Gabriele De Anna

title.none: Parisoli, La Contraddizione Vera (Gabriele De Anna)

identifier.other: baj9928.0707.011 07.07.11

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Gabriele De Anna, University of Cambridge, UK,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2007

identifier.citation: Parisoli, Luca. La Contraddizione Vera: Giovanni Duns Scotus tra le necessita della metafisica e il discorso della filosofio pratica. Series: Bibliotheca Seraphico-Capuccina, vol. 72. Rome: Istituto Storico Dei Cappuccini, 2005. Pp. 222. ISBN: $20.00 (pb) ISBN-10: 88-88001-27-1, ISBN-13: 978-88-88001-27-2.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 07.07.11

Parisoli, Luca. La Contraddizione Vera: Giovanni Duns Scotus tra le necessita della metafisica e il discorso della filosofio pratica. Series: Bibliotheca Seraphico-Capuccina, vol. 72. Rome: Istituto Storico Dei Cappuccini, 2005. Pp. 222. ISBN: $20.00 (pb) ISBN-10: 88-88001-27-1, ISBN-13: 978-88-88001-27-2.

Reviewed by:

Gabriele De Anna
University of Cambridge, UK

Luca Parisoli thinks of his book (entitled, in English, The True Contradiction. John Duns Scotus Between the Necessities of Metaphysics and the Discourse of Practical Philosophy) as a contribution for "a public of historians of philosophy" (20). Indeed, the work offers an original interpretation of Scotus. But Parisoli also tries to address a wider philosophical public, by arguing in favour of a "different conception of rationality" (21). From this theoretical point of view, the book is deep and engaging, and it touches upon core philosophical issues, such as the role of rationality, the relationship between reason and faith, and the very nature of philosophy.

In the Introduction the agenda is stated: to support a "philosophical outlook, which might break away from classical logic, which might give up the universality of the contradiction principle and of bivalence, and which might seek a kind of rationality capable of a non-reductive worldview and open to the data of faith" (7). For Parisoli, a very strict conception of rationality, dependent on classical logic (i.e., on formal post-Boolean logic, cf. 8), has induced a reductivist image of the universe and has thus made religious faith irrational or a- rational. If we give up the principle of contradiction and bivalence, we can reach a different form of rationality, which "can be hosted in a system of formal logic, and is hence perfectly rational" (13). Religious discourse will then be taken back into the realm of rationality.

According to Parisoli, indeed, contemporary philosophers who are more flexible about contradiction and bivalence such as the logician Graham Priest and the metaphysician David Lewis (15-16) have come to a conception of rationality, which is close to what he thinks of. This is where Scotus becomes relevant. A lot of his disputed claims on metaphysics, which interpreters have always dwelled with, can be made sense of if we grant that he was not accepting the universal validity of the principles of contradiction and bivalence. The upshot is a conception of reason, which takes metaphysics to set the possibility of facts, and leaves their subsistence as a separate issue, to be dealt with by other means. From this point of view, Parisoli draws a distinction between Aquinas' and Scotus' approaches. The former sees metaphysics as an attempt to establish the truth of facts through reason, the latter sees it as a rational assessment of possibilities the truth of which can only be attained through non-rational means. Parisoli thinks that these are just two different philosophical possibilities, and that the decision between them cannot be rational. It is a matter of option (12, n. 11).

In the first chapter ("General Approach to True Contradictions"), Parisoli lays down his main interpretative principles. In his view, Scotus does not deny the validity of the principle of contradiction as such, but he believes that its validity is local or regional. At least some contradictions are true. An example of true contradiction is the act of the will, which might seek opposite things at the same time (28-29). The acceptance of true contradictions opens the possibility of relying on direct intuitions of existing beings, which might lead to contradictory claims, without the need to resolve the contradiction by denying (at least one of) the intuitions. The intuition of an existing being, thus, would be free from rational renegotiations, and would have an epistemological status superior to that of reasoning (29-32). A connected issue, according to Scotus, is the rejection of bivalence. In fact, in the context of a discussion of Mary's Immaculate Conception, Scotus claimed that she was not justified, but she was not un-justified either. This can be made sense of, according to Parisoli, by granting that Scotus had two notions of negation in his mind (33-4). Finally, Parisoli gives reasons to believe that Scotus held a relevant (i.e., not truth- conditional) interpretation of implication.

Scotus' paraconsistent logic, according to Parisoli (36-46) allows him to maintain a unitary interpretation of reason and faith. Traditionally contradictory claims of faith can now be rationally upheld, e.g. "God is in the world and God is not in the world." The truths of the Christian faith--the incarnation, the resurrection, and so on--according to Scotus, are not claims which need proof, but facts which have to be taken into account and which can at best be made consistent by showing how they are possible. This leads to a metaphysical outlook in which a new relation between reality and existence is put forward. In the Aristotelian and the Thomistic traditions, the real is taken to be congruent with the existent. At the contrary, according to Scotus, the realm of the real is more extensive than the realm of the existent, and includes it. Anything independent of the human intellect is real, and thus all possibilities are real. However, only actual things exist. Parisoli gives a possible world interpretation of these Scotist claims: the real outlines an array of possible worlds, and the existent picks the actual world. This is the metaphysical substratum of paraconsistent logic (47-60 and 60-69): a true contradiction is one in which both terms are real, although it might be the case that they are not both existent. A claim of that sort would seem contradictory to us (living in the actual world of existing things), but not to God (Who lives in all possible worlds). A false contradiction (which Parisoli calls a Super- contradiction) is one in which at least a term is referring to states of things which are unreal. Such a claim is impossible for God too, and is hence false.

"Relation as a thing" is the title of the second chapter, which exemplifies the revolutionary outcomes of Scotus's metaphysics by focusing on his treatment of relations. Parisoli first highlights the differences between the Aristotelian traditional approach and Scotus' proposal (79-83). They both support descriptive metaphysics (83-86), in that they do not try to deduce the facts of experience, but they take them for granted and look for the conditions of their possibility. However, they apply the same method to two different sets of facts, since Scotus takes the truths of faith for granted, and thus they reach different and incompatible conclusions about a number of related issues: i. Scotus rejects Aristotle's claim that every moving thing is moved by something else, in order to make room for free will (86-88); ii. according to Aristotle the past is necessary, according to Scotus the past is to some extent contingent and open (88-92); iii. according to Aristotle, relations are not things, but hold among things, according to Scotus, they are real things (92-106).

In the third chapter, "A Slow Erosion of Classicist Faith," Parisoli argues that Scotus had always held a paraconsistent position (111- 122). In his early commentary on Aristotle's De interpretatione, for example, he generalised Aristotle's suspension of bivalence for future contingents, so as to extend it to present- and past-tensed statements. His reasons depended on his conception of free action, which, both in the case of humans and in the case of God, presupposes the contingency of all effects of action. Anything happening in the world, thus, even in the past, is contingent, since it is an effect of God's creative act.

The validity of a paraconsistent reading of Scotus, according to Parisoli, is evident in the fact that it allows for an interpretation of an otherwise puzzling thesis of Scotus: future contingents are always false for humans and true-and-false for God. The point is, according to Parisoli, that yet to be states of affairs are unreal and non-existent for men, and thus statements referring to them must be false. But they are real and existing for God (who lives in all possible worlds). For him, statements about the future are both true and false, since there are possible worlds where the relevant states of affairs obtain and worlds where they do not. But all future possible worlds could become existent, since God's freedom is unlimited and his acts are unconstrained. An upshot of Scotus' position, according to Parisoli, is the acceptance of a Hume-like conception of natural laws as a posteriori generalisations.

Subsequently, Parisoli discusses Scotus's notion of inference. Scotus famously claimed that "ex falso sequitur quodlibet" (from falsehood anything can follow), but Parisoli convincingly shows that this principle is true--according to Scotus--only for implications involving a relevant semantic relationship between the antecedent and the consequent. Indeed, there is a second notion of valid implication, in Scotus, besides material implication: the implication depending on semantic relations between terms (122-129). The situation of identity is similar: Scotus has both a formal and a real notion of identity. The former is the across-worlds identity, the latter is the within- world identity (130-137).

A discussion of Scotus's treatment of the liar paradox follows. Parisoli interprets Scotus' solution by stressing the importance of the "secundum quid" and "simpliciter" qualifications, which Scotus utilises in order to distinguish two levels of discourse in assertions such as "I always say falsehoods." Contrary to a common interpretation, these would not amount to the use-mention distinction, but to a reference across possible worlds (secundum quid) or within the actual world (simpliciter). According to Scotus, "I always say falsehoods" is true secundum quid, but it is false simpliciter. Parisoli discusses the relevance of this dual mode of signification for bivalence: bivalence holds only when a sentence is predicated on both secundum quid and simpliciter at the same time, i.e., when it is predicated formaliter--that is, having in mind the full array of possible worlds (138-146).

The chapter ends with considerations about the links between radical contingency, God's freedom to change the past, the freedom of our wills and the sense of our culpability and of God's punishment (147- 150).

The fourth and final chapter deals--as the title says--with "Moral Reasons for a Paraconsistent Choice." The focus is the practical upshot of Scotus' view on logic and metaphysical. Ultimately, Parisoli suggests that Scotus' philosophical views should be preferred over concurrent views (in particular over Aquinas'), for he had understood "the powerlessness of moral philosophy in the concrete determination of action, which can only be secured by love, mercy and the primacy of the Good [over the True]" (200). This conclusion is the result of a number of considerations concerning action. Scotus claimed the primacy of the will over the intellect. This implies that an agent does not need to have a consistent view of the good in order to act (as Aquinas had claimed), but can will different and even incompatible ends. This possibility is explained through the theory of possible worlds. God can will a (velle) or can will that a is not the case (nolle); but He can also lack a will that a (non-velle) or a will that a is not the case (non- nolle); the latter two cases are compatible with the possibility that the relevant events are real in some possible worlds, and this calls for true "small" contradictory wills on God's part, which secure His freedom. Human freedom, on the other hand, is constrained by the range of possibilities open to one's standpoint within the actual world. But even in that case, there might be conflicting normative demands, i.e. genuine moral dilemmas, which are true and definitive contradictions. Some moral dilemmas are false (they correspond to Super-contradictions), but some are genuine (and correspond to small contradictions). The latter prescribe conflicting and incompatible courses of action (153-175).

The role of God as a legislator is subsequently analysed. According to Scotus, God legislates by willing (volle-nolle-non-velle-non nolle) particular acts and events. Norms are just generalisations, which make sense of those acts of the will. God is not constrained by anything, not even by norms. Thus, He can will ("small") contradictory things. Hence, human normative systems might contain genuine moral dilemmas. The last judgement will not depend on the consequential, full application of God's law, but on acts of his mercy: it will not be a cognitive act, but a resolution of mercy (175-188). Parisoli ends his book with the rejection of some possible objections to his interpretations of Scotus' ethics: he rejects the charges of perspectivism, relativism, and practical infeasibility.

This is a difficult book, both for the subjects it treats and for the use of philosophical language, which sometimes stretches beyond normal practice. But this is no objection, quite the contrary: non- conventional use of language is not a consequence of looseness or eccentricity, but a sign that the author does not take current philosophical terminology for granted, in order to avoid assuming a given understanding of reality which needs to be questioned. In the paraconsistant metaphysical world of Scotus, sentences do not "mean" in the way they are normally take to, or objects do not exist in the more familiar "classicist" sense. Hence, the book requires a truly philosophical, all-encompassing exercise of understanding.

The fatigue of the reader, however, can be fully compensated both by a novel understanding of Scotus, and by a deep penetration into everlasting philosophical issues (e.g., the notions of possibility and practical normativity). Certainly, there is room for argument about the exegesis of Scotus. Parisoli's reading makes sense of many traditionally obscure claims, but the paraconsistent reconstruction can be hardly squared with some unmistakably classical statements. Thus, Parisoli must claim that Scotus had some momentary lapses; sometimes he is not true to himself, and he succumbs to the classicist temptations induced in him by the tradition (195). The general reader, however, can sense a novel understanding of Scotus and of the theoretical implications of his views.

There is one topic that is worth mentioning here. Parisoli's main philosophical opponent is "classical logic," which should be abandoned, since it leads to reductionism and to a narrow conception of rationality. As mentioned, he defines classical logic as post- Boolean formal logic. He openly recognises that Aristotle's conception of logic may not be classical in this way, since he accepted a weaker version of the principles of non-contradiction and of bivalence (8, 21 n. 29). At other points, though, Parisoli claims that it is the Greek model of rationality to be problematic (15), and that Aquinas is a champion of "classical logic" (16). The problem is that if we take "classical logic" in a wide sense, so as to include Aristotle and Aquinas, it will be hard to claim that it entails a reductivist conception of the world and that makes religious discourse irrational. If we accept, though, that Aristotle and Aquinas did not endorse such a strict notion of contradiction and bivalence, where is the originality of Scotus? Parisoli would certainly claim that no reason is needed to deciding between these two metaphysical options, the Scotist and the Thomist.

This is an important issue. According to Parisoli, metaphysics can be seen either as setting the stage of possibilities (Scotus) or as establishing what truths reasons forces us to endorse (Aqunias). But can these two possibilities really be indifferent, a matter of option?

I would claim that they are incompatible. If reason can really lead us to endorse truths by staring from facts, any setting of mere possibilities irrelevant to the facts would be an idle, useless exercise. If, on the other hand, reason can only state possibilities and the subsistence of facts belongs to a sphere outside of reason, then any pretence to establish truths from within the sphere of reason will be irremediably presumptuous. It seems, then, that if we talk one way, the other is not an open possibility any more.

Given that the two views of metaphysics are incompatible, I also suggest that there are reasons to decide between them. When we try to establish metaphysical possibilities, we have to distinguish what is possible from what is not. In Lewis's terms, we need to distinguish worlds that are accessible from ours, from worlds that are not. But this can only be done if we have a description of our world. If this is so, though, it seems that the discussion of rational possibilities can only start after we have already a metaphysics in the other sense in place. But, as we have seen, when we have a metaphysics in the other sense is in place, discussion of rational possibilities is just idle.

Besides this point, Parisoli's attack on classical logic has an important lesson to teach. "Analytical Thomism" has now become a common label to refer to attempts to introduce Aquinas's views in contemporary debates. Parisoli could be named an "Analytical Scotist," and his book has much to teach to "Analytical Medievalists" of all brands. It shows how close the tie between logic and metaphysics is, and how misleading and reductive it could be to rephrase the views of a Medieval metaphysician with the machinery of contemporary logic. This is a warning which should sound like a challenge to Analytical Thomists: the challenge to show that and how Thomistic logic can be safe from the attacks taken to contemporary "classical logic" by Scotus and his contemporary followers, Parisoli in primis.