|Life. John Duns Scotus, Doctor Subtilis, the most gifted
opponent of Thomism, rises above the plane of mere controversialists
and takes rank among the great schoolmen, if not among the greatest. He
was born, according to some writers, in 1266; according to others, in
1274. Where he was born is also uncertain, the most common opinion
being that England was his birthplace.  At an early age he entered
the Franciscan order, and made his studies at Oxford, where the
Anti-Thomistic party was for the time triumphant. From 1294 to 1304 he
taught at Oxford. In 1304 he began to teach in Paris; in 1308 he was
transferred to Cologne, where he died the same year.  Both at Oxford
and at Paris Scotus enjoyed a reputation as a teacher which was
unequaled by even the greatest of his predecessors.
 Wadding, in a Life prefixed to the works of Duns Scotus,
gives Ireland as the birthplace of the Subtle Doctor, and supports his
contention by several arguments. He quotes the following epitaph (date
Sources. The Opus Oxoniense, which together with other
works was composed while Scotus was at Oxford, is a commentary on the
Books of Sentences. The works, or rather the lecture notes,
which he composed at Paris were collected by his disciples under the
title Reportata Parisiensia, or Opus Parisiense. The
complete works of Scotus were published by Luke Wadding, Lyons, 1639.
This edition was reprinted by Vives, Paris, 1891. Monograph: Pluzanski,
La philosophie de Duns Scotus, Paris, 1887. 
Scotia me genuit, Anglia me suscepit,
Gallia me docuit, Colonia me tenet.
 For the extraordinary stories circulated at a later time as to the
manner of Scotus' death, cf. Wadding in the Life above
referred to, pp. 13 ff. For dates, cf. Chartul., II, p.
 Frassen's Scotus Academicus (Paris, 1672) and Fr. Hieron. de
Montefortino's Venerabilis Joannis Duns Scoti Summa Theologica
(Rome, 1723) are valuable aids to the study of Scotus' system. They are
both being republished by the Franciscans of the convent of Sant'
Antonio (Rome, 1900 ff.).
The philosophy of Duns Scotus is characterized by criticism and
subtlety. Owing, perhaps, to his predilection for mathematical
studies -- a predilection which is said to be due to the influence of
Roger Bacon -- Scotus was too much inclined to reject as inconclusive
the philosophical arguments of his predecessors. He attacked, without
distinction of school, and, apparently, without the least respect for
the prestige of a great name, the doctrines of Alexander of Hales, St.
Bonaventure, Roger Bacon, Henry of Ghent, and, above all, St. Thomas.
Such is the subtlety of his speculations that even the mind trained in
Scholastic modes of thought has considerable difficulty in following
his line of reasoning. 
 Cf. for instance, Quodl., Q. VII.
Philosophy and Theology. Scotus, while agreeing with St. Thomas
that philosophy and theology are distinct sciences, insists on the
inferiority of the former, maintaining that human reason is incapable
of solving such problems as the immortality of the soul. Indeed, his
doctrine on this point comes dangerously near to the Averroistic
principle that what is true in theology may be false in philosophy. 
 Cf. In IVum Sent., Dist.
XLIII, Q. II (Opus Oxoniense, Venice, 1598, VoL II, folio 136);
also Quodl., Q. VII (Opus Oxen., II, 22).
Divine Attributes. St. Thomas taught that there exists only a
distinctio rationis, or logical distinction, between the divine
nature and the divine attributes, -- justice, power, etc. Scotus
maintains that the distinction in question is not merely logical,
neither is it real, but something which is partly real and partly
logical -- distinctio formalis a parte rei. This celebrated
distinction, sometimes referred to as the Scotistic distinction, is not
easy to understand. Its opponents contend that it implies a
contradiction. It is more than logical, for it exists a parte
rei, independently of the mind; and it is less than real, for it
is a distinction not of things, but merely of formalities, which may
exist in one and the same thing, as, for example, the distinction
between animality and rationality in man. 
 For explanation of the Scotistic distinction, cf. In
Ium Sent., Dist. VIII, Q. IV (Opus
Oxon., I, 170), and Dist. II, Q. VII (Opus Oxon., I, 81).
According to Scotus, the essence of things, as well as their existence,
depends, not on the divine intellect, but on the divine will.
Matter and Form. Scotus revives the doctrine of universal
matter, which the first Franciscan teachers had borrowed from
Ego autem ad positionem Avicembronis redeo; et primam partem, scil.
quod in omnibus creatis per se subsistentibus tam corporalibus quam
spiritualibus sit una materia, teneo. 
 De Rerum Princip., Q. VIII, Art. 4 (Opera, Vol. III, p.
All created substances are, therefore, composed of matter and form.
Scotus, with characteristic subtlety, distinguishes three kinds of
Materia primo-prima, habens actum de se omnino indeterminatum
respectu determinationis cujuslibet formae; materia secundo-
prima, quae est subjectum generationis et corruptionis, quam mutant
agentia creata, seu Angeli seu agenda corruptibilia; materia tertio-
prima, quae est materia cujuslibet artis et materia cujuslibet
agentis naturalis particularis. 
 Loc. cit., Art. 3 (Opera, ibid., p. 5).
The substantial form is not, as St. Thomas taught, essentially one. It
determines the matter to a higher mode of being; but this determination
gives rise to an indetermination, or potency, with respect to a higher
form; thus, the generic form leads to the specific, and the specific to
the individual, so that the more complete is the determination of
matter the greater is the plurification of forms in matter.
Omnis forma sive plurificatlo est de imperfecto et indeterminato ad
perfectum et determinatum, de uno materiali ad plura formaliter
 Loc. cit., Art. 4; cf. also Opera, Vol. VIII, p. 649.
Doctrine of Universals. In the Quaestiones Acutissimae super
Universalia Porphyrii  Scotus develops a doctrine of moderate
realism. In his metaphysical treatises he defends the plurality of
substantial generic and specific forms (formalitates), which
have an objective reality, and a kind of unity inferior to numerical
unity. In this manner Scotus prepares the way for his followers, who
built on his metaphysical doctrines a system of exaggerated
 Pp. 4 ff.
Essence and Existence. Between essence and existence there is,
according to Scotus, a "distinctio formalis a parte rei." 
 Cf. In IIum Sent., Dist.
III, Q. I (Opera, Vol. VI, p. 335), and In
Ium Sent., Dist. VII (Opera, Vol.
V, p. 702).
 Cf. In IIIum Sent., Dist.
VI, Q. I. Sometimes, as In IIum Sent.,
Dist. XVI, Q. I (Opera, ed. Wadding, Vol. VI, P. II, p. 763),
Scotus speaks as if the distinction were conceptual, or, at most,
The Principle of Individuation is neither matter nor form nor
quantity but an individual property added to these. This property was
called by the Scotists the thisness (haecceitas) of a thing. 
Scotus denies the Thomistic doctrine that there cannot be two angels of
the same species: "Simpliciter possibile est plures angelos esse in
eadem specie." 
 Cf. In IIum Sent., Dist.
III, Q. VI (Opera, Vol. VI, p. 413). In the Reportata
Parisiensia (Opera, ed. Wadding, Vol. XI, P. I, p. 329) the
word haecceitas is used to designate the positive entity which
is the principle of individuation.
Voluntarism. The philosophy of Scotus is voluntaristic in its
entire spirit. Scotus explicitly teaches that the will is superior to
the intellect. "Voluntas imperans intellectui est causa superior
respectu actus ejus. Intellectus autem si est causa volitionis, est
causa subserviens voluntati."  St. Thomas taught that the intuitive
contemplation of the Divine Essence in the beatific vision is the
principal and indeed the essential element in man's final happiness:
Scotus teaches that it is by the act of perfect love of God in the next
life that final happiness is to be attained. In a similar spirit of
voluntarism, Scotus holds that
the natural law depends on the will of God and that actions are good
because God has commanded them, while St. Thomas, true to the
principles of intellectualism, taught that natural law depends on the
mind of God, and that God commands certain actions because they are
good. Scotus maintains that human reason alone cannot prove the
omnipotence of God  and the immortality of the human soul: St. Thomas
taught that these truths are demonstrable by reason.
 In IIum Sent., Dist. III.
 In IVum Sent., Dist. XLIX, Q.
There are many other points of contrast between the tenets of the
Subtle Doctor and those of the Angel of the Schools. The antithesis
between the two great teachers is not to be explained by the "wish on
the part of Brother John to contradict whatever Brother Thomas had
taught": it is an antithesis arising out of the difference in the
mental temperaments of the two men, the difference between an
intellectualist and a voluntarist.
 Cf. Quadl., Q. VI.
Historical Position. Scotus is frequently described as the Kant
of Scholastic philosophy. He certainly resembles Kant in his refusal to
accept without criticism any theory, no matter how universally received
or how strongly supported by the authority of great names. The
resemblance is accentuated by the fact that both Scotus and Kant are
voluntarists, both maintaining that will is superior to intellect, and
that human reason cannot demonstrate the truths which most vitally
affect the destiny of man. But, remarkable as the resemblance is, no
less striking is the contrast between the two philosophers. Kant
appeals to the moral consciousness to prove the truths which reason
cannot demonstrate: Scotus, on the contrary, appeals to revelation.
Scotus places the supernatural order of truth above all philosophical
knowledge, and consequently his criticism is partial and relative to
the natural order of truth, while Kant's is radical and absolute. For
Kant there is no court of appeal superior to the moral consciousness;
for Scotus the supreme tribunal before which all truth is judged is
Scotus inaugurates an age of talent rather than of genius. The
influence of St. Bonaventure, Albert, and St. Thomas seems to have
silenced for a while the contentions which distracted the earlier
schoolmen.  But now that the great constructive thinkers have
disappeared, the intellectual knight-errantry of Abelard's day once
more comes into vogue, and minds incapable of constructive effort
devote themselves to analysis and controversy. It is among these lesser
lights that Scotus, subtle and penetrating as his mind was, must be
classed. For, while he excelled even the greatest of the schoolmen in
critical acumen, he was wanting in that synthetic power which St.
Thomas possessed in so preeminent a degree, and which more than any
other quality of mind stamps the writer or thinker as a
 For a description of the dialectical sophistry employed in the
Parisian schools at the end of the twelfth century, cf.
Alexander Neckam, De Naturis Rerum, ed. Brewer, pp. 302 ff.
THOMISTS AND SCOTISTS 
 Cf. De Wulf, Hist. de la phil. méd., pp. 364
In Scotus the opponents of Thomism found a champion. From this time
forth the Franciscan teachers follow the leadership of Duns Scotus,
while the Dominicans range themselves behind St. Thomas. The principal
Scotists were Francis of Mayron (died 1327), surnamed
Magister Acutus Abstractionum, and Antonio Andrea (died
1320), surnamed Doctor Dulcifluus. During the fourteenth and
fifteenth centuries there appeared also the following Scotists: John
of Basoles, John Dumbleton, Walter Burleigh (Doctor Planus et
Perspicuus), Alexander of Alessandria, Lychetus of Breach,
and Nicholas De Orbellis. The best known of the Thomists of this
period are Gerard of Bologna (died 1317), John of Naples
(died 1330), Peter De Palude (Pierre de la Palu) (died
1342), and John Capreolus  (1380-1444), who was surnamed
 The principal work of Capreolus, Defensiones Theologiae Divi
Thomae, has been republished quite recently (Tours, 1900-1902).
In the course of time the controversy between the rival schools
absorbed the attention which should have been devoted to the
development of Scholastic philosophy in relation to the scientific
doctrines introduced at the opening of the modern era. This, as we
shall see, is one of the reasons why Scholasticism failed to
accommodate itself to the scientific movement.