Saturday, August 20, 2022

Alistair McGrath on Natural Theology

 The contemporary theologian Alistair McGrath has written an entry on natural theology for the new resource "St. Andrews Encyclopedia of Theology," which will attempt to do for theology what the Stanford encyclopedia has done for philosophy.

I have written on the topic as well recently (see the first blog entry of the year), so I have a few points of criticism.

One is that McGrath makes no mention of Christian Wolff, who wrote a natural theology that was quite influential on the continent. Indeed, McGrath is focused on the English understanding of natural theology as closely allied with natural philosophy and the physical sciences.

This means that McGrath makes no mention at all of Nicolas Bonetus, the first person to write a Theologia naturalis and assign it a place among the system of sciences inherited from Aristotle. But perhaps, since this the encylopedia is electronic, the author will update it later. 

More of an oddity than anything else, McGrath treats the natural theology of Raymond Sebonde under the heading of 'Renaissance and Reformation', though he notes that it is from the late fiftheenth century, surely part of the medieval era. And again, Sebonde was writing a hundered years after Bonetus.

We come to Duns Scotus. McGrath devotes only a paragraph to Scotus, and, given that the English discussion of natural theology and natural philosophy is predominate, the only doctrine of Scotus that is singled out is the notion of Haecceity.

A further development of importance to natural theology was due to the Franciscan theologian Duns Scotus and his successors. The concept of haeccitas (‘this-ness’) emerged during the fourteenth century as a means of capturing and preserving the distinct identity of any particular aspect of the natural order. Although this concept was important for the philosophy of religion, it was adopted in the nineteenth century by the Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, who used it as the basis of a heightened attentiveness to the individual aspects of nature (Boggs 1997), which is particularly evident in his 1877 poem ‘As Kingfishers Catch Fire’.

So no mention of univocity of being, or Scotus' proof for the existence of God, or the nature of metaphysics and theology. the former doctrine, as is well known, is treated under the rubric of natural knowledge of God. 

In the end it makes an interesting contrast with Milbank and his school, for whom Scotus is of cosmic catastrophic significance. For McGrath, it seems Scotus is mainly of interest because of the poetry he inspired.

Saturday, August 13, 2022


 Hi all, been busy this year, sorry. But here is some recent news of interest to the Scotist community.

Tobias Hoffmann has updated his Bibliography of Duns Scotus, find it here.

Claus Andersen has tracked down volumes of the Vatican edition of Scotus' works on and published the links, here.

Finally, I appeared on the "Dogs with Torches Podcast" to discuss Scotus, univocity, and their modern critics, here.

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Natural Theology

 A new special issue of the journal RIVISTA DI STORIA DELLA FILOSOFIA has come out, an issue devoted to the topic of natural theology.

Here are the contents, which contain two essays of direct interest to scholars of Scotus and Scotism:

Alberto Frigo, "Radical natural theologies from duns scotus to christian wolff. Introduction."

Garrett Smith, "The Natural Theology of Nicholas Bonetus."

Alberto Frigo, "Même la Trinité: Descartes, Pascal et Saint-­Ange"

Gabriel Meyer-­Bisch, "Usages et fonctions du concept de «cité de Dieu» dans la première philosophie de Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (Uses and functions of the concept of City of God in the early Leibniz’s Philosophy.)"

Pietro Terzi, "Involution and the Convergence of Minds. The Philosophical Stakes of Lalande’s Vocabulaire"

Olivier Boulnois, "La teologia naturale, Duns Scoto e la deduzione a priori della Trinità (Natural Theology, Duns Scotus and the a priori Deduction of the Trinity.)"

Édouard Mehl, "La Puissance et son nombre, d’Abélard à Kepler"

Jean-­Christophe Bardout, "Prouver sans démontrer. Malebranche et la Trinité"

Gualtiero Lorini, "«Diversa Theologiae naturalis systemata»: Christian Wolff’s Ways to God"

Enrico I. Rambaldi, Patrizia Pozzi

Monday, December 27, 2021

Scotist News

 Hello dear readers, here are a few items worthy of note that have recently appeared.

1. A digital edition of the debate between Duns Scotus and Guillelmus Petri Godinus is now available on the website of the Scotus Archiv (Bonn), here. Website still under construction, but the text and manuscript photos are up now. The debate is about the principle of individuation, and is one of the only, if not the only, place that Scotus directly confronts the Thomist theory.

2. A journal issue dedicated to Antonius Andreae has appeared, here.

3. And, finally, the long-awaited book edited by Giorgio Pini, called Interpreting Duns Scotus, has now appeared.

A veritable end of year feast for all!

Monday, November 29, 2021

More on Scotus' Birthplace

 So back on the theme of where Scotus was born, namely, was he Irish (Scotus, Hibernicus), or Scottish (Scotus). While it is commonly held today that the Scottish position has triumphed, there was some criticism on a post from earlier in the year to the effect that the word "scotus" originally meant someone from Ireland and only later, possibly during Scotus' own time did it come to mean someone from Scotland. 

While transcribing the Additiones magnae, a text compiled by William of Alnwick from Scotus' Oxford and Parisian teaching, I came across the following sentence, that is obviously sketching a map of Europe and also distinguishes between Scotland (scotia) and Ireland (hibernia). 

"...inter Norwegiam et Scotiam et inter Hyspaniam et Hyberniam..."

This is from the end of Add. II d. 14 q. 4. Even if William of Alnwick may be expanding on Scotus' text (studies on the Additiones II are in their infancy, so I don't know if there is a parallel elsewhere in Scotus yet), it shows that ireland was already being called 'hibernia' by about 1315, close to Scotus' lifetime.

Monday, November 8, 2021

Festum Scoti

 Happy Feast everyone!

Sunday, September 26, 2021

Francis of Meyronnes early defense of the univocity of being

Francis of Meyronnes is probably the most influential and important Scotist of the fourteenth century. His many works survive in hundreds of manuscripts and many were printed in the early days of the printing press. His commentary on the Sentences exists in three versions, called 'ab oriente', 'summa simplicitas' and Conflatus. He became a master in 1323 by decree of the pope after lecturing at Paris.

My post is about the first of the three commentaries. In the 'ab oriente' commentary, most likely to be Francis' first discussion of the univocity of being (given the lack of editions, we cannot be sure; it does not matter much, however, for Francis tends to recycle his arguments), he establishes a series of principles, which he calls regulae, and then derives conclusions from them. basically, the regulae are topical rules or 'maximal propositions' as explained in Boethius' commentary on Aristotle's Topics. It is a fairly interesting dicussion, concluding with a series of doubts. I translate and paraphrase these rules and doubts here.

Franciscus de Mayronis, In Sent. I d. 22 'ab oriente'.


R1. whenever some intellect is certain about one concept and doubtful about two [concepts], the certain concept is univocal to the two doubtful ones.

R2. Whenever some intellect is certain about one concept and doubful about either of two others, that certain concept befalls both according to the same formal notion.

R3. no equivocal has a concept distinct from its equivocates.

R4. no one can have scientific knowledge of the equivocal, while its equivocates are unknown.

R5: anyone can have scientific knowledge of univocals.

R6: no proposition in which there is an equivocal term can be verified unless for some of its equivocates.

R7: some proposition in which there is a univocal term cannot be verified for some univocate.

R8: nothing befalls an equivocal that does not befall some equivocate.

R9: something can befall a univocal that does not befall some univocate.

R10: the subject of every science is univocal to everthing about which something is demonstrated in that science.

R11: no attribute primarily befalling some subject can be demonstrated unless of those of which the subject befalls univocally.

R12: nothing can be demonstrated of an equivocal.

R13: every attribute which befalls something not primarily is demonstrated of something common to itself and some other.

R14: the truth of some principle does not extend unless to the univocates of its subject.

R15: no principle extends itself unless to the univocates of its predicate.

R16: no principle can be equivocal.

R17: whenever something common is said of one thing in an unqualified way (simpliciter) and of another in a qualified way (secundum quid), it is not said of them univocally.

R18: whenever something common is said of some things in a prior and posterior way (per prius et posterious), it is not univocal to them.

R19: when [something] is said of them according to more and less, it is not univocal to them.

R20: every common which is not said univocally of some things, is said of them equivocally.


C1: being (ens) is said univocally of God and creatures (from R1, R2, R5, R7, R9, R10, R11, R13, R14, R15).

C2: being is not said equivocally of God and creatures (from R3, R4, R6, R8, R12, R16).

C3: being is not said analogically of God and creatures, insofar as analogy is taken to be a middle way between equivocity and univocity (from R20).

C4: being is said univocally of substance and accident (from R1, R2, R5, R7, R9, R10, R11, R13, R14, R15, R16).

C5: substance is not equivocal to substance and accident (from R3, R4, R6, R8, R12, R16).

C6: being is said univocally of the absolute and relative (from R1, R2).

C7: being is not said of them [=the absolute and relative] equivocally (from “the same rules as above”).

C8: being is not said equivocally but univocally of the ten categories (from “the same rules”).

C9: being is said univocally of everything contained in the ten categories (from a rule in Aristotle’s Categories).

C10: the notion of the absolute is said univocally of all absolute categories (from “the rules stated above”).

C11: ‘relative’ is said univocally of all relative categories (from R1?, “other rules”).

C12: ‘accident’ is said univocally of the nine categories (from R1, “other rules”).

C13: being is not said univocally of real being and being of reason (from R17, R18, R19).

C14: being is said equivocally of real being and being of reason (from R20).

C15: our intellect cannot form one concept that is common to real being and being of reason (no appeal to a regula).

C16: those who posit such a concept (that is, a concept univocally common to real being and being of reason) have that unity in imagination and not in the intellect (no appeal to a regula).

C17: the division of being into being in the soul and being outside the soul is of an utterance (vox) into what is signified (no appeal to a regula).

C18: the ratio of being is said of being in potency and being in act (no appeal to a regula).


D1: why being is not a genus, even though it is said of many things in different species.

D2: if being were a genus, whether God would be in the genus of being.

D3: why it is denied that being is a genus, since if it were, God would not be in it (from D2).

D4: if the formality of being (ratio entis
is included in something that is irreducibly simple.

D5: if the formality of being can be included in things that are primarily diverse.

D6: if the formality of being is included quidditatively in some transcendental.

D7: if the formality of being is included quidditatively in some transcendental that is constituted from divided and dividing being.

D8: if the formality of being is included quidditatively in some category.

D9: if the formality of being is included in some pure perfection.

D10: if the formality of being is included quidditatively in some genus or species.

D11: if the formality of being is included quidditatively in some individual immediately corresponding to it.

D12: whether the formality of being is included universally in something other than a quiddity.

D13: if some transcendental is included quidditatively in some quiddity.

D14: why it is not the case that being is part of the quiddity of substance in the way that substance is part of the quiddity of humanity or of body.

D15: if the formality of being taken with an inferior is only accidentally one.

D16: if the formality of being taken with an inferior can make one concept.

D17: if an inferior of being can be conceived without being.

D18: if being would be part of the quiddity of something.

D19: if the attributes (passiones) of being can be conceived without being.

D20: why the formality of being does not make a composition with its inferiors the way the formality (ratio) of a genus does with its differences.

D21: if it is necessary to posit two orders (coordinationes) of being.

D22: if those two orders are from the nature of the thing (ex natura rei)

D23: if to abstract one common concept is repugnant to everything that is primarily diverse.

D24: whether there is some common concept that embraces everything other than nothingness.

D25: if the notion of nothingness is adequate to the notion of non-being.

D26: if every non-being can said to be nothing.

D27: if there is some common attribute for everything that is separate from the notion of nothing.

D28: if there is some formality (ratio) more common than the formality of univocal being.

D29: if everything separate from the notion of nothing is contained under equivocal being.

D30: if being taken equivocally is the subject of that principle ‘affirmation or negation of whatever being’.

D31: if being univocally taken can be the subject in that principle.

D32: if that principle has some subject that is adequate and common to itself.

D33: what is that common subject that can be attributed to such a principle?

D34: if intelligibility can be an attribute of everything of which this principle is verified.

D35: if intelligibility is distinct from its subject from the nature of the thing.

D36: if that attribute, intelligibility, is absolute or relative.

D37:  if that principle ‘affirmation of whatever’ etc. can have place in that subject, nor does it prescind from this attribute of intelligibility.

D38: if that metaphysical principle is verified of beings of reason.

D39: if the predicate of that principle is ‘to be or not to be’.

D40: concerning the division of being. This difficultas is subdivided into fifteen conclusiones:

            DC 1: the division of being into being in the soul and being outside the soul is not a division of univocals but rather equivocals.

            DC 2: just as entity is said equivocally and univocally, so also is reality.

            DC 3: the same is true of the other attributes of being.

            DC 4: the division of being into substance and accidents is not quidditative.

            DC 5: division is of a common notion of something divided into quidditative and non-quidditative.

            DC 6: division of being into act and potency is not quidditative.

            DC 7: division of being into the finite and infinite is not quidditative.

            DC 8:  the same is true of the division of being through the contingent and the necessary.

            DC 9: the same is true of the division of being through the existing and non-existing.

            DC 10: the same is true of the division of being through the real and the non-real, with the latter taken as in objective potency.

            DC 11: the division of being into the simple and the complex is not quidditative.

            DC 12: the division of being into the absolute and relative is quidditative.

            DC 13: only that (i.e. DC 12) division of being is quidditative.

            DC 14: that (DC 12) is the first division of being.

            DC 15: being cannot be divided immediately into the ten categories.

Thursday, July 29, 2021

The Poetics of the Equivocity of Being

 Here are some poetical remarks on the equivocity of being by William Desmond. Enjoy!

Desmond, Being and the Between, 87

The war of philosophers against unintelligibility has made them generally hostile to the equivocal. This is manifest in the oscillation with the univocal we examined in the last chapter. It is no less true that this war is never finished, and many victories turn out pyrrhic, indeed brief lulls before the hydra of the equivocal sprouts another head to replace the one just chopped. The equivocal is a hydra that cannot be completely killed by univocity; for to kill its many heads demands many hands, and univocity has only one hand at a time. Indeed, I think equivocity is not to be killed but charmed from being a mythic monster into a fabling of the plurivocity of being. We must come to terms with the beautfy of the beast. Logical murder, murder repeated methodically, will not do.

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

William Desmond, Being and the Between

 The title above is a book I have been reading lately. usually I will be excited for a month with a new acquisition and then the taedium sets in and I abandon the book. My shelf of "current books" grows ever longer. Surprisingly, I have stuck with Przywara's Analogia entis, though it doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me in either German or English.

Desmond is a scholar of continental philosophy, mainly of Hegel it seems, with little to no interest in medieval philosophy. The book listed in the title of the post is loosely based on Aristotle, Plato, and the moderns. The auther seems rather adverse to scholastic thought; consider the following, from p. 12:

But were there no happening of astonishment, metaphysics would be a mere scholastic juggling of empty abstractions, perhaps with great virtuosity in the formal mastery of argumentation, but ontologically barren nonetheless.

The author, though not possessing knowledge of Scotus' position on univocity, effectively rules out Scotus' position at the very beginning. p. 3:

Hence, the question of being is not first one for philosophers, understood as an elite of thinkers. It transcends the difference of the few and the many, for it strikes our humanity simply in virtue of its being, as mindful of itself and what is other to itself. Of course, this matter may degenerate into platitude. Then being will be said to be the emptiest of abstractions--a vacuous generality, indifferently applicable to everything and anything, and hence not applicable with illuminating power to anything in particular. Against this degrading of being we must fight strenuously. There may be a sense of the universal, and the community of being that transcends any abstract universal.

As nice a short summary of Scotus as was every written. But we might fight against it.

Finally, a word of warning: be careful when buying academic books! I bought my copy from Amazon, which sells it, I found, as a print on demand volume. But alas, every page of the text, as well as the front and back cover, contains the stamp "copyrighted Material". One would think this could have been dispensed with, given that there is a copyright page, but no. The stamp even covers page numbers and sometimes obscures the last line of the text on a page. So find a used copy, if you want to read this book.

Saturday, June 19, 2021

Byzantine Univocity

 I recently came across an essay on univocity among the Byzantine theologians that might be of interest to our readers. Essay is here.

Johnathan Bieler, "Christ: the mystery of God truly made manifest? Leontius of Byzantium and the Univocity of Being."

From the conclusion:

After reading this long passage we cannot go into all the details but we will summarily say that Leontius opposes univocity and equivocity. He accuses his opponents of adhering to a pure equivocity of terms in Christology and Trinitarian Theology by separating the terms from their definitions. Thus, equivocity negates the true manifestation of the divine in the manifest mystery of Christ. Naturally, for Leontius as well as for the Severian interlocutor, God in himself is hidden and beyond word, intellect and nature. However, for Leontius this God has truly revealed himself in Christ and thus we must speak in univocal terms of the Trinity and Christ. He achieves the univocity of God and the world by subsuming all beings (God, angels, human beings etc.) under one single definition of existence as such, which ousia stands for when defined simply.

In this respect, Leontius falls short of Ps-Dionysius’ strong language for the transcendence of God as beyond ousia or being, even though he knows his writings and quotes him even by name.7 Leontius seems to make a bit of a desperate move here and puts all beings and God under the same category of existence as such. In this, Leontius even found a successor in Duns Scotus, who also holds a univocal concept of being, ens, for God and the world. A few questions are in order to point to the problems of Leontius’ view: Is the transcendence of God not corrupted if he is put in the same genus of existence as the world? Does not the world then somehow share in God’s uncreated and eternal being, as both share the same sort of existence? This would remind us of the Origenist doctrine of the fall of beings from some sort of unity with God. Can Leontius’ univocal use of the term ousia still fully affirm the distinction of the created and the uncreated existence, which was so important for example to Athanasius as well as Ps-Dionysius and in turn, Maximus the Confessor? Part of an answer to these questions has to be given by an analysis of the relation between predicative logic and ontology in Leontius which I cannot serve with here. At any rate, we have a sense now for the task of later authors so diverse as John Philoponus and Maximus the Confessor to reject PsDionysius or integrate him into a Theology that holds together both transcendence and true manifestation of God without falling into the simple alternative between univocity and equivocity. Maximus, in my view, will come forward with a solution that resembles more Aquinas’ analogy of being than Duns Scotus’ univocity of being.

Sunday, June 6, 2021

 Here is a recent post about Scotus, with many interesting reflections and reminiscences of the particular writers experiences in grad school.

He had some discussion of what he thought Scotus was trying to do that I think is not right, but worthy of consideration and reflection nevertheless.

The question I was trying to get to a little earlier was whether Duns Scotus was himself, ironically, rather less committed to the procedures of Scholastic philosophy than he seemed. By this I mean that there are at least two ways to do Scholastic philosophy though, I am sure, there are really many more than two ways. But we can establish at least these two possibilities. You do Scholastic philosophy in good faith, because you basically believe that it can deliver the goods, as it were, or you do it in bad faith, you do it in order to show what it can’t do. You run it into the ground. It’s possible that Duns Scotus was more or less of the latter sort. He was playing Scholastic philosophy against itself. To some degree. He was using the tools of Scholastic philosophy in order, in a sense, to break them, to destroy those tools. That’s probably too strong. But it was a tricky business, I think, what Scotus was up to.

Take the concept of haecceity, for instance, which must be one of the more unwieldy sort of words (how do you pronounce it?) in the history of philosophy and which is one of Scotus’ great gifts to us, though actually his students, the Dunses, came up with the word as their best shot at naming an idea that Scotus had elaborated in his philosophical treatises. Haecceity comes from the Latin word haec, which means ‘this’. So haecceity is best translated as ‘thisness’. Duns Scotus was trying to isolate the particular thisness that makes each thing a ‘this’ and therefore completely and totally unique. This is a rather perverse thing for a metaphysician to do. To focus on thisness is, in the mood of it, to turn philosophy on its head. It’s to say that the strange, unaccountable, irreducible quality of all things, that which makes each thing of creation just what it is, that this is the central and unsolvable mystery. The only way you are going to come into contact with thisness, and thus to know and to relate to anyone else, anything else, is to pay attention to that thing, that person, that object in its ineluctable, weird, unique specialness. That’s not really the sort of thing that a philosopher, especially a medieval Scholastic philosopher, is supposed to say. That’s the sort of thing a poet or a mystic says (Gerard Manley Hopkins, for instance, loved Scotus). But Scotus said it. He just said it with the words of Scholastic philosophy, so it sounds like a bit of philosophy when, in fact, it is a thought by which philosophy collapses in on itself. Or maybe truly becomes itself, finally. You could say that as well, maybe.

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.