World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Duns Scotus

Article Id: WHEBN0034293405
Reproduction Date:

Title: Duns Scotus  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Medieval Philosophy, Metaphysics, Scholasticism, William of Ockham, Scholastic accolades
Collection: 1260S Births, 1308 Deaths, 13Th-Century Latin Writers, 13Th-Century Philosophers, 13Th-Century Roman Catholic Priests, 13Th-Century Theologians, 13Th-Century Venerated Christians, 14Th-Century Latin Writers, 14Th-Century Philosophers, 14Th-Century Roman Catholic Priests, 14Th-Century Venerated Christians, Alumni of Merton College, Oxford, Alumni of the University of Oxford, Beatifications by Pope John Paul II, Burials in Cologne, Franciscan Beatified People, Franciscan Theologians, Latin Commentators on Aristotle, Logicians, People from Duns, Philosophers of Language, Premature Burials, Roman Catholic Philosophers, Roman Catholic Theologians, Scholastic Philosophers, Scottish Beatified People, Scottish Friars Minor, Scottish Philosophers, Scottish Roman Catholic Priests, Scottish Scholars and Academics, University of Paris Faculty
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Duns Scotus

John Duns Scotus
A bust of John Duns Scotus by Frank Tritchler in the Public Park of Duns erected in 1966
Born c. 1266
Duns, County of Berwick, Kingdom of Scotland
Died 8 November 1308 (aged 41–42)
Cologne, Electorate of Cologne, Holy Roman Empire
Era Medieval Philosophy
Region Western Philosophy
School Scholasticism
Main interests
Metaphysics, theology, logic, epistemology, ethics
Notable ideas
Univocity of being, haecceity as a principle of individuation, Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary
Blessed John Duns Scotus, O.F.M.
The Subtle Doctor
Religious and priest
Honored in
Roman Catholic Church
(Franciscan Order)
Beatified 20 March 1993, Vatican City by Pope John Paul II
Major shrine Franciscan Church, Cologne, Germany
Feast 8 November

John Duns, O.F.M., commonly called Scotus or Duns Scotus (; c. 1266 – 8 November 1308), is generally considered to be one of the three most important philosopher-theologians of the High Middle Ages.[1] Scotus has had considerable influence on both Catholic and secular thought. The doctrines for which he is best known are the "univocity of being," that existence is the most abstract concept we have, applicable to everything that exists; the formal distinction, a way of distinguishing between different aspects of the same thing; and the idea of haecceity, the property supposed to be in each individual thing that makes it an individual. Scotus also developed a complex argument for the existence of God, and argued for the Immaculate Conception of Mary.

Duns Scotus was given the medieval accolade Doctor Subtilis (Subtle Doctor) for his penetrating and subtle manner of thought. He was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1993.


  • Life 1
  • Work 2
  • Metaphysics 3
    • Realism 3.1
    • Univocity of being 3.2
    • Individuation 3.3
    • Formal distinction 3.4
  • Theology 4
    • Voluntarism 4.1
    • Existence of God 4.2
    • Illuminationism 4.3
    • Immaculate Conception 4.4
  • Veneration 5
  • Later reputation and influence 6
    • Later medieval period 6.1
    • Sixteenth to nineteenth centuries 6.2
    • Twentieth century 6.3
  • Bibliography 7
  • See also 8
  • Notes 9
  • References 10
  • External links 11


Plaque commemorating Duns Scotus in the University Church, Oxford

Little is known of Duns Scotus apart from his work. His date of birth is thought to have been between 23 December 1265 and 17 March 1266, born into a leading family of the region. The site of his birth, in front of the Pavilion Lodge, near the North Lodge of Duns Castle, is now marked by a cairn which was erected in 1966 by the Franciscan friars of the United Kingdom to mark the 700th anniversary of his birth. Duns Scotus received the religious habit of the Friars Minor at Dumfries, where his uncle, Elias Duns, was guardian.[2]

Duns Scotus' age is based on the first certain date for his life, that of his ordination to the Catholic priesthood at the Church of Saint Andrew in Northampton, England, on 17 March 1291. The minimum canonical age for ordination to the Catholic priesthood is 25 and it is generally assumed that he would have been ordained as soon as it was permitted.[3][4] That his contemporaries called him Johannes Duns, after the medieval practice of calling people by their Christian name followed by their place of origin, suggests that he came from Duns, in Berwickshire, Scotland.[5]

According to tradition, Duns Scotus was educated at the Franciscan studium at Oxford, a house behind St Ebbe's Church, in a triangular area enclosed by Pennyfarthing Street and running from St Aldate's to the Castle, the Baley and the old wall,[6] where the Friars Minor had moved when the University of Paris was dispersed in 1229–30. At that time there would have been about 270 persons living there, of whom about 80 would have been friars.[7]

Duns Scotus appears to have been in Oxford by 1300, as he is listed among a group of friars for whom the Minister Provincial of the English Province (which included Scotland) requested faculties from the Bishop of Lincoln for the hearing of confessions.[8] He took part in a disputation under the regent master, Philip of Bridlington. He began lecturing on Peter Lombard's Sentences at the prestigious University of Paris towards the end of 1302. Later in that academic year, however, he was expelled from the University of Paris for siding with Pope Boniface VIII in his feud with King Philip IV of France over the taxation of church property.

Duns Scotus was back in Paris before the end of 1304, probably returning in May. He continued lecturing there until, for reasons that are still mysterious, he was dispatched to the Franciscan studium at Cologne, probably in October 1307. According to the 15th-century writer William Vorilong, his departure was sudden and unexpected. He was relaxing or talking with students in the Prato clericorum or Pre-aux-Clercs – an open area of the Left Bank used by scholars for recreation – when orders arrived from the Franciscan Minister General; Scotus left immediately, taking few or no personal belongings.[9]

Duns Scotus died unexpectedly in Cologne in November 1308; the date of his death is traditionally given as 8 November. He is buried in the Church of the Friars Minor there. His sarcophagus bears the Latin inscription:

Scotia me genuit. Anglia me suscepit. Gallia me docuit. Colonia me tenet.
(Scotland brought me forth. England sustained me. France taught me. Cologne holds me.)

The story about Duns Scotus being buried alive, in the absence of his servant who alone knew of his susceptibility to coma, is probably a myth.[10] It was reported by Sir Francis Bacon in his Historia vitae et mortis.[11]

The colophon of Codex 66 of Merton College, Oxford says that Scotus was also at Cambridge, but we do not know for certain if this is true, or if it was, when he was there.[12]


Scotus’ great work is his commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard, which contains nearly all the philosophical views and arguments for which he is well known, including the univocity of being, the formal distinction, less-than-numerical unity, individual nature or ‘thisness' (haecceity), his critique of illuminationism and his renowned argument for the existence of God. His commentary exists in several versions. The standard version is the Ordinatio (also known as the Opus oxoniense), a revised version of lectures he gave as a bachelor at Oxford. The initial revision was probably begun in the summer of 1300 – see the remarks in the Prologue, question 2, alluding to the Third Battle of Homs in 1299, news of which probably reached Oxford in the summer of 1300. It was still incomplete when Scotus left for Paris in 1302. The original lectures were also transcribed and recently published as the Lectura.

The two other versions of the work are Scotus' notes for the Oxford lectures, recently published as the Lectura, the first book of which was probably written in Oxford in the late 1290s,[13] and the Reportatio parisiensis (or Opus parisiense), consisting of transcriptions of the lectures on the Sentences given by Scotus when he was in Paris. A reportatio is a student report or transcription of the original lecture of a master. A version that has been checked by the master himself is known as a reportatio examinata.

By the time of Scotus, these 'commentaries' on the Sentences were no longer literal commentaries. Instead, Peter Lombard's original text was used as a starting point for highly original discussions on topics of theological or philosophical interest.[14] For example, Book II Distinction 2, about the location of angels, is a starting point for a complex discussion about continuous motion, and whether the same thing can be in two different places at the same time (bilocation). In the same book, Distinction 3, he uses the question of how angels can be different from one another, given that they have no material bodies, to investigate the difficult question of individuation in general.

Colophon from the edition of Scotus' Sentences commentary edited by Thomas Penketh (died 1487) and Bartolomeo Bellati (died 1479), printed by Johannes de Colonia and Johannes Manthen, Venice in 1477. It reads Explicit Scriptum super Primum Sententiarum: editum a fratre Johanne Duns: ordinis fratrum minorum Printed versions of scholastic manuscripts became popular in the late fifteenth century.

Scotus wrote purely philosophical and logical works at an early stage of his career, consisting of commentaries on Aristotle's

  • Site of the International Scotistic Commission (Rome, Italy)
  • John Duns Scotus entry by Thomas Williams in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
  • John Duns Scotus (1266–1308) entry by Jeffrey Hause in the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
  • Bibliography on Duns Scotus from 1950 by Tobias Hoffmann
  • Catholic Encyclopedia article on John Duns Scotus
  • Site about Duns Scotus of the Research Group John Duns Scotus (Utrecht, NL)
  • Thomas Williams' pages on Scotus
  • The Realist Ontology of John Duns Scotus with an annotated bibliography
  • Article by Parthenius Minges on Scotists and Scotism at the Jacques Maritain Center
  • Local history site of Blessed John Duns Scotus' birthplace, Duns, Berwickshire, Scotland
  • Online Galleries, History of Science Collections, University of Oklahoma Libraries High resolution images of works by Duns Scotus in .jpg and .tiff format.

External links

  • Bos, Egbert P. (1998). John Duns Scotus: Renewal of Philosophy. Acts of the Third Symposium organized by the Dutch Society for Medieval Philosophy Medium Aevum. Amsterdam: Rodopi.  
  • Richard Cross (ed.), The Opera Theologica of John Duns Scotus. Proceedings of “The Quadruple Congress” on John Duns Scotus, Part 2. Archa Verbi. Subsidia 4, Franciscan Institute Publications, 2012, ISBN ISBN 978-3-402-10214-5.
  • Frank, William A.; Wolter, Allan B. (1995). Duns Scotus, Metaphysician. West Lafayette: Purdue University Press.  
  • Ludger Honnefelder, Hannes Möhle, Andreas Speer, Theo Kobusch, Susana Bullido del Barrio (eds.), Johannes Duns Scotus 1308-2008: Die philosophischen Perspektiven seines Werkes/Investigations into his Philosophy. Proceedings of "The Quadruple Congress" on John Duns Scotus, Part 3. Archa Verbi. Subsidia 5, Franciscan Institute Publications, 2011,ISBN 978-3-402-10215-2.
  • Mary Beth Ingham, CSJ, and Oleg Bychkof (eds.), John Duns Scotus, Philosopher. Proceedings of “The Quadruple Congress” on John Duns Scotus, Part 1. Archa Verbi. Subsidia 3, Franciscan Institute Publications, 2010, ISBN 978-3-402-10213-8.
  • Mary Beth Ingham, CSJ, Scotus for Dunces: An Introduction to the Subtle Doctor, Franciscan Institute Publications, 2003.
  • Mary Beth Ingham, CSJ, The Harmony of Goodness: Mutuality and Moral Living According to John Duns Scotus, Franciscan Institute Publications, 1997.
  • Thomas Shannon, The Ethical Theory of John Duns Scotus, Franciscan Institute Publications, 1995.
  • Vos, Antonie (2006). The Philosophy of John Duns Scotus. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.  
  • Williams, Thomas (2002). The Cambridge Companion to Duns Scotus. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.  
  • Allan B. Wolter, OFM and Blane O'Neil, OFM, John Duns Scotus: Mary's Architect, Franciscan Institute Publications, 1993.
  • Allan B. Wolter, OFM, The Philosophical Theology of John Duns Scotus, IUthaca, Cornell University Press, 1990.


  1. ^ Together with Thomas Aquinas and William of Ockham. See e.g. the articles "Duns Scotus" and "William of Ockham"
  2. ^ "People of Note: John Duns Scotus". Duns, Scotland. 
  3. ^ Williams 2002, p. 2
  4. ^ Brampton, C. K. (1964). "Duns Scotus at Oxford, 1288–1301". Franciscan Studies 24 (Annual II): 5–20. 
  5. ^ Although Vos (2006, p. 23) has objected that 'Duns' was actually his family name, as someone from Duns would have been known as 'de Duns'.
  6. ^ Vos 2006 p. 27. See also Roest, Bert (2000). A history of Franciscan education (c. 1210–1517). Brill. pp. 21–24.  
  7. ^ Vos 2006 p. 27
  8. ^ "John Duns Scotus".  
  9. ^ Narratur de Doctori Subtili qui in Prato clericorum, visa Generalis Ministri obedentia, dum actu Regens esse in scholis Parisiensibus, aut pauca aut nulla de rebus habita dispositione, Parisis exivit ut Coloniam iret, secundum ministri sententiam. William Vorilong, Opus super IV libros Sententiarum II, d. 44, q. 1 f. 161va.
  10. ^  
  11. ^ Bacon, Francis (1638). Historia Vitae et Mortis. 
  12. ^ Latin text: "Haec de ordinatione ven. Fratris J. duns de ordine fratrum Minorum, qui floruit Cant Oxon et Parisius et obiit in Colonia." – quoted in Little 1932, p. 571, citing Callebaut 1928.
  13. ^ a b Pini, Giorgio (2005). "Univocity in Scotus’s Quaestiones super Metaphysicam: The Solution to a Riddle" (PDF). Medioevo 30: 69–110. 
  14. ^ See e.g. Wolter 1995, p. 76 and passim
  15. ^ See the introduction to the critical edition: Duns Scoti Quaestiones in librum Porphyrii Isagoge et Quaestiones super Praedicamenta Aristotelis (Opera philosophica, I), xxix–xxxiv, xli–xlii.
  16. ^ Pini, Giorgio (2005). "Univocity in Scotus’s Quaestiones super Metaphysicam: The Solution to a Riddle" (PDF). Medioevo 30: 69–110. , although this is speculative
  17. ^ Thomas Williams (2009). "John Duns Scotus", Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (online).
  18. ^ Ashworth 1987
  19. ^ R.P.E. Longpre
  20. ^ Die Kategorien- und Bedeutungslehre des Duns Scotus ("Duns Scotus' Theory of the Categories and of Meaning", 1915)
  21. ^ Opus Oxoniense I iii 1–2, quoted in Grenz 2005, p. 55
  22. ^ Honderich p. 209
  23. ^ Pasnau, Robert (2011). "Divine Illumination". The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 
  24. ^ Ordinatio III, d.3, q.1
  25. ^ a b c "The Life of Blessed John Duns Scotus". EWTN. 
  26. ^
  27. ^ "Ceremonia de Reconocimiento del Culto Litúrgico a Duns Escoto y Beatificación de Dina Bélanger". Vatican News Service. 20 March 1993. (Spanish)
  28. ^ Janz
  29. ^ Courtenay, William (January 2012). "Early Scotists at Paris: A Reconsideration". Franciscan Studies 69 (1): 175–229.  
  30. ^ R.W. Dixon, History of the Church of England from the Abolition of the Roman Jurisdiction, 1:303
  31. ^ Catto, Jeremy, "Franciscan Learning in England, 1450–1540", in The Religious Orders in Pre-Reformation England, ed. Clarke 2002
  32. ^ J Derrida, L'Écriture et la différence, (Paris, 1967), p216; G Deleuze, Différence et répétition, (Paris, 1968), pp. 52–8, cited in John Marenbon, "Aquinas, Radical Orthodoxy, and the importance of truth", in Wayne J Hankey and Douglas Hedley, eds, Deconstructing radical orthodoxy: postmodern theology, rhetoric and truth, (Ashgate, 2005), p. 56.
  33. ^ John Marenbon, "Aquinas, Radical Orthodoxy, and the importance of truth", in Wayne J Hankey and Douglas Hedley, eds, Deconstructing radical orthodoxy: postmodern theology, rhetoric and truth, (Ashgate, 2005), p. 56.
  34. ^ Giorgio Pini, ‘’Duns Scotus' Literal Commentary on the «Metaphysics» and the «Notabilia Scoti super Metaphysicam» (Milan, Biblioteca Ambrosiana, C 62 Sup, ff.51r-98r)’’, Bulletin de philosophie médiévale, 38 (1996) 141-142.


  • OPERA OMNIA. (Wadding Edition, so-called after its editor Oxford Franciscan school
  • Anna Metterza – early depictions of the Immaculate Conception in three generations
Latin editions
  • De Rerum Principio (Of the Beginning of Things) An inauthentic work once attributed to Scotus.
Spurious works
  • Theoremata
Dubious works
  • Before 1295:
    • Parva logicalia
      • Quaestiones super Porphyrii Isagogem
      • Quaestiones in librum Praedicamentorum
      • Quaestiones in I et II librum Perihermeneias
      • Octo quaestiones in duos libros Perihermeneias
      • Quaestiones in libros Elenchorum
  • Quaestiones super libros De anima (1295–1298?)
  • Quaestiones super libros Metaphysicorum Aristotelis (1298–1300?; revised later)
  • Notabilia Scoti super Metaphysicam (a set of notes concerning books II-X and XII of Aristotle’s Metaphysics, discovered only in 1996[34])
  • Lectura (Early Oxford Lectures on the four books of the Sentences of Peter Lombard)
    • Books 1 and 2 (1300–1301)
    • Book 3 (probably written in Paris, 1303–04)
    • Book 4 (not extant)
  • Ordinatio or Opus Oxoniense (Oxford Lectures: a revision of the lectures given at Oxford, books 1 and 2 summer 1300-1302, books 3 and 4 1303–1304)
  • Collationes oxonienses (1303–04 or 1305–08)
  • Collationes parisienses (1302–07)
  • Reportatio parisiensis (Paris Lectures, 1302–07)
  • Quaestiones Quodlibetales (edited by Felix Alluntis in ‘’Obras del Doctor Sutil, Juan Duns Escoto’’, Madrid, Biblioteca de Autores Cristianos, 1963)
  • Tractatus de Primo Principio (Treatise on the First Principle) English Translation
  • Theoremata (uncertain date)
Works in rough chronological order


An important question since the 1960s has revolved over whether Scotus' thought heralded a change in thinking on the nature of 'being', a change which marked a shift from Aquinas and other previous thinkers; this question has been particularly significant in recent years because it has come to be seen as a debate over the origins of 'modernity'. This line of argument first emerged in the 1960s among popular French philosophers who, in passing, singled out Duns Scotus as the figure whose theory of univocal being changed an earlier approach which Aquinas had shared with his predecessors.[32] Then, in 1990, the historian of philosophy Jean-Francois Courtine argued that, between the time of Aquinas in the mid-thirteenth century and Francisco Suárez at the turn of the seventeenth, a fundamentally new approach to being was developed, with Scotus taking a major part in its development.[33] During the 1990s, various scholars extended this argument to locate Scotus as the first thinker who succumbed to what Heidegger termed 'onto-theology'. In recent years, this criticism of Scotus has become disseminated in particular through the writings of the 'Radical Orthodox' group of theologians, centred around John Milbank and Catherine Pickstock.

For some today, Scotus is one of the most important Franciscan theologians and the founder of Scotism, a special form of Scholasticism. He came out of the Old Franciscan School, to which Haymo of Faversham (died 1244), Alexander of Hales (died 1245), John of Rupella (died 1245), William of Melitona (died 1260), St. Bonaventure (died 1274), Cardinal Matthew of Aquasparta (died 1289), John Peckham, Archbishop of Canterbury (died 1292), Richard of Middletown (died c. 1300), etc., belonged. He was known as "Doctor Subtilis" because of the subtle distinctions and nuances of his thinking. Later philosophers in the sixteenth century were less complimentary about his work, and accused him of sophistry. This led to his name, "dunce" (which developed from the name "Dunse" given to his followers in the 1500s) to become synonymous for "somebody who is incapable of scholarship".

On the one hand, Scotus has received interest from secular philosophers such as Peter King, Gyula Klima, Paul Vincent Spade and others.

The twentieth century saw a resurgence of interest in Scotus, with a range of assessments of his thought.

Twentieth century

Despite this, Scotism grew in Catholic Europe. Scotus' works were collected into many editions, particularly in the late fifteenth century with the advent of printing. His school was probably at the height of its popularity at the beginning of the seventeenth century; during the sixteenth and the seventeenth centuries there were even special Scotist chairs, e.g. at Paris, Rome, Coimbra, Salamanca, Alcalá, Padua, and Pavia. It flourished well into the seventeenth century, and its influence can be seen in such writers as Descartes and Bramhall. Interest dwindled in the eighteenth century, and the revival of scholastic philosophy, known as Neo-Scholasticism, was essentially a revival of Thomistic thinking.

His reputation suffered during the English reformation, probably due to its association with the Franciscans. In a letter to Thomas Cromwell about his visit to Oxford in 1535, Richard Layton described how he saw the court of New College full of pages from Scotus's work "the wind blowing them into every corner".[30] John Leland described the Oxford Greyfriar's library in 1538 (just prior to its dissolution) as an accumulation of 'cobwebs, moths and bookworms'.[31]

Sixteenth to nineteenth centuries

Owing to Scotus' early and unexpected death, he left behind a large body of work in an unfinished or unedited condition. His students and disciples extensively edited his papers, often confusing them with works by other writers, in many cases leading to misattribution and confused transmission. Most thirteenth-century Franciscans followed Bonaventura, but the influence of Scotus (as well as that of his arch-rival William of Ockham) spread in the fourteenth century. Franciscan theologians in the late Middle Ages were thus divided between so-called Scotists and Ockhamists.[28] Fourteenth century followers included Francis of Mayrone (died 1325), Antonius Andreas (died 1320), William of Alnwick (died 1333), and John of Bassolis (died 1347), supposedly Scotus' favourite student.[29]

Later medieval period

Later reputation and influence

Long honored as a Blessed by the Order of Friars Minor, as well as in the Archdioceses of Edinburgh of Cologne, in the 19th-century the process was started seeking his recognition as such by the Holy See, on the basis of a cultus immemorabilis, i.e., one of ancient standing.[26] He was declared Venerable by Pope John Paul II in 1991, who officially recognized his liturgical cult, effectively beatifying him on 20 March 1993.[27]


During his pontificate, Pope John XXIII recommended the reading of Duns Scotus' theology to modern theology students.

Another of Scotus' positions also gained official approval of the Roman Catholic Church: his doctrine on the universal primacy of Christ became the underlying rationale for the feast of Christ the King instituted in 1925.[25]

Scotus' argument appears in Pope Pius IX's 1854 declaration of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, "at the first moment of Her conception, Mary was preserved free from the stain of original sin, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ."[25] Scotus' position was hailed as "a correct expression of the faith of the Apostles".[25]

Perhaps the most influential point of Duns Scotus' theology was his defense of the Immaculate Conception of Mary (i.e., that Mary herself was conceived without sin). At the time, there was a great deal of argument about the subject. The general opinion was that it was appropriately deferential to the Mother of God, 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 (though in the East, the feast is just of the Conception of Mary) 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. God could have brought it about (1) that she was never in original sin, (2) she was in sin only for an instant, (3) she was in sin for a period of time, being purged at the last instant. Whichever of these options was most excellent should probably be attributed to Mary.[24] This apparently careful statement provoked a storm of opposition at Paris, and suggested the line 'fired France for Mary without spot' in the famous poem "Duns Scotus's Oxford," by Gerard Manley Hopkins.

Immaculate Conception

When one of those that come together is incompatible with certainty, then certainty cannot be achieved. For just as from one premise that is necessary and one that is contingent nothing follows but a contingent conclusion, so from something certain and something uncertain, coming together in some cognition, no cognition that is certain follows (Ordinatio I.3.1.4 n.221).

Scotus argued against the version of illuminationism that had been defended earlier in the century by Henry of Ghent. In his Ordinatio (I.3.1.4) he argued against the sceptical consequences that Henry claimed would follow from abandoning divine illumination. Scotus argued that if our thinking were fallible in the way Henry had believed, such illumination could not, even in principle, ensure "certain and pure knowledge."[23]


The existence of God can be proven only a posteriori, through its effects. The Causal Argument he gives for the existence of God 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 cause, 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.

Existence of God

Scotus 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 believed 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.



Like other realist philosophers of the period (such as Aquinas and Henry of Ghent) Scotus recognised the need for an intermediate distinction that was not merely conceptual, but not fully real or mind-dependent either. Scotus argued for a formal distinction (distinctio formalis a parte rei), which holds between entities which are inseparable and indistinct in reality, but whose definitions are not identical. For example, the personal properties of the Trinity are formally distinct from the Divine essence. Similarly, the distinction between the 'thisness' or haecceity of a thing is intermediate between a real and a conceptual distinction.[22] There is also a formal distinction between the divine attributes and the powers of the soul.

Formal distinction

Scotus elaborates a distinct view on hylomorphism, 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 a 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 doctrine of the univocity of being implies the denial of any real distinction between essence and existence. Aquinas had argued that in all finite being (i.e. all except God), the essence of a thing is distinct from its existence. Scotus rejected the distinction. Scotus argued that we cannot conceive of what it is to be something, without conceiving it as existing. We should not make any distinction between whether a thing exists (si est) and what it is (quid est), for we never know whether something exists, unless we have some concept of what we know to exist.[21]

He followed Aristotle in asserting that the subject matter of metaphysics is "being qua being" (ens inquantum ens). Being in general (ens in communi), as a 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 which each add something to it.

Univocity of being

Scotus is generally considered to be a realist (as opposed to a nominalist) in that he treated universals as real. He attacks a position close to that later defended by Ockham, arguing that things have a common nature – for example the humanity common to both Socrates, Plato, and Plutarch.



A number of works once believed to have been written by Scotus are now known to have been misattributed. There were already concerns about this within two centuries of his death, when the 16th-century logician Jacobus Naveros noted inconsistencies between these texts and his commentary on the Sentences, leading him to doubt whether he had written any logical works at all.[18] The Questions on the Prior Analytics (In Librum Priorum Analyticorum Aristotelis Quaestiones) were also discovered to be mistakenly attributed.[19] In 1922, Grabmann showed that the logical work De modis significandi was actually by Thomas of Erfurt, a 14th-century logician of the modist school. Thus the claim that Martin Heidegger wrote his Habilitationsschrift on Scotus[20] is only half true, as the second part is actually based on the work by Erfurt.

In addition, there are 46 short disputations called Collationes, probably dating from 1300–1305; a work in natural theology (De primo principio), and his Quaestiones Quodlibetales, probably dating to Advent 1306 or Lent 1307.


This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from World Library are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.