God’s goodness,” understood now as nature). We of course have also been emphasizing how, in that unique moment of knowing, Moses is also knowing God. To emphasize that more, notice how the final state of Moses – based, as we have seen, on God’s showing him the entirety of nature – is clearly a state more exalted than just “knowing natural science.” This can be seen in Maimonides’ emphatic description of this state of comprehension in the dramatic terms as knowing something that has “not been apprehended by anyone before him nor will it be apprehended by anyone after him.” Clearly this is not just knowing the truths of botany, embryology, or astronomy. This is just one more reason to think that, in the end, it is a kind of knowing of the essence of God that Maimonides is here alluding to in such exalted terms.


48

But, doesn’t this very passage rule out this reading in its overt claim that God’s “essence cannot be grasped as it really is”? Taken on its own, this passage might be a perfect source text for the “mystical” reading of Maimonidean negative theology as ruling out any knowledge of God. But, in light of all we’ve seen, I hope we are at least open to the possibility of a new reading of this claim. Notice that Maimonides does not say here that God’s essence “cannot be grasped,” but that it “cannot be grasped as it really is.” On the most basic level, this clearly opens up for us a sense that there is a sense in which we can not only know God, but God’s essence – not “qua essence” but “qua the essence-asmanifesting-in-the-order-of-nature.” Taken with this emphasis, notice how the claim that God’s essence “cannot be grasped as it really is” can actually be seen as in fact announcing that there is indeed a real way to know the essence of God (just not “qua essence”). And this emphasis on the knowability of the divine essence (just not “qua essence”) is only further supported by the immediately following description of Moses’ final state not only specifically as a state of knowing, but as a state of exalted knowing which is very rare and very special. Moses is not just knowing nature when God reveals to Him the spread of the cosmos, but is also knowing God’s essence – just not “qua essence.” We may here take our considerations a step further. For, in reflecting on the sense of God’s essence as knowable “qua manifesting in nature,” we can find an invitation to rethink our very understanding of the idea of the divine essence which “cannot be grasped as it really is” – and with it, an invitation to rethink our very understanding of the concept “transcendence” in Maimonides. It is to this new thinking about what we might mean by referring to God in terms of an essence that “cannot be grasped as it really is” and in terms of “transcendence” that we now turn to Levinas. 2. Levinas and the New Transcendence: Excendence as Transcendencein/for-Immanence Without here giving a detailed account of Levinas’ philosophy and his overarching critique of much of the history of Western philosophy, for our purposes here today, I will summarily schematize what I take to be two competing views of transcendence in the history of ideas with which Levinas disagrees, and to which Levinas own “new” sense of transcendence can be seen as a response. My first goal here is to help us understand Levinas’ “new transcendence” by emphasizing how it moves beyond both a “beyond Being” sense of transcendence and the rejection of transcendence altogether in the history of philosophy. My second goal here is to show that it is precisely Levinas’ “new transcendence” that is at play in Maimonides’ own philosophical theology. 1) “Transcendence, I know not where” (“Beyond Being” sense of Transcendence)


49 For “pre-Kantian” thinkers (viz. any thinkers who have not understood the subtleties of “transcendental reasoning” – and who have, as such, not used “transcendental” style arguments in their thinking), we may speak of the transcendent as some kind of mysterious “placeless place” beyond the confines of the day to day and beyond the place of ordinary beings. On this view, “transcendence” is not just different from the day to day and from the realm of Being, but is, as it were, “far away from” and / or “outside” the realm of Being. 2) “Transcendence, I know not where”, rejected 1 (Rejection of Transcendence) Without spending time on the subtleties and differences between such a range of thinkers as Kant, Nietzsche and Heidegger, for our purposes, they can all be seen as rejecting the notion of transcendence (and the sense of God) at play in category 1, above. This can be seen in Kant’s conception of God (which is no longer a transcendent reality proven by demonstration, but a posit of transcendental reasoning), in Nietzsche’s declaration that “God is dead,” and in Heidegger’s Being and Time dedication to unpacking all things within the horizon of Being. For all three of Kant, Nietzsche and Heidegger: Both the sense of “transcendence” – and the belief in the kind of “transcendent God” – of category 1 are rejected. 3) “Transcendence, I know not where,” rejected 2 (Excendence as Transcendence-in-Immanence: a New Sense of Transcendence as “Immanent-Transcendence”) It is here that we enter into the world of Levinas. One way to understand the most basic move of Levinas is as (a) a rejection of the “beyond Being” sense of transcendence (with 2 and against 1), but also (b) the rejection of the rejection of transcendence (with 1 and against 2). As a phenomenologist, Levinas is sensitive to the reality of an experience of the transcendent. We might say that for Levinas, we cannot leave out or theorize away the experience of transcendence as a real and grounding experience if we are to be properly attentive to the phenomenological task of describing our actual lived experience. In this spirit, Levinas provides a robust sense of transcendence – but one that avoids the “beyond Being” sense of suggesting a “place beyond place.” In essence, Levinas provides us with a revision of the very concept of transcendence – a revision of the old sense of transcendence embraced both by its proponents (as in 1), and by its opponents (as in 2). Levinas’ new transcendence, then, at once demands that we revise our sense of immanence. Part of the problem that both groups 1 and 2 above share is their joint sense that our lived world of Being is, as it were, completely saturated with finiteness – they both share the [erroneous] sense that our experience of the day-to-day unfolds


50 as an experience of a limited realm of the finite. This, then, goes hand-in-hand with suggesting that “transcendence” refers us “beyond” our experience of a limited realm of the finite into some other realm of “the infinite.” For Levinas, on the contrary, there is a way to re-envision all of our starting assumptions – about the immanent day to day and about its seeming opposite, the transcendent – such that we can come to understand both afresh in terms of a brand new conception of “transcendence-in/for-immanence.” While the beginnings of this idea can already be seen in Levinas’ use of the term “excendence” in his early work On Escape, let us turn to the fuller maturation of his idea in the “ethical phenomenology” laid out in Totality and Infinity. For Levinas, our very experience of our own day-to-day finite being is itself constituted by our encounter with the infinite. For Levinas, this encounter with the infinite – an encounter with the transcendent – happens every time we face “the Other” – the other person who, for Levinas, marks the very ground of my own being and freedom by immediately calling me to response. In this way, for Levinas, the infinite breaks through into my day-to-day, and in this way, the transcendent is part and parcel of what my experience of the day-to-day is grounded in. In this sense, Levinas teaches of the breaking through of the transcendent as the very ground of my experience of the limit of Being. In this sense, we no longer are best served to think of transcendence and immanence in two separate thoughts, but as part of one “blended” complex reality, a “transcendence-in-immanence” which is the very root experience of life. It is this idea which, I argue, is precisely mirrored in Maimonides’ own complex sense of God’s essence not in terms of (1) a “transcendent essence, I know not where” which never becomes immanent, and not even in terms of (2) a “transcendent essence, I know not where” which does somehow become immanent, but in terms of (3) an essence which is better understood as “transcendent” in the sense of “transcendent-in-immanence” – which is to say, not an “I know not where” which somehow “enters” the realm of nature, but a radical other whose very otherness as transcendence consists in being intertwined into nature. As is the case for Levinas, what I am here referring to is a “blended” sense of the transcendent as “transcendence-in-immanence” in which the radical otherness of the transcendent is given to voice always and only through manifesting – as an “interrupting” of – the day to day, here, in the sense of God’s essence manifesting in nature. Notice how this changes the idea of God’s unknowability. Whereas the “mystical” reading of Maimonides pinned the unknowability of God onto the extent of His being radically removed from the world of nature, the analysis I am providing suggests on the contrary that God is not radically removed from the world of nature (again, that is what His unique transcendence consists in), and that it is precisely in the inextricable encounter with nature that we at once find (1) a sense of God’s essential knowability and (2) a sense of God’s essential unknowability. The sense of God’s knowability here is what we have been emphasizing throughout – it emphasizes how, for Maimonides, God’s essence is


51 revealed in the cosmos and can, as such, be known not “qua essence” but known nonetheless: it is this state of deep apprehension of God’s essence through nature that Moses attains in the Exodus 33&34 account. That said, we can now emphasize a new kind of unknowability. For in that very knowabilitythrough-nature, there emerges a limit placed on the human knower – but now, not in the fact that God is nowhere to be found in nature (as is the case for the “mystical” reading of God’s essence as an “I know not where,” beyond Being), but in the fact of nature’s own recalcitrant limit of that divine revelation. On my reading, it is matter – not the nature of the divine essence as transcendent in the old sense – that introduces the unknowability that blocks Moses’ full ability to know God’s essence, and to which Maimonides refers when he states – as we’ve seen above – that: He drew his attention to a subject of speculation through which he can apprehend to the furthest extent that is possible for man… (1.54) It is this new sense of unknowability – due to the limits that matter places onto the ability for God’s essence to be fully manifest to the human mind in nature – that I call “Hylomorphic Apophasis” – a new appreciation for the unknowableness of God’s essence, not in terms of its distance from nature (viz. the mystical reading of God’s unknowability at play in most other forms of apophasis), but precisely in terms of its necessary (as part of what its own essential reality entails) proximity to nature – viz. its necessary manifesting in nature as part of its own essential fullness. If we think, with Maimonides, of the extent to which God’s essence is manifest – to the careful interlocutor – in the order of hylomorphic nature, then we can think, with Maimonides, of God’s being uknowable not because His essence is transcendent in the old sense of “I know not where,” but because His essence is a “transcendence-in-immanence” bound up with the duality of hylomorphic being, and, as such, unknowable because of the recalcitrance of matter in frustrating our attempts to know – not because God is transcendent and unknowable in the old sense of being an “I know not where” completely separate from nature. In this context, we are led to rethink transcendence itself as completely separate from but necessarily tied up with the act of manifesting hylomorphically – which is to say, we are led to a new image of transcendence whose wholeness includes its own being bound up with and in nature. Following within the trajectory of a general Aristotelian hylmorophic approach to reality (in terms of the necessary form+matter composition of all non-simples), we are led, through Maimonides’ subtle and intertwined sense of God’s essence in nature to a new category of “uknowability” – a “Hylomorphic Apophasis” placing God’s essential unknowability in the fact that God’s transcendence necessitates manifesting in the material, not (as in other forms of apophasis) in the fact that God’s transcendence is entirely divorced from the material.


52 It is in this move to a “transcendence-in-immanence” conception of God – bound up (contrary to the “mystical” readings of Maimonides) with the fact of God’s essential manifestness in nature – that we have found the Levinasian moment in Maimonides. 3. Maimonides’ new Transcendence-in-Immanence and the Face of God: Rethinking the Face-through-the-Back We have seen the new “transcendence-in-immanence” in terms of God’s manifestness in nature (and, in line now with “Hylomorphic Apophasis”, God’s uknowability in the fact of his manifestness in matter). In this last and final section, I would like to draw out this idea in the related Maimonidean insight that we see the Face of God by seeing the Back of God. In other words, the Maimonidean insight that God shows Moses “Gods’ face” BY showing Moses “God’s back.” While we may have previously read Maimonides as reading Exodus to suggest that God does not show Moses His face, and instead only shows Moses His back, our new sense of “transcendence-inimmanence” and the manifesting of God in nature (which due to matter is also a concealment) allows us to instead read Maimonides as urging us to learn to understand the extent to which, on the contrary, God shows His Face BY showing His Back. In this insight we once again find the Levinasian trace of transcendence-in-immanence in Maimonides. In his chapter expressly dealing with Exodus chapters 33&34, there is one concept that announces itself fairly loudly by exclusion: God’s Back. While Exodus 33:23 talks expressly of God’s showing his Back to Moses, and while Maimonides expressly addresses the Hebrew term “back” nearly 20 chapters earlier at 1.38, Maimonides does not say a word about God’s back in the context of his 1.54 analysis of Moses’ asking to see the face of God. It would seem that Maimonides is urging us to consult chapter 1.38, a lexicographical chapter on the word “back” – a chapter whose careful consideration will, I suggest, further help reveal for us Maimonides’ teaching of God’s essence as transcendence-inimmanence, seen now in the teaching that the divine Face is seen in and through the divine Back. Looking to 1.38, we see an express link for Maimonides between God’s back and the entirety of the cosmos. Commenting here on the Exodus 33:32 verse expressly missing in his fuller treatment of Exodus 33-34 at 1.54, Maimonides notes: “And you shall see My back” [Ex. 33:23], which means that you shall apprehend what follows Me, has come to be like me, and follows necessarily from My will – that is, all the things created by Me, as I shall explain in a chapter of this Treatise [i.e. 1.54] (1.38, p. 87)


53 This connection between God’s back and the entirety of the cosmos is further emphasized in 1.37 where God’s back is identified with the realm of matter and form – notably for my thesis, not in a chapter dedicated to explaining the term “back” (1.38), but in the chapter dedicated to explaining the term “face” (1.37) – yet another indication that Maimonides is tacitly urging us to consider the intimate relation between the two. And to this link between the back of God and nature, Maimonides alluringly also adds that the back of God also refers to imitatio dei. In fact, he elides the two notions – and so, adding now to the quote we have already seen above, we find that the notions of God’s back, imitatio dei, and the realm of nature all go handin-hand-in-hand: The term [“back”] also occurs in the meaning of following and imitation of the conduct of some individual with respect to the conduct of life. Thus “You shall walk at the back of [i.e. after] the Lord your God” [Deut. 13:5]; “They shall walk at the back of [i.e. after] the Lord” [Hos. 11:10], which means following in obedience to Him and imitating His acts and conducting life in accordance with His conduct. Thus: “He walked at the back of [i.e. after] a commandment” [Hos. 5:11]. In this sense it is said: “And you shall see My back” (Ex. 33:23), which means that you shall apprehend what follows Me, has come to be like me, and follows necessarily from My will – that is, all the things created by Me, as I shall explain in a chapter of this Treatise [i.e. 1.54] (1.38, p. 87) Maimonides goes so far as to link the imitatio dei notion and God’s showing us the realm of all created things, with the phrase “in this sense”: The term “God’s back” refers to our call to imitate the conduct of God, in the sense of Exodus 33:23 that we “apprehend” the cosmos. Here, in this dramatic link between imitatio dei and “the apprehension of nature” we find another support for the relation between God and the cosmos: here, the very notion of “be like God” is being identified as the claim “be like nature.” This is of course not to suggest that God is nature, but to suggest that for Maimonides, there is a very deep sense in which the essence or Face of God is seen in his Back, which is to say, in the order of nature. We here learn that “Be merciful like God” means “be merciful like nature is merciful [in light of its order manifesting God’s wisdom],” which – in light of our earlier analysis – means: “mirror in yourself [and we might add: in all your dealings with other people] that about the cosmos which [manifesting God’s wisdom] is structured to ensure the best outcome for an embryo.” Here, the human microcosm is asked to mirror the macrocosm of God’s own essential wisdom (God’s Face) by mirroring the reflection of that divine macrocosm in the other macrocosm that we as humans encounter, viz. nature (God’s Back). We in this sense imitate the Face by imitating the Back – and, in related fashion as we have been arguing, we come to know the Face in knowing the Back.


54 Here, we may return to our reflections on transcendence redefined as transcendence-in-immanence. For, thinking of this delicate dialectic between face-in-back, and back-manifesting-face, we see precisely the Levinasian revisions of transcendence and immanence that we have already addressed. In our reflections on face-in-back, we can conclude not only that for Maimonides the transcendence of God is manifest “in” the immanence of hylomorphic nature, but that for Maimonides, there is a predominating (and decidedly non-mystical) sense of God’s transcendence AS a “transcendence-in-immanence.” In his passages about the Face-in-the-Back, we are able to do more than simply envision a transcendent divine essence (in the “beyond Being” sense of transcendence) that somehow shines through into the hylomorphic realm (an image which leaves entirely unchallenged the old sense of “transcendent” as a “far away placeless place” completely “beyond” the realm of nature); on the contrary, we are able to rethink the very idea of transcendence itself as completely separate from but necessarily tied up with the act of manifesting hylomorphically – an insight which yields a new image of transcendence (precisely mirroring the “immanent transcendence” we have identified in Levinas) whose wholeness includes its own being bound up with and in nature. For Maimonides, this is the Levinasian insight of the transcendence of God as a “transcendence-in-immanence”; this, for Maimonides, is the teaching of the transcendence of God as itself including a manifesting into the immanent – a breaking through of the essential wisdom of God into nature; it is the teaching of the revelation of God to Moses as a Face – as a Face that is always and only seen through the divine Back.


55


56 III. Creation in the Age of Modern Science By William E. Carroll Abstract In a culture dominated by astonishing advances in the natural sciences, it seems to many to be especially difficult to affirm a traditional doctrine of creation. How can a conception of the Creator, forged in a pre-modern era, have any relevance for us today? As Stuart Kauffman asks rhetorically, is not the creativity and dynamism we observe in nature God enough? Or, must we follow process theologians who think that "after Darwin" we need to embrace a God who evolves as the world evolves, a God for whom any notion of creation ex nihilo is absurd? Then, of course, there are the strident "new atheists" who claim that belief in God is but a "computer virus of the mind." In the face of these challenges, I will argue that Thomas Aquinas offers us a way to understand God as Creator which does justice both to the traditional understanding of God and to the insights of modern science. For Thomas, God is the complete cause of all that is, in whatever way or ways it is, and the natural world has its proper autonomy in a rich array of self-organizing principles, emergent properties, and dynamic activities. We need not choose between modern science and a Creator. In fact, without God there would be no science at all.

The International Film Festival in Toronto in September 2009 was the venue for the premiere of the British film, "Creation," the subtitle of which is "How Darwin


57 Saw the World [and] Changed It Forever." The film is based on the book, Annie's Box: Charles Darwin, His Daughter, and Human Evolution, by Randall Keynes, a great-great grandson of Darwin. The focus of the book and the film is the importance to Darwin of the death of his ten-year old daughter, Annie, in 1851. As Janet Browne writes in her biography of Darwin: "This death was the formal beginning of Darwin's conscious dissociation from believing in the traditional figure of God. The doctrines of the Bible that [his wife] Emma took comfort in were hurdles he could not jump." 105 One of the scenes in the movie is an encounter between Darwin and a young orangutan in the London Zoo. Above the title "Creation" in the advertisement for the film is a picture of Darwin and the orangutan reaching out to one another, each with a finger almost touching the other's finger: an obvious reminder of the scene on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel of God's creating Adam. Although the film is more of a melodrama than a didactic work, the title, "Creation," suggests a scientific alternative to religious belief. In fact, the book on which the film is based now appears with the new title, Creation: The True Story of Charles Darwin. Discussions about creation and evolution can easily become obscured in broader political, social, and philosophical contexts. Indeed, evolution and creation have taken on cultural connotations, serve as ideological markers, with the result that each has come to stand for a competing world-view. 106 For some, to embrace evolution is to affirm an exclusively secular and atheistic view of reality, and evolution is accordingly either welcomed or rejected on such grounds.107 Even if we resist such a sense of polar opposites, we might be attracted to the claim of the Catholic theologian, John Haught, that after the life and work of Charles Darwin "any thoughts we may have about God can hardly remain the same as before." As Haught observes, "Evolutionary science has changed our understanding of the world dramatically, and so any sense we may Janet Browne, Charles Darwin: Voyaging (London: Pimlico, 2003), 503. 106 "Creationism" and what we might call "evolutionism" have come to represent rival religious views of the world: "rival stories of origins, rival judgments about the meaning of human life, rival sets of moral dictates. . . ." "Evolutionism" is a collection of cultural claims which have their roots in, but ought to be distinguished from, the scientific discipline of evolutionary biology. Similarly, too often "creation" is confused with various forms of "creationism," which embrace either a literalistic reading of the Bible or think that creation must mean a kind of divine intervention in cosmic history with God's directly creating each individual species of living things. 105

In the Darwin film, for example, when a clergyman comes to visit a sick and despondent Charles Darwin, he seeks to reassure Darwin by telling him that "God moves in mysterious ways." To which Darwin replies: yes, "he has endowed us – in all his blessed generosity – with not one but 900 species of intestinal worm." On another occasion, the character who plays Thomas Huxley tells Darwin: "Sir, you have killed God." 107


58 have of a God who creates and cares for this world must take into account what Darwin and his followers have told us about it." 108 Process theologians and philosophers ask us to re-fashion our views of God and His relation to the world, such that they would appear more congenial in an evolutionary context. For them, God changes as the world changes and creation ex nihilo must be rejected since they think it violates the tenets of science. Although process thought has important scholarly proponents, the choice for many often seems to be between a purely natural explanation of the origin and development of life, an explanation in terms of common descent, genetic mutations, and natural selection as the mechanism of biological change, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, an explanation which sees divine agency as the source of life in all its diversity and that human beings, created in the image and likeness of God, have a special place in the universe. The difference appears stark: either Darwin or God. What is at issue in current debates is not some na誰ve view that the Earth is only 10,000 years old. Rather, for many believers, however old the world is, God is necessary to explain the order and design evident in it. At times this view has come to mean that God has directly intervened to create each of the different species of living things. It is precisely such an understanding of creation that many people think evolution denies. Not only does natural selection replace divine agency, but chance supplants order and design in explanations of the origin of life.109 John Haught, God After Darwin. A Theology of Evolution. (Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 2000), ix. A more radical view of the implications for God found in contemporary science, especially evolution, is that of Steven J. Dick, who speaks of a "natural God." "This idea of a supernatural God is, of course, a historical artifact, a product of the evolution of human thought . . . . Although it has proven a resilient and flexible concept, a supernatural God is no different from other powerful ideas developed throughout history, in the sense that it is useful, persistent, and subject to change. . . . A major effect of the concept of a natural God [that is, a God in the universe rather than outside it] is that it has the capacity to reconcile science and religion . . . A natural God is an intelligence in and of the world, a God amenable to scientific methods, or at least approachable by them. A supernatural God incorporates a concept all scientists reject in connection with their science. . . . [T]he natural God of cosmic evolution and the biological universe, not the supernatural God of the ancient Near East, may be the God of the next millennium." Steven J. Dick, "Cosmotheology: Theological Implications of the New Universe," in Many Worlds. The New Universe, Extraterrestrial Life, and the Theological Implications, edited by Steven Dick (Philadelphia: Templeton Foundation Press, 2000), 191-210, at 203, 204, and 208. Bold added. 109 Jerry Coyne puts what he considers to be the core concern this way: "We resist the evolutionary lesson that, like other animals, we are contingent products of the blind and mindless 108


59 One of the more sophisticated attempts to draw theological implications from contemporary science is the work of Stuart Kauffman, famous for his studies in information systems and bio-complexity. He argues that we are "reinventing the sacred" as a result of a new view of science. This new view involves a rejection of reductionism and an affirmation of the emergent properties of a dynamic universe of "ceaseless creativity." As Kauffman observes, "life has emerged in the universe without requiring special intervention from a Creator God. . . . All, I claim arose without a Creator God. . . . Is not this view, a view based on an expanded science, God enough? Is not nature itself creativity enough? What more do we really need of God . . .?" Thus, to accept the dynamism in nature as an explanation of the changes and diversity in and among living things appears to do away with the need for a Creator. Such a view is also behind the fear which informs many believers who reject evolution in order to hold on to the need for a Creator: once again, either Darwin or God. The sense of a fundamental incompatibility between creation and evolution is part of a wider intellectual framework in which scientific developments have been used to support a kind of "totalizing naturalism." This is the view that the universe and the processes within it need no explanation beyond the categories of the natural sciences.110 Whether we speak of explanations of the Big Bang itself (such as quantum tunneling from nothing) or of some version of a multiverse hypothesis, or of selforganizing principles in biological change (including, at times, appeals to randomness and chance as ultimate explanations), the conclusion which seems inescapable to many is that there is no need to appeal to a creator, that is, to any process of natural selection. We just can't bring ourselves to acknowledge that, just like every other species, we too evolved from an ancestor that was very different." Jerry A. Coyne, Why Evolution is True (New York: Penguin, 2009), 192. "The lesson from the human fossil record, then, combined with more recent discoveries in human genetics, confirms that we are evolved mammals – proud and accomplished ones, to be sure, but mammals built by the same processes that transformed every form of life over the past few billion years." 220. As Daniel Dennett remarks: "Science has won and religion has lost. Darwin's idea has banished the Book of Genesis to the limbo of quaint mythology." Or, as Christopher Hitchens in his popular book, God is Not Great, contends: "Religion has run out of justifications. Thanks to the telescope and the microscope, it no longer offers an explanation of anything important." 110

"La nature est comprise comme auto-créatrice, ce terme connotant que la notion classique de création est devenue inutile. La Nature -- et il convient d'écrire le mot avec un majuscule -- est autosuffisante pour produire non seulement ses effets, mais pour se produire. . . . La notion de création disparaît dans cette perspective de la réflexion." Jean-Michel Maldamé, Création et Providence: Bible, science et philosophie.


60 cause which is outside the natural order. Here is how one cosmologist, Lee Smolin, has put it: We humans are the species that makes things. So when we find something that appears to be beautifully and intricately structured, our almost instinctive response is to ask, ‘Who made that?’ The most important lesson to be learned if we are to prepare ourselves to approach the universe scientifically is that this is not the right question to ask. It is true that the universe is as beautiful as it is intrinsically structured. But it cannot have been made by anything that exists outside of it, for by definition the universe is all there is, and there can be nothing outside it. And, by definition, neither can there have been anything before the universe that caused it, for if anything existed it must have been part of the universe. So the first principle of cosmology must be ‘There is nothing outside the universe.’. . . The first principle means that we take the universe to be, by definition, a closed system. It means that the explanation for anything in the universe can involve only other things that also exist in the universe. 111 Note Smolin's claim that the universe "cannot have been made by anything that exists outside of it, for by definition the universe is all there is, and there can be nothing outside it. And, by definition, neither can there have been anything before the universe that caused it, for if anything existed it must have been part of the universe." I want you to remember Smolin's claim and especially key words such as "outside" and "before." As we shall see, to speak of God as Creator does not mean that He is either outside or before the universe, even though He is radically other than the universe of created things. Many of those who are in opposing camps about the philosophical and theological implications of contemporary cosmology tend to share similar views concerning creation and the origin of the universe. That is, those who think cosmology shows us that there is a Creator understand what it means to be a Creator in essentially the same way as those who think that recent developments in cosmology eliminate the need for a Creator. Indeed, the traditional reading of Genesis, confirmed by the solemn pronouncement of the Fourth Lateran Council (1215), is that "in the beginning" means that the universe is temporally finite; the world and time began to be as the result of God's creative word. Historically, Big Bang cosmology which affirms a "singularity" or starting point for our universe – a point beyond the categories of space and time, and beyond the explanatory realm of physics – has been used to provide a kind of scientific confirmation for the traditional doctrine of creation. Even Pope Pius XII once remarked that this cosmology offered support for what the opening of Genesis revealed. If there were a Big Bang, so this argument affirms, then the universe began to be and thus there must be a Creator who caused the universe to begin to be. To speak of creation and the beginning of time as intimately connected – such that one necessarily entails the other – has often informed not only those who Lee Smolin, Three Roads to Quantum Gravity (New York: Basic Books, 2001), 17. 111


61 support creation but also those who use new theories in cosmology to deny creation. If creation necessarily means that the universe has a beginning, then an eternal universe, one without a temporal beginning, could not be a created universe. Thus, those who embrace new cosmological theories which propose an eternal series of "big bangs" (as, for example, the ever-repeating collisions of giant four-dimensional membranes) or a multiverse scenario according to which our universe is but one in an infinite number of universes, 112 call into question the intelligibility of an absolute temporal beginning, and hence, so it is thought, they call into question the intelligibility of creation itself. Many cosmologists who now routinely speak of what happened "before the Big Bang" think that to reject some original Big Bang is to eliminate the need for a Creator. They deny the need for a Creator because they think that "to be created" means to have a temporal beginning, which is fundamentally the same view of creation as that of those thinkers who use the idea of a primal Big Bang as evidence for a Creator. In such a scenario, accepting or rejecting a Creator is tied to accepting or to explaining away an original Big Bang. This is a fundamental error which each side shares, which I wish to explore with you. You might remember Stephen Hawking's famous rhetorical question in A Brief History of Time (1988): "So long as the universe had a beginning, we could suppose it had a creator. But if the universe is really completely self-contained, having no boundary or edge, it would have neither beginning nor end: it would simply be. What place, then, for a creator?" No beginning, therefore no creator. In the new book, The Grand Design,113 published in September of this year, Hawking and his

Max Tegmark of MIT offers, perhaps, the most radical version of the multiverse hypothesis when he proclaims that every universe that can possibly exist, actually does exist. As he says, "there are infinitely many other inhabited planets, including not just one but infinitely many copies of you – with the same appearances, name and memories. Indeed, there are infinitely many other regions the size of our observable universe, where every possible cosmic history is played out." "The Multiverse Hierarchy," in Universe or Multiverse? edited by Bernard Carr (Cambridge University Press, 2007), 99-125, at 102. According to Tegmark, the closest identical copy of each one of us is (1010)29 meters away: there is not much chance of running into that person. All of this occurs only at the most basic of four levels of multiverse scenarios. At level IV in this multiverse hierarchy, as Tegmark calls it, the physical world is only a mathematical structure and, as a result, he notes that the "properties of all parallel universes (including the subjective perceptions of every SAS [each one of us is a SAS, a "self-aware substructure"]) could in principle be derived by an infinitely intelligent mathematician." 118. 112

Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow, The Grand Design (New York: Bantam Books, 2010). 113


62 co-author, Leonard Mlodinow, make the same point 114 and add: "Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the Universe exists, why we exist. It is not necessary to invoke God . . . to set the Universe going."115 Citing a version of contemporary string theory, known as "M-theory," they tell us that the "creation" of a great many universes out of nothing "does not require the intervention of some supernatural being or god." Rather, these multiple universes "arise naturally from physical law." 116 Ultimate questions about the nature of existence which have intrigued philosophers for millennia are, so they claim, now the province of science, and "philosophy is dead." 117 Theology, if mentioned at all, is simply dismissed as irrelevant. 118 The new book has fewer than 200 pages, divided into eight chapters, each with a suggestive title such as: "The Mystery of Being"; "What is Reality?"; "Choosing Our Universe"; "The Apparent Miracle"; and culminating in "The Grand Design." The principal argument they offer is that once we recognize that our universe is but one of an almost infinite number of universes then we do not need a special explanation – a Grand Designer – for the very precise initial conditions which account for life and our existence. As they say, "just as Darwin . . . explained how the apparently miraculous design of living forms could appear without intervention by a supreme being, the multiverse concept can explain the fine-tuning of physical law without the need for a benevolent creator who made the universe for our

Just as the universe has no edge, so there is no boundary, no beginning to time. Therefore to ask what happened before the beginning – or even at the beginning – would be meaningless. "In the early universe – when the universe was small enough to be governed by both general relativity and quantum theory – there were effectively four dimensions of space and none of time. That means that when we speak of the 'beginning' of the universe, we are skirting the subtle issue that as we look backward toward the very early universe, time as we know it does not exist! We must accept that our usual ideas of space and time do not apply to the very early universe. That is beyond our experience, but not beyond our imagination." Hawking and Mlodinow, 134. 114

115

Hawking and Mlodinow, 180.

116

ibid., 8-9.

117

ibid., 5.

This was Hawking's answer to Larry King's query about theology on CNN, 10 September 2010. 118


63 benefit."119 But, the Grand Designer rejected by Hawking is not the Creator, at least not the Creator which traditional philosophy and theology affirms. The alleged conflict between creation and science, based on developments in both evolutionary biology and cosmology, which often is found in rejections of science in defense of a Creator and in rejections of a Creator in defense of science is the result of confusions about what creation is and what the explanatory extent of the natural sciences is. Creation, as a metaphysical and theological notion, affirms that all that is, in whatever way or ways it is, depends upon God as cause. The natural sciences have as their subject the world of changing things: from subatomic particles to acorns to galaxies. Whenever there is a change there must be something that changes. Whether these changes are biological or cosmological, without beginning or end, or temporally finite, they remain processes. Creation, on the other hand, is the radical causing of the whole existence of whatever exists. Creation is not a change. To cause completely something to exist is not to produce a change in something, is not to work on or with some existing material. When God's creative act is said to be "out of nothing," what is meant is that God does not use anything in creating all that is: it does not mean that there is a change from "nothing" to "something." Evolutionary biology, cosmology, and all the other natural sciences offer accounts of change; they do not address the metaphysical and theological questions of creation; they do not speak to why there is something rather than nothing. It is a mistake to use arguments in the natural sciences to deny creation. But, as we shall see, it is also a mistake to appeal to cosmology as a confirmation of creation. Reason (as well as faith) can lead to knowledge of the Creator, but the path is in metaphysics not in the natural sciences. 120 Hawking and Mlodinow, 165. "Bodies such as stars and black holes cannot just appear out of nothing. But a whole universe can. Because gravity shapes space and time, it allows space-time to be locally stable but globally unstable. On the scale of the entire universe, the positive energy of matter can be balanced by the negative gravitational energy, and so there is no restriction in the creation of whole universes. Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing." Hawking and Mlodinow, 180. "The ultimate theory must be consistent and must predict finite results for quantities that we can measure. We've seen that there must be a law such as gravity, and for a theory of gravity to predict finite quantities, the theory must have what is called supersymmetry between the forces of nature and the matter on which they act. M-theory is the most general supersymmetric theory of gravity. For these reasons M-theory is the only complete theory of the Universe. If it is finite – and this is yet to be proved – it will be a model of a Universe that creates itself." 180-1. Bold added. 120 Discussions of creation are different from arguments from order and design to a source of order and design (which are similar to mediaeval discussions about motion and an unmoved mover). 119


64 To avoid confusion, I need to make a brief remark about different senses of how we use the term "to create." We often speak of human creations, especially with respect to the production of works of art, music, and literature. What it means for God to create is radically different from any kind of human making. When human beings make things they work with already existing material to produce something new. The human act of creating is not the complete cause of what is produced; but God's creative act is the complete cause of what is produced; this sense of being the complete cause is captured in the expression "out of nothing." To be such a complete cause of all that is requires an infinite power, and no creature, no human being, possesses such infinite power. God wills things to be and thus they are. To say that God is the complete cause of all that is does not negate the role of other causes which are part of the created natural order. Creatures, both animate and inanimate, are real causes of the wide array of changes that occur in the world, but God alone is the universal cause of being as such. God's causality is so different from the causality of creatures that there is no competition between the two, that is, we do not need to limit, as it were, God's causality to make room for the causality of creatures. God causes creatures to be causes.121 For example, He causes biological and cosmological processes to be what they are. Already in the 13th Century the groundwork was set for the fundamental understanding of creation and its relationship to the natural sciences. Working within the context of Aristotelian science and aided by the insights of Muslim and Jewish thinkers, as well as his Christian predecessors, Thomas Aquinas provided an understanding of creation and science which remains true. The distinction between creation and change – and hence between the explanatory realm of the natural sciences and creation – to which I have already referred, is a key feature of Thomas' analysis. As he wrote: "Over and above the mode of becoming by which something comes to be through change or motion, there must be a mode of becoming or origin of things without any mutation or motion, through the influx of being." [Thomas Aquinas, On Separated Substances, c.9.]122 Creation is not primarily some distant event; rather, it is the on-going complete causing of the existence of all that is. At this very moment, were God not causing all that is to exist, there would be nothing at all. Creation concerns first of all the origin of the universe, not its temporal beginning. Indeed, it is important to recognize this distinction between origin and beginning. The former affirms the complete, continuing dependence of all that is on God as cause. It may very well be that the universe had a temporal beginning, but there is no contradiction in the 121

See my essay, "Divine Agency, Contemporary Physics, and the Autonomy of Nature," The Heythrop Journal 49:4 (July 2008), 582-602. "Oportet igitur supra modum fiendi quo aliquid fit per mutationem vel motum, esse aliquem modum fiendi sive originis rerum absque omni mutatione vel motu per influentiam essendi." 122


65 notion of an eternal, created universe: for were the universe to be without a beginning it still would have an origin, it still would be created. This was precisely the position of Thomas Aquinas, who accepted as a matter of faith that the universe had a temporal beginning but also defended the intelligibility of a universe, created and eternal. Thomas also thought that neither science nor philosophy could know whether the universe had a beginning. He did think that metaphysics could show us that the universe is created, 123 but he would have warned against those today who use Big Bang cosmology, for example, to conclude that the universe has a beginning and therefore must be created. He was always alert to reject the use of bad arguments in support of what is believed. The "singularity" in traditional Big Bang cosmology may represent the beginning of the universe we observe, but we cannot conclude that it is the absolute beginning, the kind of beginning which would indicate creation. Projected experiments to be performed at the Large Hadron Collider – the huge underground particle accelerator on the Swiss-French border – may bring us closer to what happened just after the Big Bang; but they will tell us nothing about creation. The distance between minute fractions of a second after the Big Bang and creation is, in a sense, infinite. We do not get closer to creation by getting closer to the Big Bang. Furthermore, as some contemporary cosmologists recognize, there could very well be something before the Big Bang. Some cosmologists have used insights from quantum mechanics to offer accounts of the Big Bang itself. They speak of the Big Bang in terms of "quantum tunnelling from nothing," analogous to the way in which very small particles seem to emerge spontaneously from vacuums in laboratory experiments. Thus, they think that to explain the Big Bang in this way, as the fluctuation of a primal vacuum, eliminates the need to have a Creator. But the Big Bang "explained" in this way is still a change and, as we have seen, creation, properly understood is not a change at all. Similarly, the "nothing" in these cosmological models which speak of "quantum tunnelling from nothing" is not the nothing referred to in the traditional sense of creation out of nothing. The "nothing" in cosmological reflections may very well be nothing like our present universe, but it is not the absolute nothing central to what it means to create; it is only that about which the theories say nothing. The crucial point here is that to offer a scientific account of the Big Bang is not to say anything about whether or not the universe is created. Those contemporary cosmological theories which employ a multiverse hypothesis or an infinite series of big bangs do not challenge the fundamental The argument involves a recognition that the difference between what things are (their essences) and that they are (their existence) must ultimately be resolved in a reality (God) in whom essence and existence are identical. Thus, what it means to be God is to be, and God is the uncaused cause of all beings. One need not accept the validity of Thomas' claim to demonstrate that the universe is created in order to understand his distinction between creation and science and that "to create" is not to produce a change. 123


66 feature of what it means to be created, that is, the complete dependence upon God as cause of existence. An eternal universe would be no less dependent upon God than a universe which has a beginning of time. For one who believes that the universe has a temporal beginning, any theory of an eternal universe would have to be rejected, but a believer should be able to distinguish between the question of the kind of universe God creates (e.g., one with a temporal beginning) and the fact that whatever kind of universe there is, God is its Creator.124 When it came to how to read the opening of Genesis, Thomas Aquinas observed that what is essential is the "fact of creation," not the "manner or mode" of the formation of the world. 125 Questions concerning order, design, and chance in nature refer to the "manner or mode" of formation of the world. Attempts in the natural sciences to explain these facets of nature do not challenge the "fact of creation." Natural selection is not an alternative to divine agency. Chance mutations do not call into question God as Creator. God causes things both to be the kinds of things which they are and to exercise the kind of causality which Let me reiterate: science cannot tell us for sure whether the universe has an absolute temporal beginning or whether it is eternal. In such a scenario it is only by faith that one can conclude that there is a beginning: since reason alone remains silent about an absolute beginning, what faith affirms does not challenge what reason can legitimately claim to be true. Cosmology does offer speculations which deny a beginning, but these speculations do not really deny the fundamental sense of what it means to be created – that is, to depend upon God for existence (even eternal existence). 124

In his Scriptum on the ‘Sentences,’ Thomas sketches the debate between two traditions, one favored by Albert the Great, the other by Bonaventure on: "whether all things were created simultaneously and as distinct species." In his reply, he observes: "There are some things that are by their very nature the substance of faith (substantia fidei), as to say of God that He is three and one, and other similar things, about which it is forbidden for anyone to think otherwise. . . . There are other things that relate to the faith only incidentally . . . and, with respect to these, Christian authors have different opinions, interpreting the Sacred Scripture in various ways. Thus with respect to the origin of the world (circa mundi principium), there is one point that is of the substance of faith, viz., to know that it began by creation (mundum incepisse creatum), on which all authors in question are in agreement. But the manner and the order according to which creation took place concerns the faith only incidentally (non pertinet ad fidem nisi per accidens), in so far as it has been recorded in Scripture, and of these things aforementioned authors, safeguarding the truth by their various interpretations, have reported different things." In II Sent., dist. 12, q. 1, a. 2. 125


67 is properly their own. Even the reality of chance and contingency depends upon God as cause. God transcends the created order in such a radical way that He is able to be active in the world without being a competing cause in the world. So, one does not have to choose between evolutionary biology and creation; to affirm one need not be a denial of the other; we can have both Darwin and God. Addressing the Pontifical Academy of Sciences in October 2008, Pope Benedict XVI, distinguished between limiting creation to the beginning of things and seeing it as the continuing source of the existence of things: To state that the foundation of the cosmos and its developments is the provident wisdom of the Creator is not to say that creation has only to do with the beginning of the history of the world and of life. It implies, rather, that the Creator founds these developments and supports them, underpins them and sustains them continuously. Thomas Aquinas taught that the notion of creation must transcend the horizontal origin of the unfolding of events, which is history, and consequently all our purely naturalistic ways of thinking and speaking about the evolution of the world. Thomas observed that creation is neither a movement nor a mutation. It is instead the foundational and continuing relationship that links the creature to the Creator, for he is the cause of every being and all becoming. 126 The interconnected world of changing things, what the Pope calls the horizontal realm of unfolding events, ought not to be confused with the vertical dimension of creation: a vertical dimension upon which the horizontal continues to depend for its very existence. Order, design, chance, and contingency all concern the horizontal realm; the very reality of all things depends upon the vertical dimension. We ought not to think that to create, in its primary sense, means to produce order. To explain order and design in terms of processes within nature does not eliminate the need for a Creator, a Creator who is responsible for the existence of nature and everything in it. We do not need to follow the advice of process theologians and adjust our understanding of God – to deny his omnipotence and to have him changing as the world changes – in order to accommodate an evolutionary view of the world. The traditional understanding of God as Creator, set forth, for example, by Thomas Aquinas, needs no such tinkering. God’s creative power is exercised throughout the entire course of cosmic history, in whatever ways that history has unfolded. God creates a universe in which things have their own causal agency, their own true self-sufficiency: a nature which is susceptible to scientific analysis. Still, no explanation of cosmological or biological change, no matter how radically random or contingent such an explanation claims to be, challenges the metaphysical account of creation, that is, of the dependence of the existence of all things upon God as cause. When some thinkers deny creation on the basis of theories in the natural sciences, or reject the conclusions of these sciences in defense of creation, they misunderstand creation or the natural sciences, or both. Pope Benedict XVI, Address to the Plenary Meeting of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences (31 October 2008). 126


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