Duns Scotus

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Western Philosophers
Medieval Philosophy
John Duns Scotus
Name: John Duns Scotus
Birth: c.1265 (Duns, Lothian, Scotland)
Death: 8 November 1308 (Cologne, Germany)
School/tradition: Scholasticism, Founder of Scotism
Main interests: Metaphysics, Theology, Logic, Epistemology, Ethics
Notable ideas: Univocity of being, Haecceity as a principle of individuation, Immaculate conception of Virgin Mary
Influences: Aristotle, St. Augustine, Avicenna, Boethius, Anselm, Thomas Aquinas, Henry of Ghent
Influenced: Popes Alexander VI, Sixtus IV, William of Ockham, Martin Luther, René Descartes, Leibniz

Blessed John Duns Scotus (c. 1266November 8, 1308) was a theologian, philosopher, and logician. Some argue that during his tenure at Oxford, the systematic examination of what differentiates theology from philosophy and science began in earnest. He was one of the most influential theologians and philosophers of the High Middle Ages, nicknamed "Doctor Subtilis" for his penetrating manner of thought.


[edit] Life

The place of his birth is uncertain. Some scholars claim that he was born in Duns, Borders, Scotland, whilst others claim Ireland. Ordained a priest, in 1291, in Northampton, England, he studied and taught at Paris (1293-1297) and Oxford, and probably at Cambridge as well. He was, however, expelled from the University of Paris for siding with Pope Boniface VIII against Philip the Fair of France. Finally, he came to Cologne, Germany, in 1307.

Duns Scotus is considered one of the most important Franciscan theologians and was the founder of Scotism, a special form of Scholasticism. He came out of the Old Franciscan School, to which Haymo of Faversham (d. 1244), Alexander of Hales (d. 1245), John of Rupella (d. 1245), William of Melitona (d. 1260), St. Bonaventure (d. 1274), Cardinal Matthew of Aquasparta (d. 1289), John Peckham, Archbishop of Canterbury (d. 1292), Richard of Middletown (d. about 1300), etc., belonged. He was known as "Doctor Subtilis" because of his subtle merging of differing views. Later philosophers were not so complimentary about his work, as shown, for instance, by the modern word "dunce", which developed from the name "Dunse" given to his followers in the 1500s.

He died in Cologne and is buried in the Church of the Minorites in Cologne. His sarcophagus bears the Latin inscription: Scotia me genuit. Anglia me suscepit. Gallia me docuit. Colonia me tenet. (trans. "Scotia brought me forth. England sustained me. France taught me. Cologne holds me.") He was beatified by Pope John Paul II on March 20, 1993. According to an old tradition, Scotus was buried alive following his lapse into a coma, for he was believed to be dead.

[edit] Metaphysics

Although Duns Scotus was a scholastic realist (as opposed to a nominalist) in that he treated universals as real, he did not accept the Thomistic distinction between existence and essence. Duns Scotus followed Aristotle in asserting that the subject matter of metaphysics is "being qua being" (ens inquantum ens). Being in general (ens in communi), as an univocal notion, was for him the first object of the intellect. Metaphysics includes the study of the transcendentals, so called because they transcend the division of being into finite and infinite and the further division of finite being into the ten Aristotelian categories. Being itself is a transcendental, and so are the "attributes" of being — "one", "true", and "good" — which are coextensive with being, but each add something to it. The univocity of being implies the denial of any real distinction between essence and existence.

The study of the Aristotelian categories belongs to metaphysics insofar as the categories, or the things falling under them, are studied as beings. (If they are studied as concepts, they belong instead to the logician.) There are exactly ten categories, Scotus argues. The first and most important is the category of substance. Substances are beings in the most robust sense, since they have an independent existence (entia per se). Beings in any of the other nine categories, called accidents, exist in substances. The nine categories of accidents are quantity, quality, relation, action, passion, place, time, position, and state (or habitus).

Duns elaborates a distinct view on hylemorphism, with three important strong theses that differentiate him. He held: 1) that there exists matter that has no form whatsoever, or prime matter, as the stuff underlying all change, against Aquinas (cf. his Quaestiones in Metaphysicam 7, q. 5; Lectura 2, d. 12, q. un.), 2) that not all created substances are composites of form and matter (cf. Lectura 2, d. 12, q. un., n. 55), that is, that purely spiritual substances do exist, and 3) that one and the same substance can have more than one substantial form — for instance, humans have at least two substantial forms, the soul and the form of the body (forma corporeitas) (cf. Ordinatio 4, d. 11, q. 3, n. 54). He argued for an original principle of individuation (cf. Ordinatio 2, d. 3, pars 1, qq. 1-6), the "haecceity" as the ultimate unity of an unique individual (haecceitas, an entity's 'thisness'), as opposed to the common nature (natura communis), feature existing in any number of individuals. For Scotus, the axiom stating that only the individual exists is a dominating principle of the understanding of reality. For the apprehension of individuals, an intuitive cognition is required, which gives us the present existence or the non-existence of an individual, as opposed to abstract cognition. Thus the human soul, in its separated state from the body, will be capable of knowing the spiritual intuitively.

The existence of God can be proven only a posteriori, through its effects. The Causal Argument he gives for the existence of God is particularly interesting and precise. It says that an infinity of things that are essentially ordered is impossible, as the totality of caused things that are essentially caused is itself caused, and so it is caused by some cause which is not a part of the totality, for then it would be the cause of itself; for the whole totality of dependent things is dependent, and not on anything belonging to that totality. The argument is relevant for Scotus' conception of metaphysical inquiry into being by searching the ways into which beings relate to each other.

[edit] Theology

Duns was an Augustinian theologian. He is usually associated with voluntarism, the tendency to emphasize God's will and human freedom in all philosophical issues. The main difference between Aquinas' rational theology and that of Scotus' is that Scotus believes certain predicates may be applied univocally — with exactly the same meaning — to God and creatures, whereas Aquinas insisted that this is impossible, and that only analogical predication can be employed, in which a word as applied to God has a meaning different from, although related to, the meaning of that same word as applied to creatures. Duns struggled throughout his works in demonstrating his univocity theory against Aquinas' analogy doctrine.

Perhaps the most influential point of Duns Scotus' theology was his defense of the Immaculate Conception of Mary. At the time, there was a great deal of argument about the subject. The general opinion was that it was appropriate, but it could not be seen how to resolve the problem that only with Christ's death would the stain of original sin be removed. The great philosophers and theologians of the West were divided on the subject (indeed, it appears that even Thomas Aquinas sided with those who denied the doctrine, though some Thomists dispute this). The feast day had existed in the East since the seventh century and had been introduced in several dioceses in the West as well, even though the philosophical basis was lacking. Citing Anselm of Canterbury's principle, "potuit, decuit, ergo fecit" (God could do it, it was appropriate, therefore he did it), Duns Scotus devised the following argument: Mary was in need of redemption like all other human beings, but through the merits of Jesus' crucifixion, given in advance, she was conceived without the stain of original sin.

This argument appears in Pope Pius IX's declaration of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. Pope John XXIII recommended the reading of Duns Scotus' theology to modern theology students.

[edit] Logic

Duns was perhaps one of the most influential medieval logicians, in the ranks of Peter Abelard and William of Ockham. He was the one of the first medieval logicians to break from the Aristotle's statistical model of possibility and necessity, and to consider instead the concept of logical possibility. His theory moves from considering modal notions with respect to different ways the actual world is arranged at certain times to one where modal notions are considered with respect to conceptual consistency. This interpretation of possibility and necessity thus foreshadows Leibniz's possible worlds conception of modality.

[edit] See also

[edit] Bibliography

  • Lectura (Early Oxford Lectures)
  • Opus Pariense or Reportata parisiensia (Paris Lectures)
  • Opus Oxiense (Oxford Lectures)
  • Tractatus de Primo Principio (Treatise on the First Principle) Latin Version English Translation
  • Questions on the Metaphysics of Aristotle

Latin text

  • Quaestiones Quodlibetales
  • De Rerum Principio (Of the Beginning of Things) An inauthentic work once attributed to Scotus.

Latin primary editions:

  • Cuestiones Cuodlibetales. In Obras del Doctor Sutil, Juan Duns Escoto. Ed. Felix Alluntis. Madrid: Biblioteca de Autores Cristianos, 1963.
  • Opera Omnia. ("The Wadding edition") Lyon, 1639; reprinted Hildesheim: Georg Olms Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1968.
  • Opera Omnia. ("The Vatican edition") Civitas Vaticana: Typis Polyglottis Vaticanis, 1950-.
  • Opera Philosophica. St. Bonaventure, NY: The Franciscan Institute, 1997-.

  • Mary Beth Ingham & Mechthild Dreyer, The Philosophical Vision of John Duns Scotus: An Introduction. Washington DC: Catholic University of America Press 2004
  • Thomas Williams (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Duns Scotus. Cambridge 2003
  • John Duns Scotus, Contingency and Freedom. Lectura I 39, transl., comment. and intro. by A. Vos Jaczn, H. Veldhuis, A.H. Looman-Graaskamp, E. Dekker and N.W. den Bok. The New Synthese Historical Library 4. Dordrecht/Boston/London: Kluwer, 1994.
  • A. Vos, H. Veldhuis, E. Dekker, N.W. den Bok and A.J. Beck (ed.). Duns Scotus on Divine Love: Texts and Commentary on Goodness and Freedom, God and Humans, Aldershot: Ashgate, 2003.
  • A. Vos. The Philosophy of John Duns Scotus. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2006.
  • E.P. Bos, (ed.). John Duns Scotus (1265-1308) Renewal of Philosophy. Acts of the Third Symposium organized by the Dutch Society for Medieval Philosophy Medium Aevum. Elementa, 72. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1998.
  • N. Kretzmann, A. Kenny, & J. Pinborg, Cambridge History of Later Medieval Philosophy Cambridge: 1982.

(1) - "The Death of Blessed Scotus", according to Canon Joseph Bonello and Eman Bonnici, both of Cospicua, authors of historical articles.

[edit] External links

This article is part of the Medieval Philosophers series
Augustine of Hippo | Boëthius | Johannes Scotus Eriugena | Rhazes | Roscelin | Avicenna | Algazel | Anselm of Canterbury | Bernard of Chartres | Peter Abélard | Gilbert de la Porrée | Hugh of St. Victor | Richard of St. Victor | Maimonides | Alexander of Hales | Averroës | Alain de Lille | Robert Grosseteste | Albertus Magnus | Roger Bacon | Bonaventure | Thomas Aquinas | Ramon Llull | Godfrey of Fontaines | Henry of Ghent | Giles of Rome | John Duns Scotus | William of Ockham | Jean Buridan | Nicole Oresme | George Gemistos Plethon | Johannes Bessarion | Francisco de Vitoria

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