Does Scotus’s Modal Distinction Save God’s Transcendence?
from Per Caritatem by Cynthia R. Nielsen
At least two important conclusions follow from what I’ve sketched above by way of King’s comments: (1) God’s simplicity is upheld, and (2) God and creatures are in fact diverse and not merely different-if the latter were the case, God’s transcendence would be weakened because “there would be some real factor common to God and creatures” in light of Scotus’s univocity (of the concept) of being thesis (p. 56). However, this is not the case. Again, turning to King, we read:
although formal distinctions may introduce real complexity, they only introduce real composition when they are combined as genus and differentia. In this case, there are elements united as potency (genus) and act (differentia), making up a composite. But unless distinct elements are so related, they will not produce composition in the relevant sense, and so there need be no composition introduced by the formal distinction (p. 56).
In other words, Scotus’s univocity of being thesis does not construe being as a common genus shared by God and creatures. Rather, we begin with the most indeterminate concept of being as that which is not repugnant to existence. As this imperfect concept becomes more precise (more perfect), we find that it has intrinsic modes (e.g. either infinite or finite), which refer to real aspects of being, viz. a being’s intrinsic intensity.
For Scotus, however, there is only One Reality that corresponds to the concept of infinite being, the Triune God. Every other existent being falls under finite being; hence, the two realities are diverse. In sum, the transcendental concept of being, while being a unified concept, picks out or refers to realities which are diverse, and is set forth as a disjunctive proposition: Being is either finite or infinite. Here Scotus exhibits a non-Parmenidian impulse and resists the urge to press all of reality into One unity. In other words, Scotus is comfortable with a reality that ends up reflecting many diversities - diversities which of course find their ultimate unity in relation to God.