Duns Scotus, John


Duns Scotus, John
(ca. 1265–1308)
   Known as the Subtle Doctor, the Franciscan friar Duns Scotus was one of the most influential and significant philosophers and theologians of the later Middle Ages. His elaborate and nuanced discussions promoted the importance of love and of will at the expense of reason; of philosophical “realism” that stressed the objective existence of universals; and of “intuitive cognition” through which human beings understood individuals. Scotus also was instrumental in putting forth the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary, a position that earned him his other popular nickname— the “Marian Doctor.”
   John Duns Scotus was born in Scotland, probably in or near the village of Duns close to the English border. He entered the Franciscan friary at Dumfries in 1278, and in 1281 took his friar’s vows. Between 1281 and 1291, he may have been attending universities in Scotland and England. Some have suggested that he attended Oxford and even Paris during this interval, but no one really knows. In 1291 he was ordained a priest. It may have been after this that he began his studies at Oxford. At some point in the 1290s it seems likely he was studying in Paris with the well-known scholars James of Quarcheto and Gonsalvus of Spain. He may have been lecturing at Cambridge between 1297 and 1300, but he is known to have lectured at Oxford between 1300 and 1302, specifically on the very influential Sentences of PETER LOMBARD. He produced his most important work, the Oxford Commentary (the Opus Oxoniense) sometime between 1297 and 1300. Probably by the autumn of 1302, he was in Paris, where he continued his lectures on the Sentences. A shorter commentary survives from this period: The Reportata Parisiensia (ca. 1304) continues his commentary on Peter Lombard, but this briefer and sketchier text is not in his own hand. Rather, it is a “report” in the sense of being apparently compiled from his students’ lecture notes.
   In June of 1303 Scotus and some 80 other foreign scholars were forced to leave Paris when they refused to sign a petition condemning Pope Boniface VIII and supporting the French king Philip the Fair in his dispute with the pope.Allowed to return to the university in the autumn of 1304, Scotus was named magisterium or master, recommended by his old mentor Gonsalvus. In 1307, however, Scotus was sent to Cologne to teach at the Franciscan school there. Some have speculated that Scotus’s views on the Immaculate Conception made him a figure of controversy; he was also later condemned for an emphasis on human freedom that verged on the Pelagian heresy, and those views may have made him unpopular. In any case, Scotus left Paris in 1307 to teach in Cologne, and never returned. He died there on November 8, 1308.
   In addition to the two commentaries on the Sentences, Scotus is credited with a large number of other works, but many of these texts are thought to be spurious by modern scholars. It is fairly certain that Scotus wrote the commentaries on Aristotle and Porphyry attributed to him. The complexity of his thought, the uncertainty of the manuscripts attributed to him, and his intricate, convoluted sentences (which go on at great length, and are built from qualifications within qualifications) make it extremely difficult to determine or to understand the system of his thought. The chief source for our understanding is his Oxford Commentary. From this it is clear that his ideas about epistemology and metaphysics are chiefly Aristotelian, but influenced by the Arabic commentator Avicenna.However, Scotus’s emphasis on voluntarism, on the primacy and freedom of the will, is directly opposed to Avicenna. Some of his thought is based on that of Thomas AQUINAS, including his defense of the “realist” position about universals. But his theory of intuitive cognition, by which the mind may directly know individual things rather than knowing them only through indirect “abstractive” cognition, is in direct contrast with Aquinas, and anticipates later “nominalist” philosophers like WILLIAM OF OCKHAM.
   Significant in his own right but also as a transitional figure between the great systematizing philosophers of the 13th century, like Aquinas, and the skeptics of the 14th century, like Ockham, Scotus may be best remembered unjustly for being the inspiration of Milton’s coinage of the word Dunce. In later centuries, Scotus’s subtle metaphysics inspired the poetry and philosophy of Gerard Manly Hopkins. And in 1854, his argument for the Virgin’s special status finally won the day as Pope Pius IX declared the Immaculate Conception an official doctrine of the Catholic Church.
   Bibliography
   ■ Cross, Richard. Duns Scotus. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.
   ■ Frank,William A., and Allan B.Wolter. Duns Scotus: Metaphysician. Lafayette, Ind.: Purdue University Press, 1995.
   ■ Williams, Thomas, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Duns Scotus. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003.
   ■ Wolter, Allan B. Duns Scotus on the Will and Morality. Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1986.
   ■ ———. Duns Scotus: Philosophical Writings. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 1987.
   ■ ———.The Philosophical Theology of John Duns Scotus. Edited by Marilyn McCord Adams. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1990.

Encyclopedia of medieval literature. 2013.

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  • DUNS SCOTUS, JOHN° — (1265–1308), Catholic theologian and philosopher. Scotus opposed many of the views of thomas aquinas . Against Aquinas he affirmed the limitations of philosophy, and argued that the will is superior to the intellect, because the will is free… …   Encyclopedia of Judaism

  • Duns Scotus, John — born 1266, Duns, Lothian, Scot. died Nov. 8, 1308, Cologne Medieval Scottish philosopher and Scholastic theologian. He studied and taught at Oxford, where he joined the Franciscans, and later taught at the University of Paris, from which he was… …   Universalium

  • Duns Scotus, John — (c. 1266 1308)    A Scottish born Franciscan scholastic philosopher and theologian, Duns Scotus died before he could produce a Summa Theologiae or even revise his existing works, such as his commentaries on Peter Lombard s Sentences. He is known… …   Christian Philosophy

  • Duns Scotus, John — See Henry of Ghent and Duns Scotus, see Intellectual context (The) of later medieval philosophy: universities, Aristotle, arts, theology …   History of philosophy

  • Duns Scotus,John — Duns Sco·tus (dŭnz skōʹtəs), John. Known as “the Subtle Doctor.” 1265? 1308. Scottish Franciscan friar, philosopher, and theologian whose commentary on Lombard s Sentences challenged influential doctrines of Aquinas, including his optimistic view …   Universalium

  • Duns Scotus, John — (c. 1266–1308) Franciscan philosopher and theologian. It is known that John Duns, the Scot, was ordained in 1291, but his earlier life is largely uncertain. He lectured in Cambridge and Oxford, then Paris, where he became regent master of… …   Philosophy dictionary

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  • Duns Scotus — John Duns Scotus John Duns Scotus Full name John Duns Scotus Born c. 1265 Duns, Berwickshire, Scotland Died 8 November 1308 Cologne, Germany …   Wikipedia


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