John Duns Scotus

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Duns Scotus, John

(dŭnz skō`təs) [Lat. Scotus=Irishman or Scot], c.1266–1308, scholastic philosopher and theologian, called the Subtle Doctor. A native of Scotland, he became a Franciscan and taught at Oxford, Paris, and Cologne. The exact canon of Duns Scotus' work is unknown; the best known of his undoubtedly authentic works are On the First Principle and two commentaries on the Sentences of Peter Lombard. He put Aristotelian thought to the service of Christian theology and was the founder of a school of scholasticismscholasticism
, philosophy and theology of Western Christendom in the Middle Ages. Virtually all medieval philosophers of any significance were theologians, and their philosophy is generally embodied in their theological writings.
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 called Scotism, which was often opposed to the Thomism of the followers of St. Thomas AquinasThomas Aquinas, Saint
[Lat.,=from Aquino], 1225–74, Italian philosopher and theologian, Doctor of the Church, known as the Angelic Doctor, b. Rocca Secca (near Naples).
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. Scotism has had considerable influence on Roman Catholic thought and has been to some degree sponsored by the Franciscans.

In metaphysics, Duns taught the "univocity of being"; by this he meant that being must be regarded as the ultimate abstraction that can be applied to everything that exists. He is also known for the use of the "formal distinction," a subtle manner of distinguishing between different aspects of the same thing. The Scotists deny that matter is the principle of individuality and insist that individuation of things is caused by a determination called "haecceitas" or "thisness." According to Scotus, the essence of things as well as their existence depends not on the Divine Intellect but on the Divine Will; his philosophy accordingly is voluntaristic in its entire spirit. It is possible to prove the existence of God, but the ontological proof of St. AnselmAnselm, Saint
, 1033?–1109, prelate in Normandy and England, archbishop of Canterbury, Doctor of the Church (1720), b. Aosta, Piedmont. After a carefree youth of travel and schooling in Burgundy he became a disciple and companion of Lanfranc, the famed theologian and prior
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 is modified: the idea of God's possible existence involves his necessary existence, but knowledge of that possible existence must be demonstrated from sensible things, i.e., from experience. Scotus taught that the state arose from common consent of the people in a kind of social contract. He also denied that property was ordained by natural law.

Duns Scotus, John


Born 1266 in Maxton, Scotland; died Nov. 8, 1308, in Cologne. Medieval Scholastic philosopher, Franciscan monk.

Duns Scotus studied at Oxford and in Paris and subsequently taught at universities in Oxford, Paris, Cologne, and other cities. He was the leading representative of Franciscan Scholasticism. His doctrines stand in opposition to Dominican Scholasticism, which was given its most complete expression by Thomas Aquinas. Criticizing Aquinas, he emphasized will, not intellect; not intellectual contemplation of god but union with him through an act of will. For Duns Scotus theology was above all the practical wisdom needed to heal the soul. He considered the elaboration of a complete philosophical-theological system, particularly a rationally developed ethical system, both impossible and unnecessary: human action is judged according to whether or not it corresponds to god’s will; what does not conform to god’s will and what is not based on love is a sin. His ontology is characterized by the shift of stress from abstract-universal being to individual being as most perfect. Duns Scotus introduced a special concept that describes a single given this thing (haec ceitas), rather than a class of objects.

Duns Scotus’ teachings reflected the deep crisis in the world view of medieval culture. Not a self-contained philosophy, his teachings opened wide possibilities for creativity, not so much along intellectual as along mystical lines. William of Ockham and the Ockhamites, to a certain extent, were influenced by his ideas.


In Russian translation:
In Antologiia mirovoi filosofii, vol. 1, part 2. Moscow, 1969. Pages 87790.


Istoriia filosofii, vol. 1. Moscow, 1940. Pages 474—76.
Stoeckl, A. Istoriia srednevekovoi filosofii.Moscow, 1912. Chapter 6. (Translated from German.)
Harris, C. R. S. Duns Scotus, vols. 1–2. London-Oxford, 1927.
Gilson, E. Jean Duns Scot. Paris, 1952.
Copleston, F. C. History of Philosophy, vol. 2. Oxford, 1965.