Duns Scot: the essence of views

Duns Scot: the essence of views
Duns Scot: the essence of views

John Duns Scotus was one of the greatest Franciscan theologians. He founded a doctrine called "Scotism", which is a special form of scholasticism. Duns was a philosopher and logician known as "Doctor Subtilis" - this nickname was awarded to him for his skillful, unobtrusive mixing of different worldviews and philosophical currents in one teaching. Unlike other prominent thinkers of the Middle Ages, including William of Ockham and Thomas Aquinas, Scotus adhered to moderate voluntarism. Many of his ideas had a significant impact on the philosophy and theology of the future, and arguments for the existence of God are being studied by students of religions today.

Duns Scott


No one knows for sure when John Duns Scot was born, but historians are sure that he owes his surname to the town of the same name, Duns, located near the Scottish border with England. Like many compatriots, the philosopher received the nickname "Cattle", meaning "Scot". He was ordained to the priesthood on March 17, 1291. Considering that the local priest ordained a group of other people towards the end of 1290,it can be assumed that Duns Scotus was born in the first quarter of 1266 and became a churchman as soon as he reached the legal age. In his youth, the future philosopher and theologian joined the Franciscans, who sent him to Oxford around 1288. At the beginning of the fourteenth century, the thinker was still at Oxford, since between 1300 and 1301 he took part in the famous theological discussion - as soon as he finished reading the course of lectures on the "Sentences". However, he was not accepted to Oxford as a permanent teacher, as the local rector sent a promising figure to the prestigious University of Paris, where he lectured on the "Sentences" for the second time.

Duns Scotus, whose philosophy has made an invaluable contribution to world culture, could not finish his studies in Paris because of the ongoing confrontation between Pope Boniface VIII and the French King Philip the Just. In June 1301, emissaries of the king interrogated every Franciscan in the French convention, separating royalists from papists. Those who supported the Vatican were asked to leave France within three days. Duns Scotus was a representative of the papists and therefore he was forced to leave the country, but the philosopher returned to Paris in the autumn of 1304, when Boniface died, and the new Pope Benedict XI took his place, who managed to find a common language with the king. It is not known for certain where Duns spent several years of forced exile; historians suggest that he returned to teach at Oxford. For some time the famous figure lived and lectured in Cambridge,however, the time frame for this period cannot be specified.

Scot finished his studies in Paris and received the status of master (head of the college) around the beginning of 1305. Over the next couple of years he held an extensive discussion on scholastic questions. The order then sent him to the Franciscan House of Learning in Cologne, where Duns lectured on scholasticism. In 1308 the philosopher died; November 8 is officially considered the date of his death.

John Duns Scott

Subject of metaphysics

The doctrine of the philosopher and theologian is inseparable from the beliefs and worldviews that dominated during his life. The Middle Ages determines the views that John Duns Scotus propagated. The philosophy that briefly describes his vision of the divine principle, as well as the teachings of the Islamic thinkers Avicenna and Ibn Rushd, is largely based on various provisions of the Aristotelian work Metaphysics. The main concepts in this vein are "being", "God" and "matter". Avicenna and Ibn Rushd, who had an unprecedented impact on the development of Christian scholastic philosophy, have diametrically opposed views in this regard. Thus, Avicenna denies the assumption that God is the subject of metaphysics in view of the fact that no science can prove and affirm the existence of its own subject; at the same time, metaphysics is capable of demonstrating the existence of God. According to Avicenna, this science studies the essence of the being. Man is in a certain way related to God, matter and events, and this relation makes it possiblethe study of the science of being, which would include in its subject matter God and individual substances, as well as matter and action. Ibn Rushd ends up agreeing only partially with Avicenna, confirming that the study of being by metaphysics implies its study of various substances and, in particular, individual substances and God. Considering that physics, and not the nobler science of metaphysics, determines the existence of God, one can not prove the fact that the subject of metaphysics is God. John Duns Scotus, whose philosophy largely follows the path of knowledge of Avicenna, supports the idea that metaphysics studies beings, the highest of which, no doubt, is God; he is the only perfect being on whom all others depend. That is why God occupies the most important place in the system of metaphysics, which also includes the doctrine of transcendentals, reflecting the Aristotelian scheme of categories. Transcendentals are a being, the own qualities of a being ("single", "correct", "correct" - these are transcendental concepts, since they coexist with substance and denote one of the definitions of substance) and everything that is included in relative opposites ("final " and "infinite", "necessary" and "conditional"). However, in the theory of knowledge, Duns Scotus emphasized that any real substance that falls under the term "being" can be considered the subject of the science of metaphysics.

John Duns Scotus philosophy


Medieval philosophers base all their writings onontological classification systems - in particular, the systems described in Aristotle's "Categories" - to demonstrate the key relationships between created beings and provide man with scientific knowledge about them. So, for example, the personalities Socrates and Plato belong to the species of human beings, which, in turn, belong to the genus of animals. Donkeys also belong to the genus of animals, but the difference in the form of the ability to think rationally distinguishes a person from other animals. The genus "animals" together with other groups of the corresponding order (for example, the genus "plants") belongs to the category of substances. These truths are not disputed by anyone. However, the ontological status of the enumerated genera and species remains a debatable issue. Do they exist in extramental reality or are they just concepts generated by the human mind? Do genera and species consist of individual beings, or should they be regarded as independent, relative terms? John Duns Scotus, whose philosophy is based on his personal idea of ​​common natures, pays much attention to these scholastic questions. In particular, he argues that such common natures as "humanity" and "animality" do exist (although their being is "less significant" than that of individuals) and that they are common both in themselves and in reality.

Unique Theory

Duns' contribution to world philosophy

It's hard to accept peremptorily the views thatguided by John Duns Scotus; quotations preserved in primary sources and abstracts demonstrate that certain aspects of reality (for example, genera and species) in his view have less than quantitative unity. Accordingly, the philosopher offers a whole set of arguments in favor of the conclusion that not all real unities are quantitative unities. In his strongest arguments, he stresses that if the opposite were true, then the whole real variety would be a number variety. However, any two quantitatively different things differ from each other equally. The result is that Socrates is as different from Plato as he is different from a geometric figure. In such a case, the human intellect is unable to detect anything in common between Socrates and Plato. It turns out that when applying the universal concept of "human being" to two personalities, a person uses a simple fiction of his own mind. These absurd conclusions demonstrate that quantitative diversity is not the only one, but since it is also the greatest, then there is some less than quantitative diversity and a corresponding less than quantitative unity.

Another argument is that in the absence of intelligence capable of cognitive thinking, the flames of a fire will still produce new flames. The formative fire and the generated flame will have a real unity of form - such a unity that proves that this caseis an example of unambiguous causation. The two types of flame thus have an intellect-dependent common nature with a unity less than quantitative.

The problem of indifference

These problems are carefully studied by late scholasticism. Duns Scotus believed that common natures in themselves are not individuals, independent units, since their own unity is less than quantitative. At the same time, general natures are not universals either. Following Aristotle's assertions, Scotus agrees that the universal defines one out of many and refers to many. As a medieval thinker understands this idea, the universal F must be so indifferent that it can relate to all individual F in such a way that the universal and each of its individual elements are identical. In simple words, the universal F determines each individual F equally well. Scot agrees that in this sense no general nature can be a universal, even if it is characterized by a certain kind of indifference: a general nature cannot have the same properties with another general nature belonging to a separate type of beings and substances. All late scholasticism gradually comes to similar conclusions; Duns Scotus, William of Ockham and other thinkers are trying to subject being to a rational classification.

John Duns Scotus quotes

The role of intelligence

Although Scotus is the first to talk about the difference between universals and common natures, he draws inspiration from Avicenna's famous saying that a horse is justhorse. As Duns understands this statement, general natures are indifferent to individuality or universality. Although they cannot, in fact, exist without individualization or universalization, the common natures themselves are neither one nor the other. Following this logic, Duns Scot characterizes universality and individuality as random features of a common nature, which means that they need to be substantiated. All late scholasticism is distinguished by similar ideas; Duns Scotus, William of Occam and some other philosophers and theologians give a key role to the human mind. It is the intellect that causes the general nature to be a universal, forcing it to belong to such a classification, and it turns out that quantitatively one concept can become a statement that characterizes many individuals.

The Existence of God

Although God is not the subject of metaphysics, he is nevertheless the goal of this science; metaphysics seeks to prove its existence and supernatural nature. Scott offers several versions of evidence for the existence of a higher mind; all these works are similar in terms of the nature of the narrative, structure and strategy. Duns Scotus created the most complex justification for the existence of God in all of scholastic philosophy. Its arguments unfold in four steps:

  • There is a first cause, a superior being, a first result.
  • Only one nature is first in all these three cases.
  • The first nature in any of the above cases is infinite.
  • There is only one infinitecreature.

To justify the first claim, he makes a non-modal root cause argument:

Creating a creature X


  • X was created by some other entity Y.
  • Either Y is the original cause, or some third being created it.
  • The series of created creators cannot continue indefinitely.

So the series ends at the root cause - an uncreated being that is capable of producing regardless of other factors.

In terms of modality

Duns Scotus, whose biography consists only of periods of apprenticeship and teaching, in these arguments in no way deviates from the main principles of the scholastic philosophy of the Middle Ages. He also offers a modal version of his argument:

  • It is possible that there is an absolutely first powerful causal force.
  • If A cannot be descended from another being, then if A exists, it is independent.
  • The absolute first powerful causal force cannot come from another being.
  • So absolutely the first powerful causal force is independent.

If the absolute root cause does not exist, then there is no real possibility of its existence. After all, if it is truly the first, it is impossible that it should depend on any other cause. Since there is a real possibility of its existence, it means that it exists by itself.

Late Scholasticism Duns Scotus William of Ockham


The contribution of Duns Scotus to world philosophy is invaluable. As soon as the scientist begins to indicate in his writings that the subject of metaphysics is the being as such, he continues the thought, arguing that the concept of being must unambiguously refer to everything that is studied by metaphysics. If this statement is true only in relation to a certain group of objects, the subject lacks the unity necessary for the possibility of studying this subject by a separate science. According to Duns, analogy is just a form of equivalence. If the concept of being determines the diverse objects of metaphysics only by analogy, science cannot be considered as one.

Duns Scot offers two conditions for recognizing the phenomenon as unambiguous:

  • confirmation and denial of the same fact in relation to a single subject form a contradiction;
  • the concept of this phenomenon can serve as a middle term for a syllogism.

For example, without contradiction, it can be said that Karen was present on the jurors of her own free will (because she would rather go to court than pay a fine) and at the same time against her own will (because she felt coercion on an emotional level). In this case, there is no contradiction, since the concept of "one's own will" is equivalent. Conversely, the syllogism "Inanimate objects cannot think. Some scanners think for a very long time before producing a result. Thus, some scanners are animate objects" leads to an absurd conclusion, since the concept"think" is used in it equally. Moreover, in the traditional sense of the word, the term is used only in the first sentence; in the second phrase it has a figurative meaning.


The concept of the absolute power of God is the beginning of positivism, penetrating into all aspects of culture. John Duns Scotus believed that theology should explain controversial issues in religious texts; he explored new approaches to Bible study based on the primacy of divine will. An example is the idea of ​​meritoriousness: the moral and ethical principles and actions of a person are considered as worthy or unworthy of reward from God. Scott's ideas served as the basis for the new doctrine of predestination.

The philosopher is often associated with the principles of voluntarism - the tendency to emphasize the importance of divine will and human freedom in all theoretical matters.

The Immaculate Conception Doctrine

In terms of theology, Duns' most significant achievement is considered to be his defense of the Virgin Mary's Immaculate Conception. In the Middle Ages, numerous theological disputes were devoted to this topic. According to the general opinion, Mary could have been a virgin at the conception of Christ, but scholars of biblical texts did not understand how to solve the following problem: it was only after the death of the Savior that the stigma of original sin came off her.

late scholasticism Duns Scotus

Great philosophers and theologians of Western countries divided into several groups, discussing this issue. Even Thomas Aquinas is believed to have denied the legitimacy of the doctrine, although some Thomists do notwilling to accept this assertion. Duns Scotus, in turn, made the following argument: Mary needed redemption, like all people, but through the goodness of the crucifixion of Christ, taken into account before the relevant events occurred, the stigma of original sin disappeared from her.

This argument is given in the papal declaration of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. Pope John XXIII recommended reading the theology of Duns Scotus to modern students.

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