Univocity Unischmocity

Scotus is no more scotistic about being in any metaphysical or ontological sense than Hume was humean regarding the reality of causes. Both were dealing with epistemology.

Scotus was talking semantically, logically, epistemo-logically about the concept. His univocity of being did have ontological implications, that the analogy of being logically presupposes relationality, presupposes successful references, presupposes causal relations, between, for example, God and creatures, even while denying successful descriptions of God, Who remains wholly incomprehensible but eminently intelligible. Thus the analogy of being doesn’t dissolve into total equivocation or utter unintelligibility. Attribution and proportionality never did.

Scotus was talking about human language. A univocal concept has enough, i.e. sufficient, unity in itself such that to both affirm and deny it of the same thing would be a contradiction. In my view, sufficient unity implies that it’s good enough to do analogical work vis a vis predications but does not imply that it has enough unity to establish ontological identities. This whole notion of sufficient sameness of meaning, itself, implies analogy at work! (although, without specifying the degree of dis/similarities in play from one concept to the next). Self-subsisting existence, for example, differs qualitatively — not just quantitatively — from any contingent existence, as would other attributes infinitely rather than finitely instantiated, which can differ not only formally but vis a vis modal adequacy and/or temporality. Univocity, properly considered, is not an ontotheological proposal. It remains wholly consistent with creaturely participation in divine attributes.



For his part, Scotus returns to the notion that Aristotelian science is a system of propositions organized into sound deductive syllogisms. A syllogism–e.g., ‘all A’s are B’s; all B’s are C’s; therefore all A’s are C’s’–can be valid only if the middle term ‘B’ is taken univocally in both premisses. Otherwise, there is a fallacy of four terms. Scotus concludes that metaphysics can furnish sound cosmological arguments from finite beings to infinite being, only if there is some concept of being that applies univocally to God and creatures.

As Richard Cross points out, this is for Scotus a semantic thesis. As Stephen D. Dumont emphasizes, Scotus’ concept of univocity is very thin, requiring only as much sameness of meaning as it would take to avoid the fallacy of four terms.


Faith and Philosophy 25 (2):190-196 (2008)


Upholding a univocity theory of religious language does not entail idolatry, because nothing about univocity entails misidentifying God altogether—which is what idolatry amounts to. Upholders and opponents of univocity can agree on the object to which they are ascribing various attributes, even if they do not agree on the attributes themselves. Neither does the defender of univocity have to maintain that there is anything real really shared by God and creatures. Furthermore, even if much of language is analogous, syllogistic argument—and hence theology’s scientific status, as accepted by the scholastics—requires univocity.

From Image to Likeness: how teleologic entities (agents) realize teleologic capacities (freedom)

Our finitude, in general, in terms of epistemic openness or distance, in particular, gifts us autopoietic agency. Ontologically, we become choosers, intentional agents, teleological entities, persons via imago Dei. (see wonkish note below)

Theopoietic synergies and theotic transformations, progressively, gift us freedom, taking us from image to likeness, realizing teleological capacities.

Epistemic distance makes a person a teleological entity, an agent. Axiological realizations gift a person teleological capacities, free agency — a reality that only ever makes sense in the context of community, and only ever in a community of desires, which behaves cooperatively with reality’s intrinsic aesthetic teleology.

Formatively, then, right belonging will ordinarily precede right desiring from which right behaving will quite naturally ensue, all leading to a post-experiential reflection from which we articulate right believing. This route, in reverse, is not impossible, in principle, just improbable, in practice (how many have you converted via combox?).

Our participatory imaginations (akin to what we call hometown knowledge) enjoy a certain formative primacy, then, over our conceptual map-making, as theology ensues in the wake of synergia, theopoiesis, theoria, theosis or unitive strivings and realizations.

The compatabilist vs libertarian framing of human intentionality suffers from an impoverished anthropology, which

  • conflates mere teleologic agencies with capacities (i.e. freedom), ignoring formative aspects (including de-formative, in-formative, per-formative & trans-formative),
  • wrongfully privileges the conceptual over the participatory, which gifts most human value-realizations, and
  • ignores the intrinsic aesthetic telos, which operates in our every act of willing.

Wonkish Note:

Semiotically, we thus possess a teleonomic consciousness, which reacts, algorithmically, to nonarbitrary signs — icons and indexes, as well as a robustly teleologic consciousness, which responds, nonalgorithmically, also to arbitrary signs, i.e. symbols, making us, inherently, radically social beings. This is to suggest, also, that a great deal of human behavior remains teleonomic, both from instinct and uncritical learning, and that human freedom gets progressively realized in degrees.

Speaking of a Community of Desire:

Apart from the life of prayer, there can be no talk of doing theology.

We all engage, whether explicitly or implicitly, in a philosophical triad of saying, unsaying and weighing.

We aspire to descriptive accuracy of God in saying what He, analogically, is like, then unsaying what He, literally, is not, or analogically, is not like, weighing the cumulative evidence presented by tradition, only ever coming up with successful references to — but, not descriptions of — God.

This is often called natural theology or philosophical theology but it’s, essentially, philosophy. It provides no proofs. It frames up questions but gives no conclusive answers. It does demonstrate that our existential leaps in faith can be reasonable, a reality most seem to know, implicitly, in their very bones and via common sense, but which, for others, needs to be worked out, explicitly, in our heads.

A theological triad, however, engages in saying, unsaying and praying, telling stories about our encounters of divine immanence, quieted by our encounters of divine transcendence and reflecting on our experiences in prayer:

how our cooperating with the Spirit in synergia, loving God, others, cosmos and even self, has, theopoietically, taken us from image to likeness

how our surrendering in the loving contemplation of theoria has, theotically, gifted us unitive experiences of divine communions, partakings and participations in the activities, works and energies of God!

The divine antinomies of theology — as expressed in scripture, tradition and reason — are not finally resolved philosophically but get dissolved existentially by an Answer that arrives in the form of intimacy via a robustly, Personal relationship.

Apart from the life of prayer, then, there can be no talk of doing theology.

Now, there can be a philosophy-speak that takes place within the life of faith and after the leap of faith, a true theology of nature. But it’s much more closely related to psalmody and scriptural allegory than it is to philosophy. It’s moreso a prayer of the heart.

So much of the impulse for philosophical theology today seems animated by the search for a persuasive evidential theodicy, which, for all sorts of reasons, I believe is misguided. For one thing, theodicies seem rather cold, hence cruel, responses to many of life’s victims. For another, theodicies can be so summarily and cursorily dismissive of the enormity of human suffering and immensity of human pain. Let us eschew, then, specific theodicies in response to the evidential problem of evil and be content, rather, with general defenses in response to the logical problem of evil, as have been handed down and refined in our traditions.

The most effective response to a world disoriented, lost, hungry, wounded, marginalized and deformed, then, will come from a missiology, wherein we cooperate with the work of the Spirit in the fivefold Christological mission that will

  • orient us, eschatologically
  • save us, soteriologically
  • nurture and heal us, sacramentally
  • empower us, ecclesiologically, and
  • transform us, sophiologically.

The problem of evil doesn’t finally resolve, philosophically, but dissolves, existentially, through the realization that we are be-loved. Far more than any conceptual map-making, our participatory imaginations will gift us divine communion along with all the gifts it entails.

What return shall I make?