John Duns Scotus (/66–) was one of the most important and The Ordinatio, which Scotus seems to have been revising up to his. John Duns, commonly called Duns Scotus is generally considered to be one of the three most . The standard version is the Ordinatio (also known as the Opus oxoniense), a revised version of lectures he gave as a bachelor at Oxford. Marenbon, J. (). Duns Scotus, Ordinatio, Prologue, part 1, qu. unica. [Other].

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This essay first lays out what is known about Scotus’s sctous and the dating of his works. It then offers an overview of some of his key positions in four main areas of philosophy: His family name was Duns, which was also the name of the Scouts village in which he was sxotus, just a few miles from the English border.

We do not know the precise date of his birth, but we do know that Scotus was ordained to the priesthood in the Order duhs Friars Minor—the Franciscans—at Saint Andrew’s Priory in Northampton, England, on 17 March The minimum age for ordination was twenty-five, so we can conclude that Scotus was born before 17 March But how much before?

The conjecture, plausible but by no means certain, is that Scotus would have been ordained as early as canonically permitted. Since the Bishop of Lincoln the diocese that included Oxford, where Scotus was studying, as well as St Andrew’s Priory had ordained priests in Wycombe on 23 Decemberwe can place Scotus’s birth between 23 December and 17 March ordiatio Scotus studied philosophy and then theology at Oxford beginning some time in the s. In the academic year —99 he commented on the first two books of the Sentences of Peter Lombard.

After Boniface died in October the king allowed the exiled students and masters to return, so Scotus could have returned in the late fall of to resume his lectures on the Sentences. Scotus became Doctor of Theology in and was Franciscan regent master at Paris in — He was transferred to the Franciscan studium at Cologne, probably beginning his duties as lector in October He died there in ; the date of his death is traditionally given as 8 November.

It is generally agreed that Scotus’s earliest works were his commentaries on the Old Logic: These probably date to around ; the Quaestiones super De anima is also very likely an early work the editors date it to the late s or early s.

Xcotus other Aristotelian commentary, the Quaestiones super libros Metaphysicorum Aristotelisseems to have been started early; but Books VI through IX are all late or were at least revised later in Scotus’s career.

Scotus also wrote an Expositio on Aristotle’s Metaphysics. It had been unidentified for centuries but was recently identified and edited by Giorgio Pini. Things really get complicated when we come to Scotus’s commentaries on the four books of Sentences of Peter Lombard, since he commented on the Sentences more than once and revised his lectures over a long period; the relations among the various versions that have come down to us are not always clear.

There is an Ordinatio i. The Ordinatiowhich Scotus seems to have been revising up to his death, is generally taken to be Scotus’s premier work; the critical edition was at last completed in Finally, Scotus lectured on the Sentences at Paris, and there are various Reportationes of these lectures. A critical edition is in progress; at present we have a transcription of a reasonably reliable manuscript of Book I.

Although the Paris lectures themselves were later than the Oxford lectures, it seems probable that parts of the Ordinatio —Book IV and perhaps also Book III—are later than the corresponding parts of the Reportatio. In addition to these works, we have 46 short disputations called Collationes dating from —, a late work in natural theology called De primo principioand Quaestiones Quodlibetales from Scotus’s days as regent master either Advent or Lent Finally, there is a work called Theoremata.

Though doubts have been raised about its authenticity, the recent critical edition accepts it as a genuine work of Scotus.


John Duns Scotus

Natural theology is, roughly, the effort to establish the existence and nature of God by arguments that in no way depend on the contents of a purported revelation. But is it even possible for human beings to come to know God apart from revelation?

Scotus certainly thinks so. Like any good Aristotelian, he thinks all our knowledge begins in some way with our experience of sensible things.

But he is confident duhs even from such humble beginnings we can come to grasp God.

Scotus agrees duuns Thomas Aquinas that all our knowledge of God starts from creatures, and that as a result we can only prove the existence and nature of God by what the medievals call an argument quia reasoning from effect to causenot by an argument propter quid reasoning from essence to characteristic.

Aquinas and Scotus further agree that, for that same reason, we cannot know the essence of God in this life. The main difference between the two authors is that Scotus believes we can apply certain predicates univocally—with exactly the same meaning—to God and creatures, whereas Aquinas insists that this is impossible, and that we can only use analogical predication, in which a word as applied to God has a meaning different from, although related odinatio, the meaning of that same word as applied to creatures.

See medieval theories of analogy for details. Scotus has a number of arguments for univocal predication and against the doctrine of analogy Ordinatio 1, d. One of the most compelling uses Aquinas’s own view against him. Aquinas had said that all our concepts come from creatures.

Scotus says, very well, where will that analogous concept come from? It ordonatio come from anywhere. If all our concepts come from creatures and Ordinario doesn’t deny thisthen the concepts we apply to God will also come from creatures. They won’t just be like the concepts that come from creatures, as in analogous predication; they will have to be the very same concepts that come from creatures, as in univocal predication.

Those are the only concepts we can have—the only concepts we can possibly get. So if we can’t use the concepts we get from creatures, we can’t use any concepts at all, and so we can’t talk about God—which is false.

Another argument for univocal predication is based on an argument from Anselm. Consider all predicates, Anselm says. Now get rid of the ones that are merely relatives, since no relative expresses the nature of a thing as it is in itself. Now take the predicates orcinatio are left. Let F be our predicate-variable. For any Feither. A predicate will fall into the second category if and only if it implies some sort of limitation or deficiency.

Anselm’s argument is that we can indeed must predicate of God every predicate that falls into the first category, and that we cannot predicate of God any predicate that falls into the second except metaphorically, perhaps. Scotus agrees with Anselm on this point as did Aquinas: Scotus has his own terminology for whatever it is in every respect better to be than not to be.

A pure perfection is any predicate that does not imply limitation. So Scotus claims that pure perfections can be predicated of God. But he takes this a step further than Anselm.

He says that they have to be predicated univocally of God; otherwise the whole business of pure perfections won’t make any sense. If we are going to use Anselm’s test, we must first come up with our concept—say, of good. Then we check out the concept to see whether it is in every respect better to be good than not-good. That test obviously won’t work unless dujs the same concept that we’re applying in both cases.

One can see this more clearly by considering the two possible ways in which one might deny that the same concept is applied to both God and creatures.

John Duns Scotus

One might say that the concept of the pure perfection applies only to creatures, and the concept we apply to God has to be something different; or one might try it the other way around and say that the concept of the pure perfection applies only to God, and the concept we apply to creatures has to be something different. Take the first possibility. If we come up with the idea of a pure perfection from creatures and don’t apply the same concept to God, we’re saying that we can come up with something that is in every respect better to be than not to be, but it doesn’t apply to God.


Such a view would destroy the idea that God is the greatest and most perfect being. So then one might try the second possibility: Scotus points out that that can’t be right either.

For then the perfection we apply to creatures won’t be the pure perfection any more, and so the creature wouldn’t be better off for having this pseudo-perfection.

But the whole way in which we came up with the idea of the pure perfection in the first place was by considering perfections in creatures—in other words, by considering what features made creatures better in every respect.

So this possibility gets the test backwards: Not only can we come up with concepts that apply univocally to God and creatures, we can even come up with a proper distinctive concept of God. Now in one sense we can’t have a proper concept of God in this life, since we can’t know his essence as a particular thing. We know God in the way that we know, say, a person we have heard about but have never met.

That is, we know him through general concepts that can apply both to him and to other things. In another sense, though, we can have a proper concept of God, that is, one that applies only to God. If we take any of the pure perfections to the highest degree, they will be predicable of God rodinatio.

Better yet, we can describe God more completely by taking all the pure perfections in the highest degree and attributing them all to him. But ordinatjo are all composite concepts; they all scoths putting two quite different notions together: I will return to the crucial role of the concept of infinite being in Scotus’s natural theology after I examine his proof of the existence of God.

Scotus’s argument for the existence of God is rightly regarded as one of the most outstanding contributions ever made to natural theology. The argument is enormously complex, with several sub-arguments for almost every important conclusion, and I can only sketch it here. Different versions sotus the proof are given at Lectura 1, d.

Scotus begins by arguing that oridnatio is a first agent a being that is first in efficient causality. Consider first the distinction between essentially ordered causes and accidentally ordered causes.

In an accidentally ordered series, the fact that a given member of that series is itself caused is accidental to that member’s own causal activity. B’s generating C in no way depends on A—A could be long dead by the time B starts having children. The fact that B was caused by A is irrelevant to B’s own causal activity. That’s how an accidentally ordered series of causes works. In an essentially ordered series, by contrast, the causal activity of later members of ordinahio series depends essentially on the causal activity of earlier members.

For example, my shoulders move my arms, which in turn move orcinatio golf club. My arms are capable of moving the golf club only because they are being moved by suns shoulders.

With that distinction in mind, we can examine Scotus’s argument for the existence of a first efficient cause:. Scotus next proves that the three primacies are coextensive: Scotus then argues that a being enjoying the triple primacy is endowed with intellect scots will, and that any such being is infinite. Finally, he argues that there can be only one such being. In laying out Scotus’s proof of the existence of God, I passed rather quickly over the claim that God is infinite.

Last modified: June 20, 2020