Thursday, January 7, 2021

Was Scotus Irish?

Recently I was sent a discussion about the national origins of Duns Scotus. It is here. There was a big controversy about this among the 17th century Scotists. Many of the Irish Scotists claimed him as their own. They did not, however, assign a town where he was born.

The author of the piece linked to above rejects the current scholarly view that Scotus was Scotish. The problem is, the Irish thesis is based purely on hearsay. There is no positive evidence in the form of a medieval document.

What about the Scottish claim? The author claims that "Scotus" could mean someone from Ireland or Scotland, that we don't know when it changed to mean only someone from Scotland. Think of the other "Scotus", Eriugena, who unquestionably was Irish. According to the author, people in the thirteenth century could be described as being either 'hibernicus' or 'scotus' depending on their racial origins as native Irish or Norman invaders.

But whether or not such a distinction is true or not, it isn't relevant to the question of Scotus' origins. For we have a contemporary document that contains enough evidence to show Scotus' Scottish ancestry. This is the adhesion list of 1303. In the dispute between the pope and the king of France, the king sent officials to the various religious houses at the university and had them affix their names to a list accepting the king's claims or denying them. Scotus is on the list denying. The most recent edition of this list is in Courtenay.

“Early Scotists at Paris: A Reconsideration,” Franciscan Studies 69 (2011), 175-229

This list describes people from England as 'de anglia,' those from Ireland as 'de hymbernia', leaving 'Scotus' to be Scottish. What is more, the list organizes people by regions: thus, on the page on which Scotus appears, we have scholars from the Iberian peninsula, followed by Scotus, the English, the Irish, and then the beginning of the Germans.

I quote the list from Courtenay , p. 226:

fr. Poncius de Catelonia

fr. Gondissalvus magister

fr. Martinus ejus socius

fr. Petrus de Villa franca

fr. Franciscus de Colimbria [Coimbra]

fr. Femandus

fr. Johannes scotus

fr. Thomas eius socius

fr. Johannes65. Johannes de Anglia

fr. Johannes Crombe

fr. Thomas anglicus

fr. Ricardus yberniensis

fr. Odo yberniensis 67. Odo de Ymbernia

fr. Dyonisius yberniensis 68. Dyonisius de Ymbernia

fr. Thomas Coloniensis

fr. Henricus saxoniensis

fr. Johannes saxoniensis

fr. Bemardus saxoniensis

fr. Eglosus almannus

fr. Henricus almannus

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Mayronis on the Analogy of Being

 Just in time for Christmas I have uploaded a fresh collation of Mayronis' Conflatus q. 12, the question on analogy, to the Digital Conflatus. There is some interesting annotation identifying the opinions of the Scotists, Thomists, Artists, and Aureolists, though the content of the question is not terribly exciting. Mayronis rejects analogy at least for the purposes of philosophy and theology (whether he accepts 'real' analogy remains to be seen). The basic reason is how he classifies analogy, which he does by placing it under equivocity, like Boethius and most of the Latin tradition.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Latin Help from Robert Pasnau

 Bob Pasnau reviews a book aimed at helping people move from reading classical Latin to Medieval Latin, and adds some helpful discussion of his own, here.

New Book on the Analogia entis

 Several Italian scholars have put together an anthology of texts, available for free here. It has the original language plus Italian translations and introductions to the texts. but they are all important, from Aristotle, the Greek commentators on Aristotle, Avicenna and Averroes, Aquinas, Scotus, Eckhart and Cajetan. The volum jumpts from Eckhart to Cajetan, omitting the author who wrote the most about analogy, in the middle ages, at least, Petrus Thomae. An odd omission, since there was a section in the companion volume on Peter Thomae by Porro. Also, Alexander of Alexandria has a fair bit on analogy in his commentary on the Metaphysics. But enjoy what we have.

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

New Scotus essay

 Scotus seems to be in danger of becoming more mainstream. I came across the announcement of a forthcoming article in the American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly today, abstract is below.

Yul Kim
Why Does the Wood Not Ignite Itself? Duns Scotus’s Defense of the Will’s Self-Motion
The goal of this paper is to analyze the response of John Duns Scotus to Godfrey of Fontaines’s argument against Henry of Ghent’s theory of the will’s self-motion. Godfrey’s argument is that, if the object is assumed to be causa sine qua non and the efficient causality is totally attributed to the will in the act of volition, it would also follow that not only the will’s motion but every motion in nature, such as, for example, the igniting of wood, is a self-motion. In this paper, I will explain that Scotus’s refutation of this argument in Reportatio II, d. 25 is based on his reflection upon the general possibility of self-motion as well as upon the indeterminacy of the will’s act. In doing so, I will show that the development of Scotus’s theory of the will’s motion is closely related to his universalized theory of self-motion.

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Feast of Scotus 2020

 Happy feast dear readers!

Here is a link to a terrible song about Scotus for your entertainment. well, they tried at least. 

Here's an old poem that appears in some mss of Scotus' works:

Scotia plange, quia periit tua gloria cara,

Funde precem, confunde necem, tibi cum sit amara.

Troia luit florem de viribus Hectora visum (!).

Sic luo Doctorem iuvenili flore recisum.

Caelum, terra, mare nequeunt similem reparare.

Si quaeras, quare, - probat hae editio clare.

Quam fera, quam nequam sit mors, tribuens tibi legem

Cum reliquis  aequam, rapiens ex ordine regem.

Lux, lex doctorum rex, iudex philosophorum,

Ut documentorum demonstrant dicta suorum.

Fletibus immensis urbs plorat Parisiensis,

Nuda suo flore, solo spoliata decore.

Ergo, legens, plora, quia non huic subfuit hora,

Sed ruit absque mora: pro quo, studens, precora, ora.

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Alexander Lugo's Metaphysical Controversies

While perusing various Scotus-related google search results, I came across an interesting volume. The Latin title is Controversiae metaphysicalium inter Scotistas in quibus potiores difficultates examinantur atque germana mens Scoti aperitur. a single volume printed at Bologna in 1653. Here is a link to the volume.

The author is Alexnder de Lugo, regarding whom I have copied the following from the Franciscan Authors website:

Alexander Rubeus/Rossus (Alessandro Rossi da Lugo, 1607-1686)

OFMConv. Spanish friar. Born on 14 November 1606 as the son of Alessandro Rossi da Lugo and Isabella Mengacci da Bagnacavallo. He joined the order in 1624, finishing his noviciate in Cesena. Afterwards, he received his philosophical, religious and theological education in Parma, Cesena (under Mastrius and Belluto), and in Bologna (under the regent master Paolo Antonio Losi da Carpi and Guglielmo Plati da Montaino). After completing his studies, he was regent in Piacenza, Baccalareus in the Assisi friary, regent in Urbino and later in regent in Assisi and Bologna (together with Lorenzo Brancati da Lauria). Subsequently active as order secretary. Later in life, he was again regent master of Bologna and 20 years lector of the Franciscan seminary of Lugo and guardian of the Lugo friary. In 1680, he became order procurator and in 1683 provincial minister of the Bologna province. He died on 2 November 1686. Alessandro Rossi was a propagator of Scotist thought

 The controversiae concern the classic debates in Scotist thought:

Controversia 1: an conceptui formali entis correspondeat propria realitas

Controverisa 2: An conceptus entis dicatur de ultimis differentiis modis et passionibus et quomodo

Controversia 3: An ens dicatur univoce de ente reali et rationis

Controversia 4: An ens rationis possit fieri ab intellectu divino

Controversia 5: An voluntas possit facere ens rationis formale

Controverisa 6: An ens habeat passiones de ipso demonstrabiles et quomodo

Controverisa 7: An dentur formalitates seu realitates passiones et naturae communes ex natura rei distinctae a rebus quarum sunt formalitates passiones et naturae

Controversia 8: Quam unitatem conservet natura communis in suis individuis

Controversia 9: An natura communis ut prior haecceitate possit intuitive cognosci

Controversia 10: An si natura per impossibile esset sine existentia et singularitate esset etiam sine duratione

Controversia 11: An substantia suscipiat magis et minus

Controversia 12: An generatio fiat in instanti vel potius in tempore

Controversia 13: An potentia receptiva formarum ex natura rei distinguatur a substentificativa earundem

Controversia 14: An totum integrale distinguatur relaiter a suis partibus

Controversia 15: An actus sit causa partialis habitus an solum causetur ab ipsa potentia

Controversia 16: An natura dicatur de principio passivo tantum

Controversia 17: An cessante actuali dependentia effectus creati ad propriam causam restet in ipso alia relatio qua actualiter referatur ad causam

Some of the names whose opinions are discussed in the text are: Scotus, Lichetus, Bargius, Henry (of Ghent), Mastrius, Thomistas, Scotistae, Pontius, Nolanus, Vulpes, Canonicus (=Marbres), Bassiolus, Mayronis, Aureolus, Pater Franciscus Pontelongus de Faventia, Rada, Bonetus, Ockham, Soncinas, Augustine, Aristotle, Tataretus, Faber, Cajetan, Molina

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Reading Proclus open-access

 Two volumes of a projected three on Proclus edited by Dragos Calma (Dublin) are now available:

Reading Proclus and the Book of Causes: vol. 1, vol. 2.

Here is the description from the publisher's website:

Reading Proclus and the Book of Causes, published in three volumes, is a fresh, comprehensive understanding of the history of Neoplatonism from the 9th to the 16th century. The impact of the Elements of Theology and the Book of Causes is reconsidered on the basis of newly discovered manuscripts and evidences. This second volume revises widely accepted hypotheses about the reception of the Proclus’ text in Byzantium and the Caucasus, and about the context that made possible the composition of the Book of Causes and its translations into Latin and Hebrew. The contributions offer a unique, comparative perspective on the various ways a pagan author was acculturated to the Abrahamic traditions.

Friday, October 16, 2020

Conference on Scotus' Quodlibet

 It's a Zoom conference, so anyone from any continent can attend!

Tuesday, September 22, 2020


 Just a cheap trick to drive up the clicks. But Duns Scotus does make an appearance in the current issue of Faith and Philosophy. Here is the abstract:

Accounting for the Whole - Why Pantheism is on a Metaphysical Par with Complex Theism
Pantheists are often accused of lacking a sufficient account of the unity of the cosmos and its supposed priority over its many parts. I argue that complex the­ists, those who think that God has ontologically distinct parts or attributes, face the same problems. Current proposals for the metaphysics of complex theism do not offer any greater unity or ontological independence than pantheism, since they are modeled on priority monism. I then discuss whether the for­mal distinction of John Duns Scotus offers a way forward for complex theists. I show that only those classical theists who affirm divine simplicity are better off with respect to aseity and unity than pantheists. Only proponents of divine simplicity can fairly claim to have found a fully independent ultimate being

Friday, September 18, 2020

Update on the Ordinatio translation

 Dear all, I received a note from Peter Simpson, the indefatigable translator of the Ordinatio. He informed me that his translation of Ordinatio IV is now complete, and he is moving to I d. 3, just to fill in the gaps. A monumental accomplishment, a translation of the entire Ordinatio into English. All interested in Scotus owe Simpson our thanks. I trust many libations will now be poured out in his honor. Someone should send him a bottle of that Duns Scotus scotch.

Digital Conflatus

 Here. Don't laugh. Volunteers welcome.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Norris Clarke on Univocity

 W. Norris Clarke was a Jesuit philosopher who taught at Fordam, dying in 2008. His books are still used as textbooks, so I thought it useful to comment on his characterization of Scotistic univocity. The following text is from his book The One and the Many, p. 45. For some discussion of Clarke's views, see this.

The Analogy of Being vs. the Univocity of Being. Some metaphysicians in St. Thomas’s own time, e.g., Duns Scotus (d. 1308), and William of Ockham (d. 1347), with their followers to this day, defended the univocity of the concept of being against Thomas. Both were leaders in the strong development of logic at the end of the Middle Ages (anticipating many of the developments of modern symbolic logic), and logicians tend to be uncomfortable with flexible ideas, “systematically vague concepts” like the Thomistic analogy of proper proportionality, especially as applied to being in God and creatures. And since their metaphysics were “essentialist,” i.e., focussed on being as essence (not including the act of existence as part of its content), it was hard for them to see how the concept of being could be applied to different essences without breaking up into several distinct concepts ceasing to have the same meaning at all, hence useless as a valid term in any syllogism or other logical argument, where all the terms must remain strictly fixed in the same meaning. Therefore, to retain any unity at all, being always had to be a univocal concept, even applied to God and creatures with their immense diversity as finite and infinite. But they had to pay a heavy price for this apparent logical clarity: they had to make the concept of being so extremely abstract as to empty it of practically all content and make it merely an empty linguistic marker standing for both God and creatures but, as Ockham explicitly admitted, expressing nothing common at all between God and creatures! The result was to render God considerably more remote and inaccessible to human reason than St. Thomas’s God, with important repercussions for the philosophy, theology, and finally spirituality of the late Middle Ages.


1.The first thing to note here is that Clarke reads Scotus and Ockham (though he does not distinguish between them) though the lens of Thomism, specifically the real distinction of essence and existence. Hence the label "essentialist", inherited from Gilson. The claim here is that Scotus and Ockham ignore existence and are talking about being as a purely non-existential essence. Wolter, way back in his transcendentals book, commented on this claim of Gilson to the effect that it was an ingenious account of what Scotus would have said if he were a Thomist. But of course, Scotus is not a Thomist. Scotus denies the real distinction of essence and existence.

2. Clarke does grasp that part of the concern of univocity is to have valid syllogisms. He, Clarke, seems to think that being does not have a distinct concept, however, given that he thinks Scotus was also motivated by discomfort with vague ideas. This is a matter of debate among Thomists themselves, historically and today. Some agree with Scotus that there is a distinct concept of being that includes nothing else, some, like Clarke, think you can't separate the concept of being from the concept of God or of something in the categories. One then has to "stretch" created being to get a notion of the divine. Scotus, as we know, did think being had a distinct concept. 

3. The heavy price of univocity. Here I think Clarke's explanation goes awry. He claims that Scotus and Ockham make the concept of being abstract and empty, just a linguistic marker, but also that it stands for God and creatures. Of course, the concept of being, as such, does not stand for God and creatures. As it is included in the concept of God and the concept of a creature it is univocal, but of itself the concept of being is neither the concept of God nor the concept of a creature.  Clarke does not give a reference to the remark of Ockham's that he claims is explicit, to wit, that there is nothing common to God and creatures. This seems to clinch matters for Clarke, we arrive at basically a contradiction, being is univocal, but there is nothing common (which equals univocal, anyway). This appears to be a garbled awareness on the part of Clarke to the problem of the reality of the concept of being. This is the problem that the concept of being, qua abstract and univocal, signifies no corresponding reality outside the mind. This runs against the common notion from the Aristotelian commentary tradition that concepts map directly onto things. Normally, Scotus would agree; but to get to concepts of the transcendentals, you have to abstract from the concept you have derived from the actually existing thing. That abstraction does not correspond to the reality outside the soul. And note, this is a different sense of the word 'abstraction' than you get in Aquinas or even when you are talking about the three acts of the Aristotelian intellect. There is abstraction from the phantasm, that gets you the concept of a nature, say catness. To get being, you abstract from this nature, present in the intellect as an intelligible species, by stripping off the modes of finitude and so on. So in the end, considering God and creatures as they exist outside the soul, there is nothing in common. But one can abstract from the concept of a creature to the concept of being, which can also be applied to God.

4.  The alleged result is to make God more remote and unknowable. But since we have now seen that Scotus does not hold that the concept of being is both pure and contains the concept of God and creatures, the result doesn't follow either. Scotus himself, interestingly, defends the univocity of being not in metaphysics, but in the context of describing the natural knowledge of God. Not only being is univocal, but all the transcendentals, general divine attributes, are as well. So a lot more is known, both by an intellect trying to have a general cognition of the divine nature, as well as scientifically by means of forming valid demonstrations. Indeed, it has always seemed to me that Scotus is the affirmative theologian par excellence, who ought rather than Aquinas to be paired with Dante. But that can wait for another day.

5. Repurcussions. The alleged effect of rendering God more remote has repurcussions many later areas of life. The usual Thomist claim from the 20th century, disagreement with our man leads to societal decay. I've always been rather struck that the ones who trumpet this the loudest, the RO crowd, are by practice theologians who supposedly believe in sin, or at least weakness of will. sin seems to me to be a far better explanation than that of univocity for the apparently inevitable march from Scotus to whatever modern thing you don't like. If I were to have lived during the reformation period and watched christians killing each other over the proper definition of the eucharist I would probably try to set up a non christian secular state of skepticism as well. To be fair to Clarke, this is not the focus of the discussion, just a throwaway line at the end.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

The Realm of Shadows

I have been working through Hegel's science of logic of late, and in the process I came across a nice enigmatic quote I thought I would share.

"The system of logic is the realm of shadows, the world of simple essentilialities, freed of all sensuous concretion. To study this science, to dwell and to labor in this realm of shadows, is the absolute culture and discipline of consciousness. Its task is one which is remote from the intuititions and the goals of the senses, remote from feelings and from the world of merely fancied representation."

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Scotus Quodlibet Translation

For a limited time, Allan Wolter's translation is available for free from Project Muse!