Sunday, June 30, 2013

Hackett on Scotus

Via comes Hackett's article, "Duns Scotus: A Brief Introduction to his Life and Thought", Studies in Scottish Literature 26 (1991).

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Recent Work on Scotus

Two recent publications on Scotus have come to my attention, both written out of the continental perspective. The first is Cynthia Nielsen, Foucault, Douglass, Fanon, and Scotus in Dialogue: On Social Construction and Freedom.

From amazon:

Through examining Douglass's and Fanon's concrete experiences of oppression, Cynthia R. Nielsen demonstrates the empirical validity of Foucault's theoretical analyses concerning power, resistance, and subject-formation. Going beyond merely confirming Foucault's insights, Douglass and Fanon expand, strengthen, and offer correctives to the emancipatory dimensions of Foucault's project. Unlike Foucault, Douglass and Fanon were not hesitant to make transhistorical judgments condemning slavery and colonization. Foucault's reticence here signals a weakness in his account of human being. This weakness sets him at cross-purposes not only with Scotus, but also with Douglass and Fanon. Scotus's anthropology provides a basis for transhistorical moral critique; thus he is a valuable dialogue partner for those concerned about social justice and human flourishing.

The second is from the summer issue of the American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly. William E. Tullius, "Haecceitas as Value and as Moral Horizon - A Scotist Contribution to the Project of a Phenomenological Ethics."


This paper seeks to provide a phenomenological articulation of the Scotist notion of haecceitas, interpreting Scotus’s principle of individuation at once as an ontological as well as a moral principle. Growing out of certain suggestions made by James Hart in his Who One Is, this interpretation is meant to provide the phenomenological ethics of both Edmund Husserl and Max Scheler with a useful theoretical tool in the Scotist notion of haecceitas interpreted as a horizon of value in order more fully to develop the phenomenological idea of the ethical life as a task that specifically seeks to realize as its highest goal the vocation of the person to his or her ideal, true self. The main implication of Scotus’s thought, here, for phenomenology will be the ability to further delimit haecceitas as an objective moral principle that refutes the frequent charge of relativistic subjectivism in the phenomenological theory of ethics.

Also, an important recent article by Richard Cross, "Duns Scotus and Analogy: A Brief Note" in The Modern Schoolman 89 (2012).


Duns Scotus defends the view that we can speak univocally of God and creatures. When we do so, we use words in the same sense in the two cases. Scotus maintains that the concepts that these univocal words signify are themselves univocal: the same concept in the two cases. In this paper, I consider a related question: does Duns Scotus have the notion of analogous concepts—concepts whose relation to each other lies somewhere between the univocal and the equivocal? Using some neglected texts from Scotus’s attempt to refute Henry of Ghent’s rejection of univocity, I argue that he does, and that he uses his account of univocity to ground the relation of analogy between two concepts. According to Scotus, analogous concepts are compositional, and overlap at a univocal concept. 

From the same issue and journal as Richard Cross's article is Giorgio Pini,  "Scotus on Hell".


The existence of everlasting punishment has sometimes been thought to be incompatible with God’s goodness and omnipotence. John Duns Scotus focused on the key issue concerning everlasting punishment, i.e., the impossibility for the damned to repent of their evil deeds and so to obtain forgiveness. Scotus’s claim was that such an impossibility is not logical but nomological, i.e., it depends on the rules God established to govern the world, specifically on what I call ‘the rule of the permanence of the last volition.’ Scotus does not try to defend God’s decision to implement the rule of the permanence of the last volition. I suggest, however, that that decision can be taken as an indication of God’s preference for a world where this life is given unique value as the only test rational creatures have to prove themselves as moral agents.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Scotus and the Supertranscendentals

The supertranscendentals are typically discussed in conjunction with early modern or "Baroque" scholasticism. Examples of these would be the intelligible or the imaginable, and are terms that are supposed to be univocally common between real, extra mental being (esse reale) and being of reason (ens rationis, esse intentionale, esse diminutum, etc.). If one were to hold these, one might be able to overcome the mind/world dialectic that is common in modern thought, for the supertranscendentals seem to break down the barriers a bit. Anyway, the Scotists have been known for denying them. The fourteenth century scotist Nicolaus Bonetus held them in a qualified sense, apparently, but he was the only one. Scotus, in the passages I will quote below, denies that anything can be common between real being and being of reason. He was later criticized for this by Auriol, who claimed this was inconsistent with Scotus' arguments for univocity. Scotus was later defended from these charges by Peter Thomae in QQ. de ente q. 15. The basic idea that Scotus defends in the following passages is that univocal community is between various real beings or (presumably) between various rational beings, but not between a real being and a rational being. Such a concept would refer to both something real and unreal at once, which Scotus thinks is impossible.

Scotus, Rep. IA d. 29 a. 2 (ed Wolter-Bychkov II, p. 238-9, translation by WB, modified):

For this reason, if one says that a relation of reason does not belong to the genus of relation, it is possible to say, consequently, that no one concept of first intention is univocally common to a conceptual relation(=relation of reason) and a real relation. Perhaps, the only exception would be a common concept of the most general kind: although even this concept is not common to a conceptual and a real relation, because that which is a certain way in a qualified sense, does not share the same notion with that which is such in an unqualified sense-precisely because that is such in a qualified sense, and not simply. I add this to account for the notion of health, which is predicated both of urine and of the animal: of the former in a qualified sense, and of the latter in an unqualified sense. Certainly, under a totally different aspect it is possible to predicate something of the same sort of these [two things]: this is clear because both are qualities, for although color in urine is health [only] in a qualified sense (because it is only representative [of health]), it is a quality in an unqualified sense, just as health is a quality. However, insofar as color in urine is health in a qualified sense, there is nothing of the same sort [that is] predicated of this [sort of health] and of health in an animal, because the latter is such in an unqualifed sense. Likewise, because a conceptual relation is a relation in a qualified sense (for [it exists] through a relational act of the intellect, which is a diminution of being), it seems that there is no concept that is common to, on the one hand essential principles, and on the other hand personal or notional principles.

ad arg. princ. 2 (WB 243-4):

Indeed, no one concept of the same sort corresponds to a real relation and a conceptual relation, because, although it is possible to abstract one univocal concept from God and the creature, yet it is not [possible to abstract one] from a conceptual thing and a real thing. Indeed, the concept abstracted from God and the creature would [refer to something] real on the part of both [God and the creature] and thus would be of the same sort. However, it is not so regarding [abstracting something] from conceptual being and real being, because on the part of one of the sides [the concept] would [refer to something] real, and on the part of the other side not, but only [to something] conceptual. For the division of being into real being and conceptual being is more general and fundamental than its division into created being and uncreated being, because real being, as one of the members of the former division, is common to both members of the latter division, i.e. to both created and uncreated being, for either [of these] is  real being, and thus there is more convergence between them under the aspect of one concept.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Burley on the Supertranscendentals

I posted this on facebook but it generated nary a reply, not even a 'like'. So here it is for my loyal readers. It is often stated that the earliest thinkers to endorse (even if in a qualified way) the supertranscendentals was Nicolaus Bonetus. But, in a moment of distraction I was flipping through one of Burley's early works, the De puritate artis logicae, from the early 1320's. I suppose I should keep to this myself and hunt through his other works to see if he develops it and then write it up as an article, but here it is anyway.

Burley, De puritate, p. 59:

Ad secundum dico, quod ens potest accipi tripliciter. Uno modo ut est maxime transcendens et commune omni intelligibili. Et sic est adaequatum obiectum intellectus.
To the second [objection] I say that being can be understood in three ways. In one way as it is maximally transcendental et common to every intelligible.

To be sure, this is just a hint. But one of the supertranscendentals is the intelligible, which is common to being of reason and real being.

I intend to post on Scotus and the supertranscendentals in a few days.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

"You are that who is not; I Am He Who Is"

In the most recent post by Faber, a number of interesting suggestions were made for possible discussion. One of them was by "Johannes":

It would be interesting to see a post on how Scotism can accomodate the message of a well-known private revelation which was even quoted by JP_II in his catechesis of August 7, 1985.

In his Life of Catherine of Siena, Bl Raymond of Capua records what St Catherine (1347-1380) had often told him Christ taught her when He first began appearing to her:

"Do you know, daughter, who you are and who I am? If you know these two things you have beatitude in your grasp. You are that who is not; I Am He Who Is. Let your soul but become penetrated with this truth, and the Enemy can never lead you astray; you will never be caught in any snare of his, nor ever transgress any commandment of mine; you will have set your feet on the royal road which leads to the fulness of grace, and truth, and light." (Life, no. 92. Original: "Tu sei colei che non è; Io sono Colui che è.")

In my view, "You are that who is not; I Am He Who Is." fits much better with the thomist philosophical framework than with the scotist. Because it shows unequivocally that "being" in us and in God must be understood analogically, not univocally.

From another angle, the key difference between us and God is that we are something of which "to be" is not part, i.e. "to be" is not part of our essence. But clearly we have an essence, therefore existence and essence are really distinct. In contrast, God's essence is "to be", therefore God's essence is his own (unreceived, unlimited and eternal) act of being.

I responded in the comments with what I meant to be a quick note, but which turned long enough for a post of its own, so I reproduce it here:

First, of course, Scotism doesn't really need to accommodate a private revelation as such, even an approved one, but the data of faith. That being said, the notion Johannes brings up ("You are that who is not; I Am He Who Is.") is a very common one and isn't at all in conflict with Scotus' thought.

It's important not to look at a theological or philosophical difference with Thomism and conclude that, since the Thomistic distinctions are not deployed, there's no way to accomplish what they accomplish. You have to look at Scotus' thought itself and see whether it conflicts with the datum explanandum.

Much of the "work" that Thomas accomplishes with the real distinction between being and essence is accomplished by Scotus through the deployment of the concept of intrinsic modes. God is being, and has being under the aspects of all the coextensive transcendentals; after that his most salient property is radical infinity. Everything but God is finite; in his infinity God is utterly, radically, supereminently other than every other being. Moreover there is no commensurability between the finite and the intensively actual infinite; by comparison with infinite being every finite being is, so to speak, equally infinitely deficient. We could say that the incommensurability is so great that next to infinite being every finite being is nil - I think Scotus would say, however, that this is true only metaphorically.

So we can see that the same "work" is performed; the radical otherness and distance between Creator and creature is preserved; but not using the same distinctions, because for Scotus the Thomist ones are ultimately incoherent. Whether he's right about that or not, however, has little bearing on whether his own system of thought achieves the same result.

From another angle, the key difference between us and God is that we are something of which "to be" is not part, i.e. "to be" is not part of our essence. But clearly we have an essence, therefore existence and essence are really distinct.

Again, Scotus accomplishes the same end but by using a different set of conceptual tools. For him as for the Franciscan tradition commonly, the real distinction between essence and existence contains an incoherence, because a real distinction implies that one or both of the distincta can exist without the other; but the essence can't exist without having existence, and the existence of an essence can't exist without existing under that essence. So neither essence nor existence has real being without the other; so they are not really distinct.

However, the difference between Creator and creature is preserved in another (hopefully more coherent) form, by adverting to the radical contingency of the creature on the one hand and the radical necessity of the Creator on the other. Contingent being by definition is utterly dependent on another and is open to both being and non-being, receiving being only thanks to the intellect and will of some being which is utterly non-contingent. It's just that the act of creation isn't conceived of as taking some vessel of essence and filling it up or infusing it with an act of existence. The becoming of the essence into real being is just its becoming existent.

Another way to say this is to agree with the Thomist that ""to be" is not part of our essence", but on the other hand to deny that "to be" is part of the divine essence, because a) the divine essence has no parts, and b) "to be" is not the sort of thing that can be the content of a quidditative ratio. What we would say instead is that the divine essence is such that it can only exist under the modes of infinity and necessity, while every finite essence is such that it can only exist under the modes of finitude and contingency.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013


If there is anything anyone would like to see here, post it in the combox below. I am perfectly content to keep posting mysterious quotes that generate no comments, but I am willing to make concessions to our readers once in a while (the Gonsalvus post was at the behest of "credo"). I received an email from "awatkins69" some time ago about doing a post on Scotus and Molinism, which I will start thinking about. But let me know if there is something else you would like to see.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Gonsalvus Hispanus on the Principle 'Everything that is Moved is Moved by Another'

Gonsalvus Hispanus was the Franciscan regent master while Scotus was lecturing on the Sentences at Paris ca. 1302-4 and who recommended him for promotion. Scotus apparently even shows up in some of Gonsalvus' disputes, which I am currently reading.  Here is the description from the 'Franciscan Authors' website:

Gonsalvus Hispanus de Balboa (ca. 1255, Galicia - 13. 04, 1313, Paris)
Theologian and minister general. Studied theology in Paris and became baccalaureus sententiarum in 1288. Provincial minister of Santiago. Master of theology in Paris, ca. 1297. Regent master in the general studium of Paris (1302-1303). Became minister general in 1304. Active as a reformer of the order: promotion of studies, and suppression of the spirituals. Active in the council of Vienna.

Here I have translated some comments on the principle 'omne quod movetur ab alio movetur' which figures in Aquinas' first proof for the existence of God.

Gonsalvus, QQ disputatae, q. 2-3, ad arg. princ. 5 (BFS IX, 28, 47):

[arg. princ. 5] Again, it also seems unfitting on account of some particular; if we do not know to avoid it, we ought not to deny a principle known per se, of the sort whichs that nothing at once is in  act and in potency with respect to the same.


To the fifth, that it is not a principle that everything that is moved is moved by another, because that is not a principle of which there is a doubt concerning a particular, nor is it manifest to sense. So it is here, because it is certain that heavy things are moved; by what, however, they are moved, whether by themselves or by another, is doubtful, nor is it manifest to sense.
Again, Thomas, in IaIIae denies that principle, saying that the will in act moves itself through the end (per finem) to those things which are for the end.
Again, it is a principle among the philosophers that an accident is not without a subject. If therefore by Scripture it is implied that an accident is without a subject, as in the sacrament of hte altar, will we deny that principle? But will we deny scripture?