David Burr (essay date 1972)

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SOURCE: Burr, David. “Scotus and Transubstantiation.” Medieval Studies 34 (1972): 336-60.

[In the following essay, Burr studies the reasoning and conclusions of Scotus on the subject of the Transubstantiation of Christ, comparing his arguments with those of St. Thomas Aquinas and subsequent Scotist theologians.]

John Duns Scotus remains...

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SOURCE: Burr, David. “Scotus and Transubstantiation.” Medieval Studies 34 (1972): 336-60.

[In the following essay, Burr studies the reasoning and conclusions of Scotus on the subject of the Transubstantiation of Christ, comparing his arguments with those of St. Thomas Aquinas and subsequent Scotist theologians.]

John Duns Scotus remains somewhat of an enigma to the average student of intellectual history. Since the so-called “Thomistic synthesis” is usually accepted by the non-specialist as the quintessence of medieval religious thought, Scotus is relegated to a rather shadowy existence as the “other great medieval theologian,” without any clear notion of what was so great about him. His identification as the Subtle Doctor does little to ease doubts on this score, since some observers wonder if this subtlety may have been achieved at the cost of catholicity.

In no area of Scotus' thought is the ambiguity of his position more apparent than in his eucharistic thought. It has long been recognized that his notion of transubstantiation differs from Thomas' view in some very basic ways. The precise nature of this difference is less clear than one might imagine, however, since much of the relevant research has been prompted by something resembling ulterior motives.1 The following study will attempt to provide reasonably objective answers to two questions. First, how did Scotus' formulation actually differ from Thomas' view? Second, how did Scotus and his followers react to that difference? In order to answer these questions, Scotus must be approached by a rather circuitous route. Some attempt must be made to sketch at least the outlines of the Thomistic formulation. Even St. Thomas makes a very poor starting point, since it is important to recognize that common sentiment within the church had already placed significant limitations upon the way in which a theologian in Thomas' day might understand the nature of Christ's eucharistic presence. Nevertheless, one must start somewhere.

Perhaps Thomas Aquinas' main significance in the history of eucharistic theology is that he was the first theologian in whose writings Aristotelian terminology and Christian affirmations were galvanized into a systematic, relatively coherent formulation in which all of the major questions concerning eucharistic presence found what a large number of succeeding churchmen would consider a sufficient answer.

It is, of course, always dangerous to select a single aspect of a man's thought as the starting point from which any explanation of his views should proceed. In the case of Thomas' eucharistic thought, however, one could do worse than to choose as a starting point his reflections on the nature of bodily presence. For Thomas, the central fact to be considered is that Christ's body, by the very fact that it is a body, must be subjected to the same physical limitations placed upon any other body. The fact that it is united to divinity is actually irrelevant in this context. Thus Christ's bodily presence in several places at once is, in itself, no more explicable than anyone else's, and Christ's bodily presence in several places in the same way that he is present in heaven is, in fact, impossible.2 Again, Thomas sees the union with divinity as equally irrelevant to the question of how the body of Christ comes to be present in the eucharist.3 For Thomas, there are only two ways in which a thing can come to be present where it formerly was not. The first, local motion, demands certain correlative phenomena such as movement in time through a succession of places and the relinquishing of a previous place. Thus, it is inapplicable to the present case. We are left with the second alternative, conversion. Here one begins to appreciate the absolutely central place of conversion in Thomas' eucharistic thought, a centrality which is seen, not only in the substance of his thought, but in the very shape which that thought assumes in the Summa theologiae. A comparison with his sentence commentary will demonstrate this point.

Peter Lomard's Sententiae are not tightly organized, but the general order in which the Lombard deals with Christ's presence in the eucharist is that of the mode of presence, the manner of conversion and the nature of the eucharistic accidents.4 Such is, in essence, the general order found in the multitudinous sentence commentaries that followed, including Thomas' own. In the Summa theologiae, however, Thomas was freer to structure according to his own design. Here a significant change takes place. Thomas chooses to begin with the nature of conversion, then proceed to the nature of Christ's presence. The prime importance of conversion is strikingly illustrated in the very structure of the work.

If, then, Christ is to be present in the eucharist at all, he must become present through conversion of one substance into another. Thus Thomas feels that it is quite impossible for the substance of bread either to remain or to be annihilated.5 Either alternative would compromise the key notion of substantial conversion.

Thomas is not quite out of the woods yet, however, since he must still face the objection that it is inherently impossible for Christ to be in two places at once in the same way that he is in heaven. Here again the idea of substantial conversion plays a key role. Thomas asks what sort of presence requires that a thing be in one place at a time.

No body is related to a place except by means of the dimensions of quantity; and thus a body is present as in loco where the dimensions of that body are commensurated with the dimensions of the place (locus); and the body of Christ is in only one place in this way, i. e. in heaven.6

To be in a place in this way is, in Thomas' words, to be there “according to the mode of dimensive quantity” (secundum modum quantitatis dimensivae)7 or circumscriptively.8

What, then, is the alternative? Thomas finds his answer in a very literal understanding of the expression “transubstantiation” and in an equally literal reading of the words of institution. On the one hand, the conversion is one of substances, not of accidents. On the other hand, it is the substance of the body and blood which terminates the conversion. Thus, considered from the viewpoint of the instrumental power inherent in the words of institution—in Thomas' words, ex vi sacramenti—Christ's divinity and soul are as thoroughly excluded from the conversion as are the accidents. Moreover, considered from the same viewpoint, Christ's blood is excluded from the species of the bread and his body is excluded from the species of the wine.9

The idea of Christ's presence as a presence of his substance brought about by substantial conversion seems to solve a number of problems. In the first place, it explains how Christ can be in a small portion of the broken host.

The proper totality is contained indifferently in a small or large quantity, just as the whole nature of air is contained in a large or small amount of air and the whole nature of man is contained in a large or small man.10

It also explains how Christ can be in every part of the host and on several altars at once.

The whole nature of the substance is under every part of the dimensions under which it is contained, just as the whole nature of air is under every part of air and the whole nature of bread is under every part of bread.11

If the change is a substantial one, however, how does one reach the affirmation of Christ's full presence demanded by the faith? The answer lies in the fact that the body which is present in the eucharist is the same one which sits in heaven, and Christ as he sits in heaven is not divided. Thus, if Christ's body is under the species of bread and his blood under the species of wine ex vi sacramenti, each is present with the other by natural concomitance: ex naturali concomitantia. If Christ's body and blood are present on the altar ex vi sacramenti, his divinity, soul and accidents are present ex naturali concomitantia.12

Through the idea of natural concomitance, Thomas insures Christ's total presence in such a way as to neutralize the effects of dimensive quantity. It is present, but not in its own proper mode, i. e. with the whole in the whole and single parts in single parts of the locus. Instead, it is present per modum substantiae, with the whole in the whole and in every part.13

Such is, in bare outline, Thomas' formulation of the way in which Christ comes to be present in the eucharist. Other problems remain, of course, but they lie outside the scope of the present study. We can now turn to Duns Scotus.

Since Scotus' Opus Oxoniense is a sentence commentary, its treatment of eucharistic presence follows the usual order for works of this kind, beginning with a discussion of Christ's presence and proceeding to a discussion of the nature of conversion. As will be seen, however, this order is as natural for Scotus as the opposite order was natural for Thomas. Scotus begins by acknowledging as an article of faith the assertion that the body of Christ is truly present, then turns to investigate “how that which is believed is possible.”14 This question is divided into two more specific questions which he examines in turn. First, how can the body of Christ begin to be present on the altar without local motion? Second, how can this body be present as a quantum but not in a quantitative mode?

Scotus inaugurates his consideration of the first question by launching an attack on the “common opinion,” which explains Christ's presence by refering to the eucharistic conversion. Against this thoroughly Thomistic notion he argues that, since substance is the per se terminus ad quem of the conversion, nothing posterior to it is gained per se through that conversion. Thus the eucharistic presence cannot be a per se result of the conversion.15 In other words, existence of a substance qua substance is prior to the presence of that substance in a particular place. Substantial conversion relates to the former, not the latter. The question of eucharistic presence relates to the latter. Therefore, the idea of substantial conversion seems irrelevant to the question at hand.

Scotus himself chooses to approach the problem by another path. He begins with an analysis of what sorts of motion are involved in action of eucharistic presence. When a body is moved from one place to another, expelling another body in the process, four mutationes and eight termini are involved. First, there is the mutatio in the expelling body from presence in a certain place to loss of that presence; second, the mutatio in the same body from lack of presence in the new place to acquisition of such presence; third, the mutatio in the expelled body from presence in the old place to lack of such; fourth, the mutatio in the expelled body from lack of presence in a new place to acquisition of such presence.16 When a body moves from place to place without expelling another body, two mutationes and four termini are involved. When it gains a new place without leaving the old one, one acquisitive mutatio between two termini is sufficient. Here one reaches the absolute minimum of mutationes possible in the gaining of any new place.

Thus the body of Christ becomes present in the eucharist, not (as some have affirmed) without any mutatio at all, but through a single acquisitive mutatio. Scotus emphasizes that this mutatio does not alter the form of Christ's body. It simply involves the acquisition of a new respectus extrinsecus adveniens.17

Scotus' treatment of the second question also begins with the statement and refutation of the Thomistic view. In response to the suggestion that the quantity of Christ's body is present concomitantly and therefore not in a quantitative mode, he asserts that anything which is really present must be present with all of the attributes which naturally and necessarily belong to it.18 The idea of quantity as present sub modo substantiae makes little sense to him. Having dispensed with the Thomistic solution, he allots a significantly smaller space to the refutation of what would soon be identified as the Ockhamist view, a view holding the body of Christ to be present without the extension of parts.19 Scotus observes that such an argument is not probabile, since it denies to the body of Christ that positio and figura necessary to any animated body.20

Duns' use of the word positio offers a preview of his own plan of attack. If his answer to the first question proceeds from an analysis of motion, his answer to the second one proceeds from an analysis of position. He distinguishes positio as a differentia of quantity (involving an order of parts in the whole) from positio as a predicament (involving an order of parts to a locus).21Positio in the first sense is necessarily present in any quantum. Positio in the second sense is not. A quantum may be deprived of the latter through God's omnipotence by simple negation of any locus. If, for example, God were to place a cat outside the universe, it would still have internal order of parts—its nose would still be in front of its tail and between its whiskers—but these parts would not be ordered to any locus, since the cat would not be present to any locus. The important thing for Scotus, however, is that such a negation of any locus is not required in order for a thing to be without positio in the second sense. The same cat could be present to a given locus in such a way that there is no commensuration or coextension of the parts of the cat with the parts of the locus, for such would be nothing more than the presence of one extrinsic relation: respectus extrinsecus adveniens in the absence of another.22

How, then, is this distinction to be applied to the case at hand? Scotus' argument is somewhat obscured by the complexity of his terminology. Having distinguished between the two senses of positio, he comments that the second sense, positio as a predicament, is what is called the quantitative or dimensive mode of existence. Had he stopped at this point, the discussion might have retained at least the appearance of clarity. Unfortunately he chooses to make four more distinctions. First, there is the aforementioned distinction between coexistence and coextension (or commensuration). Next, there is a distinction between ubi, which is a respectus extrinsecus of the whole circumscribed thing to the whole circumscribing thing (e.g. of the whole cat to the whole locus in which the cat is present), and positio, which “adds (superaddit) a respectus of parts to parts.”23 Third, there is a distinction between coexistence and ubi.24 Finally, there is a distinction between simple presence (praesentia simplex) and ubi.25

How does one go about fitting all of these distinctions into a coherent pattern? The first sense of positio can be dispensed with at once, since it is intrinsic to the substance and obviously has nothing to do with the other categories, which are described as respectus extrinsecus advenientes. The second sense of positio, positio as a predicament, can be identified with that positio which is contrasted with ubi.26 Both of these can, in turn, be identified with coextension.27

The other pieces of the puzzle are a bit harder to fit together, but it can be done. The difficulty lies partly in the fact that Scotus is trying to describe a phenomenon which cannot be classified within the context the of Aristotelian predicaments as Scotus himself understands them. The sort of presence he envisages for Christ in the eucharist is described by him as coexistence or simple presence. Such presence is not equivalent to the predicament positio, since there is no coextension of parts involved. Thus he is left with a single possibility, the predicament ubi. While he grants that eucharistic presence might be referred “more properly” to this predicament than to any other,28 he is unwilling to assign it there unconditionally, since he sees ubi as presence in a single place, while eucharistic presence involves presence in two or more places at once.29 Thus he seems to be heading toward a threefold distinction according to which presence can be simple, definitive (i. e. limited to one place, or circumscriptive (i. e. with coextension of parts). Such is, in fact, precisely the solution offered by the Scotist Johannes de Bassolis,30 but Scotus himself is less definite about the matter.31

In reality, Scotus' argument is sufficient for his own purposes. He has contrasted the intrinsic sense of quantity and position with the extrinsic one. In terms of the first, the body of Christ by virtue of its very nature is of a different shape and size than the eucharistic species; yet no particular form of respectus extrinsecus adveniens follows from this fact. That is, the fact implies no limitation to a single place and no particular type of commensuration or coextension of the parts of Christ's body with the parts of a locus.32 Thus the body of Christ has one part outside of another in itself, but it does not follow that it has one part outside of that part of the locus in which another part is located.

There is a great deal of truth in Seeberg's observation that Scotus, while apparently complicating the problem, has actually simplified it.33 His distinction between two senses of positio enables him to separate the problem of the shape and size of Christ's body from that of how it is present in a particular place, and the latter problem is neutralized, if not completely solved, by his classification of presence in terms of different types of respectus extrinsecus adveniens. Christ is present in the eucharist by a simple presence which implies neither limitation to a single place nor presence in a quantitative mode.

It might be noted in passing that there is no necessary connection between this praesentia simplex and the possibility of presence in several places at once. It follows from Scotus' understanding of a respectus extrinsecus adveniens that Christ could be present in a quantitative mode in several places at once. (So, for that matter, could our aforementioned cat.) Scotus cites Thomas' arguments against the possibility of such a phenomenon, adds a few of his own, then refutes them all. He first appeals to God's omnipotence. All that does not include an evident contradiction or from which an evident contradiction does not follow is possible for God.34 This appeal hardly settles anything by itself, of course, since it must still be demonstrated that the matter in question does not imply a contradiction.35 In attempting to demonstrate that such is the case, Scotus first argues by way of a comparison with the simultaneous presence of two bodies in one place. Such a phenomenon, no less inconveniens than the one now being discussed, actually occurred after Christ's resurrection.36 Thus no logical impossibility should be posited in the present case. The most obvious line of argument, however, flows smoothly from his notion of a respectus extrinsecus adveniens. The multiplication of such respectus seems no less possible than the multiplication of respectus intrinsecus advenientes; yet the latter can indeed be multiplied, as is seen in the fact that two different relations of similitude can relate a single whiteness to two other whitenesses.37 Such an argument may strike the modern reader as less than convincing. Scotus seems to be saying that, if our aforementioned cat can be the same color as several other cats, then a fortiori he can sit on several front porches at the same time. The present task is, however, to present his position rather than to criticize it.

Seeberg comments that the basic presupposition of Scotus' whole argument is his realistic understanding of place, which enables him to separate it from the substance in question.38 One might observe that Scotus' view of place is not strikingly different from that held by other scholastics if one means by “place” that containing thing to which the located substance is related. If, however, one takes Seeberg to mean “place” in the sense of “being in a place,” then he is correct. Duns Scotus' view of a respectus extrinsecus adveniens might be called “realistic” inasmuch as he sees it as capable of being absent even though the two termini of the respectus are present. Thus a body can coexist with a locus without being related to it by any particular respectus of positio in the predicamental sense.

It should be obvious by now that Scotus' understanding of presence as a respectus extrinsecus adveniens and his view of substance as prior to any such respectus are absolutely central for an understanding of his eucharistic theology. Any misrepresentation of these ideas can only lead to a distorted interpretation of his thought. Seeberg is probably a case in point. He continually represents Scotus as one who has reduced the bodily presence of Christ in the eucharist to a mere relation.39 Again, he tends to think of the distinction between Christ's sacramental presence and his presence in other places as one between the sacramental and the real Christ.40 Once one takes Duns' view of presence seriously, however, it becomes apparent that Christ's presence in the eucharist is just as “real” as his or anyone else's presence in any other place.41 Christ may be present in the eucharist “only” by a respectus extrinsecus adveniens, but it is also “only” by such a respectus that the statue of liberty is present in New York harbor.

Such is, in essence, the view of Christ's presence advanced by Scotus in liber IV, distinctio 10 of the Opus Oxoniense. However dense some of his explanations may seem, they are always clear enough to show the striking dissimilarity between his approach to the problem and the one advocated by Thomas Aquinas. To what extent does this difference extend to his understanding of transubstantiation? Even in distinctio 10, which is primarily devoted to other matters, the issue of eucharistic conversion is very much in evidence. It is seen, first, in Scotus' criticism of the relationship between conversion and presence offered by the Thomistic view. We have seen Scotus' argument that, since the presence of a thing is posterior to its essence, transubstantiation does not in itself furnish an adequate explanation of Christ's presence. God could, in fact, convert the bread into the body of Christ existing in heaven, just as he could effect the presence of the body without converting the bread. This claim is consistently stated throughout distinctio 10 and serves as a major weapon against the Thomistic position.42 Even if such an explicit challenge were not uttered, however, Scotus' own positive formulation would suffice to make the point. The notion of eucharistic presence as a respectus extrinsecus adveniens seems to suggest that the idea of a eucharistic conversion—a fortiori the idea of a transubstantiation—is unnecessary and even irrelevant. It is with this issue that Scotus must wrestle in distinctio 11.

Scotus' ex professo treatment of conversion in this distinctio begins with two relatively harmless quaestiones regarding the possibility of transubstantiation. These can be ignored for the moment, since it is in the third quaestio, concerning whether the bread actually is converted into the body of Christ, that the most striking features of the Scotist system begin to appear. He begins by citing three opinions on the subject which he describes as those listed by Innocent III: (1) that the bread remains and the body of Christ is present with it; (2) that the bread is not converted, but ceases to be through annihilation, resolution into matter or change into another thing (corruptionem in aliud); and (3) that the bread and wine are transubstantiated into the body and blood of Christ. All of these opinions, Scotus says, wish to maintain the real presence of Christ's body and blood, since such an affirmation is demanded by faith.

He then turns to a long and tightly packed discussion of the arguments for each position, beginning with the first. These arguments are so important for the present study that they must be described in some detail.

The first argument for the permanence of the bread is based upon a species of what was later to be called “the principle of parsimony” or “Ockham's razor,” a principle which actually entered the minds of medieval philosophers through their study of Aristotle. The basic intention of the principle is a fairly simple one: No explanation of any phenomenon should introduce more factors than are necessary for the understanding of that phenomenon. If event X can be explained by positing causes A, B and C, one should not throw in D and E for good measure. Such a rule, Scotus suggests,43 applies to theological as well as philosophical matters.44 Thus one must ask how essential a role transubstantiation plays in the explanation of Christ's real presence.

Here two factors seem to militate against transubstantiation. First, it is clearly unnecessary for Christ's presence since, as Scotus has already agreed in distinctio 10, the body of Christ could be present along with the bread and wine.45 Thus transubstantiation simply adds an additional miracle without contributing anything necessary for the presence itself.46 Second, conversion is unnecessary for the symbolic aspect of the eucharist, since the substance of bread, far from ruining the signification of the species by its presence, would actually be a better sign of Christ's body than the accidents themselves.47

Again, “this way of understanding the real presence [i. e. transubstantiation], which is harder to understand and seems to lead to more inconvenientia, does not seem to have been handed down to us as an article of faith.”48 Here the main clause, which actually receives thorough treatment in the next argument, can be ignored for the moment and attention can be concentrated upon the subordinate clause. Scotus does not enumerate the difficulties involved in the idea of transubstantiation, and we are left to assume that they are the same ones confronted later when Scotus takes up the cudgel for transubstantiation. Instead, he concentrates upon the effect these difficulties have upon those following natural reason, who, he says, would find more apparent inconvenientia in this one idea than in all the articles of faith regarding the Incarnation. Thus the doctrine would tend to prevent such men from accepting the faith. “And it seems strange that concerning one article, which is not even a principal article of faith, something should be asserted which lays the faith open to the contempt of all those following natural reason.”49

Again, “nothing is to be held as part of the substance of faith except what is expressly found in the scripture or expressly declared by the church or evidently follows from something plainly contained in the scripture or determined by the church.”50 None of these sources of authority seems to require belief that the substance of bread is absent. If it is argued, “as one doctor says,” that the words hoc est corpus meum demand the assertion that the substance of bread does not remain, one might easily respond that, given the permanence of the bread, the phrase could easily mean “this entity contained under this sensible sign is my body,” just as it does if we grant the truth of transubstantiation, since even if such is granted the hoc cannot refer to all that is present on the altar but must somehow exclude the accidents of the bread.51

Finally, the sacrament of truth should contain no falsity. Accidents naturally signify their substance and should do so in the eucharist. If it is objected that they signify the body of Christ, it can be replied that the natural signification should not be altered through the imposition of a new, freely instituted signification when the truth of both significations could be conserved if the substance were to remain.52

The case for the second alternative, annihilation, is presented by Scotus with great brevity. He points out that the first three arguments already cited in favor of the first opinion can also be adduced to prove the superiority of annihilation over transubstantiation as an explanation of the eucharistic presence. That is, it involves less miracles and less inconvenientia while seeming equally permissible in the light of scripture and tradition.53

Having thus set forth the arguments for the first two opinions, Scotus proceeds to refute the counter-arguments advanced against them by “a certain doctor.”54 In response to the objection that the permanene of bread would lead to idolatry, Scotus asserts that in such a case the latria allotted to the sacrament would be directed toward the body of Christ contained in the bread rather than toward the bread itself, just as it is now directed toward the body of Christ contained under the accidents rather than toward the accidents themselves. Here again Scotus has managed to show that the Thomistic arguments can be turned against the Thomistic formulation. In response to the objection that such permanence would ruin the signification of the sacraments, Scotus repeats what he has already said on this score. In response to the objection that it would detract from the function of the sacrament as spiritual food, making it corporeal food, Scotus observes that it is corporeal as well as spiritual food, citing St. Paul's testimony in I Corinthians 11 as proof of this fact. Against the objection that Christ cannot become present in the eucharist except through substantial conversion, Scotus simply cites his own argument in distinctio 10, quaestio 1. In response to the objection that, given such permanence, the biblical text should read hic est corpus meum rather than hoc est corpus meum, Scotus again raises the spectre of the same problem within the objector's own formulation.

Duns then turns to examine the same doctor's arguments against annihilation. That doctor is represented as arguing that, if the substance of bread were resolved into matter, it would become either pure matter (materiam nudam) or matter with some other form. The first would be impossible, since, given the existence of matter without form, the “act of matter” (actus materiae) would simultaneously be and not be. In the second case, the resultant new substance would either be present in the same place as the body of Christ or be moved to a different location, both of which are inconveniens. Scotus replies that the argument against reduction to materiam nudam depends upon an equivocal use of the word actus, since it refers in one sense to that “difference of being” (differentia entis) opposed to potentia, whereas in the second sense it refers to that habitudo which form has to the informable. The argument is based upon an equally equivocal use of potentia. As opposed to actus in the first sense it refers to a being which is diminished (diminutum) in its being, being less complete (completum) than an ens in actu. As opposed to actus in the second sense it refers to a principle receptive of an actus in the second sense. Thus matter, after being created by God but before being informed, would be in actu in the first sense and in potentia in the second. In defense of the second possibility, that of the bread being reduced to matter under a new form, Scotus argues that there is no more contradiction involved in the coexistence of the new substance with the body of Christ than in the coexistence of the body of Christ with the quantity of bread, since quantum is more repugnant to quantum than substance to substance. Nor, on the other hand, has it been demonstrated that it is impossible for God to move the new substance to another place. Thus all three possibilities are defensible.

Scotus has finally finished his presentation of the first two opinions. It is hardly necessary to observe that this presentation represents a conscious effort to refute both chapter and verse of the Thomistic argument for transubstantiation. Having thus demolished the argument, however, Scotus must still deal with the thesis which the argument was designed to support. At this point he must stand with Thomas and assert the truth of transubstantiation, not for Thomas' reasons, but because it is commonly held and principaliter because it is held by the holy Roman Church. Although Duns cites Ambrose and provides a brief indication of two points at which the belief is “congruent” with established church practices, he makes it quite clear that the authority of the Roman Church is the crucial factor in his decision.

What, then, of the arguments for the first two opinions? Scotus observes that the principle of parsimony is valid, but that it does not militate against transubstantiation, since it is necessary to posit transubstantiation in order to preserve “the truth of the eucharist”: veritas Eucharistiae. Had God instituted the eucharist in such a way as to make the body of Christ coexist with the substance of bread, the veritas Eucharistiae could have been saved without positing transubstantiation. Since he did not do so, however, the situation is entirely different.

One is tempted to see in Scotus' response a somewhat superficial bow to churchly authority, less impressive than the original argument; yet such a response may simply betray the degree to which Duns' attitude toward doctrine differs from our own. At any rate, there is more to his response than first meets the eye. In stating implicitly that God's actions are not in themselves governed by the principal of parsimony, he provides a clarification which is of more than passing interest when seen in the context of the age in which he was writing. The opposite notion was hardly untenable in the early fourteenth century.55 It would, in fact, be hard to avoid if the role of God's reason were emphasized at the expense of his will. Scotus' response places a check upon this sort of thought by stressing God's freedom in regard to the created order. He could have done it in one way if he had chosen, but he chose to do it in quite another way.

The reverse side of the same coin might be said to contain an important warning for theologians. If emphasis upon the contingency of the divinely instituted order involves greater attention to divine freedom, it also involves greater awareness of the limitations imposed upon rational argument in theology. Here the greatest caution is necessary. Scotus is not advocating a new irrationality. In fact, it is possible to judge from what has been said that his theology is more rational than Thomas' own, inasmuch as it is based upon a more penetrating analysis of the extent to which theology can be supported by natural reason. Thomas' argument for the necessity of transubstantiation is rejected, not because it is rational, but because it is not rationally convincing. It does not prove what it claims to prove.

Thus two different factors would seem to coalesce in the formation of Scotus' more “positivistic”56 approach. On the one hand, emphasis upon divine freedom leads to emphasis upon the contingency of the divinely instituted order, which in turn leads to greater emphasis upon revelation as opposed to natural theology. On the other hand, a critical evalution of the “proofs” provided by previous theologians leads to a greater awareness of the insufficiency of these “proofs,” which in turn leads to a similar emphasis upon revelation as opposed to natural theology. Thus the theologian is encouraged to place more and more reliance upon authoritative revelation concerning the divinely instituted order. If that revelation can be supported by rational arguments, such support is to be welcomed; yet the theologian is made suspicious of such arguments both by theoretical considerations concerning the divine freedom and by his own empirical observation that many arguments have hitherto been proved inconclusive.

The same general attitude is manifested in Scotus' reply to the second argument. All other things being equal, one should not accept the explanation which is more difficult to believe. Nevertheless, such a rule cannot be used to refute what we know to be the truth.57 Here again one is tempted to protest that Duns the philosopher has been betrayed by Duns the churchman. Here again, however, such an evaluation would be premature. Once a theologian is aware of the extent to which natural theology falls short in its construction of rational proofs for Christian doctrine, he should be equally skeptical concerning any attempt to construct a rational disproof of some doctrine. Such an attitude need not result in a precipitous flight from rationality. It could just as easily result in a rational awareness of the limits inherent in human thought and a healthy distrust of any rational argument which concerns matters lying at the fringe of our understanding. So far Scotus' admonition is open to the latter interpretation. Whether such an interpretation can be maintained throughout his discussion of eucharistic conversion can only be decided after viewing the entire discussion.

It is noteworthy that Scotus' responses to the first two arguments contain explicit reference to an authoritatively revealed truth which counterbalances the claims of any strictly rational argument. Thus both of these responses anticipate his response to the third argument, that regarding authority. Here Scotus reveals the precise source of the truth which he is defending. It is, of course, the Fourth Lateran Council.58 The earlier arguments regarding the Bible and early tradition are true as far as they go. Neither the Bible nor the early church presents an explicit doctrine of transubstantiation. Nevertheless, this question has been settled once and for all by the decree of the Fourth Lateran, “in which the truth of some things to be believed is set out more explicitly than in the Apostles', Athanasian and Nicene creeds.”

Thus Scotus' formulation of the doctrine is striking, not only on its refusal to offer rational justification for the doctrine, but also in its apparent willingness to base the doctrine upon the decision of a council less than a century old in his day, a decision admittedly based upon no clear-cut biblical or patristic precedents. On what basis, then, could the church have arrived at “such a difficult interpretation of this article,” especially “when the words of scripture would support an easy and apparently truer interpretation”?59 Scotus' answer is that in choosing this interpretation the church was guided by the same spirit through which the scriptures were written and handed down. Thus it chose the true interpretation.60

Such a view demands a new look at what Duns has to say about the scriptural authority for transubstantiation. As Antonius Vellico rightly suggests,61 Scotus is not placing the Fourth Lateran Council alongside the Bible as an independent authority. On the contrary, the Council was interpreting scripture when it demanded belief in transubstantiation. No matter how vaguely scripture may have put the matter, its true meaning is now clear.

Such an explanation tells us everything and nothing. It clearly states the conciliar claim to doctrinal authority, yet it says absolutely nothing about the sorts of criteria which would enter into the doctrinal decision. Granting that the bishops at the Council were guided by the Holy Spirit, their interpretation must have been based on some concrete evidence. What evidence does Scotus think was decisive? This question must, unfortunately, remain unanswered, since there is nothing in his formulation which would help us to answer it.

So far, we have examined Scotus' presentation and refutation of the arguments for the first two opinions and his assertion that the third opinion, transubstantiation, is the correct one. He must also show in good scholastic fashion that it is possible, that it is neither a contradictory notion in itself nor does it lead to such. It is in these sections that one would expect him to come to terms with the inconvenientia seemingly entailed by the doctrine, and it is in the context of this confrontation that one might expect to discover what Duns really means by “transubstantiation.”

The first stage of this confrontation actually takes place with his answer to the question “whether transubstantiation is possible.”62 Here, having defined transubstantiation as “the transition of a total substance into a substance,”63 he argues that “it is not repugnant for whatever is able to be entirely new to succeed that which is able to cease to be entirely … consequently this is able to be converted totally into that and thus transubstantiated.”64 Whatever may be the merits of such an explanation, it is obvious that it does not support the possibility of transubstantiation in the sense in which Thomas wants to use the word. What it does support is the possibility of a succession of being to being or, more precisely, of the ceasing-to-be of one to the beginning-to-be of another. This apparent insufficiency represents something more than an oversight on Scotus' part, as will be seen in a moment.

Even a casual reading of Scotus' explanation seems to uncover a major fallacy. It seems to apply to any situation except the one to which he intended it to apply, since the body of Christ, being preexistent, is not really produced de novo in the eucharistic conversion. Here the striking dissimilarity between Scotus and Thomas is again demonstrated. Whereas for the latter Christ's preexistence is an important part of the argument for the necessity of transubstantiation, for the former it seems one of the gravest threats to the same doctrine.

Scotus replies that two modes of transubstantiation must be distinguished. In the first, the substance takes on being (esse). In the second, it takes on “being-here” (esse hic).65 The first is productive (productiva) of its term, the second adductive (adductiva). The first mode of transubstantiation cannot have a preexistent substance as its term, but the second can. The sort of transubstantiation involved in the eucharistic conversion is, then, of the second type.

Scotus immediately acknowledges the inevitable objection to this line of thought: The second type is not transubstantiation at all, since its term is not substance in itself but presence, which is an accident of substance. He replies that substance is indeed the term of transubstantiation in the second sense, since substance succeeds substance.66 Such an argument would not seem to be completely at odds with the Thomistic view. It simply focuses attention on the area in which the concept of transubstantiation is relevant. The concept refers, not to the mutation which occurs in Christ (which involves change of presence rather than change of substance), but to the change which occurs upon the altar. The latter does involve a change of substance. This rather obvious affirmation is the only one Duns needs in order to make his point. His argument requires a quiet revision of his earlier distinction between transubstantiation and presence,67 but once this revision is made his defense of transubstantiation is assured, provided that the word is not taken to mean anything more than a succession of substance to substance.

Unfortunately, the term was assumed to mean something more in the later thirteenth century. Transubstantiation meant conversion, and conversion meant more for Thomas, Bonaventure and others than simple succession. At least a minimum degree of assent to this view was exacted through the practice of answering in the negative the question of whether the bread is annihilated in the conversion. For a theologian like Thomas, the “strong” sense of transubstantiation is so obvious and so necessary for his understanding of eucharistic presence that the question of annihilation hardly needs be asked. For Scotus, the situation is entirely reversed. His understanding of presence and his definition of transubstantion are such that one eagerly turns to his consideration of the question of annihilation, half expecting him to answer in the affirmative.

The expectation is not completely unfulfilled. Scotus' treatment of this question is a strange one. After beginning, according to his usual pattern, with the presentation and refutation of various opposing arguments, Scotus makes an explicit statement “that the bread is not annihilated, or at least that the bread is not annihilated by this conversion”;68 yet his determination, rather than taking the form of a sustained argument, might almost be termed a dialogue. At times one gets the impression that Scotus is thinking out loud.69 Within this section one can isolate at least four answers to the problem. The first three are immediately followed by refutations. The fourth provides the traditional negation, but in as minimal a form as one could expect to encounter. The conversion is between the bread as present and the body of Christ as present. Thus, within this conversion, the bread does not lose “being-in-itself” (esse simpliciter) but only “being-here” (hic esse). What, then, do we make of the fact that the bread ceases to be as well as to be present? This phenomenon must come about through a different act than that involved in transubstantiation.70 This “ceasing-to-be,” although concomitant with the conversion, is not a term of the conversion.71 Thus, even though this “ceasing-to-be” might be described as annihilation, the conversion is not thereby implicated.72 Returning for a moment to the assertion with which Scotus began his determination, we see that he has succeeded in backing at least the second of his two claims. The bread is not annihilated by the conversion.73

What is one to make of this conclusion? It is of course impossible to agree with one of his more extreme defenders that Scotus is in complete agreement with St. Thomas on the matter.74 On the other end of the spectrum, it is equally impossible to accept Seeberg's attempt to present Scotus' theory of adductive transubstantiation as essentially a doctrine of consubstantiation phrased in accordance with the demands of orthodoxy.75 There is no compelling reason to believe that Duns' initial case for the permanence of the bread represents his own secret opinion or that it is the only opinion consistent with his view of eucharistic presence. It is noteworthy that the most striking aspect of that case, his reference to the ridicule heaped upon transubstantiation by those following natural reason, argues against transubstantiation rather than for consubstantiation. Again, one must not fail to note that the most forceful arguments advanced by Duns Scotus in favor of the permanence of the bread are also listed by himm as valid arguments for the superiority of an annihilation theory over that of transubstantiation. In other words, although it is true that the permanence theory is supported with one more argument than is accorded to the annihilation theory, the main point of the opening section is not so much the superiority of one of those views to the other as the superiority of both to transubstantiation.

Furthermore, if we are to take seriously the rebuttals of these opening arguments offered by Scotus himself—rebuttals which, in their emphasis upon divine freedom and the centrality of revealed truth, accord well with Scotus' views elsewhere—we must recognize that he would not accept as decisive any slight rational superiority on the part of a given theory. Thus, as was suggested earlier, the real problem is one of how prodigious the difficulties accompanying transubstantiation actually seem. Scotus might be expected to find transubstantiation a major stumbling block only if the inconvenientia seem so unassailable as to involve any formulation in hopeless self-contradiction.

Once we examine Scotus' own formulation in the light of these considerations, we might be moved to conclude that he is, in fact, unable to formulate a thoroughgoing doctrine of transubstantiation in the “strong” Thomistic sense of that word. Is there anything especially sinister about this conclusion? In the long run, one would guess that there is not, even if we choose to measure Scotus by the canons of Roman Catholic doctrine. His view of transubstantiation is not explicitly contradicted by the definition of transubstantiation produced by the Council of Trent, nor did the great theologians of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries interpret the tridentine definition as a condemnation of Scotus.76

In the short run, the situation is more ambiguous. Scotus himself may well have felt somewhat uncomfortable about his position. He seems to see himself as moving in a tradition which clearly expects a negative answer to the question of “whether the bread is annihilated.” He states the problem in such a way as to demand such an answer, since he introduces the theory of annihilation as an alternative to transubstantiation. He eventually escapes from his dilemma through an artful application of the two theories to different phenomena. As the discussion ends, one senses an atmosphere of relief rather than exultation.

Interestingly enough, Scotus' definitive solution was not universally adopted by early fourteenth-century Scotists. Hugo de Novo Castro77 and Johannes de Bassolis78 both argue that the bread is not annihilated because the termini of transubstantiation are both positive. These termini are seen as the bread and the body of Christ. Thus both men adopt the solution which Scotus accepts in the Reportata Parisiensia but rejects in the Opus Oxoniense.79

Other Scotists seem less resolute. In answer to the question of whether the bread is annihilated Franciscus de Mayronis80 replies that it is not, since it is converted. God, he says, can cause a thing to cease to be in two ways, either secundum se or in ordine ad aliud. The first case alone can be called annihilation. Then, unfortunately, Franciscus provides an illustration. God decides not to destroy a man unless he creates an angel. Since He intends something positive, it can be argued that the man is not annihilated. Thus, in the same way, He does not effect the nonbeing of the bread secundum se, but rather in ordine ad aliud, namely the sacramental body of Christ.

Needless to say, the illustration does not support a very “strong” sense of transubstantiation. In fact, the author is still not satisfied. He goes on to offer four more arguments in favor of annihilation, then answers them in less than six lines which leave one wondering precisely what Franciscus did think about the matter.

To the first argument I say that it is true if the thing is reduced to nothing which is not in ordine ad aliud. And the same response can be made to the other arguments. Because, therefore, God has ordered the nonbeing of the bread to another terminus, there seems to be no better way of arguing against annihilation. He who can understand, let him understand!81

Perhaps the most ingenious improvement upon Scotus' view was made by a man who, although hardly a Scotist, seems to have been one of Scotus' more discerning readers. It was William of Ockham who decided that Scotus' main difficulty lay, not in his conclusion regarding annihilation, but in his way of formulating the problem. Like Scotus, Ockham denies the close connection posited by Thomas Aquinas between eucharistic presence and conversion.82 Like Scotus, he offers an extremely “weak” definition of transubstantiation.83 Like Scotus, he presents and discusses several alternative theories regarding the nature of the eucharistic conversion.84 It might be suggested (1) that the bread remains and the body of Christ coexists with it; (2) that the substance of bread is moved to another place while the accidents remain, the body of Christ coexisting with them; (3) that the substance of bread might be understood to be reduced to matter, either remaining without a form or receiving a new one; or (4) that the substance of the bread is reduced to nothing. Like Scotus, Ockham grants an a priori possibility to all the alternatives, explicitly recognizes the rational advantages enjoyed by the theory of permanence, but finally rejects that hypothesis because the Fourth Lateran Council has chosen differently.

Note, however, that Ockham has effected a quiet revolution in his listing of the alternatives. Unlike Scotus, he does not have to face a choice between transubstantiation and annihilation. Thus he is in a position to accept annihilation, not as an alternative to transubstantiation, but as one aspect of it.85

Such a clarification was not without its dangers. It is noteworthy that none of Ockham's later works contains an explicit affirmation of annihilation. Moreover, his lone affirmation of annihilation in the sentence commentary appears among those aspects of his thought censured by a papal commission in 1325/26.86 The problem of eucharistic conversion was hardly settled by Ockham or anyone else in his time. Succeeding theologians might well have taken to heart the warning with which Ockham's contemporary, Durandus a Sancto Porciano, prefaced his thoughts on the matter.

It is to be noted that since this is one of the greatest miracles contained by our faith … it is not our intention to provide any rigorous explanation of how it happens—for it is beyond the understanding of any mortal—but simply to provide some insight into what the faith holds regarding this sacrament and what the church holds concerning the way in which the body of Christ exists there. Nor should anyone be proud of himself if he finds that he can argue against our formulation, since it is the easiest thing in the world to attack the faith in its various formulations by the use of human reason and philosophy. Moreover, it is most difficult—perhaps impossible—to provide unquestionable refutations for all such attacks … If anyone is not satisfied with our formulation, let him try another in the knowledge that perhaps he will suffer as many or more slanders than we. Nor is it sufficient for anyone to say in general that there is another formulation, although unknown to us; for any ignoramus can say that.87


  1. Thomists have been more than ready to attack Scotus for his deviation from Thomism. See for example, Vincentius Cachia, De natura transsubstantiationis iuxta S. Thomam et Scotum (Rome, 1929). Franciscans have rallied to his defense by either minimizing the deviation or justifying it as consistent with that formulation accepted by the Council of Trent. The latter course is seen in a perceptive article by Antonius Vellico, “De transsubstantiatione juxta Joannem Duns Scotum,” Antonianum, 5 (1930), 301-302. The former, more difficult course is attempted by Hugolinus Storff, De natura transsubstantiationis iuxta I. Duns Scotum (Quaracchi, 1936).

    Protestant authors have brought their own concerns to the study of Scotus' eucharistic thought, occasionally attempting to picture him as a harbinger of the Reformation. See, for example, the classic study by Reinhold Seeberg, Die Theologie des Johannes Duns Scotus (Leipzig, 1900), hereafter cited as Duns Scotus. In his discussion of Scotus' eucharistic thought, Seeberg betrays a strong desire to interpret Scotus in as Protestant a manner as the text will allow. See, for example, the general interpretation in Ibid., 383 which concludes “Das wäre ungefähr lutherisch gedacht, aber ist sich auch nicht unscotistisch gedacht.” Protestants are hardly the only ones moved by such desires, however. See Kilian McDonnell, OSB, John Calvin, the Church and the Eucharist (Princeton, 1967). McDonnell sees in Scotus' formulation an attempt to affirm the continued presence of the bread and wine without contradicting the doctrine of transubstantiation.

  2. See especially the Commentarium in quatuor libros sententiarum magistri Petri Lombardi, liber IV (henceforth abbreviated as IV Sent.), d. 10, q. 1, a. 1 ad 8, in Opera (New York, 1948-50), 71.

  3. Summa theologiae (Rome, 1948), III, q. 75, a. 2. (The Summa theologiae will hereafter be cited as ST.). See also IV Sent., d. 11, q. 1, q. 1a 1; Questiones quodlibetales (hereafter cited as Quodl.), III, q. 1, a. 2, in Opera, 9.

  4. Libri IV sententiarum (Quaracchi, 1916), liber IV, dd. 10-12.

  5. It must be noted in passing that Thomas' refutation of the theory that the bread remains—a theory which, for reasons of brevity, will hereafter be characterized as the theory of permanence—does not rest entirely upon his argument for the necessity of conversion. In ST III, q. 75, a. 2 he presents a detailed argument for the necessity of conversion and then adds, in briefer form, the following arguments: (1) The idea of permanence is contrary to the words of consecration, which would have to be hic est corpus meum if the bread remained; (2) the idea is contrary to the veneration given to the sacrament, which could not be worshipped with the adoration of latria if the bread remained; (3) the idea is contrary to the custom of the church forbidding the eating of any food before communion and yet allowing priests to partake of successive consecrated hosts. In IV Sent., d. 11, q. 1, a. 1, q. 1a 1 he cites all of the preceding arguments plus the observation that if the bread remained the function of the species as a sign would be frustrated, since the species would point, not to the body of Christ, but to the substance of bread.

    Thomas also advances other arguments in his refutation of annihilation. These arguments can be summarized as follows: If the bread were not converted into the body of Christ, it would be either resolved into matter or annihilated. If the former, then it must be resolved into matter without form (which is self-contradictory, implying that the matter is in actu without that form which is its actus) or into its material elements. If it is resolved into its material elements, these elements must either remain in the same place (thus involving all the inconvenientia implied in the theory of permanence) or move elsewhere (which is impossible, since no such movement is perceived and since such motion would be gradual, whereas transubstantiation is instantaneous). Thus if the bread is not converted into the body of Christ it must be annihilated. Thomas then refutes the idea of annihilation by reference to the previously noted argument that presence must come about through conversion. ST III, q. 75, a. 3; IV Sent., d. 11, q. 1, a. 2. In both cases Thomas describes the theory of annihilation as “false,” while he brands the theory of permanence as “heretical.”

  6. IV Sent., d. 10, q. 1, a. 1: … nullum corpus comparatur ad locum nisi mediantibus dimensionibus quantitatis; et ideo ibi corpus est aliquid ut in loco, ubi commensurantur dimensiones ejus dimensionibus loci; et secundum hoc corpus Christi non est nisi in uno loco tantum, scilicet in caelo.

  7. ST III, q. 76, a. 5.

  8. ST III, q. 76, a. 5.

  9. ST III, q. 76, aa. 1 and 2.

  10. ST III, q. 76, a. 1 ad 3: Propria autem totalitas continetur indifferenter in parva vel magna quantitate; sicut tota natura aeris in magno vel parvo aere, et tota natura hominis in magno vel parvo homine.

  11. ST III, q. 76, a. 3: … natura substantiae tota est sub qualibet parte dimensionum, sub quibus continetur, sicut sub qualibet parte aeris est tota natura aeris et sub qualibet panis est tota natura panis. The idea of substantial conversion also explains several other things, such as why the conversion is instantaneous and why Christ is not increased in size by daily conversion.

  12. ST III, q. 76, a. 1. For the historical development of the idea of concomitance, see James J. Megivern, Concomitance and Communion (Freiburg, 1963).

  13. ST III, q. 76, aa. 4 and 5.

  14. Fratris Ioannis Duns Scoti … in quartum lib. sententiarum perutiles quaestiones (Venice, 1598), d. 10, q. 1, fol. 40K. All references to the work in question, hereafter cited as IV Sent., will be given in terms of this edition, although all passages cited have been checked against the text in Opera (Paris, 1891-95). Until Opera (Vatican City, 1951) offers a complete text of the Opus Oxoniense, any edition must be regarded with some suspicion.

    One important observation must be made at the outset. It has been accepted since the fourteenth century that Scotus commented upon the Sentences at least twice. The Paris, 1891-95 edition of his works (like its ancestor the Lyons, 1639 edition) includes not only the Opus Oxoniense but the so-called Reportata Parisiensia. Recent scholarship has shown that the story is even more complicated. For discussion and bibliography see especially Charles Balić, Les Commentaires de Jean Duns Scot sur les quatre livres des sentences (Louvain, 1927) and the new Opera, 1, 140-75. It takes little more than a glance at the Reportata Parisiensia to realize that Scotus' formulation of eucharistic doctrine is not uniform throughout his sentence commentaries. Moreover, quaestio 10 of his Quaestiones quodlibetales (St. Bonaventure N.V., 1950) deals with some of the same material discussed in the sentence commentaries and is closer to the views of the Reportata Parisiensia than to those of the Opus Oxoniense. In both cases the difference involves a move closer to the Thomistic position. Thus any attempt to present the teaching of the Opus Oxoniense as the Scotist view of eucharistic presence would seem ill-advised.

    Nevertheless, such a course is precisely the one the present work proposes to take. The priority of the Opus Oxoniense is dictated both by its nature and by chronological considerations. In the first place, it would seem to be an ordinatio, a work that Scotus himself revised for circulation, while the Reportata Parisiensia is a reportatio, recorded by his students from his lectures. In the second place, Scotus seems to have used his Oxford and Paris lectures in writing the ordinatio, which means that the ordinatio marks a late stage in his development. Thus the reportationes are interesting as reflections of his development, but the ordinatio represents the views of the mature Scotus. See the conclusion offered by Charles Balić, “The Life and Works of Duns Scotus,” Duns Scotus, 1365-1965 (Washington, 1965), 21 “… whenever disagreement exists between the teaching of the Ordinatio and the teaching of the Reportationes, the text of the Ordinatio is to be followed as that which reflects Scotus' final and definitive doctrine.”

  15. IV Sent., d. 10, q. 1, fol. 41B.

  16. Ibid., fol. 41D-K.

  17. Here we encounter a term which defies translation. In essence, it refers to a relation of one thing to another, but a relation of such a sort that it is not directly determined by the nature of the thing in question. As will be seen, Scotus' formulation of eucharistic presence is dependent upon his essentially “realistic” notion of a respectus extrinsecus adveniens.

  18. Ibid., fol. 41H-I.

  19. In the marginal reference provided by the Venice, 1598 edition it is described as such. Since Scotus is also aware of what would eventually be thought of as the Ockhamist view of quantity, one is tempted to put the two together and affirm that Scotus is refuting an essentially Ockhamist view at this point, well before Ockham himself appeared on the scholarly scene. The possibilities are more varied than one might suppose, however, and are unfortunately beyond the scope of the present work.

  20. Ibid., fol. 41K-A.

  21. In the latter case positio is equal to what some scholastics call situs. Scotus' distinction is not entirely foreign to Thomas Aquinas. In his Commentarium de physico auditu, liber IV, lectio 5, in Opera, 18 Thomas distinguishes between situs as a predicament (involving ordo partium in loco) and situs as a differentia quantitatis (involving ordo partium in toto). On the whole, however, Thomas uses situs in the predicamental sense.

  22. IV Sent., fol. 42A-D: … possibile esset Deum conservare quantum et coexistentiam eius ad aliud quantum, et tamen sine ista coextensione partium unius ad partes alterius quam dicit positio ista, de qua loquimur. Note that positio in the second sense is here identified with “coextension of parts.”

  23. Ibid., fol. 42B.

  24. Ibid., fol. 42C: … coexistentia … non tamen formaliter est ubi.

  25. Ibid., fol. 41C: … terminus istius mutationis non est ubi, … sed terminus est quaedam praesentia simplex.

  26. Such is seen to be the case, not only because of the identity of names, but also because of the similarity of definitions. Positio as a predicament is described as an: ordinem partium ad locum, sive ad partes loci, vel locantis … See Ibid., fol. 42B.

  27. See ibid., fol. 42C, which refers to: ista coextensione partium unius ad partes alterius, quam dicit positio ista, de qua loquimur.

  28. Ibid., fol. 41F-G.

  29. Ibid., fol. 41F-G: … praesentia corporis Christi speciei magis recedit a vera ratione ubi, quia nullo modo per istam praesentiam determinatur sic ad unum ubi, quod sibi repugnat aliud.

  30. In librum sententiarum opus (Paris, 1517), IV, d. 10, q. 1, fol. 38r. Johannes sees all three types as contained within the predicament ubi.

  31. He remarks that the divergence between eucharistic presence and the predicament ubi does not necessarily suggest the existence of more than ten predicaments, but may simply reflect our failure to define the ten as satisfactorily as we might. See also Scotus' Quaestiones quodlibetales, q. 11, where he limits the notion of ubi properly speaking to praesens modo quantitativo or as coextensum loco, but grants that the presence of the whole to cuilibet parti illius loci—as in the case of angelic presence—may improperly be called ubi.

  32. IV Sent., d. 10, q. 1, fol. 42D.

  33. Duns Scotus, 371.

  34. IV Sent., d. 10, q. 2, fol. 43C. See also fol. 431.

  35. Perhaps the main significance of the statement for the historian of theology is simply that it is there at all, that Scotus considers it necessary to begin with an appeal to God's omnipotence. Here one sees evidence of a tendency which, although not entirely absent from thirteenth-century theology, was to exert even greater influence upon the fourteenth century, the tendency toward an increased awareness of and reference to God's omnipotence, along with great effort to use the doctrine as a major tool for attacking any number of theological and even philosophical questions.

  36. The example of the virgin birth is also used. Ibid., fol. 45C.

  37. Ibid., fol. 43K: … respectus intrinsecus advenientes, de quibus minus videtur possunt plurificari fundamento eodem manente ad diversos terminos, ut super eandem albedinem possunt duae similitudines fundari ad duos terminos …

  38. Duns Scotus, 373. See also his Lehrbuch der Dogmengeschichte, 3, (Graz, 1953), 526-27.

  39. See Duns Scotus, 376, where it is called “nur eine logische Beziehung.” See also 374-75, 383.

  40. See Ibid., 374-75.

  41. Scotus does distinguish between Christ's presence sub modo sacramenti and his presence sub modo naturali, but he does not consider the latter to be any more “real” than the former. See IV Sent., d. 10, q. 4, fol. 47D-E.

  42. See, for example, IV Sent., d. 10, q. 1, fol. 41B-C; d. 10, q. 3, fol. 46D-E; d. 10, q. 4, fol. 48A-B.

  43. It must be remembered that Scotus is speaking in the person of an anonymous exponent of the first view, not expressly for himself. The nature of Scotus' own view will be discussed later.

  44. Ibid., d. 11, q. 3, fol. 55G: Sicut in naturalibus non sunt plura ponenda quam ratio naturalis necessario convincit … quia pluralitas est superflua, ita in credibilibus non sunt ponenda plura quam convinci possit ex veritate creditorum. Si veritas Eucharistiae salvari potest sine ista transsubstantiatione, ergo etc.

  45. Ibid., fol. 55H: … non magis repugnat substantiae esse simul cum substantia, quam cum quantitate illius substantiae.

  46. The principle of parsimony extends to miracles: … ponenda sunt pauciora miracula quantum possible est.”

  47. Note that this argument, like the others in this section, opposes a recognizably Thomistic argument.

  48. Ibid., fol. 551: In creditis nobis secundum intellectum universalem traditis, non videtur ille modus determinandus, qui est difficilior ad intelligendum, et ad quem plura videntur sequi inconvenientia.

  49. Ibid., fol. 55K: Et mirum videtur quare in uno articulo, qui non est principalis articulus fidei debeat talis intellectus asseri, propter quem fides pateat contemptui omnium sequentium rationem.

  50. Ibid., fol. 56A: Nihil est tenendum tanquam de substantia fidei, nisi quod potest expresse haberi de scriptura vel expresse declaratum est per ecclesiam, vel evidenter sequitur ex aliquo plane contento in scriptura vel plane determinato ab ecclesia.

  51. Ibid., fol. 56B-C.

  52. Ibid., fol. 56E.

  53. Ibid., fol. 56D.

  54. Ibid., fol. 56. These arguments are the same ones advanced by Aquinas in IV Sent., d. 11, q. 1, art. 1.

  55. See M. de Gandillac in Histoire de l'Église, 13: Le Mouvement doctrinal de XIeau XIVesiècle (Paris, 1951), 373.

  56. See Seeberg, Duns Scotus, 381.

  57. IV Sent., d. 11, q. 3, fol. 561-K.

  58. Ibid., fol. 56K: Ecclesia declaravit istum intellectum esse de veritate fidei in illo symbolo edito sub Innoc. tertio in concilio Lateranensi Firmitur credimus etc.

  59. Ibid., fol. 57A: Et si queras quare voluit ecclesia eligere istum intellectum ita difficilem huius articuli, cum verba scripturae possent salvari secundum intellectum facilem, et veriorem secundum apparentiam de hoc articulo …

  60. Ibid., fol. 57A: Dico quod eo spiritu expositae sunt scripturae quo conditae. Et ita supponendum est, quod ecclesia catholica eo spiritu exposuit, quo tradita est nobis fides. Spiritu scilicet veritatis edocta, et ideo hunc intellectum eligit, quia verus est. Non enim in potestate ecclesiae fuit facere istud verum vel non verum, sed Dei instituentis, sed intellectum a Deo traditum ecclesia explicavit directa in hoc ut creditur spiritu veritatis.

  61. “De transsubstantiatione iuxta Ioannem Duns Scotum,” Antonianum, 5 (1930), 308. For a recent investigation of Scotus' views on the relation of tradition and scripture, see Eligius Buytaert, “Circa doctrinam Duns Scoti de traditione et de Scripturae sufficientia adnotationes,” Antonianum, 40 (1965), 346-62.

  62. Ibia., d. 11, q. 1.

  63. Ibid., fol. 53K: … transitio totalis substantiae in substantiam …

  64. Ibid., fol. 531-K: Quicquid potest esse totaliter novum non repugnat sibi succedere alii, quod potest totaliter desinere esse … et per consequens hoc potest converti totaliter in illam, et ita transsubstantiari.

  65. Ibid., d. 11, q. 3, fol. 57K.

  66. Ibid., fol. 57G: … substantia est terminus ipsius transsubstantiationis secundo modo dictae, quia ipsa substantia succedit substantiae, non tamen habet esse substantiale novum, sed tantum praesentiam novam.

  67. Duns now says that his distinction, employed with gusto against the Thomistic opinion in d. 10, q. 1, applies only to the first mode of transubstantiation.

  68. Ibid., d. 11, q. 4, fol. 62B: … quod panis non annihilatur, vel quod est facilius, quod panis ista conversione non annihilatur.

  69. In view of the arrangement of the arguments in this quaestio and the relation of some of these arguments to those used by Scotus himself in Quodl., q. 10 and the Reportata Parisiensia, liber IV, d. 11, q. 4, it is tempting to see the discussion of the Opus Oxoniense as a relatively late formulation incorporating former views, later refinements of these views and the final solution of the question in the light of the distinction between productive and adductive transubstantiation.

  70. IV Sent., d. 11, q. 4, fol. 63A: … oportet quod desinat esse alia desitione, quae est a simpliciter esse eius ad simpliciter non esse eius …

  71. Ibid., fol. 63A: … illud autem non esse eius, licet quasi concomitetur praesentiam corporis, ut hic, non tamen, ut terminum eiusdem generis …

  72. Ibid., fol. 63B: … et per consequens si ista desitio secundum se considerata sit annihilatio, tamen nullo modo ista conversio est annihilatio.

  73. He explicitly recognizes this fact. Ibid., fol. 63C: Potest ergo teneri tertium scilicet secundum membrum disiunctivae positae supra.

  74. Storff, De natura transsubstantiationis iuxta I. Duns Scotum, 74.

  75. See Lehrbuch der Dogmengeschichte, 3, 522-23; Duns Scotus, 382-83, 386-87, 393-94.

  76. See Vellico, “De transsubstantiatione,” 323-31. Although the prehistory of Scotus' stand is of less concern in the present context, it might be observed in passing that, although Scotus' “weak” view of transubstantiation is a departure from trends inherited from the late thirteenth century, it would seem to fall within the limits of orthodoxy recognized by some important earlier authorities. See Petrus Lombardus, IV Sent., d. 11, p. 1, cap. 2; Innocentius III, Mysteriorum evangelicae legis et sacramenti eucharistiae libri sex, liber IV, cap. 20, in PL 217, 870-71.

  77. Quaestiones super quartum librum sententiarum (MS., Holy Name College, Washington, D.C.), d. 11, q. 3.

  78. In libros sententiarum opus, IV, d. 11, q. 4.

  79. In the Opus Oxoniense it is the second possible solution to be considered and rejected. See d. 11, q. 4, fol. 62E-G.

  80. Praeclarissima … scripta … Francisci de Mayronis in quatuor libros sententiarum (Venice, 1520), liber IV, d. 11, q. 20.

  81. Ad primum dico quod verum est si sit deductum ad nihil quod non est in ordine ad aliud. Et per idem ad alia argumenta potest responderi; quia igitur deus ordinavit desinitionem istius panis esse ad alium terminum non apparet alius modus melior per quem salvetur quod non sit annihilatio. Qui potest capere, capiat.

  82. Super 4 libros sententiarum, liber IV, q. 4 in Opera Plurima (London, 1962), 4.

  83. Ibid., q. 7: … transsubstantiatio … est successio substantiae ad substantiam desinentem esse simpliciter in se sub aliquibus accidentibus propriis substantie precedentis.

  84. Ibid., q. 6.

  85. Ibid., q. 6. Ockham observes that annihilation is quite acceptable as long as one does not take it to mean that the bread is reduced to non-being without being converted into anything else.

  86. The committee preferred to see annihilation as opposed to transubstantiation. See David Burr, “Ockham, Scotus and the Censure at Avignon,” Church History, 37 (1968), 144-59.

  87. Petri Lombardi iu sententias theologicas commentariorum libri IIII (Venice, 1571), liber IV, d. 11, q. 1. The translation does not entirely do justice to the Latin, which is as follows: Advertendum est quod cum inter omnia miracula quae continet fides nostra istud sit unum de maximis, sc. quod corpus Christi manens caelo localiter et circumscriptive sit simul in hoc sacramento, non est intentionis nostrae dare modum evidentiae per quem hoc possit fieri quia hoc est super omnem humanum intellectum cuiuslibet viatoris, sed intendimus solum dare modum persuasibilem per quem aliqualiter manducamur in illud quod tradit fides de hoc sacramento, et illud quod tenet ecclesia de modo existentiae corporis Christi in ipso. Nec glorietur aliquis si sciat arguere contra modum quem intendimus ponere, quia facillimum est impugnare per humanam rationem, et Philosophiam ea quae sunt fidei et omnes modos declarantes fidem, et difficillimum est, et forte impossibile est evidenter omnes tales impugnationes solvere; ut ostensum fuit I lib. super prologum sententiarum. Sed cui non placuerit ille modus quem ponere intendimus studeat alium ponere et sciat quod forte patietur tot vel plures calumnias quam noster. Nec sufficiat alicui dicere in generali quod est alius modus, quamvis nobis incognitus et occultus; quia hoc posset dicere quilibet idiota et ignarus. The passage is not without its irony, since Durandus, no stranger to censures himself, served on the papal commission that censured Ockham.

William A. Frank (essay date 1982)

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 9190

SOURCE: Frank, William A. “Duns Scotus's Concept of Willing Freely: What Divine Freedom beyond Choice Teaches Us.” Franciscan Studies 42, no. 20 (1982): 68-89.

[In the following essay, Frank analyzes the conjunction of freedom and necessity in Scotus's understanding of divine will.]

The claim that God enjoys a volition that is simultaneously free and necessary challenges the standard meaning of willing freely that is anchored in the condition of a choice between alternatives.1 It has been claimed before that Duns Scotus' assertion of the compatibility of freedom and necessity in volition proves critical to a proper understanding of his voluntarism. Alluding to this teaching is one way of fulfilling the obligation encumbent on a reader of Duns Scotus to counter an entrenched tendency in the received history of philosophy that sees in Scotus' doctrine of the free will the origins of a prevailing modern notion of liberty as a fundamental arbitrariness, a radical freedom of indifference.2 What is accomplished in this analysis of certain Scotistic teachings is a demonstration of the core meaning of willing freely. This is an account of the univocal meaning at work in an understanding of any operation of the free will. The contrast in the compatibility of seemingly contradictory properties signals an analysis of free will that must be enlarged beyond the benchmark case of choice so familiar to ordinary human affairs.

Seven sections follow. First, Scotus' argument that certain of God's volitions are necessary is presented. Secondly, we examine the reason why necessity must pertain to these acts of will. Thirdly, the rationale for restricting necessary volitions to the divine will is developed. The first three sections, then, deal with the necessity of certain divine volitions, and in the process we encounter the critical role of divine infinity. The next two sections deal with the theme of freedom: In the fourth we develop the sense of freedom relevant to acts of the will. The fifth part is devoted to speculations on how the general sense of freedom is univocal with the special case of God's necessary volitions. With this the thesis of the paper is completed. The final two units are largely of the nature of appendices, though they do present important formulations of this study on Scotus' concept of freedom. The sixth presents a summary of what I call Scotus' firmitas doctrine, a teaching that is little noted among Scotist scholars and yet proves critical in the argument of part five of this essay. The seventh poses and answers objections to the Scotist teaching.


In line with standard medieval theory, Duns Scotus held that God loves himself and that the Trinitarian persons of the Father and the Son, in a common act of love, spirate the Holy Spirit. Equally uncontroversially, he maintained that both acts, self-love and spiration, are simply necessary. Simply necessary items exist, are eternal and uncaused. So understood, necessity is predicated as a mode of being.3 Further, and in this claim there was much controversy, Scotus insisted that both of the acts are primarily acts of will.

With these preliminary observations in mind we turn to Scotus' initial arguments.4

  • First Necessity Argument
    • (1) God is necessarily happy.
    • (2) God's happiness consists in his loving the beatifying object, namely, his own self.
    • (3) Hence there is simple necessity in his act of self-love.
    • (4) But all acts of love are primarily acts of will.
    • (5) Therefore, there is simple necessity in an act of God's will.
  • Second Necessity Argument
    • (1) The Holy Spirit is God.
    • (2) God is supremely necessary in his being.
    • (3) Hence the Holy Spirit is supremely necessary in its being.
    • (4) And since the Holy Spirit receives being by proceeding from the love of Father and Son,
    • (5) that act by which he proceeds is simply necessary.

The point I want to draw from these arguments concerns the basis for predicating necessity of volitions. In both cases, necessity is first predicated of some being (viz., God's happiness and the Holy Spirit), which then becomes the basis for affirming it of the act by which the being is constituted. Accordingly, we distinguish necessity as a mode of being of the divine happiness and the Third Person from the necessity of the constituting operation or production. Just as one distinguishes the constituted being from the constituting operation (or production), so one distinguishes the mode of the constituted being from the mode of the constituting operation. To know that the constituted being has simple necessity entitles one to the judgment: it is necessary that the operative power operate. The manner of the operative power's operation is a matter not at all touched on. Later Scotus will explain that the will is defined as an active power by its mode of operating, namely, its freedom.


The question now asked is: can any intrinsic reason be given for the truth of the two propositions: “it is necessary that God love himself” and “it is necessary that the Father and the Son spirate the Holy Spirit?” Put somewhat colloquially: why must the operation or production go on? The relevant account in the Quodlibet can be presented thus:5

  • Reason-Why Argument
    • (1) The infinite will relates itself to the most perfect object in the most perfect way it can.
    • (2) The divine will is an infinite will.
    • (3) Therefore, it relates itself to the supremely lovable object in the most perfect way that a will can.
    • (4) But this most perfect way of relating itself to the supremely lovable object is accomplished only if (A) it loves with a necessary and adequate act, and (B) it spirates a love adequate to the object.
    • (5) For if either of these conditions, A or B, were not met, one could conceive without contradiction some will relating itself more perfectly to that object.
    • (6) For it is not a contradiction that the infinite will have an infinite act with regard to the infinite object.
    • (7) If there is an infinite act then the act is necessary, for if the will were not to have such an act relative to such an object, it would lack supreme perfection.

Before commenting on the argument, let me suggest something about the use of the term “infinite” and the notion of necessity as a perfection. For Scotus “infinite being” is the most simple, adequate concept naturally available by which we can conceive God in this life. To say that something is infinite is to say that it is possessed of the fulness of perfection. As this is hardly the time to launch a justification of Scotus' concept of infinity and as it has recently been done so well by another, these few notes will have to suffice.6

When Scotus says that necessity is a perfection,7 I think he means that it is conceivable of a non-necessary item that, although it possesses great perfection, it lacks at least some positive attribute or degree of perfection, call it P. Now were we to deny the lack of P, or what is the same, grant the presence of P, then the item does not gain over and above P (in addition to its other perfections) some further perfection, namely, necessity. To say that an item is necessary, then, is to say that it is not possible that it not possess the fulness of perfection. It would not be quite accurate to say: “an infinite being possesses the full extent and full degree of what it is better to have than not, including necessity.” It would be misleading were it to suggest that necessity is one of the attributes inventoried or a degree to which one of the attributes is possessed. Less misleadingly one should say: “the infinite being possesses the fulness of perfection, and in that it is a necessary being.”

Returning now to the Reason-Why argument, Scotus initially presents the situation of an infinite will related to the perfectly lovable object, and he claims that the result can only be an act of love that is a perfect or infinite act. Next he explains that ingredient in the infinity of an act are the necessity and adequacy of the love.8 The meaning of the latter claim is grasped in a preliminary way if we imagine either ingredient not present in the contemplated act. The suggestion is that the absence of either necessity or adequacy would bespeak imperfection in the act, and hence a more perfect love is perfectly possible, and certainly befitting the response of the divine lover to his divine beloved.

To say an infinite power relates itself to an infinite object requires that the power be actualized and fully actualized. Above all, fulness of perfection (infinity) connotes completeness. From the perspective of the will, completeness is exhibited in that the will is operative and fully operative vis-a-vis its object. From the perspective of the beloved, the completeness requires that the objective goodness is assimilated and comprehensively assimilated in the act of love. An illustration may help clarify this notion of adequacy.

One could imagine an active power, let us say an intellect, possessed by some individual, let us say Adam. We shall further suppose that Adam in fact is not now thinking. Though he possesses the capacity for thought, when he is not thinking the capacity is to that degree unperfected. Even were Adam to become attentive and start thinking about something, he might be thinking languidly or only vaguely grasping the point. In the first case his act of thinking simply does not exist; in the second the act is not adequate to the object of thought. This example illustrates the opposite of a necessary and adequate act. In either event of Adam's mental imperfection, we might think him delinquent if we believed him capable of attention or greater comprehension. Relative to Adam's performance, one can always imagine a more complete achievement on the part of mind vis-a-vis its object.

In contrast to Adam, Scotus claims (in (4)-(6) above) that in the case of God, necessity and adequacy of the volition are entailed by the infinite modality of the two terms, viz., divine will and divine object. Let us draw out the contrast between Adam and God a bit. Whereas we can imagine Adam delinquent or we could imagine for him a more perfect achievement, in the case of God, we must acknowledge a most perfect achievement under pain of contradiction. In the case of Adam, failure is a perfectly coherent suggestion, however lamentable it would be for Adam to suffer it. In the case of God, failure is not lamentable; it is impossible. The only response of an infinite will that befits the infinite beloved is a love exhausting, as it were, the lover's capacity to love and the beloved's capacity to be loved.

To sum up: the intentional structure of volition provides the framework of the Reason-Why argument. When one factors in the infinite perfection of both will and object, then the logic of perfection demands there be an infinitely perfect act. Under further compulsion of infinity's logic, Scotus asserts the simple necessity of the act.

From the first two arguments we have: it is necessary that there be certain volitions. By the third argument we have an account of why there is necessity in these volitions. The crux of the latter is the infinite perfection of the volition. Now: might not there be necessity to volitions that are not of such supreme perfection?


To answer the preceding question we shall employ Adam as an illustration.9 This time however we shall be interested in Adam's will. Perhaps I had better mention now that we imagine Adam is a professional theologian married to a woman named Martha. We approach the question at hand by wondering how Adam might respond to the final end, the infinitely lovable object. Consider the situation defined by the following three conditions: (i) there necessarily exists some will (it could be Adam's or God's, for we are indifferent to whether it is finite or infinite), (ii) there necessarily exists an infinitely lovable object, and (iii) the infinite object is present to the given will. The question: does it follow that there is some act of the will necessarily elicited? That is, are the above three conditions sufficient grounds for affirming the existence of some volition?

Duns Scotus argues at some length that they are not. We must look to cases. Where the will is God's infinite will, volition is necessary, as already argued. Where the will is finite, as in the case of Adam, Scotus finds no reason for necessity. A finite will can exist as a will and not be perfect. Finite wills need never be fully actualized, nor need they exemplify the fulness of perfection. Denial of Adam's act of love, however unreasonable it would be for him not to love his God, does not amount to denial of existence of Adam's will. What is as stake for Adam is the achievement of a degree of perfection, which is not required for his existence. Whereas in the case of God, what is at stake is his divinity, for his existing and his being the fulness of perfection are not really separable. To say that there is nothing inconsistent with Adam's failure to love God under the conditions described is not, of course, to deny that Adam must be able to love God, nor is it to deny that Adam may have the obligation to love God. It is simply to say that every instance of Adam's volition is contingent.10

The conclusion of this section together with the preceding two illustrate Scotus' thesis that simple necessity in volition occurs only as the feature of an infinitely perfect, and hence, divine act.11


Earlier it was established that necessity in the mode of being of an entity provides grounds for saying that the operation constituting the item's entity is necessary. It was also pointed out that this finding leaves open the determination of the mode or manner of the power's operation. Duns Scotus teaches that freedom is the will's only mode of operation. We now ask: what is freedom and how can it be consistent with a necessary operation. Three Scotistic doctrines are essential to the reply. The first distinguishes natures and wills, the second distinguishes three senses of freedom, and the third introduces a fourth sense of freedom or what can be called Scotus' “firmitas” doctrine.

First, Scotus teaches that there are two distinct species of active powers. They are natures and wills.12 The basis of the distinction lies in their manner of operation. Natures always act with what Scotus calls natural necessity. That is, the facts that the act proceeds and that the act has the character it has are both established by a prior determination within the natural power. For example, when Adam's mind is presented a demonstration of the Pythagorean theorem he cannot help thinking it. Acts of natural powers can be either necessary or contingent. They are contingent in the sense that they could have been impeded. Either the power might not have been, the power or its object may have been defective, or perhaps exterior conditions intervene to preclude the successful operation. But whether they be necessary or contingent, natural acts proceed from their originative power by natural necessity. Trivially put: natures act in the way of a nature.

By contrast, wills act in the way of a will. Freedom, libertas, primarily names this way of acting. Similar to the case of natures, the acts of will may be necessary or contingent.13 But regardless of the entity's modality, freedom invariably marks the manner in which the act proceeds from the originative power.14

In an early teaching that Scotus seems never to have rejected or altered he outlines three kinds of freedom.15 The doctrine of the three freedoms constitutes the second of our critical teachings. At the outset I shall identify each, and then more elaborately consider the freedom Scotus considers the more basic.

First, there is the freedom for opposite acts. A given will can bring about by its own operation either of two mutually exclusive actions. For example, Adam can choose okra from the menu or he can reject it; he can love Gertrude as a wife or Martha, but not both. Each action has its own perfection. Secondly, the will is free for opposite effects. Adam can sculpt a Venus or a Madonna; he can perform a temperate or an intemperate deed. Different from the first case, one here has in mind an extramental state of affairs brought about at the instance of the will's agency. Required for the effect to be actualized is cooperative causality of material agents. Finally, Scotus says that the will is free for opposite intentional objects. Regardless of whether Adam actually loves Gertrude or Martha, does he see each as lovable? Put more precisely: though Adam now loves Martha (act A on behalf of intentional object X) at the time he committed himself to Martha, could he have loved Gertrude (i.e., could he have performed act B on behalf of object Y)? If so, Adam was free in the third sense of freedom. According to Scotus, the third is the basic freedom because the other two presuppose it and because unlike them it does not entail any imperfection on the part of the will.16

The import of Scotus' teaching on basic freedom in the context of personal perfection can be developed by comparing the volitional accomplishments of Adam and God in a situation where each will is free for opposite intentional objects X and Y. Particularly we will wonder what contribution action A on behalf of X will have on the actualization or perfection of the individual wills. Adam's will is finite, which means that it possesses a capability that is not altogether actualized. His attainment of happiness or perfection is in virtue of the operation or cultivation of his will. In acting on behalf of X, his A precludes his performance of B. The perfection of A and B are different. Thus in perfecting himself through A, Adam forsakes B.17 Now what is the case with God?

Consider the situation defined by the following four conditions: (i) God's will is fully actualized, i.e., there is no volition he lacks the absence of which makes him less than perfect or the presence of which would make him more perfect; (ii) God is related to all willable objects, i.e., whatever is good is an intentional object for him; (iii) let X and Y be willable objects that are opposite, i.e., act A on behalf of X precludes there being act B on behalf of Y; (iv) God actually performs A, i.e., he loves X. In this situation perhaps we want to say that if God is precluded from actually loving Y, then there is room for more. That is, God could have been greater in that he could have loved Y and did not. The Scotist reply is twofold. On the one hand, yes, he could have performed B in that no action is beyond his range, and yes, at the instant X was loved Y was equally lovable. Nevertheless, and this is the second part of the retort, failure to act on behalf of Y leaves no gap in God's actual perfection, just as the actual willing of X adds nothing to God's actual perfection.18

Our deeply felt expectation that things were otherwise is prompted by the more familiar personal experience we have of the pursuit and achievement of our happiness. In the familiar case, where X and Y are opposite objects and Adam's doing A precludes B, there are serious consequences for his final attainment. In a real sense Adam could always have been more perfect. Were he to have loved Gertrude as a wife instead of Martha, we can suspect he would have been happy, but in a different way, for his life would have been different. Similarly, Adam would have been happy, though in a different way, were he to have been a poet instead of a theologian. Perhaps forever these possible perfections are lost to Adam. Surely it is not obvious that the excellence of a theologian comes to the same as the excellence of a poet, nor that life with Gertrude would mold Adam as does life with Martha. So, as perfectly content as Adam may be as a husband and in his profession, he could have enjoyed a perfection that in fact he does not. Furthermore, just as the willing of X amounts to the very perfection that Adam has, so the exclusion of Y leaves a gap in his perfection. Adam may feel that the forsaken life with Gertrude and the Muses is nothing to pine over. For no matter how perfect a version of himself he imagines, there is always another competing version—unless he were to think of himself as God.

God differs, from Adam in that the divine acknowledgment of the “what if,” the path not taken, is not correlated with another version of his perfection. Were God to have taken the other path, it would not have altered his final achievement, for this is sufficiently accomplished in his self-love.19

We have it then that God is free for opposite intentional objects, but unlike Adam, acting out of such freedom makes no difference in God's perfection. How then is God free in his self-love (which makes all the difference)? We wonder: what is the sense of freedom at work in God's self-love and how does it relate to basic freedom?

For Scotus' answer we turn to the third of the critical Scotistic doctrines. Scotus employs the notion of steadfastness in love; he calls it firmitas. My thesis is that where the intentional object has no competing opposite steadfastness is the will's manifestation of freedom. As I will illustrate, firmitas and basic freedom come to the same, namely, the will's ability to adhere to that in which consists its perfection. The occasion for developing the notion of firmitas is an argument in Quodlibet, Q. 16 where Scotus proposes to explain how freedom is compatible with necessity.20

  • Firmitas Argument
    • (1) The action which is love of the ultimate end is the most perfect action.
    • (2) In love of the ultimate end, steadfastness contributes to the perfection.
    • (3) Hence, in the most perfect action, steadfastness contributes to its perfection.
    • (4) Therefore, necessity in the action asserts what is constitutive of the action's perfection, viz., freedom.

Presumably (1) would be true either relative to a given agent or taken absolutely. Adam's love of God is Adam's most perfect action; God's self-love is his most perfect action. Being the response of an infinite will, however, God's action is the most perfect in an absolute sense. (2) makes the critical assertion: when love's object is the ultimate end, steadfastness on the part of the will is an essential ingredient. What does this mean? An answer will be offered in the subsequent section, for now let us complete the argument. (3) is a simple inference from (1) and (2). Now (4) makes a significant point; it seems to identify the character of steadfastness as a manifestation of freedom. Scotus seems to suggest that to be free with regard to the ultimate end, at least in the supremely perfect act of love, means to be steadfast in the love.

The justification of a compatibility of freedom and necessity then turns upon the requirements for a volition being an instance of an infinitely perfect act. Two arguments are offered. Because such an act is constitutive of divine being it must be necessary, and because such an act is the work of will it must be free. Hence, the same act must be both free and necessary. Argued more on the basis of intrinsic reasons: to be possessed of the fulness of perfection is to be necessary, and to be possessed of the fulness of perfection a volition must have firmitas. Since God's self-love is possessed of the fulness of perfection, the same act is both free and necessary. If we can make some sense out of how steadfastness is a perfection proper to an infinitely perfect volition and why Scotus calls this freedom then the burden of this essay will have been discharged.


Basic freedom, recall, is the ability to have opposite intentional objects. In God's self-love, however, there is no competition; so how is it free? Guided by the experience of Adam, it has been reasonable to think that for any X that he loves he forsakes the loving of a Y. But it is not so clear that this is so in divine self-love. Accordingly, one might object: why think of such divine love as free? The perception here is that freedom is inextricably bound up with choice and hence requires the presence of opposite objects. If you respond that every volition is free because by definition the will acts freely, the objector could retort: then why think of the divine self-love as an act of will? The challenge is to make sense of freedom as a perfection in the supremely perfect love.

For the time being let us agree that to be constant in one's love is a good, at least so long as both the lover and beloved are unchanging and the individual is perfected in the love. Even so, there are cases where one drops old loves and takes on new ones. No doubt Adam at one time studied mathematics, let us say, but gave it up to concetrate on theology. Perhaps he dated both Gertrude and Martha before he gave up the charms of Gertrude for the sake of a fuller life with Martha. It may be that circumstances will dictate that he give up theology or that Martha must leave his life. The constancy with which Adam loves Martha and pursues theology are, I take it, in some significant sense a measure of the perfection of his love of them.21

The constancy alluded to here means more than a continuation of the same; it must have the sense of commitment and of being molded or formed by the love of one's beloved. Constancy of love must designate the very capability for perfection through union of will and object. I am proposing that will is the capability to have perfecting objects and to assimilate the good of the object (call it P) through its action. Hence from the perspective of a will bereft of P the capability shows first in its adhering to the P-informing object. And from the perspective of a will already related to the object, the capability shows in the ongoing activity of assimilating the good of its beloved in the perfecting act.

Yet the constancy in Adam's loves is not absolute, nor can we see why it should be; experience suggests quite the contrary. But what of the case where the object is the truly final end? Surely it always remains lovable under all possible circumstances. And just as surely, such love would perfect in a way no other could. (Indeed Scotus is well known for his claim that love of God is the only act that is morally good in all conceivable circumstances.)22 Could Adam fail in his love for this beloved object? Yes, as we have already explained. It was clear that failure to love God or, once loving him, failure to keep on loving him was a sure sign of the will's imperfection.

The imperfection of Adam's will not only makes it possible that he not love God, it also makes it necessary that the love when it occurs is an imperfect love. Because of Adam's infirmity, his love will always fail to assimilate the full measure of the object's goodness. The basic idea is that infirmity on the side of either will or object makes its way into the entity of the act. Generally this makes perfectly good sense given the general theory of intentionality employed by the scholastics.

Perhaps the difficulty faced in trying to specify the formal contribution of freedom to acts is now eased. Our clues were the Scotistic claims that steadfastness in acting pertains to perfection and that necessity in volition entails the action's perfection, namely, its freedom. The solution consists in jibing the notion of firmitas with that of basic freedom. In tracing the clues' leads we discover that Scotus employs two distinct formulations of the fundamental meaning of freedom. The first envisions love for finite objects—here freedom expresses an ability not to limit oneself to limitedly perfecting objects. The fact that one object informs the volition rather then another and the very contingency of the act—these traits are manifest in the act itself, and they bear witness to the will's special capability which Scotus calls freedom. The second formulation envisions love for the infinite object (God)—here freedom expresses the ability to continually adhere to the unlimitedly perfecting object. The absence of alternative objects and the necessity of the act also manifest the will's special capability which Scotus calls freedom. The point common to both formulations is that freedom expresses the ability on the part of the will to achieve perfection through the active union with its beloved.

A consequence of the analysis is that only an infinite will can fully express freedom. And remarkably, this is true under either formulation. Only divine volitions are necessary; this has been developed at length. But also, only God's contingent volitions are perfectly so, i.e., to the point where no necessities bear upon the will's execution. Perfect constancy of love, perfect expression of the will's capacity for a perfecting union, is manifest in God's self-love. No will except God's can achieve it; no object except God himself could inform it. Any will by its very nature could adhere to the unlimitedly perfecting object; in this is its perfection. The logic of infinite perfection, employed throughout Scotus' speculations, guarantees its achievement and simultaneously limits the guarantee to the case of divine self-love (and spiration). If angels and the blessed enjoy eternal perfection by the union with the beatific object, it must be won by dispensations from the limits of their intrinsic finitude. Whatever the case with them, however, it is clear that the Subtle Doctor firmly insists upon the compatibility of freedom and necessity in acts of will. Scotus is led to the doctrine by the logic of infinite perfection.


The connection in Scotus' teaching between the will's freedom and its steadfastness bears a great deal of the weight of this paper's argument. Let us offer an 8-point summary of the connection between the will, its freedom, and its firmitas.

  1. Constancy in love is a perfection. He who loves more firmly loves more perfectly.23
  2. The entity of the act of love is conceived as the product of the cooperative active causality of the will and object. Their degree of perfection enters into the love by virtue of the assimilation achieved in the willing action.
  3. As a self-determining power, the will can be the reason for greater or lesser achievement in the goodness of the product-love.
  4. Given the union of power and object, the measure of the product-love's achievement, insofar as we consider the contribution from the work of the will, is due to the will's steadfastness (firmitas).
  5. Firmitas is an expression of the will's freedom. Freedom names the will's ability to have self-determinately willable objects through its actions, and to so have any such object insofar as the willing of it results in an act with a degree of perfection, and for the act to so have its perfection that it derives from an unlimitedly sufficient perfection in the will.24
  6. So long as the degree of perfection is not infinitely perfect, freedom will show in the agent's awareness that he could have done otherwise. That is, there is no consideration in the entity of the act which shows that the act needs must be. Nor is there any consideration in the will and object which shows that the will needs must love the object or that the object needs must elicit the will's love. (There is, however, one relevant restraint: the will must act as a will; minimally it need have one volition by which it self-determinately possesses a willable object through its action and such that the resultant act possesses a degree of perfection.)
  7. Willing freely amounts to activating a (relatively or absolutely) unlimited fund of resources in the establishment of an entity that (1) is distinct from the will itself, (2) is dependent for what perfection it has upon the perfection of the will (insofar as the will is its partial active cause), and (3) is always fresh, in that the existence and nature of the act is neither pre-figured in the will nor passively received by the will from the object.
  8. Given this firmitas-construal of freedom, Scotus' case for the compatibility of freedom and necessity gains in plausibility.25 Critical in the argument from the side of freedom is to see that the exercise of free will is not limited to the exercise of choice. Rather, choice is reflective of a deeper structure at work in a specific situation. The notion of firmitas is the key to an understanding of this deeper structure. It seems perfectly possible that God's self-love and spiration have their origins in an exercise of a power as described in # 7 above. If there are reasons for holding that the action is necessary, this is no reason for withdrawing the act's status as free. And if the reason for the act's necessity is the same as the rationale in the will's action (namely, its infinite perfection), so much better the case of compatibility.


In response to the development of the Scotistic doctrine on the compatibility of freedom and necessity, four objections are posed and answered.

Objection 1. Isn't freedom an equivocal notion in Scotus? The freedom of God's self-love seems different from the freedom in any of Adam's loves.

Reply to Obj. 1: If a power is defined by its operative character, I think Scotus would concede that the reality of free will in the case of Adam is equivocal to the reality of divine will. But note we compare reality (finite will) with reality (infinite will). What we want to know is whether there is a common core, i.e., a notion of free will univocally said of each. Here the subject is not a “full blown” reality, but free will taken indifferent to its existence as either finite or infinite.26

In this latter case, I think Scotus does employ a univocal notion. The definitive notes are active power, indeterminate over-sufficiency, and firmitas. We will concentrate on the firmitas feature. It is understood as the ability to adhere to its object in a self-actualizing action, the love-product of which is in no way prefigured in the will nor coerced by the object.

Where there are no reasons for maintaining the necessity of the love-product (reason which would only be under pain of contradiction given the axiom of infinite perfection), one finds freedom showing in choice. Here the thrust of will toward self-actualization out of its indeterminate over-sufficiency and its consequent ability to adhere to its object—this describes the possibility of choice, viz., freedom.

The freedom of choice designates the will's capacity in the context of finitude—taken from the side of either will or object. The goals are (1) full actualization of a power, (2) full assimilation of an object's value, and (3) production of a fully perfect act. Where finitude infects either will or object, the goals are true goals only so far as the will has choice. But for all that, choice is simply basic freedom in inferior conditions.

Objection 2. How can you say: because the volition is necessary, the will acts necessarily? The latter claim seems to vitiate the meaning of volition you employ in the former claim.

Reply to Obj. 2: The solution is to find a suitable meaning for “necessarily” in the second half of the claim. I do not mean to invoke the manner of a nature's acting, that is, natural necessity. My suggestion was that the notion of firmitas does the job.

When Scotus says that the will acts necessarily, remember: all he means is that it is established that an act of volition exists, is eternal and uncaused. If so, the will's willing must be an ongoing activity.

There are here two levels of consideration: one, the modality of the will-product and two, the modality of the will-producing. The activity (the achievement or dynamic reality) of the will-producing has a stability or fixity to it. But the fixity is one that characterizes what is not proceeding in a fixed way. That is, we do not imply that the action is out of a prior fixity in the power and only now comes to light.

Necessity of the product names a mode of being. Necessity in the producing names no reality in the production. It simply points to the relation of the will to its product. What names the reality of the relation of the will to its product is the will's freedom, in this case, its firmitas.

In short: to say the volition is necessary is not to deny it is voluntary. This is best said in the marginal note to fol. 78vb in Clm 8717: “The will does not will necessarily, unless by its own effort it bears itself to the willed object and refrains from its opposite—so that, to the extent that the act is more necessary, to that extent the will, in willing, more freely wills the object, most freely and most willingly holding itself to that [object]. Whence it is that neither necessity nor contingency are essentially repugnant to an act of the will. Nor is ‘voluntary’ [repugnant to them], if one understands necessity as the steadfastness and immobility of the adherence of a potency to its object; not however if one understands it as the coercion or impetuosity whereby the will is compelled to its act, for it would thus be acting through nature” [emphasis added].27

Objection 3. It seems that God could create free agents that only do what is right; so, the restriction of the compatibility of necessity and freedom to divine volition is wrong.

Reply to Obj. 3: The reply depends upon how we understand the antecedent.

A. The antecedent can be accepted if the doing of what is right is a matter of contingency. For example, there's no determinate reason outside of Satan's own will why he sinned (and similarly for Adam). The sufficient reason for his going wrong is wholly in his free will, in such a way that his going wrong is a contingent state of affairs. Accepting the antecedent so construed, however, does not entail the compatibility of a free act with a necessary act.

B. If the proposal means that regardless of whether the will freely acted the act would still have occurred, then the claim is wrong. This would be to say that it is just a matter of fact that the action was a willed one. The will here becomes an instrument of God's determinate causality. But such a suggestion about the nature of the will vitiates Scotistic will.

C. If the antecedent means that God creates these agents and so constructs their wills that they are determined (but not by outside factors, and only from factors wholly within the internal structure of the will) to good actions—then one here is dealing with a nature and not a will. Although such a world may well have been possible, it is bereft of free agents.

D. The antecedent is to be denied if the creative situation is so understood that “going right” is as mysterious as “going wrong.” The truth of the matter is that evil is the surd; will and freedom must be construed accordingly. Hence if you granted that God's creation in fact contains free agents who only do the good, this world must seem more reasonable than one like the actual world where free agents go wrong. I seem to see in your proposal the presumption that each is equally reasonable. But then free will is primarily an exercise of choice, simply determining the indeterminate, and not the ability to adhere to its object in a perfection-informing union.

Objection 4. At times Scotus' arguments for the compatibility of freedom suggest that freedom is a perfection and that a free act is somehow better than a non-free one. But this seems nonsense.

Reply to Obj. 4: A. If you grant than an item (call it X) is a volition, you grant that it's free. And if you grant that it's better that X be than that non-X obtain, then you grant the perfection of freedom.

B. Per impossibile assume the same state of affairs can be established by either will or nature, the free act will be better in that it will bear the trace of an origin whose capability exceeded this item's perfection (and this is true no matter how perfect an instance the item may be of its kind). Mightn't we claim to acknowledge contingency as a perfection, as in these following cases: (i) the happy quality of an item's being a gift, its givenness becomes a quality of the item; (ii) the uniqueness of an item's having been selected (imagine: it is good, but there were others with comparable virtues, yet it was the one); (iii) the honor of being that to which another has committed itself (as in the case of lovers); (iv) a given piece of an artist's work is seen in light of his portfolio: the unactualized over-sufficiency of the artist's talent must show itself in each instance of his work.

C. Given that a deed is performed compulsively, would it be better or worse if performed freely? Sometimes, yes: compare man-slaughter/murder; your insurance company routinely sends you a birthday card/a small child draws you a birthday picture.

D. Given that an act of love possesses the fulness of perfection, it only does so because of the will's ‘exhaustive’ assimilation of the object's unlimited perfection. Here, to say the act is possessed of the fulness of perfection is to say it is free, supremely free.


  1. Much of the work on this paper was done through the support of a NEH Summer Seminar at Purdue University, 1982. A version of it was read at the 7th International Conference on Patristic, Medieval and Renaissance Studies, Villanova University, 1982.

  2. Others have discharged this burden differently. See for instance Bernardine M. Bonansea, “Duns Scotus' Voluntarism,” in John Duns Scotus, 1265-1965, ed. John K. Ryan and Bernardine M. Bonansea, Studies in Philosophy and the History of Philosophy (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1965), pp. 83-121; Walter Hoeres, Der Wille als reine Vollkommenheit nach Duns Scotus (Munich: Pustet, 1962); and Allan B. Wolter, “Native Freedom of the Will as a Key to the Ethics of Scotus,” in Deus et Homo ad mentem I. Duns Scoti (Romae: Societas Internationalis Scotistica, 1972), pp. 359-70.

  3. Ordinatio I, d. 38, pars 2 et d. 39, qq. 1-5 (Ioannis Duns Scoti Doctoris Subtilis et Mariani Opera Omnia, Vol. VI (Vatican edition), p. 438): … necessitas autem simpliciter privat absolute possibilitatem huius oppositi … See Hoeres, Der Wille als reine Vollkommenheit, pp. 75-76; Allan B. Wolter, The Transcendentals and Their Function in the Metaphysics of Duns Scotus (St. Bonaventure, N.Y.: Franciscan Institute, 1946), pp. 150-52; “Is Existence for Scotus a Perfection, Predicate or What?” in De doctrina Ioannis Duns Scoti, Vol. 2 (Rome: n.p., 1968), pp. 175-76.

  4. Quaestiones quodlibetales, Q. 16, n. 5, (for a text I have used an edition generated from Munich Bayerische Staatsbibliothek mss. Clm 8717 and Clm 26309 and Worcester Cathedral Library ms. F 60, printed as an appendix to my Ph.D. dissertation, John Duns Scotus' Quodlibetal Teaching on the Will [The Catholic University of America, 1982; pp. 205-54], p. 209): De primo, dico quod in actu voluntatis Dei est necessitas simpliciter, et hoc tam in actu diligendi se quam in actu spirandi amorem procedentem, scilicet Spiritum Sanctum. Quod ita sit patet quia Deus necessario est beatus et per consequens videt et diligit obiectum beatificum. Similiter, Spiritus Sanctus est Deus et per consequens summe necessarius in essendo; igitur cum accipiat esse procedendo, actus ille quo procedit est simpliciter necessarius.

    In the absence of the critical edition, standard editions of the Quodlibet are vol. 12 of the Wadding Ioannis Duns Scoti Doctoris Subtilis Ordinis Minorum Opera Omnia (1639) (vols. 25-26 of Vivès reprint, 1891-95) and the improved text of Felix Alluntis' Spanish/Latin edition, Obras del Doctor Sutil, Juan Duns Escoto: Cuestiones Cuodlibetales (Madrid: Biblioteca de Autores Cristianos, 1963); also important is the English translation by Felix Alluntis and Allan B. Wolter, John Duns Scotus. God and Creatures: The Quodlibetal Questions (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1975).

  5. Quodlibet 16.6 (Quodlibetal Teaching, pp. 209-10): Utraque autem conclusio probatur “propter quid” sic: Voluntas infinita ad obiectum perfectissimum se habet modo perfectissimo se habendi; voluntas divina est huiusmodi; igitur ad summum diligibile se habet perfectissimo modo quo possibile est voluntatem aliquam se habere ad ipsum; sed hoc non esset nisi ipsum necessario et actu adaequato diligeret, et eius amorem adaequatum spiraret, quia si aliquod istorum deficeret, posset sine contradictione intelligi aliam voluntatem perfectiori modo se habere ad obiectum, quia iste modus posset intelligi perfectior et iste non concludit contradictionem, quia non est contradictio quod voluntas infinita habeat actum infinitum circa infinitum obiectum, et per consequens actum necessarium et naturaliter, quia si posset non habere talem actum circa tale obiectum, posset carere summa perfectione. Also see Ord. I, d. 10, nn. 42-48 (IV, 357-59) for parallel text.

  6. Allan B. Wolter, “A Scotistic Approach to the Ultimate Why-Question,” in Philosophies of Existence Ancient and Modern, ed. Parviz Morewedge (N.Y.: Fordham University Press, 1982), esp. 123-26, and “An Oxford Dialogue on Language and Metaphysics,” Review of Metaphysics, 32 (1978), esp. 329-47.

  7. Ord. I, d. 2, n. 239 (II, 271-72).

  8. On the notion of adequacy see also Ord. I, d. 2, n. 255 (II, 263); d. 10, n. 9 (IV, 342).

  9. What follows in Part III is a summary of Scotus' argument in Quodlibet 16.8-24 where he entertains three arguments for the position that finite wills necessarily love the final end.

  10. Quodlibet 16.19 (Quodlibet Teaching, p. 212): quidquid sit de voluntate creata beata et perfectione eius supernaturali qua tendit in illud obiectum, tamen diceretur quod voluntas creata viatoris simpliciter contingenter tendit in illud et etiam quando est in universali apprehensum, quia illa apprehensio non est ratio determinandi voluntatem ad necessario volendum illud; nec ipsa voluntas necessario se determinat illo positio; sicut nec necessario continuat illud positum …

  11. In light of Scotus' qualification regarding the confirmed love of God enjoyed by the blessed, perhaps the restriction of necessity to God's volition ought to be provisionally qualified. In discussing this issue Scotus begs off the question concerning the blessed and is concerned chiefly with comparing God and the viator. See Quodlibet 16.19, 25.

  12. This distinction is axiomatic to Scotus' thought and is found throughout his works. His most sustained treatment of it occurs in Quaestiones subtilissimae super libros Metaphysicorum Aristotelis, lib. IX, q. 15 (Vivès ed. Opera omnia, vol. 7). For the text I have used Duns Scotus, Questions on the Metaphysics, Book Nine: Potency and Act, trans. from a corrected text by Allan B. Wolter (Stillwater, Okla: Translation Clearing House, Oklahoma State University, n.d.). p. 80: “There is only a twofold generic way an operation proper to a potency can be elicited. For either [1] the potency is of itself determined to acting, so that so far as it is concerned, it cannot fail to act when not impeded from without, or [2] it is not of itself determined in this way but can perform either this act or its opposite, or can either act or not act at all. A potency of the first sort is commonly called ‘natural’ whereas one of the second sort is called ‘will.’ Hence the primary division of active potencies is into nature and will …” See Allan B. Wolter's commentary on this question: “Duns Scotus on the Will as a Rational Potency,” Paidea. The Cultural and Intellectual Life in the Middle Ages, ed. G. C. Simmons and J, R. Catan (Brockport, N. Y.: SUNY, forthcoming).

  13. Quodlibet 16.34 (Quodlibetal Teaching, p. 216): non est eadem divisio in principium naturale et liberum, et in principium necessario activum et contingenter; aliquod enim naturale potest contingenter agere, quia potest impediri; igitur pari ratione possibile est aliquod liberum, stante libertate, necessario agere.

  14. Quodlibet 16.41 (Quodlibetal Teaching, p. 219): … voluntas autem semper habet suum modum causandi proprium, scilicet libere … Ibid., 16.42: … voluntas per se loquendo numquam est principium naturaliter activum, quia esse naturaliter activum et esse libere activum sunt primae differentiae principii activi. Et voluntas, unde voluntas, est libere activa. Non magis igitur potest voluntas [naturaliter] esse activa quam natura, ut est distinctum principium contra voluntatem, potest esse libere activa.

  15. In Ord. I, dd. 38-39 (VI, 401-44), which is Scotus' major treatment of divine foreknowledge and future contingents: Quantum ad primum dico quod voluntas, in quantum est actus primus, libera est ad oppositos actus; libera etiam est, mediantibus illis actibus oppositis, ad opposita in quae tendit, et ulterius, ad oppositos effectus quos producit (ibid., p. 417). Note that in my commentary the third one mentioned, what I call basic freedom, is the second listed in Scotus' text. See Walter Hoeres, Der Wille als reine Vollkommenheit, pp. 102-03.

  16. Ord. I, dd. 38-39 (VI, 417): Prima libertas habet necessario aliquam imperfectionem annexam, quia potentialitatem passivam voluntatis et mutabilitatem. Tertia libertas [which is 2nd in my listing] non est secunda, quia etsi per impossibile nihil efficeret extra adhuc—in quantum voluntas—potest libere tendere in obiecta. Media autem ratio libertatis [what I call basic], ipsa est sine imperfectione (immo necessaria ad perfectionem) quia omnis potentia perfecta potest tendere in omne illud quod est natum esse obiectum talis potentiae; ergo voluntas perfecta potest tendere in omne illud quod natum est esse volibile. Libertas ergo sine imperfectione—in quantum libertas, est ad opposita obiecta in quae tendit, cui ut sic, accidit ut oppositos effectus producat. Ibid., p. 426: … si voluntas vel illa volitio esset tantum unius volibilis et non posset esse oppositi (quod tamen est de se volibile), hoc esset imperfectionis in voluntate.

  17. Ibid., pp. 425-26: Nostra etiam erat libera ad oppositos actus, ad hoc ut esset ad obiecta, propter limitationem utriusque actus respectu sui obiecti … Scotus' idea here is that the will only enjoys its actuality by being related to an object. But a finite will only relates to a given object by excluding its opposite. Thus by willing or nilling this or that it achieves its measure of perfection. Though inevitably it also closes off its openness to other objects and hence another measure of perfection. In effect no finite will can fully express its basic freedom.

  18. Ibid., p. 426: … posita illimitatione volitionis eiusdem ad diversa obiecta, non oportet propter libertatem ad opposita obiecta ponere libertatem ad oppositos actus. Ibid.: Remanet ergo libertas illa quae est per se perfectionis et sine imperfectione, scilicet ad opposita obiecta, ita quod sicut voluntas nostra potest diversis volitionibus tendere in diversa volita, ita illa [divina] voluntas potest unica volitione simplici illimitata tendere in quaecumque volita …

  19. Ibid., p. 427: … dico quod voluntas divina nihil aliud necessario respicit pro obiecto ab essentia sua; ad quodlibet ergo aliud contingenter se habet, ita quod posset esse oppositi, et hoc considerando ipsam ut est prior naturaliter ipsa tendentia in illud oppositum. Nec solum ipsa prior est naturaliter suo actu (ut volitione), sed etiam in quantum volens, quia sicut voluntas nostra ut prior naturaliter suo actu ita elicit actum illum quod posset in eodem instante elicere oppositum,—ita voluntas divina, in quantum ‘ipsa’ sola volitione est prior naturaliter, tendentia tali ita tendit in illud obiectum contingenter quod in eodem instanti posset tendere in oppositum obiectum: et hoc tam potentia logica, quae est non-repugnantia terminorum (sicut dictum est de voluntate nostra), quam potentia reali, quae prior est naturaliter suo actu.

  20. Quodlibet 16.32 (Quodlibetal Teaching, p. 215): Actio circa finem ultimum est actio perfectissima; in tali actione firmitas in agendo est perfectionis; igitur necessitas in ea non tollit sed magis ponit illud quod est perfectionis, [id] est, libertas [emphasis mine]. It should be noted that firmitas is the reading of Clm 8717, 26309 and Worcester F. 60, whereas the received texts in the Vivès and Alluntis editions print libertas.

    As these mss. are the earliest known of the Quodlibet and are judged by the Scotus Commission as necessary and sufficient for generating a safe edition, the firmitas reading is to be preferred. In addition the argument makes better sense, and as will be indicated in Part VI (A Summary of the Firmitas Doctrine), there is other textual evidence for this doctrine.

    Hoeres' comment on the meaning of necessity as a mode of being is illuminating: Gerade der Begriff der Notwendigkeit zeigt die innere Einheit von “Sosein” und “Dasein,” denn er bezeichnet nichts anderes als die Festigkeit, mit der sich ein Seiendes vor der Vernichtung bewahren kann (Der Wille als reine Vollkommenkeit, p. 76). Cp. n. 25 below.

  21. Ord. III, q. 28, n. 17 (Vivès, 15, 371): … solum hoc magis diligitur quod firmius diligitur …

  22. Reportata Parisiensa IV, d. 28, n. 6 (Vivès 27, 377-78): Nullus tamen actus est bonus in genere ex solo obiecto, nisi amare Deum, qui amor est obiecti per se volibilis et boni infiniti, qui non potest esse moraliter malus, quia nullus potest nimis amare amore amicitiae, et propter se … omnis alius actus est indifferens, qui est respectum alterius obiecti, et potest esse circumstantionabilis bene aut male.

  23. Cf. n. 21 above.

  24. In Questions on the Metaphysics IX, q. 15 Scotus illuminates the basis of the will's freedom by reference to the indetermination it enjoys vis-a-vis its acts: “There is another indeterminacy [in contrast to a negative one that bespeaks imperfection in an active power], that of ‘superabundant sufficiency’ based on unlimited actuality … something indeterminate in [this] second sense can determine itself”, p. 81).

  25. In a note at the bottom margin to 78 vb of Clm 8717 we find the following comment: Nam voluntatem necessario velle non est nisi eam suo conatu in volitum ferre et eius oppositum cohibere, ita quod quanto actus est magis necessarius tanto voluntas volens liberius vult obiectum liberissime et volentissime se tenens cum eo. Unde actui voluntatis nec necessitas nec contingentia repugnat per se. Nec voluntarius est, accipiendo necessitatem pro firmitate et immobilitate adhaesionis potentiae cum obiecto; non autem pro coactione et impetuositate, ita quod impellatur ad actum quia sic esset agens per naturam [my emphasis] (Quodlibetal Teaching, p. 214).

    Perhaps more significant is an additio, found in all 3 mss., Clm 8717, 26309, and F. 60, which in answer to the question, In what precisely does the essence of freedom consist?, in part reads: … potest intelligi “necessitas” concomitans [ad voluntatem], ita quod ipsa intelligatur cadere suo necessitate, sic quod voluntas propter firmitatem libertatis suae sibi ipsi necessitatem imponit in eliciendo actum, et perseverando, sine figendo se in actu. … In quo igitur est ista libertas volendi? Respondeo: quia delectabiliter et quasi eligibiliter elicit actum, et permanet in actu [emphasis mine] (Quodlibetal Teaching, p. 216).

  26. This response is the same, mutatis mutandis, as Scotus' account of the univocal nature of the concept of being in our knowledge of God and creature: God and creature sunt … primo diversa in realitate, quia in nulla realitate conveniunt (Ord. I, d. 8, n. 82; (IV, 190)); quaecumque sunt communia Deo et creaturae, sunt talia quae conveniunt enti ut est indifferens ad finitum et infinitum … (Ibid., n. 13 (205-06)).

  27. See n. 25 above.

William Lane Craig (essay date 1987)

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SOURCE: Craig, William Lane. “John Duns Scotus on God's Foreknowledge and Future Contingents.” Franciscan Studies 47, no. 25 (1987): 98-122.

[In the following essay, Craig explicates Scotus's view of the infallibility of divine foreknowledge, together with his proposition that such foreknowledge does not imply total determinism or a lack of future contingency.]

John Duns Scotus's best treatment of God's foreknowledge and future contingents is found in distinctions 38.2-39 of book one of his Opus Oxoniense, or Ordinatio, in which he discusses whether God has determinate, certain and infallible, immutable, and necessary cognition of existents and whether such knowledge is compatible with contingency in things.1 We may leave aside the question of the immutability of God's knowledge, but the other questions are important for an understanding of Scotus's view on God's knowledge of future contingents and the problem of theological fatalism. Although Scotus presents a string of objections to be dealt with at the outset of his inquiry, I think his own position will be clearer if we do not follow his procedure, but rather first examine his own view on the matters at hand and then with that in mind see how he deals with the objector's arguments.


In elaborating his own view of God's knowledge, Scotus is at pains to set it apart from the positions of various of his predecessors. Thus, he considers and rejects three previous opinions concerning the nature of God's knowledge of existents.



The first opinion holds that the divine knowledge of all things is certain because of the ideas which exist in the divine intellect which serve as the perfect exemplars for their representations.2 This is evidently the Neo-Platonic-Augustinian model for God's cognition of particulars. Against this theory Scotus lodges four objections. (1) Cognition of divine ideas would furnish no knowledge of contingent propositions. In knowing the archetypal ideas of particulars, God knows at most the essential properties of any particular. But such knowledge would suffice only for the knowledge of propositions in which knowledge of the subject term entailed knowledge of the predicate term, in other words, analytic statements. As Scotus explains in the Reportatio maior, for the knowledge of a proposition like “Peter will receive eternal blessedness,” it is not enough to have knowledge of the exemplar ideas of “Peter” and “eternal blessedness.” It is were, not only would such a proposition be necessary rather than contingent, but it would also be “an immediate and first principle.”3 The reasoning here is apparently that all truths would be necessary and eternal truths, constitued as such in virtute of the divine essence, on a par with logical principles such as the Law of Contradiction. In this case, no other logically possible worlds exist. (2) The same point can be made in another way. The divine ideas exist in God's intellect prior to every act of the divine will, since they are in no way there in virtue of the divine will. They are thus naturally prior to the divine will. For Scotus whatever is in accord with the nature or essence of a thing is said to be “natural.” By this “natural priority” Scotus thus apparently means logical priority, since God is timeless and simple, thereby precluding temporal and causal relations. His point is that the essences of things do not exist in God's mind in virtue of His will that they exist—God does not choose the possibles—,rather they are an inherent part of the divine intellect. Thus, it might be said that the possibles, since they exist prior to the divine will, are necessarily possible.4 Now God either knows each of these ideas in itself or in the form of propositions. If the latter, then all propositions are necessary, since they are cognized by God naturally in the divine essence, which cannot be otherwise. If the former, then God has no knowledge of contingent propositions, as we have seen. It it be said He knows them both ways, then He would know contradictories to be simultaneously true and, hence, He knows nothing. The reasoning here seems to be that God would have to know all possible propositions to be equally true, perhaps because in knowing the ideas in themselves He knows them as predicable in various possible ways, and in knowing them in the context of propositions He must know all possible propositions in which the ideas can possibly play a part. Hence, we are led to self-contradiction in the divine intellect. (3) The distinction between pure possibles and future existents would be obliterated. Since future things, like pure possibles, do not actually exist, the only difference between the two is the divine will which intends future things to exist from among the possibles. But since the divine ideas are naturally prior to the divine will, the ideas of future existents differ in no way from the ideas of merely possible beings. This would eliminate God's foreknowledge of the actual world. (4) The idea of a future existent will also fail to determine when the thing exists as present. Since the idea of the thing leaves indeterminate when the thing exists, it would be impossible for God to know when the thing “now” exists, even if He knew it to exist in the future. These last two objections give indication that Scotus is presupposing a theory of time very different from that implied by Thomas Aquinas, as will become even more evident in his discussion of the second opinion. Schwamm notes that as a result of Scotus's rejection of the first opinion, the doctrine of the divine ideas as the means of God's foreknowledge found more opponents than defenders in the ensuing years.5


The second opinion holds that God has certain knowledge of future contingents because the whole flux of time and all things that are in time are present to Him in eternity. Scotus's target here is obviously Aquinas, among others. He considers some of the proofs and illustrations often given in support of this opinion. For example, it is said that eternity is immense and infinite; therefore, just as what is immense is simultaneously present to every place, so what is eternal is simultaneously present to every time.6 This is confirmed by the fact that the “now” of eternity, insofar as it co-exists with the “now” of time, exceeds it; but it could not exceed it unless it simultaneously co-exists with another temporal “now.” Another confirmation comes from the fact that if the whole of time could exist “independently” of the mind, the “now” of eternity would be simultaneously present to the whole of time. Now although it is impossible for the whole of time to exist simultaneously because of “the succession of time,” this in no way affects eternity: it is still true that “… eternity is now equally present to the whole of time and to whatever exists in time.”7 This argument is interesting because it shows what close affinities the doctrine of God's eternity has to the thesis of the mind-dependence of becoming. For although succession is affirmed of time, this seems to be mind-dependent: the whole of time cannot exist simultaneously because this would mean that t1, t2, and t3 are all present, which is absurd; nevertheless, eternity is timelessly present to all moments. This presence of eternity to the whole of time is illustrated, Scotus explains, by means of a circle's center and circumference. Flowing time is the circumference and eternity the center, and the whole flux is always present to the center. Similarly, all the “now's” of time are present to the “now” of eternity. Because of this presence, God knows all things because He sees them in the way in which I see things that exist in my present.

Scotus rejects this account of God's knowledge of existents primarily, I think, because he assumes a radically different view of time than that which seemed to be implied in the arguments for God's timeless presence to all things. (1.) Scotus first seeks to turn the tables concerning the notion of immensity. Suppose, he says, that just as time is in continuous flux, so God were to continuously enlarge place in the process to infinity. Duns here contemplates a finite universe which expands with time toward infinity as a limit. In such a case, God's immensity would not be the property of co-existing with some place at some “now” unless that place existed at that “now.” For God co-exists only with what exists; although at some future time a new place not in the present universe might exist, God now co-exists only with the places that do exist. Immensity is the property of co-existing with actual place, not potential place. Therefore, by the same token, eternity would be the property of co-existing with something that actually exists. “… I grant that immensity is present to every place, but not to every actual and potential place … Thus, eternity will not, by reason of its infinity, be present to any non-existent time either.”8 Scotus's reply presupposes that co-existence signifies a real relation and that such a relation can hold only between things which really exist.9 The argument from immensity would seem to lead, therefore, to the conclusion that God is eternal only in that He is everlasting and exists at every temporal “now.”10 Obviously Scotus is presupposing a dynamical view of time according to which the future in no sense actually exists—hence, his emphasis on the “now” or the present. Space-time is not for him a timelessly existing “block”—future space-time positions not only do not now exist; they do not exist, period. If, therefore, it is now t1, the temporal moment t3 does not exist. Hence, God cannot co-exist with it. If then His knowledge of what will happen at t3 is based upon His co-existing with and seeing what happens at t3, it follows that God cannot have knowledge of future contingents.

2. Against the confirmation based on the “now” of eternity's exceeding the “now” of time, Scotus replies that the “now” of eternity is essentially infinite and in that sense exceeds the “now” of time.11 But in fact it does not co-exist with another “now.” On Scotus's view of time these other “now's” simply do not exist; hence, it is impossible for God to co-exist with them. That God's “now” is essentially infinite must therefore mean that it is everlasting and immutable, unlike the transitory “now” of time. The temporal “now” elapses as soon as it exists, but God's “now” abides forever. God's eternity is essentially infinite in that were any given temporal “now” to exist, God would co-exist with it. God's eternity is analogous to a potential infinite in that God will co-exist with any and all moments of time that happen to exist. Similarly, Scotus explains, God's immensity essentially exceeds the size of the universe and yet it does not in fact exist anywhere other than this universe. So God's eternity essentially exceeds the temporal “now” but does not co-exist with any other “now's” than that which is actual.

3. Therefore, with regard to the argument concerning the whole of time, Scotus grants that the eternal “now” has enough infinity to encompass the whole of time, if the whole of time existed simultaneously. But the essential infinity of God's “now” does not imply the co-existence of all temporal “now's” with it. For these other “now's” are unreal, but the real relation of co-existence requires that both relata really exist. This reply seems to show that Scotus's difficulty was not with the notion of God's timeless eternity, but rather with the view of temporal becoming implicit in the arguments for God's co-existence with all times. He would probably grant that prior to creation, when no time existed, God's “now” was timelessly eternal, but with the advent of time God's “now” co-exists only with the temporal present.

4. Scotus believes the illustration of the circle actually supports his view. For if we imagine a line with the termini a and b, such that a is immobile while b is swung around a, then the circumference of a circle is formed by the flowing point b. Now if none of the circumference persists through the flowing of b, the only point that exists on the circumference is b itself. Thus, the circumference is never simultaneously present to the center, but only the point where b exists. If the whole circumference existed simultaneously, the whole would be present to the center, and if—per impossibile—the whole of time were simultaneously existent, then the whole would be simultaneous to eternity. But in fact, time is not a static, but a flowing circumference, and none of the circumference is actual but an instant. Therefore, none of it is present to eternity except for the instant which is present. Scotus's handling of this example illustrates so well the crucial difference his conception of time plays in his understanding of God's knowledge of future contingents. World-lines of objects do not exist, only present points. If such world-lines existed, they would be present as a whole to God. But in fact they do not; only the existents of the present moment exist and are present to God.

Not content with having refuted the arguments given for this opinion, Scotus presents some objections of his own.12 If an effect has existence in itself in relation to the First Cause, then it has actual existence, since there is nothing in relation to which it could have a more real existence. But that means that if some future existent is actual in its relation to God, then it is absolutely actual. Therefore, it is impossible that it should be made actual later. Again Scotus presupposes that becoming is real; that future things are not on an ontological par with present realities, equally existent, and that becoming is not merely mind-dependent. He assumes that when things come to be present, they come into existence or are actualized, rather than merely come into the “now” of our consciousness. Since on his view, things become present as they are actualized, it is impossible that the future actually exist for God. The implication for the account of foreknowledge given in the second opinion is obvious.

Scotus makes in this connection an interesting distinction between a thing's knowable existence (esse cognoscibilia) and its existence of existence (esse existentiae). In so far as a thing has the existence of existence, it has actual being; but insofar as it has knowable existence, it need not actually exist. Now if my future sitting down is an event which has for God not merely knowable existence but the existence of existence, it follows that that event is both actual and yet will later be produced in being by God, so that the same event will be produced in existence twice, which is absurd. Scotus would be prepared to say that future things have knowable existence for God, for this means merely that He knows that they will be produced in being by Him; but his view of real becoming prevents acceptance of the opinion that the things of the future have actual existence prior to their being present.

Moreover, he argues, the opinion in question cannot secure God's certain knowledge of future contingents for two reasons. (1) A future event on this opinion besides being present to eternity is nevertheless in itself future and yet to be produced by God. Now if God has certain cognition of it, it is not because it already exists, since it is future. He must therefore have this certainty through some other means. If it be said that He does not have certain cognition of it as future, then He has to produce it before He can cognize it, which is contrary to Christian tradition. Again Scotus's argument has force only if his opponent grants Duns his dynamical view of time. For otherwise the event in itself is produced—not indeed, “already,” in the sense that it is produced at t1 instead of t4, but it is produced at t4—and its coming to be present is mind-dependent. (2) The divine essence knows what it knows only through itself. If knowledge were produced in the divine intellect by any object of knowledge other than the divine essence, this would be “degrading” to the divine essence.13 Hence, even if temporal things were timelessely present to God in their existence, they are not the immediate objects of knowledge of God's intellect. Rather God must have certain cognition of them through something else. Scotus here shows himself to stay within the tradition that the immediate object of the divine mind is the divine essence itself and that creatures are known only indirectly. His point is that once one adopts that doctrine there is no further need to posit the existence to future things present to God.

Scotus's vigorous attack on the opinion that God foreknows the future on the basis of the presence to Him in eternity of the whole of time stems from a fundamental difference between him and his opponents concerning their theory of time. Scotus appears to take it as obvious that temporal becoming is real—indeed, the proponents of the second opinion themselves affirmed this—and argues on this basis that the co-existence of God with the whole of time is incoherent. All of the arguments, he writes, for the second opinion proceed from an inadequate basis, namely, the immensity of eternity.

For co-existence, which involves a relation to something else, does not follow from the immensity of eternity, unless there is something in the other extreme that could be the term of a relation of co-existence of which eternity is the foundation. And non-being cannot be the term of such a relation, and every time except the present is non-being.14

According to Boehner, the majority of scholastics followed Scotus's refutation of this opinion, and accepted that past events are past as regards God's eternity, while future events are future as regards His eternity.15 Thus, when we come to Ockham, for example, God's knowledge of future events is taken literally to be temporally prior to the occurrence of the events themselves.


The third opinion considered by Scotus is once more the view of Aquinas that although things are necessary with respect to divine knowledge, nevertheless they may be contingent with respect to their proximate causes. In support of this position is the argument of Boethius: the theological fatalist asserts that what God sees to be going to happen cannot not-happen; but what cannot not-happen happens of necessity. Boethius replied to this by saying that the same future event is necessary in reference to the divine cognition and free when considered in its own nature. Another argument would be that an effect can be imperfect because of a flaw in the proximate cause, though the remote cause be perfect. In this way the causes of sin lead back only to the created will, not to God.

Neither of these arguments is cogent in Scotus's eyes.16 (1) Boethius means to distinguish between the necessitas consequentis and the necessitas consequentiae. The inference from “God knows x will exist” to “x will exist” follows necessarily, but it is not necessary that “x will exist.” (2) Contingency is not a privation, but a positive mode of being, as is necessity. These modal properties come not from the secondary cause but from the primary cause. Unless the first cause produced the effect contingently, it could not be contingent. “If the first cause moves necessarily, then, every other cause will be moved necessarily and everything will be caused necessarily. Consequently, if any secondary cause moves contingently, the first cause also moves contingently, since the secondary cause can cause only insofar as it is moved by the first.”17 “Therefore, the whole order of causes, down to the last effect, will produce necessarily if the relation of the first cause to the cause proximate to it is necessary.”18

Scotus also appeals to the notion of natural priority to expose the error of this opinion. The relation of a first cause to its effect is naturally prior to the relation of a secondary, proximate cause to its effect. Scotus is probably thinking here of essentially ordered causes, the secondary causes being mere instruments of the first. If the first cause has a necessary relation to the effect, then in that prior instant of nature it confers necessary existence on it. The proximate cause cannot in a second instant of nature nullify that necessity. In an essentially ordered series all the causes act simultaneously, so that “instants of nature” are atemporal in character. They are, so to speak, different logical moments in the order of explanatory priority. The relation of the first cause to the effect is logically prior to the relation of the secondary cause to the effect because the first cause is casually prior to the secondary cause. Hence, a secondary cause cannot annual the necessity wrought by a first cause.

Moreover, what is produced by secondary causes can be immediately produced by the first cause. In that case the effect would be as contingent as it is now, in being produced via secondary causes. Thus, its contingency comes even now from its first cause. Finally, God can and has caused many things immediately and yet contingently, such as the world and souls.

Thus, it is neither necessary to posit secondary, proximate causes in order to come by contingent effects—since God could do it immediately—nor is it sufficient—since if the first cause produces necessarily then so will the secondary cause. The implication is that if God's knowledge is the cause of things in a necessary manner, then no amount of proximate causes can stave off divine determinism. On the other hand, if His knowledge produces things contingently, then proximate causes do not explain anything, and we are still left wondering how it is that God can know future contingents.


Having rejected these three opinions of his predecessors on this matter, Scotus turns to his own explanation of how God has certain knowledge of contingent existents. It is, characteristically, very complicated, and I have sought in the following to focus on those issues that are of primary interest for our topic at hand. Scotus first discusses how things are contingent and then how the certainty of divine knowledge is consistent with contingency in things.


Turning first to the question of how things are contingent, Scotus takes it as evident that contingent things do exist.19 Though it cannot be demonstrated that some being is contingent, since it is a first truth, those who deny it lack sense and deserve punishment until they come to their right minds. Now the reason that things are contingent is because of God's contingent causation of them.20 As we have seen, it is impossible to preserve the contingency of any event unless we suppose that the First Cause immediately causes things contingently. Since God causes by His intellect and will, this contingency must be found in either the divine intellect or the divine will. But it cannot be found in the divine intellect, at least insofar as it is naturally prior to the divine will. For whatever the intellect grasps in this prior natural instant it cognizes necessarily. This moment in the divine knowledge would seem to correspond to what Aquinas called the scientia simplicis intelligentiae. In this first act of the understanding there can be no contingency. Therefore, it is necessary to seek for the contingency of causation in the divine will.

In order to understand how the divine will causes contingently, Scotus conducts a lengthy excursus into the operation of the human will, a discussion which we shall for the most part leave aside.21 He makes it clear that he is an indeterminist with regard to human free choices. The will, he asserts, is free for opposite acts. The will has not only the power for opposite acts in succession, but it afso has a less evident power for opposites at the same instant. If a created will existed only for a single instant and willed something at that instant, it would not be willing it necessarily. At the same instant it has the power to will the opposite. This does not mean that it has the power to will contradictories, but that it has at that instant the power to will either one. This power is naturally prior to that act of the will whereby one of the opposites is chosen. In this prior instant the will could equally well choose the opposite alternative. Therefore, the freedom of the will is associated with a power for opposites both in succession and at the same instant.

Now the divine will possesses freedom without any imperfection, namely, “the freedom for opposite objects in such a way that just as our will can tend towards various willed objects by various volitions, so that will can tend towards any willed object whatever by a single, simple, unlimited volition.”22 Only the divine essence is necessarily related to the divine will as its object. Therefore, it is related to everything else contingently, in such a way that it could be related to its opposite.23 The divine will, insofar as it is naturally prior to its act of willing, tends to an object contingently in such a way that at the same instant it could tend toward the opposite object. Scotus emphasizes that this is a real power which is naturally prior to its act.


How, then, is the certainty of divine knowledge consonant with the contingency in things? Henry of Ghent suggested that the divine intellect, seeing the determination of the divine will, sees that some thing will exist at tn because that is when God wills it to exist.24 Scotus, however, thinks that this introduces an element of discursiveness into the divine intellect, as if the intellect from an intuition of the determination and immutability of the will concludes that some thing will exist. Therefore, he proposes a different answer: the divine intellect presents to itself either individual essences, whose union is contingent in reality, or else propositions in contradictory pairs, and the will by choosing one part of the contradiction to characterize reality thereby makes the proposition “This will exist at tn” true. But given that this proposition is determinately true, the divine intellect understands this truth via the divine essence. There are thus three moments in the divine knowledge of any contingent truth, as Scotus explains:

And so far as the [divine] essence is concerned, this happens naturally in the following way. Just as it naturally understands all necessary principles as if prior to the act of divine will, because their truth does not depend on that act and they would be known by the divine intellect if—per impossible—it did not will; so the divine essence is the basis (ratio) of cognizing those at the prior instant, because they are true then. Not that those truths, or even those terms, move the divine intellect with the result that it apprehends such truth; for if they were, the divine intellect would be defiled, because, it would be acted upon by something other than its essence. Rather the divine essence is the basis of cognizing such complexes the same way it is a principle of cognizing simples. But they are not contingent truths then, because in that case there is nothing through which they are determinately true. But given the determination of the divine will they are already true at that second instant [of nature]. And the divine intellect will understand those that are already true at the second instant and were cognized at the first instant, if they existed at the first instant, by virtue of the same principle as it understood them in the first instant.25

In the first instant of nature, the divine intellect comprehends via the divine essence all individual essences that could possibly be instantiated as well as all necessary truths. In the same instant it grasps all possible propositions in contradictory pairs. In the second instant the divine will freely chooses one of the propositions from every pair to hold for reality. They therefore have a definite truth value. In the third instant the divine intellect knows all true propositions in virtue of the free determination of God's will at the second instant. If this understanding of Scotus's account is correct, then it clearly has very close affinities with Aquinas's three moments of divine scientia simplicis intelligentiae, scientia approbationis, and scientia visionis.

Accordingly, one may wonder whether Scotus is any more successful than Thomas in avoiding a divine determinism. Schwamm thinks not.26 On Scotus's theory, he explains, the root of all contingency is the divine will. Anything not dependent upon God's will is necessary. Scotus makes no distinction between free choices of the will and all created existence in general: everything is contingent because it depends upon the choice of God's will in the second instant of nature. God's determination of what choices of the created will should be actual is not in any way influenced by what the created will would choose or will choose. In this sense, says Schwamm, Duns Scotus was thus the first “Thomist” in the late scholastic debate concerning God's middle knowledge. His later disciples actually abandoned their master in adopting Molinism, while the Thomists remained true to the teachings of Scotus. Schwamm accordingly indicts Scotus for a certain inconsistency in how he handles objections to the certainty and contingency of God's foreknowledge. Duns often contends that because the things foreknown could be otherwise, God could not-know them; when in fact he should assert precisely the opposite: because God could not-know some object, its opposite could exist. Sometimes he gets it right, but the tension between his account of God's knowledge and his answers to objections indicates that Scotus was noch nicht ganz im klaren on this issue.

Pannenberg, however, protests this interpretation of Scotus.27 He appeals to Scotus's response in the first set of objections to the Aristotelian argument that if future contingent propositions are determinately true, then everything is determined. Scotus does not appeal primarily to the freedom of God's choice from among the possibles, but to the fact that the future contingent need not occur, thereby taking the freedom of human choice into account. “But what does that mean, except the obvious truth that so long as the divine will has not yet decided, then that of the creature is also not determined by the divine decision?—It means that Duns understands the divine and creaturely decision together and does not make the attempt to infer one from the other, to place them in a deductive sequence.”28 This is confirmed, Pannenberg believes, by Scotus's answer to the second argument in the same set of objections [sic], that because the foreknown contingent could not-happen, it is also possible that God not foreknow it. Similarly in distinction 40, he states that predestination depends on the creature's decisions. Schwamm calls such statements inconsistent only because they fail to fit his deterministic interpretation. Scotus is clear that before a future contingent exists, it may or may not come to be, since it is not causally determined—either by God or by human will. How then does God have determinate knowledge of indeterminate future contingents? Pannenberg notes that God has certain knowledge of all possibles in the first instant of nature, and this knowledge is determinate. Admittedly He first knows actual future contingents only with the second instant in which the divine will wills these contingents, but the decision of the divine will occurs only in connection with the working of the creaturely will. God's will does not determine the created will but takes account of its decision in the divine decision.

It seems to me that Pannenberg fails to appreciate or turn back the force of Schwamm's argument. Schwamm does not deny—indeed, he affirms—that Scotus's replies to objections are indeterminist in that they ground the contingency of God's knowledge in the contingency of things. But his point is that such a position appears inconsistent with Scotus's account of how God knows future existents, which seems deterministic. God's knowledge of all possibles in the first instant of nature provides no knowledge of the actual world, as Pannenberg admits. But in choosing among the possibles, God can in no way take the creaturely will into account, since God Himself determines the truth of every contingent proposition, including those about the decisions of the created will. Pannenberg speaks almost as though God's will waits until the created will exists and then makes its decision—which would violate God's immutability of knowledge and in effect remove divine foreknowledge. But God cannot concur with the decision of a created will which does not yet exist, for His foreknowledge of its decision is based on His willing to instantiate one possible choice of that will. Hence, any attempt to preserve indeterminism for Scotus's theory by taking decisions of the created will into account seems futile. Actually, the moot point in Schwamm's argument, it seems to me, is whether Scotus's replies to objections are incompatible with a deterministic account. One could argue that these replies are cogent refutations of the specific objections, but fail to present the full picture. Thus, it is true that God's knowledge could be otherwise because the future existent, insofar as it is temporally contingent, could be otherwise; nevertheless, insofar as it is willed by God it could not be otherwise. Scotus's replies to the objections come out of a tradition which is indeterministic, however, and their marriage with Scotus's apparently deterministic theory of divine knowledge is uneasy. It seems to me, therefore, that Pannenberg fails to penetrate to the heart of Scotus's theory; appeal to the created and divine will's Zusammenwirken is illegitimate.

A more promising escape route for a modern Scotist would be to maintain, as J. L. Mackie has done, that God could know various possible worlds in which persons freely choose certain courses of action and that God could then will to actualize one of those worlds. Hence, that world of freely operating agents would become actual, and God, knowing the choice He has freely willed, would foreknow the persons' future free acts. Such a theory has been challenged, however, because, as Alvin Plantinga argues, God may not have it within His power to actualize just any logically possible world: given that the agents are truly free, God cannot control the decisions they actually make, once He has created them, so as to guarantee that the world in view is actualized—a point very similar to one of Ockham's objections to Scotus's theory.

Now given Scotus's theory of God's knowledge of existents, it is clear, according to Scotus, that God's knowledge is determinate, certain and infallible, and immutable. The divine intellect knows determinately because of the determinations of the divine will which result in the determinate truth or falsity of all propositions. God's knowledge is certain and infallible because the intellect knows certainly and infallibly the determinations of the divine will. Since God's will and intellect are immutable, so is God's knowledge. Insofar as the necessity of God's knowledge is concerned, it may seem necessary to distinguish between the composite and divided senses of the proposition “God necessarily knows p.” In the composite sense it is false, for this would be to say that God's knowing p is necessary. But it is true in the divided sense in that God's knowledge is necessary in itself, though what He knows is contingent. But Scotus prefers to simply deny this proposition outright: the predicate with this modal determination is not truly predicated of God. Thus, God contingently knows p, though certainly and infallibly.

On Scotus's view, then, God's knowledge of future contingent propositions is based upon His knowledge of His own will to instantiate the states of affairs which render those propositions true or false. The propositions are contingently true or false because God's will is not predetermined in any way to select one member of a contradictory pair rather than the other. Thus, the certainty of divine foreknowledge does not, in his opinion, remove the contingency of future existents.



Let us now turn to several objections which Duns considers against his viewpoint. First he presents two objections against God's having determinate knowledge of future contingents:29

1. According to Aristotle, future contingents are not determinately true. Therefore, they are not determinately knowable. If they were determinately true, there would be no need to deliberate or take trouble. Thus, if God had determinate cognition of future contingents, fatalism would result.

2. If God's power were limited in such a way that He had power over only one member of a pair of opposites. He would not be omnipotent. Similarly, if God knew one part of a contradiction in such a way that He could not know the other part, He would not be omniscient.

In reply to the first argument, Scotus does grant that the truth of propositions about the past or present is not similar to the truth of propositions about the future. “Truth is determinate in those about the present and the past, in such a way that the one extreme is posited. And insofar as it is understood to be posited, it is not within the power of any cause that it should be posited or not posited … There is, however, no such determination where the future is concerned.”30 According to this statement a proposition is determinate in its truth value insofar as the state of affairs corresponding to it is actualized, or posited in reality. Causal determination is apparently irrelevant to this property of propositions. A proposition describing a future causally necessary state of affairs is true or false, but not in the determinate sense that attaches to past/present propositions. Scotus is evidently equating determinate truth with temporally necessary truth, a point which seems to escape both Schwamm and Pannenberg. Once the state of affairs is posited in reality, the corresponding past/present-tense proposition is temporally necessarily true, or determinately true. It is such because it is then and thereafter causally impossible to make the proposition have its opposite truth value. By contrast, for any given future-tense proposition, “… it is not true in such a way that it is not within the power of any cause at that instant to posit the opposite.”31 These comments are noteworthy because Scotus is struggling to analyze the notion of temporal necessity in the more familiar terms of causal openness. So long as the state of affairs is not yet posited in reality, it is causally open to one to bring about that state of affairs or its opposite, though it is true that one will not bring about its opposite. One could bring about its opposite and, hence, the proposition which is true could be false. But once the state of affairs is posited in reality, one could not bring about its opposite because the past is causally sealed off, so to speak, and therefore the proposition could not be false. Scotus's remarks on this score are by no means precise, but they certainly are suggestive. Nor is he consistent in his use of “determinate.” Very often he appears to mean by that simply “definite,” not “temporally necessary,” as when speaking of all propositions' having determinate truth value or God's having determinate knowledge. In any case, future-tense propositions are true or false and therefore knowable by God. But because they are temporally contingent, their being true or God's knowing their truth does not entail fatalism.

In response to the second objection, Scotus replies that God is able to know either part of a contradiction, just as He is able to will and able to produce either part. But insofar as He in actuality does know one part rather than its opposite, no imperfection is involved. For He knows the one part in such a way that He could know the other part instead.


Scotus also presents two objections against God's knowledge being certain and infallible:32

1. It is a valid argument that “God cognized that I would sit down tomorrow, and I will not sit down tomorrow; therefore God is deceived.” By replacing the second premiss with a de possibli statement, we have a cogent argument: “God cognized that I would sit down tomorrow; and I can not sit down tomorrow; therefore, God can be deceived.

2. If God knows that I shall sit down tomorrow, and it is possible that I do not, let us suppose that in fact I do not. It follows that God is deceived. Since the impossible does not follow from the positing in fact of what is possible, it follows that “God is deceived” possible.

Against the first argument Scotus observes that to be deceived means to think that a thing is otherwise than it is at a certain time. But in the modal argument, the assertoric premiss affirms something about an instant, while the de possibili premiss affirms a power for the opposite for the same instant, not taken conjunctively, but rather disjunctively. Therefore, it does not follow that at any instant the opposite of what God believes could really exist. Scotus's point is that if God cognizes that I shall sit down at tn, then it follows that I do sit down at tn. It remains true that I could not-sit down at tn, but this does not mean it is in my power both to sit and not-sit simultaneously. Rather it is within my power to do either. But my power to do either at tn cannot deceive God, since whichever I will do He will know. “For if my intellect always followed the changes in reality—so that when you are sitting down I think that you are sitting down, and when you stand up, I think that you are standing up—then I could not be deceived.”33 From the propositions “You can not-sit down at tn” and “I cannot be deceived,” it does not follow that “I do not know that you will sit down at tn,” but only “It is not necessary that I know you will sit down at tn.” Now in the case of the divine intellect, although it does not follow things in the way that an effect follows a cause, still there is a concomitance. Just as a thing can not-exist, so the divine intellect can not-know it. Although for Scotus future contingents are not the source of God's knowledge of them, nevertheless these two are in lock-step with each other, so that the divine intellect never cognizes a thing to be other than it is. Hence, He cannot be deceived.

As for the second argument, there is no inconsistency as a result of positing the possibility of my not sitting. But when the possibility is posited in such a way that an assertoric proposition results, for example, “I do not sit,” then an inconsistency may arise. In such a case, the impossible does follow from two incompossible premisses. But from positing the proposition “It is possible that I not sit down” nothing impossible follows. Hence, though it is possible that some future contingent not occur, God knows infallibly that it will occur.


Scotus then presents four objections which allegedly prove that God's knowledge is necessary.34 These are based on the inference from “God immutably knows p” to “God necessarily knows p”:

1. Necessity is not posited in God except in the sense of immutability. Therefore, whatever is in Him immutably is in Him necessarily.

2. The contingent is essentially mutable. For it cannot come to be without mutability. Therefore, everything immutable is essentially necessary.

3. Whatever can exist in God can be the same as God. But whatever can be God necessarily is God, since God is immutable. Since God can know p, it is necessary that He knows p.

4. Every simply absolute perfection is in God necessarily. Knowing p is an absolute perfection, for if He did not know p He would be essentially imperfect. Therefore, He knows p necessarily.

To the first objection, Scotus replies that even if there is no necessity in God other than immutability, it does not follow that immutability itself conveys simple necessity. “For immutability takes away only the possible succession of one opposite after another; but simple necessity absolutely removes the possibility of that opposite, and not [merely] the succession of one after the other. And this inference ‘One opposite cannot succeed the other; therefore the opposite cannot obtain’ does not hold.”35 Duns is here apparently arguing that though God immutably knows p, nevertheless it is still logically possible that He know sp. Hence, God's knowledge cannot be called necessary in the sense that it is logically impossible for it to be otherwise.

In reply to the second objection, Scotus grants that a possible being insofar as it really exists is mutable. But insofar as it is merely understood or willed, it does not essentially involve mutability. But insofar as it is thus immutable, no essential necessity is thereby entailed. Again the point would seem to be that although God has immutable knowledge, this does not imply that it is logically impossible for Him to know other than He does.

As for the third argument, a thing may be said to be able to exist in God in two ways: either essentially or by predication of Him. While the major premiss is true as regards the former, it is false as as regards the latter. For example, God is called “Lord,” but this appellation does not signify anything which is the same as God. For He is called “Lord” only in virtue of temporal things in relation to which He is Lord. Similarly God's knowledge of objects is in God in this second way only. God has this knowledge only in virtue of the relation of the object known to the divine knowledge.

The fourth argument errs because no absolute perfection in God depends on creatures. Therefore, knowledge of p as such is not an absolute perfection, though knowledge taken in itself is an absolute perfection. Hence, the minor premiss of the argument is false.


Finally Scotus presents two objections purporting to prove the incompatibility of God's determinate and certain knowledge with the contingency in things:36

1. It is a valid inference that “God knows p; therefore, p will necessarily be.” Moreover, the antecedent is necessary because the act of knowing something is not “distracted” by the matter it governs.37 Since God's knowing is absolutely necessary, it is not distracted from this necessity by virtue of governing what is contingent. (As is evident from his reply Scotus does not refer here to the temporal necessity of God's knowledge, but rather to the necessity of His knowledge as an essential property of God. Since “God knows p” is necessary whether p is contingent or necessary, it follows that “Necessarily p.”)

2. Everything that God knows will be will necessarily be. Since God knows that p, necessarily p will be. The major premiss is true de necessario. The minor is absolutely assertoric, since it is true for eternity. Hence, the de necessario conclusion follows. (Scotus here does speak of temporal necessity with regard to God's knowing p. Since the first premiss is logically necessary and the second temporally necessary, it follows that “Necessarily p.”)

In response to the first objection, Scotus maintains that the premiss “God knows p” is not necessary. As we saw earlier, he thinks that it is simply false that “God necessarily knows p.” Though God's knowledge is necessary in itself, it is able to relate to different objects. Though God necessarily knows, He does not necessarily know this.

Scotus's answer to the second objection comprises all of one sentence: “The mixed inference does not hold good unless the minor is absolutely assertoric, not only in that it is true for every time, but that it is necessarily true.”38 His claim is that a necessary conclusion does not follow from a logically necessary premiss and a temporally necessary premiss. Both premisses, it would appear, must be logically necessary. Why? Perhaps because from the fact that God knows p we may only infer that the corresponding state of affairs S will be, not that not-S cannot be. Not-S could come to exist rather than S, in which case sp would be true rather than p and God would know sp instead of p. Granted that God does know p and always has and will, we know that S will be posited in reality. But this does not warrant the inference that it is impossible that not-S be posited in reality instead. But if it were going to be so posited, God would know sp now and always would have. Hence, the conclusion only follows necessarily if the minor as well as the major is logically necessary, which, we have seen, it is not.


In summary, Scotus has argued that the basis for God's foreknowledge of future events is His knowledge of His own will to create them. By willing certain possibles to be instantiated in the temporal process God thereby furnishes the truth conditions for all contingent propositions. Since God knows the determinations of His own will, He knows which future contingent propositions are true and which false. God's knowledge is certain and infallible because He knows via His own essence the determinations of His will. Though it is temporally possible that what He has willed should happen other than it in fact will happen, God cannot possibly be deceived, since if it were going to happen differently He would know it. There is no inconsistency in holding that God infallibly foreknows p and that sp is possibly true. God's knowledge is contingent because His will selects freely from among the possibles. Although His knowledge is immutable, this does not imply that it is logically necessary that He know what He does. His knowledge is determinate or definite because it is based on the determinations of His will. But the future contingent propositions He knows to be true are not determinately true in the sense of temporal necessity. Prior to the positing in reality of the state of affairs S the corresponding proposition p, though true, could be false, not merely in the logically contingent sense, but also in the sense of temporal contingency. Only after S is instantiated is it impossible that sp be false. Hence, though God knows p to be true, not only is it logically possible for sp for be true, but it is temporally possible prior to tn that sp be true. There is thus a sort of double contingency in future-tense propositions. Such contingency in things is not incompatible with God's certain knowledge, for if the things should occur differently than they will, God's knowledge would have been different than it is. Scotus has thus tried to provide both an account of the means of God's foreknowledge as well as an account of how the certainty of that foreknowledge is not incompatible with the contingency of future events—two accounts which often seem to pull in different directions from one another.


  1. Cf. his parallel discussions in his Reportata parisiensia 1.38-40 and his Reportatio maior, 1.38-40. All these are commentaries on Lombard's Sentences; an ordinatio was the author's own revised lectures, while a reportatio was a student's report of the lectures. This section, however, was not redacted by Scotus and is therefore included in the appendix of the critical edition of the Ordinatio. All citations of the Ordinatio are from an unpublished translation by Marilyn Adams. (The Latin text is found in Joannes Duns Scotus, Opera omnia, ed. Carolus Balić [Civitas Vaticana: Typis Polyglottis Vaticanis, 1950-63].) References will include the appropriate section numbers followed by in parentheses the volume, page, and line numbers of the critical edition. I am indebted to Girard J. Etzkorn of the Franciscan Institute for adding these latter numbers to my section numbers.

  2. John Duns Scotus, Ordinatio, 1.38-9.7. (6.406). For an account of Scotus's views on the divine ideas, see Frederick Copleston, A History of Philosophy, vol. 2: Mediaeval Philosophy: Augustine to Scotus (Westminster, Md.: Newman Press, 1950), pp. 529-30; Etienne Gilson, Jean Duns Scot (Paris: Librairie Philosophique J. Vrin, 1952), pp. 279-306, 309-10.

  3. Scotus, Ordinatio, l. 38-9.7 (6.406.20). “prima et immediata.”

  4. What better argument for S5 could be imagined than that it characterizes the knowledge of God Himself!

  5. Herrmann Schwamm, Das göttliche Vorherwissen bei Duns Scotus u. seinen ersten Anhängern, Philosophie und Grenzwissenschaft 5 (Innsbruck, Austria: Felizian Rauch, 1934), p. 9.

  6. Richard Middleton, I Sententiarum, 39.1.1.

  7. Scotus, Ordinatio, 1.38-9.8 (6.408.14-18). “… si totum tempus posset esse simul extra, ‘nunc’ aeternitatis esset simul praesens toti tempori; sed licet tempori repugnet—propter eius successionem—simul esse, nihil propter hoc perfectionis tollitur aeternitati; ergo ipsa aeternitas modo est aeque praesens toti tempori et cuilibet exsistenti in tempore.”

  8. Ibid., 1.38-9.34 (6.441.6-9). “… concedo quod immensitas est praesens omni loco, sed non omni loco actuali et potentiali …, et ita nec aeternitas propter suam infinitatem erit praesens alicui tempori non exsistenti.”

  9. This is developed into a separate argument in the Reportatio maior, 1.38.

  10. Ibid., 1.38-9.34 (6.441-3). (There are two sections numbered 34 and 35.)

  11. Ibid., 1.38-9.9-10 (6.409-11).

  12. Harris's discussion of Scotus's view of time does not take account of these texts and is therefore very misleading. (C. R. S. Harris, Duns Scotus, 2 vols. [New York: Humanities Press, 1959], 2:129-44.) Harris makes Scotus sound like a defender of the thesis of the mind-dependence of becoming, which he clearly is not. Still, as Harris points out, Scotus did not equate God's eternity with aeviternity. Duns differentiated between time, aeviternity, and eternity. (Scotus, De rerum principio, 22.7.) Time has a beginning and end and is made up of parts or “now's” which are not co-existent. Aeviternity has a beginning and can cease to be and is the non-successive duration of the substantial being of creatures which, though changing accidentally in time (e.g., the heavenly bodies or angels), do not undergo substantial change. Eternity has essentially neither beginning nor end and is tota simul, not in the sense of co-existing with all moments of time at once, but in the sense that there is neither substantial nor accidental change. It seems, however, that aeviternity inevitably collapses into time on this account, since the beings themselves undergo accidental changes, and that eternity becomes indistinguishable from aeviternity, or everlasting and immutable duration, since God's “now” co-exists only with the actual temporal “now” and therefore is related to things as past and future.

  13. Scotus, Ordinatio, 1.38-9.10 (6.411.4). “vilesceret.”

  14. Ibid., 1.38-9.34 (6.443.4-7). “… ex qua non sequitur coexsistentia quae dicit relationem ad alterum, nisi haberetur aliquid in altero extremo quod posset esse terminus coexsistentiae cum isto fundamento; et tale non potest esse nonens, quale est omne tempus praeter praesens.”

  15. Philotheus Boehner, “Problems connected with the ‘Tractatus,’” in The “Tractatus de praedestinatione et de praescientia Dei et de futuris contingentibus” of William Ockham, ed. P. Boehner, Franciscan Institute Publications 2 (St. Bonaventure, N. Y.: The Franciscan Institute, 1945), p. 53.

  16. Scotus, Ordinatio, 1.38-9.35 (6.443).

  17. Ibid., 1.2.1 (2.176-7). (Wolter trans.) “… ergo si prima necessario movet, quaelibet alia necessario movetur et quidlibet necessario causatur. Igitur, si aliqua causa secunda contingenter movet, et prima contingenter movebit, quia non causat causa secunda nisi in virtute primae causae, in quantum movetur ab ipsa.” Cf. ibid., 1.38.12 (6.412-13).

  18. Ibid., 1.38-9.12 (6.412.18-413.2). “Tota ergo ordinatio causarum, usque ad ultimum effectum, necessario producet si habitudo primae causae ad sibi proximam causam sit necessaria.”

  19. Ibid., 1.38-9.13 (6.415).

  20. Ibid., 1.38-9.14 (6.415-16).

  21. Ibid., 1.38-9.15-20 (6.417-25). See Copleston, Augustine to Scotus, pp. 538-41; Etienne Gilson, History of Christian Philosophy in the Middle Ages (New York: Random House, 1955), pp. 463-4.

  22. Ibid., 1.38-9.21 (6.426.6-9). “… libertas illa quae est … ad opposita objecta, ita quod sicut voluntas nostra potest diversis volitionibus tendere in diversa volita, ita illa voluntas potest unica volitione simplici illimitata tendere in quaecumque volita …”

  23. See Copleston, Augustine to Scotus, pp. 530-2; Gilson, History, pp. 459-61.

  24. Henry of Ghent, Quodlibeta, 8.2.c., f. 301 H-I.

  25. Scotus, Ordinatio, 1.38-9.23 (6.428.12-429.5) “… et hoc naturaliter (quantum est ex parte essentiae), ita quod sicut naturaliter intellegit omnia principia necessaria quasi ante actum voluntatis divinae (quia eorum veritas non dependet ab illo actu et essent cognita ab intellectu divino si per impossibile non esset volens), ita essentia divina est ratio cognoscendi ea in illo priore, quia tunc sunt vera; non quidem quod illa vera moveant intellectum divinum—nec etiam termini eorum—ad apprehendendum talem veritatem (quia tunc intellectus divinus vilesceret, quia pateretur ab alio ab essentia sua), sed essentia divina est ratio cognoscendi sicut simplicia ita et complexa talia: tunc autem non sunt vera contingentia, quia nihil est tunc per quod habeant determinatam veritatem; posita autem determinatione voluntatis divinae, iam sunt vera in illo secundo instanti, et idem erit ratio intellectui divino—quod et in primo—intelligendi ista quae iam sunt vera in secundo instanti et fuissent cognita in primo, si tunc fuissent in primo instanti.”

  26. Schwamm, Voherwissen, pp. 33-4, 81-4.

  27. Wolfhart Pannenberg, Die Prädestinationslehre des Duns Scotus, Forschungen zur Kirchen- und Dogmengeschichte 4 (Göttingen, Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1954), pp. 24-7, 131-2.

  28. Ibid., pp. 24-5.

  29. Scotus, Ordinatio, 1.38-9.2 (6.402.4-14).

  30. Ibid. 1.38-9.26 (6.432.1-6). “In praesentibus quidem et praeteritis est veritas determinata, ita quod alterum extremum est positum,—et ut intelligitur positum, non est in potestate causae ut ponatur vel non ponatur … Talis autem non est determinatio ex parte futuri …” Cf. idem, Reportatio maior, 1.38.

  31. Ibid. (6.432.8-9) “… non tamen ita quin in potestate causae est pro illo instanti ponere oppositum.”

  32. Ibid., 1.38-9.3 (6.402-3).

  33. Ibid., 1.38-9.27 (6.434.11-12). “… quia si intellectus meus semper sequeretur mutationem in re, ita quod te sedente opinarer te sedere et te surgente opinarer te surgere, non possem decipi …”

  34. Ibid., 1.38-9.5 (6.404).

  35. Ibid., 1.38-9.31 (6.438.14-18). “… quia immutabilitas non privat nisi possibilem successionem oppositi ad oppositum; necessitas autem simpliciter, privat absolute possibilitatem huius oppositi, et non successionem oppositi ad hoc,—et non sequitur ‘oppositum non potest succedere opposito, ergo oppositum non potest inesse.’”

  36. Ibid., l. 38-9.6 (6.404-5).

  37. Ibid., 1.38-9.6 (6.404-5). “distrahitur.”

  38. Ibid., 1.38-9.33 (6.440.13-15). “Illa mixtio non valet nisi illa minor sit de inesse simpliciter, et hoc non tantum quod sit vera pro omni tempore, sed quod sit necessario vera.”

Stephen D. Dumont (essay date July 1989)

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SOURCE: Dumont, Stephen D. “Theology as a Science and Duns Scotus's Distinction between Intuitive and Abstractive Cognition.” Speculum 64, no. 3 (July 1989): 579-99.

[In the following essay, Dumont probes the distinction between two types of thought—intuitive and abstractive cognition—within Scotus's definition of theology as a true science rather than simply the product of faith and beatific vision.]

By all accounts one of the most influential philosophical contributions of Duns Scotus is his distinction between intuitive cognition, in which a thing is known as present and existing, and abstractive cognition, which abstracts from actual presence and existence.1 Recent scholarship has focused almost exclusively on the role given intuitive cognition in the justification of contingent propositions and on the debates over certitude which arose from the critiques of Scotus's distinction by Peter Aureoli and William of Ockham.2 However warranted this focus on the problem of certitude and the role of intuition in its solution might be, it has obscured the actual context in which fourteenth-century thinkers very often discussed Scotus's famous distinction. As the Appendix [see Speculum 64 no. 3 (July 1989): 594–99] to this article makes clear, Scotus's contemporaries, including Ockham and Aureoli, nearly always treated intuitive and abstractive cognition under the rubric of the scientific character of theology.3 I wish to argue, first, that this nearly uniform application of Scotus's distinction to the issue of theology as a science can be traced to the original problem Scotus intended his distinction to solve and, secondly, that abstractive rather than intuitive cognition played the important and controversial role in solving that problem.

The fourteenth-century pattern of using the distinction between intuition and abstraction to address the problem of theology as a science is not traceable to Scotus in a direct way. Theologians of the period typically treated theology as a science in the prologues to their commentaries on the Sentences of Lombard. Scotus, however, mentioned intuition only once in the prologue to his early Oxford commentary on the Sentences known as the Lectura, and then not in its technical sense of knowledge of an object as existing and present.4 In the prologue to the Ordinatio, a greatly expanded revision of the Lectura, Scotus still mentioned intuition without comment.5 In neither of the above Oxford commentaries did Scotus broach any express discussion of his distinction until well into the second book, when dealing not with theology as a science, but with angelic cognition.6 How is it that thinkers after Scotus so often discussed intuitive and abstractive cognition in the context of theology as a science, while Scotus, in his great Oxford commentaries that influenced nearly all subsequent treatments of both intuition and theology as a science, did not? To answer this question, we must first examine the emergence of Scotus's distinction in his Oxford works on the Sentences, especially in the earlier Lectura, and then its context in his slightly later Parisian commentary.


Book 2, distinction 3, of the Lectura contains, as far as we know, Scotus's earliest explicit appeal to the distinction between intuitive and abstractive cognition.7 In fact, the term “intuition” only occurs in the Lectura six places before the second book, and of these only one seems to be contrasted with abstraction.8 The doctrine, however, of a type of cognition which grasps an object as existing is found more frequently in the first book of the Lectura but in the terminological garb of vision, not intuition. The proof of this is that in revising the Lectura for publication as the Ordinatio Scotus glossed several of these earlier occurrences of visio with cognitio intuitiva.9 Thus, in the second book of the Lectura Scotus was not so much developing a new doctrine of intuitive cognition as giving it a highly technical and precise vocabulary. This would indicate that Scotus was entering particularly controversial ground requiring the exactness of technicality. What remains to be seen is the exact point of controversy.

Scotus first treated intuitive and abstractive cognition in a developed way while addressing the problem of the “natural” cognition of the divine nature by angels.10 In this context, “natural” refers to the concreated or in via, as opposed to beatific, knowledge angels possess of God.11 According to Scotus, Henry of Ghent and Aquinas both denied that angels have distinct knowledge of the divine nature and that they can know God through some representing species. In the absence of any appeal to species to explain angelic cognition of God, Aquinas held that an angel knows God through its own essence as imago Dei, while Henry, at least according to Scotus's version, failed to supply any positive account. Against both Henry and Aquinas, Scotus argued that angels naturally know the divine essence distinctly and that they do so by means of a species.12 To explain how this is possible Scotus distinguished two types of cognition: “I respond to the question. First it should be known that a twofold cognition or intellection in the intellect is possible, for there can be one that abstracts from all existence and a second that is of a thing insofar as it is present in its own existence.”13

Scotus did not immediately give these two types of cognition technical labels but did so only in the second of three ensuing arguments to prove their asserted possibility. There Scotus said that the first cognition, according to which a thing is understood by abstracting from all existence, is called “abstractive” (cognitio abstractiva), while the second, by which a thing is seen in its own existence, is called “intuitive” (cognitio intuitiva). Scotus carefully specified that “intuitive” is here taken narrowly, opposed not to discursive reasoning but to cognition through a species.14 Scotus then argued that these two types of cognition are distinct because we expect intuitive, not abstractive, cognition of God in beatitude.15 Thus, in his earliest text on the matter Scotus introduced the term “intuitive” only when dealing with the beatific vision and seems to have regarded this usage as uncontroversial.

Having established this difference in cognition, Scotus responded to the question. Everyone agrees angels cannot naturally have intuitive knowledge of God, since this is beatific. Nor is it befitting that an angel should be limited to merely confused and imperfect knowledge of the divine nature, since we in the present state can achieve that much.16 It remains that angels naturally have distinct knowledge of the divine nature. This knowledge is abstractive, not intuitive, since it is caused not by the divine nature as actually present to the intellect but by some properly representing species.17

What is here so controversial that Scotus would trouble to draw these technical refinements in types of cognition? It is certainly not the application of intuitive cognition to beatific knowledge of God. In the first book Scotus had repeatedly used without comment the term visio to refer to the beatific knowledge of the divine essence in the same sense as he here used cognitio intuitiva.18 The argument in which Scotus introduced the term assumes that the description of beatific vision as intuitive is current and acceptable.19 Scotus's immediate source of this terminology was Henry of Ghent, who regularly used the term intuitus to describe beatific knowledge of God in the very texts Scotus had read to reconstruct Henry's position on angelic cognition.20 While it is true that Scotus explicitly and with Henry in view shifted the meaning of intuition from nondiscursive to existential knowledge, this would not have been seen as problematic, at least regarding the beatific vision. Henry had already prepared the way for this usage by associating vision with cognition of a thing as existing and present.21

Rather, the controversial aspect to Scotus's doctrine on this point was his application of abstractive cognition to the divine essence so that angels can have a distinct knowledge of the divine nature short of beatitude. Elsewhere Scotus defined distinct cognition as the complete and explicit grasping of all the necessary features of a nature. It is related to confused cognition as definitional knowledge is to nominal aquaintance.22 It is not difficult to see why Scotus was concerned about being misunderstood on this point. The assertion that angels naturally have a distinct knowledge of the divine essence could easily be construed to mean that angels naturally enjoy the beatific vision. Scotus apparently thought his position susceptible enough to such an interpretation that he repeated seven times in this short question that the distinct cognition angels have of God is not intuitive.23 Originally, then, the controversial aspect to Scotus's distinction between intuitive and abstractive cognition did not lie in an innovative use of intuitive cognition. On the contrary, Scotus's original innovation was to exploit abstractive cognition so as to isolate from beatitude a distinct knowledge of the divine nature.

To summarize, then, Scotus used the term intuition in the first book of his Lectura to mean nondiscursive as well as existential cognition. When used according to the latter meaning, intuition and the related term vision refer, in this early work, only to the beatific knowledge of the divine essence, whether by the created or uncreated intellect. Such usage went unremarked until 2 Lectura d.3, where Scotus distinguished at length intuitive from abstractive cognition in order to deal with the natural knowledge of God by angels. If this text is the earliest place Scotus detailed intuitive and abstractive cognition, its context shows that the distinction had its origin in Scotus's attempt to find a middle way of knowing the divine nature which fell between the intuitive knowledge of God in beatitude and the confused knowledge of the divine essence presently available to us through transcendental concepts. But how does all this account for the close association found in subsequent literature between intuitive and abstractive cognition and the scientific character of theology? Let us follow Scotus on his short but important journey from Oxford to Paris.


Before Scotus began lecturing on the Sentences at Paris in the fall of 1302, his revision of the Lectura for publication as the Ordinatio was already under way. By that time the prologue, which saw a threefold expansion, was certainly finished. Despite such a thorough revision, the prologue of the Ordinatio gives no more developed treatment of the distinction between intuitive and abstractive cognition than its counterpart in the Lectura. Intuitive cognition is mentioned only obliquely in the prologue of the Ordinatio in the course of explaining how contingent theological truths can be ordered.24 The prologue of the Reportatio Parisiensis, however, is another matter.25 There Scotus explicitly appealed to his distinction to address perhaps the most fundamental debate in theology, which had recently become heated at Paris. That debate was over the scientific status of theology itself.

On one side was Henry of Ghent, who held that there is demonstrative or scientific knowledge of the truths of faith in the present life, even concerning the Trinity, and that such demonstrative knowledge is compatible with faith as regards the same truth in the same intellect. Put in other terms, the theologian can attain a knowledge of the objects of belief beyond that given in faith which is sufficiently clear and evident to be called scientific.26 Henry was aware that his position was at odds with the current view, and he attempted to clarify it throughout his career by distinguishing between fides, intellectus, and visio.27 According to Henry, faith is knowledge of things not present to the intellect. In faith assent is caused not by any evidence on the part of the object itself, but from the testimony or authority of another. Opposed to faith is visio, in which the object in its own nature is immediately (praesto) and evidently (clare) present to the intellect. Here evidence is from the object itself so present.28 Between the extremes of fides and visio is intellectus, in which the object is present to the intellect not in itself but through a species, whether this be the species of the same object or of another.29 In intellectus evidence is provided not by the present object itself but by reasoning (discursus) about the object, whether in definition or syllogistic deduction.30 In this way, for example, the scientist knows from astronomical calculations that an eclipse is occurring even though he does not actually view it, and the mathematician has a science of geometry even when corporeal figures are not actually present.

Applying this division to theology, Henry obviously held that if “science” or “understanding” is taken in the narrow sense of visio, then there is no scientific knowledge of theological truths in the present state, nor can they be held by faith and understanding at the same time. The immediate presence of God to the intellect in visio constitutes beatitude, which puts us outside the present state and displaces all faith.31 Henry argued, however, that theology is truly scientific in the sense of intellectus; otherwise the whole project of faith seeking understanding would be trivial.32 The theologian, beginning with belief, burrows beneath the divine mysteries, as Henry described it, by means of definition, division, and demonstration. Such discursive investigation produces enough evidence so that what was previously held on faith alone is now known with sufficient clarity to warrant the status of true science.33 The evidence supplied by intellectus, however, is never so great as that given in visio, and it can never entirely displace all obscurity of faith. In this way, the same truth is both believed and understood by the same intellect.34 Obviously, a theologian using natural methods cannot penetrate the mysteries of faith unless aided by supernatural illumination. This supernatural light, which Henry said is between the lumen fidei of belief and the lumen gloriae of beatitude, came to be called simply lumen medium.35

Clearly, intellectus and its associated lumen medium were attempts by Henry to clear out a middle ground between mere faith and the beatific vision, where the theologian could lay claim to a true science. Henry did so by bringing some finesse to the dividing line between the present state and the beatific vision. To the simple distinction between absence of the divine nature in faith and presence in beatitude, Henry added the more refined distinction between presence in itself (visio) and mediated presence in a species, or discursive reasoning (intellectus).

Henry's position proved to have many detractors but none greater than Godfrey of Fontaines.36 Godfrey contended that absolutely no evidence could be found to support any lumen medium.37 For example, both the simple believer and the most learned theologian alike confess on their deathbeds that they believe the articles of faith, nor has a theologian ever been able to communicate through teaching any true understanding of the articles of faith. While conceding that the theologian moves beyond simple faith, Godfrey denied that such theological knowledge is sufficiently different from, or clearer than, what is given in belief that it can be called science in any strict sense of the term. Consequently, in Godfrey's view there is no need to invoke any supernatural light beyond faith to explain theology. The theologian simply investigates the tenets of faith by purely natural means.38

Debate between Henry and Godfrey on the point seems to have been personal and acute. Doubtless Godfrey was among those “certain theologians in the faculty” whom Henry called the ruination of the church because they denied theology to be a true science and instead exalted philosophy.39 Godfrey found intolerable Henry's assertion that only those who already possessed the lumen medium could see any evidence of it.40 According to Godfrey, Henry “claimed much but proved little” about his lumen medium.41 Although Godfrey did not think Henry's hidden theological light could be equated with the gnosticism of the Manichees, he was dismayed at Henry's obstinance in maintaining this light, “which Henry totally lacks as much as others.”42

Such were the tensions in the faculty of theology at Paris over its own discipline a few years before Scotus came there to read the Sentences. When Scotus arrived, Godfrey was still alive and active.43 Under the circumstances he could hardly have ignored such a contentious and fundamental issue. Indeed, Scotus's prologue to his Parisian commentary is structured differently from its Oxford predecessors to meet the exigencies of this debate. This is most apparent in the second question, in which Scotus asked whether it is possible for the wayfarer to have a completely strict and rigorous science of theology.44 Here Scotus examined at length the opposing views of Henry and Godfrey given above.45 This question was clearly precipitated by circumstances at Paris, since neither it nor the report of the opinions of Henry and Godfrey on this point are found in the Oxford prologues. This can be further confirmed from Scotus's Quodlibet question 7, disputed at Paris, in which Scotus re-used this prologue material to address a related problem.46 Scotus's reply to the second question of his Parisian prologue can thus be taken as his part in the debate at Paris over the status of theology.47

Although Scotus did not think Henry could sustain his own claim for a proper science of theology given his rejection of the intelligible species, he appears sympathetic to Henry's position.48 He dismissed Godfrey's arguments against Henry as inconclusive and insisted, despite Godfrey's statement to the contrary, that Godfrey demeaned theology. At one point he even chided Godfrey for preferring one text of Averroes to Henry's thirty authorities from Augustine and the saints.49 In reply to both sides, Scotus maintained that it is possible for the wayfarer (viator) to have an unqualified (simpliciter) and perfect science of theology. It is an absolute or unqualified science since it is a priori and not merely a posteriori; it is perfect since superior to faith. That is, Scotus here argued nothing less than that a fully rigorous propter quid science of theology is compatible with the wayfarer state.50 In the remarkable words of the parallel text in his Quodlibet, Scotus said that it is possible for the wayfarer to be a perfect theologian.51

Scotus argued that such a science of theology is available to the wayfarer because it is possible for the wayfarer to know the divine nature under the proper aspect of its Deity (sub propria ratione Deitatis).52 Since, as Scotus had already shown, the divine nature so considered is the subject of theology, and since the subject of a science virtually contains all truths in that science, it follows that the wayfarer can have an a priori science of theology superior to that of faith.53

After having read the above text from the Parisian prologue, Robert Cowton, a younger colleague of Scotus at Oxford, remarked that “Scotus's position is scarcely believable and his argument for it even less so.”54 As Cowton pointed out, the rub is Scotus's assertion that it is possible for the wayfarer to know the divine nature under the proper aspect of its Deity. To explain how such knowledge of God does not violate the wayfarer state, Scotus appealed to the distinction between intuitive and abstractive cognition. Here abstractive cognition is defined as knowledge through a species of a thing not present in itself and intuitive cognition as knowledge of a thing as it has being in actual existence. Scotus argued that abstractive cognition of the divine nature, which is nonetheless distinct, is available to the wayfarer since only intuitive cognition of God constitutes beatitude.55 This distinct, abstractive cognition of the divine essence suffices for an a priori science of theology superior to faith, at least as regards necessary theological truths.

Thus Scotus, like Henry, made a strong case for the scientific character of theology but distinguished his position from Henry's on two points. First, and most important for our concern, Scotus rejected Henry's lumen medium unless it refers to the species that distinctly represents the divine nature in abstractive cognition. In other words, Scotus himself saw his abstractive cognition as taking up the role played by Henry's lumen medium in the debate over theology.56 Secondly, Scotus held that although such a strict science of God under the aspect of Deity is compatible with the wayfarer state absolutely speaking, it is nonetheless not available according to common disposition. The distinct knowledge of God from which this strict science of theology is derived results from a divine action, which, while going beyond common revelation, does not violate the wayfarer state.57 Apparently Scotus had in mind some sort of infusion by God of a species distinctly representing the divine nature, or perhaps the retention of such a species in abstractive cognition after the intuitive cognition of God given in rapture had passed.58

In sum, then, Scotus followed Henry in attempting to negotiate the boundary between the wayfarer state and the homeland in order to preserve a rigorous science of theology outside the beatific vision. Indeed, both did so in similar ways and, at least for Henry's earlier texts, in nearly identical language. Where Henry distinguished between visio as knowing the thing as clearly present in itself and intellectus as knowing it as present in a species or through discursive reasoning, Scotus distinguished between cognitio intuitiva as grasping the object as existing and present and cognitio abstractiva as knowledge of the nonpresent thing in a species.59 Such similar formulations in identical contexts indicate that Scotus's distinction derived from Henry's. Scotus himself left little doubt about this. While giving an otherwise accurate report of Henry's lumen medium, he slipped into his own vocabulary of intuition and abstraction.60 The many contemporaries of Scotus who associated his distinction between intuitive and abstractive cognition with Henry's lumen medium show that they were perceived as closely related doctrines designed to perform the same function. The most explicit case of this is the Carmelite master Gui Terrena in his Quodlibet 1.2 (1312): “And in this way some hold that in matters of belief God can communicate an abstractive cognition through which we can understand and know in particular, determinately, and evidently those things we believe. … This opinion does not seem different from that which holds a middle light between the light of faith and the light of glory, in which light matters of belief are understood but not seen. What the former call abstractive cognition, the latter call intellective, and what the former call intuitive cognition, the latter call vision.”61

The reason that fourteenth-century discussions on intuitive and abstractive cognition so often took place under the rubric of the science of theology is now apparent. The reason is that Scotus himself so applied the distinction in response to the debate over theology at Paris. This obvious, albeit overlooked, historical explanation reveals, however, another less obvious and more profound one about the origins of Scotus's distinction.

Scotus's use of the distinction between intuitive and abstractive cognition in 2 Lectura to explain angelic cognition of God and his use of it again in his Paris prologue to explain how the wayfarer can have a strict science of theology are in fact one and the same application of the distinction. For Scotus, the angelic and human intellects are, in their natures, powers of equal scope.62 Thus, for Scotus to have solved the problem of angelic cognition of God is for him to have already solved the problem of the scientific status of theology in the wayfarer, at least absolutely speaking. In other words, the second book of Scotus's Oxford commentaries and the prologue to his Parisian reports point to the same motivation for the distinction between intuitive and abstractive cognition. The distinction originated in Scotus's attempt to explain how a created intellect, whether angelic or human, could have a distinct or strictly scientific knowledge of the divine nature short of seeing it beatifically. When seen in the proper context of its origin, Scotus's own distinction between intuition and abstraction emerges as a development of Henry of Ghent's distinction between visio and intellectus, between lumen gloriae and lumen medium.

According to this deeper historical account, Scotus's distinction between intuitive and abstractive cognition appears originally designed not so much to account for the certitude of contingent, naturally known truths as to guarantee scientific knowledge of necessary, theological ones. From the point of view of this original function, it is abstractive rather than intuitive cognition that has an important and controversial role.


  1. On Scotus's notion of intuition see Sebastian J. Day, Intuitive Cognition: A Key to the Significance of the Later Scholastics (St. Bonaventure, N.Y., 1947); Camille Bérubé, La connaissance de l'individuel au moyen âge (Montreal, 1964), pp. 176-224; C. K. Brampton, “Scotus, Ockham and the Theory of Intuitive Cognition,” Antonianum 40 (1965), 449-66; John F. Boler, “Scotus and Intuition: Some Remarks,” Monist 49 (1965), 551-70; Richard E. Dumont, “Scotus's Intuition Viewed in the Light of the Intellect's Present State,” in De doctrina Ioannis Duns Scoti, 4 vols. (Rome, 1968), 2:47-64; Ludger Honnefelder, Ens inquantum ens: Der Begriff des Seienden als solchen als Gegenstand der Metaphysik nach der Lehre des Johannes Duns Scotus, Beiträge zur Geschichte der Philosophie und Theologie des Mittelalters, n.s. 16 (Münster, 1979), pp. 218-67. Most recently Allan B. Wolter has tried to trace the development of Scotus's notion of intuition. Wolter, however, gives no attention to the Reportatio Parisiensis, which, as I hope to show, represents an important stage historically. See his “Duns Scotus on Intuition, Memory, and Our Knowledge of Individuals,” in History of Philosophy in the Making: A Symposium of Essays to Honor Professor James D. Collins on His Sixty-Fifth Birthday, ed. Linus J. Thro (New York, 1982), pp. 81-104.

  2. On intuition and certitude, see Anton C. Pegis, “Concerning William of Ockham,” Traditio 2 (1944), 165-80; Philotheus Boehner, “Notitia intuitiva of Non-Existents according to Peter Aureoli, O.F.M. (1322),” Franciscan Studies 8 (1948), 388-416; Marilyn M. Adams, “Intuitive Cognition, Certainty, and Skepticism in William of Ockham,” Traditio 26 (1970), 389-98; Armand A. Maurer, “Francis of Meyron's Defense of Epistemological Realism,” in Studia mediaevalia et Mariologica P. Carolo Balić OFM dicata (Rome, 1971), pp. 203-25; Leo D. Davis, “The Intuitive Knowledge of Non-Existents and the Problem of Late Medieval Skepticism,” New Scholasticism 49 (1975), 410-30; Paul Streveler, “Ockham and His Critics on Intuitive Cognition,” Franciscan Studies 35 (1975), 223-36; Luciano Cova, “Francesco di Meyronnes e Walter Catton nella controversia scolastica sulla ‘notitia intuitiva de re non existente,’” Medioevo 2 (1976), 227-51; Alessandro Ghisalberti, “L'intuizione in Ockham,” Rivista di filosofia neo-scolastica 70 (1978), 207-26; John F. Boler, “Intuitive and Abstractive Cognition,” in The Cambridge History of Later Medieval Philosophy, ed. Norman Kretzmann et al. (Cambridge, Eng., 1982), pp. 460-78; Katherine H. Tachau, “The Response to Ockham's and Aureol's Epistemology (1320-1340),” in English Logic in Italy in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries: Acts of the Fifth European Symposium on Medieval Logic and Semantics, ed. Alfonso Maierù (Naples, 1982), pp. 185-218; Rega Wood, “Intuitive Cognition and Divine Omnipotence: Ockham in Fourteenth-Century Perspective,” in From Ockham to Wyclif, ed. Anne Hudson and Michael Wilks (London, 1987), pp. 51-61; Onorato Grassi, Intuizione e significato: Adam Wodeham e il problema della conoscenza nel XIV secolo (Milan, 1986). Of utmost importance on the issue of certitude in this period is Tachau's recent book, Vision and Certitude in the Age of Ockham: Optics, Epistemology, and the Foundations of Semantics, 1250-1345 (Leiden, 1988).

  3. The Appendix lists the questions under which intuition and abstraction were discussed in the fourteenth century after Scotus. Relevant parts of the larger unedited texts are transcribed. Some authors, such as Gerard of Bologna, did not discuss intuition and abstraction in a question expressly on theology as a science, but the distinction is nevertheless associated with that problem. There are, of course, exceptions to this pattern even within Scotistic circles. Cf. Alexander of Alexandria, Quod. 1.9 (1307-8), “Utrum Deus possit causare cognitionem intuitivam sine exsistentia rei et sine reali praesentia obiecti” (Vatican City, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, MS Vat. lat. 932, fols. 15r-16r). It should also be noted that a number of the questions listed ask whether abstractive or even intuitive knowledge of God can be communicated to the wayfarer (viator). As will be evident, after Scotus this became a chief issue in deciding whether theology is a science, at least with respect to the wayfarer.

  4. 1 Lect. prol. n.108 (Vat. 16:39-40). Wolter has found six instances of the term intuition in the first book of the Lectura. See “Duns Scotus on Intuition,” p. 100, n. 18.

  5. 1 Ord. prol. nn. 169-71 (Vat. 1:113-14). Here Scotus appealed to intuitive cognition to ground theology as a science of contingents, an innovation which saw great development in the fourteenth century. Steven P. Marrone has drawn attention to this innovation in his paper “Concepts of Science among Parisian Theologians in the Thirteenth Century,” forthcoming in the proceedings of the Eighth International Congress of Medieval Philosophy: Knowledge of the Sciences in Medieval Philosophy.

  6. 2 Lect. d.3 p.2 q.2 (Vat. 18:315-30): “Utrum angelus habeat actualem notitiam naturalem et distinctam essentiae divinae.” See also 2 Ord. d.3 p.2 q.2 (Vat. 7:544-69).

  7. On the chronology of Scotus's works, see Wolter, “Duns Scotus on Intuition,” p. 83; C. K. Brampton, “Duns Scotus at Oxford, 1288-1301,” Franciscan Studies 24 (1964), 5-20. It is certain that the Ordinatio is after the Lectura and that the prologue of the Ordinatio is before the Reportatio Parisiensis. Indeed it is very likely that Scotus was at work on the second book of the Ordinatio before lecturing at Paris (Wolter, “Duns Scotus on Intuition,” p. 104, n. 64). As for Scotus's discussion of intuition in his Quaestiones in Metaphysicam, Wolter (ibid.) puts it after the Lectura but before book 3 of the Ordinatio. The date of the Quaestiones in Metaphysicam is still uncertain, however. It has traditionally been regarded as an early work, and recent evidence suggests that parts were written before or at the same time as the second book of the Lectura. See Luke Modrić, “Rapporto tra la Lectura et la Metaphysica di G. Duns Scoto,” Antonianum 52 (1987), 504-9. There are other indications of a later dating, at least for parts. See 1 Ord. “De Ordinatione historice considerata” (Vat. 1:155*-57*).

  8. See n. 4 above. By 1 Lectura d.8 Scotus was employing intuitive to mean existential knowledge: 1 Lect. d.8 n.174; d.10 n.3; d.13 n.17 (Vat. 17:62-63, 115, 170).

  9. Compare 1 Lect. prol. n.118 (Vat. 16:42-43) and 1 Ord. prol. n.169 (Vat. 1:112-13); 1 Lect. d.1 nn.41-43 (Vat. 16:74) and 1 Ord. d.1 nn.34-36 (Vat. 2:23-24); 1 Lect. d.2 n.81 (Vat. 16:140) and 1 Ord. d.2. n.129 (Vat. 2:204); 1 Lect. d.2 n.264 (Vat. 16:213) and 1 Ord. d.2 n.394 (Vat. 2:352). R. G. Wengert notes the shift in terminology in the second pair of these passages and speculates that “when he got to Paris Scotus read something which led him to revise his terminology” (“The Sources of Intuitive Cognition in William of Ockham,” Franciscan Studies 41 [1981], 446). Scotus had already begun to revise his terminology by 1 Lectura d.8 (see n. 8 above) but in any case had probably finished 1 Ordinatio d.1 before he got to Paris.

  10. See n. 4 above.

  11. See 2 Ord. d.3 n.325 (Vat. 7:555-56).

  12. 2 Lect. d.3 nn.291-97 (Vat. 18:323-26).

  13. “Ad quaestionem igitur respondeo. Ad quod primo sciendum est quod in intellectu potest esse duplex cognitio et intellectio, nam una intellectio potest esse in intellectu prout abstrahit ab omni exsistentia, alia intellectio potest esse rei secundum quod praesens est in exsistentia sua.” 2 Lect. d.3 n.285 (Vat. 18:321).

  14. That is, angels naturally have intuitive cognition of the divine nature in the sense of nondiscursive knowledge. This is the usual emphasis given to the term intuitus by Henry of Ghent, who does not seem to have made a clear distinction between knowledge which is nondiscursive and that which derives from an object present in itself. See texts of Henry cited at n. 20 below and Scotus, 1 Lect. d.13 n.17 (Vat. 17:170). See also R. G. Wengert, “Three Senses of Intuitive Cognition: A Quodlibetal Question of Harvey of Nedellec,” Franciscan Studies 43 (1983), 408-31.

  15. 2 Lect. d.3 nn.288-89 (Vat. 18:322).

  16. According to Scotus, the created intellect, even in the present state, can achieve a proper, albeit not particular, concept of God: “Tertio dico quod Deus non cognoscitur naturaliter a viatore in particulari et proprie. … Quarto dico quod ad multos conceptus proprios Deo possumus pervenire, qui non conveniunt creaturis …” (1 Ord. d.3 nn.56, 58 [Vat. 3:38, 40]). This is possible because being and the divine attributes can be conceived as univocally common to God and creature. For a summary of Scotus's doctrine of univocity, see Allan B. Wolter, The Transcendentals and Their Function in the Metaphysics of Duns Scotus (St. Bonaventure, N.Y., 1946), pp. 31-57.

  17. 2 Lect. d.3 nn.291-92 (Vat. 18:323-24).

  18. See n. 9 above.

  19. “… secundum omnes, angelus non possit habere cognitionem intuitivam de Deo ex puris naturalibus …” (2 Lect. d.3 n.292 [Vat. 18:323]).

  20. “… tres personae a beatis omnino nisi unico intuitu videri non possunt” (Quod. 2.7 [ed. Wielockx, p. 35, lines 28-29]); “… cum Deus in sua nuda essentia videtur aut intelligitur, ex tali visione nullo verbo complexo concipi potest, sed tantummodo simplici intelligentia, qua simplici intuitu repraesententur ipsa et quod in ea intelligitur” (Quod. 5.26 [ed. 1518, 1:205 P]); “… sed solum ea cognoscendo in simplici intuitu divinae essentiae, cum scilicet omnem nostram scientiam uno simul intuitu videbimus” (op. cit., 1:205 Q); “… si intellectus apprehendens divinam naturam sub ratione essentiae stet in sola apprehensione tali et nequaquam ulterius operetur suae considerationis intuitu circa sic apprehensum …” (Quod. 13.1 [ed. DeCorte, p. 5, lines 43-45]); “… de necessitate ergo beatus unico et simplici intuitu videt in ipsa divina natura omnes illas rationes simul …” (op. cit., p. 6, lines 60-62); “… propter suam obtusitatem non sufficit eam primo intuitu clare conspicere, sed oportet eum per discursum notitiam illius investigate …” (op. cit., p. 7, lines 83-85); “… de cognitione habita de illis in vita ista, quia non est nisi discursiva. Et sic non est simile de cognitione rationum Dei in patria, in qua omnes simul sub uno intuitu iugiter permanente …” (op. cit., p. 9, lines 30-32). See also SQO 40.5, 49.5 (1:258 O-R, 2:37 O).

  21. “Dicendum quod dupliciter contingit cire rem aliquam esse: uno modo per seipsam ex evidentia exsistentiae suae apud scientem, ad modum quo scit ignem esse ille qui videt ignem praesentem oculis. … Alio autem modo contingit scire rem aliquam esse non per se ex rei evidentia, sed per medium notius deducens via ratiocinativa ad illud cognoscendum tamquam ignotius ex colligantia exsistentiae unius ad exsistentiam alterius, quorum unum ex rei evidentia videt per seipsam, alterum vero non visum per se ex rei evidentia. …” (SQO 22.1 [1:130 L]); “Ad cuius intellectum sciendum quod tripliciter contingit scire de re aliqua an sit in actu exsistens. Uno modo ex praesentia eius, ad modum quo scitur ignis esse praesens oculis. … Primo modo non cognoscitur Deus esse nisi videndo eius nudam essentiam, sicut vident eam sancti in patria, scientes per hoc Deum esse, sicut videns ignem prae oculis, per hoc scit ignem esse. Et hac via cognoscendi scire Deum esse impossibile est homini ex puris naturalibus in quocumque statu” (SQO 22.5 [1:134 C]); “Dicendum ad hoc, quod ad modum triplicis cognitionis sensitivae contingit imaginari de Deo triplicem cognitionem intellectivam. Est enim quaedam cognitio sensitiva rei ex eius praesentia nuda per essentiam suam, sicut oculus videt colores in pariete. Est autem alia cognitio sensitiva rei in eius absentia, et haec est duplex. Una qua res ipsa cognoscitur per suam propriam speciem. … Alia qua res cognoscitur per speciem alienam. … Ad modum primae cognitionis sensitivae Deus cognoscitur immediate per nudam essentiam, et hoc simplici intelligentia, non ratione collativa per aliquod medium rationis. Unde et illa cognitio dicitur cognitio visionis, quia in ea videt Deum oculus mentis, ad modum quo videt oculus corporis formam coloris. …” (SQO 24.2 [1:138 I]).

  22. 1 Lect. d.2 n.16; d.3 nn.69, 75 (Vat. 16:115, 250, 252-53).

  23. 2 Lect. d.3 (Vat. 18:324, lines 1-2, 9-11, 26-27, 28-31; 325, lines 4-6; 326, lines 3-5; 329 line 19-330 line 5).

  24. 1 Ord. prol. n.169 (Vat. 1:113).

  25. The text printed as the Reporatio Parisiensis in vol. 22 of the Vivès edition is, as Wadding himself indicates, based upon Vatican City, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, MS Vat. lat. 876 (Censura Lucae Waddingi [Vivès 22:4-5]). For the first book, however, this manuscript carries the Additiones magnae, extracted by William of Alnwick from Scotus's Parisian and Oxford lectures, not a Reportatio Parisiensis. See “De Ordinatione I. Duns Scoti: Disquisitio historico-critica” (Vat. 1:38*-42*, 145*); “Adnotationes” (Vat. 7:4*, n. 2). I have consulted the copy of the Reportatio Parisiensis examinata contained in Vienna, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, MS 1453, for the text of Scotus's Parisian commentary. In fact, the prologue in the Vivès edition is generally very close to the Reportatio examinata, and thus for convenience references are to the former unless the two versions differ significantly.

  26. SQO 13.4 (1:92 M-93 O); 13.6-7 (1:94 A-97 Z); Quod. 8.14 (ed. 1518, 2:324 G-326 O); 12.2 (ed. DeCorte, pp. 14-27); 13.1 (ed. DeCorte, pp. 3-9). Note especially: “Et patet plane, quia in omnibus huiusmodi dictis Augustinus loquitur de intelligere huius vitae, contra eos qui exponunt illud Esaiae, ‘Nisi credideritis non intelligetis’, solummodo de intellectu futurae vitae, ad quem necessario praeambula est fides huius vitae, quamvis enim hoc verum sit, tamen non solum hoc verum est. Verum enim simul est et pro intelligere praesentis vitae. … Absolute igitur dicendum quod discens hanc scientiam ut congruit super habitum fidei acquirit habitum intellectus, ut quae primo credit fide postmodum intelligit ratione, et cui primo assentit ita suasus alterius auctoritate quasi audiendo, deinde assentit motus ab ipsa credibilis veritate vere intelligendo …” (SQO 13.6 [1:94 F-95 G]); “Et de tali intellectu dictum est supra, quod credibile fit homini in vita ista quodammodo intelligibile” (SQO 13.7 [1:96 Q]); “Sic ergo patet quomodo articuli fidei probari possunt veridica ratione generante verum intellectum et scientiam de ipsis, quod appellamus demonstrationem. Hoc tamen non nisi fide supposita” (Quod. 8.14 [ed. 1518, 2:326 M]); “Immo potius suadendum est quod certa ratio haberi potest de credibili, per quam vere sciri et intelligi potest in vita ista …” (Quod. 12.2 [ed. DeCorte, p. 21, lines 49-51]); “Et per hoc habetur habitus intellectivus de principiis tam extrinsecis quam intrinsecis theologiae, et scientificus simpliciter de conclusionibus credibilibus” (op. cit., p. 27, lines 99-1). See Jean Leclercq, “La théologie comme science d'après la littérature quodlibétique,” Recherches de théologie ancienne et médiévale 11 (1939), 360; Paul DeVooght, “La méthode théologique d'après Henri de Gand et Gérard de Bologne,” Recherches de théologie ancienne et médiévale 23 (1956), 61-87; Josef Finkenzeller, Offenbarung und Theologie nach der Lehre des Johannes Duns Skotus, Beiträge zur Geschichte der Philosophie und Theologie des Mittelalters 38/5 (Münster, 1961), pp. 184-85; Hermann Theissing, Glaube und Theologie bei Robert Cowton OFM, Beiträge zur Geschichte der Philosophie und Theologie des Mittelalters 42/3 (Münster, 1970), pp. 135-37; Joachim D'Souza, “William of Alnwick and the Problem of Faith and Reason,” Salesianum 35 (1973), 480-81.

  27. SQO 13.6 (1:94 B-D); 13.7 (1:95 O-R); Quod. 8.14 (ed. 1518, 2:325 K-L); 12.2 (ed. DeCorte, p. 23 line 6-p. 24 line 33).

  28. “Illa autem proprie dicuntur videri, quae praesto sunt vel animi vel corporis sensibus, quibus intellectus proprio testimonio assentit propter evidentiam veritatis ex natura ipsius rei vel rationis. Sed distinguendo notitiam visionis proprie sumptae a notitia intellectus vel scientiae, proprie dicitur esse notitia visionis quando res est praesto videnti per seipsam, sicut visui corporali praesto sunt in lumine visibilia corporalia et intellectui angelico et humano in gloria praesto sunt ea quae vident in verbo et luce increata” (SQO 13.7 [1.96 P]); “De cognitione autem visionis, quia ipsa propter rei praesentiam claram in seipsa, nullam in se patitur obscuritatem, sed est omnino clara et perfecta …” (ibid.).

  29. While accepting it at first, Henry ultimately rejected the impressed intelligible species, even in the case of an absent object. See Theophiel Nys, De Werking van het menselijk Verstand volgens Hendrik van Gent (Louvain, 1949), pp. 51-98; Steven P. Marrone, Truth and Scientific Knowledge in the Thought of Henry of Ghent (Cambridge, Mass., 1985), pp. 5-6; 21, n. 25; 143. Accordingly, in his earlier texts (SQO 13.6-7) given in n. 30 below, Henry associated intellectus with both discursive reasoning and presence of the known object through a representing species, while in the later texts (Quod. 8.14 and 12.2) he described it solely in terms of discursive knowledge. See also texts at n. 59 below.

  30. “Tertius modus est medius quo cognoscuntur credita, non solum auditu nec apparentia rei quasi visu, sed ex rationis evidentia, qua intellectui conspicuum est naturam rei sic se habere sicut fides tenet” (SQO 13.6 [1:94 C]; “Proprie autem dicitur notitia intellectus quando res est praesto intelligenti vel scienti per speciem solum suam vel alienam, sicut geometra habet intellectum et scientiam figurarum corporalium ad absentiam earum secundum rem per veridicam rationem quam habet de eis adminiculo specierum suarum apud animam. … Sed loquendo de intellectu proprie dicto, cui res praesto est per speciem et maxime per speciem alienam … non est ex rei praesentis evidentia, sed ex veridicae rationis efficacia …” (SQO 13.7 [1:96 P-Q]); “Intelligere autem est verum aliquid cognoscere perspicue per medium certius ex sensus cognitione in primis certificatum, quemadmodum conclusiones intelligimus intellecto medio proprio notiori complexo et applicato” (Quod. 8.14 [ed. 1518, 2:325 K]); “Intelligere autem est cognoscere aliquid ex alio per discursum rationis, vel definitivum vel syllogisticum, qualiter doctor astrologus intelligit per demonstrationem nunc solem eclipsari, quod oculis non videt” (Quod. 12.2 [ed. DeCorte, p. 23, lines 13-16]).

  31. SQO 13.7 (1:96 R).

  32. “Omnis de hac re sermo quid agit, nisi ut non solum credatur verum etiam intelligatur et sciatur quod dicitur. Aliter enim vanum esset multo studio insistere expositioni sacrae scripturae, postquam credita sunt illa firmiter circa quorum notitiam laboramus” (SQO 13.6 [1:95 G]).

  33. SQO 13.6 (1:94 D-95 G).

  34. “Notitia enim quae est hic per intellectum de credibilibus nunquam est pura ab omni obscuritate fidei” (SQO 13.6 [1:95 I]); cf. SQO 13.7 (1:96 R-T); Quod. 8.14 (ed. 1518, 2:325 K-L). As Henry explained it, the whole basis for the obscurity of the truths of faith is that they concern particulars while intellectus is limited to universals: “Quod, quia nunc fide non cognovimus nisi indeterminate, in hoc consistit fidei aenigma, quae evacuatur si nobis huiusmodi particulare determinetur …” (op. cit., 2:326 L).

  35. SQO 13.6 (1:94 D-G, 95 M); Quod. 12.2 (ed. DeCorte, pp. 14-21).

  36. Godfrey's Quod. 8.7 (PB 4:69-82) is an extended refutation of Henry's position, which it quotes at length and verbatim. Two other early opponents of Henry were James of Therine and Gerard of Bologna. See the articles by Leclecq and DeVooght at n. 26 above. Henry did have his defenders, however, such as the Oxford Augustinian Robert Walshingham. See his Quod. 1.10 (1312-13), “Utrum unum et idem possit ab eodem intellectu simul esse scitum et creditum” (Worcester, Cathedral Library F. 3, fols. 131r-33r): “Sequitur videre de tertio articulo quod evidentia quam facit scientia de credito non repugnat inevidentiae fidei, et per consequens possunt simul stare. Illud declaro sicut facit doctor quem sequor in hoc, cuius declarationem si multi adverterent, non facerent tales rationes quales faciunt contra eum” (fols. 132v-33r). Walshingham went on to give Henry of Ghent's position as found in SQO 13.6-7. Francis of Marchia also had a view of theology very close to that of Henry. See his 1 Sent. prol. q.3 (1320), “Utrum theologia sit scientia proprie dicta” (Vatican City, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, MS Vat. lat. 1096, fols. 4va-6va). For a summary of Francis's position, see Gregory of Rimini, 1 Sent. prol. q.1 a.4, in Gregorii Ariminensis OESA Lectura super primum et secundum Sententiarum, ed. A. Damasus Trapp, OSA, et al., 7 vols. (Berlin, 1981-87), 1:40 line 11-43 line 33.

  37. Quod. 8.7 (PB 4:69-71).

  38. “His visis, ulterius est dicendum quod ad scientiam huiusmodi habendam non est necessarium lumen aliquod speciale ultra lumen fidei et naturalis intellectus, quia non acquiritur notitia tam diversa nec tam clara ad quam haec non sufficiant” (PB 4:77-78); “Dicitur autem talis scientia [sc. ultra fidem] certa certitudine qua et certa fides est …” (PB 4:80); “… quia licet magistri in theologia non studeant frustra, quia ultra notitiam simplicem fidei, etiam quam habent fideles communiter, acquirunt notitiam evidentiorem, quae tamen non attingit ad tantam evidentiam quantam requirit notitia quae scientia proprie dici debet” (PB 4:81).

  39. “Et est magnum mirabile quod in quacumque alia facultate peritus nititur scientiam suam, quantum potest, extollere, soli autem theologi quidam, ut philosophiam videantur exaltare, theologiam deprimunt, adserentes ipsam non esse vere scientiam, nec credibilia posse fieri vere intelligibilia in vita ista. Tales sibi viam sciendi et intelligendi credibilia praecludunt, et aliis desperationem intelligendi illa incutiunt, quod valde perniciosum est et damnosum Ecclesiae et periculosum dicere. Immo potius suadendum est quod certa ratio haberi potest de credibili, per quam vere sciri et intelligi potest in vita ista” (Quod. 12.2 [ed. DeCorte, p. 20 line 43-p. 21 line 51]).

  40. “Quod ergo Iudaeus quaerit: ‘ostendere lumen illud clarius’, idem est ac si diceret Pelagius Augustino: ‘Tu dicis quod liberum arbitrium non potest velle bonum sine gratia; ostende ergo nobis illam gratiam’, aut si diceret Iudaeus christiano: ‘Tu dicis gratiam dari in baptismo; ostende illam’. Re vera spirituale lumen vel gratia non est tale quid quod non habenti possit ostendi, sed ille solummodo bene novit, qui accipit” (op. cit., p. 20, lines 37-42). Cf. “Quod autem dicitur quod hoc, scilicet quod non inveniuntur sic perfecte habentes habitum scientificum de his quae fidei sunt, provenit ex universali indispositione in auditoribus aliis qui hoc lumen negant, et ideo non immerito lumine carent et non sunt doctibiles Dei, non videtur tolerabile” (Godfrey, Quod. 8.7 [PB 4:71]).

  41. “… qui multa ponunt sed pauca declarant de hoc lumine …” (PB 4:70)

  42. “Unde paucis mutatis, possunt alii dicere istis quod dicit Augustinus Contra Epistolam Fundamenti manichaeis, qui promittebant evidenti ratione se manifestaturos veritatem eorum quae credenda suadebant. … Non tamen intelligo istos, absit, aliquo errore notandos sicut erant manichaei qui talem evidentiae notitiam promittebant, quam tamen exhibere non poterant; sed de hoc videntur notandi quod ita vehementer asserunt et affirmant esse possibile illud a quo ipsi sicut et alii penitus deficiunt” (PB 4:71-72).

  43. It is doubtful that Godfrey was chancellor of the University of Paris when Scotus was there. See John F. Wippel, The Metaphysical Thought of Godfrey of Fontaines: A Study in Late Thirteenth-Century Philosophy (Washington, D.C., 1981), p. xvi, n. 14.

  44. “Utrum veritates per se scibiles de Deo sub ratione Deitatis possint sciri ab intellectu viatoris” (1 Add. magn. prol. q.2 [Vivès 22:336-45b]). The expression “sub ratione Deitatis” indicates that Scotus was asking about theology in its purest form. Cf. “Concedo igitur … quod theologia est de Deo sub ratione qua scilicet est haec essentia, sicut perfectissima scientia de homine esset de homine si esset de eo secundum quod homo …” (1 Ord. prol. n.167 [Vat. 1:109]). See n. 52 below on the notion that Scotus identified the ratio Deitatis with God as haec essentia.

  45. I Add. magn. prol. q.2 nn.6-14 (Vivès 22:36a-41a).

  46. “Utrum Deum esse omnipotentem possit naturali ratione et necessaria demonstrari” (Vivès 25:282-95; ed. Alluntis, pp. 249-68). Cf. John Duns Scotus, God and Creatures: The Quodlibetal Questions, trans. Allan B. Wolter and Felix Alluntis (Princeton, 1975), p. 163, nn. 10-11.

  47. Of course, the question of whether theology is a science can be asked from viewpoints other than that of the wayfarer. For Scotus, theology could be considered as it is found in either the divine, blessed, or human intellect. In each case, theology can be of either necessary or contingent truths. On these divisions, see 1 Ord. prol. nn.141, 150, 208-9 (Vat. 1:95-96, 101, 141-43). In addition to Finkenzeller, Offenbarung und Theologie, the fundamental studies on Scotus's treatment of theology as a science are Aegidius Magrini, Ioannis Duns Scoti doctrina de scientifica theologiae natura (Rome, 1952), and Edward O'Connor, “The Scientific Character of Theology according to Scotus,” in De doctrina Ioannis Duns Scoti, 3:3-50.

  48. “Contra tamen praedictam opinionem arguitur dupliciter. Primo sic: In quocumque lumine non habetur notitia distincta terminorum, ut sunt termini alicuius principii, in illo lumine non potest illud principium distincte intelligi. Sed in isto lumine quod ponunt, non potest haberi distincta notitia Dei, ut terminus principii pure theologici. Ergo etc. Probo minorem: Impossibile est habere distinctam notitiam Dei, nisi sit in se praesens in intellectu, vel in alio repraesentativo, quod distincte ipsum repraesentat; sed hoc non est possibile viatori, quia si esset per se praesens intellectui viatoris, tunc esset in eo beatitudo; nec est aliquid aliud quod ipsum distincte repraesentat, quia secundum illos, nullum est repraesentativum intellectui viatoris, nisi phantasma; sed hoc non potest distincte essentiam divinam repraesentare” (1 Add. magn. prol. q.2 n.14 [Vivès 22:40b-41a]). As we shall presently see, Scotus accepted Henry's lumen medium if it is interpreted as a species representing the divine nature. It is well known that Scotus rejected Henry's attendant position on the relation between faith and reason. See 3 Ord. d.24 q.un. (Vivès 15:34-54): “Utrum de credibilibus revelatis possit aliquis habere simul scientiam et fidem.”

  49. Here the Vivès text and the Vienna manuscript of the Reportatio Parisiensis (see note 25 above) differ somewhat. I quote the latter: “Similiter quod aliquis doctor, propter unam auctoritatem Averrois … dimittat [commitat MS] aliam opinionem, quae innititur forte plus quam 30 auctoritatibus Sanctorum Augustini et aliorum …” (fol. 7ra).

  50. “Respondeo ad quaestionem quod viator potest scire veritates per se scibiles de Deo sub ratione Deitatis, scire, inquam, simpliciter et perfecte; simpliciter non a posteriori, sed a priori sub ratione Deitatis; perfecte, quia cognitione superiori quam sit cognitio fidei” (1 Add. magn. prol. q.2 n.15 [Vivès 22:41a]).

  51. “Iuxta istam conclusionem haberi potest corollarium, quomodo theologia potest esse scientia in intellectu viatoris, stante simpliciter statu viae, quia intellectus potens habere conceptum virtualiter includentem omnes veritates de ipso necessarias ordinatas, immediatius scilicet, et mediatius, potest de illo obiecto habere scientiam completam, sic autem potest intellectus viatoris habere de Deo; ergo etc. … Esset ergo viator perfecte scientifice theologus …” (Quod. q.7 n.10 [Vivès 25:290b-91a; ed. Alluntis, pp. 262-63]).

  52. According to Scotus, the divine nature is known under the aspect of Deity when it is known as a nature which is of itself singular (essentia de se haec). See 1 Ord. d.3 nn.56, 57, 192; d.4 nn.3, 11; d.8 n.200; d.21 q.un. (Vat. 3.38, 39, 118; 4:2, 5, 265, 5:339-47).

  53. “Probatio primi: intellectus potens intelligere aliquod subiectum sub propria ratione subiecti, potest scire veritates per se scibiles de eo, quia talis intellectus potest intelligere principium complexum, et sic conclusionem inclusam virtualiter in illo principio; sed hoc potest intellectus viatoris; ergo etc.” (1 Add. magn. prol. q.2 n.15 [Vivès 22:41a]).

  54. “Illud dictum est mihi valde mirabile et ratio mirabilior, si talis sit, sicut vidi eam scriptam et iam recitatam. Nam primo falsum sumitur secundum seipsum alibi in alia materia, in hoc quod accipit, quod viator potest habere cognitionem Dei sub propria ratione Deitatis ut ex tali notitia posset cognoscere a priori et propter quid omnia complexa quae de Deo concipi possunt, licet cognitione abstractiva. …” (1 Sent. prol. q.2 in Theissing, Glaube und Wissenschaft, p. 266, lines 7-13).

  55. 1 Add. magn. prol. q.2 n.15 (Vivès 22:41a).

  56. “Ex his patet, quod in duobus discordo ab opinione praecedente. Primo, quia non pono haberi scientiam per quodcumque lumen de Deo, si non sit obiectum in se praesens, nec in suo repraesentativo; si autem vocant lumen illud rationem repraesentandi, admitto, sed tunc non in illo lumine, sed per lumen habetur” (op. cit., n.17 [Vivès 22:43a-b]). Scotus made the same point in the parallel text of his Quodlibet: “Ex hoc sequitur quod si poneretur theologiam esse proprie scientiam in quodam lumine citra lumen gloriae et supra lumen fidei, et illud lumen poneretur talis cognitio, sive conceptus obiecti, vera esset opinio de lumine. Sed sic non videtur intellexisse, qui posuit lumen, quia videtur posuisse lumen in quo cognosceretur obiectum, non autem quod esset formalis ratio, sive formalis cognitio ipsius obiecti, sicut hic est positum” (Quod. q.7 n.10 [Vivès 25:291b; ed. Alluntis, p. 263]). Katherine Tachau has passed on to me corroborative evidence drawn from Scotus's theory of physical light. Scotus accepted the distinction made in the perspectivist tradition between lux, which is a generating light source, and lumen, which is the visible species produced by the light source and multiplied to the perceiver. That is, when speaking of physical light, Scotus identified lumen with the visible species. See Scotus, 2 Ord. d.13 q.un: “Circa distinctionem 13 quaero simul de luce et de lumine. Et quero primo: utrum lux gignat lumen tamquam propriam speciem sensibilem sui. … Hic sunt tria videnda. Primo, quid sit lux. Secundo, quid sit lumen. Tertio, qualiter lumen a luce gignitur. … Hoc modo dico quod lumen est proprie intentio sive species propria ipsius lucis sensibilis …” (Edward McCarthy, “Medieval Light Theory and Optics and Duns Scotus's Treatment of Light in D. 13 of Book II of His Commentary on the Sentences” [Diss., City University of New York, 1976], pp. 24-27). On the distinction between lux and lumen see David C. Lindberg, Theories of Vision from Al-Kindi to Kepler (Chicago, 1976), pp. 96-97, 113, and Tachau's own Vision and Certitude, p. 58. I am indebted to Professor Tachau for the above information on Scotus's treatment of lux and lumen and its background in perspectivist treatises.

  57. “In alio etiam discordo, quia huiusmodi scientia de Deo sub ratione Deitatis, non habetur per studium, sed est donum gratis datum ad utilitatem ecclesiae …” (1 Add. magn. prol. q.2 n.17 [Vivès 22:43b]). Note that Godfrey said that his position was not taking into account any such special action by God: “Sed ita suppono et firmiter credo esse in omnibus quantumcumque perfectis in vita ista vitam communem ducentibus et non raptis vel aliquo modo singulariter elevatis” (Quod. 8.7 [PB 4:70]).

  58. Scotus did not, as far as I know, explicitly say how such abstractive cognition of the divine nature is produced. See Wolter and Alluntis, God and Creatures, p. 163, nn. 10-11. In his second response in the Parisian prologue, Scotus argued that God can bypass the representing species and directly cause in the wayfarer the required cognition, such as the “inner voice” experienced by the prophets. Scotus regarded this directly caused knowledge as equivalent to that given in abstractive cognition through a representing species. See 1 Add. magn. prol. q.2 n.17 (Vivès 22:42b-43a).

  59. A comparison of Henry's texts with the corresponding ones of Scotus is striking: Cf. “De cognitione autem visionis, quia ipsa propter rei praesentiam claram in seipsa …” (SQO 13.7 [1:96 P]) and “… alia intellectio potest esse rei secundum quod praesens est in exsistentia sua” (2 Lect. d.3 n.285 [Vat. 18:321]); “Sed loquendo de intellectu proprie dicto, cui res praesto est per speciem et maxime per speciem alienam … non est ex rei praesentis evidentia …” (SQO 13.7 [1:96 Q]) and “… quaedam quidem est per speciem, quae est rei non in se praesentis, et haec vocatur cognitio rei abstractiva …” (1 Add. magn. prol. q.2 n.15 [Vivès 22:41a]).

  60. “Alia est opinio Gandavensis Quodlibet 8 q.4. … Dicit enim quod est triplex lumen: unum sufficiens ad apertam visionem habendam de his, quae nunc credimus, scilicet lumen gloriae, in quo credita nobis clare videntur cognitione intuitiva et propter quid. … Contra conclusionem in se: ipse dicit quod ista duo lumina [sc. medium et fidei] simul stant. … Hoc videtur falsum quod stant simul, quia lumen illud non facit cognitionem intuitivam de credibilibus, sed scientiam abstractivam …” (3 Ord. d.24 q.un. nn.5, 8 [Vivès 15:39a, 41a]).

  61. Gui Terrena, Quod. 1.2 (Vatican City, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, MS Borgh. lat. 39, fols. 15vb-16ra). For the text see the Appendix. Later Hugolino of Orvieto made the same identification in his 1 Sent. prol. q.3 a.2 (1365): “Ad hoc dubium respondet Gandavensis ubi supra articulo 13 quaestione 7 dicens ‘Triplex est cognitio,’ scilicet ‘fide, visu, et intellectu’; seu sub aliis terminis: Est fidei adhaesio; evidentia intrinseca seu intuitiva perfecta visio ac intuitio; et media intelligentia, quae est abstractiva cognitio melior fide, sed tamen infra intuitivam evidentiam” (Hugolini de Urbe Veteri OESA Commentarius in quattuor libros Sententiarum, ed. Willigis Eckermann, O.S.A., 4 vols. [Würzburg, 1981-88], 1:116, lines 46-50).

  62. “… obiectum adaequatum intellectui nostro ex natura potentiae non est aliquid specialius obiecto intellectus angelici, quia quidquid potest intelligi ab uno et ab alio” (Quod. 14 n.12 [Vivès 26:47a; ed. Alluntis, p. 513]).

The following abbreviations have been used for the works of Duns Scotus: Add. magn. = Additiones magnae; Lect. = Lectura; Ord. = Ordinatio; Quod. = Quaestiones quodlibetales. Authors have been cited according to the following editions and series: ed. 1518 = Quodlibeta Magistri Henrici Goethals a Gandavo doctoris solemnis, 2 vols. (Paris, 1518; repr. Louvain, 1961); Alluntis = Obras del Doctor Sutil Juan Duns Escoto: Cuestiones quodlibetales ed. and trans. Felix Alluntis (Madrid, 1968); DeCorte = Henrici de Gandavo Quodlibet XIII, ed. J. DeCorte (Leuven, 1985) and Henrici de Gandavo Quodlibet XII, ed. J. DeCorte (Leuven, 1987); PB = Les philosophes belges; SQO = Henry of Ghent, Summae quaestionum ordinariarum, 2 vols. (Paris, 1520; repr. St. Bonaventure, N.Y., 1953); Vat. = I. Duns Scoti Opera omnia studio et cura Commissionis Scotisticae ad fidem codicum edita praeside Carolo [Illegible Text] vols. 1-7, 16-18 (Vatican City, 1950-82); Vivès = Joannis Duns Scoti Opera omnia, editio nova secundum editionem Waddingi XII tomos continentem recognita, 26 vols. (Paris, 1891-95); Wielockx = Henrici de Gandavo Quodlibet II, ed. R. Wielockx (Leuven, 1983).

Stephen D. Dumont (essay date summer 1992)

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SOURCE: Dumont, Stephen D. “The Propositio Famosa Scoti: Duns Scotus and Ockham on the Possibility of a Science of Theology.” Dialogue 31, no. 3 (summer 1992): 415-29.

[In the following essay, Dumont considers Scotus's contention that theology is a science in a verifiable, Aristotelian sense, and contrasts this view with William of Ockham's repudiation of Scotus's argument.]

Duns Scotus's famous proposition was first attacked in a short polemical treatise attributed to Thomas of Sutton.1 By the time of Ockham, the proposition was known as the propositio famosa, so called by Walter Chatton,2 Ockham's colleague at Oxford and London, who defended it against Ockham's lengthy critique.3 At Paris, during the same period, it was called the propositio vulgata and was used approvingly by Francis of Meyronnes,4 Peter of Navarre5 and Durandus St. Pourçain.6 This “famous proposition” was so controverted because on it depended the acceptance, with Duns Scotus, or the rejection, with Ockham, of theology as a strict, propter quid science. As its detractors and defenders must have realized, it also struck at the heart of the divergent philosophical outlooks of Duns Scotus and Ockham. For all of this, Duns Scotus's famous proposition and its history have all but escaped notice.


Duns Scotus discusses whether theology is a science in the prologues to both his Oxford and Paris commentaries on the Sentences.7 Ockham directs his attack toward the latter text, because it is there that Duns Scotus most fully and clearly develops his position that theology is a strict, propter quid or a priori science. At issue between Duns Scotus and Ockham is whether necessary theological truths concerning the divine essence, attributes and persons of the Trinity can meet the requirements for Aristotelian science. Both agree on these requirements, namely, that science must be knowledge which is true, necessary, evident and deduced syllogistically from principles.8 Typically, the chief obstacles to construing such theological truths as science arose from the requirements of evidence and syllogistic deduction.9

As for the requirement of evidence, Ockham and Duns Scotus held that in the present state (pro statu isto) and under ordinary revelation (sub communi lege) such theological truths were not known scientifically but by faith, since they were not evident to the intellect but assented to on the basis of authority.10 In the prologue to his Parisian Sentences, however, Duns Scotus found a way to satisfy the requirement of evidence. There he maintained that, at least absolutely speaking, God could cause in the created intellect a knowledge of the divine nature that was below beatitude yet which surpassed both the non-evident knowledge given in faith and the general concepts acquired naturally through created effects. Such knowledge of the divine nature would be, according to Duns Scotus, sufficient to grasp all necessary truths about God, even those concerning the Trinity. Put in his technical language, Duns Scotus maintained that God could cause in the intellect of the wayfarer (viator) an abstractive cognition (cognitio abstractiva) of the divine nature in itself (sub ratione deitatis) sufficiently evident and distinct to produce certitude of all necessary, theological truths. Since only intuitive knowledge (cognitio intuitiva) of the divine essence was beatific, such abstractive knowledge was possible for the human intellect, at least absolutely speaking, in the wayfarer state.11 Although Ockham did modify Duns Scotus's definition of intuitive cognition, he nonetheless agreed with Duns Scotus that God could cause in the intellect of the wayfarer an evident knowledge of theological truths that was abstractive.12 In other words, both Duns Scotus and Ockham agreed that evident knowledge of theological truths is, absolutely speaking, available to the wayfarer. The issue was whether such idealized knowledge of theological truths in the created intellect constituted science.

The requirement that scientific knowledge result from deduction from principles was problematic for two reasons, both traceable to the divine simplicity. The first was that it appeared to make several concepts of God impossible. Both Duns Scotus and Ockham agreed, however, that despite the divine simplicity, there could be several concepts of God.13 The second problem was that the divine simplicity prevented any ordering of these concepts. It was here that the two disagreed, and their object of disagreement was the propositio famosa.


Duns Scotus appears to have first formulated his famous proposition while commenting on the Sentences in Paris in the fall of 1302.14 It occurs in the opening question of the prologue which, as indicated, is devoted to establishing that theology is a strict science with the divine nature as its primary object.15 Toward this result, Duns Scotus divides the question into four articles, which in turn set down the requirements for scientific knowledge, define the nature of the primary object of a science, and establish that the divine nature and attributes can be conceived under distinct rationes. Duns Scotus's final step is to show in the fourth article that these distinct rationes have an order appropriate for strict demonstration.16 It is to explain how such order is possible in God that Duns Scotus invokes his famous proposition.

Whatever the real order would be among things were they really distinct, that is their order according to reason where they are distinct by reason.17

Duns Scotus uses this proposition to show that the various rationes under which God is conceivable are so ordered that the ratio of the divine essence is absolutely first and all others, such as the divine attributes, personal properties of the Trinity and relations to creatures, are posterior as quasi properties or accidents of the essence.18 Successive applications of the propositio famosa enable Duns Scotus to show further that the divine attributes are ordered among themselves as prior and posterior with respect to the divine essence. For example, an essential property of the divine nature is intellectuality. Duns Scotus argues that if the following were really distinct—(1) a perfect immaterial essence, (2) an intellect perfected by its primary object, (3) that through which the object is present to the intellect, (4) the act itself of understanding that object, and finally (5) acts of understanding other objects contained in that primary object—then they would have a real order such that the perfect immaterial essence would be really prior to the intellect perfected by its proportionate object, the perfected intellect would be really prior to what presents its object to it, which would be really prior to the act itself of understanding, and so forth. By the propositio famosa, Duns Scotus then concludes that this same order obtains in God where these are distinct only by reason. Furthermore, this order would be propter quid, because it obtains from the quid or nature of each thing ordered.19 Consequently, there is sufficient order in God to account for a propter quid science of theology.

The immediate purpose of the propositio famosa in its theological setting is clear enough. It provides a rule whereby a deductive order among the various intelligible features in God can be determined. Consider the order those features have in creatures where they are really distinct. They have that same order in God where they are distinct only by reason. The infinity these perfections have as proper to God does not, according to Duns Scotus, affect their formal nature, or consequently, their order.20

There also seems to be another function of the propositio famosa. Duns Scotus's contemporaries held that the divine attributes were distinct from each other and from the divine essence only by reason. That is, a distinction between wisdom and goodness in God was seen to result only from some activity on the part of the intellect, usually an act comparing the divine essence to something else. Duns Scotus himself, however, took the controversial view that the attributes, and even the personal properties of the Trinity, were distinct from each other and from the essence antecedent to the act of any intellect, created or divine.21 In other words, Duns Scotus regarded these features as in a sense really distinct or non-identical in God, going so far as to call them distinct entities.22 Now by claiming that the order of things distinct by reason would be the same were they really distinct, the propositio famosa would seem to separate the question of whether theology is a science from the debate over the type of distinction to be placed in God. In this way Duns Scotus's proposition can secure theology as a science regardless of how the divine nature and its attributes are distinguished.

Whatever advantages it might carry, however, the propositio famosa appears at first glance false. What warrant is there for asserting that real and rational orders are the same? In his Parisian prologue, Duns Scotus offers only a single, short proof of his proposition. He simply argues that the only way we have to determine the order of things distinct by reason is to infer it from the real order those things are apt to have if they were really distinct.23 This argument of course is no justification for such an inference. Not until his Quodlibet, disputed at Paris several years later, does Duns Scotus supply this justification.

He appeals repeatedly in his Quodlibet to the famous proposition,24 but its fullest treatment is in the first question which asks whether the essential or personal properties are more immediate to the divine essence.25 This quodlibetal question is in fact closely related to the fourth article of the Parisian prologue just examined. As in his Parisian prologue, Duns Scotus maintains in this quodlibetal dispute that the divine properties are posterior to the divine essence itself, and that the common essential properties are prior to the notional or personal properties proper to the persons of the Trinity26 And, as in his Parisian prologue, Duns Scotus proves this order by using the propositio famosa. In the Quodlibet, however, the proposition is modified in crucial ways. There it occurs as follows:

Whatever the real per se order would be among things if they were really distinct, that is the per se order among them corresponding to the distinction which they have, for example, an order of reason, if they are distinct by reason. And this [is true] whether the ‘reason’ is taken from the side of thing or caused solely by an act of the intellect.27

First, and most importantly, Duns Scotus here specifies that the type of order at issue is per se or essential order. As we shall presently see, Duns Scotus's whole justification of his proposition depends upon this precision. Second, he explains that the expression ‘distinct by reason’ is ambiguous. A distinction of reason, of course, is one between rationes or intelligible aspects of one and the same thing (res) as opposed to a fully real distinction between things. The ambiguity is whether these different rationes arise purely from the mind's consideration of a thing, or whether, apart from any activity of the intellect, they are really in the thing itself (ex parte rei). Thus, depending on how the term ratio itself is construed, a distinction of reason can be a purely mental one between concepts or a type of extra-mental distinction within the thing itself. Duns Scotus, for his part, claims that his proposition holds regardless of the sense in which ‘distinct by reason’ is taken. The significance of his extending the scope of his proposition in this manner will be seen below.

Having so qualified and explained the propositio famosa, Duns Scotus gives two proofs of it, one a posteriori and the other a priori.28 The a posteriori argument is the one given in the Parisian prologue. We in fact determine the order of things that are distinct by reason, in either of the above senses, by inferring it from the real order those things would have if they were really distinct.29 In accord with the requirements for a posteriori or quia demonstration, Duns Scotus here establishes only the fact that (quia) his proposition is true. In this case, the evidence is the apparently recognized rule of inference embodied in the propositio famosa. The justification for such a rule, and hence for the propositio famosa, is to be supplied by an a priori or propter quid proof which gives the ‘cause’ or reason why it is true.

An a priori or propter quid demonstration displays why a conclusion is true by a definition of its terms. Accordingly, Duns Scotus begins his a priori proof by defining the subject term of the conclusion to be demonstrated, namely, the term ‘essential order’ (per se ordo). That order is essential which arises from the essential account or nature (per se ratio) of terms ordered. Duns Scotus in turn defines per se ratio as that which expresses the essence or quiddity of something without determining whether it has being in the mind or outside the mind. For, Duns Scotus argues, what is indifferent to being in the mind or outside the mind has an essential ratio which does not determine it to either mode of being.30 Given these preliminary definitions, Duns Scotus gives his a priori proof of his propositio famosa. It runs as follows:

  1. Where the per se basis for an order remains the same, the order remains the same.
  2. The per se basis for order remains the same whether those things are distinct really or by reason.
  3. [there4] [Therefore:] The order remains the same for things whether distinct really or by reason.

The first premise, that where the basis for order is the same, the order is the same, is taken as evident. The proof of the second premise is that the basis for essential order is the per se ratio of the terms ordered. The per se ratio of something, however, remains the same whether it has being in or outside the mind because it is indifferent to either type of existence.31

Duns Scotus has met the conditions of a priori or propter quid demonstration by giving the cause or reason why his proposition is true through an analysis of its terms. Essential order is defined as order based upon the essence or quiddity of a thing taken absolutely. So taken, however, the essence abstracts from all existential conditions, whether real or mental. Essential order will thus be the same whether the terms ordered are really or only rationally distinct. The justification, then, for Duns Scotus's propositio famosa is to be found in his doctrine that an essence or nature is in itself neutral with respect to being in or outside the intellect. This doctrine, of course, is that of the so-called ‘common nature’.32

Duns Scotus's doctrine of the common nature is most clearly set out in his treatment of individuation. There he maintains that natures, such as humanity or animality, are of themselves neither universal nor particular. Quoting Avicenna's famous text, Duns Scotus says that, “Horseness is nothing else but horseness; it is of itself neither one nor many, universal or particular.” That is, although a nature can be found only as singular outside the mind or as universal in the mind, in itself it can have neither mode of being.33 This neutrality of the nature is required by the asserted identity of the predicate with the subject in universal predications.34 If ‘horseness’ were of itself universal, Man-o-War would be a universal not an individual; if it were particular, then ‘horseness’ would be identified with Man-o-War and hence not predicable of Secretariat. A nature, then, must of itself be common, that is, neutral or indifferent to being either singular or universal.

Clearly, Duns Scotus's propositio famosa is an extension of his doctrine of the common nature. Natures or essential features are in themselves indifferent or neutral to existing outside the mind as particulars or in the mind as universals. They are, in themselves, common, that is, indifferent to both. Accordingly, an order founded upon such common natures will be indifferent to either type of being those natures possess and, consequently, to either type of distinction.

The full generality of Duns Scotus's propositio famosa, however, should be appreciated, for it appears to go beyond even the treatment of the common nature in his questions on individuation. Recall that he extended his proposition so that it would hold whether ‘distinct by reason’ meant a purely mental distinction between concepts or a type of real distinction between rationes on the part of the thing itself.35 This latter type of ‘distinction by reason’ is an unmistakable reference by Duns Scotus to his own formal distinction a parte rei.36 In his questions on individuation, Duns Scotus assigned the common nature a real ‘essential being’, so that it forms in the thing outside the soul an ‘entity’ or ‘reality’ formally distinct from the individuating difference that renders it singular.37 Similarly, at least in his Lectura and Ordinatio, Duns Scotus maintained that the divine attributes, the personal properties, and the divine essence constituted formally distinct ‘entities’ or ‘realities’ in God apart from the consideration of any intellect.38 In his propositio famosa, however, Duns Scotus is maintaining that there is an absolute essential order whether or not the essences upon which it is based are formally distinct realities a parte rei.39 That is, the propositio famosa takes the neutrality or indifference of the common nature so far that the order based upon it will be the same, whether the nature is merely a concept in the mind, or, as Duns Scotus holds, a formally distinct entity within the thing itself, or even per impossibile a fully real thing all its own. There is for Duns Scotus only one essential order and it is based upon essences taken absolutely. The ontological status of these essences or essential features so taken—whether they constitute mere concepts, distinct formalities within things, or fully real things—is wholly irrelevant to that order.

An immediate result of Duns Scotus's propositio famosa is that propter quid demonstration, which is based upon the essential natures of the terms involved, will itself remain absolute and indifferent to the type of distinction between things demonstrated. Nowhere, of course, is this result more fruitful than in theology where the divine simplicity was commonly seen to permit at most a distinction of reason between the divine nature and its attributes. Such a meagre distinction, the argument would go, could not provide the order required for propter quid demonstration.40 The propositio famosa seems clearly designed to circumvent this problem and was viewed as crucial to the project of a proper science of theology. To see what happens to Duns Scotus's ambitious project for a complete a priori science of theology when the propositio famosa is denied, one need only turn to Ockham.


Ockham devotes the second question of the prologue to his commentary on the Sentences to determining whether theology is a proper science, and much of that is devoted to arguing against Duns Scotus that it is not.41 While Ockham does not deny all demonstration of God, he does deny strict, propter quid demonstration of purely theological truths concerning the divine essence, attributes and persons.42 Ockham, like Duns Scotus, admits that despite the divine simplicity there can be several concepts of God.43 What Ockham denies, however, is that there is an order to such concepts that would permit propter quid demonstration.44 Ockham argues that for propter quid demonstration concepts must be related as either superior and inferior, whole and part, subject and accident, or property and definition of a subject. For example, in the first case, a property belonging to triangle generally is demonstrated of a specific class of triangles; in the second, a property belonging to the human being is demonstrated through the rational soul; in the third, the property ‘heat producing’ is demonstrated of fire through the accidental form of heat; in the last, ‘three angles equal to two right angles’ is demonstrated of triangle through ‘has three lines’. In all cases, Ockham says that the divine simplicity prohibits any such order among the various concepts of it: “Sed inter istos conceptus non est talis ordo … propter divinam simplicitatem.”45

Accordingly, Ockham rejects Duns Scotus's attempt in his propositio famosa to establish order among the distinct concepts of God by showing the proposition to be false. According to Ockham, Duns Scotus's proposition can be taken in two ways. The first, which Ockham says is the interpretation of many (secundum communem intellectum multorum), is as follows:

Whatever order things have were they really distinct, they have a similar order according to reason where they are distinct according to reason and nevertheless are one in reality.46

So interpreted, however, Duns Scotus's proposition is false since it entails that things can be both distinct by reason and one in reality. Ockham regards this as simply a category mistake.47 Only beings of reason can be distinct by reason just as only real things can really be distinct. It is as impossible for a real thing to be distinct by reason as it is for a being of reason to be a thing outside the mind.48

The second interpretation of Duns Scotus's proposition fares no better with Ockham. Whereas the first way of reading the propositio famosa amounts to a category mistake by failing to respect the boundary between the conceptual and the real, the second interpretation respects the boundary between them but makes a false claim about their relationship.

Whatever order things would have were they really distinct, the concepts corresponding to them have that order.49

So rendered, Duns Scotus's proposition claims that the order between concepts and things is always the same. Ockham denies this is the case, whether the real distinction posited is de facto the case, possible or impossible. Thus, ‘man’ and ‘whiteness’ as really distinct things outside the mind are ordered as subject and accident. In the intellect, however, the corresponding concepts are not so ordered, for the concept of ‘whiteness’ is not an accident of the concept of ‘man’. Similarly, if ‘man’ and ‘animal’ were really distinct, they would be related as act and potency, that is, as actually human and potentially human. In that case, the one would not be predicated of the other in the first but in the second mode of essential predication. Now, however, where they are distinct by reason as concepts in the mind, ‘animal’ is predicated of ‘man’ in the first mode.50

In sum, then, Ockham takes Duns Scotus's proposition to be reducible to one of two claims. Either it makes the ontological claim that what is one really can be distinct by reason, in which case it constitutes a category mistake, or it makes the epistemological claim that order among concepts and things is always the same, which is false. From Duns Scotus's viewpoint, of course, Ockham's criticisms are misdirected. As Chatton will later point out, Duns Scotus is not maintaining that intentional beings in the mind are related in the same way as the corresponding real beings outside the mind.51 Duns Scotus would have regarded this as equivalent to the fallacy secundum quid.52 Rather, at issue in Duns Scotus's proposition is the relationship or order between essences or natures considered independently of being in the mind or outside it. As evidence of this misconstrual, Duns Scotus would probably have pointed to Ockham's failure to specify that the order at issue is essential order and the subsequent neglect of Duns Scotus's a priori proof.

What is the exact point of conflict between Duns Scotus and Ockham in their debate over the propositio famosa? It does not appear to be simply a disagreement over the formal distinction. As indicated, Duns Scotus thought his proposition held whether or not ‘distinct by reason’ referred to his own formal distinction a parte rei. For his part Ockham claims that Duns Scotus has not made the the formal distinction a parte rei a necessary condition for propter quid demonstration in theology and, in any case, argues against Duns Scotus's position even assuming the formal distinction in God.53 Rather, the debate over the propositio famosa is in fact a dispute over the common nature.

As is well known, Ockham rejects any common nature or essence which is in itself indifferent to being in the intellect or in reality, whether, as Henry of Ghent and Duns Scotus hold, the nature as common has some being of its own outside the mind, or, as Aquinas maintains, it does not.54 Thus, when Avicenna says that “Horseness is nothing but horseness,” Ockham denies that this refers to a nature indifferently common to the mental and the real. Rather, it only means that the term ‘horseness’ can indifferently have either simple or personal supposition. The indifference or commonness which is for Duns Scotus and other realists a metaphysical property of a nature becomes with Ockham the semantic property of a term.55

The propositio famosa brings into sharp focus an important consequence of Ockham's rejection of the common nature, at least as it was understood by Duns Scotus. The common nature provides Duns Scotus with a type of order which is absolute and independent of the mode of distinction in which it is realized. Essential order remains the same whether the distinction at issue is real or rational. When Ockham rejects the common nature, he removes the possibility of such an absolute order. Accordingly, for Ockham, order becomes dependent upon the type of distinction found between the things ordered. Upon the rejection of the common nature, Duns Scotus's single, absolute order of essences immediately dissolves for Ockham into the two different orders of concepts and things.


Duns Scotus went further than perhaps any other scholastic thinker in his attempt to make theology conform to an Aristotelian ideal of scientific demonstration. Crucial to this attempt, even more crucial than the formal distinction ex parte rei, was the recognition of an absolute, deductive order among intelligible features in God. Scotus supplied this order with his propositio famosa. Ockham was fully aware of how essential this propostition was to Scotus's goal of a strictly scientific theology, and accordingly isolated it for attack. When Ockham was finished, the order of priority and posteriority, envisaged by Scotus as obtaining among the various concepts of the divine essence, attributes and persons, had totally collapsed. In technical terms, where Scotus had gained with his propositio famosa an order to these concepts of God, so that some were quidditative and others qualitative, Ockham, with the rejection of the proposition, was left with only quidditative ones.56 Consequently, the theological concepts that were ordered as prior and posterior for Scotus became equally prior for Ockham. The result was that where Scotus had, in theology, an ordered array of principles and conclusions demonstrated propter quid, Ockham had instead an aggregation of self-evident propostitions.57 Ockham rightly saw that without the ordering provided by the propositio famosa, the scientific theology proposed by Scotus immediately resolved into a collection of self-evident truths.

The scientific character of theology had been rejected before Ockham but at a very different level. For Ockham did not merely deny that theology was a strict science for the created intellect in the present state, but he denied that it was a science even for an intellect in an idealized state possessing distinct knowledge of the divine nature. That is, what Ockham rejected was the absolute possibility of a strict science of theology. It would appear that Ockham's repudiation of Scotus's scientific theology was not without its effects. English theologians after Ockham would not only reduce, but in some cases eliminate altogether, the number and variety of questions in their Sentences devoted to the Trinity and divine attributes, precisely that area of theological speculation at issue between Scotus and Ockham. Indeed, after Ockham, many theologians would cease treating the question of whether theology was a science as a topic at all.58


  1. “Et ad probationes suas respondeo, primo ad primum. Quando proponit: ‘Qualis ordo realiter est inter aliqua, si essent realiter distincta, talis ordo per se est inter ea correspondens illi distinctioni, quam habent’, dico, quod illa est simpliciter falsa. Et cum probat istam primo, sic accipiendo illam: ‘Ubi est distinctio rationis, ibi concludimus ordinem sic distinctorum ex hoc, quod illa, ubi sunt realiter distincta, habent realem ordinem,’ dico, quod qui sic concludunt, sophistice concludunt, quia ubi est distinctio rationis tantum, ibi nulla distinctio est ex parte rei intellectae. Et ideo nullus est ordo et per consequens nec mediatio vel immediatio, sed ubi est distinctio realis, ibi est ordo inter distincta, et ideo in creaturis dicere est immediatius essentiae quam verbum, et memoria est immediatior essentiae quam dicere. In Deo autem nullus esse ordo potest inter essentiam et memoriam, dicere et verbum, quia ibi omnia haec sunt penitus unum. Unum autem non habet ordinem ad se ipsum” (Thomas of Sutton, Contra Quodlibet Iohannis Duns Scoti, edited by Johannes Schneider [Munich: Bayerische Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1978], p. 62-63).

  2. “In ista quaestione sunt quinque facienda. Primo, videndum utrum de Deo possint haberi plures conceptus. Secundo, movendum est quoddam dubium de quadam propositione famosa. … Secundus articulus principalis quaestionis huius est videre quomodo debeat intelligi illa propositio, ‘quemcumque ordinem realem habent aliqua ubi distinguuntur realiter, talem habent secundum rationem ubi distinguuntur ratione’” (Walter Chatton, Reportatio et Lectura super Sententias: Collatio ad Librum Primum et Prologus, edited by Joseph C. Wey [Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1989], p. 146, 183). Chatton's defence of the propositio famosa occupies the second article of the third question (ibid., p. 183-88). For an analysis of the second article, see Luciano Cova, Walter Chatton, Commento alle Sentenze: Prologo—Questione Terzia (Rome: Edizioni dell' Ateneo, 1973), p. 26.

  3. “Utrum notitia evidens veritatum theologiae sit scientia proprie dicta” (Ockham, 1 Ord. prol. q.2 [Op.Th. 1.98-102, 119-27]).

  4. “Sed hic sunt aliquae difficultates. Prima est ‘qualem ordinem habent aliqua ubi distinguuntur realiter, talem habent ubi sunt distincta formaliter vel secundum rationem’. In creaturis autem ubi potentia et obiectum distinguuntur realiter, potentia principalius concurrit quam obiectum. Ergo, etc.” (Francis of Meyronnes, 1 Sent. d.4 q.3 [Venice: Octavianus Scotus, 1520; rpt. Frankfurt/Main: Minerva, 1966], fol. 30P); “Sed si dicatur sic: insurgit una magna dubitatio de illo ordine, scilicet substantiae, spiritus, et entis in deo, quia omnis ordo qui consequitur rationes formales aliquorum, ubicumque ponantur rationes illae formales, semper ponitur ibi talis ordo. Si ergo ordo quem habent ista in deo fit ex rationibus formalibus, in creaturis tenebunt illum ordinem, cum habeant easdem rationes formales. Confirmatur per illam propositionem vulgatam, ‘qualem ordinem habent aliqua ubi distinguuntur secundum rem, talem habent ubi distinguuntur secundum rationem.’ Sed in creaturis habent illum ordinem quod communiora sunt priora; ergo eodem modo in deo. Hoc difficile est, oportet enim alteram duarum viarum tenere, vel dicere ordinem simpliciter eundem non esse in deo et in creaturis, quod non bene intelligibile est, quia ordo consequens rationes formales est demonstrabilis de eis. Sed quandocumque aliqua sunt eiusdem rationis formalis, quid-quid est demonstrabile de uno, et de reliquo. Vel oportet dicere quod sola deitas est prior; alia autem superiora tenent ordinem in deo, quem habent in creaturis” (ibid., d.13 q.1 [fol. 65F]).

  5. “Tertio sic: qualis ordo esset realis inter aliqua, si distinguerentur realiter, talis est ordo cognoscibilitatis inter ipsa in esse cognoscibili, si solum cognoscibiliter distinguantur; sed divina essentia et perfectiones attributales et proprietates personales si essent realiter distinctae, talis ordo realis esset inter illas, quod qui intelligeret divinam essentiam abstractive et evidenter posset intelligere abstractive et evidenter alia, et sic haberet consequenter scientiam proprie dictam de eis; ergo, a simili, cum illa sint distincta cognoscibiliter, in esse cognoscibili erit ordo cognoscibilitatis inter ipsa, et qui poterit intelligere intellectione abstractiva et evidenter divinam essentiam, poterit intellectione abstractiva et evidenter intelligere alia, et per consequens habere scientiam proprie dictam de ipsis; constat autem quod Deus sub ratione deitatis potest intelligi intellectione abstractiva …” (Peter of Navarre, 1 Sent. prol. p.1 q.4, in Doctoris fundati Petri de Atarrabia sive de Navarra In primum Sententiarum scriptum, edited by Pío Sagüés Azcona, 2 vols. [Madrid: Instituto Francisco Suarez, 1974], 1.37-38).

  6. “Hoc supposito, dicendum est ad quaestionem, quod ipsa potest quaerere de priori et posteriori secundum rationem seu intellectum tantum, vel secundum rem. Si primo modo, sic dicendum est quod in divinis est ordo prioris et posterioris secundum rationem, comparando absoluta inter se, et essentiam et relationes, et unam relationem disparatam et aliam, et personas per eas constitutas. Constat, enim, quod in divinis praeintelligimus intellectum voluntati, quorum utrumque est absolutum. Nam, sicut in nobis intellectus realiter prior est voluntate, sic in Deo prior est secundum rationem, quia qualem ordinem realem habent aliqua, ubi differunt realiter, talem ordinem rationis habent ubi differunt solum secundum rationem” (Durandus St. Pourçain, Quodlibeta avenionensia tria additis correctionibus Hervei Natalis supra dicta Durandi in primo Quolibet, edited by Prospero T. Stella [Zurich: PAS, 1965], p. 69-70).

  7. For Scotus's Oxford commentaries, see 1 Lect. prol. n.107-21 (Vat. 16.39-43) and 1 Ord. prol. n.208-16 (Vat. 1.141-49). For the Parisian commentary, see 1 Rep. par. prol. q.1-3 (Vivès 22.6-54). The text printed as the Reportatio parisiensis in Vol. 22 of the Vivès edition is, as Wadding himself indicates, based upon Vatican City, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Vat. lat. 876 (Censura Lucae Waddingi [Vivès 22.4-5]). For the first book, however, this manuscript carries Additiones magnae extracted by William of Alnwick from Duns Scotus's Parisian and Oxford lectures, not a Reportatio parisiensis. See “De Ordinatione I. Duns Scoti: Disquisitio historico-critica” (Vat. 1.38*-42*, 145*); “Adnotationes” (Vat. 7.4* note 2). I have consulted the Reportatio parisiensis examinata contained in Vienna, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek 1453 for our text of Scotus's Parisian commentary. In fact, the prologue in the Vivès edition closely follows the Reportatio examinata, and thus for convenience references are to the former text.

  8. Scotus, 1 Ord. prol. n.208 (Vat. 1.141), and 1 Rep. par. prol. q.1 a.1 n.4 (Vivès 22.7-8); Ockham, 1 Ord. prol. q.2 (Op.Th. 1.87-88).

  9. The contingent nature of many theological truths, e.g., the Incarnation, was also a difficulty, but not one at issue here. For Duns Scotus's attempts to accommodate contingent truths, see 1 Ord. prol. n.210-212 (Vat. 1.144-46).

  10. Scotus, 1 Ord. prol. n.168 (Vat. 1.110-12), and 3 Ord. d.24 q.1 (Vivès 15.34-53); Ockham, 1 Ord. prol. q.7 (Op.Th. 1.192-94).

  11. 1 Rep. par. prol. q.2 n.15-19 (Vivès 22.41a-43b); cf. Quod. q.7 (Alluntis n.19-28, p. 257-63; Vivès n.7-10, 25.289a-91b). On this development in Scotus's treatment of theology as a science, see my “Theology as a Science and Duns Scotus's Distinction between Intuitive and Abstractive Cognition,” Speculum, 64 (1989): 579-99.

  12. Ockham, 1 Ord. prol. q.1 (Op.Th. 1.49 lines 4-13, 72 lines 9-11); q.2 (Op.Th. 1.72 lines 9-12).

  13. Scotus, 1 Rep. par. prol. q.1 n.50 (Vivès 22.32a-33b); Ockham, 1 Ord. d.3 q.3 (Op.Th. 2.419-20).

  14. Scotus also gives two forms of the proposition at 2 Ord. d.16 q.1 n.18 (Vivès 13.43b) when discussing the order of the transcendental properties of being: “Praeterea, accipio hanc propositionem positam in principio primi Sententiarum: Quaecumque habent aliquam distinctionem realem, si essent separata realiter, illam distinctionem habent secundum rationem, ubi non sunt distincta realiter. … Vel forma sic rationem: Quaecumque habent aliquam ordinem inter se, ubi sunt distincta realiter, eumdem ordinem habent ubi sunt unitive contenta.” This occurrence would appear later, since ‘primi Sententiarum’ refers to the Parisian prologue. In any case, distinctions 15-26 of the second book are not thought to be a part of Scotus's Ordinatio. See “De Ordinatione I. Duns Scoti: Disquisitio historico-critica” (Vat. 1.25*).

  15. “Utrum Deus sub propria ratione Deitatis possit esse subjectum alicuius scientiae” (Scotus 1 Rep. par. prol. q.1 [Vivès 22.6a-33b]).

  16. 1 Rep. par. prol. q.1 n.3, 49 (Vivès 22.7b,32a).

  17. “Minor probatur, qualis ordo realis esset inter aliqua, si essent distincta realiter, talis est ordo illorum secundum rationem, ubi sunt distincta secundum rationem …” (1 Rep. par. prol. q.1 a.4 n.39 [Vivès 22.28a]); “Quaecumque enim ordinem realem haberent aliqua distincta realiter, similem ordinem secundum rationem habent, ubi essent distincta ratione …” (ibid., n.43 [Vivès 22.29b]).

  18. “Nunc autem si intrinseca Deo essent distincta realiter ab essentia divina, omnino primum esset essentia sub ratione essentia, et reliqua essent posteriora et quasi passiones et accidentia ipsius essentiae. Si ergo est illa distinctio rationis, omnino primum erit ibi essentia sub ratione essentiae” (ibid., n.39 [Vivès 22.28a]).

  19. Ibid., n.43-49 (Vivès 22.29a-32b).

  20. “Infinitas enim non destruit formalem rationem illius cui additur …” (1 Ord. d.8 n.192 [Vat. 8.261]).

  21. Duns Scotus summarizes his position on these various relations in God at 1 Ord. d.34-34 n.2 (Vat. 6.243-44).

  22. See especially 1 Ord. d.2 n.396-406 (2.353-58).

  23. “Ista probatur, quia ordo distinctorum secundum rationem non concluderet, nisi ex ordine qui natus esset competere illis secundum rem, si essent distincta realiter” (1 Rep. par. prol. q.1 a.4 n.39 [Vivès 22.28a]).

  24. Scotus also uses his famous propostition in questions 4, 6 and 7 of his Quodlibet: “Ubi enim aliqua sunt distincta secundum rationem, similem habent ordinem rationis qualem haberent realem si essent distincta realiter, sicut alias dictum est” (q.4 [Alluntis, n.59, p.156; Vivès n.27, 25.186a]); “… qualis ordo realis esset inter aliqua, si illa essent distincta realiter, talis ordo est inter ea, ubi sunt eadem solum distincta ratione” (q.6 [Alluntis n.46, p. 229; Vivès n.20, 25.264b]); “Qualis est ordo realis inter aliqua distincta realiter, talis est ordo cognoscibilitatis inter eadem, qualitercumque distincta in esse cognoscibili” (q.7 [Alluntis n.16, p. 256; Vivès, n.5 25.287a]).

  25. “Utrum in divinis essentialia sint immediatiora essentiae divinae vel notionalia” (Quod. q.1 [Alluntis, p. 5-41; Vivès 25.5-58]).

  26. Ibid. (Alluntis n.42-49, p. 27-30; Vivès n.16, 25.34a-36b).

  27. “Qualis ordo per se realis esset inter aliqua si essent distincta realiter, talis per se ordo est inter illa correspondens illi distinctioni quam habet, utpote rationis si distinguantur ratione; et hoc sive ratione sumpta ex parte rei sive mere causata per actum intellectus” (ibid., n.45, p. 28; Vivès n.16, 25.35a).

  28. For Scotus, demonstrations a posteriori and a priori correspond to demonstrations quia and propter quid respectively. On the latter distinction, see Scotus, Quod. q.7 (Alluntis, n.7, p. 252-53; Vivès n.3, 25.283b-84a).

  29. “Maior probatur a posteriori sic: ubi est distinctio rationis sive uno modo sive alio accipiendi rationem, ibi concludimus ordinem sic distinctorum, ex hoc quod illa sic distincta haberent talem ordinem realem ubi essent distincta realiter” (Quod. q.1 [Alluntis n.46, p. 28; Vivès n.16, 25.35b])

  30. “Secundo, probatur a priori maior: ‘Per se ordinem’ intelligo qui est ex per se rationibus extremorum; et hoc accipiendo ‘per se rationem’ essentialem sive quidditativam, non denominando illud cuius est ratio ad esse in re vel in intellectu; siquidem illud quod indifferenter potest habere utrumque esse, videtur habere rationem quidditativam intelligibilem non determinado ad hoc vel illud esse” (ibid.).

  31. “Ex hoc patet maior: nam ubi manet per se ratio similis ordinis ibi manet similis ordo; sed in istis distinctis in tali vel in tali esse manet per se eadem ratio consimilis ordinis, quia ratio quidditativa A et ratio quidditativa B; ergo etc. Non enim esse in intellectu dat ipsi A rationem quidditativam” (ibid.). The same proof is restated in response to an ensuing objection: “Et iuxta hoc, arguendo ad oppositum, assumo hanc maiorem: Ubi manet prima per se ratio ordinis eadem ibidem manet idem per se ordo; sed prima per se ratio istorum ordinis, scilicet ‘memoriae’ et ipsius ‘dicere’, est ex per se rationibus istorum, scilicet quod memoria est memoria et dicere est dicere; in quocumque ergo esse, reali sive diminuto, ista concipiuntur, statim habetur ex rationibus istorum quod memoria est immediatior ipsi essentiae quam dicere; ergo, manentibus per se rationibus istorum duorum extremorum occurrentium intellectui, sive habentium esse reale sive rationis quodcumque, semper manet eadem vel similis per se ratio ordinis” (ibid., n.57, p. 33-34; Vivès n.19, 25.46b-47a).

  32. On Scotus's special treatment of the common nature, see Joseph Owens, “Common Nature: A Point of Comparison between Scotistic and Thomistic Metaphysics,” Mediaeval Studies, 19 (1957): 1-14, and Tamar M. Rudavsky, “The Doctrine of Individuation in Duns Scotus,” Franziskanische Studien, 59 (1977): 320-77 and 60 (1980): 62-83.

  33. Scotus, 2 Lect. d.3 n.29-32 (Vat. 18.237); 2 Ord. d.3 n.31-34 (Vat. 7.402-405). Cf. Avicenna, Liber de philosophia prima sive Scientia Divina, edited by Simone van Riet, 2 vols. (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1977-80), Vol. 2, p. 228-29.

  34. See Owens, “Common Nature,” p. 1-2.

  35. “… [E]t hoc sive ratione sumpta ex parte rei sive mere causata per actum intellectus” (Quod. q.1 [Alluntis n.45, p. 28; Vivès n.16 25.35a]).

  36. Duns Scotus explicitly says that his formal distinction can be called ‘rational’ as long as this does not mean it is caused by reason alone: “Et ideo vocant aliqui istam differentiam ‘differentiam secundum rationem’, non quia sit facta a ratione, sed quia est differentia secundum rationem quiditativam ante operationem intellectus considerantis” (1 Lect. d.2 n.275 [Vat. 16.216]); “Potest autem vocari ‘differentia rationis’, sicut dixit doctor quidam; non quod ‘ratio’ accipiatur pro differentia formata ab intellectu, sed ut ‘ratio’ accipitur pro quiditate rei secundum quod quiditas est obiectum intellectus” (1 Ord. d.2 n.401 [Vat. 2.355]).

  37. 2 Lect. d.3 n.32 (Vat. 18.237); 2 Ord. d.3 n.34, 188 (Vat. 7.404, 483-84).

  38. 1 Ord. d.2 n.390 (Vat. 2.349-50); d.8 n.191-92 (Vat. 4.260-61).

  39. It has been argued that at Paris Scotus modified his earlier, Oxford view of the formal distinction, at least as it applied to the persons in the Trinity. According to his earlier view, the formal distinction entailed extramentally distinct entities or realities in one and the same thing. See Hester Goodenough Gelber, “Logic and the Trinity: A Clash of Values in Scholastic Thought 1300-1335,” 2 vols. (Ph.D. dissertation, Wisconsin, 1974; rpt. 1979, Ann Arbor: University Microfilms), Vol. 1, p. 71-102, and Vol. 2, p. 526-44; Marilyn McCord Adams, “Ockham on Identity and Distinction,” Franciscan Studies, 36 (1976): 25-43.

  40. See, for example, the text of Thomas of Sutton quoted in note 1.

  41. “Utrum notitia evidens veritatum theologiae sit scientia proprie dicta” (Ockham, 1 Ord. prol. q.2 [Op.Th. 1.75-128]). On Ockham's conception of theology generally, see Robert Guelluy, Philosophie et théologie chez Guillaume d'Ockham (Paris: Vrin, 1947), especially p. 131-74.

  42. Ockham, Ord. prol. q.2 (Op.Th. 1.111-117). Ockham appears to permit only two types of concepts to be demonstrable of God: (1) negative or connotative ones common to God and creature and (2) concepts proper to God which are naturally formed by us in the present state. Only in the latter case is Ockham explicit that there can be propter quid demonstration.

  43. Ockham, 1 Ord. d.3 q.3 (Op.Th. 2.419-20).

  44. “… [D]ico quod non est talis ordo illorum conceptuum qualis requiritur ad demonstrationem simpliciter et a priori” (1 Ord. prol. q.2 [Op.Th. 1.119]).

  45. Ibid. (Op.Th. 1.120 lines 18-20).

  46. “… [C]onsimilem ordinem haberent talia secundum rationem ubi sunt distincta secundum rationem, et tamen sunt unum realiter” (ibid. [Op.Th. 1.121]). This is similar to the first interpretation of the proposition given by Chatton. See Chatton, 1 Sent. prol. q.3 a.2 (edited by Wey, p. 184).

  47. Ibid. (Op.Th. 1.120-21).

  48. 1 Ord. d.2 q.3 (Op.Th. 2.75-79).

  49. “… [Q]ualem ordinem haberent aliqua si essent distincta realiter, talem ordinem rationes vel conceptus correspondentes illis rebus …” (1 Ord. prol. q.2 [Op.Th. 1.121]).

  50. Ibid. (Op.Th. 1.121-22).

  51. “Ad primam rationem [sc. ipsius Ockham]. Consequentia non valet, quia non dicitur quod conceptus inter se talem habent ordinem in essendo qualem sua significata; et ideo licet significatum unius sit subiectum significati alterius, non tamen est sic in conceptibus” (Chatton, 1 Sent. prol. q.3 a.2 [edited by Wey, p. 187]).

  52. Cf. Scotus, 1 Ord. d.36 n.32-36 (Vat. 6.283-85).

  53. Ockham, 1 Ord. prol. q.2 (Op.Th. 2.105-107).

  54. On Ockham's rejection of the nature as common, see Marilyn Adams, “Universals in the Early Fourteenth Century,” in the Cambridge History of Later Medieval Philosophy, edited by Norman Kretzmann et al. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982), p. 411-39, and “William Ockham: Voluntarist or Naturalist” in Studies in Medieval Philosophy, edited by John F. Wippel, Studies in Philosophy and the History of Philosophy, Vol. 17 (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1987), p. 223-25; Armand Maurer, “Method in Ockham's Nominalism,” Monist, 61 (1978): 436-39.

  55. Ockham, 1 Ord. d.2 q.6 (Op.Th. 2.219-20), and Maurer's article cited in the previous note.

  56. Ockham, 1 Ord. d.3 q.3 (Op.Th. 2.418-20).

  57. Ockham, 1 Ord. prol. q.2 (Op.Th. 1.112 lines 6-8, 114 lines 9-10)

  58. On the shifting content and scope of commentaries on the Sentences in England after Ockham, see William J. Courtenay, Schools and Scholars in Fourteenth-Century England (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1987), p. 250-58, 276-80. As Courtenay demonstrates, many factors led to the change in commentaries on the Sentences.

The editions of the works of Scotus and Ockham will be cited according to the following abbreviations: Alluntis = Obras del Doctor Sutil Juan Duns Escoto: Cuestiones Cuodlibetales, edited by Felix Alluntis (Madrid: Biblioteca de Autores Cristianos, 1968); Op.Th. = Guillelmi de Ockham Opera theologica, edited by Gideon Gál et al., 10 vols. (St. Bonaventure, NY: Franciscan Institute Publications, 1967-86); Vat. = I. Duns Scoti Opera omnia studio et cura Commissionis Scotisticae ad fidem codicum edita praeside Carolo Balić (Vatican City, 1950-82), Vols. 1-7, 16-18; Vivès = Joannis Duns Scoti Opera omnia, editio nova iuxta editionem Waddingi XII tomos continentem … recognita, 26 vols. (Paris: L. Vivès, 1891-95). The titles of individual works will be abbreviated as follows: Lect. = Lectura; Ord. = Ordinatio; Quod. = Quaestiones quodlibetales; Rep. par. = Reportatio parisiensis; Sent. = In libros Sententiarum. In general, the citation of these works will be given by an internal reference to book, distinction or prologue (d. or prol.), question (q.), article (a.) and paragraph number (n.), as appropriate, followed by the volume and page of the edition used in parenthesis. Thus, Ockham, 1 Ord. prol. q.2 (Op.Th. 1.98-102) would refer to the first book of Ockham's Ordinatio, prologue, question 2, Opera Theologica, Volume 1, pages 98-102.

Allan B. Wolter (essay date winter 1993)

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SOURCE: Wolter, Allan B. “Reflections on the Life and Works of Scotus.” American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly 67, no. 1 (winter 1993): 1-36.

[In the following essay, Wolter recounts the twentieth-century editorial history of Scotus's collected works.]

Scotus's early death left all his major works in an unfinished state. But so great was his fame and following that his disciples made every effort to put his writings before the public, particularly the two most important works on which his fame as a theologian has largely depended, one is his monumental commentary on the four books of the Sentences, the other his magisterial Quodlibet. The former was the more important since it covered the whole field of theology; the latter's importance stemmed from its character as a late magisterial work. Except for the last question, Scotus's revision of his Quodlibet was complete,1 but the revision of his more extensive Sentence commentary (now known as his Ordinatio) still had numerous lacunae. It began as a revision of the Lectura, his original lectures at Oxford. He cites 1300 as the year he is writing this second question of the prologue.2 How far his revision had proceeded before he left for Paris is difficult to determine. It is clear from the Vatican edition that as late as 1304, he was still dictating questions not only for Bk. IV of his Ordinatio,3 but was also going over earlier portions he had revised at Oxford, inserting material from the personally “examined report” of his Paris lectures on Bk. I of the Sentences. Known as Reportatio I A, this important primary source has yet to be published in full. It is the source of many of the “interpolated texts” found in the first six volumes of the Vatican edition devoted to Bk. I of the Ordinatio.

To fill in those portions Scotus had not completed before leaving for Cologne, his editorial staff substituted reports of his latest lectures. What resulted was what John Major indicates came to be “commonly called his English or Oxford work” (Opus oxoniense), for it was based on the sequence he had chosen for his original Oxford lectures, even though he had added materials from those he had given at Cambridge and Paris.4


In this form it was published by Luke Wadding as tomes V to X of his Opera omnia5 and it was this 12 volume edition, with its commentaries and scholia6 that sparked the 17th century's golden age of Scotism. It was republished in 24 volumes, known as the Wadding-Vivès edition,7 at the end of the 19th century in response to the revived interest in scholasticism initiated by Leo XIII's Aeterni Patris (April 4, 1879).

In Luke Wadding's effort to gather all of Scotus's writings, however, especially those done on logic and the De anima and Metaphysics of Aristotle, he had included a number of unauthentic writings on other works of “the Philosopher” in the first four tomes of his edition.8 These deficiencies in the editions of Scotus's Opera omnia created a problem during the first quarter of the 20th century when Franciscans sought to beatify the defender of Mary's Immaculate Conception on the basis of the perpetual cult Duns Scotus had enjoyed from time immemorial.

At the request of Cardinal Früwirth, prefect of the Congregation of Rites, Auguste Pelzer of the Vatican Library had undertaken a study of the writings of Duns Scotus and on March 9, 1921, he sent Früwirth his detailed critique of the Wadding edition.9 Pelzer next wrote two articles that he sent to Louvain, one entitled “Å propos de Jean Scot et des études scotistes,”10 the other entitled “Le premier livre des Reportata Parisiensia” that was published on August 24, 1923.11 In the latter he proved the “reported Paris lecture” existed in at least five different forms, and that instead of “the great report examined by Duns Scotus” Wadding had published a “mélange contaminé” based on the abbreviated version of William of Alnwick and the Paris edition of John Mair (Major) of 1517-18. He suggested that the Franciscan research center at Quaracchi12 that had done the admirable edition of St. Bonaventure's Opera omnia undertake a similar edition of Duns Scotus.13

The same year Pelzer's articles appeared, another scholarly study was put out that focused the attention of the major Franciscan superiors on the importance of manuscript studies on the academic career of Scotus. This was the article that Franz Pelster, S.J.,—the spiritual heir of the great Jesuit medievalist, Cardinal Erhle—had published in the German Franciscan periodical of Werl.14


These studies, especially that of Msgr. Pelzer, upset the major superiors promoting the cause of Scotus. They realized that before John Duns could be beatified a critical edition of his works was necessary.15 Pelzer's Louvain publications in particular had two interesting effects: one was on the Minister General Bernardine Klumper, O.F.M., in Rome; the other on Carl Balic, O.F.M., the newly ordained Yugoslav (Croatian) Franciscan just beginning his studies in theology at the University of Louvain.

Understandably, neither party initially was aware of what the other had in mind or planned to do. Viewed in retrospect, it is difficult to say whether this was unfortunate or providential. For though it led to some unpleasant misunderstandings between Balic and his religious superior and confreres in Italy as well as an unhappy conflict between the University of Louvain and the Franciscan Order, it made possible the two independently-pursued research projects without which the Vatican edition of Scotus's Opera omnia might never have been started.

Chronologically, the story begins with Balic, and we draw on his account of the events that led to his eventual appointment as president of the Scotistic Commission charged with the Vatican edition of Scotus's theological works.16

July 18, 1923, was the sixth centenary of the canonization of Thomas Aquinas and the University of Louvain honored that event by a year of lectures on the Mariology of the Angelic Doctor by Msgr. J. Bittremieux. It was not surprising, then, that Msgr. J. Lebon, Balic's patrology professor, suggested as a thesis for his Licentiate in theology that the newly ordained priest17 do something on the Mariology of Duns Scotus. With the consent of Lebon, Balic consulted Longpré18 at Quaracchi as to the sources of Scotus's teaching on this subject in the Opus oxoniense, Reportatio and the Quodlibet. On his return to Louvain, he was informed by his professor of Pelzer's second article, fresh off the press, indicating the unreliability of the Wadding or Vivès editions of Scotus. He pointed out that if his student wished to continue with his proposed thesis, he would have to make a critical edition of the texts of Scotus he would be using.

Pelzer's article that August initiated a second independent research project. His suggestion that the new edition of Scotus's works be done by the Quaracchi staff itself was taken seriously by Bernardine Klumper. That same year he called Father Ephrem Longpré to Rome to study the possibility of doing such a critical edition at Quaracchi, where Longpré had been working as a collaborator on the Summa theologica attributed to Alexander of Hales. As Minister General of the Order of Friars Minor, Klumper felt he had a moral obligation to see such an edition begun, and this initial meeting with Longpré was his first step in fulfilling that obligation. After much consultation and deliberation further steps would follow.

Unaware that the Scotist scholar he had just visited, had been called to Rome by Klumper and soon would be working along the same lines as himself, Balic began his own plans as to where he would go during 1924 to find the manuscripts he would need. Since Franz Pelster's 1923 article had stressed the importance of several Munich manuscripts, Balic travelled first the Bayrische Staatsbibliothek in that city, where he compared the manuscripts Pelster had referred to with the text of Wadding-Vivès.19 After Munich in 1925-26 he visited Paris and England copying the manuscript material he needed.20

As the first result of his manuscript-research Balic was given permission to do his thesis on the Elementa Theologiae Marianae Scotisticae with a critical text he had made based on ten of the best codices. What is more, the professors of Louvain judged that the results of his manuscript research threw such new and important light on the life, works and doctrinal attitudes of Scotus that it deserved wider circulation. They requested he prepare it in article form to be published in their Revue d'Histoire Ecclésiastique.21

On his return from Lourdes in the August of 1925, Longpré congratulated Balic on his Licentiate topic. “My felicitations on your thesis,” he wrote. “It is a good subject and deserves to be pursued in depth.”22 He went on to indicate that the manuscript on the Immaculate Conception published at Quaracchi in 1904 “n'est pas bonne,” and recommended to Balic that he study the Mariological texts in two manuscripts he had recently discovered, the extremely important Assisi 137 and Paris bibl. nat. 15361. He asked Balic in return for a copy of the text on the motive of the Incarnation from the Lectura completa that his younger confrere had discovered at Oxford.23

As the result of all this encouragement, Balic resolved to pursue his manuscript research as far as possible. Further encouragement came from Quaracchi when the president Father Alban Heysse in a letter of July 6, 1926 invited him to become a member of the Collegio S. Bonaventura di Quaracchi after completing the necessary studies for his doctorate.24


Meanwhile Klumper continued his efforts to prod the scholars at Quaracchi towards an edition of Scotus. On November 4, 1924 they came to see him in Rome to discuss their work on Alexander of Hales and present him with their first volume his Summa theologica.25 On this occasion the Minister General urged them to seriously consider the idea of doing a critical edition of Scotus's Opera omnia.

After much deliberation and further consultation with Father Alban Heysse, prefect of the Quaracchi College, Bernardine Klumper suggested that Longpré be released from further work on Alexander of Hales and that Heysse, an excellent photographer, should team up with Longpré and devote full time to making photocopies of the necessary manuscripts they would need for the Scotus edition. They began with the Vatican library, where Msgr. Pelzer had provided Longpré with a list of incipits of the Vatican manuscripts and the two Franciscans microfilmed its most important Scotus manuscripts. In Assisi Longpré discovered the codex 137,26 and in Vienna, codex 1453 containing the report of Scotus's Paris lecture that he had personally examined.27 And on April 10, 1925 when the Congregation of Rites issued its Adnotationes, insisting that Scotus's writings be studied more thoroughly before his cause could proceed,28 the Quaracchi library already had acquired much of the manuscript material it would need to carry out such a study, as Balic later learned.29

When Balic received his licentiate for his study in Mariology, there was no apparent conflict of interest between him and the Quaracchi research center, which hoped to make him a member. It developed only when Balic began to investigate more thoroughly this subject that Longpré declared “deserves to be pursued in depth.”

Working on his doctorate he set out to visit the libraries of Italy in Milan, Pavia, Padua, Florence, Assisi and the Vatican in Rome. On this 1926 visit to Italy, he took the occasion to visit Quaracchi, desirous especially to consult with Longpré. In speaking to Balic about the need for a critical edition of Scotus, Longpré expressed his conviction that it could never be realized at Quaracchi, describing the situation there in a particularly discouraging way.

Balic goes on to say that since things were this bad, he decided to go to Paris to present to the Minister Provincial of the Friars Minor a proposal to edit the critical edition of the works of Scotus in Paris. When his proposal was not accepted he returned to Louvain to continue his own research.30 Balic had acquired such a wealth of material during his trip, however, that he realized he could make a book out of his manuscript-research instead of a series of articles, the first one of which had already appeared in the Revue d'Histoire Ecclésiastique.31 His professors decided to discontinue this article form of publication and issue his study as the initial volume of a new library series entitled Bibliothéque de la Revue d'histoire ecclésiastique. It was thus that Balic's controversial doctoral study entitled Les Commentaires de Jean Duns Scot sur les quatre livres des Sentences came into being that brought both himself and his university in conflict with the Franciscan Order.

It began, I suspect, as the result of Longpré repeating in his January letter of 1927 the advice he had given Balic on his visit the previous summer. Quaracchi was not the place to work on Scotus, but this should not prevent Balic from going ahead with publishing at Louvain.32 In fact Balic tells us that on March 7 Longpré wrote he would happy beyond measure if Balic would send him the page proofs of his work. To this request Balic replied that since it was in book form and would soon be out, he would send him a copy, but went on to observe that as the result of his study his conclusions did not always agree with either the opinions of the Quaracchi Fathers nor with those of Msgr. Pelzer. What is more, he indicated—apparently in answer to Alban Heysse's invitation that he join the editorial staff of Quaracchi—that in view of his original intention and the desire of his Louvain professors to publish just the Mariological texts from Bk. III of Scotus's Sentence Commentaries, he could spare neither time nor labor in preparing the critical edition of the works of Duns Scotus.33

He received no reply to this letter to Longpré but alarmed by the fact that Balic's doctoral study was being published by Louvain as a book rather than in article form as was usually the case, the Fathers of Quaracchi seemed to think their Yugoslav confrere had joined forces with Pelzer, whose Louvain articles had stymied Scotus's beatification process. At any rate they reported Balic to Klumper, the Minister General, who informed the bewildered doctoral student that before his book could be published it would have to be approved by the Quaracchi Fathers.34 But by this time the book had not only been set up in type, but had been announced by the University to the world as the beginning of a new and important theological series. When Balic tried to withdraw it, as a good religious, his professors became irate and indicated that they were under no obligation to his superiors to supress the publication. Besides it could not be done without exposing to ridicule both the university and the Franciscan Order.35 Furthermore, the clinching argument to the Franciscan Order with its respect to poverty, seems to have been that it would have to reimburse the University financially for the cost it had undergone in putting the work in print. The matter was eventually settled by all parties concerned by having Balic's dissertation published anonymously. As the first volume of their new scientific series Louvain issued the work before the end of 1927. Its publication coincided incidentally with the official establishment of a distinct “Scotist section” at Quaracchi with Longpré as president.

This apparently unfortunate, and certainly regretable series of misunderstanding among the Franciscan scholars interested in editing Scotus's works turned out in the long run to be providential, as I said earlier. Without the sequence of events which followed the Vatican edition of Scotus Opera omnia would never have begun or have been brought to its present stage of completion.

What happened was that Longpré, in the course of investigating the libraries of Europe for information on Scotus, made some startling and important discoveries about his life. One was three lists he found preserved in the Archives Nationales at Paris of the Franciscans in that city in 1302 who either sided with the king or, like Duns Scotus, refused to sign their approval of Philip the Fair's attempt to depose Boniface VIII by a General Council of the Church under the auspices of the French government.36 The other was the discovery of Scotus's ordination in the episcopal archives of the diocese of Lincoln. In addition he gathered manuscript copies not only of the Sentence commentaries that had been Balic's main interest but on all the works ascribed to Scotus.


Meanwhile Balic, a persona non grata with the Quaracchi research staff, made no attempt to join forces with them but returned to his native Yugoslavia to finish his Mariology studies which had been his original dissertation topic. In 1931-33 he published the first two volumes (called fasciuli I and II A) of his Bibliotheca Mariana Medii Aevi.

The first contained the disputed questions of John of Pouilly and the Dominican John of Naples, two of Scotus's contemporaries who were opposed to his views on the Immaculate Conception.37 The second, Ioannis Duns Scoti Theologiae Marianae Elementa, was a particularly impressive work.38 It contains everything Balic could discover that Duns Scotus wrote or said about the Blessed Virgin, both the edited works he intended for the public as well as the various reports that were made of his lectures. Though limited to Commentaries on the third and fourth books of the Sentences, Balic presented a double series of texts on each subject, first those that had been previously edited and next those that had not. The topics consist of his questions on the predestination of the Virgin, her Immaculate Conception, her espousals and her maternity. The texts are preceded by some hundred and fifty pages of introduction on the manuscripts, the editions and the method employed for the critical edition of these Mariological texts.

The work in short was Balic's means of showing what could be done using the method he had worked out with some of his Louvain professors in 1926 for the preparation of his thesis for a licentiate. It was the method he believed should be used for a future edition of all of Scotus's writings, namely: examine the manuscripts in all the libraries; photograph all of those of the 14th century and the most important of the 15th century; begin with a complete edition of the Ordinatio: publish all of the writings; redo the manuals; finally present a biographical and doctrinal synthesis for the Subtle Doctor.39

The great acclaim specialists gave his work was almost unanimous.40 As Father Ephrem Bettoni pointed out, the Prolegomena of this work marked the triumph of the method Balic had established in his controversial thesis at Louvain, the same method that had been criticized by the scholars at Quaracchi.41


In the months that followed there was a controversy as to what methodology should be used for the critical edition that Quaracchi had been ordered to do. Longpré argued that the chronological order should be followed, and the Quaracchi staff was already at work on Scotus's philosophical works. Afterwards they would publish his theological writings beginning with his Oxford commentary, then the Additiones magnae, his examined or great Reportatio, followed by the Collationes, done partly at Oxford, partly at Paris. Next the diverse Paris reports, and finally the Quodlibet.

Balic on the contrary argued that we do not really know the chronological order in which Scotus's books were done, and even if we assume the philosophical works antedate the theological ones, if the editorial staff begins with these less important writings of interest to a few specialists, it will be years before the editors get around to putting out Scotus's main works. Should one not begin with the Ordinatio, that testament Scotus meant to leave to posterity? It was this comprehensive work on theology that he was still laboring to finish at the time of his death. If it attracted so much attention in the past, will it not again awaken interest in Duns Scotus if we begin with it again?42

Balic points out that for St. Bonaventure they started with his Commentary on the Sentences; for St. Thomas they began with the chronological order but after the third tome in the series appeared, Leo XIII had this suspended and ordered them to prepare an edition of the Summa theologica. He admits that there are difficulties by beginning with the Opus oxoniense, but they are surmountable.43


In February 1938 the Minister General with the advice of his Definitorium called together a commission of experts at the Atheneum Antonianum in Rome to decide which method to follow. It was the proposal of Balic that was eventually recommended. The edition would begin with the Ordinatio, the new and proper name for what had been formerly called the Opus oxoniense—Scotus's most important work. But this meant that the more than one hundred manuscripts that contained it, either in part or in whole, had to be examined and that would require a large team of paleographers. Quaracchi at the time had only four Franciscans working full time studying the manuscripts.44 Furthermore, Longpré had neither the ability nor the desire to effectively direct such a huge team effort. As his brother, Abbot Anselm Longpré, was the first to admit, it was a personal blessing for Ephrem, when his superiors decided to relieve him of this responsibility.45

Balic, who was teaching theology at the Antonianum, was obviously the best person to undertake this difficult task. His appointment was approved by the General Definitorium as well as his desire to move the Scotist section from Quaracchi to the Atheneum Antonianum in Rome, where it was given a new name, “Commissio Scotistica.” The advantages were manifold. He was teaching there, and could interest the graduate students in Scotus. Some would become future collaborators on the Commission. Furthermore, the Antonianum as a boarding school had appropriate housing facilities for the large number that would make up the new editorial staff.46

The Scotistic Commission began its work appropriately on the Feastday of Duns Scotus, November 8, 1938. At the time Balic had 33 internal coworkers on the Commission,47 and many external scholars interested in Scotus provided the outside help he would need. Even with so many collaborators, however, so great was the task before the Commission that it would not be until 1950 that the first two volumes of the Vatican edition would come off the press.

The preparation of an edition of this magnitude or with such a large staff, has seldom if ever been undertaken before. In discussing the work of the Scotistic Commission one can distinguish four stages.48 The first, from 1938 to 1941 was spent in studying the manuscripts of each of Scotus's individual works, but especially and in great detail his Ordinatio and his Oxford Lectura prima on which it was based. This, however, involved a study of the various reports of his Paris lectures, especially Reportatio I A mentioned earlier; this Scotus had personally examined and was using for his revision. It also involved investigating the so-called Additiones magnae or the edited version of this “examined report” made by his secretary William of Alnwick which, as Pelzer had shown, was used by Wadding for the Paris reportata on the first book. The manuscripts of the three other books of the Ordinatio, the Collationes, and the the Quodlibet were examined.

The second stage from 1941-43 was devoted to evaluating the various manuscripts according to the principles of textual criticism they had established.49 This was a herculean task for there were four books to Ordinatio and the Quaracchi staff had collected 103 manuscripts containing either the entire work or single books or parts thereof. Of these twenty two of the best were selected as a working basis for the edition. Of the four manuscripts that contained all four books, one in particular was outstanding, the famous Assisi 137 (Codex A) we referred to above. Though it had been discovered by Longpré, for some reason he did not appreciate its value, preferring one from Paris. Balic, however, showed the Paris manuscript had numerous lacunae, whereas Codex A was a gold mine of information. It turned out to be an attempt by a scribe, soon after Scotus's death, to distinguish the later additions Scotus had made at Paris to his original revision begun at Oxford in 1300. The scribe indicated in the numerous marginal notes what he found in the original liber Scoti and what was added later. These were marked in the manuscripts with the sign “Scotus extra” and a long line in the margin indicating the extent of the additional note. Changes made to the text were marked with “Scotus corrigit,” or “Istud cancellatum est in libro Scoti,” “Extra de manu Scoti,” and the like. Excited with what he had found, Balic compared the Assisi text with that of the other manuscipts to determine which contained, in whole or in part, this extended text of the Ordinatio. And near the end of the fourth book, the scribe of Codex A had even indicated a note Scotus had added in his own hand about the questions still to be dictated.

Here was information on the status of Scotus's most important work as he left it at the time of his departure to Cologne and his subsequent death. This codex, Balic felt, should be the basis for any new edition of Scotus's works, for here was the final masterwork he was dictating for publication, to be copied by scribes and distributed to the booksellers. The other less important works of Scotus should be interpreted in the light of this Ordinatio rather than giving equal importance to everything he may have said earlier in his teaching career at Oxford or Cambridge or had been “reported” by various students who had attended his lectures. Eventually these “reportata” should be studied as well, as they might reveal various “asides” or additional personal illuminating remarks he may have made in the course of his lectures. Except for the Vienna codex 1454 (Report. I A) discoved by Longpré, one should not give these student reports the same value as the text he had personally dictated to his secretarial staff.

The third stage, 1943-1945 involved the preparation of the text, together with its numerous variants. Here the valuable information from Codex A became the principal guide.

During the fourth period material began to be sent to the printer, to be set in type, proofread, corrected, reset, reread, corrected until letter perfect. From 1945-50 two volumes were prepared in this fashion.


On September 8, 1950, the first two books that had been published were presented to the Minister General Pacificus Perantoni, O.F.M. at the Antonianum. The edition bore the general title: Ioannis Duns Scoti opera omnia, … studio et cura Commissionis Scotisticae ad fidem codicum edita, praeside Carolo Balic, O.F.M. (Civitas Vaticana, Typis Polyglottis Vaticanis, 1950).

By 1966 all six volumes devoted to Bk. I of Scotus's Ordinatio were completed. Before the last of these was printed, the first volume of the earlier Oxford Lectura came off the press. Now scholars could compare the original lecture with its final form to detect any development of Scotus's thought. The contents and dates for Book I of these two works are as follows:

Volume I (1950) contains the Prologue to the Ordinatio, prefaced by a lengthy introduction, making up over half the contents of the volume, entitled “De Ordinatione Ioannis Duns Scoti disquisitio historicocritica.” Despite its name, this tome also lists the manuscripts of all Scotus's authentic writings that were known at the time of its printing.

Volume II (1950) has distinctions 1-2. This second distinction contains Scotus's proof for the existence of God, which one scholar describes as “perhaps the most elaborate and ingenious version of the cosmological argument in the history of philosophy.”50

Volume III (1954) added the questions pertaining to distinction 3.

Volume IV (1956) embodies distinctions 4-10. To this volume Balic added a long introductory “Adnotationes” about Scotus's Cambridge work he had discovered along with proof that it had been used by a contemporary, Henry of Harclay, in his Sentence commentary. He also included information about the secretaries John Duns had used in dictating his Ordinatio.

Volume V (1959) included distinctions 11-25.

Volume VI (1963) completed the first book of the Ordinatio with distinctions 26-48. Again it was prefaced by a lengthy “Adnotationes” showing how Duns Scotus in distinction 26 of the Ordinatio had revised his Oxford view on what constitutes personhood in God that had been challenged by the Dominican Thomas of Sutton. This volume also contained another surprise when it turned out that Scotus's view on how God knows the future contingents was still unsettled in his own mind at the time he revised this work, and so he left distinction 39 blank. An appendix contains the “apograph” Balic believed had been completed posthumously by some secretary, but included in the Opus oxoniense. In this form it reached the public, and figured largely in the subsequent controversy between Bañez and Luis de Molina.

As fifteen volumes are planned for the four books of the Ordinatio, the first book of the Oxford Lectura published in 1960 was numbered as Volume XVI. It contains the Prologue and distinctions 1-7. Volume XVII in 1966 completed this first book of his Oxford commentary with distinctions 8-45.


Though only the first book of Scotus's early commentary and his revision of this Oxford work had been completed after almost three decades of work by the Scotistic Commission, it was no small accomplishment. After all the Leonine edition of St. Thomas begun over a century ago is still in progress. But in these first eight volumes of the Vatican edition of Scotus's Opera omnia was a wealth of material contained in footnotes and explanatory prefaces and introductions, and the like. Scholars all over the world interested in medieval philosophy and theology were making use of the new critical Vatican edition for their studies. It was the opportune time to gather them together at an International Congress, thought Balic, and he organized the affair at Oxford we referred to above, highlighted by the Apostolic Letter of Pope Paul VI to the British hierarchy Alma parens (Devoted Mother).

The Pope compares Scotus to his illustrious predecessor Thomas Aquinas and likens the theological temple he created with his writings to that built by the Angelic Doctor. If Scotus's early death cut short the edifice he was creating, he still left behind that magnificent structure the Pope praises—“that splendid temple which John Duns Scotus, with his ardent and contemplative genius, based on solid foundations and built up with daring pinnacles pointing towards heaven.”

Hyginus Eugene Cardinale, the Apostolic Delegate to Great Britian, opened the congress from the pulpit of St. Mary's University church in the heart of Oxford. He remarked that it was especially fitting that “the Congress honoring John Duns Scotus should be inaugurated in a church dedicated to the Blessed Mother of God, of whose Immaculate Conception, as a logical corollary to his Doctrine of the Primacy of Christ, he was the intrepid and strenuous defender, in direct opposition to the greatest scholars of his time and six centuries before the definition of the dogma.”


He went on to say the Congress itself was a long “overdue act of reparation to the distorted memory of one of the greatest sons of Oxford,” the city to which Thomas Cromwell sent a Cambridge priest, Richard Layton,51 “to destroy all documents and books pertaining to Scotus and to proscribe his teachings, though they were not a foreign imposition, but had been brought to flower on the fertile soil of his fatherland.” What a senseless holocaust that deliberate destruction of those precious manuscripts in the quad seems to us today. But it could explain why we have so little of Scotus's works from Oxford, especially sermons and biblical works,52 although most of his academic career was spent at this university city.53

In the summer of 1300 we have two dated events involving Scotus that suggest he may have been active in the ministry among the faithful who flocked in such great numbers to the friar's church, both to hear their preaching and to receive the sacrament of penance. Many penitents were pilgrims who had come from afar. If their sin was of a more serious nature as to be reserved to the bishop of the diocese, special faculties would be required for confessors to absolve from such reserved sins. It was customary for the bishop to license certain priests for such cases. And this seems to have been the reason that on July 23, the English provincial, Hugh of Hartlepool, met in person with John Dalderby, Bishop of Lincoln, at Dorchester-on-the-Thames.54 He submitted a list of twenty-two friars, the name of John Duns among them, for receiving such faculties. Amazed at the request for such an unprecedented number of confessors, the bishop's first response was to inquire of the provincial whether this was for all the churches in his diocese, the largest in England. Astounded to learn they were intended solely for their Oxford church, Dalderby pointed out to Hugh the unreasonableness of this request. No church in diocese had ever been given more than three confessors. He agreed, however, to give their Franciscan church twice that number, and chose six older friars, including the local guardian or superior of the friary. To these six, as a gesture of good will, he added the names of the two resident masters of theology. One was Adam Howden, who had just finished his regency; the other was Philip of Bridlington, the incoming regent master.55 The names of the twelve younger friars, including several bachelors who had finished their teaching assignment as “Sententiarius” and were waiting their turn for inception like John Duns, were not given special faculties on that occasion. But that they were put on the list at all suggests that they already were ministering to the pilgrims that thronged to the Oxford friars for spiritual advice and consultation.

The second dated event, referred to earlier,56 is Scotus's remark in the second question of the prologue. In claiming stability as a mark of the true Church, Scotus asserts: “If the permanence of the sect of Mahomet is cited as an objection, I reply that it began more than six hundred years after the law of Christ and, God willing, it will shortly end, because in this one thousand three hundredth year of Christ it is greatly weakened, and many of its believers have died, and most have fled; and a prophecy among them says that their sect must come to an end.”

What is peculiar about the literary genre of this question is that it seems to have been constructed from a sermon Duns Scotus gave on the marks of the true church, probably in the Greyfriars church that summer. Since he had begun work on his Ordinatio, the new question he inserted in its Prologue about the sufficiency of the Christian revelation and the superiority of “the law of Christ” to that of the “law of Mahomet” may have been based on what he said in that sermon. At any rate one remark in the question seems an allusion to both Albumazar's prophecy and the news of the defeat of the Egyptians that awoke such unwarranted optimism in June but was gone before the end of the year. One would suspect that had Scotus reread this portion of his Ordinatio in Paris, he would have qualified this optimistic evaluation. But busy as he was in the French capital with finishing the work begun some four to six year earlier, he could well have overlooked such a nicety.

Much as one might deplore the loss of Scotus's other sermons or what he may have written on the Scriptures in England, these minor works dwindle in importance when compared to his Ordinatio and the magisterial Quodlibet on which his fame as a theologian depends. These works of this young genius—“whose fame,” as his former Master Gonsalvus tells us, “had spread everywhere,” even before he accepted the Master's biretta—were treasured in Paris and from there spread throughout the continent, and still exist in whole or in part, at least, in hundreds of manuscripts.


With the completion of these first eight volumes Balic's work on the critical edition was largely completed. Other tasks as a professor of Mariology and his work for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith took up the great part of his time. It was during this period that he was able, with the aid of both internal and external scholars, to turn his attention specifically to the questions of orthodoxy Cardinal Früwirth had raised as a stumbling block to Scotus's beatification. In 1971 a three hundred and eighty six page volume answering each criticism raised by this “third censor” was prepared by the Scotistic Commission and presented to the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints.57 Balic was rewarded for his efforts by its decree declaring that there was no further impediment on the basis of these earlier objections to Scotus's writings or doctrine, and that his cause of beatification could now proceed.58 Additional work was required to formally document the existence of his cult to the satisfaction of this Congregation, which officially recognized Scotus's fame for sanctity and heroic virtue as well as the existence of his cult from time immemorial on July 6, 1991.59 Seeking a special occasion on which he could confirm the cult of the Servant of God, John Duns Scotus, his holiness Pope Paul II chose to do so at a Solemn Vespers on March 20, 1993 at the close of an International Scotistic Congress held in Rome between March 8-11 that drew scholars to the scene from all over the world.60


In addition to his work on the beatification of Duns Scotus, Balic completed the preparation of the next volume of Scotus's Opera omnia. Published in 1973, the year Balic celebrated his golden sacerdotal jubilee and retired as Emeritus Professor of Theology at the Antonianum, Volume VII contained distinctions 1-3 of Bk. II of the Ordinatio. This is as far as the Vatican publication of this primary work has progressed at this writing. The remainder of Bk. II, still in preparation, will be contained in Volume VIII and will include questions from distinction 4 to 44. It will omit the questions found in distinctions 15 to 26 in the Wadding-Vivès edition of the Opus oxoniense, for these were not revised before Scotus's death, but were supplied from William of Alnwick's edited “reports” of Scotus's Paris lectures.61

The “Adnotationes” of this seventh volume indicate the peculiar difficulties encountered in regard to Bk. II of the Ordinatio. Only ten codices are being used for this book as compared to the 22 employed for Bk. I. Of the first four only Codex A and P are retained. Furthermore, the editorial notes of Codex A, so helpful in preparing the critical text for Bk. I, cease with distinction 2, (n. 485) and the scribe seems to have completed his copy from another source not based on the autograph of Scotus. Also the sources Scotus used in revising Bk. II had to be determined and this involved a study not only of Bk. II of his Oxford Lectura, but an analysis of the several forms of the “reports” of his Paris lectures and especially William of Alnwick's edited versions of these in his Additiones to Bk. II.

As it had done with the first book, the Scotistic Commission planned to publish the first volume of Lectura II to accompany that of Ordinatio II. The health of Balic, its president, however, made it necessary for him to resign his presidency in favor of Luke Modric, O.F.M., who has headed the Commission since his appointment on June 8, 1974.62 Before attempting to solve all the difficult problems associated with the remaining volume of the Ordinatio II, which Scotus left incomplete, it was decided to edit the two volumes needed for Bk. II of Lectura which Scotus was using as its basis. Volume XVIII appeared in 1982 containing distinctions 1-6. And Volume XIX (distinction 7-44) just came off the press this Spring of 1993; it contains a 54 page Prologomena explaining the characteristics of Bk. II of this early Oxford work which now exists in only two manuscripts; one from Vienna (Codex V), the other (Codex F) from Rome.63 The paucity of copies of Bk. II and the total absence of any Oxford lectures on Bks. III and IV before Scotus went to Paris64 may be a consequence of the destructive raids on the university libraries of England in 1535 and 1550 inspired by Thomas Cromwell during the reign of Queen Elizabeth. Of the two extant manuscripts, Codex V is far better, but grammatical and other defects make a partial reconstruction of the text necessary and the editors explain the rationale used in doing so.65 There is no question as to the authenticity of the work. This is solidly established not only by internal criteria but from contemporaries who cite this work of Scotus.66


Among the problems solved by this latest volume of the Vatican edition is the clarification of a former misunderstanding about Scotus's doctrine on the will.67 There is no reason to assume he altered his views on this subject during his academic career, for at both at Oxford and later at Paris, he consistently maintaining the position that both the will and the known object cooperate as essentially ordered partial causes of volition.68

Another problem that arose during the preparation of Lectura II was the relationship between this work and the Quaestiones super Metaphysicam. The editors conclude that at first sight, these questions on Aristotle seem to be a juvenile work wherein Scotus presents his views more tentatively than he does in his later commentaries on the Sentences or the Quodlibet.69

Luke Modric reports that the main problems concerned with the second part of Bk. II of the Ordinatio have been solved and its publication can be expected to follow in the not too distant future.


The Scotistic Commission recognized that it would be unable to devote itself to the philosophical works of Scotus in the foreseeable future. It enlisted the aid of the Franciscan Institute of St. Bonaventure University (Olean, NY) that had edited in a remarkably short time the 17 volume critical edition of William of Ockham's Opera omnia. Originally it was planned to incorporate these philosophical works prepared by the Institute staff as part of the Vatican edition. The elaborate editorial techniques and decision policies necessary for Scotus's theological works, however, seemed unwieldly and unnecessary, if not inapplicable, to a critical edition of Scotus's philosophical works. Furthermore, it would facilitate matters if these could be printed by computer technology and on presses in the United States closer to the staff working on them than preparing them for an overburdened and distant Vatican press. With the approval of the Minister General and his definitorium, the two printing projects were separated.

Under the general editorship of Dr. Girard Etzkorn, work on the Questions on the Metaphysics70 was the first selection to be chosen for publication by the Franciscan Institute, to be followed by Scotus's questions on the De anima of Aristotle. Though the most important of his philosophical works, the Questions on the Metaphysics is also the most difficult from a publishing viewpoint, for though the original work seems to antedate the Lectura it was apparently was revised, perhaps more than once, during Scotus's academic career, and it was left incomplete at the time of his death like the Ordinatio and the Quodlibet. Only the Bks. I-IX as found in the Wadding edition are authentic. Some questions seem to antedate the Lectura II whereas others quote the Ordinatio or even the De primo principio, which, as Balic has shown, depends on Bk. I, dist. 2 of the Ordinatio. However, the edition is nearing completion and will soon go to press.

Hopefully, the Scotistic Commission will see fit to publish the examined Reportatio I A and the Reportatio II A on which the Ordinatio I and II are dependent since it will make it possible to study comprehensively the topics Scotus dealt with in these first two books of his Sentence-commentaries as well as determine the exact role William of Alnwick's Additiones magnae were intended to play. Was it perhaps the intention of this secretary of Scotus to update those portions of the Ordinatio done at Oxford before Scotus came to the continent? Questions like these, however, will have to await further study by the Scotistic Commission.


  1. Question 21 is only partially revised. The MS Clm 8717 from the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek in Munich ends abruptly with the words: “Tertium membrum” and the marginal note: “Finis. Quodlibet repertum in sui quaternis. Quod sequitur est de Reportatione.” (fol. 85vb).

  2. Ordinatio, prol., n. 112 (Vatican 1, 77).

  3. There is a reference in Bk. IV of the Ordinatio, d. 25, q. 1, to a papal document of Benedict XI dispensing from illegitimacy as a hinderance to the reception of Holy Orders that Scotus says he himself saw. See Codex A, f. 247va: “Unde Benedictus XI cum quodam tali [i.e., a bastard] sine dispensatione ordinato et in ordinibus ministrante, statim faciliter dispensavit, sicut ipse vidi Bullam dispensationis.” As Pelster explains (see Handschriftliches, p. 10) the reference is probably to the papal bull of January 31, 1304 in which the pope authorized the bishop of Bologna to grant a dispensation to Lanfranc, bastard son of Conrad, the Count of Panico, who despite his illegitimacy had been ordained subdeacon and deacon for some time. These details raise questions of whether Scotus went to Bologna during his exile from Paris rather than returned to Oxford as Little claims. See his Chronological Notes, 577.

  4. A clear case of such an addition is the initial question, “Utrum ista sit vera ‘Deus generat alium Deum’” that he indicates needed to be inserted at the beginning of distinction 4 (See Ordinatio I, Vatican 4, 1-2); it occurs in Codex A (fol. 41vb) with the marginal note “Scotus extra.”

  5. R.P.F. Joannis Duns Scoti, Doctor Subtilis, opera omnia (Lugduni: sumptibus Laurentii Durand, 1639), 12 tomes.

  6. The work was done at the College of St. Isidore in Rome established by Wadding in 1625, where he was aided by his Franciscan staff of co-editors. Hugh MacCaughwell (Cavellus) supplied scholia; John Ponce (Pontius) added commentaries by Francis Licheto (Lychetus) to the first three books of the Sentences, and Anthony Hickey provided a commentary to book four; the Annotations on the Metaphysics are those of Maurice O'Fihely (Mauritius a Portu).

  7. Joannis Duns Scoti, Doctor Subtilis, Ordinis Minorum opera omnia (Paris: apud Ludovicum Vivès, 1891-95).

  8. The following philosophical works found in the Wadding and Vivès editions are definitely spurious: Grammatica speculative (Thomas of Erfurt), Quaestiones in librum I et II priorum Analyticorum Aristotelis, Quaestiones in librum I et II posteriorum Analyticorum, Expositio et Quaestiones in VIII libros Physicorum Aristotelis, Meteorologicorum libri quatuor, Expositio in XII libros Metaphysicorum Aristotelis seu Metaphysica textualis (Antonius Andreas), Conclusiones utilissimae ex libris Metaphysicorum Aristotelis collectae, (Gonsalvus of Spain), Quaestiones disputatae de rerum principio (Vital du Four), Quaestiones miscellaneae de formalitatibus (except the first question which contains the “Logica Scoti”), De cognitione Dei tractatus imperfectus, and Tractatus de perfectione statuum. The following are generally accepted as genuine works of Scotus: Quaestiones super Universalia Porphyrii, Quaestiones in librum Praedicamentorum, Quaestiones in I et II librum Perihermenias, Opus secundum sive octo quaestiones in duos libros Perihermenias, Quaestiones in libros Elenchorum. There are special problems regarding the Theoremata whose authenticity was accepted by Pelzer and Balic, but rejected by Longpré, and others. See my comments in the “Introduction” to John Duns Scotus: A Treatise on God as First Principle, 2nd ed., revised with a commentary (Chicago: Franciscan Herald, [1983]), xiv-xvi.

  9. A copy of his March letter to Cardinal Früwirth is reprinted in the Adnotationes R. P. D. Promotoris Generalis Fidei super Revisione Scriptorum [Ioannis Duns Scoti] (Romae, 1925): 311-13.

  10. Revue Neoscolastique de Philosophie 25 (1923): 410-20.

  11. Annales de l'Institut supérieur de Philosophie 5 (1923): 449-91.

  12. The Collegio S. Bonaventura had been set up in 1877 in a renovated villa in the little hamlet of Quaracchi on the western outskirts of Florence by the Observant Franciscans to publish the works of St. Bonaventure, cited by Leo XIII in the Aeterni Patris as the other shining example of the scholastic method he wished to be pursued in philosophy as the handmaid of theology. The ten volume Opera omnia, published between 1882-1902 under the direction of Father Ignatius Jeiler, O.F.M., had won such international acclaim that the General Curia of the Order of Friars Minor hesitated to close the College in 1902 when Jeiler's task was finished, and had assigned Quaracchi other work, including an edition of the Summa of Alexander of Hales.

  13. For the history of the Scotus studies at Collegio S. Bonaventura di Quaracchi, see the article on the occasion of its centenary by Jacques Cambell, “La Section Scotiste (1927-1938)” in Archivum Franciscanum Historicum 70 (1977): 489-522.

  14. F. Pelster, “Handschriftliches zu Skotus mit neuen Angaben über sein Leben” in Franzikanishe Studien 10 (1910): 1-32. In this article he showed the Opus oxoniense was not completed before Scotus's lecture at Paris.

  15. Cambell, La Section Scotiste, 497-99.

  16. Carl Balic, “Note per la storia della sezione e poi commissione scotista per l'edizione critica delle opere di Giovanni Duns Scoto” in Studies Honoring Ignatius Charles Brady Friar Minor, edited by Romano Stephen Almagno, O.F.M. and Conrad L. Harkins, O.F.M. (St. Bonaventure, NY: Franciscan Institute, 1978), 17-44. Quoted hereafter as Note.

  17. Joining the Franciscans at 18, Balic had been ordained priest July 29, 1923.

  18. Ephrem Longpré who had been previously working as a collaborator on the edition of the Summa attributed to Alexander of Hales, had become the current Franciscan authority on Duns Scotus, when he was asked by his superiors to refute the errors and exaggerations in Bernard Landry's La philosophie de Duns Scot (Paris: Alcan, 1922). He did this in a scholarly series of articles published serially in Études Franciscaines (1922-24) that eventually was republished in book form as La philosopie du B. Duns Scot (Paris: Société et Librairie S. François d'Assise, 1924). These articles had been appearing for almost a year when Balic began his studies at Louvain.

  19. Franz Pelster had shown the importance of especially two manuscripts, Clm 8717 and Clm 26309, for any study of Scotus's magisterial Quodlibet.

  20. Balic tells us he had no camera or funds to have photocopies made and had to transcribe texts he wanted to study further by hand. See Note, 23. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to him Klumper had assigned Alban Heysse, prefect of the Collegio S. Bonaventura di Quaracchi and Longpré as a photographic team to search the libraries of Europe microfilming whatever was necessary or useful for eventually doing a critical edition that would include all of Scotus's authentic writings.

  21. The initial article first appeared in 1926 with the note that it would be continued in subsequent issues. See Balic, “Quelques précisions fournies par la tradition manuscrite sur la vie, les oeuvres et l'attitude doctrinale de Jean Duns Scot” in the Revue d'Historire Ecclésiastique 22 (1926), 551-66.

  22. “Mes félicitions de votre thèse. C'est un bon sujet qui mérite d'etre poussé au fond.” In addition Longpré invited him to visit Quaracchi. See Balic, Note, 23.

  23. In his “explicit” of the Balliol cod. 206 (dated 1462 on the vigil of the feast of St. Bartholomew) the scribe John Reynbold indicates this was Scotus's “complete lecture on Bk. III of the Sentences at Paris” in contrast to the following “incomplete lecture” on only 17 of the 40 distinctions book three contains. The earlier Merton cod. 62 (dated 1453) by same scribe makes the same distinction, though the last portion of the lectura completa and the first part of the incompleta has been cut out of this manuscript. Scotus's lectures on Bk. III contains his Mariology that Balic needed as well as Scotus's question on the predestination of Christ and the motive of the Incarnation that was of more immediate interest to Longpré.

  24. See Balic, Note, 22.

  25. The initial volume included Book I and was entitled Doctoris Irrefragabilis Alexandri de Hales Ordinis Minorum Summa Theologica (Ad Claras Aquas: ex Typographia Collegii S. Bonaventurae, 1924).

  26. This was the famous Assisi manuscript that Balic would make Codex A and use as principal basis of the Vatican edition.

  27. The manuscript is described in the introductory “De Ordinatione I. Duns Scoti disquisitio historico-critica” in Vol. I of the Vatican edition of the Opera omnia, 135*-136*. It contains the Reportatio I A, and the explicit (f. 125va) reads: “Explicit Reportatio super primum Sententiarum, sub magistro Ioanne Scoto, et examinata cum eodem venerando doctore.”

  28. In his response to what Pelzer had written to him of the defects of the Wadding edition the Cardinal prefect Früwirth had insisted: “Ex his, quae dicta sunt, iam satis apparet scripta Ioannis Duns Scoti ulterius perquirenda diligenterque recognoscenda esse.” Adnotationes R. P. D. Promotoris Generalis Fidei …, 7.

  29. Balic, Note, 22: “Questa decisione di P. Klumper ebbe immediato seguito, giacché dui anni dopo, nel 1925, il Collegio di Quaracchi aveva già le photocopie del famoso codice di Assisi 137, degli ‘incipit’ di quasi tutti i codici della Biblioteca Vaticana, indicati da Mons. Pelzer, e di molti fogli di codici delle biblioteche di Monaco, di Erfut, di Worcester, di Vienna, di Parigi, ecc.”

  30. Balic, Note, 24.

  31. See note 71 above.

  32. In January 1927 Longpré wrote: “Personnellement je travaille à Alexandre de Halès. Ceux qui ont le désir e travailler sur Scot feront bien de ne pas s'engager dans la voie qui mène ici: c'est impossible de réaliser.” Nevertheless he encouraged him to publish the results of his research. Balic, Note, 24.

  33. “Io risposi che presto sarebbe uscito il mio libro sui Commentari di Scoto, osservando tuttavia che non sempre le mie conclusioni concordavano con i pareri dei Padri di Quaracchi o con quelle di Mons. Pelzer ed aggiungevo un'informazione: Ego neque tempori neque labori parco in praeparatione editionis criticae operum J. Scoti.” Balic, Note, 24. Quaracchi.

  34. It was the right of the University to concede the “imprimatur” to the theses and dissertations of their students, but out of courtesy Balic had earlier sent a copy of his doctoral study to the Minister General as his religious superior, only to receive the unexpected reprimand “Nuntiatum mihi est quod non progrederis in recta via cum honore!” The Quaracchi staff had convinced the 63 year old Minister General the young student priest had been unduly influenced by his university professors and Klumper tempered his reprimand with the exhortation: “Il ne faudrait pas, cher et R. Père, aller aux secours de nos adversaires.”

  35. Typical of the University's reaction was the letter Professor Albert De Meyer of Louvain addressed to Balic shortly before the work came off the press. It reads in translation: “If obedience forbids you to publish the result of your research, we are not bound by this excuse: we have been lawfully entrusted with the manuscript; it is already completely in print, it has been announced to the scientific world, and so on. I do not have any way of recalling the work without exposing your superiors and yourself to the ridicule of the world of scholars. If others are willing to give utterance to the truth in the face of the world anonymously, either out of highmindedness or out of fear, those of us who are charged with defending the honor of the Catholic University of Louvain, have no authority, without betraying our Alma Mater, to make the least concession.” In this same letter Professor De Meyer goes on to argue the case for the publication: “What is more, the Committee believes it has the right to publish this study, not only because of its importance, but also, in justice, on the grounds that each has a right to his due: cuique suum.

  36. Longpré, “Le b. Jean Duns Scot O.F.M. pour le Saint Siège contre le Gallicanisme, Paris 25-8 juin 1303” in La France Franciscaines 11 (1928): 137-62; Little, Chronological Notes, 576.

  37. Published in Sibenik in Dalmatia, the first of these is entitled Ioannis de Polliaco et Iohannis de Neapoli, Quaestiones disputatae de immaculata conceptione Beatae Mariae Virginis (Sibenici, Ex typographia ‘Kakik’, 1931). These questions are interesting because they indicate the theological opposition to the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception at this period of Church history. John of Pouilly goes so far as to brand Scotus's carefully worded defense of Mary's prerogative as heretical. “Primo volo declarare quod non potest dici probabiliter nec teneri pro opinione probabili quod beata Virgo de facto non contraxit originale peccatum. Immo salve cuiuscumque reverentia, videtur quod debeat hereticum reputari.” (p. 2) The reference is to Duns Scotus's carefully crafted conclusion as to how Mary could have been conceived: “I say that God could have brought it about that [1] she was never in original sin, or [2] she was in sin for only an instant, or [3] she was in sin for some period of time and at the last instant of that time was purged of it. … Which of these three possibilities is factually the case, God knows—but if the authority of the Church or the authority of Scripture does not contradict such, it seem probable that what is more excellent should be attributed to Mary.” (from my translation of Ordinatio III, dist. 3, q. 1 in John Duns Scotus: Four Questions on Mary [Santa Barbara, CA: Old Mission Santa Barbara, 1988], 43-45).

  38. Ioannis Duns Scoti, doctoris mariani, theologiae marianae elementa, (Sibenici, Ex typographia ‘Kakik’, 1933).

  39. Theol. Mar. elem., CXLII, n. 188.

  40. One can gather this from the great number of reviews it received. See Odulfus Schäfer, Bibliographia de vita, operibus et doctrina Ioannis Duns Scoti Doctoris Subtilis ac Mariani saec. XIX-XX (Romae: Orbis Catholicus—Herder, 1955), n. 196.

  41. On the controversy between Balic and the Scotist section at Quaracchi over the methodology to be used for the critical edition, see Cambell, La Section Scotiste, 512-18.

  42. Balic, “Bemerkungen zur Methode des Studium sowie der Edition der Gesamtwerke des J.Duns Skotus” in Wissenschaft und Weisheit 4 (1937): 273-81.

  43. Ibid., 279-81.

  44. Besides Longpré, the Franciscan paleographers working on the edition were Victorin Doucet, Patrice Robert, and Philotheus Boehner.

  45. Anselm Longpré, Ephrem Longpré 1890-1965 (Richelieu, Qué., 1974), 63: “Dans les vues de la Providence le départ de Quaracchi fut pour le P. Ephrem un grâce de choix. Les articles qui'il publia à centaine durant cette période de sa vie et qu'il n'aurait jamais pu écrire au travail des éditions restent le meilleur se son oeuvre.”—quoted by Cambell, La Section Scotiste, 519.

  46. The official decree reads: “In congressu definitoriali diei 21 aprilis 1938, Rev. P. Carolus Balic, alumnus Provinciae SS. Redemptoris in Dalmatia et Professor in nostro Pontificio Athenaeo S. Antonii de Urbe, nominatus est praeses Commissionis seu Sectionis Consilii ‘pro editione Operum omnium Doctoris Subtilis B. Ioannis Scoti’: quae Commissio seu Sectio, ad maiorem opportunorum studiorum commoditatem, a Bonaventuriano nostro Collegio Clararum Aquarum, Romam translata est.” Acta Ordinis Fratrum Minorum 57 (1938): 223.

  47. Many of these were Franciscans studying for graduate degrees at the Antonianum; in 1943/44 large numbers came from the Franciscan provinces in Jugoslavia when Tito imposed Communism on the country.

  48. Cambell, La Section Scotiste, 520-21; Dietrich Esser, O.F.M. “Gegenwärtiger Stand der Seigsprechung” in Johannes Duns Scotus: Untersuchungen zu seiner Verehrung (Mönchengladbach: Johannes-Duns-Skotus-Akademie, 1986), 259.

  49. These were set forth in the Annua relatio Commissionis scotisticae. Anno II (1939-40), Romae 1941, 39-68.

  50. Marilyn McCord Adams, “Forward” to A. B. Wolter, John Duns Scotus: Philosophical Writings, viii.

  51. In his letter to Thomas Cromwell about his September visit to Oxford University, Layton gives this graphic description of the destruction of Scotus's writings: “We have set Duns in Bocardo [the Oxford prison], and have utterly banished him from Oxford for ever, with all his blind glosses; and is now made a common servant to every man, fast nailed upon posts at all common houses of easement: id quod oculis meis vidi. And the second time we came to New College, after we had declared your injunctions, we found all the great quadrant court full of the leaves of Duns, the wind blowing them into every corner.”—quoted in R. W. Dixon, History of the Church of England From the Abolition of the Roman Jurisdiction, 3rd ed., vol. I (Oxford: University Press, 1895), 303.

  52. The “glosses” Richard Layton refers to would seem to imply biblical writings. According to the Statutes of Oxford, after his stint as sententiarius, the bachelor was required to spend the following year (his twelfth) lecturing on the Bible as bachalarius biblicus. In this role he was to familiarize himself further with the text, the biblical commentaries and glosses, in preparation for occupancy of a magisterial chair. For the main task of a regent master would be to lecture on the Scriptures.

  53. Though Scotus would have commented on all four books of the Sentences in his Oxford lectures, we have only extant manuscripts of those on the first two books and none of the manuscripts containing these Lecturae are from England. Philip Hughes, The Reformation in England, 2 ed., vol. I, (London: Hollis and Carter, 1952), 96, describes the holocaust in these words: “The deliberate destruction of Catholic books—and, indeed of books in general—in the thirty years that followed the breach with Rome was a thing unequalled until in our day, the Germans busied themselves with the libraries at Louvain and Naples. Thousands of books, whole libraries, were destroyed at Oxford in 1535 and again in 1550. One authority has estimated that in all something like a quarter of a million liturgical books alone were made away with during this century. Given the size of the population, and the rarity of books—of the printed book no less than of the manuscript a total such as this implies the possible disappearance of a whole particular culture; and it is not surprising if no records remains of works of technical theology—compendia, at any rate—that we might otherwise reasonably expect to find.” I am grateful to my confrere Father Francis Guest, O.F.M., the historian, for calling my attention to information on this sad period of English history.

  54. Little, Grey Friars at Oxford, 63-64.

  55. See note 35 supra.

  56. See footnotes 33 or 52. (Ord. prol. n. 112).

  57. Responsio ad Adnotationes super revisione scriptorum servi Dei Ioannis Duns Scoti (Romae: Commissio Scotistica, 1971).

  58. The decree was issued on April 25 and signed by Pope Paul VI May 4, 1972.

  59. The pertinent portion of this concluding decree on the cause of Scotus's beatification reads as follows: “Factum demum de hisce omnibus rebus Summo Pontifici Ioanni Paulo II per subscriptum Cardinalem Praefectum accurata relatione, Sanctitas Sua vota Congregationis de Causis Sanctorum excipiens rataque habens, mandavit ut decretum ad hoc pertinens conscriberetur.

    “Quod cum rite esset factum, accitis ad Se hodierno die Cardinalibus infrascripto Praefecto necnon causae Ponente meque Antistite a Secretis Congregationis ceterisque de more convocandis, eisque astantibus, Beatissimus Pater solleminiter: Constare de fama sanctitatis et de virtutibus heroicis Servi Dei Ioannis Duns Scoti, necnon de cultu ab immemorabili tempore ei praestito, in casu et ad effectum de quo agitur. Hoc autem decretum publici iuris fieri et in acta Congregationis de Causis Sanctorum idem Summus Pontifex referri iussit. Datum Romae, die 6 mensis Iulii a.d. 1991. Angelus Card. Felici, Praefectus.” The entire text is contained in Roberto Zavelloni, Giovanni Duns Scoto: Maestro di Vita e Pensiero (Bologna: Edizioni Francescane Bologna, 1992), 198-202.

  60. The Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation of the Saints sent an official letter to Juan Folguera, O.F.M., the Postulator General on November 28, 1992—Prot. N. 1188-22/92.

  61. In the Spanish codex of Pamplona (bibl. eccl. cathedr. 35) on f. 99v is the note: “A distinctione 15 usque ad 26 nihil scripsit dominus frater Ioannes Scotus, et omnia quae sequuntur sunt introducta de suis Reportationibus Parisiensibus.” Cf. the preface of Vol. VII. Codex V (Vat. lat. 876) f. 294ra-310vb contains Alnwick's Additiones to Bk. II with the explicit “Expliciunt Additiones secundi libri magistri Ioannis de Duns, subtilis doctoris, extractae per magistrum Willelmum de Alnewyk, de Ordine Fratrum Minorum de Lectura Parisiensi et Oxoniensi praedicti magistri Ioannis, cui propitietur Deus.” According to Balic, William of Alnwick would have been one of Scotus secretaries (cf., ‘Adnotationes’ to vol. IV, 44*, note 1). Those questions edited by this secretary of Scotus that have been incorporated into Scotus's unfinished work are indicated usually with the note: “Quere in ordinatione.” For those from dist. 15-25, see f. 302vb-305ra.

  62. Luke Modric, O.F.M., a Croatian from the same province of the Holy Redeemer as Father Balic and a member of the Commission since 1951, was well qualified to follow the method established by Balic. He had been appointed vice-president a year earlier. Two years after resigning from the Commission, Balic died at Rome on April 15, 1977.

  63. Codex V (cod. lat. 1449) is a 14th century MS; Codex F (arch. conv. S. Francisci ad Ripas, cod. lat. AFR 422, formerly Q II 21) is from the 15th century.

  64. The Lectura completa was done shortly after Scotus left Paris. The “Prolegomena” to Vol. XIX of the Vatican edition p. *33 cites the passage in Lectura III, d. 5, q. 2 (cod. Oxon., Merton 62, f. 145b): “Dixi Parisius primo quod logice …” as an argument for assigning the composition of this work to the year 1303-1304 during Scotus's exile from France.

  65. Prolegomena, *15-*17; *46-*49.

  66. Most prominent among these is William of Alnwick who, we know, attended his lectures and may have been one of his secretaries. His Additiones magnae to the second book, extracted from both the Oxford and the Paris lectures, often call attention explictly to the differences between these two works of Scotus. Other contemporaries who cite passages found exclusively in this work of Scotus include Robert of Cowton and John of Reading.

  67. Balic misinterpreted a remark of William of Alnwick that Scotus taught differently at Oxford than he did at Paris as a reference to John's own views rather than to the way he attacked the view of Henry of Ghent at the two universities. See e.g., Balic, “Une question inédite de J. Duns Scot sur la volonté,” Recherches de Théologie ancienne et médiévale, III (1931): 191.

  68. Henry's view by contrast was that the will is the total active cause of the act of volition and the known object only a sine qua non condition. “Ceterum, Duns Scotus nec retractavit nec umquam substantialiter mutavit suam opinionem de causa actus voluntatis.” Prolegomena, *40. We are indebted to Father Luke Modric, the president of the Scotistic Commission for this prior information about Vol. XIX.

  69. Lecturam igitur post Quaestiones super Metaphysicam Duns Scotus exaravit, ibique iam multa problemata, in Quaestionibus vix adumbrata, funditus aggreditur solutioneque sua tutius proponit ac defendit.” Prolegomena, p. *46.

  70. Only the first nine books in the Wadding-Vivès edition are authentic.

Allan B. Wolter (essay date winter 1993)

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SOURCE: Wolter, Allan B. “Scotus on the Divine Origin of Possibility.” American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly 67, no. 1 (winter 1993): 95-107.

[In the following essay, Wolter illuminates a principal element of Scotus's mature metaphysical theory regarding divine knowledge of the potential and the actual.]

The Questions on Aristotle's Metaphysics, in the opinion of the Scotistic Commission is a work Duns Scotus composed early in his academic career. Portions of what he wrote there are more fully developed in his Oxford Lectura.1 According to the editors working on a critical edition at the work at the Franciscan Institute of St. Bonaventure University, however, the original work has been revised, and this may explain the references the Sentence-commentaries.2

Book IX seems to be one of the more mature portions of the work, however, with its masterful analysis of the various meanings of potency and act, but like other portions of this early work it presents certain questions with only probable answers and needs to be complemented with what Scotus says elsewhere in his later commentaries on the Sentences.


Santogrossi's essay undertakes to examine one aspect of “potency,” namely that opposed to actuality, and unpacks what Scotus has to say about the possible as a non-existent object.3 He indicates at the outset, however, that he intends to deal with “potency” exclusively from the standpoint of what Scotus says about it in the Questions on the Metaphysics and that this needs to be supplemented with his treatment of potency in the Ordinatio. And he concludes his essay with the suggestion that “Scotus's aporematic treatment of potency opposed to act needs to be integrated by an explicit treatment of divine knowledge of the potential and the actual.” It is to this task that I devote the present essay. For that treatment, though begun in the Lectura, is given its most mature and complete expression in his Ordinatio.

Incidentally, I think this topic of potentiality is a good illustration of the wisdom of Balic's methodology I spoke of earlier.4 He was firmly convinced that whatever Scotus said about any particular subject elsewhere in his writings, it should be interpreted in the light of this late and most important work. Scotus himself implies as much when he declares that the question of the sort “entity” the creature has before it is created is a difficult one to answer, particularly if one is not content to reduce its possibility exclusively to a conceptual relationship. For a relationship requires a foundation, and though relations of a lower order can be the basis for those of a higher order, ultimately one must root a first level relationship in something that is absolute or non-relational.


In these Questions on the Metaphysics Scotus is determined as far as possible to limit his discussion to metaphysical questions about Aristotle's conception of potency. But, as Santogrossi sagely remarks at the outset of his essay, this is difficult for a Christian theologian. For the concept of creation enters in, something wholly foreign to Aristotle's philosophy. For his conception of deity was an intelligent spirit, a transcendent Mind, hermetically sealed off from the perpetually changing world, as it were. A mind whose thinking is a thinking on thinking.5 Though God, for Aristotle, was the prime mover, the divine being was unmoved, and hence only a final cause, not the efficient cause of movement in the world.6 The universe fundamentally was uncaused and eternal. Only its movement, its endless generation and corruption of forms, required an explanation. Potency and act, in a universe of this sort would be quite different and much simpler than it could possibly be for a Christian metaphysican, or even an Islamic one, like Avicenna who first endeavored to expand these basic notions that Scotus explores in his Metaphysics.

For Islamic philosophers were the first to try to integrate Aristotle's philosophy with their biblical belief in the Pentateuch. Avicenna did so by reinterpreting the notion of creation so as to be compatible with the Philosopher's conception that the world is eternal. Where Aristotle spoke of production as a reforming of pre-existent materials, Christian theologians spoke of creation as the complete and total production of a being where before there had been nothing. Philosophically, theologians came to define creation or the creative process as a case where, as regards some finite nature, its existence, pure and simple, follows its non-existence. As they phrased it in Latin, “Esse post non-esse.” On the basis of this definition alone creation seemed to be contradicted by Aristotle's doctrine of the eternity of the world, and this created one of the chief obstacles to the acceptance of his philosophy in the mid-thirteenth century.


Avicenna, however, as a good Mohammedan, had faced the same dilemma some two centuries earlier and solved it in an ingenious fashion. He reinterpreted the classical formula, as it were, in an essentialistic rather than a temporal fashion. Logic has a timeless character about it, and in its application to the real world, is concerned only with priority, posteriority, or simultaneity of nature. Avicenna was as famous a logician as he was a metaphysician. And for a logician, there is no reason why “post,” in the classical formula “esse post non-esse,” might not be interpreted as the way in which one concept followed necessarily or only contingently from another. If B implies A, but A does not imply B, then A is logically prior to B, and B posterior to A. Correlative notions by contrast are simultaneous in nature. A implies B and B implies A.

When Avicenna's works were translated into Latin, his notion of God became simply “necesse esse.” Creatures by contrast were simply “possibile esse.” Creation from nothingness could be expressed metaphysically in terms of pure possibility preceding actuality in a logical rather than a temporal sense. In itself, the creature is essentially only possible. It has no existence or reason to be of itself. In this sense, it is by nature a “non-esse”—the antithesis of God who is by nature simple “esse.

Historically, we know, Bonaventure was either unaware or refused to endorse this atemporal notion of creation. Hence he argued that if one admits the word means simply what it says, (viz., “esse post non-esse”), it excludes even the possibility that a created world could be eternal by reason of its definition. St. Thomas, however, accepted Avicenna's contention that “post” need not be interpreted time-wise, but could mean “posterior by nature.” A creature, then, would be simply something which, of its nature, has no need to exist and in that sense, is essentially a “non-esse.” Anything added extrinsically or in relationship to another (e.g., an efficient cause), can be said to logically follow or come after what it is in itself.

Duns Scotus, we know, was particularly aware of Avicenna's interpretation of creation and was even more intrigued by his conception of the subject of Metaphysics. He accorded this Islamic thinker the same courtesy he extended to the Philosopher himself.7 One important reason for this was that he liked Avicenna's idea of metaphysics as the science of being, wherein one could prove the existence of God based on his metaphysical properties.

Had not God, “knowing what mortals could conceive of him,” explained himself to Moses as the “I am who am”—thus applying to himself, says Scotus, the metaphysical notion of “being.”8

In his Questions on the Metaphysics, Scotus tries to keep his discussion of potency as opposed to act exclusively limited to what can be said philosophically. Couched in metaphysical garb, however, the biblical conception of creation inevitably enters in. As Santogrossi points out, it appears as an objection to attributing any sort of metaphysical entity, as distinct from logical or conceptual being, to possibility as opposed to actuality.


The objection reads that prior to its creation, the creature as a possible being is simply non-existent. Why ascribe to it an any entity?

Scotus's answer runs roughly as follows.9 Even before God may choose to create, he is creative, for he has the power to create by reason of what he is, omnipotent. His omnipotence is limited only by the principle of contradiction. Therefore, as the correlative of such creativity the corresponding possible must have some sort of entity an impossible chimera does not—also it would possess this even before God gives it actuality. This is not simply a logical possibility, i.e., that existence is not repugnant to a creature of this sort. For that intrinsic possibility, as it is sometimes called, is something such a possible has of itself, quite apart from any agent that can produce it or give it existence. It is this extrinsic possiblity, that creates a problem of its own. Not the relationship itself of being creatable, but rather the creatural foundation that is the subject of this relation. Scotus argues the possible should have some subjective entity as well. As the correlative of God's omnipotence does it not have some metaphysical sort of being that sheer nothingness does not? Something stemming from the non-contradictory character of its constituent or defining attributes? For it differs from a chimera, a mythical entity, having a name but no real essence, for the constitutive elements it is claimed to have are self-contradictory.

But what foundation does this correlative aspect of the possible have? What sort of absolute underpins this relationship to God's omnipotence? Here Scotus admits is where a great difficulty arises. And in his Metaphysics he feels there is no point in attempting to explain why this is so. For to do so adequately, perhaps, would take a discussion even more prolix and extended than that devoted to the main question under consideration.10

Is this “perhaps” a reference to some future treatment he has in mind, or to something he has already treated elsewhere but cannot be easily summarized? For he deals with the question of the divine origin of possibility in both his Lectura and his revised Ordinatio. “Nothing” like “being” [ens] or “thing” [res] is an equivocal term or concept. In his late magisterial Quodlibet Scotus indicates the sort of entity or non-entity that corresponds to the several meanings of such terms.


Since he is following Avicenna's interpretation of Aristotle, rather than that of Averroes, for whom William of Alnwick, Scotus's one time secretary, tells us he had far less respect, let me note to begin with what he says of being as Avicenna conceived of it.

Nothing, in its truest sense is what includes a contradiction and only that, for such excludes any form of existence, either within or without the intellect. Just as what includes a contradiction cannot exist outside the soul, so neither can it be an intelligible something as a being in the soul. Two contradictory notions cannot constitute one intelligible being, either as a union of two objects or of an object and its mode.11

Scotus, we might note, is applying to notions or concepts, one of which implies the negation of the other, Aristotle's argument about the impossibility of contraries (namely, two statements such that one is the contradictory of the other) existing in the same subject (namely, the mind or the intellectual soul).12

One might well ask Scotus how such non-entities, if we may call them such, can be talked about if they cannot be conceived. For surely we give specific sorts of names like “goat-stag,” or “centaur” or various other designations to chimeras, which Scotus regards as being combinations of incompatible conceptual elements. Apparently, he regards them as having a “whatness” in name only, and the sort of conceptual unity that is characteristic of a process in which one conceptual notion is followed by another, but we never can conceive both simulaneously in what Scotus would call one simple conceptual act. As Aristotle puts it: “the definition of the composite is a long rigamarole.”13

But to return to what Scotus says in his Quodlibet:

Being or thing in the first of its very broad meaings, therefore, covers anything that does not include a contradiction whether it be a conceptual being [ens rationis], i.e. having existence only in the thinking intellect, or a real being [ens reale], i.e. having some entity outside the consideration of the thinking intellect. … In the second sense of this first member, however, we say a thing is what can have entity outside the soul. Avicenna seems to have this case in mind when he says that “thing” and “being” are common to all genera …

The first member, namely the very broad sense, therefore we have subdivided into (a) that which includes no contradiction, whatever kind of “existence” it has, and (b) that which has or can have proper existence outside the intellect. And Avicenna takes “being” and “thing” either in both senses or at least in the second sense as has been said.14

Scotus must have had some such conception as this in mind when he answered this objection in the Metaphysics that there must be some metaphysical entity to the possible, apart from this logical potency its concept has in virtue of the fact that it includes no contradiction.

Being in this second or (b) sense is what is divided, according to Aristotle, into act and potency. Act adds to the basic definition of “being” as “that to which existence is not repugnant,” the idea of actual existence; potency adds the idea of non-existence.


There are other complications that the Christian notion of creation introduces into the consideration of the possible that is not found in Avicenna's interpretation. For the scholastics did not consider an eternal creation to represent the actual sense of those words of Genesis (1:1): “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” There is a liberty about God's creativeness that is absent in the accounts of Alfarbi, Avicenna or Averroes, who assume a necessary emanation of the great chain of beings from their creator. If Scotus was thinking of this aspect, as well, it would add to the prolixity of a complete answer to the question about the possible's entity.

Scotus's final question in his Metaphysics is whether Aristotle's division of active potency into irrational and rational potencies is appropriate. And it is there he shows, as Henry of Ghent had before him, that the will is the only fully rational potency according to Aristotle's definition. For in the various choices it makes, the will never acts out of necessity as nature does, but it determines itself with the aid of reason.

If “rational” is understood to mean “with reason,” then the will is properly rational, and it has to do with opposities, both as regards its own act and as regard the acts it controls. And it has to do with opposites not in the way that a nature, like the intellect, acts, which has no power to determine itself in any other way. But the will acts freely, for it has the power of self-determination.15

The point relevant to the issue we are discussing lies not so much in the freedom or self-determination of the will. Rather it is to be found in the fact that the will can only act “with reason.” In a special way, the divine intellect has a role to play in the entitative character Scotus attributes to the creature as possible.

The distinction of priority and posteriority of nature that Avicenna used to reinterpret the definition of creation, led the scholatics to make similar distinctions. Henry of Ghent was one such individual, and he may have influenced Scotus in this regard. Though Scotus would not admit that one could assign contradictory existential predicates to such logical or metaphysical distinct instants or signs of nature, as Henry tried to do,16 he did find this distinction a useful theological tool where God's simple essence was concerned. In fact he seemed to think it indispensible in discussing various attributes or properties we ascribe to God. For the divine nature is such that it has no really distinct parts or constitutive elements, yet the these relationships of priority and posteriority of nature seem to be applicable to “rationes” or conceptual properties we attribute to God.


Books were precious items in Franciscan friaries, and students must have been limited to a select few for detailed studies. When Scotus prepared his bachelor lectures on the Sentences of Peter Lombard, he seems to have been specially privileged to use the works of Henry of Ghent, perhaps the most famous theologian at Paris in his younger days. For time and again it is questions that Henry raises that provide the theological doctrines he chooses most relevant and opportune to discuss. And though Godfrey of Fontaines, Henry's younger colleague, will also play a large role in Scotus's theological treatises, Godfrey is usually seen through Henry's eyes and as discussed in Henry's Quodlibets, the last of which consisted of a running controversy or dialogue with this other prominent secular master at the University of Paris.

On the question of the origins of possibility and impossibility, it is Henry's peculiar doctrine that provides Scotus with the following question.17 “Does the impossibility of something happening stem primarily from the impossibility of the thing being made, or from the part of God to make it?”18 The wording is roughly the same in the Ordinatio and the since this revision of his bachelor lecture represents Scotus's final view on the subject, we present his critique of Henry exclusively from this later work.19

The problem Henry raises is this: Are things impossible because God cannot make them, or is it rather that God cannot make them because they are impossible? In this question “because” is intended to express some priority of nature. Whether Henry was the first to raise this particular question or not, his solution to it became the starting point for a similar discussion by at least two other Franciscan scholastics, William of Ockham20 and Peter Auriol.21 Obviously the topic was a subject of theological interest half a century later.

Henry's answer to the question in brief is this. The possibility of creature stems from the omnipotence of God; impossibility on the contrary originates with creatures. Hence, creatures are possible because God can make them, whereas God cannot make what is self-contradictory because it is impossible. In terms of priority of nature, we must attribute omnipotence to God before we can attribute possibility to a creature. But with impossibility, it is quite the other way around. We do not attribute impossibility to a creature, Henry claims, because we have first attributed some impotency to God, for impotency has no place whatsoever in an omnipotent creator. It is not something real or positive in God, it is rather a negation. The guiding principle Henry employs is that nothing undignified can be attributed to God. Privations and negations fall into this class, as well as relative perfections, such as creator or cause. We attribute these to God because of some relationship the creatures which he has created contingently bear to their creator.

But does not “omnipotence” designate a relative perfection? Though essential to his nature, does not this attribute imply a relationship to creatures? Here Henry makes a distinction. There are two ways in which God's active potency can be considered: subjectively, or in relation to himself as its subject; objectively, or in reference to the object or term to be produced. The same holds true of passive possibility. It may be regarded subjectively, or in reference to the creature that is said to be possible; or one may consider it objectively, or in reference to the active potency which is able of give it being. Though only a conceptual distinction exists between the objective and subjective aspects of any given potentiality, be it active or passive, this justifies speaking of an order existing between the various phases of active and passive potentiality.

In general, the subjective aspect enjoys a priority with respect to the objective aspect. What is more, whatever positive perfection a creature may possess is derived from some perfection of God. Hence, Henry claims, the following order obtains. If we consider God's omnipotence or power subjectively, i.e., in relation to himself, we find it to be a perfection pure and simple, with no hint of imperfection. Therefore, this must first be attributed to God and in a proper sense. Secondly, the passive potentiality or possibility of the creature, subjectively considered, is derived somehow from God's omnipotence. Thirdly, this same passive potentiality can be considered objectively, or in relation to God, as the active power or source of its possibility. While this relationship to God is something real on the part of the creature (secundum rem et esse), this is not the case with the corresponding relation in God to the creature. The latter can only be mental or conceptual according to our way of speaking (secundum rationem et dici). This latter relation is God's omnipotence in so far as it implies a reference to creatures.

In this way, then, Henry preserves his basic principle that all so-called relative perfections, like privations or negations, are never attributed to God primarily or as such, but solely secondarily. Put another way, this means the correlative perfection is attributed primarily to creatures; but because these same creatures bear a real relation to God, we give him a new name to express his relationship to creatures. For example, we call God “Lord” because we consider the creatures he has created to be his servants.

Henry concludes therefore that, absolutely speaking, active possibility or omnipotence is ascribed to God prior to attributing possibility to creatures; whereas impossibility is first attributed to such fanciful creatures as chimeras or other “impossibles” before speaking of any divine impotency in their regard.

But as both Scotus and Peter Auriol note, Henry retracted this opinion some two years after he had first proposed it. In Quodlibet VIII22 he declares that not only are things possible because God can do them, but what is impossible is so because God cannot do it. In other words, both active possibility and impossibility are prior in God to any corresponding passive possibility or impossibility in creatures.


Scotus attacks Henry's opinion under either of the two ways he seems to present it. Nothing is simply impossible unless there is something repugnant about it existing; and this is not something the impossible acquires because of its relationship to some extrinsic cause, but from its internal constitution or formal nature. It contains mutually repugnant elements.

He argues specifically against Henry's earlier view, because if one affirmation is the cause of another affirmation, then its negation is the cause of the other's negation.

There is, however, another aspect of the possible that needs to be considered. God is not a blind agent whose causality in regard to creatures stems simply from his nature being the sort of thing it is. As an intelligent being he must have first modeled in his mind all possible creatures before actually creating any. All the scholastics accepted this basic teaching of St. Augustine. This knowledge, however, of possible creatures must be secondary to the primary knowledge God has of his own essence. One way of distinguishing the creatural ideas in the mind of God was to suggest they represent the specifically distinct ways in which God's divine perfections can be imitated ad extra.23 God perceiving this aspect of his essence knows the nature of each creature that can be created. This theory gives the creature some kind of fundamental existence in the divine essence as a conceptual relation that is by nature prior to, and is the ontological reason, for the divine knowledge of any given creature that can be created.

Scotus argues against this theory, specifically in the form it was presented by Henry of Ghent, whose conceptions so often provided the occasion for his own discussion.24 Scotus has several problems with this theory. If we presuppose, as he does, that knowledge of a relationship assumes some prior knowledge of the terms, then to say that God sees his essence as imitable is to assert he already has a prior knowledge of the creature before he sees it as related to himself. Furthermore, since a creature has only a limited intelligibility based on its finite entity, to suggest that the divine intellect as “quasi-passive” is somehow informed about the created nature, vilifies the divine intellect.25

Scotus's own escape from this situation was to fall back on notion that appears in various forms among Christian philosophers, the idea that God's intellect is like that of a creative artist that first models what he intends to create in his mind. Not that that “creative” should be understood literally as giving creature real or actual existence. Rather the meaning is that the divine intellct by knowing a creature gives that creature an esse objectivum or esse intelligibile so that the creature may be said to exist as a pure thought object.

It is this notion that Scotus introduces into his theory of the entitative nature of the possible. Scotus distinguishes various instants of nature expressing the logical priority of one thought element over another. If B presupposes A logically, but not vice versa, then A may be said to be prior by nature to B. In this way, Scotus, as the late Paul Vignaux, pointed out presents a kind of phenomenology of divine consciousness. In the first instance of nature, the creature is produced in intelligible being by the divine intellect. In virtue of this the creature has a certain whatness or quiddity. Because this represents what it is, that is to say, that it possesses just this and no other formal nature, it is compatible with real existence in a way a chimera is not, yet it does not actually require existence. Hence in this second instance of nature the creature possesses of itself esse possibile or possibility.26

As for impossibility, Scotus notes that the so-called “impossible” is a figment (figmentum) which consists of two or more positive entities, each of which is possible in itself but is such that it cannot be combined with the others into a truly unitary being. In short the impossible is an attempt to combine two incompatible notions. The result is not a true notion, but a figment that possesses unity in name only. If we ask for the ultimate reason for impossibility, then, we find it formally in the nature of the two or more elements we are seeking to combine: He tells us:

There is. then, there [i.e., in the case of impossibility] this process, that just as God by his intellect, produces a possible in esse possibili, so he produces two formally different beings in esse possibili and these things produced are in themselves formally incompatible to the extent that they cannot exist simultaneously as one thing nor can a third something be composed of them. But this incompatibility which they possess formally, they have of themselves and they have it in some way from that which produced them as from a principle. And the impossibility of the figment as a whole follows from this incapability of these elements which it includes. And from this impossibility of the figment in itself and from the incompatibility of its parts, results its impossibility in relation to some agent.27

Hence for Scotus both possibility and impossibility are due (ex se) to the formal nature of the thing in question, yet if we reduce this inner possibility to its first extrinsic principle, we must admit, according to him, that the possible depends (principiative) upon the intellect as upon a principle. Hence the classic Scotist formula that things are possible formally of themselves but depend principiative on the divine intellect.


  1. See the “Prolegomena” to Vatican 19: 46*: “Lecturam igitur post Quaestiones super Metaphysicam Duns Scotus exaravit, ibique iam multa problemata, in Quaestionibus vix adumbrata, funditus aggreditur solutioneque sua tutius proponit ac defendit.”

  2. The first question in Bk. IV as to whether being is univocal to the categories, for example, is commonly regarded as an early work, though even this seems to have undergone some revision. The question on individuation from Bk. VII (q. 13) judged from its word structure seems to be a late work.

  3. Under the heading II (a) note 32 Santogrossi quotes Scotus's answer to the objection that no entity can be ascribed to a non-existent essence prior to its creation: “there is a great difficulty, however, in saying what sort of entity lies at its base [the non-existent essence] prior to its existence.”

  4. See my introductory article, “Reflections on the Life and Works of Scotus” under the heading “Methodology Controversy.”

  5. In Metaphysics XII, ch. 9, Aristotle describes God as a solipsistic thinker: “Thought is held to be the most divine of things observed by us. … It must be of itself that the divine thought thinks (since it is the most excellent of things), and its thinking is a thinking on thinking.”

  6. See Aristotle, Metaphysics XII, ch. 7-8, for Scotus's challenge to the principle “Whatever is moved is moved by another,” commonly attributed to Aristotle and defended so insistently by his contemporary, Godfrey of Fontaines, see QQ. in Meta. IX, q. 14; also R. Effler, John Duns Scotus and the PrincipleOmne quod movetur ab alio movetur,’ (St. Bonaventure, NY: The Franciscan Institute, 1962).

  7. Ord. I, d. 8, n. 250 (Vatican 4: 294): “De intentione istorum philosophorum, Aristotelis et Avicennae.—Nolo eis imponere absurdiora quam ipsi dicant vel quam ex dictis eorum necessario sequantur, et ex dictis eorum volo rationabiliorem intellectum accipere quem possum.”

  8. See the opening lines of his Tractatus de Primo Principio.

  9. “Deus autem est creativus antequam creet, ergo creabile est possibile creari, non tantum potentia logica, quia illa quantum est de se posset esse sine activa, ut dictum est prius; propter hoc ergo ponitur ista potentia metaphysica in essentia possibili, aliqua entitas qualis non est in chimera.” QQ. in Meta. IX, q. 2, n. 6 (Vivès 7: 534).

  10. Ibid., 534: “Sed de fundamento eius, qualem entitatem habet antequam existat, difficultas est magna, nec hic pertractanda, forte enim videretur diffusius et prolixius principali.”

  11. See William of Alnwick's criticism of Peter Auriol for using the authority of Averroes to interpret the mind of Aristotle. He writes in his Determinationes, q. 11 (Codex Palatinus Latinus 1805), fol. 94v: “Cum enim deberet ostendere intentionem Aristotelis, [Peter] adducit auctoritatem Averroes, quem tamen Scotus non reputat in multis Philosophi commentatorem sed communem mentitorem et intentionis Aristotelis corruptorem. Unde parum Scotus curat de auctoritate illius Commentatoris.”

  12. Aristotle, Metaphysica IV, c. 3 (1005b25-32).

  13. Aristotle, Metaphysica IX, c. 10 (1051b25-28).

  14. John Duns Scotus: God and Creatures, the Quodlibetal Questions, tr. by Alluntis and Wolter (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1975), 3.8; 3.10; 3.11; 61-62.

  15. See A. B. Wolter, Duns Scotus on the Will and Morality (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America, Press, 1986), 157.

  16. See his criticism of Henry's view of the Blessed Virgin Mary's conception in Blane O'Neill and A. B. Wolter, John Duns Scotus: Mary's Architect (Quincy, IL: The Franciscan Press, 1993), [see Part III, “Mariology” under the heading: The Bean and the Millstone].

  17. Henry of Ghent, Quodlibet VI, q. 3 (Paris: J. Badius Ascensius, 1518), f. 208v: “Utrum impossibile quod attribuitur Deo respectu creaturarum, ut quod Deus non possit facere in creaturis vel in rebus contradictoria esse simul, oriatur causaliter ex parte creaturae ut quod non potest fieri in creaturis, quia Deus non potest illud facere an potius econverso?”

  18. Lectura I, d. 43 (Vatican 17: 529-53).

  19. Ordinatio I, d. 43 (Vatican 6: 351-61).

  20. Ockham, Ordinatio I, d. 43, q. 2: “Utrum prius conveniat Deo non posse facere impossibile quam impossibili non posse fieri a Deo,” in Opera theologica IV (St. Bonaventure, NY: Franciscan Institute, 1979), 640.

  21. Petrus Aureoli, Sent. I, d. 42, p. 2, art. 3 (Romae, 1596), p. 993: “An omnipotentia Dei sit causa quod res sint possibiles, vel econverso: quod est inquirere an res sint possibiles quia Deus potest facere, et impossibiles, quia non potest, vel potius econverso, ideo Deus non possit quia res sunt impossibiles.”

  22. Henry, Quodlibet VIII, q. 3 (f. 220D-221E).

  23. See for instance St. Thomas, ST I, q. 15, a. 2; also q. 14, a. 6. Scotus, however, is concerned with Henry of Ghent's version.

  24. Henry of Ghent, Quodlibet V, q. 3, fol. 155: “… ex hoc est idea in Deo, et ex hoc cognoscit alia a se, quod ipse ratione suae perfectionis est immitabilis ad extra, et quod ipse omnes suae commutabilitates cognoscit. …”

  25. Ord. I d. 35, n. 15 (Vatican 6: 250): “Hoc videtur vilificare intellectum divinum, quia tunc erit passivus respectu obiectorum aliorum cognitorum per istas rationes, per quae actuabitur ad cognitionem istarum rationum.”

  26. Ord. I, d. 43, n. 14, (Vatican 6: 358-59): “Per ipsam potentiam “sub ratione qua est omnipotentia” non habet obiectum quod sit primo possibile, sed per intellectum divinum, producentem illud primo in esse intelligibile, et intellectus non est formaliter potentia activa qua Deus dicitur omnipotens; et tunc res producta in tali esse ab intellectu divino—scilicet intelligibili—in primo instanti naturae, habet se ipsa esse possibile in secundo instanti naturae, quia formaliter non repugnat sibi esse et se ipso formaliter repugnat sibi habere esse necessarium ex se (in quibus duobus stat tota ratio omnipotentiae, correspondens rationibus potentiae activae). Non est ergo possibilitas in objecto aliquo modo prior quam sit omnipotentia in Deo, accipiendo omnipotentiam pro perfectione absoluta in Deo, sicut nec creatura est prior aliquo absoluto in Deo. Si tamen res intelligatur esse possibilis antequam Deus per omnipotentiam producat, illud sic est verum, sed in illa possibilitate non est simpliciter prius, sed producitur ab intellectu divino.”

  27. Ibid., n. 16 (Vatican 6: 359-60): “Est ergo ibi iste processus, quod sicut Deus suo intellectu producit possibile in esse possibili, ita producit duo entia formaliter (utrumque in esse possibili), et illa ‘producta’ se ipsis formaliter sunt incompossibilia, ut non possint simul esse unum, neque aliquid tertium ex eis; hanc autem incompossibilitatem, quam habent, formaliter ex se habent, et principiative ab eo—aliquo modo—qui ea producit. Et istam incompossibilitatem eorum sequitur incompossibiltas totius figmenti, includentis ea, et ex ista impossibilitate figmenti in se et ex incompossibilitate partium suarum est incompossibilitas eius respectu cuiuscumque agentis; et ex hoc habent compleri totus processus impossibilitatis rei, quasi ultimus gradus incompossibilitatis vel impossibilitatis sit negatio respectu ad quodcumque agens.”

Mary Elizabeth Ingham (essay date winter 1993)

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 11759

SOURCE: Ingham, Mary Elizabeth. “Scotus and the Moral Order.” American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly 67, no. 1 (winter 1993): 127-50.

[In the following essay, Ingham evaluates Scotus as a moral philosopher and assesses his discussion of the moral life.]

Twenty years ago, scholarship on Scotist thought centered upon the question: Is Scotus a voluntarist? Thanks to the serious research advanced by notable scholars,1 this question no longer preoccupies us. Scotus's “voluntarism,” if the term must be used, is not the radical advocacy of an indetermined will, but the reasoned presentation of a view of reality in which selfless love for the good, and not merely knowledge of the good, is the principal activity characteristic of human perfection.

What interests us today is the ethical model or paradigm which Scotus presents for moral activity. We seek to understand the workings of the intellect in mutuality with a will which is free for self-determination, free to love the highest good in and for itself, free to move beyond concerns of self-preservation. The intricate dynamic between reasoning and willing provides the basis for moral objectivity. Notwithstanding the emphasis placed upon subjective acts of love and choice, the Scotist ethical presentation affirms the existence of a rational, objective moral order. As the following pages will illustrate, the centrality of the will and the personal exercise of freedom by no means ignore the deeper issue of moral objectivity or rational moral norms. In fact, the intricate dynamic between reason and willing constitutes the core of Scotist ethics.2

My purpose here is to offer nothing new in terms of Scotist research but rather to integrate the will's freedom into the larger moral context of right reasoning and virtue. I shall also refer to contemporary scholarship in an effort to acquaint readers with current research on Scotist thought, now appearing in critical editions. Overall, this article has two main components. First, I shall present and clarify the key moral elements within Scotist thinking, showing how their intricate relationship is at the heart of his theory. Second, I shall draw out some reflections for the study of Scotist ethics today. It is my contention that, when we accept Scotus on his own terms, he has much to offer contemporary moral thinking.


It would be unfair to isolate the will's freedom as the sole moral element within Scotist thought. For within the natural constitution of the will, the Franciscan identifies broader dispositions toward moral goodness which incorporate rationality and excellence or virtue. Key moral aspects, like freedom, moral goodness, rationality and virtue, are parts of a human dynamic interwoven within the domain of choice. It is no surprise, however, that for Scotus all four are presented from the perspective of the will.


Love, and not knowledge, is the supreme expression of human perfection. Consequently, the Scotist analysis of the will and its operation of excellence in freely choosing the good is firmly grounded upon a conviction about the goodness of natural human willing. Not all choice is self-centered choice; not all desire is egotistical desire. Within the will's natural constitution lies a double orientation toward objects around it.

Some objects have value as means to other, better ends. These objects are useful goods, called bonum utile in the Patristic tradition. Money would be such a good.

There exist other objects which possess a type of absolute goodness. These are called bonum honestum, goods worthy of love not because of any use we make of them, but because of their internal value. These absolute goods ought to be loved in and for themselves, never possessed or used to further egotistical motives. Aristotle calls eudaimonia such a good, and for Kant, the person possesses absolute value. Scotus identifies God as the primary candidate for this type of good and draws forth moral norms from the primary commandment to love God above all things and for God alone.

The will is endowed with the natural capacity to respond to these two types of goods. Following Anselm, Scotus identified within the natural constitution of the will both a desire for perfection and well-being (affectio commodi) and a natural orientation for moral objectivity, that is, to love according to the value of the object (affectio justitiae).3 These two affections in the will are directed toward the utile and honestum respectively.

Allan Wolter, OFM, clarifies these desires in his analysis of native freedom within the will.4 The will's natural (or native) rational freedom for self-determination does not exist in a vacuum; rather, it always exists in relationship to the Good (as object of desire), and this in two ways. The will can either love the Good as good in and for itself alone (affectio justitiae) or the will can love the Good as possession to be used (affectio commodi). Wolter argues convincingly for the centrality of this distinction within the will at the heart of Scotist ethical thinking.

Affectio justitiae is the key moral desire within the will. It is for Wolter the basis for the Scotist contention that moral truth is accessible to natural reason.5 As the will's higher tendency for justice or objective goodness, it represents the ultimate specific difference of the will.6 Thus, for Scotus, the will is not simply desire but rational desire. Selfless or other-centered loving is an activity for which the will is naturally constituted, although its maximal perfection can only be realized with the aid of divine grace.7

Beneath this double orientation toward the good is found the will's capacity for self-determination. This is the heart of willing. Scotus identifies two manifestations of this capacity: the external act of choice and the internal act of self-control. The will looks out toward objects for choice and is in constant control of its own act of willing. It can, in the presence of an object, suspend judgment and choose not to choose. “In regard to any object, then, the will is able not to will or nill it, and can suspend itself from eliciting any act in particular with regard to this or that.”8

To understand the importance of this internal freedom, we can refer to an early Scotist distinction between natural and free causality.9 In a very early commentary on Aristotle's Metaphysics, Scotus discusses the difference between irrational and rational potencies. Their difference, he states, is identical to that between what is natural and what is free. Natural causes operate according to necessary laws and do not deviate from a pre-ordained effect. Free causes, in contrast, are capable of self-determination and admit of different effects. Consequently, the will (a free cause) is superior to the intellect (a natural cause), because the will is capable of self-determination and the intellect is not. Since the will alone operates “along with reason,” Scotus concludes that it is the only rational faculty.

As the work of Lawrence Roberts10 has shown, this distinction has clear implications for questions of causal responsibility. The dimension of self-control or self-determination, defining the realms of praise and blame, is the basis for the moral order. Insofar as the will is within its own control, it is capable of moral choices: choices for which it can be held responsible, at least to some degree. Freedom for self-mastery is then a significant element of moral goodness.

The exemplar for human freedom is, of course, the divine will. The background provided by God's action as the supreme paradigm for Scotus's discussion of human freedom is no small element in his overall theory. It heightens the importance and value of moral objectivity and the essential perfection of freedom (and thus, the will) as an imitation of and participation in divine activity. Correct understanding of the will and freedom within Scotist thought is impossible in abstraction from consideration of divine perfections.

Against those who, like Aquinas, consider the will only a passive appetite to be directed by the intellect, Scotus distinguishes within the will both a passive (natural) and, more importantly, an active (free) aspect. “Properly speaking, however, the will is more than an appetite, because it is a free appetite coupled with reason …”11 Thus it is a desire which reasons. The natural or passive dimension can be understood more clearly when we compare it with other natural objects which tend toward perfection. One such example used by Scotus is the natural inclination of a stone to the earth's center. This is no different from the stone's weight. Hence, the will's natural inclination toward the good (desire) is no different from its operation as free, rational will.12 The term “natural will” then, refers to the will insofar as it is inclined to its proper perfection (rational freedom). This can be termed “passive” in a formal sense only, since by “natural” will Scotus means the inclination of the will toward its own perfection, its perfectibility or the tendency by which it inclines passively to receive what perfects it,13 just as a stone naturally inclines passively toward rest.

The will can be considered doubly: as active, that is operative and choosing its act, or as passive, not insofar as it receives the act, but insofar as it is receptive of passivity for the supernatural, of which Augustine speaks in De Moribus Ecclesiae. Hence all passions of the will are reduced to love.14

This passive/active distinction enables Scotus to accept a definition of the will which places within it both the capacity for free choice (and thus mastery over its own acts) as well as an orientation toward God (and thus an openness to a perfection greater than itself).

The perfection of freedom, which begins in the will as self-mastery, is gradually realized via the will's natural love for the good in itself and with the help of grace. Hence by virtue of its own acts of choice the will moves toward an increasingly better exercise of love for the highest good. This entire dynamic of moral praxis takes place against the background of divine goodness and within a context where the natural and supernatural collaborate. The harmony of grace with nature, a major concern for Scotus, is especially operative within the moral domain.15


Given the Scotist insistence upon the primacy of the will for self-determination, it is important to understand how he presents moral goodness. It is certainly not sufficient to state that the human will defines goodness by its own choices. While this does characterize the divine will, the finite will has no such moral authority. Although the presence of affectio justitiae within the natural constitution of the will does create the possibility for a self-perfecting moral dynamic, there is much more to the Scotist presentation than the interaction of two finite affections.

Like most aspects of Scotist thought, the discussion of goodness involves intricate levels of relationships. In Ordinatio I, 17 Scotus defines moral goodness as “the harmony of all circumstances [belonging to an act] in accord with right reason.”16 From this we see that moral goodness is determined by an appeal to right reason or prudence.

In Quodlibetal Question 17,17 Scotus places the rational or moral dimension within a larger dynamic of goodness. He identifies four possible orders of goodness: the natural, moral, charitable and meritorious.

In this connection note the order that obtains between the bare act to which blame or praise is imputable, the virtuous act, which stems from moral virtue, the charitable act, and the meritorious act. The first expresses a relationship to the potency which freely elicits the act; the second adds to this a relationship to the virtue which inclines to such an act, or rather to the rule of virtue, i.e., a dictate of right reason; the third expresses a relationship to charity which inclines the will to such an act; the fourth adds a relationship to the divine will which accepts the act in a special way. The third adds some goodness over and above that conferred by the second and is itself required for the fourth, not indeed by the very nature of things, but rather by a disposition of the accepting will.18

It is clear from this passage that the rational perspective is one dimension of goodness among many within the act. There is no act which can be evaluated in abstraction from the will which chooses it (the natural order), reason which dictates it (the moral order), charity which should inspire it (the order of perfection), and the divine will which accepts it (the order of merit). Every act can be judged according to a fourfold order and is capable of degrees of goodness, where the higher dimensions depend upon the lower.

A second aspect present here is the placement of moral or virtuous goodness between the act as free and the act as inspired by charity. Although freedom of choice is a pre-requisite for moral actions (making them human), and thus for moral goodness, a freely chosen act is not automatically a moral act. The act must also fall within the appropriate relationship to right reason, the rule of virtue.

A third and final aspect is the manner in which moral goodness is placed within an order leading toward charity and ultimately, to divine reward. All four orders, the higher along with the lower, constitute the complete reality within which goodness exists and can be defined. Although the highest order (merit) is not required “by the very nature of things,” there is nothing in this text to indicate that the divine will is predisposed not to accept human actions. This means that divine activity is not absent from the Scotist consideration of moral goodness, yet it is not an essential element in the morally good act. Also implied here is that all moral goodness points beyond itself to the dimension of eternal reward.19

The necessity for grace in the completion of the human journey toward perfection is an important aspect which supports Scotus's ethical insights. God is intimately present to the Scotist universe, both as epitome of creative freedom and as gracious judge whose acceptance (acceptatio) raises natural goodness to its supernatural reward.20 That Scotus introduces the order of charity in this question (where earlier texts had just spoken of three orders: natural, moral and gratuitous), may indicate his desire to make precise just how far the human capacity for goodness extends.21 In this passage, charity is presented as natural fulfillment of virtuous goodness. Thus, the human capacity for goodness (which is based upon love) extends naturally to acts of charity or generosity out of love for God.

We can go even deeper into the dimensions of moral goodness with a passage from Ordinatio II, 7. Here Scotus deals with what he calls the “natural dimension,” that is, a moral act insofar as it is ordered to an appropriate object.

The first [order of goodness] pertains to volition because the object willed is something appropriate to this act, not merely on natural grounds, as sunlight is suited to an act of vision, but according to the dictates of right reason. This is the first moral goodness, and hence it can be called “generic” because it is as it were the material basis for all further goodness in the category of mores. … The second goodness pertains to volition on this score that the act is elicited by the will under such circumstances as right reason approves of in full.22

It appears here that the first two orders mentioned in Quodlibet 17, the natural and moral, are intimately related to one another by means of the notion of volition. It belongs to the will to be in command of acts of volition: this is the natural dimension of willing which entails freedom for self-determination. In addition, it belongs to the will to act rationally; this is its moral or virtuous dimension. The appropriate object referred to in the passage from Ord. [Ordinatio] II, 7 above is the most important of the moral conditions, and volition of the appropriate object is fundamental to any discussion of moral goodness. Moral grounds are rational, and at the most fundamental level of being within an act, there is a rational order of appropriateness which exists between the will and its object. This level is not the voluntary level of choice (volition) nor is it the purely natural level of the will's general orientation toward the good. It is a pre-volitional rationality, or better still, a pre-volitional disposition toward rationality, one whose metaphysical foundation is the rational soul and whose primary principle is “Do good and avoid evil.”23

Because of the importance of the object in the determination of moral goodness, Scotus suggests that some acts may be “indifferent” or morally neutral. These are acts whose object is not inappropriate or irrational, but which all the same is not approriate in a moral sense.24 Thus, there are some human acts which, though freely chosen, do not fall into the category of “moral” for lack of an appropriate object of desire.25

Despite the importance of an appropriate object as primary moral dimension, this alone is not sufficient to constitute the fullness of goodness. Here the will must choose in light of all circumstances approved of by right reason.26 It is not simply the object which determines moral goodness, but the use of the object which is also morally relevant. Moral goodness then has both objective and subjective components: proper objects should be loved according to a manner appropriate to rational behavior. Here is a clear indication of the importane of both Aristotle and Augustine for Scotist thought. The Franciscan brings together both the means-end relationship of the Stagirite and the uti-frui (use-delight) understanding of the Bishop of Hippo.

Several conclusions are to be drawn from the Scotist presentation of moral goodness. First, there is not just one manner in which the goodness of an act may be considered, but several, depending upon a number of perspectives. The higher dimensions of moral or virtuous goodness refer to the relationship existing between the will, circumstances surrounding the act, the appropriateness of the object and the overall conformity of the choice to right reason. Moral goodness is situated at an intermediate order between natural goodness (that goodness relative to appropriate objects and having suitable circumstances) and meritorious goodness (that goodness accepted and rewarded by God). It is a function of reason and will, defined generally in terms of the harmony of all aspects under the direction of the virtue of prudence.

Second, the fundamental metaphysical orientation of the will towards the good is at the heart of appetite toward any object whatsoever. Where the will's appetite is ordered toward an appropriate object, this constitutes the natural dimension of goodness within the act. For the act to be moral or virtuous, right reason must adjudicate between the object and circumstances surrounding the object (time, place, manner), to harmonize the act of love with all aspects required by reason. If the act were done out of love, or from a charitable motivation, its goodness would be enhanced even more. And finally, were divine acceptance to enter into the dynamic, the act could be called meritorious.

Finally, it is clear from this how moral goodness is in fact a product of the interchange between affectiones commodi and justitiae. The natural orientation toward the good which defines the will enters into a rational dynamic with the notion of an absolute good. Natural goodness is a prerequisite for moral rectitude. The good will is a rational will seeking its own perfection and order. Since the good act is morally good not as means to a good end, but rather as the conformity of all aspects to the demands of right reason, reason objectively guarantees moral goodness. Harmony of all circumstances justifies the morally good act. Right reasoning is norm or measure, a rational dynamic operative between intellection and choice.


While love is clearly at the heart of Scotus's philosophical enterprise, it is ordered and rational loving which appears as the moral goal. Scotus clearly distinguishes between desire and love, stating that desire, while also an experience of the will, is not always ordered.27 The rational act of love is an other-centered act, whose goal is not possession or use, but benevolence and charity.

The noblest human act is love for the highest good. This act should not be motivated by self-interest (affectio commodi) but out of respect for goodness as absolute and infinite (affectio justitiae). The goal of human moral life is the perfection of such love, not only in regard to God, but to all persons as having God-given value and to creation as a divine gift.

The two-fold structure of affections within the will appears within the operation of human desire and love as it relates to the goods within the world according to use (possession) or respect (honor). The rational person seeks to love goods of value in an appropriate manner, and to use certain lesser goods insofar as they promote goods of value. Such perfection of human loving would both imitate the divine act of love (which loves all reality in accordance with its value) and emerge as the result of the process of self-perfecting loving within the will. This development of the natural human capacity for ordered love takes place under the direction of prudence, the primary virtue of the practical life.28

For Scotus, love for God is the self-evident first principle of praxis. Indeed, “Deus diligendus est” (God is to be loved) is that per se nota and necessary axiom according to which the entire cosmos (including divine activity)29 is ordered. While this principle is based upon the Aristotelian and Stoic maxim: “Good is to be pursued, evil avoided,” it receives an obvious theological tone, once Scotus demonstrates that God is infinite being, and therefore infinite goodness. To pursue the good is in fact to pursue God, since the divinity is the proper object of the human will.

Deus diligendus est” is the first principle of the natural order (or natural law) and admits of no exception. No human action, motivated by love for God and by the desire to promote God's glory, can fail to be morally good, even where the action cannot be executed.30 The moral question for Scotus is the question of motivation. Why we do what we do, and whether or not our action is informed by love for God, are perhaps more important than the act itself. The act of almsgiving, for example, may admit of several motivations.31 One might have the mere desire to appear generous in the eyes of others. The highest moral motivation, however, derives from the nature of the act itself: generosity to the poor out of love is an appropriate moral act. It belongs to the highest and purest moral motivation to perform such an act simply because it is the right thing to do. It belongs to the prudential will to perfect such motivation.

As first principle, “Deus diligendus est” belongs to moral science as intellectual habitus and is accessible to the human will via affectio justitiae.32 This axiom is grasped by the will insofar as it is rational, that is insofar as it operates “with reason” [cum ratione] and has to do with opposites,33 that is, insofar as it has any control over its own acts (to will or not) and over the object of its act (to will this or that).

Here is that pre-volitional rationality referred to earlier. The will is constituted to seek the good as known in a manner which is not necessitated by any external force, but which is realized according to self-determination. The rational information available to the will appears prior to any single act of willing. It belongs to the structure of willing to tend toward what is good. Thus, the object (the good) is primary to any activity of the will. The proper object of any faculty is determined by means of reflection upon the nature of the agent and the power by which the agent acts.34

The central moral issue for Scotus, however, seems to be found not in identifying objects which are good (since all creation is both good and ordered), but rather working out the adequation of loving relative to each object, and thus the increasing control of affectio justitiae over affectio commodi. The solution to this problem lies in a reflection upon the scale of value present in creation.

The highest moral act is absolute love for God,35 because God is infinite goodness and, as such, the object most worthy of such love. Scotus states clearly (Ord. III, 27) that love for God is a natural activity accessible to all moral agents.36

If, however, we are naturally capable of love for the highest object, why do we fail? In Scotus's discussion of the fall of Lucifer (Ord. II, 6, 2), he suggests three possibilities which explain how a rational will can know the highest object and still fail to respond appropriately. One might try to possess God as an object or fail to respect the appropriate divine timetable, or even wish to control the reception of a divine gift, by trying to earn what is given freely. In every case, the issue of control is at stake, whether it be control of God or of those circumstances surrounding divine friendship. All three reflect the triumph of affectio commodi over affectio justitiae.37 All three are to be regulated through the operation of right reasoning (prudence).

In the same manner that the will is constituted according to a double structure, prudence has a double dimension.38 The first is termed “moral science” and involves intellectual knowledge of the first practical principle (“Deus diligendus est”) as well as any moral norms which might flow logically from this. These would be norms promoting love for God. The second dimension is referred to prudence “as such.” Here is the operation of the will in the rational perfection of self-control. The prudential dynamic belongs to the operation of affectio justitiae and is immediate to praxis.

I say the definition of prudence ought to be understood as active, proximate habit, acquired from acts. Just as arts are the habit of the expert, so are actions to prudence, since the habits of arts and morals are quasi remote to direction, because they are universal; but prudence, generated by actions, is particular and near to direction. This is necessary, otherwise no practical science [would exist] which deals with art or praxis.39

As these two dimensions of prudence apply to the three areas of weakness mentioned above, we see that prudence as moral science deals adequately with the first, since to know God as the highest good is to know a being of absolute value, and thus not an object for selfish possession. As virtue, prudence controls both the second and third areas of weakness, both of which deal with the human response. Prudence looks for the adequation of all circumstances (time, place, manner) in accord with right reason or the rule of justice. Thus, the prudential will is especially sensitive to timing and to the degree of control to be exercised over a divine gift.

The science-virtue moral dynamic within the prudential will is developed over time. Prudence is an acquired virtue, whose natural excellence involves rational norms and particular circumstances. Like the artist, the moral agent seeks to create beauty, balancing responses with concrete situations, under the guidance of general principles.40

Love for God is not the only piece of rational information at hand for moral actions. There is found within revelation a more precise set of norms by which the first principle of praxis is to be actualized. Found in the last seven commands of the Decalogue, these norms deal with love for others. If we truly seek the moral goal, then we must follow the command to love one another.41

Thus, the rational will has access to moral information and develops the excellence of self-control through the virtue of prudence.42 As moral science, prudence determines right action based upon an understanding of means leading to a designated end (love for God); as practical virtue it directs this action toward a morally good end.43

The relationship which exists between the virtue of prudence and right appetite is that of mutual conformity and is a dynamic interchange,44 where reasoning informs right action and desire points rational choice toward the correct object. The operation of virtuous loving (or moral goodness) involves moral science as normative term, desire (which when perfected becomes right appetite) and the existence of an appropriate object which corresponds to such love. The virtue of prudence joins these and, in so doing, enters the dynamic both as regulator and as product. It is prudence as right reasoning which links desire to an object and to circumstances consistent with the norms of moral science. As intellectual disposition or virtue, prudence develops greater facility over time and strengthens the will in its ability to control itself and to direct its love appropriately. One might argue, then, that prudence is the dynamic product resulting from the natural interaction of affectiones commodi and justitiae in the presence of the good object. It is the acquired excellence of the rational will finalized by what is good.

In this way, prudence is that virtue which is naturally generated by the rational will within its operation of loving. The natural appetite for moral rectitude (affectio justitiae) enters into dynamic interaction with the desire for the good (affectio commodi). Increased interaction of the two affections focuses and develops the natural ability to reason and choose rightly. Thus prudence is the acquired habit of rational, moral excellence. It is the direct result of the will's capacity for rational loving, its fundamental love for goodness, and the objective order in nature constituted by divine love.


If love for God is the highest moral act, one of which the will is naturally capable, then which virtue corresponds to it? It is in Scotus's discussion of this question that we uncover the intricacy of nature and grace at the heart of the Franciscan's vision of human activity. In Ord. III, 27 Scotus clearly maintains that love for God is a natural act of which the will is capable, and yet it is charity (a theological virtue) which intensifies and perfects this act of love. To understand how the act of love has both moral and theological dimensions, we must consider briefly how any virtue affects the will.

From the will's perspective, moral virtue is directly related to ordered loving, and the result of the operation of prudence. The virtues are proper dispositions for love which intensify the activity of the will. Virtues result from frequent choices and are inclined toward a repetition of similar acts. “… therefore since the will is not more determined of itself toward one [act] than the intellect, a certain facility inclining to similar acts can be generated in it by frequently elicited acts, and this I call virtue.”45 There is no virtue separated from the operation of right reason, “… since virtue is an elective habit determined by right reason …”46 Thus, virtue is an integral part of moral life.

It is, however, not the most important part.47 Just as free choice is morally superior to natural inclination, the will's rational and self-determined activity dominates the discussion of virtue as moral disposition in Scotus's presentation of the moral dynamic. This is not surprising, since the virtues possess a natural quality, insofar as they are the product of repetition and can become unreflective habits.

Since virtue is not the central element in Scotus's vision, the moral virtues (justice, courage, temperance) are not necessarily related to one another,48 but are each related to prudence. Thus, one may possess a single virtue in the absence of any one of the others, just as one may possess one of the five senses without another.49 There is no natural or necessary connection among the virtues; there is, however, a necessary connection of each to prudence.

The theological virtues (faith, hope and charity) belong to a superior order, since they are infused and not acquired. Charity perfects the highest nature of the will (affectio justitiae) and hope perfects affectio commodi in directing them to God. Thus, the theological virtues relate to the object of the affections (external dynamic) and the moral virtues perfect the exercise of the affections (internal dynamic).50 The theological virtues finalize the operation of the will, since they are directed toward God alone, infinite goodness and the ultimate object of all love.

The virtues, whether moral or theological, intensify the activity of the will. Therefore, they do not replace the will as central moral element but rather increase the ability of the will to will properly. Scotus explains this relationship clearly in Ord. I, 17:

However, it [the will] works less perfectly without the habitus [virtue] than with it (and this granted equal effort on the part of the will) as when two causes concur toward one effect, one alone cannot by itself [cause] the effect as perfectly as the two can together. And in this way [the position] is saved whereby the act is more intense [intensior] coming from the will and virtue than from the will alone … because two concurring causes can produce a more perfect effect than either one alone,—which effect however in itself is a whole and per se one from two causes, but in diverse relations to the causes.51

Here he explains simply the influence of any virtue (as habitus) upon the moral act. This explanation takes the form of a causal analysis, where he examines the double order (natural and free) which produce the moral act. Together, natural and free choice produce moral excellence, since the fullest perfection of the moral act requires both the choice of a rational will and the influence of natural disposition.52 Virtue, habitual excellence, is a disposition toward goodness developed over time and in accord with moral reasoning. The virtues offer that natural, habitual facility which enhances the will's ability to make the right moral choices.

It is clear to Scotus that, while virtue does not replace the will as central moral element, an act performed solely “by the will” in the presence of no natural inclination or disposition would indeed be less perfect than one performed both freely (through the will) and naturally (through virtue).53 The moral act is one, yet it has two separate relational orders: to the will and to virtue. The moral order does not exist independently from the natural. As we saw above, both in the treatment of the will itself and of moral goodness, Scotus nowhere identifies a “purely moral” dimension within the will which does not somehow rely upon what is natural. This does not, however, prevent the will from acting freely, and thus in a way which might, at times, run counter to natural inclination. To say the will functions freely is not to say that it is totally separated from natural dispositions.

Just as the moral order is not independent from the natural, so too is it intimately related to the higher order of merit, whose primary virtue is charity. Love for God is, of course, the supreme virtue and goal of the moral life. In contrast to hope, which is directed to the perfection (in God) of the desire for gain or satisfaction (affectio commodi), charity seeks no personal reward. In charity there is no trace of selfish love or concupiscence. Charity increases the natural capacity of the will to love God not as a personal good, but as that infinite good which alone is worthy of absolute love.54

As formal object of the act of charity, God also responds to human love, creating a bond of reciprocity and satisfaction. This is the bond of friendship (amor amicitiae), that state of mutuality in which a person loves God with her whole heart and is loved in return. Consciousness of this friendship produces delight, which, while not being the motivation for the relationship, always accompanies it. Friendship with God is, then, the highest human activity and the goal of the moral life.55 Christian love is best expressed in that love of friendship which looks beyond selfish interests toward the good of the other. Thus the goal of all moral action is an act of selfless love, totally determined by the value of the beloved. This is the perfection of affectio justitiae.

First I say that charity … is called that habitus by which God is held dear … since God, who is common good, does not wish to be anyone's personal good … therefore, God, infusing the habitus by which the soul moves orderly and perfectly toward him, gives the habitus by which he is held dear, as common good and to be loved jointly by others …56

Within the moral dimension of human activity, the theological virtue of charity never threatens the will's primacy. What natural reason commands (love for the highest good) charity intensifies (love for God alone). In this manner charity specifies the will's love for God as its object and introduces the will into the order of merit.

The meritorious order transcends the moral, as divine liberality rewards the charitable act. Every moral act is thus potentially meritorious, given proper motivation. The virtue of charity lies at the frontier between the orders of morality and merit. Love for God alone is within the capacity of the natural will, and yet the intensity of love for God is increased with the presence of charity as infused inclination.

The human moral domain involves a complex relationship between inclination and choice under the dictates of right reason and the influence of grace. As to the specifically moral dimension of any act, this has no other efficient causes than those which enable the will to perform a naturally good act of loving in conjunction with the rational determination that an action is in accord with right reason, and thus the correct thing to do. Moral perfection requires a dynamic for loving which is both natural and free, and involves the self-perfecting operation of the will. The natural inclination of the will toward the good, and that mutuality of will and intellect in affectio justitiae create a process by which moral excellence, that excellence of the will in conformity with right reason, is attained.

Meritorious perfection is the fulfillment of the moral order. Here the will's highest motivation is rewarded as it enters into a intensified personal dynamic of friendship with God, no longer seen as “infinite goodness” but as this very personal being, whose essence is selfless love and who wills to be in relationship with all. Thus the moral order perfects internal motivation while the meritorious finalizes the moral act by creating a relationship with God.


Scotus presents a portrait of moral life which may contribute significantly to contemporary moral discussion. He struggles to harmonize the best of Aristotelian thinking with Christianity,57 especially within the Augustinian tradition. In this way, his discussion deals both with objective goodness and its foundation (in God) and with the subjective realm of human moral choice. While highlighting the will's freedom, he does not endow the finite will with the authority to create goodness. While emphasizing the role of right reason, he refuses to maintain a position which dismisses natural inclination as morally insignificant or detrimental. The will is naturally and rationally constituted to achieve moral excellence.

In this concluding section, I shall highlight aspects of this moral vision which appear to be particularly interesting, especially in light of contemporary moral discussion. These aspects involve both pre-suppositions and implications.

First, let us consider several pre-suppositions. Given his position within the Augustinian tradition (with its heavy emphasis on Original sin), Scotus presents an extremely optimistic view of human nature. The human will is naturally constituted for goodness, attracted to goodness and enters into its own dynamic toward goodness naturally. There is indeed a gap between knowing what should be done and having sufficient self-control to do it. This is the human condition yet not an insurmountable problem. The gap between what is and what ought to be can be overcome by means of the internal, rational dynamic of the will's affections, aided by divine grace.

In addition, the human moral will is rational. The ability to perceive goodness, to make sound moral judgments based upon knowledge of the good and awareness of norms for goodness are both present within the natural constitution of the will. Human choices move naturally toward ordered, rational consistency. The continual interaction of affectio commodi and affectio justitiae promote increasingly higher levels of moral awareness. This process of self-perfecting rational free choice does not occur in the absence of natural human inclinations toward such perfection.

Finally, a twofold order undergirds all reality. This is the order which is both natural and free. Together these two orders cut across the moral domain and constitute a natural human dynamic toward self-transcendence. Every human moral act points to an infinite goodness and rationality against which it is measured.

To say that there is a twofold order sustaining reality is to identify causality, and not ethics, at the heart of Scotist thought. His description of the primacy of the will and the subsequent relationship of the will to other elements within the moral realm (goodness, reason and virtue) are approached from the perspective of the essence of a free cause, one which is capable of self-determination and indifferent to external influence. Thus, his thought presents a metaphysical analysis of the components of the moral realm. Nowhere does Scotus identify pure autonomy as the moral goal. The will is autonomous, and capable of free choices, but in light of rationality and the natural disposition to love what is good in and for itself.

In addition to these pre-suppositions, Scotus's choice to organize moral elements around the will and, thus, to place love at the core of the moral life has several interesting implications for contemporary moral discussion. Perhaps most important among these is the fact that, for Scotus, the moral order is a relational order. Not only is the will related to the highest good as its object, and to rationality, but the functioning of this relational order produces an ethic of mutuality whose moral goal is friendship with God and whose exemplar is the Trinity.

The moral experience of friendship with God creates an expanding dynamic of inclusivity. Love for God does not exclude love for self and others. Consciousness of these reciprocal relationships produces delight within the will, as it experiences moral excellence. Joy, then, is the hallmark of the truly moral agent. With mutuality, joy and friendship as the moral goal, there is no sense in which true moral excellence can be considered an individual effort or achievement. The moral person is always in relation to goodness, to God, to others. Scotus advocates an other-centered moral dynamic: love motivated by the value of the other, love culminating in self-sacrifice for the other. This moral goal creates a community where each member seeks the good of all. The fullest expression of moral life is relationship to others, not in manipulation or control, but in respect and love.

Here, then, is no moral vision based upon obligation as primary motivation, but upon a love which rationally seeks to respond appropriately to the goodness that manifests itself in each being and to extend membership in the moral community to all. It is a particularly Christian ethical vision where love for God dominates all love, but does not exclude others. In imitation both of Trinitarian mutuality and Incarnational selflessness, human moral action is that action whereby persons enter into the dynamic of divinity.

Moral life begins with the rational perception of goodness. It develops through the interaction of the desire for possession and the desire to love justly. Its culmination is that mutuality characteristic of friendship, where each person seeks the good of another and experiences profound delight. The moral goal is then a work of art, harmonized both internally (in the will's operation) and externally (in the performance of moral actions).

Thus, Scotus's moral perspective offers an important basis from which to approach a number of areas of contemporary discussion. First the affirmation of goodness in all being and the emphasis upon respect for creation as a divine gift has particular implications for an ethic of environmental concern. The order of nature is one upon which all moral action depends, therefore nature is neither to be abused nor manipulated.

Second, the importance of mutuality among persons with creation, with one another and with God clearly has implications for personal, national and international dimensions. The First World-Third World situation, where multi-national corporations defy regulation and promote exploitation of poorer peoples runs counter to the moral goal. Profit-dominated capitalism does not promote relationships of cooperation and friendship, but stimulates competition.

In addition, the disproportionate consumption of the goods of the earth by a fraction of its inhabitants cannot be morally justified. If mutuality is the moral goal, then all persons have a right to share equally in all goods. Private property is not an absolute right. The use of goods takes second place to the value of persons. National policies which treat persons as objects run counter to the creation of a truly moral society.

We can learn much from Scotus's presentation of the moral life. When moral excellence is not an intellectual achievement, but rather the perfection of selfless love, then the human heart is called to do what it does best: respond rationally to what is good. Self-controlled love is the highest moral response. In a universe created freely out of a divine act of rational love, a universe overflowing with goodness, the human will moves gradually toward better and better choices about the many goods which surround it. To be a moral agent for Scotus is to develop continually the ability to love in an orderly manner. For this perfection, the will is naturally and rationally well-equipped.


  1. Significant in this regard have been publications by Bernardine Bonansea, “Duns Scotus' Voluntarism” in John Duns Scotus: 1265-1965. Ryan/Bonansea (ed.) (Washington: Catholic University Press, 1965), 83-121; “The Divine Will in the Teaching of Duns Scotus” in Antonianum, 56 (1981): 296-335; William Frank, “Duns Scotus' Concept of Willing Freely: What Divine Freedom Beyond Choice Teaches Us” in Franciscan Studies, 42 (1982): 68-89; Laszlo Paskai, “Die Heutige Freiheitsproblematik im Lichte der Skotistichen Freiheitslehre” in Deus et homo ad mentem I. Duns Scoti, (Rome: 1972), 401-07.; Lawrence Roberts, “A Comparison of Duns Scotus and Thomas Aquinas on Human Freedom of Choice” in Homo et mundus, (Rome: 1984), 265-72; “The Contemporary Relevance of Duns Scotus' Doctrine of Human Freedom” in Regnum hominis et regnum Dei, (Rome: 1976), 535-44 and “John Duns Scotus and the Concept of Human Freedom” in Deus et homo ad mentem I. Duns Scoti, (Rome: 1972), 317-25; Roberto Zavalloni, “Personal Freedom and Scotus' Voluntarism” in De Doctrina I. Duns Scoti II, (Rome: 1968), 613-27.

  2. This term is, of course, used in a restricted sense. It is well known that Scotus presents nowhere in his writings a full-blown ethical theory, or even one to compete with that of his famous predecessor, Thomas Aquinas. What Scotus does present, however, is a fascinating analysis of the will and the metaphysical explanation of freedom. These are by no means foreign to an ethical theory. Scotist ethics has little textual material from which to draw conclusions. What can occur, however, is study of implications possible from his presentation and centrality of freedom.

  3. Cf. Ordinatio II, 6, 2, n. 8 (Vivès 12, 353-55). Portions of this text appear in Wolter, John Duns Scotus on the Will and Morality, (Washington, DC: Catholic University Press, 1986), 463-46.

  4. Allan Wolter, “Native Freedom of the Will as a Key to the Ethics of Scotus” in Deus et Homo ad Mentem I. Duns Scoti, (Rome: 1972), 359-70, reprinted in The Philosophical Theology of John Duns Scotus, Marilyn McCord Adams (ed), (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1990), 148-62.

  5. “If one considers the nature of any rational being, the fact that he is endowed with free will as Scotus conceives this, and that there exists but one supreme good, infinitely perfect and the author of man, then it follows that no act is more becoming to such an agent or has a more suitable object than to love God for his own sake. This friendship love of God is the one will act that has all that is required for complete moral goodness by reason of the object alone or by reason of its generic goodness. Such love as it were contains its own good intention. It can never be ill-timed, out of place, or inordinate.” Wolter, “Native Freedom,” 365. Wolter refers to texts taken from Ord. II, d. 6, q. 2 (Vivès 12: 346); IV, d. 26 n. 3 (Vivès 19: 148); and Rep. Par. IV, d. 28, n. 6 (Vivès 24: 377-78).

  6. “This native liberty or root freedom of the will, in short, is a positive bias or inclination to love things objectively or as right reason dictates.” Wolter, “Native Freedom,” 362.

  7. Scotus lays the groundwork for this position in his Prologue to the Sentence Commentary where he insists that the natural desire is fulfilled by a power beyond nature, and that this position is superior to that of the philosophers who argue for nature. “Igitur in hoc magis dignificatur natura, quam si suprema sibi possibilis poneretur illa naturalis; nec est mirum quod ad maiorem perfectionem sit capacitas passiva in aliqua natura quam eius causalitas activa se extendat.” Ord. Prol., p. 1, q. u. n. 75 (Vatican 1:46).

  8. Unde quodlibet objectum potest voluntas non velle nec nolle, et a quolibet actu in particulari potest se suspendere circa hoc vel illud. Ord. IV, suppl. d. 49, qq. 9-10, Codex A f. 282va (cf. Wolter's Will and Morality, 194). In Rep. I A, 39, f. 116ra, Scotus refers to the will's indifference regarding diverse acts, objects and effects. “Voluntas enim nostra indifferens est contingenter ad actus diversos, quam mediantibus est ad plura objecta et ad plures effectus. Prima indifferentia est imperfectionis; secunda est perfectionis et ideo ponenda est in divinis. Indifferentia ergo ad effectus non est prima indifferentia, quia alia est prior ea in ratione voliti vel non voliti; et nec illa indifferentia quae est respectu actuum diversorum, quia in hoc, i.e. in voluntate, est potentia receptiva respectu actuum. Similiter actus unius objecti. Amoveamus ergo ista quae sunt imperfectionis a voluntate divina, quae non est indifferens ad actus per quos respiciat obiecta diversa, quia hoc est imperfectionis in nobis, sed actus eius, scilicet divinae voluntatis, est unus et simplex et indifferens ad diversa objecta.” On the authenticity of this text, see Allan Wolter's “Scotus' Paris Lectures on God's Knowledge of Future Events” in The Philosophical Theology, p. 286: “The Scotistic Commission in charge of the Vatican edition of Scotus's Opera Omnia have to date identified five manuscripts containing this version, which they call “Reportatio I A,” and point out that what appears in the Wadding-Vivès edition is only an abbreviated account of this report, done by Scotus's disciple, William of Alnwick.” This manuscript passage would thus represent a later, better formulated position by the Subtle Doctor.

  9. Cf. Quaest. in Metaphysicam IX, 15 (Vivès 7: 606-17). An English translation of portions of this text appears in Wolter, Will and Morality, 144-72. In this text Scotus compares nature and will with irrational and rational potencies, respectively. Allan Wolter's presentation and analysis of this text appears in “Duns Scotus on the Will as Rational Potency” in The Philosophical Theology of John Duns Scotus, 163-80.

  10. Lawrence Roberts, “Indeterminism in Duns Scotus' Doctrine of Human Freedom” in Modern Schoolman, 51 (1973-74): 1-16; “John Duns Scotus and the Concept of Human Freedom” and “The Contemporary Relevance of Duns Scotus' Doctrine of Human Freedom.”

  11. “Sed proprie voluntas addit super appetitum, quia est appetitus cum ratione liber. …” Ord. III, 17, Codex A, in Wolter, Will and Morality, 180-81.

  12. “Dico quod appetitus naturalis in qualibet re generali nomine accipitur pro inclinatione naturali rei ad suam propriam perfectionem, sicut lapis inclinatur naturaliter ad centrum, et si in lapide sit inclinatio illa aliud absolutum a gravitate, tunc consequenter credo quod similiter inclinatio naturalis hominis secundum quod homo ad propriam perfectionem est aliud a voluntate libera. Sed primum credo esse falsum … Igitur ultra gravitatem non dicit nisi relationem inclinans eius ad centrum ut ad propriam perfectionem.” Ibid., 180.

  13. “Dico quod voluntas naturalis sic, et, ut naturalis non est voluntas ut potentia, sed tantum importat inclinationem potentiae ad tendendum in propriam perfectionem suam. …” Ibid., 182. This idea must be read against the background of the Prologue, where Scotus argues for the dignity of nature which must be completed by supernatural agency (grace).

  14. “Voluntas tamen potest dupliciter considerari, vel prout est activa, sive operativa et elicitiva actus sui, vel prout est passiva, non in quantum recipit actus, sed in quantum est receptiva passionum supernaturalibus, de quibus passionibus loquitur Augustinus De moribus Ecclesiae. Unde omnes passiones voluntatis reducit ibi ad amorem.” Rep. IV, 49, q. 7, Codex A 280va. I am grateful to Fr. Allan Wolter for making this text available to me.

  15. Van der Walt takes issue with Scotus's formulation of the nature-grace dynamic and counters that the distinction is grace-sin, not grace-nature. While sympathetic to his intent, I disagree somewhat with his perspective which is post-Reformation and reads back into Scotist thought a dichotomy which I do not find present at the end of the 13th century. The entire discussion of natural and supernatural (as elaborated by DeLubac and discussed by many 20th century thinkers) does not seem a deep concern for the 13th century thinkers. See Van der Walt's “Regnum Hominis et Regnum Dei: Historical-Critical Discussion of the Relationship between Nature and Supernature According to Duns Scotus” in Regnum Hominis et Regnum Dei, 219-29.

  16. “Principaliter ergo conformitas actus ad rationem rectam—plene dictantem de circumstantiis omnibus debitis istius actus—est bonitas moralis actus.” Ord. I, d. 17, q. 2, n. 62 (Vatican 5:164). Elsewhere at nn. 55 and 92 are found variations on this definition (Vatican 5: 160-84). Wolter, in Will and Morality, gives an English translation of this, 206-08.

  17. The probable dating for this is either Advent 1306 or Lent 1307. Since Scotus died in 1308, these questions have the advantage of being among the most definitive of his works. See the introduction to God and Creatures: the Quodlibetal Questions (Alluntis/Wolter, Princeton University Press, 1975), xxvii.

  18. n. 13 (Vivès 26: 225). See also Quodlibet, 17.34 (God and Creatures, 398).

  19. For Scotus, this would be “supernatural” not according to the nature of the act, but insofar as the order of merit would be dependent upon the action of a higher power, one which surpassed the capacity of the natural agent. See Scotus's discussion of this definition of “supernatural” in the Ordinatio Prologue. I mention this dimension of the act merely to note that, for Scotus, there exists an intimate harmony between the workings of the order of nature and the order of grace.

  20. The presence and importance of divine action, both for creation, as objectum voluntarium and for acceptatio are important themes in the research of Paul Vignaux. Vignaux takes the divine will as model for liberality (not liberty) and gracious generosity (not arbitrariness). “Par son acte et celui de l'intellect qui l'accompagne, la volonté donne aux êtres, avec l'existence, la bonté et la vérité qui en font des objets d'amour actif et de connaissance distincte. Nous en revenons toujours à cette pensée que, dans sa réalité et dans la vision que Dieu en a, comme par avance, le monde de la nature et de la grâce procède d'un acte libre, libéral, gratuit, mais ordonné: c'est là tout le sens et la nuance propre, du “voluntarisme” de Duns Scot.” Justification et prédestination au XIVe siècle, (Paris, 1934), 41. See also his comments on this in “Valeur morale et valeur de salut” in Homo et mundus, 53-67.

  21. An extensive treatment of this dimension of Scotist thought can be found in Fernand Guimet's “Conformité à la droite raison et possibilité surnaturelle de la charité” in De Doctrina I. Duns Scoti, Vol. III, 539-97.

  22. “Prima autem competit volitioni ex hoc quod ipsa transit super obiectum, conveniens tali actui secundum dictamen rectae rationis, et non solum quia conveniens actui naturaliter sicut sol visioni. Et haec est prima bonitas moralis, quae potest dici “ex genere,” quia est quasi materialis respectu omnia boni ulterioris in genere moris … Secunda bonitas convenit volitioni ex hoc quod ipsa elicitur a voluntate cum onmibus circumstantiis dictatis a recta ratione debere sibi competere in eliciendo ipsam.” Ord. II, d. 7, n. 11. in Wolter, Will and Morality, 221.

  23. This idea of pre-volitional rationality will be developed in the next section.

  24. By “indifferent” Scotus refers to an act performed in the absence of moral intent. “This is proved first from the Philosopher in Ethics II: The habit of justice is not produced by doing what the just do, but by doing such things in the way that the just do them” (II, 41). Conscious intent to perform a moral action in a moral manner is key to the moral act. Later in the same article, Scotus identifies the indifferent act as one “where the act is referred to the end only habitually or not at all.” (See Wolter, Will and Morality, 231-33).

  25. “For it can happen that an act is performed under circumstances that are not all they should be [to make the act morally good], yet neither are they so improper that they ought not to be there, for instance, when an action is neither directed to an appropriate end nor to an inappropriate one.” Quodl. 18, n. 7. See also Vivès 26: 237-38. “… such as stroking the beard or brushing off a bit of straw and suchlike.” Ord. II, 41, in Wolter, Will and Morality, 233.

  26. The importance of right reason for higher levels of moral goodness is clear in Ord. I, 17, where Scotus devotes a lengthy discussion to the relationship of prudence to the virtuous life. In this text, moral goodness is described as decorative to an act, similar to that beauty which is the harmony of all parts. “… one could say that just as beauty is not some absolute quality in a beautiful body, but a combination of all that is in harmony with such a body (such as size, figure, and color), and a combination of all aspects (that pertain to all that is agreeable to such a body and are in harmony with one another), so the moral goodness of an act is a kind of decoration it has, including a combination of due proportion to all to which it should be proportioned (such as potency, object, end, time, place and manner), and this especially as right reason dictates. … Ord. I, d. 17, n. 62 (Vatican 5: 163-64).

  27. “Furthermore, there is a twofold like or love, one which can be called love of friendship [benevolence], another called the love of desiring or wanting or coveting.” Ord., II, d. 6, q. 2 (Wolter, Will and Morality, 463).

  28. “… the intellect is perfected most perfectly by prudence, if that virtue is most perfect. For then one would have the most perfect practical knowledge about every possible action and under every possible circumstance.” Ord. III, suppl. d. 34, in Wolter, Will and Morality, 355.

  29. Deus est diligendus … est veritas practica praecedens omnem determinationem voluntatis divinae.” Ord. IV, 46, q. 1, n. 3 (Vivès 20: 400).

  30. “Indeed, the decision to do something for a worthy purpose is no less good when the external act that ensues fails to achieve that end than when it succeeds.” Quodl. 18.15 (God and Creatures, 403).

  31. See the discussion of this in Ord. II, d. 7, nn. 28-30. Wolter provides an English translation of a section of this question (nn. 28-39) in Will and Morality, 218-25.

  32. For Fernand Guimet, “Deus diligendus est” is “la transposition de la normative anselmienne de rectitude et de justice dans les perfectives de la noétique d'Aristote.” “Conformité à la droite raison et possibilité surnaturelle de la Charité” in De Doctrina I. Duns Scoti, vol. III, 544.

  33. QQ. de Metaphysica, IX, q. 15, n. 7 (Vivès 26: 611). See Wolter, Will and Morality, 157.

  34. This appears in Quodl. 18.13: Question 18: “Every judgment begins with something certain. Now the first judgment about the appropriateness cannot pre-suppose some knowledge determined by another intellect; otherwise it would not be first. Hence it presupposes something certain but judged by this intellect, namely: the nature of the agent and the power by which he acts together with the essential notion of the act. If these three notions are given, no other knowledge is needed to judge whether or not this particular act is suited to this agent and this faculty.” (n.5) There follows here an example of the intellect, human nature and the act of understanding. “Knowing what it means to attain knowledge, it would also be clear to him what it is not appropriate for his mind to reach.” (English text in God and Creatures, 402-03.)

  35. “As for the first, I say that to love God above all is an act conformed to natural right reason, which dictates that what is best must be loved most; and hence such an act is right of itself; indeed as first practical principle of action, this is something known per se, and hence its rectitude is self-evident. For something must be loved most of all, and it is none other than the highest good, even as tis good is recognized by the intellect as that to which we must adhere the most.” Ordinatio III, suppl. d. 27, established by Wolter on the basis of Codices A (ff. 171ra-72rb) and S (ff210va-12rb), in Wolter, Will and Morality, 425.

  36. “Natural reason reveals to an intellectual creature that something must be loved in the highest measure, because among all objects, acts, and habits that are essentially ordered to one another, there is something supreme, and thus there is some love that is highest and also some object that is supremely lovable.” in Wolter, Will and Morality, 435.

  37. “First, the initial inordinate desire did not proceed from an affection for justice, as no sin proceeds from such. Hence it must have come from an affection for the advantageous, because every act elicited by the will stems from an affection either for justice or for the advantageous, according to Anselm.” Wolter, Will and Morality, 465. Thus, Lucifer “coveted happiness immoderately.”

  38. On the development of the doctrine of prudence as speculative wisdom prior to 1250, see Gauthier's “Arnoul de Provence et la Doctrine de la Fronesis, vertu mystique suprême” in Revue du Moyen Age latin, 19 (1963): 129-70. In addition, Avicenna's doctrine of the two faces of the soul lent itself to the development of a double interpretation of prudence: as theoretical virtue of moral science and practical virtue of moral action. As this influenced the Franciscans, see J. Rohmer's “Sur la doctrine franciscaine des deux faces de l'âme,” AHDLMA 2 (1927): 73-78.

  39. “Ideo dico quod definitio prudentiae debet intelligi de habitu activo proximo, qualis est habitus acquisitus ex actibus. Unde sicut ars se habet circa factibilia ad habitum experti, ita circa agibilia se habet scientia moralis ad habitum prudentiae, quia habitus artis et scientiae moralis sunt quasi remoti ad dirigendum, quia universales; sed habitus prudentiae et experti, quia generati sunt ex actibus, sunt particulares, et propinqui ad dirigendum. Ista expositio est necessaria, alioquin nulla esset scientia practica, quia quaecumque est habitus activus vel factivus. …” Ordinatio Prologue p. 5, q. 1-2, n. 350 (Vatican 1: 228).

  40. “Hence just as an artist with a knowledge of his art in mind (habens artem in mente) is more remotely practical than one who knows [how to do or make something] simply from experience and not deductively from any art he possesses, so too one who knows the science of morals is more remotely practical than one who possesses prudence.” Lectura Prologue, (Vatican 16, in Wolter [Will and Morality], 141). The rationality proper to moral action involves both deductive (moral science) and inductive reasoning (prudence).

  41. It is true that the last seven commands of the Decalogue are divine commands and do not belong to natural law stricte loquendo. On this aspect of Scotus's moral thinking, see Robert Prentice, “The Contingent Element Governing the Natural Law on the Last Seven Precepts of the Decalogue, According to Duns Scotus” Antonianum, 42 (1967): 259-92.

  42. A. Borak explains the dynamic as follows: reason provides the capacity and prudence the disposition for human participation in moral rectitude. See his “Libertà e prudenza nel pensiero di Duns Scoto,” Laurentianum 10 (1969): 112.

  43. “Alia enim est prudentia que est habitus generatus in intellectu recte sillogizante et tamen cum hoc voluntas male eligit: iste habitus est prudentia in intellectu, quia recta ratio; non tamen est prudentia moralis, quia inquirit tantum media fini prestituto, et non prefigit finem virtuti. Sed quid plus? Dico quod si sillogizatur ab intellectu vel ratione esse recte vivendum, tunc est habitus intellectualis qui dicitur scientia moralis, sed non prudentia. Unde duplex est differentia duo: prudentia enim que est virtus est recta ratio consona appetitui recto, 6 Ethicorum; quando autem in intellectu generatur habitus non confesse se habens habitui recto, est scientia moralis, non prudentia.” Text established from two manuscripts: Barcelona Ripoll 53 f66rb-66va and Oxford Merton Coll. 62 f226r-226v, in Lottin Psychologie et Morale aux 12-13e siecle, IV, Gembloux 1949, 654.

  44. Fernand Guimet calls it a dialectic of three terms: the normative value of a supreme term, the excellence of an act and the reality of a supreme object worthy of love. Within the context of the will this dialectic results in a joining of obligation, love and freedom epitomized in the first commandment of the Decalogue, to love God above all things. “C'est dans cette perspective qu'un texte admirable de la suite de l'Ordinatio lie l'une à l'autre dans une sorte de dialectique à trois termes, grâce à une démarche de la raison naturelle d'un rigoureux intellectualisme, la valeur normative d'un terme supreme (“aliquid summe diligendum”), l'excellence d'un acte (“aliqua dilectio suprema”) et la réalité d'un objet suprême qu'il est ainsi possible d'aimer (et ita supremum obiectum sic diligibile) [cf. Ord. III, d. 27, q. u., n. 13 (Vivès 15: 367)]. Et en ce qui concerne la volonté, cette dialectique à trois termes se retrouve, dans la liaison qu'elle établit entre le devoir, l'amour et la liberté: de cette liaison, Duns Scot n'hésite pas à conclure dans ce texte que par les seules ressources de sa nature (“ex puris naturalibus”), la volonté peut aimer Dieu par dessus tout.” “Conformité de la Charité à la Droite Raison,” De Doctrina I Duns Scoti, vol. III, 555-56.

  45. “… cum igitur voluntas non sit magis determinata ex se ad unum quam intellectus, potest in ipsa ex actibus ejus frequenter elicitis quaedam habilitas generari inclinans ad similes actus, et illam voco virtutem.” Ord. III, d. 33, q., n. 5, (Vivès 15: 442).

  46. “… cum virtus sit habitus electivus determinatus recta ratione …” (Collationes, I, n. 11 Vivès 5: 137).

  47. “For Duns Scotus, just as for St. Augustine, virtue is not something valuable simply because it is a way of acting that is measured by, and in accordance with, nature, as Aristotle teaches, but because of the act of love by which the virtuous act is directed to God.” Bettoni, Duns Scotus: Basic Principles of his Philosophy (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University Press, 1961), 169.

  48. Borak, [“Libertà e prudenza,” 133] claims that Scotus cares more about the person who has virtues than about the interconnection of the virtues themselves.

  49. “While virtue is a perfection of man, it does not represent complete perfection, for then one moral virtue would suffice. But when something has several partial perfections, it can be simply perfect according to one perfection and simply imperfect according to another, as is apparent in the case of man, who has many organic perfections and can have one in the highest degree and not have another. For example, someone may be disposed in the highest way as to sight and touch but lack any hearing. Someone can possess the highest degree of perfection in matters of temperance and not have the perfection required as regards another perfection …” Ordinatio III, suppl. d. 36, revised by Wolter, Will and Morality, 389, with Codices A and S.

  50. “Dico igitur, quod charitas perficit voluntatem, inquantum est affectiva affectione justitiae, et spes perficit eam, inquantum est affectiva affectione commodi, et ita erunt distinctae virtutes non tantum ex actibus, qui sont amare et desiderare, sed etiem ex susceptivis, quae sunt voluntas secundum illam duplicem affectionem affecta.” Ord. III, d. 26, q. u., n. 18 (Vivès 15: 341).

  51. “… tamen minus perfecte operatur sine habitu quam cum habitu (et hoc, posito aequali conatu ex parte potentiae), sicut quando duae causae concurrunt ad effectum unum, una sola non potest per se in ita perfectum effectum sicut ambae simul. Et hoc modo salvatur quare actus est intensior a potentia et ab habitu quam a potentia sola … quod ambae causae concurrentes possunt producere perfectiorem effectum quam altera sola,—qui tamen effectus secundum se totum et ut “per se unus,” est a duabus causis, sed in diverso ordine causantibus.” Ord. I, d. 17, n. 40 (Vatican 5: 154).

  52. Wolter's discussion is especially enlightening here, as he elaborates on Scotus's reference to geometric and arithmetic proportional increases: “Suppose for example, the natural capacity is doubled; then a will capable of loving naturally with an intensity of only two will be able to love with an intensity of four, whereas a more perfect will capable of loving naturally with an intensity of eight will be able, with charity, to love with an intensity of sixteen. … Hence, speaking simply or in an unqualified sense, the more perfect the will's natural capacity to love God is, the more it has to gain by having charity.” Wolter, Will and Morality, 93-94.

  53. “Briefly, then, I say, as I said there [Ord. I, d. 17] the reason habits are needed because of acts, especially the act of charity, is due to something that is a circumstance of the act. As for the substance of the act, however, I maintain what I said there, that the habit is not required.” Ord. III, d. 27 in Wolter, Will and Morality, 443.

  54. “This virtue which thus perfects the will insofar as it has an affection for justice, I call charity.” (Wolter, Will and Morality, 427).

  55. Scotus's development of this position relies heavily upon Aristotle's discussion in Books 8 and 9 of the Nicomachean Ethics.

  56. “De primo dico quod charitas … dicitur habitus, quo Deus habetur carus … quia Deus, qui est bonum commune, non vult esse bonum privatum alicujus … igitur Deus infundens habitum, quo anima ordinate et perfecte tendat in ipsum, dat habitum, quo habeatur carus, ut bonum commune, et condiligendum ab aliis; et ita habitus ille, qui est Dei, inclinat etiam ad velle ipsum haberi carum et diligi ab alio.” Ord. III, d. 28, q. u. (Vivès 15: 378).

  57. Borak maintains that it was the Christian notion of imago dei which provided a more perfect depiction of human nature as a spiritual reality, and thus enabled Scotus to accept Aristotle's definition of “rational animal” and reject any determinism or intellectualism in favor of freedom. See his “Libertà e prudenza,” 105.

John Boler (essay date January 1994)

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SOURCE: Boler, John. “An Image for the Unity of Will in Duns Scotus.” Journal of the History of Philosophy 32, no. 1 (January 1994): 23-44.

[In the following essay, Boler concentrates on Scotus's moral theory of dual affectiones (basic inclinations toward happiness and justice) and the relationship of this duality to the philosopher's understanding of the underlying unity of will.]

Scotus adopts from Anselm the terminology of two “affections of will.”1 The affectio commodi and the affectio justitiae2 are basic wants or inclinations in rational agents, postulated to explain (a) severally, the various wants such agents have, and (b) in combination, the unique character of “rational appetite” (i.e., will) in a moral context.3 The framework of the present article, however, is a restricted one: to examine the problem of the unity of a will with more than one inclination. And even within that context, my present purpose is quite specific: to examine one model Scotus offers for understanding that unity.4

Section 1 is a brief sketch of Scotus's doctrine of dual, basic inclinations. Section 2 is a still briefer statement of a possible problem of unity in such a will. Sections 3 through 6 present and analyze Scotus's analogy of the relation between the dual affectiones with that between genus and specific difference in definition. In Section 7, I return to the problem of the integrity of the will's action.


Traditionally, the will was treated as a kind of “appetite”—a term used very broadly of all agents, cognitive and noncognitive alike, to indicate the sort of “goal-orientedness” of things within a teleological system. Within that scheme, moreover, one can say that all things “seek” (or tend) to realize the potential of their natures, to complete or perfect themselves. For Scotus, however, this picture applies to the will of rational agents in only one of its aspects. And that distinctive claim, I think, is the key to his theory that the will has two basic and relatively independent “affections.”5

As an intellectual6 appetite, the will is inclined to the perfection of its own nature—a state Scotus (along with his contemporaries) calls “happiness.” This inclination or tendency is labeled by Scotus (following Anselm) affectio commodi (or sometimes affectio beatitudinis).7 It is, because “natural,” necessary:8 the will cannot “will for” misery or “will against” happiness.9 However, in addition to its inclination towards happiness (i.e., the ultimate object in the area of the commodus), the will, for Scotus, has an independent but equally basic orientation “towards justice”—an affectio justitiae.10 In virtue of the latter, Scotus says, the rational agent is not confined to seeking the development of its own natural potential (as, in some sense, all natural agents are) but is able to transcend that in seeking the “good in itself” of things:11 “Therefore, that affectio justitiae, which is the basic moderator [prima moderatrix] of affectio commodi, inasmuch as [a] it is not necessary that the will actually seek that to which the affectio commodi tends, and [b] it is not necessary that the will seek in the highest degree that to which the affectio commodi inclines it—that affectio justitiae, I say, is the liberty native to the will, since it is the primary moderator of affectio commodi.12

While the will of a moral, rational agent has both affectiones, the basic inclination of the will to realize the perfection of its own nature (i.e., bonum sibi) is sometimes called “natural will.”13 That is, although the rational will is unique as a free appetite, Scotus identifies in it an analogue of the inclination anything has (in his essentialist and teleological system) as a nature of a certain kind. Natural will, however, is only the “inclination of the power to tend to its proper perfection, not [the inclination] to act in that way. … But there is another tendency in the same power as free, and it tends actively towards eliciting acts. …”14 The point is that the (rational) will is a free appetite; therefore, even when it elicits15 actions “in accord with” affectio commodi alone (i.e., “natural willings”), those acts are free.16

For Scotus, I think, morality arises precisely with the possibility of somehow “transcending” the pursuit of the agent's “natural” potential in favor of a concern for the “good in itself” of things. The presence of an affectio justitiae, however, does not simply add a new range of actions but transforms the whole appetitive structure of its agent.17 The will of a rational agent is free in all its elicited actions because, having affectio justitiae, it is able to moderate or temper the inclination that is affectio commodi.18 For example: “With respect to the ultimate end [i.e., happiness], the will is bound to moderate its inclination to it, lest it will immoderately, i.e., in another way than it ought to will: so that it does not will the ultimate end for itself in a way other than it is in itself.”19 And Scotus continues concerning the perseverance of the good angels in contrast to Satan:

[T]here was a natural inclination towards happiness in the good [angels] as well as the bad. … But in eliciting the act, the good [angels] did not use the will insofar as it is a mere intellectual appetite, by willing happiness in the way such an appetite would. But they made use of the will's more perfect aspect (which is liberty), by acting in a way befitting a free agent acting freely. … To have a perfect act of seeking bonum sibi so that through that one may better love some object in se is from the affectio justitiae, because whence I love something in itself, thence I will something in itself. And in this way, the good [angels] could seek happiness, so that having it, they could more perfectly love the highest good. …20


With this minimal sketch of Scotus's theory of dual affectiones in hand, we can set out (very briefly) one significant problem about the unity of the will. There are three obvious questions to be asked of any dualism: Why two? Why these two? How can the combination produce a unified thing? In the case of the dual affectiones, the answer to the first of these is clearly primary in the understanding of Scotus's moral theory. But it also demands a comprehensive answer which is beyond the scope of my limited inquiry here.

However, if one grants Scotus the need for dual affections, a fairly brief answer can then be given to the second question. For Scotus, the common character of all appetites is the inclination to realize the potential of the agent's nature. As required “by nature,” such an inclination is, in that sense, prior.21 But then, if what is needed for full-scale moral action is the ability of the will to escape the limits of its “natural” inclinations, affectio justitiae will complete the picture. What is important, of course, is not the labels but the idea that the basic, or “generic” inclination has the limitations of seeking bonum sibi, while the combination of the two makes possible a transcending of the natural by allowing for the rational pursuit of a “higher” as well as a “lower” goal.22

Even if the first two questions about a dualism of inclinations in the will are satisfactorily answered, however, the third still needs to be explicitly raised. Scotus holds that it is the will that is free and that the elicited action of the will is the primary focus of responsibility.23 The issue is whether the analysis of that action in terms of dual, basic affections ultimately preserves the integrity of the will's action in a way that accounts for that responsibility.24

There can be no doubt that Scotus holds that the will has a unified and integral action, but (so far as I know) he does not take up the issue explicitly. However, he does at times suggest that there is an analogy between the relation of the two affectiones and the relation between the parts of a definition. Since the latter is a model of plurality within unity, if the analogy works, it should provide at least a solid hint for developing Scotus's positive position about the integrated action of the will. In the end, I shall argue, the analogy is not really adequate. But the process of finding out just why that is so promises to give us a better understanding of Scotus's theory of the dual affectiones.


Scotus more than once refers to affectio commodi and/or natural will as a “generic” feature of appetite.25 While, as we shall see, this claim has an important implication in Scotus's moral psychology,26 it also represents, in a straightforward way, the role of affectio commodi under the broad description of the dual affections we have been setting out: affectio commodi is the counterpart in moral agents of the common character of appetite in any agent. In the following text, Scotus completes the analogy by associating affectio justitiae with specific difference. The context, obviously, is a reply to certain objections:

To the first of these [objections], I say to begin with that the affectiones commodi and justitiae are not [distinct] from free will [and], as it were, added to it. Rather, the affectio justitiae is, as it were, the ultimate difference. So that just as man is living substance and animal, although these are not properties of the essence but belong to the essential concept of man—so it is possible to conceive first of appetite and then of intellective and cognitive and yet not conceive of the affectio commodi and justitiae. And if there were an angel, who had a cognitive appetite apart from an affectio justitiae, it would lack justice and it would not be a free appetite. Whence if [this intellective agent] were to lack an affectio justitiae, it would thus naturally seek what is suited to intellect, just as the sense appetite [seeks] what is suited to sense; nor would it be any more free than the sense appetite. Therefore, the affectio justitiae is the ultimate specific difference of free appetite. And although the more general can be understood without understanding the less general, nevertheless these affectiones are not distinguished from the will in reality. Nor can the will, operating freely and rightly, elicit an act through the affectio commodi alone without the affectio justitiae—even though it could elicit an act conforming to what would be elicited through an affectio commodi alone. Just as it is also not possible that something in a species act apart from the specific difference (e.g., man without the rational), although it could elicit an act conforming to an act which it would elicit if it were only animal. So it is in the case at hand. Were the will being taken [poneretur] as in this prior [generic] “grade,” as willing something according to affectio commodi alone, it would seek happiness immoderately. And if it were to elicit [an act] in conformity to that, it would seek [happiness] immoderately. In that case, however, there would be only natural seeking, as there is in every nature an appetite for happiness in its own way. But if there were this natural seeking, then that would be the most intense seeking [and would be] blameworthy. But because the first affectio is never in the will without the second—[i.e.] as if the will could exist without being able to seek according to affectio justitiae—and natural willing is neither an elicited [act of] willing nor does it exist alone in a free appetite, [it follows that] where the will has the power to moderate [the natural will] according to the dictate of a higher rule, if [the natural will] is not moderated, [the will] sins.27

Scotus explicitly emphasizes three aspects of the analogy. First of all, he wishes to reject a picture of the inclinations as something “added to” the will.28 The human being just is the rational animal; and the will just is the dual affected appetite. Even though one can conceive of the generic without understanding the specific, “nothing can be distinguished from the will itself concerning these affections.” The point, I take it, is not that the affectiones cannot be distinguished from one another; it is rather that, as the defining features of the will, neither can be something distinct from or “added to” the will itself.

Scotus's second point has to do with the “generic” character of affectio commodi. This involves a somewhat unusual background.29 Scotus thinks it is possible (though not actual) for there to be an agent with an intellect not qualitatively different from the human intellect but with an appetite (or conative structure) not unlike the brutes. I shall refer to this fictional agent as the/an “Angel,” as Scotus himself (often) does in homage to the texts of Anselm upon which he draws.30

The intellectual appetite of the fictional Angel, Scotus says, would consist of affectio commodi alone. Presumably, affectio commodi appears only after one has got beyond the level of sense to that of intellect.31 Clearly, however, the Angel falls short of fully moral and rational agency, for its actions are not free.32 Moreover, this lack of freedom does not seem to derive from any limitations due to the Angel's intellect. As Scotus stipulates in the Reportata text just quoted, affectio commodi in the fictional Angel would function in a brutish way, naturally seeking “what is suited to intellect just as the sense appetite [seeks] what is suited to sense.”

It follows that “having affectio commodi” is something the rational appetite could share with the appetite of the fictional Angel as species of the same proximate genus: viz., “intellectual appetite.”33 In the text under consideration, however, Scotus goes on to emphasize that affectio commodi does not function in exactly the same way in a free, rational appetite as it would in a nonfree, nonrational (but intellectual) appetite. In the former, even acts “in accord with affectio commodi alone” are free acts of a free appetite (i.e., a will); in the latter, acts “in accord with affectio commodi alone” (i.e., in accord with the only basic inclination that appetite has) are nonfree actions of a nonfree appetite.34

The third point Scotus brings out has to do with how affectio justitiae is like specific difference. Even the ideas of a cognitive and an intellectual appetite get us no further, so to speak, than proximate genera. It is only with affectio justitiae that there is free appetite (or will). One cannot, I think, overestimate the significance of this step from the “natural” to the “voluntary.” In fact, affectio justitiae makes the will radically unlike all other species of appetite.35

On the basis of the Reportata text, then, it is easy enough to construct a Porphyrian Tree to represent Scotus's general scheme for appetite.36 The remote genus of the will is appetite. In Scotus's teleological system, every agent has an appetite which can be characterized in terms of its seeking to realize the potential of its nature. Proximate genera are established by dividing appetite into cognitive and noncognitive, dividing cognitive into intellectual and nonintellectual (sentient),37 and intellectual appetite into rational and nonrational.

The latter part of the above Tree for classifying types of appetite is, perhaps, unexpected.38 It results, however, from simply cashing in Scotus's claim that it is possible for there to be an agent with an intellect that is not a free, moral agent. “Intellectual appetite,” then, is used (equivocally) to label both the genus and the nonrational (and fictional) species. With respect to the will, however, it is only the (proximate) genus. It follows that, for Scotus, “the intellectual pursuit of the realization of its potential as an intellectual nature” gives at best a generic description of rational or free appetite.

It is important to note, however, that even though there is no contradiction in imagining a fictional species of thing having affectio commodi without affectio justitiae, it would not be as if the appetite of such a thing were in a genus but not in a species.39 Just as ‘animal’ is not a proper synonym for ‘the nonhuman’, so, for Scotus, ‘affectio commodi’ is not a proper synonym for a ‘brutish’ or ‘nonfree conative structure’.

Actually, the notion of “affectio commodi”—especially in the phrase “affectio commodi alone”—plays a number of roles within Scotus's classificatory scheme.40 But it is the abstraction of the generic notion of affectio commodi from that of fully rational action (and from the postulated new species of merely intelligent action) that is the crux of the analogy. The question, therefore, is just what Scotus meant to show by drawing the analogy. To develop an answer, we need to examine the function of genus and specific difference within the structure of definition.


There are, in fact, two different models for the application of genus and species. I shall label them (tendentiously) the Addition and the Reduction models. The former is probably more familiar: a thing has a special property (which may involve a range of powers, capacities, or functions) associated with its species, and this is added to a property associated with its proximate genus, and that in turn to properties of more remote genera, and so on.

In the Reduction model, on the other hand, the thing of which a generic predicate is true need not have what I shall call a “component-property”: i.e., an independent “genus-property” to which specific component-properties are added. The idea is nicely brought out in an example given by Peter Geach.41 It is true that red things and blue things are each colored things. But a body is not first of all—or at any time—“just colored” and then, with the addition of something else, red or blue. Being red or blue, we might say, are the different ways that red and blue things, respectively, realize “being colored.” It is a corollary that, while we can abstract a univocal notion of the generic characteristic, what is realized in concrete individuals of different species is itself realized differently.

The Reduction scheme is not limited to “simple” things like colors or, for that matter, to accidents. Beans and broccoli are straightforward species of vegetables, but one might plausibly claim (even within an Aristotelian classification) that there is no need for a generic “vegetable form” in them. Similarly, one might hold that the differentiae of dogs and donkeys give rise to species which simply realize “being an animal” in different ways.

In the Addition model, on the other hand, especially as it is represented in Porphyrian Trees,42 the branchings based on exclusive pairs (e.g., living, nonliving) represent specific differences of a peculiar sort. On one side at least, they actually move the resulting species into a new range beyond the capacities of the preceding generic tier. For example, the differentia “sentient” establishes a whole new kind (animal) such that the species under it (dog, donkey) are of a different order from the species under “nonsentient living things” (beans, broccoli).43

The result (in Porphyrian Trees) is a unique, and somewhat anomalous status for the infima species. Human being for example, is not a subgenus because it has no species under it. But still, “rational” functions in the Tree in something like the way “sentient” does: i.e., it establishes a kind of thing that is of a different order from that of its correlate (“irrational”).44

The lesson to be learned from all this is that, independently from the issue of what relation Scotus finds between the structure of a definition and the internal structure of the thing defined, the two models of genus and species just described allow for a significantly different emphasis in the interpretation of the analogy Scotus draws between the relation of the two affectiones and the relation of genus and specific difference.

In sum: In the Addition model, specific difference produces a species which stands out in a unique way from all other species (even within its proximate genus); and the specific difference itself somehow goes beyond or “breaks out” of what had previously been the limits of the generic. In the Reduction model, on the other hand, both the species and the specific difference are located determinately “within” the conditions of the genus.45


One point of the analogy with genus and specific difference, as I mentioned before, is to provide a picture of plurality within unity. And one way to bring that out would be to contrast the composition in the definition with the noncomposition of the thing defined.46 The Reduction model, of course, does that directly. Since in that model, the generic property is realized differently in different species, Scotus could use it to bring out as well the fact that affectio commodi is free in the rational agent and not free in the Angel.

The problem with the Reduction model, however, is that Scotus needs affectio commodi to be significantly distinct from affectio justitiae in the will. The structure of morality for Scotus, as I have said before, lies not in the character of the higher goal alone, but precisely in there being a higher and therefore a lower goal: that is, the possibility of moral success and moral failure is tied up with the possibility of transcending or failing to transcend affectio commodi.

As a result, there is an important disanalogy in the way the correlate for specific difference functions, for Scotus, in the human being and in the will. In the human being, the specific difference is “taken from” the rational soul;47 and the latter takes over the functions that the vegetative and animal souls have in lower organisms. But affectio justitiae, which is the correlate of specific difference in the will, cannot take on the function of affectio commodi.

The Addition model would seem to have an advantage, in this respect, because it more readily allows for the generic component to operate as it does in other species despite the added presence of the correlate for specific difference. But to see why even this model does not quite do justice to the dual affections scheme, it may help to examine a different (and I think closer) analogue in the interrelation of powers within the soul.

Consider the way Scotus thinks the will stands to other powers in a free agent. The will is the only “rational” (or free) power.48 It is in itself, therefore, of an incommensurably different order from any other power (including the intellect). While it is dependent in important ways upon the deliverances of the intellect, the will (alone) is what “lifts” the rational agent to the level of free agency, while the intellect and other powers continue to operate at the level of “nonrational” powers.49

Now it is true that affectio justitiae is what lifts the will to a higher order than any other species of appetite. But the similarities end there. First of all, although affectio commodi is a “natural” inclination (and in that broad sense “generic”), it does not function within the will in the same way as it would in a nonfree agent (i.e., in the fictional Angel). Secondly, there can be a rational agent that is not an animal.50 But the affectio justitiae is not in that way detachable from its generic background.


In sum, the relationship between the two affections, for Scotus, is a very special one which is not easily captured by any image.51 One might want to claim, I suppose, that Scotus is simply getting double measure out of a single analogy. Either model of genus and specific difference supports the picture of an integral thing of a single specific nature. The Reduction model, in which the genus is realized differently in different species, suits the idea that acts in accord with affectio commodi are free in the rational agent and not free in a subrational one. The Addition model, in which the infima species stands out from all other species under its proximate genus, supports the picture of will as uniquely different from all “natural” appetite.

Unfortunately, such a resolution simply won't do, for one cannot coherently fill in the details.52 The problem is that what allows the Reduction model to carry its unifying or integrating message would lead one to think that the will is only a special kind of inclination towards the perfection of the agent's nature: that is, that the will realizes “natural appetite” in its own way. But that is clearly not what Scotus wants to claim; the will (as infima species) is different from all other appetites precisely because of the way affectio justitiae transcends affectio commodi.53

Of course, Scotus does not make the alternative between happiness and justice an exclusive one, as if one had to be unhappy to be just or vice versa.54 Moreover, Scotus locates the tension between natural inclinations and a concern for “justice” within the will, rather than between the will and, say, “sensual desires.”55 But if one resorts to the Addition model (as it applies to the infima species of a Tree) in order to bring out the radically different order of affectio justitiae, the problem then shifts to the way affectio commodi is tempered in the will.56 Unless affectio commodi in a free appetite is itself different in a special way from what it would be in the fictional Angel, there would seem to be little cause to choose between the scheme of dual affectiones and one where there were two independently operating appetites within a single agent: i.e., a “rational” appetite and a “nonrational” one (which now includes some intellectual capacities as well as sense desire).


The central (and limited) focus of this paper has been to examine the analogy Scotus draws between the relation of affectio justitiae to affectio commodi and the relation of specific difference to genus. If I am right, the analogy does not hold. But the inadequacy of one analogy is hardly the failure of a theory. And any assessment of Scotus's moral theory would have to call upon a more extensive analysis than can be attempted here.

Still, the effort to explore the analogy has allowed us to focus on the problem of unity, and before closing, I should like to try to clarify that problem somewhat. The issue, it will be recalled, is whether the analysis of the will's action in terms of dual, basic inclinations ultimately preserves the integrity of the will's action in a way that accounts for moral responsibility.

It may help to begin with the position (I think) Scotus wants to avoid. On a single-inclination theory—in particular, in the eudaimonist scheme of Aristotle57—the agent who acts immorally is being somehow inept in pursuing its only goal. That is to say, if its psychological structure demands that the rational agent cannot but seek happiness (in however sophisticated a way that is analyzed), the agent's immoral action must consist in a mistaken effort to seek happiness.

For Scotus, I think, the rational agent who acts immorally need not be guilty of any misapprehension about what satisfies its bent for happiness.58 What makes the action immoral is that the agent has not taken account of something besides happiness. This is, after all, but the negative side of what I take to be Scotus's central intuition: the moral world, so to speak, is made possible by the ability of the rational agent to go beyond considerations of benefit or happiness to something else (i.e., justitia, the good of things in themselves, the love of God and neighbor).59

Scotus's emphasis upon the role of the will rather than the intellect does not mean that he could not describe seriously immoral action as “irrational,” or that he does not recognize a kind of self-deception in that privation or perversion which is the agent's willful ignoring or repressing of considerations of justice.60 His claim, however, is that the perversion lies not in seeking happiness in a way that corrupts one's true happiness, but in seeking only happiness—inordinately pursuing happiness—to the neglect of a higher goal (or destiny) which belongs to the free, rational agent.61

The theory of dual inclinations or affectiones in the will is clearly well-suited to support the picture I have just tried to sketch out. The (at least appearance of a) problem about the unity of the will created by a plurality of basic inclinations in the will arises only when we ask how it is that the will “neglects” the considerations of justice.

In fact, the dual inclinations theory provides a clear specification of the motive of the will (or the agent) in cases of immoral action: it is the seeking of something that is commodus.62 But we need to know how the will of a fully rational or moral agent is different from a “schizophrenic” will (as I shall call it): i.e., a will which now acts in accord with one of its inclinations and now acts in accord with the other.63 Of course, the will, for Scotus, always has an inclination towards happiness.64 But when it turns from considerations of justice to those of happiness, why is it not, so to say, just changing the subject?

One straightforward answer would be to claim that, to be moral, the agent ought to consider justice alone and take considerations of happiness as purely incidental to moral concerns: it is a fact that we have an inclination to happiness (as the intellectual counterpart to sensory desires), and it is that to which we turn when we abandon justice, but the whole issue of morality is located in our persevering or abandoning justice—rather than, say, balancing considerations of justice and happiness.65

Ultimately, this may be (in oversimplified form) Scotus's answer—as opposed, say, to a scheme in which considerations of justice are held to transform the moral agent's understanding of happiness. Pretty clearly, these are large and difficult issues, both substantively and in the interpretation of Scotus.66 I broach them here for their relevance to the central topic of this article. That is, I think the importance of the question about the unity of the will indicates why it is significant to pursue Scotus's analogy with definition in the first place. And I think the persistence of the interpretive question reinforces my specific conclusion that, however suggestive it may seem at first glance, under closer scrutiny the analogy loses its force as an image of the unity of the will.67


  1. “According to Anselm, two affections may be assigned to the will, namely, the affectio justitiae and the affectio commodi. He treats of these extensively in The Fall of the Devil, ch. 14, and The Harmony of God's Foreknowledge, Grace and Predestination, ch. 19. The affectio justitiae is nobler than the affectio commodi, understanding by ‘justice’ not only acquired or infused justice, but also innate justice, which is the will's congenital liberty by reason of which it is able to will some good not oriented to itself [ad se]. In accord with the affectio commodi, however, nothing can be willed save with reference to [the willer] [ad se]. And this could be had where only an intellectual appetite with no liberty followed upon intellectual cognition, as sense appetite follows sense cognition. The only point I wish to take from this is the following. To love something in itself [in se] is a freer and more communicative act than is desiring that object as ordered to oneself [sibi]. Such an act belongs [conveniens] more to the will as the seat of the affectio justitiae (i.e., innate); the other act pertains to the will inasmuch as it has an affectio commodi.” (In voluntate secundum Anselmum, assignatur duae affectiones, scilicet affectio iustitiae et affectio commodi, de quibus tractat De casu diaboli, capitulo decimo quarto et De concordia, undevigesimo, diffuse. Nobilior est affectio justitiae quam commodi, non solum intelligendo de acquisita et infusa, sed de innata, quae est ingenita libertas secundum quam potest velle aliquod bonum non ordinatum ad se. Secundum autem affectionem commodi nihil potest velle nisi in ordine ad se, et hanc haberet si praecise esset appetitus intellectivus sine libertate sequens cognitionem intellectivam, sicut appetitus sensitivus sequitur cognitionem sensitivam. Ex hoc volo habere tantum quod, cum amare aliquid in se sit actus liberior et magis communicativus quam desiderare illud sibi et conveniens magis voluntati inquantum habet affectionem justitiae saltem innatae. Alius autem conveniat voluntati inquantum habet affectionem commodi.) Ordinatio III, suppl. d. 26 (W 178, Codex A [f. 170va]).

    Anselm's account appears in modern editions as De casu diaboli, cc. 12ff., and De concordia praescientiae et praedestinationis et gratiae dei cum libero arbitrio III, cc. 11ff. The importance of the Anselmian doctrine to Scotus is reflected in the number and extent of his references to it: Wolter, “Native Freedom of the Will as a Key to the Ethics of Scotus,” Deus et Homo ad mentem I. Duns Scoti (Societas Internationalis Scotistica, 1972), 360, n. 1.

  2. I have left these labels untranslated for the most part. The standard translations are “affection for the beneficial (or the advantageous)” and “affection for justice (or the just).”

  3. Scotus says that affectio justitiae provides the “congenital freedom” of the moral agent: e.g., Ordinatio III, suppl. d. 26, quoted in note 1, above; and Ordinatio II, d. 6, q. 2, quoted in note 12, below. What Scotus calls libertas ingenita has affinities with the autonomy Kant accords the moral agent—although there are also important differences between Scotus and Kant. If one can distinguish metaphysical from moral intuitions within discussions of what we call “freedom of the will” today, I think libertas ingenita has to do with the latter. However, the lead here has been taken by Allan Wolter, “Native Freedom of the Will.” My interpretation may diverge from his at some points, but I am very much indebted to his seminal work.

  4. The analogy between the relation of the two affectiones and that of genus and specific difference had already been made by Henry of Ghent. See Quod. 13.11: p. 128, lines 58-61 in Henrici de Gandavo, Quodlibet (Leuven University Press, 1985), edited by J. Decorte. (This is Vol. XVIII of Series Two of the Dewulf-Mansion Centre publications on Ancient and Medieval Philosophy.) In fact, Scotus may have been more immediately influenced by the texts of Henry than of Anselm. This important point (along with the reference) was brought to my attention by an anonymous referee for the JHP.

  5. The term “appetite” is used broadly enough to allow Scotus to call the will a “rational appetite.” But as I indicate below, the will for Scotus is radically different from all other kinds of appetite. This derives from the very strong contrast he draws between the natural and the voluntary. The appeal to an appetite and its object in explaining the behavior of an agent was a part of Aristotelian natural philosophy. (“Appetere,” unlike the standard English translation “to seek,” has no connotation of action and so was commonly used to mark an inclination.) It is crucial to Scotus's position that the will does not act like a natural appetite at all. See note 38, below.

  6. As we shall see, Scotus thinks it is possible for there to be an agent that has an intellect but is “submoral.” Its brutish appetite, therefore, would be one species of intellectual appetite while the will (which is free) is another. Since “rational,” when used as a differentia, covers for Scotus only moral agents (e.g., humans), a distinction is in order. (On differentiae, see H. McCabe, “Categories,” Dominican Studies VII [1954]: 147-79, reprinted in A. Kenny, ed., Aquinas: A Collection of Critical Essays [N.Y.: Anchor, 1969], 65ff.) I therefore distinguish “rational appetite” (i.e., the will) from “intellectual appetite.” The latter, as we shall see, can be used either as the genus of the will or as the species of intellectual appetite in the brutish fictional agent—compare “animal,” which can be used as the genus of human being but is also used to refer to the brutes as such. For another, but altogether relevant, use of “rational” (cf. note 48, below), see Allan Wolter, “Duns Scotus on the Will as a Rational Potency,” in The Philosophical Theology of John Duns Scotus, ed. Marilyn Adams (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1990), 163-80.

  7. For Anselm, see De casu diaboli, chs. 12 and 13; for Scotus, see Ordinatio IV, suppl. d. 49, qq. 9-10 (W 184-85; 192-93, Codex A [ff. 281va-82va] and Reportata parisiensia, d. 49, qq. 8-9 in W-V XXIV, pp. 658a-68b). In this text, Scotus describes happiness as the realization of the agent's natural capacities and treats it as an ultimate goal. But while he cites the Nicomachean Ethics more than once in this passage, he does not do so with respect to happiness. When Scotus talks of happiness in connection with the dual affectiones, the context is (understandably) Anselmian: see De casu diaboli, ch. 12. Anselm's remark that all desire happiness derives from Augustine (e.g., De trinitate, bk. 13), as Scotus is aware: Ordinatio II, d. 6, q. 2, n. 7 (W 468-69). See also notes 20 and 21, below.

  8. “Cum ergo tamen summa perfectio voluntatis sit beatitudo, sequitur quod voluntas ut natura summe appetitit eam. Item, si necessario ut natura appetit eam, ergo summe appetit eam” (Ordinatio IV, suppl. d. 49, qq. 9-10 [W 186-87], see note 7 above). In the strict sense of the term “natural” is opposed to voluntary: Quodlibet 16.39 and 43, Ordinatio III, d. 17 (W 182-83, Codex A [f. 160ra-b], cf. W-V XIV, 653b-55b). The contrast is an important one: see note 35, below.

  9. “Will for” and “will against” are my attempt to construct counterparts in English for the Latin “cover terms” velle and nolle.

  10. “Justitia” is Anselm's term, which he defines as “rectitude of will served for its own sake” (De veritate c. 12); Scotus quotes this in Ordinatio IV, d. 46, q. 1, n. 1 (W 240-41, a revision of Wadding based on Codex A [270ra-va]). Both Anselm and Scotus must have had something of this notion of justice in mind when dealing with affectio justitiae. For Scotus, at least, justitia is not the manner in which a moral agent seeks the commodus but constitutes a different (although not necessarily contradictory) goal. See notes 51 and 55, below.

  11. Ordinatio IV, suppl. d. 49, qq. 9-10 (W 184ff., see note 7, above); and Ordinatio III, suppl. d. 26, quoted in note 1, above. The contrast of bonum sibi and bonum in se is, so far as I know, not a traditional one. Note that desiring something else bonum sibi connotes relativity (i.e., to the desirer). But one can also speak of the bonum sibi of something in a way that is not relative: it means the essential goodness of something, its goodness as “form” rather than as the goal of something else. The point is made by Wolter, who emphasizes Scotus's analysis of “good” in terms of perfectibility rather than desirability: see Allan Wolter, The Transcendentals and Their Function in the Metaphysics of Duns Scotus (St. Bonaventure, N.Y.: Franciscan Institute, 1946), 120-21.

  12. “Illa igitur affectio justitiae, quae est prima moderatrix affectionis commodi et quantum ad hoc quod non oportet voluntatem actu appetere illud ad quod inclinat affectio commodi et quantum ad hoc quod non oportet eam summe appetere (quantum scilicet ad illud ad quod inclinat affectio commodi), illa—inquam—affectio justitiae est libertas innata voluntati, quia ipsa est prima moderatrix affectionis talis” (Ordinatio II, d. 6, q. 2 [W 468-69, from a corrected text supplied by the Scotistic commission]).

  13. “I say that will can be understood either properly or under its general aspect: i.e., as appetite. … But what about natural and free will? I say that a natural appetite in anything is just a general name for a thing's natural inclination to its proper perfection.” (Dico quod voluntas potest accipi sub propria ratione vel sub generali ratione et notitia, scilicet pro appetitu. … Sed quid de voluntate naturali et libera? Suntne duae potentiae? Dico quod appetitus naturalis in qualibet re generali nomine accipitur pro inclinatione naturali rei ad suam propriam perfectionem.) Ordinatio III, d. 17 (W 180-81, see note 8, above). And: “I say that [natural will] is the inclination to its own perfection, as in other things not having free appetite.” (Dico quod est inclinatio ad ipsam perfectionem, sicut in aliis non habentibus appetitum liberum.) Ordinatio IV, suppl. d. 49, qq. 9-10, n. 10 (W 184-85, see n. 7, above). I am not sure where the term “natural will” comes from. When Anselm introduces the two affectiones in De casu diaboli, he speaks of them as two “wills.” Scotus may have that in mind when he speaks of “a twofold appetite or will, i.e., natural and free”: “… duplex est appetitus sive voluntas, naturalis scilicet et liber,” ibid. (W 192-83). He goes on to identify natural will with the inclination of the will to the natural perfection of the agent and calls the latter “happiness”: loc. cit. (W 184-97). Scotus does not explicitly identify affectio commodi and natural will, but the parallel handling of happiness and “seeking the perfection of its own nature” makes the connection clear.

  14. “Sed tantum importat inclinationem potentiae ad tendendum in propriam perfectionem suam, non ad agendum ut sic. … Sed est alia tendentia in potentia eadem ut libere, et active tendat eliciendo actum. …” (Ordinatio III, d. 17 [W 182-83, see note 8, above]). Not only is natural will not an elicited act (ibid., and Ordinatio IV, suppl. d. 49, qq. 9-10 [W 184-85, see note 7, above]), it is not even the cause of any elicited act (Ordinatio II, d. 6, q. 2 [W 472-73, see note 12, above]); for only the will as free (i.e., with dual affections) is the cause of elicited acts: Ordinatio II, d. 39 (W 202-203, Codex A [f. 138ra-b]).

  15. The scholastics distinguished, within willed actions, between “commanded acts” (e.g., an agent's voluntarily moving a limb) and “elicited acts.” The former are acts the will brings about; the latter are (as it were, intransitive) acts of the will itself.

  16. “[The will] is not absolutely determined to elicit the one act or the other.” (Non tamen absolute determinatur ad unam actum eliciendum nec ad alium.) Ordinatio IV, suppl. d. 49, qq. 9-10 (W 190-93, see note 7, above). See also Ordinatio II, d. 39, qq. 1-2 (W 202-203, Codex A [f. 138ra-b]); III, d. 17 (W 180-83, see note 8, above); and Quodlibet 16.43. Note that the two inclinations are not strictly parallel (see note 14, above) and, perhaps more importantly, that they are not strictly “powers of the will” (in the way the intellect and will are “powers of the soul”): see note 28, below.

  17. The intellect is a cognitive power that enables an agent to go beyond the capacities of sensation: the intellect, so to speak, “registers” things that sensation does not. In a similar way, it seems, affectio justitiae extends the conative (or appetitive) capacities of an agent beyond those of affectio commodi. As we shall see in Section 3, because Scotus holds that the intellect is a natural rather than a “rational” power (see notes 6, above and 48, below), he thinks there could be a nonfree, submoral agent with an intellect but without affectio justitiae. But this seems to me to create a problem. Such an agent's intellectual capacity presumably allows it to comprehend what a person is even though, in lacking affectio justitiae, it apparently would not think of persons as what should be treated as ends. If, on the other hand, it has only those concepts that have no such connotations of value, this fictional agent seems to me to have such a limited conceptual capacity that, combined with its brutish conative structure, it gives no more purchase for the needed contrast with fully rational agents than does the case of the brutes.

  18. The will itself is, in some sense, “tempered” by having dual affectiones: indeed, that is its libertas ingenita (see note 1, above). Properly speaking, however, it is affectio commodi which is tempered. The question then is whether it is “intrinsically” or only “extrinsically” modified by the presence of affectio justitiae. That is to say, in an agent with dual inclinations, does affectio commodi operate in a moderated way or is it rather that, because the will as a whole has other interests, affectio commodi is no longer the only influence on it (i.e., no longer the only conative response of which it is capable)? See note 52, below.

  19. “[V]oluntas, respectu finis ultimi, tenetur moderari inclinationem sui ad ipsum ne immoderate velit, alio scilicet modo quam velle debeat et ne alio modo velit illud sibi quam illud sit in se” (Ordinatio II, d. 6, q. 2 [W 474-75, see note 12, above]). See also: “As for the assumption that a will conformed to a natural will is always right, because what is natural is always right, I reply by saying this. If in eliciting its act, the will behaves as it would if were acting from itself alone, then it is not right, for it has another rule for acting than it would have if it were acting solely on its own. For it is bound to follow a higher will, from which, in moderating that natural inclination, it is in its power to moderate or not to moderate; because it is in its power not to act in the fullest way that it can.” (Quando ergo acciptur quod voluntas, consona voluntati, naturali, semper est recta [quia et illa semper est recta] respondeo et dico quod consonat sibi in eliciendo actum, sicut illa eliceret ex se sola ageret—non est tamen recta, quia habet aliam regulam in agendo, quam illa haberet si ex se sola ageret; tenetur enim sequi voluntatem superiorem, ex quo in moderando illam inclinationem naturalem in potestate ejus est moderari vel non moderari, quia in potestate eius est non summe agere in quod potest.) Ibid., n. 10 (W 472-75). See also ibid., W 469-70, quoted in note 12, above.

  20. “[I]n bonis erat inclinatio naturalis ad beatitudinem, quanta erat in malis. … [S]ed utebantur voluntate secundum ejus perfectam rationem (quae est libertas), agendo secundum voluntatem eo modo quo congruit agere libere in quantum liberum agit: hoc autem erat secundum regulam superioris voluntatis determinantis, et hoc juste. … Habere actum perfectum appetandi bonum sibi, ut per illum magis ametur objectum in se—hoc est ex affectione justitiae; quia unde amo aliquid in se, inde volo aliquid in se; et ita boni potuerunt appetere beatitudinem, ut habentes illam perfectius amarent summum bonum: et iste actus concupiscendi beatitudinem, esset meritorius, quia non utitur fruendo sed fruitur eo, quia bonum quod concupisco mihi, ad hoc concupisco ut plus amem illud bonum in se” (Ordinatio II, d. 6, q. 2 [W 474-77, see note 12, above]). Along with both Augustine and Aristotle, Scotus recognizes happiness as an “ultimate good”; it cannot therefore be sought as a mere instrument towards another good—although that “ut” in the last line of the text just quoted is suspicious. In any event, Scotus is not arguing here that the agent must always act for happiness: Scotus explicitly disassociates himself from Anselm on this point (Ordinatio II, d. 39, qq. 1-2 [W 202-203, Codex A (f. 138ra-b)]).

  21. It is important, I think, to keep initially distinct the traditional idea of realizing the potential of one's nature and the idea of self-interest that modern writers tend to oppose to altruism: see Thomas Nagel, What Does It All Mean? (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987), 63ff. One would need some argument, I think, to show that self-interest (as opposed to altruism) is prior. In the context on which Scotus is drawing, however, it is part of what a nature is that the agent seeks to realize its potential.

  22. See, e.g., Reportata parisiensia II, d. 6, q. 2, n. 9, quoted in note 27, below. Note that the distinction between moral and nonmoral action (represented by the contrast of an agent with two and an agent with only one basic inclination) is not the same as that of moral versus immoral action (represented in the need to transcend affectio commodi within the will of a moral agent).

  23. It is, of course, the rational agent acting through the will that is ultimately responsible. However, one cannot then attribute to the agent the possibility of deciding between the inclinations of the will, for this would be to introduce another intellectual appetite (and so on).

  24. This is far too brief an account of a complex issue. I go into a bit more detail on the problem in Section 7. But the problems really go beyond the scope of the present paper.

  25. E.g., “I say that a natural appetite is just a general name for a thing's natural inclination towards its proper perfection.” (Dico quod appetitus naturalis in qualibet re generali nomine acciptur pro inclinatione naturali rei ad suam propriam perfectionem.) Ordinatio III, d. 17 (W 180-81, see note 8, above). See also ibid., IV, suppl. d. 49, qq. 9-10 (W 184-85, see note 7, above).

  26. Beyond the appeal to two rather than one basic inclination in rational appetite, Scotus pretty clearly means to distance himself from Aquinas who seems to make having an intellect a sufficient condition of rational/free/moral action: e.g., Summa Theologiae I, q. 33, a. 1.

  27. “Ad primum horum dico primo, praemittendo quod affectiones commodi et justi non sunt sicut a voluntate libera, quasi superaddita; sed affectio justi est quasi ultima differentia, ita quod sicut homo est substantia animata et animal, non tamen illae sunt passiones essentiae, sed per se de intellectu hominis; sic primo potest concipi appetitus, deinde intellectivus et cognitivus, et adhuc non concipiendo affectionem commodi et justi; et si esset unus Angelus, qui haberet appetitum cognitivum absque affectione justi, careret justo, et non esset appetitus liber. Unde intellectivus, si careret affectione justi, ita naturaliter appeteret conveniens intellectui, sicut appetitus sensitivus conveniens sensui, nec esset magis liber quam appetitus sensitivus; ideo affectio justi est ultima differentia specifica appetitus liberi. Et licet posset intelligi generalius, non intellecto speciali, non tamen distinguuntur re illae affectiones ab ipsa voluntate. Nec potest voluntas libere et recte operans elicere actum per affectionem commodi tantum, sine affectione justi, etsi possit elicere actum conformiter, ac si esset solum per affectionem commodi. Sicut nec potest aliquid in specie operari absque differentia specifica, sicut homo sine rationali, licet possit elicere actum conformen actui, quem eliceret, si esset tantum animal; sic in proposito, si poneretur voluntas secundum istum gradum priorem, ut vult aliquid secundum affectionem commodi praecise, immoderate appeteret beatitudinem, et si tunc conformiter eliciat, immoderate appetit, sed tunc esset tantum appetere naturale, et in omni natura est appetitus ad beatitudinem suo modo; est si tantum esset ille appetitus naturalis, tunc esset illud appetere intensissimum, vituperabile. Sed quia nunquam est in voluntate affectio prima sine secunda, ita quod sit sine hoc, quod possit appetere affectione justi, et quod illud velle naturale non est velle elicitum, nec est praecise in appetitu libero, quando voluntas habet potestatem moderandi secundum dictamen regulae superioris, ideo si non moderatur, peccat” (Reportata parisiensia II, d. 6, q. 2, n. 9 [W-V XXVII, pp. 621a-622a). The text is not included in Wolter's selection, but he refers to it on pp. 13 and 40. Note that it is from a reportatio which is not yet covered by the critical edition of Scotus's work. And see note 4, above.

  28. Even from a psychological point of view, the two affectiones are not powers of the will in the way intellect and will are powers of the soul. Just as the inclination of a stone to fall is nothing other than the nature of the stone (as heavy object), so the combination of the two affectiones is nothing other than the will: Ordinatio II, d. 6, q. 2 (W 470-71, see note 12, above).

  29. See Ordinatio III, suppl. d. 26 (W 178), quoted in note 1, above; Reportata parisiensia II, d. 6, q. 2, n. 9, quoted in note 27, above. See also note 6, above.

  30. Scotus is following the lead of Anselm's thought experiment (De casu diaboli, chs. 12ff.) where he imagines God is making an angel “step by step rather than all at once.” Scotus, I think, means to introduce a fictional kind of thing rather than an incomplete stage of a natural thing (an angel). I resort to the capitalized “Angel” in order to emphasize that something rather special is being proposed, whether as an incomplete rational agent or as a new (fictional) species.

  31. Ordinatio III, d. 26 (W 178, Codex A [f. 170va]); Reportata parisiensia II, d. 6, q. 2, n. 9 (quoted in note 27, above). Scotus at one point speaks of “everything seeking happiness in its own way,” ibid., but I assume this is a metaphorical way of bringing out the generic character of affectio commodi.

  32. Ordinatio II, d. 39 (W 202-203, Codex A [f. 138ra-b]). Since in a fully rational agent acts in accord with affectio commodi are free, we can have no experience from our own case of what the action of such an agent would be like: Ordinatio IV, suppl. d. 49, qq. 9-10, a. 2 (W 191, see note 7, above); Quodlibet 16.43. See note 6, above, for my contrast of “intellectual” and “rational”; and note 35, below.

  33. See notes 7 and 27, above.

  34. The point of the Angel, I think is to establish the highest form of the nonmoral in order to identify the proper contrast of moral and nonmoral (though see my reservations in note 17, above). It might be profitable to reconstruct an “Anselmian-Scotistic” scheme along the lines of the “genitorial project” (or “Creature Construction”) sketched out by Paul Grice (“Method in Philosophical Psychology,” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Association 48 (1974-75): 23-53, see especially 36-45). The idea would be to establish first (Grice's Section V) a base line in the generic “seeking the agent's perfection.” Then (Grice's Section VI) one might try to show how the addition of an affectio justitiae constitutes an “improvement” on the generic orientation, as well as how what is originally a modification on seeking advantage becomes the “essential” character of “free action.”

  35. See note 8, above. The contrast between the natural and the voluntary is so strong as to create a sort of paradox in speaking of the “nature” of the will. It is the “nature” of the will to be free, but as such (i.e., as a voluntary agent) it is then altogether different from any natural agent. The will's action, for Scotus, is not determined by any finite nature including its own.

  36. I assume for purposes of comparison … [that] “human being = rational animal”. …

  37. The English word “sentient” has a connotation of being conscious, but I use it here to label the species of the cognitive that is sensation.

  38. See notes 6 and 34, above. My distinction between the “intellectual” and “rational” may be an unusual one terminologically even for Scotus, but the underlying point is a substantial one. The intellect, for Scotus, is a natural power and an intellectual appetite is a natural appetite: hence the amoral Angel. Although it is an appetite, in the broadest sense, the will does not operate as and cannot be analyzed as a natural appetite. Terminology aside, the latter point is central to Scotus's moral psychology.

  39. In describing the development of an animal fetus Aristotle says (in effect) that at one stage it is “just living” and at another “just animal”: i.e., while in the process of its development, it is only potentially and not yet actually any species of thing. (It is not even like a caterpillar or a tadpole.) See Generation of Animals 2.3.736b2-5 (cited in G. Matthews, “Aristotelian Essentialism,” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 50 suppl. [1990]: 257). But this status of being in a genus but not in a species is relevant only to special cases associated with the potential in the processes of growth and decay. (See recent descriptions of a human being suffering “brain death” as “a vegetable.”) This sort of generic “just having affectio commodi” might be more appropriate in Anselm's thought experiment, where the Angel is meant to be in the process of development.

  40. For example: (1) within the context of the dual affectiones “natural willings” are (free) acts of will but only “in accord with affectio commodi”; (2) but (nonfree) appetitive acts of the fictional subrational Angel can also be described as “acts of affectio commodi alone”; (3) and then affectio commodi, by a sort of abstraction, is associated with the genus “intellectual appetite.” See also note 22, above.

  41. G. E. M. Anscombe and Peter Geach, Three Philosophers (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1961), 81.

  42. One might have an Addition scheme that does not use the unique sort of specific difference that produces an infima species in the way that appears within a Porphyrian Tree. But it is the latter sort of Addition scheme that I am concerned with here. See note 50, below.

  43. There are some oddities about the Tree scheme which we usually handle well enough in practice but which still deserve mention. Dogs and beans are both kinds of living thing, but are only said to be species of living thing elliptically. On the other hand, sentient and nonsentient living things are not really species of living thing but more subgenera. And while we may speak of a “brain-dead” animal as “a vegetable” (see note 39, above) we do not say that the brutes are “sentient vegetables” as we do say that humans are “rational animals.”

  44. The prestigious status of the infima species in a Porphyrian Tree may lead one to make the ambiguous claim that humans are not “just animals” (see note 50, below). But donkeys are not “just animals” either, because no species is just the genus. Moreover, it would be incoherent to suppose that a specific difference could produce a thing that transcends its genus. On the other hand, there is something very special about the specific difference that produces an infima species, because it is of a different order from that of the specific difference of any other species on the Tree. To call attention to that, I use such (admittedly metaphorical) expressions as: “escaping the conditions of the genus,” and “lifting the subject to a different order.”

  45. Neither model of genus and specific difference does any metaphysical work of itself. However, they allow for importantly different emphases, for example, in the treatment of the rational soul. In Aquinas, the rational soul is essentially ordered to the body as its unique substantial form, and it is radically incomplete without the body; therefore neither it nor its specific powers are of the same species as a rational being that is purely immaterial (i.e., an angel). For Scotus, it would seem, the intellect and will in humans operate pretty much as they do in angels; and the possibility of the soul existing separately from the body (God willing) is not problematic in the same way. In this case, as in Aquinas's and Scotus's respective treatments of the will and its inclinations, there are, on the face of it, advantages and disadvantages on both sides. It is not my purpose here to try to sort those out.

  46. A word about Scotus's handling of genus and specific difference may not be out of place. For example, Scotus says explicitly that the definition of “whiteness” requires different “formalities” corresponding to genus and specific difference but that accidents do not have correlative multiple forms in the way that human beings (and certain other substances) do (see below). This is not so simple or direct a contrast as it might at first appear.

    First of all, Scotus holds that there are, a parte rei, formalities that correspond with genus and specific difference. But formalities, to gloss over a most difficult topic, are rather like “intelligibilities”: something objective, somehow “in” the thing and yet also what a truly knowing mind would conceive. Forms for Scotus, on the other hand, are straightforward components of a thing. Secondly, Scotus talks of that in the thing from which the genus/specific difference is taken: for example, the specific difference of human being is “taken from the intellectual soul” (see below). One would expect, then, that the genus (proximate and remote) would be taken from the animal and vegetative souls. But, as Gilson points out, Scotus thinks that in humans, the intellectual soul takes over the sentient and vegetative functions so that separable animal and vegetative souls are not needed. He does think there is one separate form (the forma corporeitatis) but that would not do as a ground for genus in this case. (See Gilson, Jean Duns Scot [Paris: J. Vrin, 1952], 492-97.) In short, that from which genus is taken is only “virtually” distinct from the intellectual soul. However, the ontological status of the affectiones of the will is not my present concern; and so the kind of distinction involved (e.g., “formal” or “real”) is not crucial in determining the kind of plurality-in-unity they represent.

    Here are some excerpts from Scotus's treatment of genus and specific difference: “In this connection, there is a twofold distinction prior to the operation of the intellect: [a] one is according to diverse realities, just as species is distinguished, and this is called an ‘intentional distinction’; [b] the other is a formal or ‘perfectional’ distinction, i.e., when, in the same thing, simply apart from [any] consideration of the intellect, there are different intelligibilities or perfections of one which does not formally include the other. And there is such a distinction in creatures which have a simple nature, as in the accidental form. For whiteness does not have different real parts, and yet the genus is taken from another formality than the species of this reality, and from a different perfection. For whiteness does not agree [convenit] with blackness and is distinguished from it.” (Ubi considerandum est quod duplex est distinctio ante operationem intellectus: una quae est secundum diversa realiter, sicut species distinguitur, et haec dicitur esse distinctio intentionalis: alia est distinctio formalis sive perfectionalis, quando scilicet in eadem re et simplici praeter omnem considerationem intellectus sunt diversae rationes aut perfectiones quarum una non includit formaliter aliam. Et talis distinctio etiam est in creaturis, quae habent naturam simplicem, ut in forma accidentali; nam albedo non habet diversas partes reales, et tamen genus accipitur ab alia formalitate istius realitatis quam differentia, et ab alia perfectione, quia albedo non eadem formalitate convenit cum nigredine et distinguitur ab ea.) Lectura I, d. 3, p. 1, q. 1-2, n. 121 (B XVI, pp. 270-71). “In some creatures, genus and differentia are taken from different realities: e.g., positing plural substantial forms in human beings, ‘animal’ is taken from the sensitive [form] and ‘rational’ from the intellective [soul]. Hence that thing from which the genus is taken truly is [something] potential and perfectible apart from the thing from which the differentia is taken. Sometimes, when it is not a case of different things (as in accidents), even in one thing there is some proper reality by which the genus is identified [sumitur] and another reality by which the differentia is identified.” ([I]n aliquibus creaturis genus et differentia accipiuntur ab alia et alia realitate [sicut ponendo plures formas in homine, animal accipitur a sensitiva et rationale ab intellectiva], et tunc illa res, a qua acciptur genus, vere est potentialis et perfectibilis ab illa re a qua accipitur differentia. Aliquando, quando non sunt ibi res et res [sicut in accidentibus], saltem in una re est aliqua propria realitas a qua sumitur genus et alia realitas a qua sumitur differentia.) Ordinatio I, d. 8, pars 1, q. 3, n. 106 (B IV, p. 201). “I say that that reality from which the specific difference is identified is actual in respect of the reality from which the genus (or the notion of the genus) is identified, so that the one reality is not formally the other. Otherwise, there would be a futility in definition: the genus alone (or the differentia alone) would suffice for defining for it would indicate the whole entity of the thing defined. Sometimes this ‘contracting’ is different from the form from which the notion of the genus is identified (when the species adds some reality beyond the nature of the genus). And sometimes there is no other thing but only another formality or another formal concept of the same thing.” ([D]ico quod illa realitas a qua sumitur differentia specifica, est actualis respectu illius realitatis a qua sumitur genus vel ratio generis—ita quod haec realitas non est formaliter illa; alioquin in definitione esset nugatio, et solum genus sufficienter definiret [vel illa differentia], quia indicaret totum entitatem definiti. Quandoque tamen istud ‘contrahens’ est aliud a forma a qua sumitur ratio generis [quando species addit realitatem aliquam supra naturam generis]—quandoque autem non est res alia, sed tantum alia formalitas vel alius conceptus formalis eiusdem rei.) Ordinatio II, d. 3, pars 1, q. 5-6, n. 179 (B VII, p. 479).

  47. “[U]t rationalitas quae sumitur ab anima intellectiva …” (Lectura I, d. 3, p. 1, q. 1-2, n. 122 [B XVI, pp. 270-71]).

  48. While associated with the contrast to “intellectual” (which I described in note 6, above), the use of “rational” here is a special one derived from some remarks of Aristotle: see Quaestiones in Metaphysicam IX, q. 15 [W 144-73, Balliol 234 (ff. 132rb-34vb); cf., Quaestiones subtilissimae super libros Metaphysicae Aristotelis in W-V VII; Quodlibet 16.43, 18.24. See Wolter, “Duns Scotus on the Will as Rational Potency.”

  49. Any appearance that other powers of the soul (including the intellect) are “rational” powers is simply a function of the will's exercise of command over them—as when the will directs the intellect to consider a different object: see the references in the previous note. Scotus works at sorting out the role of the intellect in Lectura II, d. 25, q. unica (C. Balić, “Une question inédite de Jean Duns Scot sur la volonté, Recherches de Théologie Ancienne et Médiévale 3 [1931]: 191-208. This is sometimes called the “Additiones secundae.”) William Alnwick also reported on Scotus's position in the so-called “Additiones magnae”: Balić, Les Commentaires de Jean Duns Scot sur les quatre livres de Sentences (Louvain: Bureaux de la Revue, 1927), 264-301. Balić later questioned the accuracy of the latter: see Antonianum (1953) 28: 287n.2.

  50. When “rational” applies to other things than humans it is not serving as a differentia (see note 6, above). Perhaps some would claim that the rational soul in human beings makes them capable of actions that assimilate them to nonmaterial agents: e.g., that it makes the human being a person and that persons are not of the genus “animal.” At one time, I thought that might be a model for how Scotus viewed the function of affectio justitiae. After all, to use the Angel or an immaterial substance as a base for distinguishing a rational (and free) from an intellective (and nonfree) appetite suggests some kind of breaking out from the familiar classification scheme. But I do not believe that (leaving aside, perhaps, problems in the theology of the Incarnation) Scotus would sanction any distinction between “this person” and “this rational animal.” It seems to me now that the special character Scotus means to attribute to affectio justitiae as a specific difference is sufficiently represented by the kind of specific difference of the infima species in a Porphyrian Tree.

  51. To come to appreciate the inadequacy of the model of specific difference and genus as a representation of the relation of affectio justitiae and affectio commodi is, I think, to better understand a problem about the unity of the will for Scotus. Along the way, I have gestured at the inadequacy of certain other possible models: e.g., the relation of will to intellect or of the natural to the voluntary. None of this shows that Scotus's theory does not allow for a unified moral agent. My purpose here has been only to indicate the problem with the model of definition and not to find fault with the theory. In the final analysis, I think, there will remain an important sort of “dualism” in Scotus's moral psychology. It is there, however, because Scotus thinks that is what morality is like.

  52. The two models, I am claiming, cannot be put together to produce the equivalent of a “duck-rabbit” picture; they result rather in something like the “impossible” representations of Escher.

  53. Early on in his career, Augustine accepted the classical idea that love of others (friendship) could be analyzed as “true self-love.” Fairly soon, however, he abandoned that and adopted a hostile attitude towards it: it is hubris to see everything through the prism of self-love—hence the sharp division of the two loves in the City of God. See Oliver O'Donovan, The Problem of Self-Love in St. Augustine (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1980). This hostility can be carried over to all forms of “self-realization” or “self-perfection” ethics; and I think that there is a strong flavor of that hostility in Scotus (see his reference to the “two loves” in this connection: Ordinatio II, d. 6, q. 2 [W 464-65, see note 12, above]). It is interesting, however, that Augustine does not adopt a similar attitude to “true happiness”: i.e., he is ready to identify the true happiness of rational agents with the love of God in Himself. For Scotus, it seems, “happiness” essentially carries the connotation of a limited and “natural” perfection.

  54. See note 20, above. Indeed the will cannot “will against” happiness or “will for” misery: see note 9, above. At the same time, Scotus seems to me to posit a real duality in these inclinations rather than, say, making one a modification of the other (i.e., a different manner or aspect of seeking the same goal). The morally good agent does not just seek happiness justly, as Anselm puts it in De casu diaboli, ch. 14. For Scotus, as I read him, the morally good agent must strive for something else.

  55. In his early (and abandoned) theory, according to John Rawls (in his samizdat lectures on the history of ethics), Kant held that the agent acts well when the will wins out in the struggle with the agent's natural inclinations and acts ill when the latter prevail. On such a theory, the will can be overcome (i.e., can lose out to natural inclinations in any particular struggle); but it is—like the “true self” of the Manicheans—never itself evil or corrupted. Whether or not his assessment of Kant is accurate, the problem Rawls identifies is significant and his label is apt: Augustine accused the Pelagians of “Manichaeism” on basically the same grounds.

    On the face of it, Scotus cannot be accused of this flaw in the (alleged) theory of the early Kant simply because he locates the moral struggle within the will. There is, perhaps, an analogue in the fact that action in accord with affectio justitiae is always action that (the agent sincerely thinks) is just, so that in evil action the agent somehow “neglects” considerations of justice. But Scotus would hold that the will itself is acting defectively when, having affectio justitiae, it fails to act in accord with it but acts in accord with affectio commodi alone.

  56. See note 12. The presence of affectio justitiae could temper the will (“externally,” as it were) simply by allowing it an additional goal so that it did not always have to seek happiness. But I think Scotus would not—should not—be satisfied with that. In a free appetite, affectio commodi must be tempered “internally” so that, while the agent is inclined to happiness “summe” (see note 8, above), it need not, even when it seeks happiness, act so as to achieve it in an “untempered” way.” Of course, it is not the responsibility (so to speak) of affectio commodi to control itself; it is the will that is responsible for failing to act in accord with affectio justitiae. But there is still a question whether there are two “moments” in the moral act (internally moderating affectio commodi and then acting in accord with affectio justitiae) or whether there is only one (seeking something other than happiness).

  57. Scotus's debt to Aristotle's ethics is considerable—notably in connection with the account of virtue. But it seems equally clear that the dual affectiones theory, and in particular, the identification of affectio commodi with seeking the perfection of one's intellectual nature, is opposed to Aristotle's more “intellectualist” outlook.

  58. Scotus allows that there are moral failings involving intellectual apprehensions and/or akrasia. But he holds that the most serious moral evil (malitia) occurs when the agent knows just what is happening and is not diverted by passion: Opus oxoniensis II, d. 43, q. 2 (W 478-79, a reconstruction from three MSS, but see Opus oxoniensis II, d. 49, qq. 1-4, nn. 10-11 in W-V XIII, 460-61). Notice that an agent with a purely natural cognitive appetite can act well or badly: in the brutes, for example, fear can short-circuit or “freeze” the normal cognitive operations, or some perceptual (or other) illusion may provide the agent with inadequate information. For Scotus, however, there can be neither moral failing nor moral achievement unless there is, at the minimum, a possibility of acting nonmaximally upon natural inclinations, precisely in virtue of the possibility of transcending a purely natural appetite.

  59. As Scotus acknowledges (Ordinatio II, d. 6, q. 2 [W 464-65, see note 12, above]), there are overtones in his account of the dual affectiones of Augustine's scheme of the “two loves.” The emphasis, however, is on the autonomy—the libertas ingenita—of the rational agent, which is based on its ability to transcend the activity of “natural appetite.”

  60. I once thought the dual affectiones theory had the advantage over single affection theories in being able to exhibit immoral action as “rational” action: i.e., action where the agent knows what it is doing rather than being somehow ignorant or inept in realizing its goal. Even for Scotus, however, the crucial aspect in seriously immoral action (malitia) is that the agent ignores (but ought not ignore) the inclination that is affectio justitiae. Its motive in doing that is clearly its own view of its happiness (after the affectio commodi), but the agent is still acting irrationally in ignoring its higher goals. I now think the primary difference in Scotus's account is simply that morality cannot be a matter of extending self-realization but requires the possibility of its transcendence.

  61. There are writers nowadays (e.g., Susan Wolf, “Moral Saints,” Journal of Philosophy 79 [1984]: 419-39) who (in effect) object to Aristotle's scheme because he identifies the ultimate judgments of practical reason with morality and thus makes “the moral choice” not just one value among others but the absolute and overriding value. There may be differences between Scotus's and Aristotle's accounts of practical reason, but this is not one of them.

  62. See note 60, above. Scotus has an interesting suggestion about how the inordinate seeking of one's own benefit might turn into hatred of God: Ordinatio II, d. 6, q. 2 (W 476-77, see note 12, above).

  63. It won't really matter whether this is “free” action—as a matter of whim—or whether it is “automatic” action within each sphere; for neither would ground the responsibility of a free, moral agent.

  64. The will, for Scotus, always has a tendency or inclination towards happiness (for that is part of its “nature”) but this is not an inclination to act: see note 14, above. Unlike Anselm, Scotus explicitly denies that the agent always acts for happiness: Ordinatio II, d. 39, qq. 1-2 (W 202-3, Codex A [f. 138ra-b]).

  65. The matter of “balancing” deserves very careful analysis. It won't do to say that it is the agent that balances (or chooses between) the two affectiones since the latter are part of the explanation of what it is for an agent to choose or opt for some course of action (see note 23, above). Scotus might insist on his side, of course, that no new motive or goal (in addition to “justice” or “benefit”) need be introduced.

  66. And in the history of ideas: of course, Scotus does not bear the responsibility for everything that occurs after him, but his moral theory may well constitute an important chapter in the story of how prudentia in Aristotle came to be transformed into the “prudential judgment” in Kant.

  67. An earlier version of this paper was read at the University of Toronto, and I am indebted to the criticisms and comments made there. I also benefited greatly from the helpful comments of two anonymous referees for the JHP.

Almost all the references I make to Scotus can be found in Allan B. Wolter, O.F.M., Duns Scotus on the Will and Morality (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1986), hereafter “W” followed by page. (I have sometimes adjusted the translation.) For my references to Scotus not to be found in Wolter, I use, where possible, the critical edition: Opera Omnia, ed. Balic (Civitas Vaticana: Typis Polyglottis Vaticanis, 1950-), hereafter “B” followed by page; or the Wadding reprint of the Vivès edition: Opera Omnia, ed. Wadding-Vivès (Paris, 1891-95), hereafter “W-V” followed by page and column. References to the Quodlibet follow the divisions used in Alluntis and Wolter, eds., God and Creatures: The Quodlibetal Questions (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1975).

In many cases, where texts are not yet covered by the critical Vatican edition, Wolter has used better manuscript sources than the Wadding-Vivès edition. There I simply report the bibliographical details he has provided.

Richard Cross (essay date April 1997)

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 13755

SOURCE: Cross, Richard. “Duns Scotus on Goodness, Justice, and What God Can Do.” Journal of Theological Studies. n.s. 48, no. 1 (April 1997): 48-76.

[In the following essay, Cross analyzes and rejects Scotus's assertion “that God has libertarian freedom with regard to all his actions,” contending that such a claim creates an ethical contradiction between God's contingent action and the premise that God always acts in accordance with right reason.]

The claim that God is omnipotent is not exactly the same as the claim that God can bring about any (broadly) logically possible state of affairs: i.e., any state of affairs all of the descriptions of which are logically possible. For example, God cannot bring about any logically necessary state of affairs.1 He cannot bring about any contingent state of affairs the description of which entails that God does not bring that state of affairs about. (For example, I take it that necessarily my free actions are brought about only by me, and not by God.)2 Most modern philosophers of religion (and many medieval ones as well) hold that God's having certain attributes entails that there are some logically possible states of affairs which God cannot bring about. For example, perfect goodness coupled with omniscience might entail that it is impossible for God to bring about a morally bad action.

There are a number of ways in which this position might be developed. One would be to argue that, once God has created animate creatures, God will have certain obligations towards these creatures. But being perfectly good, God will necessarily respect these obligations; and being omniscient, God will not be mistaken about these obligations. (A more sophisticated version of this position is defended by, among others, Richard Swinburne.)3 Another way to develop the position has been defended by Thomas Morris.4 Morris agrees that God's goodness entails that God cannot bring about morally bad actions. He argues, however, that we cannot construe this to mean that divine goodness consists in ‘God's acting always in accordance with universal principles’.5 (Morris labels this the ‘duty model’ of moral goodness.) He reasons:

If God is necessarily good, and part of what that goodness involves is given by the duty model, then it follows that God necessarily acts in accordance with moral principles. But if this is so, a quite modest libertarian principle will entail that God does not exemplify the kind of freedom requisite for being a moral agent with any duties at all. On this principle it will be logically impossible for any individual to have moral duties he necessarily satisfies.6

To avoid rejecting either this libertarian account of moral freedom or the claim that God is necessarily good, Morris proposes that the duty model of divine goodness be replaced by the claim that God acts in accordance with some of the moral principles which bind us, without his being bound by those principles as duties.7 On this account, all of God's free actions would be supererogatory—the type of action which is good but not obligatory.8 Vital to Morris's account is the further claim that God necessarily acts in accordance with the ‘principles which would express duties for a moral agent in his relevant circumstances’.9 (Note that God on Morris's account is not a moral agent, even though he is a perfectly good agent, since according to Morris moral goodness entails the duty model of goodness.) By making this claim, Morris avoids the possibility of God's acting badly. Morris's account makes clear that the source of this impossibility is not anything external to God. Rather, the limits on God's power are caused internally, just in virtue of the kind of being God is.

In this paper, I will attempt to defend four claims.10 Three of these relate directly to Scotus' doctrine of God: (1) that Scotus would agree with Morris in rejecting a duty model of divine goodness; (2) that Scotus would disagree with Morris's further claim that God necessarily acts in accordance with principles which would express duties for a moral agent in his relevant circumstances. We can put this in more Scotistic language as follows: Scotus holds that God does not necessarily act in accordance with right reason. I shall keep with this more Scotistic formulation in what follows. The first of these claims is fairly well known; not many commentators, however, have explored the second claim in any great detail. The second claim might look rather odd for, as we shall see, Scotus holds that right reason, in coming to its conclusions about the moral goodness or badness of actions, takes into account the presence or absence of a divine command. This might make it look as though Scotus holds that God cannot act against right reason. For anything he wants to do, he can issue a command to do it, and his action will thence be in accordance with right reason. But I shall argue that, according to Scotus, there are some morally bad actions whose moral badness is not affected by any putative divine command to perform such actions; and furthermore that some (though not all) of these actions could be commanded by God. If God were to issue a command to perform some morally bad action, God's action would seem to me to count as an instance of God's failing to act in accordance with right reason.

The third claim I shall make is: (3) that Scotus' first two claims need not entail the conclusion that God is not essentially good, provided we give a suitable account of God's goodness. Scotus is certainly not committed to the claim that God is capricious or (worse) cruel. And I will try to show that (3) can follow from (2) if we bear in mind Scotus' motivation for accepting the premiss which entails (2).

The fourth claim, which is entailed by the way Scotus attacks the position that God necessarily acts in accordance with right reason, is: (4) that very few of the obligations binding human beings can be reliably known by natural reason. I am aware that my reading of Scotus will be a controversial reading: but I hope that my reasons for drawing the conclusions which I come to will be evident. I shall claim that Scotus' assertion of conclusions (2) and (4) is entailed by his espousal of a fairly dubious premiss. I shall suggest that Scotus' conclusions are unacceptable, and that we are therefore free to reject the dubious premiss on which they are based.


Scotus argues that there is moral goodness or badness in actions, and that these values are knowable by reason. To see how Scotus defends this claim, we need first of all to introduce his account of natural goodness. By ‘natural goodness’ I mean the intrinsic value that any object or action has, irrespective of its moral value. According to Scotus we find one type of natural goodness when we talk of a thing's ‘being perfectly suited to or in complete harmony with something else—something which ought to have it or which it ought to have’.11 An action can be good (i.e., naturally good) in this sense: i.e., in the sense of being the kind of thing which is in harmony with its agent. This harmony or appropriateness is discernible by reason:

[A judgment about appropriateness] therefore presupposes something certain … judged by the intellect [of the agent]: namely, the nature of the agent, and the power by which he acts, together with the essential notion of the act. If these three notions are given, no other knowledge is needed to judge whether or not this particular act is suited to this agent and this faculty.12

As this quotation makes clear, this discernment of the natural goodness of an action is something which, according to Scotus, can be known by reason, simply from an assessment of the nature of (a) the agent, (b) the relevant power or ability, and (c) the action. For reason to judge that an action is morally good as well as naturally good, we need to add two further considerations to these three: (a) the object of the action; (b) the circumstances surrounding the action—especially the end or goal of the action.13 On this account, an action could have natural goodness while being morally bad. What I wish to emphasize in Scotus' account, however, is that considerations of appropriateness, of the type which Scotus outlines, are considerations that are discovered in things by the intellect, not imposed upon things by the will. This is true even of God's assessment of the moral goodness of actions:

Either this appropriateness stems from the nature of the terms or, if it must generally be traced back to the judgment of some intellect (since the intellect is the measure of suitability), this judgment will be that of the intellect which is the rule of the whole of nature, viz., the divine intellect. Indeed this intellect, just as it knows perfectly every being, so it knows perfectly the harmony or disagreement of one thing with another.14

Appropriateness is something discerned in things (or at least, in the abstract essences of things) by God's intellect: something which he makes a judgment about. It is not something which is determined by the divine will. I will return to this in a moment.

The content of the judgment of reason that an action has moral goodness is labelled ‘right reason’. Scotus claims that an action will be morally good if the action is elicited in accordance with the dictate of right reason:

The moral goodness of the act, then, consists mainly in its conformity with right reason—dictating fully just how all the circumstances should be that surround the act. … It is impossible that some act be given existence and right reason be present as its guide, without this conformity to right reason being also present in the act as a necessary consequence of the nature of the two related terms [i.e., the nature of the act and what right reason dictates of it], for a relation which is a necessary consequence of its terms has no cause of its own other than the cause of its terms.15

Scotus does not spell out clearly just how right reason comes to its conclusions. But he gives some examples. Bigamy is sometimes morally good. We can work this out by bearing in mind a number of good moral principles: (a) that it is good that there be a large number of people to worship God; (b) that the primary end of marriage is procreation; (c) that male and female bodies are of equal value, and thus that it is good for them to be shared on a one-to-one basis; (d) that a secondary end of marriage is the avoidance of fornication. These principles are ones which, according to Scotus, we can discern by considerations of appropriateness and harmony. In Scotus' bigamy example, there is a conflict of interests between these principles. But our reason—by discerning appropriateness and suitability—can arrange these principles in an order of importance (I have given the principles in the order which Scotus clearly presupposes). If (c)—the principle against bigamy—can only be preserved at the expense of (a)—the principle requiring a large number of people to worship God—then it would be good for (c) to be abandoned until such time as there is a large number of people to worship God. And this situation held in the time of the Old Testament Patriarchs. The abandonment of (c) entails the abandonment of (d). But it does not entail the abandonment of (b). Thus the primary end of marriage is still preserved.16

Thus far, I have deliberately ignored the role that divine commands might play in the ethical theory that I am beginning to sketch. In a recent article, Thomas Shannon has used Scotus' account of bigamy to argue that there are proportionalist elements in Scotus' ethical teaching.17 As Ansgar Santogrossi rightly points out in his reply to Shannon,18 however, Shannon has missed the point that a divine command to perform or refrain from some action can make a vital difference to the moral goodness or badness of the action: it is one of the elements that is taken into account by the intellect when determining whether or not some action is morally good. Thus, the moral goodness of some actions might be dependent on a divine command: and thus ultimately on the divine will. This is absolutely correct. But it does not entail very much. For example, it does not entail that all moral goodness is dependent on divine command; and, importantly, it does not entail that every action performed in accordance with a divine command will be morally good. In order to show that every action performed in accordance with a divine command is morally good, we would need to show that a divine command is a sufficient condition for the moral goodness of any action.

According to Scotus, there are indeed some actions the moral goodness of which is wholly dependent on a divine command. Scotus clearly holds that some actions which would otherwise be morally neutral become good or bad just because God has commanded them. For example, Eve's eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge was a morally bad action just because God had proscribed it.19 Confessing one's sins to a priest is also like this: morally good just because God has commanded it.20 I will show in section three below, however, that Scotus clearly holds that the goodness of some otherwise morally bad actions is not altered by any putative divine command to perform those actions; and in section four I will discuss whether according to Scotus there is any sense in which God could issue a command to perform some such morally bad action. Before discussing either of these rather thorny issues, we need to get clear on another aspect of the moral status of human actions in Scotus' theory: their justice. By getting clear on Scotus' account of justice, we will be in a position to see that Scotus' account of moral goodness and divine goodness does not entail a duty model of divine action. And this is the first of the four conclusions I wish to draw concerning Scotus' account of what God can do.


Is God's goodness best construed along the lines of a duty model? To begin with, a definition of ‘justice’:

Justice properly speaking represents a habitual state of rectitude of will, and hence it inclines one in a quasi-natural manner to another or to oneself as quasi-other.21

As Scotus goes on to make clear, to claim that justice is quasi-natural is to claim that it is rigidly binding on the will, it inclines the will deterministically to a certain action or goal.22 In so far as this justice is in God, he will necessarily act in accordance with such justice; in fact, he will be necessarily bound by such justice.

Scotus argues that God is indeed just in this sense. God's nature is just in such a way that God cannot act against his nature. Scotus makes the point rather oddly, in terms of God's having certain duties to himself:

There is no justice in the divine will except that which inclines him to render his own goodness what is its due.23

Scotus elsewhere calls this kind of justice ‘legal justice’. He argues that legal justice is in God just if it is the case that there is some law which is ‘antecedent to any decision of [God's] will’.24 Scotus claims that there is such a law: ‘God should be loved’.25 This law binds God prior to any decision of the divine will. We discover the reason for this in Scotus' discussion of law. Scotus defines ‘natural law’ as follows:

What pertain to the law of nature are either practical principles known immediately from their terms or necessary conclusions which follow from such principles. In either case they possess necessary truth.26

In other words, a proposition of natural law will be necessarily true. Now, Scotus holds that the following proposition is necessarily true: ‘If God exists, he alone should be loved as God’.27 Other principles which follow deductively from this one are also necessarily true: for example, Scotus holds that ‘no irreverence should be shown to God’ follows deductively from ‘God alone should be loved as God’, and thus that ‘no irreverence should be shown to God’ is necessarily binding.28 From this, Scotus thinks that it would be impossible for God ever to command a creature to hate him. Furthermore, God is bound by duties expressed in necessarily true propositions; and, since he is both good and omniscient, it would be impossible for him to hate himself.

This law exists prior to any decision of the divine will, and is binding on that will. The law is not, however, anything external to God. Rather, it simply follows from God's nature as the kind of thing he is. In this sense, the law is simply the expression of an internal constraint in God, preventing him from acting in certain ways. By this, I mean that the law—which follows from God's nature—makes it the case that it is a duty not to hate God, such that this duty is unalterable even by God. Presumably, Scotus would hold that God's goodness is such that it entails that God cannot fail but conform to this duty. This law has certain external results: for example, God will have a duty not to tell us not to conform to the duty of not hating him; and, as perfectly good, God will necessarily conform to his duty in this matter. This is a matter of logical necessity. For Scotus the proposition that God should be hated would be nonsensical and contradictory.

What is important about all of these cases is that God, or God's essence, is in some sense the object of all these actions. Let us label this group of actions ‘actions1’. We can offer a definition of ‘action1’:

‘Action1’ = df ‘A divine action which either has God as its object, or which has a creature as its object such that the action entails that the creature acts or should act in such a way that God is the object of the creature's action’.

The discussion thus far should make it clear that God does not have libertarian freedom with respect to any action1—except, of course, any action1 which is morally indifferent.29

There is one further type of divine action which would count as an action1, and that is God's telling the truth. Scotus holds that, as a result of God's goodness, God cannot lie.30 Scotus discusses this in the context of an account of the sinfulness of perjury. When we swear, we claim God as a witness to the truth of what we swear. Perjury consists in swearing to something which we know to be untrue. In this case, we would be claiming God as a witness to what we know to be untrue. And this, Scotus argues, is an act of irreverence shown to God, the wrongness of which can be deduced from necessarily true principles of natural law: the act of perjury ‘is immediately opposed to that commandment of the first table [of the decalogue] “You shall not take the name of the Lord, your God, in vain”’.31 The problem, for Scotus, is that God is entirely truthful; the irreverence consists in the claim that God is not so, which claim is implied by the perjury. Presumably, then, Scotus would argue that if God were to lie he would be showing some irreverence towards himself: and this not even God can do. I take it that if God cannot lie, then he cannot break his promises either. There is not, of course, a similar problem with our lying: with regard to justice, there is all the difference in the world, for Scotus, between a human person's lying and them committing perjury.

Scotus importantly, and puzzlingly, claims that there are no ethical precepts concerning creatures which are like this. We can put this fairly clearly by distinguishing another class of divine actions, which we can label ‘actions2’. An action2 is any possible divine action which is not an action1:

‘Action2’ = df ‘A divine action which neither has God as its object, nor which has a creature as its object such that the action entails that the creature acts or should act in such a way that God is the object of the creature's action’.

(Scotus' label for action2 is ‘secondary act’.)32 Scotus' claim is that natural law does not extend to any action2. The reason for this is that all the principles of natural law, according to Scotus, are either necessarily true propositions or deducible from necessarily true propositions. The relevant type of proposition here is a proposition concerning what ought to be done. But Scotus holds that there are no such propositions concerning actions2 which are necessarily true. Therefore there can be no precepts concerning actions2 which are necessarily binding: i.e., which are part of natural law. The basic reason is that, if there were any such propositions which were necessarily true, then they would bind God. But for two reasons Scotus does not think that God can be so bound: (a) God has libertarian freedom with regard to all of his actions2; (b) equality is required for duties to hold between persons; but the required equality does not obtain between God and creatures.

The first of these two is the ‘dubious premiss’ to which I referred in my introduction. Scotus' arguments here are essential for his position, and I will discuss them in some detail.

1. Briefly, Scotus seems to hold that if precepts regarding creatures are morally obligatory, then it will be the case that the nature of God and the nature of the creature will jointly entail that God acts in some specified way. But in this case, the nature of a creature is something like a partial cause of God's activity. And if this is true, God cannot be free in a libertarian sense with regard to at least some of his actions2—viz., all his good actions2—whose objects are actually existent creatures. And Scotus regards this as false. Put briefly, Scotus' argument is:

(R) 1. God's will is free in a libertarian sense with regard to all actions2.

2. Therefore there are no obligations prior to the divine will concerning God's actions2.33

According to Scotus there are natures, known by the divine intellect, which are prior to the divine will. These natures are all possible natures. The divine will decides which of these natures to actualize. But a possible nature does not have any features which would entail that God has some duties towards the nature: God is not required to act in a specific way towards any instantiations of a possible nature. Thus, as Scotus puts it, God does not have practical knowledge of his creatures: he does not derive knowledge of how he ought to act from his creatures.34 And the reason for this is that, if there were any features of the possible nature which entailed that God was required to act in some specific way towards any instantiations of the nature, God would fail to have libertarian freedom with regard to all his actions2.

Furthermore, there can be no further necessitating causes for the action of the divine will (e.g. the divine nature), since on Scotus' account the divine nature could never limit God's action without reference to the nature of creatures: and thus (R) could be used indefinitely to disprove that the divine nature could ever limit the types of action2 that God could do. This does not, of course, affect the obligation to love God: which obligation does not involve any consideration of the natures of creatures. Hence, God has a duty, in virtue of his own nature, to love himself. But he has no such duties with regard to his creatures.

2. The second type of argument is based on an account of justice which has its origins in Aristotle, though the way in which Scotus works out his own account will be rather unexpected to those of us who are more familiar with Aristotelian and Thomist accounts. In book five of the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle distinguishes justice into two types: general or legal justice,35 and particular justice.36 The former consists in the set of laws which preserve the common good, the latter in the good of the individual member of a community. Aristotle divides particular justice up into two further types: distributive justice,37 and corrective justice.38 Distributive justice has to do with the sharing out of a community's goods between its members, such that the share a person receives is proportional to the intrinsic worth of that person. Corrective justice has to do with the righting of wrongs perpetrated against one individual by another. In this case, the persons are treated as equals, and the sole concern is that the injured party receives back in equal measure what has been lost. Aquinas labels this type of justice ‘commutative justice’, and offers the following summary of the differences between distributive and commutative justice:

The mean in distributive justice is not taken according to an equality between thing and thing, but according to a proportion between things and persons, in such a way that, just as one person exceeds another, so also the thing which is given to one person exceeds the thing given to the other. … In exchanges between persons [commutationibus] something is returned to some person because of something of his that has been received … and thus it is necessary that thing should be equal to thing, such that a person should return to its owner as much as he gains from that which belongs to someone else.39

Scotus applies these distinctions to his account of God's actions2. Commutative justice, on Scotus' account, holds only when there is some actual equality in status between the two parties (i.e. the two persons) concerned. Hence, since God and creatures are unequal, there can be no commutative justice between God and his creatures.40 I am not sure why Scotus should think this. Aristotle seems to presuppose that there must be a fair degree of equality between the parties for any type of justice to hold. This is presumably why Aristotle thinks that there can be neither justice nor injustice in a master's treatment of his slave41 (an example which Scotus twice uses as an analogy for the inequality between God and his creatures).42 Scotus, as we shall see, allows that distributive justice can hold between unequals, while, oddly, denying that commutative justice can. But I think we can see what Scotus is getting at: because of the radical difference in ontological status between God and creatures, it is difficult to see how God could ever owe his creatures anything. Anything which he gives to creatures will be beyond what they deserve. Since this is the case, we cannot speak of God having a duty to act in any specified way towards his creatures.

In terms of commutative justice, Scotus argues that the only justice in God can be with respect to himself, since God is equal to none other than himself.43 On this account, there will not be much difference between commutative justice and the legal justice mentioned above (i.e. Aristotle's general justice). Commutative justice only holds for God when legal justice does as well, i.e. commutative justice holds for God only when there is some law which binds God.

Clearly, if God has no duties with regard to his actions2, all of his actions2 will be supererogatory. Nevertheless, Scotus is prepared to argue that, even though God does not have a duty to bring about some specific type of action2, we can still speak of God's actions2 being just in a rather more limited sense. Scotus argues, as I have suggested, that the only precepts of natural law are those corresponding to necessarily true propositions, or to propositions which can be deduced from necessarily true propositions. Nevertheless, Scotus offers an extended sense of ‘natural law’ which includes more than just these propositions:

Something may be said in an extended sense to belong to the law of nature if it is a practical truth that is in harmony with the principles and conclusions of the law of nature, in so far as it is immediately recognized by all to be in accordance with such a law.44

The other way in which things belong to the law of nature is because they are exceedingly in harmony with that law, even though they do not follow necessarily from those first practical principles known from their terms, principles which are necessarily grasped by any intellect understanding those terms. Now it is certain that all the precepts of the second table [of the decalogue: viz., commandments four to ten] also belong to the natural law in this way, since their rightness is very much in harmony with the first practical principles that are known of necessity.45

I will label this second type of principle ‘principle2’, and the first type of principle ‘principle1’. We can spot that principles2 fit in harmoniously with principles1. But a principle2 is not ‘known of necessity’, i.e. in this context, it is not necessarily true, or analytic.46

Scotus also argues that God can act in accordance with principles2. God's acting in accordance with principles2 does not mean that he is acting justly in the sense of ‘justice’ outlined in section two of this essay. Let us label this type of justice ‘justice1’. But when God acts in accordance with principles2, his actions exhibit a certain type of justice: let us call it ‘justice2’. God exhibits justice2 if he ‘makes one created thing correspond to another … because this created nature demands something suited to it’.47

As noted above, Scotus expressly claims that justice2, unlike justice1, is not part of the divine nature.48 God can act in accordance with justice2—he can exhibit justice2 in his actions2—but there is nothing about his nature which means that he necessarily does exhibit justice2. Nevertheless, Scotus claims that there is some feature of God's nature which entails that God has a certain inclination or tendency to act in accordance with justice2. The feature is justice1, or something closely related to it. Justice1 (or something closely related to it) does not incline God deterministically to act in accordance with justice2. But Scotus clearly thinks that God has a tendency to act in accordance with justice2. With reference to justice1, Scotus claims:

It could be said that this single justice, which determinately inclines the divine will only to its first act [viz., loving God], modifies each of these secondary acts, though not in a necessary manner, as though it could not also modify the opposite of each.49

Justice1 is the legal justice which I discussed above. Scotus sometimes calls justice2 ‘distributive justice’. On Scotus' account, distributive justice can exist between parties which are not strictly equal, and it respects the essential perfections and natures of things. Scotus claims that distributive justice ‘could be present in God in an unqualified sense, because he could give natures their perfections according to their degree of excellence’.50 Thus, Scotus allows that God can (but does not have to) exhibit justice2. Distributive justice is thus not in any sense binding on God. Again, the reason for this seems to be a presupposition on Scotus' part that for justice—any kind of justice—to be binding, the two parties must be equal.51

Scotus is not totally clear on the way in which justice1 inclines the divine will with regard to actions in accordance with justice2. He states:

This act [viz., some action2] is modified by that first justice, because the act is in harmony with the will to which it is conformed as if the rectitude inclining it in this way were the first justice itself.52

This passage seems to imply that actions2 exhibiting justice2 are in harmony with the kind of thing the divine will is: and it is for this reason that we can talk of these actions as if they were the result of an inclination for which justice1 is responsible. It is of course difficult to see how in fact justice1 could affect God's actions2 at all: by definition, justice1 relates to actions1. But I think we can let this pass: the claim that justice1 inclines God to act with justice2 can be understood to entail a fairly loose connection between justice1 and justice2. I doubt that it makes much difference to Scotus' account exactly what the mechanics of the influence of justice1 on the divine will actually are.

Elsewhere, Scotus talks of God's generosity as acting as a nondetermining influence on God's actions. Although God does not owe it to his nature to act well, there is a sense in which God can ‘owe’ it to creatures, in virtue of his generosity, to act well:

God is no debtor in any unqualified sense save with respect to his own goodness, namely that he love it. But where creatures are concerned, he is debtor rather because of his generosity, in the sense that he gives creatures what their nature requires, which exigency in them is set down as something just, a kind of secondary object of this justice, as it were.53

Prima facie, this passage could provide evidence that Scotus would support something like the position espoused by Morris. But, as I shall make clear below, the premiss of (R), and some claims which I shall make in the next section, will entail that Scotus rejects the position taken by Morris. That Scotus rejects the position taken by Morris will constitute the second of the four conclusions which I wish to draw in this paper.

In the passage quoted, then, the claim is not that God is not essentially generous, but that the term ‘debtor’ is being used metaphorically. Thus, the claim that God is a debtor in virtue of his generosity does not mean that God fails to have libertarian freedom with regard to actions2. As the discussion in this section has made clear, God is not in any sense bound to ‘give his creatures what their nature requires’. He does not have a duty to exhibit justice2 in his actions2. One divine action2 is the issuing of commands to human beings to perform or refrain from various types of inter-creaturely action. In the next section, I will argue for the claim that there are some morally bad actions whose moral status qua good or bad is not altered by any putative divine command to perform those actions: though, as I hope to show in section four, the moral status qua just or unjust of these actions is indeed altered by a divine command to perform the action. (The way in which Scotus might distinguish between ‘good’ and ‘just’ will I hope become apparent.) I will also argue in section four that it is indeed possible for God to command such actions: and thus that it is not necessarily the case that all God's actions2 exhibit justice2.


In this section, I hope to show that a divine command to perform some action is not in every case a sufficient condition for the moral goodness of that action. I will discuss three types of action, considered by Scotus—murder, lying, and adultery—which according to Scotus would fail to count as morally good even if those types of action were commanded by God. Before discussing these examples, I will look at different discussions Scotus gives of the moral goodness of actions falling under the commands of the decalogue. In one very important passage, Scotus argues as follows:

All sins which concern the decalogue are not only formally bad because they are prohibited, but also are prohibited because they are bad [mala], since the opposite of each [precept] is bad by natural law, and a human being can see by natural reason that each of the commands is to be observed.54

This passage is clearly about both tables of the decalogue; and looks as though Scotus is claiming that the goodness of the actions commanded holds independently of God's command to perform them: indeed, the goodness of the actions is being offered as a reason why God commands them. Nevertheless, the passage does not claim explicitly that a divine command is in every case a sufficient reason of the goodness of an action. I will indicate in a moment why I do not think that Scotus held that a divine command is in every case a sufficient reason for the goodness of an action. Taken in conjunction with the claims that God could command the opposite with regard at least to some of the commandments (i.e. the second table), and that God's issuing such a commandment would not in every case be a sufficient reason for the goodness of an action, this passage looks as though it makes the point that God could act contrary to right reason. On the other hand, it is worth noting that Scotus elsewhere argues against the position that the commands of the second table of the decalogue are good independent of any divine command. The position against which Scotus argues seems to be the same as that which in the passage quoted above he accepts:

For all the things that are commanded [in the decalogue] have a formal goodness whereby they are essentially ordered to man's ultimate end, so that through them man is directed towards his end. Similarly all the things prohibited there have a formal evil which turns one from the ultimate end. Hence, those things which are commanded are good not merely because they are commanded, but commanded because they are good. Likewise, what is prohibited there is not evil merely because it is prohibited, but forbidden because it is evil.55

He refutes this position by discussing the obligation not to kill. Scotus asks the following question:

Granted that all the circumstances are the same in regard to this act of killing a man except in the circumstances of its being prohibited in one case and not prohibited in another, could God cause that act which is circumstantially the same, but performed by different individuals, to be prohibited and illicit in one case and not prohibited but licit in the other?56

The answer is Yes; and Scotus gives God's command to sacrifice Isaac as his example. In this case, Scotus reasons, if God were to revoke the obligation not to murder, murder would become licit.57 Now, granted that this position is taken as a way of refuting the view that actions commanded in the second table of the decalogue are good prior to any divine command, the passage looks as though Scotus is claiming that a divine command is sufficient to make the action good. This would rob the claim made in the first passage quoted in this section—viz., that the commands of the decalogue are commanded because they are good—of any explanatory force. Indeed one way of reconciling these two seemingly opposed passages would be to claim that the earlier passage is (contingently) true but lacks any explanatory force. God could issue commands corresponding to ethical claims which, abstracting from any putative divine commands, would still be good; or he could, if he chose, issue commands corresponding to ethical claims which would, were it not for the divine command, be bad. Thus, a divine command would be a sufficient, but not a necessary, condition for moral goodness.

But there is another way of reconciling the two passages, which is confirmed by other ethical claims which Scotus makes, and which also conforms to a distinction which, I shall argue, can be clearly found in Scotus' ethics. If we look at the refutation of the claim that the precepts of the decalogue are commanded because they are good, one or two odd features emerge. The first is that Scotus' reply does not explicitly claim that a divine command would make the action good; Scotus simply claims that it is sufficient to make the action licit. And I think that Scotus fairly consistently makes a distinction between what is good and what is licit or just, as we shall see. Secondly, the reason given for the (rejected) claim that the precepts of the decalogue are commanded because they are good is that they all pertain necessarily to the attainment of a human being's ultimate end—viz., loving God. In this case, all of the commandments would be good in just the same way as Scotus holds the commandments of the first table of the decalogue to be good: i.e. such that God himself is obliged not to dispense from them. And Scotus clearly does not think that the commandments of the second table are good in this sense. He elsewhere makes it clear that he does not regard observing the commandments of the second table as necessary for a human being to achieve his or her ultimate goal.58 But Scotus, in the very first passage in this section, is perhaps using ‘good’ in a slightly different sense, meaning the same thing as ‘exhibit justice2’,59 or, ‘be in accordance with a principle2’. The first passage would thus mean that the precepts of the second table are commanded just because they are in accordance with justice2. And this use of ‘good’, I would suggest, is in fact Scotus' standard usage of the term. This claim can be tested in the discussions of practical cases which follow. At any rate, our two passages would thus be perfectly reconciled by the acknowledgement that ‘good’ is being used equivocally. In this case, God's command to Abraham was in fact not sufficient to make Abraham's action good (in the sense of ‘exhibit justice2’). And, as I shall show, the same is true for some other moral claims as well.

Thus, I take it that we here have prima facie evidence that, at least in some passages, Scotus holds that a divine command to perform some action is not sufficient to make that action good (in the sense of ‘exhibit justice2’). This evidence can be strengthened somewhat if we examine two further passages which more or less clearly argue that a divine command is not sufficient to make an action good. Let me start with what appears to me to be the clearest discussion: that of lying. Scotus holds that lies, or at least lies involving an intention to deceive, are morally bad:

To lie by its very nature implies an intention which is bad, because it is an intention to deceive, and although some acts which do not include a bad intention could be good by reason of some good circumstance, nevertheless an act that includes a bad intention could never be good [bonus], because it formally includes bad will; and so it is in the present case.60

This is the third of three alternative accounts Scotus gives as to the sinfulness of lying.61 The first two accounts are provided with refutations; the third one is not. Hence, as Wolter puts it, ‘since he explains rather than criticizes this third view, Scotus seems to credit it with probability and adopt it as his own’.62 Lying with an intention to deceive, then, is always morally bad. No further added circumstance could make lying good. A fortiori, then, a divine command to lie could not make the action morally good if the action still involved an intention to deceive. The moral, or at least legal, status of the action would not, however, remain entirely unchanged. If a divine command could not make the action good, it would nevertheless make it licit:

It could become licit to speak what is false if the precept of not deceiving one's neighbour were revoked.63

It is important to bear in mind that the context of this last quotation makes it quite clear that this is an instance in which the legal status of an action is changed without any other feature of the action (for example, its status as morally good or bad) being changed.64 Scotus makes it quite clear that the act would still be a result of an intention to deceive. Scotus' claim is that an act issuing from an intention to deceive could be made licit by God: and, as noted, Scotus thinks that under no circumstances could an act issuing from an intention to deceive be good.

This discussion would be completely in line with the claim, which we have seen Scotus makes on some occasions, that the precepts of the second table of the decalogue are commanded because they are good: and it would make it quite clear that a divine command is not itself necessarily sufficient to bring about the moral goodness of some action. I have another example, which seems to me to be more ambiguous: Scotus' discussion of adultery. It is possible that Scotus holds that the moral status qua good or bad of adultery is also left unaffected by any putative divine command:

It does not seem that the sort of combinations signified by such names [as ‘theft’ or ‘adultery’] could possibly be good.65

Adultery is here grouped with theft. But there is a significant difference between the two cases. ‘Theft’ is defined as ‘not just the taking of this thing, but the illegal appropriation of what belongs to another against his will or that of any higher owner’.66 Since God is the highest owner of everything that exists, a divine command to take something that belongs to someone else would presumably be sufficient to make the action good. And at any rate, the divine command would be sufficient to exclude the action from the category of theft as defined by Scotus. Adultery does not seem to be quite the same as this. Scotus defines it as ‘not just the natural act of copulation, but also the impropriety that it is not done with one's spouse’.67 On Scotus' account no action thus described could be good. Now, adultery is not defined so as to entail that acts of copulation with someone else's spouse fail to count as adultery if they are commanded by God. And, since any action that is correctly described as adultery is morally bad, I think we can infer that a divine command would not be sufficient to render an otherwise morally bad action morally good.

I have arranged my two examples in an order of increasing dubiousness: I am fairly sure of the lying case, but a little less sure about the adultery example. I am less sure still of the initial example of murder, since as noted the context makes interpretation difficult. So I will stick with the case of lying, which Scotus does seem to regard as something like an instance of what later ethicists will call an ‘intrinsically evil act’. Granted this, if it were possible for God to issue a command to lie, what would it enable us to conclude about the goodness or justice of God's action? Clearly, since God has no duties with regard to any of his actions2, and since issuing a command to lie is plainly an action2, God in issuing a command to lie is not failing in any of his duties. So we could not say that he was acting morally badly. But I think that we could make the slightly weaker claim that God would be failing to act in accordance with right reason. After all, since we are obliged to obey God, a direct result of a divine command to lie would be an obligation on our part to act in a way which is morally bad. And it seems to me that imposing such an obligation would certainly count as a morally bad action for any moral agent.

We can tighten up the account with one further clarification. Under the circumstances outlined, I have argued that a divine command to lie would be a command to perform a morally bad action. Where does human right reason fit in with this? In other words, if we were to obey the putative divine command, would we be acting in accordance with right reason? Scotus does not discuss this. If my original characterization of right reason as a sufficient condition for moral goodness is correct, then it would seem that, if we were to obey God, we would be failing to act in accordance with right reason so understood. In this sense, we would be obliged not to act in accordance with right reason. On the other hand, if right reason is understood differently, as about what we ought to do (rather than what it is morally good to do), then of course, since we ought to obey God, lying would be in accordance with right reason if God were to command us to lie. The problem only arises, of course, since Scotus does not hold that a divine command is necessarily sufficient to make an action good. In the next section, I will discuss the way in which divine commands do make some ethical difference to the action.


In point of fact, according to Scotus, God always acts in accordance with right reason. The main text is one cited by Wolter:

Whatever God has made, you know that he has made it with right reason.68

Acting ‘with right reason’ is consistently defined by Scotus as acting in accordance with the reason's discernment of the objective values which exist in things.69 Furthermore, Scotus' odd claim that the divine will acts towards creatures as if it were inclined by justice1 is just another way of claiming that God's actions2 respect the intrinsic values of things: thus, his actions2 exhibit justice2:

God is said to be just to a creature in a second way, from the way he makes one created thing correspond to another, … because this created nature requires something suited to it.70

And this amounts to much the same claim as the claim that God acts in accordance with right reason.

The question I now wish to address is this: is it necessarily the case that God acts with right reason? I am going to argue that the premiss of (R), when coupled with the claims made in section three above, will entail a negative response to this question. In a number of places, Scotus makes it clear that God has libertarian freedom with regard to all his actions2. For example:

[God's] will tends to nothing other than himself except contingently.71

There is nothing in the divine will that inclines it specifically to any secondary object in such a way that it would be impossible for it justly to incline towards its opposite. For without contradiction the will could will the opposite.72

The kind of possibility involved here is clearly (broadly) logical possibility: it is logically possible for a being with all those attributes which God possesses to bring about any action2.

The premiss of (R) can be used to pick out the difference between Scotus' position and that defended by Morris. Morris argues that God necessarily acts in a way which is in accordance with duties which bind us. Thus, Morris denies that God has libertarian freedom with regard to these actions, and he therefore would not accept the premiss of (R).73 Scotus, however, thinks that God has libertarian freedom with regard to all his actions2. I am not sure whether or not this claim alone would warrant an inference to the claim that it is possible for God to fail to act in accordance with right reason, but I am sure that we can draw this inference if we couple it with the claim that one possible divine action2 is the issuing of a command to perform some morally bad action, the moral badness of which is not altered simply in virtue of the divine command. For in this case God would be issuing a command to perform some action which his right reason could discern to be morally bad for his creatures to perform.

Scotus' position on divine libertarian freedom with regard to all actions2 does seem to involve just this claim. Thus, God can elicit any action2; and some actions2 are actions which are not in accordance with right reason. In case there is any doubt that God could command some morally bad action, we should note that Scotus draws our attention to God's commandment to Abraham to kill Isaac, and notes that the prohibition on lying could similarly be revoked—and lying is one of those actions which would not be made morally good even by a divine command, as I argued in the previous section.74 That some action would fail to be in accordance with right reason does not in every case prevent God from eliciting that action. Thus, the big difference between Morris's position and Scotus' position is that the former entails that God necessarily act in accordance with moral goodness, while the latter does not. And this is the second conclusion which I hope to establish in this paper.

We might wonder why Scotus should hold that God has libertarian freedom with regard to all his actions2. Since the duty model of divine goodness, as I showed above, can be rejected without a commitment to the premiss of (R), and since the premiss of (R) when coupled with some other Scotist claims entails further conclusions beyond the mere rejection of a duty model of divine goodness, Scotus' commitment to this premiss is not intended merely to entail a rejection of the duty model of divine goodness. In fact, Scotus' commitment to the premiss of (R) is probably a result of Scotus' desire to see all divine actions2 as good in virtue of their generosity: what God gives us is always freely and generously given. I do not want to explore this feature of Scotus' account in any detail here,75 because I am interested in what Scotus' commitment to the premiss of (R) might itself entail, irrespective of Scotus' motivations for accepting the premiss of (R) in the first place. Nevertheless, Scotus' motivation for accepting this premiss enables us to see why his position does not entail that God is not essentially good: the third of the four conclusions which I hope to draw in this paper. Scotus could argue that any kind of moral goodness—not, for example, just that entailed by a duty model—presupposes that the agent has libertarian freedom. Thus, God is essentially good only if he has libertarian freedom. Scotus could add that considerations of divine generosity mean that God never does fail to act in accordance with right reason. Scotus could give an account of goodness which could allow that some agent is essentially good only if (a) it has libertarian freedom, and (b) as a matter of contingent fact it never acts badly. We might want to add more about divine goodness, but a commitment to these two claims would mark the weakest possible account that could be given of an (essentially?) morally good agent. God satisfies (b), since he never fails in his obligations with regard to actions1. On this account of goodness, it is not necessary for an agent to count as (essentially) good for it to satisfy anything like the following condition: an agent is essentially good only if it never acts in a way which would be bad for a moral agent in its relevant circumstances. Hence, in order to count as essentially good, it is not necessary that God act in accordance with justice2, or in accordance with right reason.

Scotus has a further way of spelling out his account of divine goodness. (c) Basically, he argues that whatever God does is just. To claim that God could act unjustly would be incongruous:

Without contradiction the divine will could will the opposite [with regard to any secondary object], and thus it could justly will such; otherwise it could will something by its absolute power and not do so justly, which seems incongruous.76

Although Scotus does not spell this out, he must be committed to the further claim that God has the just power to set up laws which place us under obligations, such that any law which God sets up will be automatically just. As he puts it,

Whenever the law and its rectitude are in the power of the agent, so that the law is right [recta] only because it has been established, then the agent can freely order things otherwise than the right law [which he has established] dictates and can still act in an orderly manner, because he can establish another right or just law according to which he may act in an orderly manner. …

Hence I say that many things can be done in an orderly manner; and many things that do not include a contradiction other than those that conform to present laws can occur in an ordained way when the rectitude of such a law—according to which one acts rightly and in an orderly manner—lies in the power of the agent himself. And therefore such an agent can act otherwise, so that he establishes another upright law, which, if it were set up by God, would be right, because no law is right except in so far as the divine will accepts it as established.77

This claim would seem to warrant the further claim that any action which a human being elicits will be just if it is in accordance with some divine command. Thus, a divine command to perform an action will entail that the action is just: even if the action will be morally bad even granted the divine command. It is in this sense that a divine command has a necessary effect on the moral status of an action elicited in accordance with it.

The sense of ‘just’ here is clearly not that related to justice2. God can justly command that we perform some action even if that action is morally bad. By doing so, I take it that God would be failing to exhibit justice2. ‘Just’ and its cognates are being used here merely as a kind of general description of any action commanded or deemed licit by God. The same is true of the term ‘right’ and its cognates. Whatever God decides can be given the labels ‘right’ and ‘just’. (Above, I discussed some passages in which Scotus makes much the same points with regard to the description of some action as ‘licit’.)


These claims might well seem to be fairly destructive of our ability to reason ethically. But the way in which Scotus works them out means that they are not so. Rather like Morris, Scotus thinks that although there are no duties which bind God with regard to any action2, we can nevertheless claim that God does in fact act in accordance with rules which we could infer from observation of the absolute moral values in actions. This means, first, that we can know the content of the moral law which God in fact wills without any reference to divine commands. But it also means, secondly, that we cannot know, simply by natural reason (without reference to any divine revelation or illumination), that God wills the moral law which he in fact wills. And this is the fourth conclusion which I hope to draw.

I will discuss the second point first. That God has chosen to act in accordance with right reason is, on Scotus' account, a contingent matter. Hence, we cannot know it in the same way as we might know the necessary truth that God should be loved. In fact, we cannot know from empirical data, either, that God has decided to act in accordance with right reason. With reference to the second table of the decalogue, Scotus claims that the precepts were binding even before the fall of Adam, and notes:

All were bound by these precepts, which were either prescribed interiorly in the heart of everyone or perhaps passed down from parents to their children by some teaching given exteriorly by God.78

Even when human beings had all of their faculties unimpaired, the precepts of the second table of the decalogue had to be revealed by God in some sense or another in order to be binding.

Allan Wolter argues against the following claim, made by Quinton with reference to Scotus: ‘Things are good because God wills them and not vice versa, so moral truth is not accessible to natural reason’.79 If I am right, Quinton's claim is nearly correct, and incorrect only on a point of detail. The detail is that the moral goodness or badness of at least some actions is accessible to human reason—since the moral goodness or badness of some actions (e.g. lying) is known independently of any divine command. Thus at least some good behaviour is accessible to reason, but very few obligations follow from truths about the moral goodness or badness of any action. Just or right behaviour (in Scotus' sense of ‘just’ or ‘right’, i.e. to mean ‘obligatory/prescribed behaviour’) is not in every case accessible to reason, since in at least some cases the justice of an action is not only independent of the goodness or badness of that action, but wholly dependent on a divine command. Apart from divine revelation, we cannot know how we should behave, because apart from divine revelation we cannot know what decisions God has contingently come to with regard to how we should behave.

Thus, I would disagree with the claim (italicized by me in the following quotation) urged by Wolter:

Scotus maintains … that while the second table [of the decalogue] represents what is ‘valde consonans’ with natural law, certain aspects of the second table of the decalogue can be dispensed with according to right reason, when their observation would entail more harm than good. But God could obviously not dispense from all its precepts at once, for this would be equivalent to creating man in one way and obligating him in an entirely different fashion, something contrary to what he ‘owes to human nature in virtue of his generosity’.80

In disagreeing with the italicized clause, I am effectively disagreeing with the claim that God cannot fail but act in accordance with right reason. Wolter holds that God cannot fail but act in accordance with right reason. For example, he claims ‘Even the sorts of dispensations Scotus sees God making … are always in accordance with right reason’.81 Central to Wolter's argument is the passage cited on p. 16 above, in which Scotus claims that God is a ‘debtor in virtue of his generosity’ in his actions2.82 I have attempted to argue that it is not the case that Scotus is committed to God's necessarily acting in accordance with right reason, on the grounds that if this were the case, then Scotus would be committed to a claim the opposite of which is entailed by his insistence on God's failing to have practical knowledge of his creatures. I have further argued that there is no evidence at all in the texts to support the claim that God necessarily acts in accordance with right reason. Of course, as I pointed out above, this does not affect Scotus' claim, emphasized by Wolter, that Scotus' God is good in his dealings with his creatures in virtue of his generosity.

Let me return to the first point: that God has in fact decided to act in accordance with right reason. I am sure that Scotus thinks this to be the case and I have dealt with it in section four of this article. But I can find one passage which seems to offer a differing account. When I discussed the example of the command to sacrifice Isaac, above, I noted that this would perhaps be an instance of God commanding an action which he knows to be morally bad. Scotus claims that the precepts of the second table of the decalogue (including the command ‘thou shalt not kill’) are ‘very much in harmony with the first natural precepts which are known of necessity’;83 and that they are necessarily morally good (in the sense outlined on pp. 19-20 above [Journal of Theological Studies n.s. 48, no. 1 (April 1997)]. The claim that God acts with right reason is thus confirmed by the following claim of Scotus: ‘in every state all these commandments [viz. the decalogue] have been observed and should be observed’.84 Scotus goes on to claim that the Israelites' despoiling the Egyptians can be explained such that the act is morally good.85 He makes, however, no such claim in the case of the command to sacrifice Isaac. Clearly, the command to kill was not in fact observed by Abraham. But it is less clear how Scotus thinks that the command not to kill ‘should be observed’, granted a divine command to kill.


Scotus holds that God is bound neither by external nor by internal constraints in his actions towards creatures. Scotus' basic argument for both these claims turns on his claim that God has libertarian freedom with regard to all his actions2. Granted this premiss, Scotus' position is coherent and sensible. But the premiss entails a conclusion which is unacceptable, i.e. that God could act in a way which failed to be in accordance with right reason. Furthermore, there seems to be no compelling independent reason to accept the premiss. It is certainly not required by Christian orthodoxy, and there do not seem to be any philosophically compelling reasons for accepting it either. For this reason, we should reject Scotus' account of God's contingent action and the ethical theory which it grounds.86


  1. Thus, for example, Richard Swinburne, The Coherence of Theism, revised edition (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993), 156; Thomas Morris and Christopher Menzel have, however, disputed this claim: see their ‘Absolute Creation’, American Philosophical Quarterly 23 (1986), 353-62.

  2. Though Scotus would disagree with this claim: see William A. Frank, ‘Duns Scotus on Autonomous Freedom and Divine Co-Causality’, Medieval Philosophy and Theology 2 (1992), 142-64, and the texts discussed therein.

  3. Richard Swinburne, The Coherence of Theism, pp. 184-209.

  4. Thomas V. Morris, ‘Duty and Divine Goodness’, American Philosophical Quarterly 21 (1984), 261-68.

  5. Ibid., p. 261.

  6. Ibid., p. 261.

  7. Ibid., pp. 265-66.

  8. Ibid., p. 267.

  9. Ibid., p. 266.

  10. I refer to the following works of Scotus: Lectura (= Lect.); Ordinatio (= Ord.); Reportata Parisiensia (= Rep.); Quodlibetal Questions (= Quod.). Most of the texts used can be found in Allan B. Wolter, Duns Scotus on the Will and Morality (Washington, D.C: The Catholic University of America Press, 1986): hereafter W. This work contains both the Latin text and an English translation, on facing pages. When quoting in English from passages in this book, I shall give the page references for both the Latin pages and the English pages. On the whole, I quote in Wolter's translation: I have made a few changes which it does not seem necessary to note. Since W contains critical editions of questions which are not elsewhere edited, I shall, whenever quoting from a text which appears in W, give only an exact reference to W. Only when quoting passages which do not appear in W do I refer to other available editions. I have decided, nevertheless, to note the works from which Wolter has excerpted the relevant texts, so that the specialist reader can see at a glance that there is no evidence (on the basis of the texts which I quote) that Scotus' opinions underwent any significant alteration between the Lectura and the end of his life. (We might find evidence that Scotus' terminology is not always as rigid as we might like.)

  11. Quod. 18, in W, p. 210/211.

  12. Quod. 18, in W, pp. 212/213-214/215.

  13. See Ord. 1.17, in W, p. 206/207; Ord. 1.48, in W, p. 236/237; Ord. 2.40, in W, p. 226/227; Quod. 18, in W, pp. 214/215-216/217.

  14. Quod. 18, in W, pp. 210/211-212/213.

  15. Ord. 1.17, in W, p. 206/207; Wolter's Latin text should read, ‘Principaliter ergo conformitas actus ad rationem rectam—plene dictantem de circumstantiis omnibus debitis istius actus—est bonitas moralis actus. … Impossibile enim est aliquem actum poni in esse et rationem rectam poni in esse, quin ex natura extremorum sequatur in actu talis conformitas ad rationem rectam; relatio autem consequens extrema necessario, non habet causam propriam aliam ab extremis’: see Ord., n. 63, Opera Omnia, edited by C. Balić and others (Vatican City: Vatican Press, 1950-), V, 164. Compare also: ‘The moral goodness of an act consists in its having all that the agent's right reason declares must pertain to the act or the agent in acting’: Quod. 18, in W, p. 210/211. On the relationship between right reason and prudence according to Scotus, see Stephen S. Dumont, ‘The Necessary Connection of Moral Virtue to Prudence According to John Duns Scotus’, Recherches de Théologie Ancienne et Médiévale 55 (1988), 184-206; and W, pp. 87-88.

  16. Ord. 4.33.1, in W, pp. 290/291-292/293.

  17. Thomas Shannon, ‘Method in Ethics: A Scotistic Contribution’, Theological Studies 54 (1993), 272-93.

  18. Ansgar Santogrossi, ‘Scotus's Method in Ethics: Not to Play God—a Reply to Thomas Shannon’, Theological Studies 55 (1994), 314-29. For other accounts on the relationship between the divine will and ethics in Scotus' thought, see Marilyn McCord Adams, ‘Duns Scotus on the Goodness of God’, Faith and Philosophy 4 (1987), 486-505; B. M. Bonansea, ‘The Divine Will and Its Bearing on the Moral Law and Man's Predestination’, in Bonansea, Man and His Approach to God in John Duns Scotus (Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1983), 187-224; Etienne Gilson, Jean Duns Scot. Introduction à ses positions fondamentales, Etudes de philosophie médiévale, 42 (Paris: Vrin, 1952), 603-24; Robert Prentice, ‘The Contingent Element Governing the Natural Law on the Last Seven Precepts of the Decalogue according to Duns Scotus’, Antonianum 42 (1967), 258-92. On Scotus' ethics in general see, in addition to the excellent introductions in W, Mary Elizabeth Ingham, Ethics and Freedom. An Historical-Critical Investigation of Scotist Ethical Thought (Lanham, Md; University Press of America, 1989).

  19. Lect. 2.21-22.1-2, n. 29, Opera Omnia, edited by C. Balić and others, XIX, 206. I quote this passage, and a further related passage, in note 54 below.

  20. Ord. 4.17, in W, pp. 262/263-265/266.

  21. Iustitia proprie <est= rectitudo voluntatis habituatae, et per consequens, quasi naturaliter inclinans ad alterum vel ad se quasi ad alterum’; Ord. 4.46, in W, p. 246/247. (I use angle brackets to denote my (non-critical) alterations to Scotus' Latin.)

  22. ‘Deterministically’, since the context makes it clear that the relevant contrast is with something which would incline the will merely contingently to its goal.

  23. Nullam iustitiam habet ‹divina voluntas› nisi ad reddendum bonitati suae illud quod condecet eam’; Ord. 4.46, in W, p. 246/247.

  24. Prior determinatione voluntatis suae’; Ord. 4.46, in W, p. 240/241.

  25. Ord. 4.46, in W, pp. 240/241 and 252/253.

  26. Ord. 3.37, in W, p. 270/271; see also Ord. 4.17, in W, p. 262/263.

  27. Si est Deus, est amandus ut Deus solus’; Ord. 3.37, in W, p. 276/277. See also Ord. prol. 5.1-2, nn. 336-37, 339, 344, Opera Omnia, edited by C. Balić and others, I, 219-21, 224-25. Scotus has a clearly delineated account of logical possibility (see Lect. 1.39.1-5, nn. 49-50, Opera Omnia, edited by C. Balić and others, XVII, 494); and I take it that Scotus is relying on an account of logical necessity in both of the passages just quoted. Thus, we might claim that the proposition ‘If God exists, he alone should be loved as God’ is analytically true. I shall use the term ‘necessary’ in this strict sense throughout this article.

  28. See Ord. 3.37, in W, p. 276/277.

  29. See also Ord. prol. 5.1-2, nn. 329-31, Opera Omnia, edited by C. Balić and others, I, 214-17.

  30. Ord. 3.39, in W, p. 504/505.

  31. Having discussed two different forms of perjury, Scotus notes: ‘Utroque autem modo fit irreverentiam immediate Deo contra illud praeceptum primae tabulae: “Non accipies nomen Dei tui in vanum”’; Ord. 3.39, in W, p. 504/505.

  32. See for example Ord. 4.46, in W, p. 248/249. Scotus' label for action1 is ‘first act’; see Ord. 4.46, in W, p. 246/247. The context here makes it clear that ‘first act’ has this (somewhat eccentric) use in this question.

  33. Scotus has a rather unwieldy argument for this which, if we add in a couple of required steps omitted in Scotus' rather enthymematic way of arguing, runs as follows:

    (P1) If there are obligations prior to the divine will concerning God's actions2, then these obligations are infallibly knowable by the divine intellect.

    (P2) If there are obligations concerning God's actions2 infallibly knowable by the divine intellect, then either (a) necessarily the divine will wills these obligations; or (b) it is not the case that necessarily the divine will wills these obligations.

    (P3) If ((P2)(a)), then the divine will is not free in a libertarian sense with regard to all actions2.

    (P4) God's will is free in a libertarian sense with regard to all actions2.

    (C1) Not ((P2)(a)) (from (P3) and (P4)).

    (P5) If ((P2)(b)), then the divine will could will against the dictate of divine reason.

    (P6) The dictate of divine reason is necessarily good.

    (P7) What wills against the necessarily good dictate of reason wills unjustly.

    (C2) If ((P2)(b)), then the divine will could will unjustly (from (P5), (P6), and (P7)).

    (P8) God's will cannot will unjustly.

    (C3) Not ((P2)(b)) (from (C2) and (P8)).

    (C4) Therefore there are no obligations concerning God's actions2 infallibly knowable by the divine intellect (from (P2), (C1), and (C3)).

    (C5) Therefore there are no obligations prior to the divine will concerning God's actions2 (from (P1) and (C4)).

    (‘Quidquid cognoscit <Deus= ante actum voluntatis, necessario cognoscit et naturaliter, ita quod non sit ibi contingentia ad opposita. In Deo non est scientia practica, quia si ante actum voluntatis intellectus apprehenderet aliquid esse operandum aut producendum, voluntas igitur vult hoc necessario aut non. Si necessario, igitur necessitatur ad producendum illud; si non necessario vult, igitur vult contra dictamen intellectus, et tunc esset mala, cum illud dictamen non posset esse nisi rectum. … Unde quando intellectus divinus apprehendit “hoc esse faciendum” ante voluntatis actum, apprehendit <talem propositionem= ut neutram’; Lect. 1.39, nn. 43-44, Opera Omnia, edited by C. Balić and others, XVII, 492-93; see also Ord. 3.37, in W, p. 274/275.) (P4) is the premiss of (R), (C5) the conclusion of (R). The crucial premiss (P4), which in the Lectura passage Scotus expresses as the divine will's having ‘contingency to opposites’, is consistently defended by Scotus. I have used the word ‘obligation’, both in my statement of Scotus' argument, and in much of what follows. What I mean to pick out when denying that God has obligations is that God has no duties such as could be expressed by an ought-proposition (‘debet’ and its cognates), or by a Latin gerund. I am aware that the medievals sometimes used the word in a rather more limited sense, to refer merely to those duties prescribed by positive law.

  34. See also Ord. prol. 5.1-2, nn. 333, 339, 344, Opera Omnia, edited by C. Balić and others, I, 218, 221, 224-25.

  35. Nic. Eth. 5.1, 1129b11-1130a13; 5.2, 1130b10, 21-25.

  36. Nic. Eth. 5.2, 1130a33-1130b7.

  37. Nic. Eth. 5.2, 1130b30-34; 5.3, 1131a10-1131b24.

  38. Nic. Eth. 5.2, 1130b34-1131a9; 5.4, 1131b25-1132b18.

  39. Summa Theologiae 2-2.61.2, edited by Petrus Caramello, 3 vols. (Turin and Rome: Marietti, 1952-56), II, 300.

  40. Ord. 4.46, in W, pp. 242/243 and 252/253.

  41. Nic. Eth. 5.6, 1134b9-10.

  42. Ord. 4.46, in W, pp. 238/239 and 242/243.

  43. Ord. 4.46, in W, pp. 246/247 and 252/253.

  44. Ord. 4.17, in W, p. 262/263.

  45. Ord. 3.37, in W, p. 278/279.

  46. In section five I will argue that what Scotus means by this is that we can know for certain that principles2 are exceedingly in harmony with principles1; but that we cannot be certain that principles2 are binding.

  47. Ord. 4.46, in W, p. 248/249.

  48. See the text cited above at note 23.

  49. Potest dici quod ista unica iustitia, quae non inclinat determinate nisi ad primum actum, modificat actus secundarios, licet nullum eorum necessario, quin posset modificare oppositum’; Ord. 4.46, in W, p. 248/249.

  50. Secunda iustitia potest esse hic simpliciter, quia simpliciter dare potest naturis perfectiones eis secundum gradus perficientes’; Ord. 4.46, in W, p. 242/243. I have corrected an obvious syntactical error in Wolter's text on the basis of Assisi, Biblioteca Communale, MS 137, fo. 270rb.

  51. Ord. 4.46, in W, p. 252/253.

  52. Ord. 4.46, in W, p. 248/249.

  53. ‘Non simpliciter est debitor <Deus= nisi bonitati suae, ut diligat eam; creaturis autem est debitor ex liberalitate sua, ut communicet eis quod natura sua exigit, quae exigentia in eis ponitur quoddam iustum, quasi secundarium obiectum illius iustitiae’; Ord. 4.46, in W, pp. 252/253-254/255.

  54. Rep. 2.22, n. 3, Opera Omnia, Wadding-Vivès edition, 26 vols. (Paris: Vivès, 1891-95), XXIII, 104b. The best manuscript of the Ordinatio (Assisi, MS 137) does not include any of distinctions fifteen to twenty-six of book two. But Scotus argues similarly in the Lectura: ‘The precept “You shall love the Lord your God” etc.—and the other precepts of the decalogue—is a greater good [than], and these [precepts] are better than, “You shall not eat of the tree of life” [sic: Scotus means the tree of the knowledge of good and evil], because this command is good only because it is commanded, whereas the good of the decalogue is formally good from itself’; Lect. 2.21-22.1-2, n. 29, Opera Omnia, edited by C. Balić and others, XIX, 206. By claiming in the first passage that the action is ‘bad’ according to natural law, I take it that Scotus means that we can by natural reason see the moral badness of the action—while remaining neutral on the question of the obligation to refrain from the action (a question which I deal with in the next section).

  55. Ord. 3.37, in W, p. 272/273. Scotus argues similarly in Lect. 3.37.1, edited in C. Balić, Les commentaires de Jean Duns Scot sur les quatre livres des Sentences. Etude historique et critique, Bibliothèque de la Revue d'Histoire Ecclésiastique, 1 (Louvain: Bureaux de la Revue [d'Histoire Ecclésiastique], 1927), 343. There is no parallel passage in the Reportata Parisiensia.

  56. Quaero ergo an stantibus omnibus circumstantiis eisdem in isto actu “occidere hominem”, ista circumstantia sola variata per prohibitum et non prohibitum, possit Deus facere quod iste actus, qui cum eisdem circumstantiis aliis aliquando est prohibitus et illicitus, alias esset non prohibitus sed licitus?’; Ord. 3.37, in W, pp. 272/273-274/275; I have corrected a syntactical error in Wolter's text on the basis of Assisi, MS 137, fo. 179vb.

  57. Ord. 3.37, in W, p. 274/275; see also Ord. 3.38, in W, p. 484/485.

  58. Ord. 3.37, in W, 282/283-284/285.

  59. Justice2, it will be recalled, is not a properly divine attribute, but a quality which can (presumably) inhere in created entities as well as be exhibited by God.

  60. Mentiri ex ratione sua dicit intentionem malam, quia intentionem decipiendi; licet igitur aliqui actus qui non includentes intentionem malam possint aliquando esse boni ex aliqua circumstantia bona, tamen actus includens secum intentionem malam, numquam potest esse bonus, quia includit formaliter malum velle; ita est in proposito’; Ord. 3.38, in W, p. 486/487; I have corrected a syntactical error in Wolter's text on the basis of Assisi, MS 137, fo. 180vb.

  61. Since Scotus usually defines ‘sin’ in terms of keeping God's commands (Lect. 2.34-37.1-5, nn. 57 and 63, Opera Omnia, edited by C. Balić and others, XIX, 338 and 341), Scotus must mean ‘badness’, and not ‘sinfulness’ here; after all, he is quite clear that the prohibition of lying pertains to the second table of the decalogue, and not the first (Ord. 3.38, in W, p. 488/489; Ord. 3.39, in W, p. 510/511).

  62. W, p. 108.

  63. Potest fieri licitum proferre orationem creditam esse falsam, si praeceptum revocetur, quod videtur esse de non decipiendo proximum’; Ord. 3.38, in W, p. 484/485.

  64. Shannon's discussion of Scotus on lying is deeply misleading. Shannon claims, on the basis of the last passage quoted, ‘Scotus argues that circumstances can remove the badness which an act has per se by reason of its object’ (p. 286). But Scotus makes no such claim, and makes instead a claim that is directly contradictory to Shannon's: see the last but one passage quotation.

  65. Talia tota non videntur quod possint esse bona, quae scilicet importata per talia nomina’; Ord. 3.38, in W, p. 486/487.

  66. “Furtum” non tantum est impositum ad significandum acceptionem huius rei, sed ad significandum contretactionem huius rei alienae contra voluntatem eius et cuiuscumque domini superioris’; Ord. 3.38, in W, p. 486/487; I have corrected a mistake in Wolter's text on the basis of Assisi, MS 137, fo. 180vb.

  67. Ord. 3.38, in W, p. 486/487. Note that in his quotation of this definition, Shannon has mixed up (perhaps through homoioteleuton) the definition of ‘adultery’ with that of ‘theft’: Scotus does not hold that ‘adultery’ signifies ‘“not just the undertaking of this thing, but also the legal appropriation of what belongs to another against his will or that of any higher owner”’ (Shannon, p. 287). Needless to say, this muddle confuses the distinction I am drawing between theft and adultery.

  68. Quidquid Deus fecit, hoc scias, Deum cum recta ratione fecisse’; Rep. 1A.44.2 (Vienna, cod. palatinus 1453, f. 122va), cited in W, p. 19. Wolter's translation, which I assume in what follows, relies on the supposition that ‘cum recta ratione’ qualifies ‘fecisse’; an equally plausible translation would be, ‘Whatever God has made, you know that God has made something exhibiting right reason’. But ‘with right reason’ refers to a moral property, not a natural property: and moral properties are properties only of actions, not of things or states of affairs. For this reason, I regard Wolter's translation as preferable.

  69. See, for example, Quod. 18, in W, p. 210/211; I have discussed this point above.

  70. Secundo modo iustum dicitur in creatura esse ex correspondentia unius creati ad aliquid … quia ista natura creata hoc exigit tamquam sibi correspondens’; Ord. 4.46, in W, p. 248/249. Wolter's translation here is required by the context.

  71. Ord. 3.37, in W, p. 274/275; see also the passage cited at note 33 above.

  72. Ord. 4.46, in W, p. 246/247.

  73. On Morris's account, this admission is not harmful, since on Morris's account (and in contrast to a duty-ethic account) God's action does not require freedom to count as in some sense good.

  74. Ord. 3.38, in W, p. 484/485.

  75. On this aspect of Scotus' account, see Adams, ‘Duns Scotus on the Goodness of God’, pp. 489-97, and the texts cited there.

  76. Sicut sine contradictione potest oppositum velle, ita potest iuste velle; alioquin posset velle absolute et non iuste, quod est inconveniens’; Ord. 4.46, in W, p. 246/247.

  77. Ord. 1.44, in W, p. 256/257.

  78. Ord. 3.37, in W, p. 286/287.

  79. A. Quinton, ‘British Philosophy’, in P. Edwards (ed.), The Encyclopedia of Philosophy (London: Collier-Macmillan, 1965), I, 369-96 (p. 373), quoted in W, p. 3.

  80. W, p. 24.

  81. W, p. 26.

  82. See W, p. 19 for Wolter's discussion of this passage.

  83. Ord. 3.37, in W, p. 278/279.

  84. Ord. 3.37, in W, p. 286/287.

  85. Ord. 3.37, in W, p. 286/287.

  86. I would like to thank Lawrence Moonan, Richard Schniertshauer, and Richard Swinburne, for providing detailed comments on earlier drafts of this paper.

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