David of Dinant and Negative Panentheism

In: History of Philosophy & Logical Analysis
Emanuele Costa Department of Philosophy, College of Arts and Sciences, Vanderbilt University Nashville (TN) United States

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During the Middle Ages, heterodox applications of crucial tenets of Aristotle’s philosophy led philosophers to explore connections and suggestions that would have not been acceptable for the Stagirite. In this essay, I explore the conflagration of two such Aristotelian (or pseudo-Aristotelian) theses. First, I investigate the notion that prime matter cannot have any properties (as described, among others, by Simplicius and Aquinas); secondly, I take into account the thesis that no property can substantially be predicated of God (John Damascene, Pseudo-Dionysius, Aquinas). In the first half of the article, I reconstruct the tradition surrounding these two tenets and I argue that a non-trivial conflict between these two theses was explored by David of Dinant, in his lost Quaternuli. He claimed that, since both God and prime matter have no properties, then the impossibility of discerning between the two forces us to admit that God is the prime matter of the world, and to identify God as the material cause of the world. In the second part of the essay, I explore whether his association of the Aristotelian denial of prime matter’s properties and the Scholastic denial of the proper predicability of God’s properties is a sound argument, in light of potential objections regarding the homogeneity of the two denials (prima facie, one seems ontological, and the other epistemological), and the tenability of his negative theory of predication.

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