Today we considered the theory of divine illumination. The theory, which is nicely summed up by Aquinas on page 88, holds that we see universals in God’s mind. This means that God gives us access to the complexities of things. Now, no medieval philosopher wants to deny that it is thanks to God’s creation and preservation of us that we can do anything, including knowing anything. But only two of the philosophers we read got on board with the theory of divine illumination.
Augustine and Henry of Ghent defend divine illumination theory - Augustine more generally than Henry does. Augustine thinks that in order to understand the structures in things, we will need to see the perfect exemplars of those things in God’s mind. Henry makes the point more narrowly: sure, we can find out facts about the world on our own, but if we want to know the essences of things, what they really are, that simply isn’t out there in the world, which is why God must help us understand. After all, what’s the alternative - that we don’t know anything about what exists in the world?
Aquinas and John Duns Scotus think that we don’t require divine illumination. We read in Aquinas a sophisticated account of how we abstract universals, to understand them: we consider the universals in things but independent of other elements of that thing. So if I want to understand the shape of a horse, I consider it independently of the movement, the snorting sound, the smell, the colour, etc. In Scotus, we found a careful critique of Henry. Henry uses the idea of divine illumination to get these perfect ideas into our minds, but if our minds are imperfect, doesn’t that mean that these ideas won’t really belong to us and won’t be understandable by us?