My aim is to discuss Anselm of Canterbury's use of basic modal terms (necessity, possibility, impossibility) and his interpretation of the meaning of these and some related notions. I will first sketch modal conceptions in philosophical and theological traditions with which Anselm was familiar, and then take a look at some eleventh-century modal controversies entered in Peter Damian's On Divine Omnipotence and also discussed by Anselm. The third section deals with Anselm's views against the general historical background, and the last section is about his attempt to sketch the semantics of modal terms.
MODALITIES IN ANSELM’S SOURCES
The main line of the history of modal theories in ancient and medieval times can be described as follows. There are four originally Aristotelian ways of understanding the meaning of modal terms in ancient philosophy: the “statistical” or “temporal frequency interpretation” of modality, the conception of possibility as a potency, the conception of diachronic modalities (antecedent necessities and possibilities), and the idea of possibility as noncontradictoriness. I will explain below how these modal paradigms occur in Boethius (c. 480–523), whose works made them known to early medieval thinkers. Ancient conceptions did not include the view that the meaning of modal terms should be spelled out by considering simultaneous alternative states of affairs. This new idea was introduced into Western thought in early medieval discussions influenced by Augustine’s (354–430) theological conception of God as acting by choice between possible alternatives. Ancient habits of thinking continued to play an important role in scholasticism, However, and the systematic significance of the new conception was not fully realized before the extensive discussions by John Duns Scotus, William Ockham, John Buridan, and some other fourteenth-century thinkers. Many scholars have paid attention to the similarities between these late-medieval theories and the contemporary possible-worlds semantics for modal logic.
Augustine's most extensive discussions of philosophical and theological cosmology are found in his commentaries on Genesis (De Genesi contra Manichaeos, De Genesi ad litteram imperfectus liber, De Genesi ad litteram libri duodecim), in the last three books of the Confessions, and in Books 11 and 12 of the De civitate Dei. The main lines of his view of the creation are as follows. God created both the spiritual realm of angels and the visible world, including the incarnated souls, out of nothing (ex nihilo), without any pre-existing matter or other things outside God, so that ontologically new beings came into existence. The creation was based on an eternal free act of God's perfectly good will. It took place through God's omnipotence without toil, effort, or industry. God created simultaneously all first actualized things and, through “seminal reasons” inherent in them, the conditions of all those things which were to come up to the end of the world. God is the only creator. Created beings cannot bring things into existence out of nothing. God created time in creating movement in the universe. The story of the six days of creation is a metaphor which helps human imagination. Augustine sometimes interprets the “beginning”' (in principio) of Gen. 1.1 as a temporal beginning, but following an established tradition, he also takes it to refer to the Word or the Son of God (John 1.1-3): “In this beginning, God, you made heaven and earth, in your Word, in your Son, in your power, in your wisdom, in your truth” (Conf. 11.9.11).
Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this to your organisation's collection.