Teaching Resources


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:

  1. The Pythagorean Sourcebook and Library, trans. Kenneth Sylvan Guthrie Publisher: Phanes Pr; ISBN: 0933999518; (March 1991)
  2. 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
  3. 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]
  4. 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]
  5. Karsten Harries, Infinity and Perspective (MIT Press, 2001)
  6. Descartes, Discourse on Method and Meditations of First Philosophy
  7. Nicholas of Cusa, On Learned Ignorance in Selected Spiritual Writings: Classics of Western Spirituality Series, (Paulist Press. 997)
  8. 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.
  9. Emmanuel Levinas, Totality and Infinity (Duquesne Univ: 1969)
  10. 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
  11. Cantor, Contributions to the Theory of Transfinite Numbers Publisher: Dover Pubns; ISBN: 0486600459; (June 1955)

    [a central book for the course]
  12. Spencer Brown, Laws of From (Bantam, 1973) excerpts.

    12a. Opt. resource: Ludwig Wittgenstein, "The Concept of Infinity in Mathematics," in Philosophical Remarks (1931).