RELG 705 On the Infinite: The Divine Mathematics
Instructors: Profs. John Milbank and Peter Ochs
University of Virginia
Course Description: Where theology meets a kind of mathematics—where theological treatments of the Infinite as an attribute of God meet up with treatments of the infinite as a subject of philosophic, semiotic, and mathematical speculation. Among course readings will be selections from the following thinkers: Plato, Aristotle, Philo, Augustine, Aquinas, Maimonides, Crescas, Al-Ghazali, Grosseteste de Luce, Poinsot, Descartes, Poincare, Cantor, Peirce, Huntington, Levinas, G. Spencer Brown.
The syllabus consisted of reading the following in order:
- The Pythagorean Sourcebook and Library, trans. Kenneth Sylvan Guthrie Publisher: Phanes Pr; ISBN: 0933999518; (March 1991)
- St. Augustine, The Trinity, trans. Edmund Hill (1991)
2a: Robert Markus, "St Augustine on Signs," in Markus, Signs and Meanings: World and Text in Ancient Christianity
- John Deely, New Beginnings: Early Modern Philosophy and Post-Modern
Thought (Toronto Studies in Semiotics) (November 1994)
[a Central book for the course]
3b: Opt. Pierre Sergescu, Le Developpmente De L'Idea De Infini Mathematique au XIVe Siecle (1947) [In the end we did not use this for the students]
- John Poinsot (John of St Thomas) Tractatus de Signis Book I Concerning the Sign, with preambles andappendices. [Perhaps the most important text for us—accessed as E-text book]
- Karsten Harries, Infinity and Perspective (MIT Press, 2001)
- Descartes, Discourse on Method and Meditations of First Philosophy
- Nicholas of Cusa, On Learned Ignorance in Selected Spiritual Writings: Classics of Western Spirituality Series, (Paulist Press. 997)
- John Milbank, The Word Made Strange: Theology, Language, Culture: CH 3, 4.
8a. F. Catania, "John Duns Scotus on ens infinitum," The New Scholasticism 63: 37-51.
- Emmanuel Levinas, Totality and Infinity (Duquesne Univ: 1969)
- Peter Ochs, Continuity as Vagueness; The Mathemaytical antecedents of Peirce's Semiotics," in Semiotica 96-43/4 (1993): 231-255.
10a. P. Ochs, "Rabbinic Semiotics," in The American Journal of Semiotics 10. No. 1-2 (1993): 35-65;
10b. P. Ochs, Peirce, Pragmatism and the Logic of Scripture (Camnbridge: 1998): Ch 7.
[Charles Peirce's semiotic approach to infinity and his existential graphs were central resources for the course, but we used Ochs on Peirce as a way of introducing the material. Some students made use of reprints of various ms. of Peirce on The Existential Graphs.]
10c. Opt resource: Don Roberts, The Existential Graphs of Charles S. Peirce (The Gaue: 1973).
10d. OPT: resource: Sun-Joo Shin, Peirce
- Cantor, Contributions to the Theory of Transfinite Numbers
Publisher: Dover Pubns; ISBN: 0486600459; (June 1955)
[a central book for the course]
- Spencer Brown, Laws of From (Bantam, 1973) excerpts.
12a. Opt. resource: Ludwig Wittgenstein, "The Concept of Infinity in Mathematics," in Philosophical Remarks (1931).