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