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The objects of philosophy: (principles of) everything?

1 Leave a comment on Absatz 1 0 The third option discussed in the texts is to define philosophy through its objects. Such a definition must take into account two different dimensions: the class of objects that philosophy is related to and the epistemic relation between the philosopher and this class of objects. This second dimension is relevant, because it determines the genus of philosophy. The sources determine the genus of philosophy as either cognitio or scientia. The differentiae specificae are given by the class of objects philosophy relates to.

2 Leave a comment on Absatz 2 0 If philosophy is defined as a type of cognitio, the definition of philosophy as cognitio rerum humanarum et divinarum has the broadest scope: According to this definition, philosophy comprises the cognition of human and divine things. Mas traces this definition back to the Stoics ( In Universam Philosophiamp. 4 f), Villalpando (In Quinque Voces, fol. 7v) and Toletus (Commentaria, Una cum Quaestionibus, p. 2)  find it in Plato.

3 Leave a comment on Absatz 3 0 Toletus is the only author in our corpus accepting this definition, because it is, for him, the only formula that takes into account that philosophy has speculative and practical parts (Commentaria, Una cum Quaestionibus, p. 2). He thus seems to interpret res humanae as matters related to the conduct of our lives, either as an individual or in a community. Res divinae are what distinguishes the philosopher from the illiterate mob (vulgo illiteratorum) and allow him gain access to higher spheres – this is how the Conimbricenses (Commentarii, p. 2) read the distinction. Sáenz mentions it, too, and traces it back to Plato and the Stoa (Philosophia nou-antiqua, p. 4).

4 Leave a comment on Absatz 4 0 For other writers, this definition is unacceptable: The Complutenses argue that it would imply that philosophy should be identified with the aggregation of all sciences (Disputationes, p. 6). Toletus disagrees: For him, “philosophy”, like “justice”, is an ambiguous term. It can denote either the totality of habits required for attaining perfect knowledge or one particular such habit. The same is true for “justice”, which can be taken to mean either the totality of virtues or one particular virtue (Commentaria, Una cum Quaestionibus, p. 1). The Complutenses, for him, seem to be the victim of an equivocation, because they confound both senses.

5 Leave a comment on Absatz 5 0 But it is not self-evident that the distinction between the human and the divine mirrors the distinction between speculative and practical philosophy. This is explicitly emphasised by Mas: “Quid autem per res divinas et humanas intelligere debeamus, dubium est apud Philosophos.” (In Universam Philosophiam, p. 2) Two more interpretations are possible: Ammonius identifies res divinae with unchangeable, eternal things, whereas res humanae come into being and perish. In this perspective, philosophy deals with the eternal and the transient.  Honorius Augustudonensis and the Venerable Bede regard res divinae as immaterial objects, res humanae as corporeal objects. Res divinae are apprehended by our intellect without cooperation of the senses (Mas, In Universam Philosophiam, p. 2).

6 Leave a comment on Absatz 6 0 Sáenz de Aguirre points out that if philosophy really was cognition of human and divine things, this characteristic should be applicable not only to philosophy as a whole, but to each of its parts as well. But this is not the case: Natural philosophy occupies itself neither with immaterial objects (that is the task of metaphysics) nor is it concerned with the question how to live a good life in a community (that is the topic of politics). Regardless of how the difference between human and divine matters is interpreted, the definition fails as soon as it is applied to a part of philosophy (Philosophia nou-antiqua, p. 4).

7 Leave a comment on Absatz 7 0 Diego Mas defines philosophy as cognition of things by what makes them these things: Philosophy is cognitio rerum qua res sunt ( In Universam Philosophiam, p. 4 similarly the Conimbricenses, Commentarii, p. 2: cognitio rerum ut sunt). This is a “real definition”, because it determines the genus of philosophy (cognitio) and two differentiae specificae (Mas, ibid.).

8 Leave a comment on Absatz 8 0 His argument for cognitio as the genus of philosophy rests on a logical analysis following the methodus divisionis. Mas starts from the premise that philosophy must be a quality of a human being. As such it can be either a property of our body or a property of our soul. Philosophy is no corporeal quality, so it must belong to our soul. Then it belongs either to the will or to the intellect (we have already seen this distinction at work in our analysis of philosophy as love of wisdom). If philosophy was a property of our will, it would be an inclination. Since philosophy is no inclination, it must be a property of our intellect (again, this point has already been discussed above: Philosophy is not just love of wisdom). That is what makes it a cognition. It can either be an action of the intellect or a disposition for such an action. If philosophy was an action of the intellect, it would vanish as soon as we stop thinking (or we should always be thinking). Therefore it is an acquired capability of the intellect, a habit (In Universam Philosophiam, p. 4).

9 Leave a comment on Absatz 9 0 Mas‘ ‚real definition‘ contains two differentiae specificae: Philosophy is cognition of (real) beings rather than of non-beings. And it is not cognitio rerum as such, but rather cognition of what makes things the things they are: cognitio rerum qua res sunt.

10 Leave a comment on Absatz 10 0 Again, this additional qualification is ambiguous. Ammonius takes it to mean that philosophy is cognition of universals rather than of particulars. Damascenus restricts the scope of this specific difference: It refers only to essences of things. Mas himself takes it to mean principles and causes of things (In Universam Philosophiam, p. 4, in a similar vein Montañés, Commentarii in Porphyrium, fol. 15 v). For Sáenz de Aguirre, this specific difference allows to make a distinction between the true philosopher who is interested in the causes of things and the empiricus who only trusts experience and examines nothing but particulars as they are given in sense experiences (Philosophia nou-antiqua, p. 5).

11 Leave a comment on Absatz 11 0 That philosophy should be regarded as scientia, is the position of the Complutenses, though they do not argue in detail for it. Philosophy only deals with substances, these are the objects of philosophical inquiry. Moreover, philosophy must provide perfect knowledge (scientia) of them (Disputationes6). In this perspective, mathematics, the investigation of accidental properties of objects, is no part of philosophy proper (ibid.).

12 Leave a comment on Absatz 12 0 Montañés articulates two arguments against this position: According to him, philosophy engenders spiritual joy, scientia does not. And the disciplines of the trivium (grammar, dialectic, rhetoric) are, for Montañés, sciences. But they do not deal with things, insofar they are things (res, qua res sunt). Therefore, there are sciences which are no part of philosophy (Commentarii in Porphyrium, fol. 15 v). This second argument rests, however, on the questionable premise that to accept that philosophy is a science, somehow implies the assumption that philosophy is the only science. This assumption is neither made explicit by Montañés, nor can we reconstruct any implicit argument for it from the text. The same is true for the strange consequence that, for Montañés, cognition of things, insofar they are things, is an occasion for spiritual joy, whereas scientia is not.

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