Dante’s Divine Comedy Introduction to Dante Reason and Faith Love and Free Will Development of Soul & Body
theodicy • The immortals know no care, yet the lot they spin for man is full of sorrow; on the floor of Zeus' palace there stand two urns, the one filled with evil gifts, and the other with good ones. He for whom Zeus the lord of thunder mixes the gifts he sends, will meet now with good and now with evil fortune; but he to whom Zeus sends none but evil gifts will be pointed at by the finger of scorn, the hand of famine will pursue him to the ends of the world, and he will go up and down the face of the earth, respected neither by gods nor men.
Hesiod elaborates (590–93): • From her is the race of women and female kind:of her is the deadly race and tribe of women wholive amongst mortal men to their great trouble,no helpmeets in hateful poverty, but only in wealth.
Hesiod goes on to lament that men who try to avoid the evil of women by avoiding marriage will fare no better (604–7): • Hesiod concedes that occasionally a man finds a good wife, but still (609) "evil contends with good."
Hope • Hope is the only good god remaining among mankind; the others have left and gone to Olympus. • Trust, a mighty god has gone, Restraint has gone from men, and the Graces, my friend, have abandoned the earth. • Men’s judicial oaths are no longer to be trusted, nor does anyone revere the immortal gods; the race of pious men has perished andmen no longer recognize the rules of conduct or acts of piety.
Introduction to Dante • Dante Aligheri (1265-1321), of Florence, Italy. • One of the 4-5 greatest poets of the Western tradition (with Homer, Virgil, Milton, Goethe). • His masterpiece (The Divine Comedy) embodies the Thomistic synthesis of Greek philosophy & the Biblical worldview.
Structure of the Divine Comedy • Three Parts: • The Inferno (Hell). A depiction of the consequences of unchecked evil. • The Purgatorio (Purgatory). A representation of human nature in this life (of which purgatory is an extension): the conflict between good and evil. • The Paradiso (Heaven). The ultimate, supernatural end of human life. The vision of God.
Issues to Consider • Love as the source of both good and evil. • The paradox of free will: is it compatible with a scientific (Aristotelian) picture of the workings of human nature? • The relationship between body and soul.
Faith & Reason • Dante gives a high status to natural reason. • Virgil, Dante’s guide through hell and purgatory, was a pre-Christian Roman poet. • Aristotle is described as “the father of them that know.” • The philosophers and poets in limbo, although unbelievers, are treated with great respect, and suffer only the sadness of the loss of heaven.
Limits of reason • At the same time, Dante clearly asserts the limits of reason, and the need for its supplementation by faith. • Beatrice (representing grace) must take over for Virgil as Dante enters heaven. • Certain mysteries (like that of free will) lie beyond the scope of reason to explain completely. • The souls in heaven, enjoying the vision of God, have transcended all natural limitations. Humanity is commingled with God’s essence.
Love as the source of Good and Evil • Virgil distinguishes between animal and mind-directed love. • The second is fallible, both in respect of its object and its intensity. • Wrong object: Pride, Envy, Wrath • Too weak: Sloth (accidie) • Too strong: Avarice, Gluttony, Lust
Love directed toward the good, but fallibly • “All men, though in a vague way, apprehend a good their souls may rest in, and desire it; each, therefore, strives to reach his chosen end.” (Pur. xvii) • “Though love’s substance (object) always will appear to be a good, not every impress made, even in finest wax, is good and clear.” (Pur. xviii)
The Enigma of Free Will • “If love springs outside the soul’s own will, it being made to love, what merit is there in loving good, or blame in loving ill?” (Dante to Virgil, canto xviii) • “As far as reason sees, I can reply. The rest you must ask Beatrice. The answer lies within Faith’s Mysteries.” (Virgil’s reply) • “All love springs from necessity, but you still have the power to check its sway.”
Marco’s Discourse (canto xvi) • Until quite modern times, astrology was taken to be scientific, revealing laws connecting heavenly motions to earthly events. • If we substitute modern physics & chemistry for astrology, the same philosophical question arises: how is human freedom compatible with a world of natural causal necessity?
Free Will & the Intellect • Marco answers: it is the human intellect that frees man from the heavens’ influence. By understanding the laws of cause/effect, we can transcend them. • Unsolved problem: why doesn’t the intellect merely introduce its own chain of inexorable cause & effect? Whence comes the freedom to assent or dissent to reason’s conclusions?
The Place of Training, Civic Leadership • The fact of free will does not (for Dante) negate the need for training: “restraint by law to guide love to higher things”. • The bad state of the world (in Dante’s time) Dante attributes to bad leadership of both church and state (but, especially, of church). • Another paradox? Is it bad environment or free will that is the ultimate explanation of evil?
The Development of Soul & Body • Statius’s Discourse -- Pur. canto xxv • Describes the development of the human fetus, beginning with the “formative power” present in the sperm. • This formative power shapes the blood in the uterus through successive stages: plant-like, jellyfish-like, human.
Emergence of the rational soul • This “formative power” could be identified with the genetic information contained in the gametes (like Aristotle, Dante hypothesizes no genetic contribution of the mother). • As the fetal brain develops, God steps in and creates a rational soul, which then draws into itself the powers of the vegetative and perceptive souls.
Three Medieval Theories • Dante endorses what was known as “creationism”: that each individual human soul is specially created by God. • Augustine and others endorsed “traducianism”: the human soul is formed by natural powers possessed by the sperm & egg. • Dante clearly rejects Averroism (ibn Ruhd): that all human beings share a single soul.
Dante’s Vision of Heaven • Dante’s Paradiso was based on the current, Ptolemaic (earth-centered) model. • Dante passes through successive, concentric circles: moon, Venus, Sun, planets, fixed stars. • After reaching the primum mobile (first mover) beyond the stars, Dante’s universe undergoes a disorienting, non-Euclidean transformation.
What had been the center (the earth) now becomes the extreme periphery, and the sphere of the primum mobile is seen to revolve around concentric spheres of angels, centered in God. • Thus, Dante’s universe is really not geo-centric at all, but theo-centric.
Introduction to Joseph Butler • Sermons, published in 1726. • Had profound effect on moral philosophy in Britain, well into 20th century.
2 major themes: • 1. Nature is the standard of good/bad, right/wrong. • 2. The problem of the relation between self-love and love for others.