Monday, June 18, 2018

The Ratio Algazaelitica

Scotus' argument from certain and doubtful concepts (see this post for explanation) was been given a variety of descriptions during the Middle Ages. Francis de Mayronis calls the major premise at least "Scotus' rule", Peter Thomae describes the whole thing as the "ratio famosa," and one can also find marginalia indicating that it is Scotus' "Achilles argument" in Peter of Aquila's Sentences Commentary. By Achilles, presumably, is meant that it is the strongest weapon in Scotus' arsenal, not that it is his fatal weakness. 

In the fifteenth century, the French Franciscan and (eclectic?) Scotist William of Varouillon made some interesting remarks on the argument, which have been noted a few times in modern literature, though I don't think they have been quoted. After quoting the argument, William lodges the following objection against it:

Sent. I d. 3 q. 1 a. 2 (Venezia 1502, f. 10vb): Huic fortissime rationi aliqui dicunt quod est regula Scoti et quod transeat cum regula sua.

Quibus ego respondeo quod si non curant de Scoto, vadant ad Metaphysicam Algazaelis, qui maximus reputatus est metaphysicus, et istam regulam quasi iisdem verbis reperient. Unde regula ista, si ab inventore nominetur, dicitur non Scotica sed Algazaelitica nuncupatur. 


Some say to this strongest argument that it is the rule of Scotus and that he passed away with his rule.

To which I say that if they don't care about Scotus, let them go to the Metaphysics of al-Ghazali, who is deemed the greatest metaphysician, and they will find that rule almost with the same words. Whence that rule, if it should be named by its discoverer, should be called not Scotic but Algazalitic.

The object is that Scotus came up with the rule, and since he is dead, it is no longer valid. The rule here probably being the major premise, though the whole thing is loosely in al-Ghazali. William's reply locates a deeper lineage to the argument than simply Scotus. In some of the modern literature the algazalian origin is discounted in favor of Avicennian, but in truth it is in both.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

John Jenkins on Scotus

Given the near-universal opprobrium in which Duns Scotus is held, I find it necessary to call attention to positive mentions of Scotus among contemporary intellectuals. An example came to me today from John Jenkins, president of the University of Notre Dame. There isn't much content regarding Scotus, but he is described as a great medieval master. 

Here is Jenkins' talk, delivered at Oxford. 


I learned much in my study at Oxford, yet simply walking in this city and contemplating its history itself had an intellectual impact on me. To pass the places where Duns Scotus, William of Ockham, Thomas Hobbes and John Locke studied and worked; to stroll by the building where Robert Boyle, the father of modern chemistry, lived and worked; to be in the city where John Wycliffe taught and John Henry Newman wrote his tracts; to visit the pub where J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis and the Inklings met on Tuesdays—simply to walk in the city instilled a sense of reverence for the learning, scholarship and inquiry to which Oxford has been the host. Since its founding, it has been to the site of scholars, discussions and education that have truly shaped the course of human history.

The Summa theologiae of St. Thomas Aquinas, with its series of questions, objections, “respondeo” and replies to objections reflects this form of inquiry. Although it is not a record of actual public disputations, it is clearly derived from the practice of public disputations and reflects this form of inquiry. The same is true of the works of Duns Scotus, William of Ockham and other great medieval masters. The point I wish to emphasize here is that, even when these great thinkers wrote their own works, the form of writing expressed the communal nature of inquiry that characterized the medieval university. The communal exercise was undertaken primarily to broaden knowledge and deepen understanding, but it served at the same time to train students in conducting such inquiry themselves.