Friday, August 27, 2010

A Brief Introduction to the Works of Scotus

This post will be updated from time to time. For a published article on this topic, see Thomas William's introduction to the Cambridge Companion to Scotus.

LECTURA. Scotus's first set of lectures on the Sentences. The date of this work is unclear, the genre is probably that of notes. That is, they may not directly reflect the classroom lectures. Lectura I-II are a discrete work, Lectura III may not actually be part of the same sequence at all and could be a Reportatio.

ORDINATIO. An Ordinatio is the official version of a work prepared by a master for publication (from "ordinare). Scotus' Ordinatio incorporates the Lectura text, and was begun in 1302. It covers books I-IV. The order Scotus lectured was probably I-IV-II-III; and books I and IV contain a great deal of revisions that Scotus indicated be included in the final copy (these are the "extra's"). Scotus never finished this work, so in the strict sense it is not an Ordinatio at all. He was probably working on it at Paris as well as Oxford, which means that the interpolated passages from the Reportatio might be there at Scotus' direction (the Vatican edition normally excises these). This work has been commonly seen as the "summa" of Scotus, that is, where one can get Scotus' standard or normative opinion of things. This may not be the case.

REPORTATIONES. A Reportatio is a student report of a lecture, based on the oral presenation in the classroom. There are several sets of Reporationes associated with Scotus. For example, there is one allegedly from Cambridge, and a set from Paris. These cover all four books, and were probably delivered 1302-1305 (1305 was the year of Scotus' regency, in 1303-4 he was exiled) The "A"set is generally seen as the best of the reports, and it is indeed fairly polished. If one were to read a work of Scotus all the way through, I would recommend this one. Book I was apparently examined and approved for publication by Scotus himself; this is not true of the other books. Their exact doctrinal weight is thus somewhat ambiguous.

COLLATIONES. A set of conferences Scotus held with his students. There is both an Oxford and Parisian set. They are probably from later in his career. The format is a series of pro and con arguments, without any magisterial determination. So one would probably not cite one as evidence of Scotus' opinion's on a subject. Collatio 23, for example, is about analogy. It is the only passage in Scotus' writings where he analyzes arguments from Aquinas (taken from the Summa contra gentiles). But while he does criticize the arguments themsevles, he does not give a final answer to the problem. A few have been critically edited, no critical edition of the whole is even on the table at this point (well, it's listed as part of the Brepols series; but no one is actually going to start work on it for at least thirty years).



QUAESTIONES IN LIBROS METAPHYSICORUM ARISTOTELIS. A question-commentary rather than a literal one, as readers will be familiar with from Aquinas. Only books I-IX are genuine. This work is traditionally seen as early, but parts of book VII postdate the Lectura, and book IX at least has the appearance of a finished treatise. There are also some "extra's" and "additiones" that show that Scotus did spend some time revising the work. It has been edited as vols. 3-4 of the Opera Philosophica series from St. Bonaventure University.

QUAESTIONES DE ANIMA. This covers books II-III of the De anima. It has the appearance of a compendium for students of common franciscan positions with replies to standard objections to the franciscan positions. It is commonly seen as early, and Parisian, but I think the editors are begging the question on this. My co-blogger Michael showed in his dissertation that the editors screwed up a bit on the spiritual matter question, which is dependent on Gonsalvus of Spain's Quodlibet (disputed ca. 1302-4). When I read the work, the final questions on univocity and the object of the intellect seemed to me to be simply abbreviations of the Ordinatio rather than the first breakthrough of a new position (though this might be hard to prove). Further research on this matter is required.

QUAESTIO DE FORMALITATIBUS/LOGICA SCOTI. This is a fragmentary question disputed by Scotus at Paris (all of which info was proven by Dumont; Balic had thought the text to be one of the Collationes) on the subject of certain inferences that could be allowed when the formal distinction is at play. One issue is whether formal distinction can be derived from formal non-identity, which Scotus allows here; he had denied it in the Ordinatio.

TRACTATUS DE PRIMO PRINCIPIO. A treatise proving the existence and essential properties of God; there has been some debate of its relation to the commentaries on the Sentences. It appears that the majority of it is derived from the Ordinatio. Scotus gave the work over to a socius, who did not understand Scotus' directions clearly for there are some errors and irrelevant material thrown in. This treatise was cited early on by Scotists like Petrus Thomae and Antonius Andreae.

THEOREMATA. This treatise is modelled on Euclid and consists of a series of propositions and conclusions on various topics. Noone has described it as an unfinished notebook. There has been some controversy concerning the work, as passages appear to contradict Scotus' genuine writings. But these could also be explained as examples of positing impossible hypotheses in order to study what follows; for example, if univocity is not true, what does natural theology look like. My co-blogger Michael has written on this here.


Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

Of interest:

Brother Charles said...

Thank you.

Asello Guzman said...


Here's a link to the book I mentioned:

and here's the Notre Dame link:

Ocham said...

Do not forget Quaestiones in libros Perihermenias Aristotelis; Quaestiones Super Librum Elenchorum Aristotelis, edited by Robert R. Andrews, O. Bychkov, S. Ebbesen, G. Gál, R. Green, T. Noone, R. Plevano, A. Traver. Theoremata, edited by M. Dreyer, H. Möhle, and G. Krieger, Opera philosophica 2 (St. Bonaventure, N.Y.: Franciscan Institute Press; Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2004).

Jack Zupko and I have translated the Perihermenias questions (it will be the first English translation of this work as far as I know) and if published, our book will include some notes about its provenance. The work is unusual in a number of ways. It is clearly (together with the other logical works that you mention) an early work, almost certainly written in the 1290's. It displays less originality than Scotus' more mature work (many of the arguments are near-literal copies of arguments found in the sophismata literature of the 1230-1270 and later. It has some affinity with the work of Robert Kilwardby. Indeed, several of the questions concern the 'banned propositions' of March 1277 in Oxford. Some of the doctrines, such as the resolution of Aristotle's 'sea battle' problem, conflict with Scotus' later view on the truth of future propositions. And there are apparently two versions of the work - although we don't really know whether these are really separate versions, or whether they are parts of the same work that somehow got separated and redacted at a later date. It is not entirely certain it is genuine (and some have doubted this). My personal view is that it almost certainly is. If it is, then it is a fascinating link between the core topics of thirteenth-century semantics, and the thought of one of the medieval giants.

Anonymous said...


I was wondering if you could offer some direction on where to find a good compendium of Scotist doctrine? Preferably in Latin or French (since I know there isn't anything good in English)?

I am highly desirous of learning as much as I can about Scotism (and possibly leaving Thomism in favor of it), but I can't seem to find anything that presents it as a full system. All I've dug up are a few articles and books dealing with isolated pieces of the Subtle Doctor's thought, mostly intended for academics who already know what they're reading.

Do you have any advice on the matter?

(Incidentally, sorry if this is out of place; I simply didn't see anywhere else to comment.)

Anonymous said...


Not Lee here, but I wanted to mention that I have a work which might fit the bill: Capitalia Opera Beati Joanis Duns Scoti, Le Havre, 1908. It's a compendium of Scotistic doctrine in two volumes, one for philosophy and one for theology, arranged systematically. Unfortunately I can't say how hard it is to find - I stumbled across it by accident years ago.

There's also a Scotistic "Summa" arranged according to the order of St Thomas' Summa and compiled from Scotus' works, but I can't remember who did it off the top of my head.

--Michael Sullivan

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

Try this DL:

and look for the related volumes.

Lee Faber said...


many spurious texts have been attributed to Scotus over the years, which makes me hesitant to recommend any of the neo-scholastic handbooks, as well as the fact that I suspect the material may be watered down in some respects to make it palatable to neo-thomists. I would just start reading the Ordinatio. There's no substitute for the man himself. If you really want a summary, Antonie Vos' recent book on the philosophy of Scotus covers a lot of ground, some of it superficially, but at least he's not going to try to convince you that Scotus held spiritual matter, or didn't really hold univocity.

Ocham said...

I'm not sure about the Vos, personally. What about the Cambridge companion? Normore, King, Noone, edited by Williams.

There is also *Duns Scotus* by C.R.S. Harris, Clarendon Press 1927, which I found quite entertaining, in a good way.

Lee Faber said...

Vos is a bit mad, and I don't buy the emphasis on synchronic contingency, but he covers a lot of ground and doesn't rely on spurious works, as does Harris (I had him in mind with my comment on spiritual matter). Having thought about it some more, I think I would recommend instead Gilson's Jean Duns Scot, which is conflated out of several of his previous articles and which he basically repudiates in the preface because the critical edition came out while Gilson's book was at press showing the importance of Henry, but the parts of the book I have read where very fair.

Ocham said...

Vos has a sugary style that is almost repellent and he embellishes the sparse material that we have on Scotus' life in a way that is not quite justified by the sources. E.g.

"Admiring Paris would soon call him the subtle teacher, but, as a student, he was already subtle, and working hard."
"Finishing one’s theological studies was an exciting affair."
"His family loved Saint Francis so he naturally espoused the optimistic Franciscan ideals and joined the celebrated ranks of the friends of Saint Francis."

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the suggestions, folks.

Michael: I looked for the Le Havre tome, but I didn't have any luck. Must not have been popular enough for many copies to survive. Also, I think the Summa you're refering to is the one compiled by Hieronymus de Montefortino. Unfortunately, I've heard that it tends to distort Scotus' teachings to make them comform to those of Thomas.

Lee: The Vos book seems extremely hard to find, but I'm sure I can track one down. And I'll look into getting Gilson's work. I would read Scotus himself if I could, but right now I'm finding that more than a little difficult. I'd like a way to "ease into him," as it were.

Additionally, would anyone mind giving their opinion on some of the following? -

Claude Frassen's Scotus Academicus (

Cursus Philosophicus: ad Mentem Doctoris Subtilis, by F. Cherubini

Peter of Aquila's Commentary on the Sentences

Summa theologiae Scotisticae, by Sebastian Dupasquier (

Assertiones centum ad mentem doctoris subtilis ac mariani Ioannis Duns Scoti ordinis Fratrum Minorum ex universa theologia selectae, by Kilian Kazenberger (

My apologies if I'm asking too much here. I'm just very excited about Scotism and I really want to know the best place(s) to get information on it. I suppose it's just my reaction to finally discovering that Thomas is not the only Scholastic who got anything right, as I had always been so firmly (and sometimes harshly) taught.

Lee Faber said...


Vos's book is still relatively new and should be available at least from the press. I saw it on amazon for $267. It is certainly not worth that.

Gilson's book is also still in print from J. Vrin.

Richard Cross' book "Duns Scotus on God" is pretty good as well, though it only covers Book I of the sentences. I recently reread the brief section on intelligible being and found it quite accurate and insightful.

As for the other books you mention, I can't say that i am familiar with them. I have read parts of Peter of Aquila, though I find him significantly less interesting than Peter Thomae and Alnwick. I think at this point, all this material has to be considered suspect; one take probably derive benefit from it, of course, but a rather large proportion of material in the wadding ed. is spurious, which all these books are probably using as their basic source. So there really is no substitute for just reading scotus. Modern studies of Scotus are largely in their infancy save for a few pet doctrines.