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  • Heinrich von Gent über Metaphysik als erste Wissenschaft: Studien zu einem Metaphysikentwurf aus dem letzten Viertel des 13. Jahrhunderts
  • Richard Cross (bio)
Martin Pickavé . Heinrich von Gent über Metaphysik als erste Wissenschaft: Studien zu einem Metaphysikentwurf aus dem letzten Viertel des 13. Jahrhunderts. Brill. 2007. x, 402. €116.00, US$159.00

Henry of Ghent (d. 1293) was the most significant and influential thinker in the period of extraordinary philosophical and theological activity in the two or so decades between the death of Thomas Aquinas the earliest teaching of Duns Scotus. Henry's influence on this latter thinker is well [End Page 245] known, and the current study locates another such area of influence: the meta-metaphysical question of the proper subject of metaphysics. Medieval debates on the question of the subject of metaphysics prior to Duns Scotus are usually presented as an attempt to decide between two interpretations of Aristotle's claim that the subject of metaphysics is being (interpretations that both find plausible support in Aristotle): that metaphysics is the study of material substance, or that it is the study of God. Scotus, it is alleged, explicitly challenged both claims: metaphysics is the study of being as being, but the concept of being is univocal and thus includes both God and material substance under its extension. Pickavé shows that Scotus's main insight - that the subject of metaphysics is being as being, and that being as being can include both God and creatures under its extension - is clearly defended in Scotus's most important source, Henry of Ghent, albeit in the absence of Scotus's later claim that the concept of being needs to be univocal in order for such an account to be cogent. On this latter question, Henry holds that a univocal concept of being in this context would require something really in common between God and creatures - a commonality that Henry understandably wants to deny.

But the truly innovative aspect of Pickavé's study is his grasp of the ways in which two seemingly conflicting claims in Henry can be appropriately reconciled, without doing violence to the text. The issue has long been known, and it bears directly on the meta-metaphysical question highlighted above. Henry claims that being as such is the subject of metaphysics, and he claims that the subject of metaphysics is the first thing humans conceptualize. Now, Henry sometimes apparently claims that the first thing that humans conceptualize is God - and the conjunction of these claims suggests that being as such should be identified as God, in conflict with the claim that being as such should be identified as the analogical concept including both God and creatures in its extension. Pickavé's detailed reading of the text solves the problem: being is the first thing we conceptualize distinctly, but any conception of being involves a prior indistinct conception of God. The idea is that we can conceptualize being determinately (as realized in this or that creature); or with privative indetermination (abstracting from its realization in this or that creature); or with negative indetermination (being as realized in God). And indeterminate conceptualization precedes determinate conceptualization, and negative-indeterminate conceptualization precedes privative-indeterminate conceptualization (for reasons that Henry does not go far towards specifying). And this - whatever its philosophical merits - shows at the very least that Henry's account of the first thing conceptualized is not evidently inconsistent.

This is all of more than mere academic interest. Identifying being as such, somehow realized in both creature and God, as the subject of [End Page 246] metaphysics, underlies the development of Continental Rationalism after Leibniz, and its distinction of general metaphysics, or ontology (being as such), from special metaphysics (the study of ways in which different sorts of things are). Henry, then, was the pioneer on a path that led to considerable philosophical benefits - even if one that was later problematized by Kant. Of all significant medieval philosophers, Henry remains perhaps the least studied relative to his historical significance and philosophical importance. The reason is not hard to see: his corpus is massive, even by medieval standards, and philosophically and stylistically dense. Pickavé is pre-eminent among those who have in-depth...


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