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.


Anonymous said...

Have you guys heard of The Theological Origins of Modernity by Michael Allen Gillespie? I've read the first couple chapters and Scotus is mentioned. I'm a neophyte in such matters, but reading this blog has convinced me to beware the Scotus Story wherever it appears. I'm wondering if it appears in Gillespie's book. If you haven't heard of it, what would you recommend to read on the origins of modernity, the Reformation, and the decline of medieval thought?

Lee Faber said...

Yes, I've heard of it and flipped through it. Is the same old myth. If I remember, he is more interested in voluntarism than univocity, and Scotus is just a catalyst for Ockham. I have not myself read anything especially convincing in the secondary literature about such matters, but I suspect the origin of modernity has to more to do with political thought than metaphysics. Was there a decline in medieval thought? What is medieval thought to begin with? At the universities, at least, there was a continuous production of philosophy and theology from the late 12th century up until the French revolution.