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160 7 Rational Claims, Irrational Consequences Ockham Disaggregates Will and Reason If analogical predication is perceived to be an unacceptable constraint on human cognition by Aquinas’s successors, this is because they operate with a fundamentally weakened sense of obligation and responsibility that the knowledge bears to its objects of inquiry. Already in Duns Scotus’s mystical speculations about the “univocity of Being,” it is palpable how “talk of analogy … became marginal rather than central” because the Thomist model appeared to fall short of the criteria of explicitness , transparency, certainty, and verifiability that had come to define knowledge as a human (autonomous) product. Because of its unwavering emphasis on the humility of the knower and on enabling and cooperative grace as the preconditions for knowledge itself, the concept of analogical predication came “to be regarded with suspicion. For it emphasized the necessary centrality of uncertainty, imprecision and the theological propriety of linguistic imprecision … If language can now be predicated of God in the same unequivocal way that it is predicated of things in the world, the implication of this is that God is, in some sense, closer to things in the world; indeed , to such an extent, that he becomes a ‘thing’ himself. In other words, there is a qualitative change in what God is conceived to be.”1 He becomes a First Cause, the 1. Hyman, Short History, 53, 55; Hyman appears to echo Edward Craig’s earlier thesis that “beginning with Galileo and Descartes, [there] is a tendency to suppose ‘quantitative difference but Rational Claims, Irrational Consequences 161 supreme “substance” or “power” essentially continuous with a world now conceived less as complex and infinitely variegated divine order than as an inventory of discrete things to be tabulated and appropriated at will. Yet precisely this conceptual flattening-out of what in Aquinas are two ontologically distinct realities also has the (seemingly paradoxical) effect of rendering God more enigmatic and potentially irrelevant to the pursuits of the human intellect. Thus, “there is another strand in modern theism in which the ‘quantitative’ difference between the human and divine is such that God becomes far removed from human knowing, without there being any analogical mediation between them.”2 It is here that we turn to William of Ockham (ca. 1287–1347), and specifically to his project of a “positive moral science” which, in strikingly legalistic and formalist ways, explores the “human and divine laws that obligate one to pursue or to avoid what is neither good nor evil except because it is commanded or prohibited by a superior whose role it is to establish moral laws.”3 While Ockham holds fast to the Scholastic premise that the divine will is eo ipso rational, such reason now seems remote, if not wholly unintelligible to the human realm. Perhaps rational conceptions are still intrinsic to the divine will; yet they now are so merely by virtue of ascription. Beginning with Ockham , moral meanings are increasingly viewed as contingent on the divine will having ordered them so: “What God has ordained (Ordinate Power) does not exhaust what God could do (Absolute Power)” and “value terms such as ‘just’ and ‘meritorious’ do not indicate a natural quality of an act. Rather, they reflect the absolute freedom of God to constitute any possible act as morally valuable.”4 Examples of this startling shift—somewhat reminiscent of Richard Nixon’s famous 1977 remark to David Frost (“Well, when the president does it that means that it is not illegal”)—abound in Ockham ’s writings, particularly in his early Commentary on the Sentences. If we ask whether God can order evil to be done, “the resolution of this query is that whatever God commands is de facto good.”5 To be sure, the question (albeit not Ockham’s solution ) is of ancient provenance, such as when in the Euthyphro Socrates bewilders qualitative identity’” (quoted in Gunton, The One, the Three, and the Many, 108). As Brad S. Gregory remarks, “it is self-evident that a God who by definition is radically distinct from the natural world could never be shown to be unreal via empirical inquiry.” Yet if, “having absorbed and taken for granted metaphysical univocity, one imagined that God belonged to the same conceptual and causal reality as his creation, and if natural regularities could be explained through natural causes without reference or recourse to God, then clearly the more science explained, the less would God be necessary as a causal or explanatory principle” (Unintended Reformation, 32, 54...


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