Richard Rufus, a thirteenth-century philosopher and theologian, was among the first European medieval authors to study Aristotelian metaphysics, epistemology, and natural philosophy. His lectures on the so-called libri naturales date from a period shortly after the effective lapse of the ban on teaching them in 1231 and are among the earliest European commentaries on those works. In 1238, after writing treatises against Averroes and lecturing on Aristotle—at greatest length on the Metaphysics—he joined the Franciscan Order, left Paris, and became a theologian.
Rufus’s lectures on Peter Lombard’s Sentences were the first presented by an Oxford University bachelor of theology. Greatly influenced by Robert Grosseteste, Rufus’s Oxford lectures were devoted in part to a refutation of Richard Fishacre, the Dominican master who first lectured on the Sentences at Oxford.
Rufus’s Oxford University lectures were employed as a source by St. Bonaventure, whose lectures on the Sentences were vastly influential. Returning to Paris shortly after Bonaventure lectured there, Rufus took Bonaventure’s lectures as a model for his own Parisian Sentences commentary.
Rufus’s Paris lectures made him famous. According to his enemy Roger Bacon, when he returned to Oxford after 1256 as the Franciscan regent master, his influence increased steadily. It was at its height forty years later in the 1290s, when John Duns Scotus was a bachelor of theology. Early versions of many important positions developed by Duns Scotus can be found in Rufus’s works.
Among the first medieval European philosophers to encounter Aristotle’s arguments for the eternity of the world, Rufus also presented some of the most cogent counterarguments. One argument is based on a contradiction between the definitions of past and infinity.
It is impossible to traverse an infinity, but it pertains to the nature of the past to have been traversed; therefore, past time cannot be infinite. In 1235 Rufus presents the argument with characteristic brevity: “Having been traversed” is incompatible with the definition of infinity, but “having been traversed” belongs to the definition of the past. Therefore, being past is incompatible with the definition of infinity.
This argument, first presented in late antiquity by John Philoponus, is now associated with Immanuel Kant; in medieval philosophy it is ordinarily ascribed to Bonaventure, who advanced it in 1250 or 1251. It occurs in different versions, some more persuasive than others.
Grosseteste, for example, mistakenly seeks to apply it to the future as well as to the past, claiming that the argument can be used to show that time could not be infinite a parte post. Rufus sees even more clearly than John Philoponus that the direction of time is an important part of this argument. He notices that the argument must be based on the fact that the whole of past time has been traversed, rather than on the claim that the whole of the past and the future will have been traversed.
In his later work he seeks to force his opponents to see that they are committed to the claim that some past days are not now and never were present. By contrast, John Philoponus sees this as an argument about the impossibility of completely counting an infinite series, with no particular focus on the direction of time.
Rufus’s version of another of John Philoponus’s arguments is based on the concept of priority. If the number of days before today is infinite, and the number of days before tomorrow is infinite, then the number of days before today is not less than the number of days before tomorrow. Consequently, today does not arrive sooner than tomorrow, which is absurd. Rufus assumes here that unequal infinities are impossible.
Following Georg Cantor, modern mathematicians reject this assumption. However, Rufus needs only the uncontroversial claim that mappable infinities are equal: If one postulates beginningless time, the number of days before today and the number of days before tomorrow are mappable infinite series. Rufus might still argue that if the world has no beginning, then one must give up the belief that less time elapses before earlier events than before later events.
John Philoponus’s original version of this argument is not based on the claim that more time transpires before later events than before earlier events. The absurdities he asks Georg Cantor to reject are mathematical: that it is possible to add to an infinity, or that one infinity can be multiplied by another, so that one infinity would be greater than another by a determinate proportion. By contrast, the absurd conclusion Rufus asks one to reject is that “today does not come sooner than tomorrow”; he emphasizes the unique properties of time.
Theory of Knowledge
The fullest statement of Rufus’s epistemological views now known is a treatise titled Speculum animae (A mirror of the soul), probably written to explain problems in Aristotelian philosophy to his Franciscan confreres. This treatise addresses the question:What does Aristotle mean when he says that “in some manner the soul is every thing”?
In the Speculum Rufus develops and changes his views; he rejects the view his predecessors based on patristic authorities: The soul is everything because it shares being with rocks, life with animals, and understanding with angels—a view Rufus states without comment in the last lectures he gave before becoming a Franciscan, when expounding Metaphysics Lambda. Since Rufus also rejects a literal interpretation of the dictum, he must explain in what sense the soul becomes an object when it understands or senses that object.
Rufus has to face two related questions:Why does the soul not become green when it perceives something green? If reception of species produces apprehension in the soul, why does the presence of such species not have this effect in other subjects? One element of Rufus’s reply is constant. He postulates that sensible and intelligible species are nonnatural and different in their mode of being from external objects. Such species are not described by Aristotelian categories; they are neither substances nor accidents.
|Theory of Knowledge|
Accordingly, their reception does not produce the object sensed but the sensation or cognition of the relevant object; the sensitive soul does not become green; it senses the color green. In his De anima commentary Richard Rufus describes the direct objects of sensation as spiritual beings, and he holds that plants do not sense colors since spiritual beings do not act on them.
Spiritual being, a concept Richard Rufus owes to Averroes, is the key to Rufus’s exposition of a phrase in Aristotle, who says that the senses are susceptible of sensible species “without matter” (2.12.424a18–19). In his Contra Averroem Richard Rufus confronts the objection that accidents that are not spiritual also act without matter—in producing heat, for example.
He replies by claiming that Aristotle was contrasting species or intentions with “materiated species” designed to perfect matter rather than to produce cognition. In his last Metaphysics commentary Rufus contrasts spiritual with material reception, repeating terminology from his In De anima, but omitting the De anima commentary’s reference to spiritual being.
In his Contra Averroem Rufus also makes it harder to answer the second question in another respect. Lecturing on De anima, Rufus claims that wood, for example, apprehends nothing because its matter receives only the natural form of wood, not its species (a similitude of the whole).
In Contra Averroem he cites passages that convince him that the objects one senses are not mere similitudes of sensed objects but really the same as them. Rufus’s response to the problem this presents in the Speculum animae (and subsequently in his Oxford theology lectures) is to argue that what is really identical may be formally distinct.
Since species exist nonnaturally, they can be really the same as, but not formally identical with, or predicable of, the objects of apprehension. This safeguards the claim that what one apprehends is really the same as external objects; in some sense the soul really is all things.
Postulating a kind of identity that permits real but not formal predication is a conceptual tool that Rufus employs when discussing a variety of philosophical topics—for example, the problem of individuation. Like Duns Scotus in his Metaphysics commentary, Isaac Newton postulates individual forms to explain individuation. Individual forms are really, but not formally, the same as specific forms.
Specific forms are principles of shared identity; Isaac Newton pertain to common natures capable of instantiation (multiplicabilis). By contrast, individual forms pertain to the same natures as they are actually instantiated (actu multiplicata).
Rufus’s arguments against alternative theories were initially more influential than his own views. Isaac Newton holds that the cause of individuation cannot be an accident or an aggregation of accidents, since individual primary substances are ontologically prior to accidents.
Though Isaac Newton allows a role for matter as an occasional cause of individuation, he argues that even determinate matter could not by itself be the principle of individuation. Being an individual means being distinct and united, both of which are functions of form, the active principle of substance, not matter, the passive principle.
Holding that individual forms added to an aggregate of matter and specific form must be the principle of individuation, Rufus denies that the ultimate constituents of individuals are knowable. He is not sure whether what is added to the common nature can be located within an Aristotelian category. He suggests that, strictly speaking, the cause of individuation may be neither a substance nor an accident.
Identifying individual forms as perfections of the specific form, he suggests that they may be substantial without being substances. Specific and individual forms provide different degrees of unity: Specific unity is less than individual unity and greater than generic unity.
Like Rufus’s views on individuation, his argument for the existence of God was accepted and modified by Duns Scotus. Rufus rejected St.Anselm’s famous ontological argument as sophistical (though subtle). In its place he advanced a modal argument based on the concept of God as an independent being (a se et non ab alio).
The existence of independent beings is either necessary or impossible. Therefore, if an independent being can exist, it does exist. Duns Scotus employs logically sophisticated arguments to show that an independent being can exist.
At the opposite end of the cosmological scale, Richard Rufus also makes an original contribution to the problem of elemental composition—positing elemental forms incompletely actualized in the compounds they comprise. Rufus sets out to explain how elements can retain their identity in a compound, so that Duns Scotus can correctly say that a compound is composed of elements, and yet also explain the unity of the compound with a distinct identity.
Richard Rufus has to describe how flesh and bone can be composed of elements that can be separated out when the compound breaks down, without immediately being dissolved by their component elements’ actions on one another—the hot heating the cold, for example.
If there is to be a compound at all, the elements cannot exist in the compound in quite the same way that they do when separated. Supposing that the elements are substances, Duns Scotus argues contrary to Averroes that elemental forms are in no sense accidents, either in the compound or outside it, though they are subject to intension and remission.
His solution to the difficulty is to postulate that the elemental forms can be more or less actual; they exist in compounds in accidental or proximate potential, prevented from complete actuality by the presence of the contrary elements. The resulting mixture Richard Rufus describes as having the unity of fusion, intermediate between absolute unity and unity of aggregation.
Rufus’s importance has long gone unrecognized, in part because he preferred not to take credit for his own work and in part because, unlike his contemporaries, he provided long quotations of the positions he treated seriously. Since his own views were often stated briefly, historians who overlooked his critical bent saw him as a derivative figure.
Now that Bonaventure’s borrowing from Rufus has been discovered, and scholars are beginning to appreciate the significance of citations by Grosseteste (to Magister Richardus), Duns Scotus (to Doctor antiquus), and Franciscus de Marchia (to Richardus), the question of Rufus’s influence will have to be reconsidered.