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THE KNOWLEDGE OF SINGULAR THINGS ACCORDING TO VITAL DU FOUR Philosophers in the last quarter of the thirteenth century showed an increasing concern for concrete singular things, a concern that would culminate fifty years later in the conceptualism of William Ockham with the denial of all reality to universality. This trend, so characteristic of the Franciscan School, seems to have been inspired by Roger Bacon's Communia Naturalium written about 1268.1 In Roger's opinion the emphasis on the universal at the expense of the singular has been the source of difficulties in the study of logic, of natural science, and of metaphysics. A single individual is worth more than all the universals in the world. Experience bears witness that in such important affairs as the acquisition of food, clothing, and other necessities, we search out singular things; universals are in no way helpful. Theology confirms this. God has not created the world for universal man but for singular persons; He has redeemed individuals and prepared beatitude for them. Obviously, then, the particular has a primacy over the universal. To determine the order and excellence of all things, one must start with the individual. Bacon maintains that the whole crowd of philosophers (totum vulgus philosophorum) exalt the universal because of certain texts in Aristotle. The ignorant worship the universal because Aristotle said that it is always and everywhere, while the singular is only in time and place. Bacon sets out to give a fresh interpretation of the Philosopher and thus demonstrate the pre-eminence of the individual.2 1 Professor E. Gilson (History of Christian Philosophy in the Middle Ages, New York, 1955, p. 311) remarks: "Experimental science (scientia experimentalis ), whose name seems to appear for the first time in the history of human thought under the pen of Roger Bacon, prevails over all the other kinds of knowledge by a triple prerogative." (Bacon attributes the term scientia experimentalis to Ptolemy. Cf. Gloss on Secretum Secretorum, V; ed. Steele, V, 9.) Fr. Theodore Crowley (Roger Bacon: The Problem of the Soul in his Philosophical Commentaries, Louvain, 1950, p. 64) states, "Duhem's study proves conclusively that the work in its present state was written or compiled after 1268." According to Fr. Crowley, the Communia Naturalium and the Communia Mathematica contain the maturest expression of Bacon's thought on many problems. 2 Roger Bacon, Communia Naturalium (Opera hactenus inédita Fratris Rogeri Baconis), ed. R. Steele, Oxford 1905, II, 92—95. For a treatment 272JOHN E. LYNCH, C. S. P. The problem was not to be confined, however, to the interpretation of Aristotelian texts. On March 7, 1277 the Bishop of Paris struck out at a naturalism which stressed the rights of pagan nature against the Christian supernatural and which preferred philosophy to theology. At this time 219 propositions were censured, some of which were taken from the philosophy of St. Thomas.3 Soon afterwards an English Franciscan , William of Mare, wrote a Correctoria, a series of corrections to be read in conjunction with the writings of St. Thomas.4 One of his chief criticisms centers around Aquinas' teaching on the knowledge of singular things. He takes that teaching to be an outright denial of the possibility of any knowledge of singulars. William of Mare appeals to St. Augustine as a champion of direct intellection of singulars. St. Thomas is stigmatized as opposed to the faith, to St. Augustine, to philosophy, and to good morals. When the Franciscans officially adopted William of Mare's Correctoria at the Council of Strasbourg in 1282, the controversy was broadened to a doctrinal dispute with the Dominican Order.6 In his commentaries on the works of Aristotle, as well as in his more personal works, St. Thomas returned again and again to the problem of an intellectual knowledge of singulars. Strictly speaking, he asserts, our intellect does not know singulars, but only universals. Singulars are known incidentally (per accidens). By direct or per se knowledge, that is, by knowledge through the intelligible species, the intellect knows the universal; it knows the singular indirectly. To attain the material of Aristotle's doctrine see: A. Preiswerk, "Das Einzelne bei Platon und Aristoteles," Philologus Suppl. band 32...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1945-9718
Print ISSN
0080-5459
Pages
pp. 271-301
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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