The European Sun: Proceedings of the Seventh International Conference on Medieval and Renaissance Scottish Language and Literature, University of Strathclyde, 1993

By Graham Caie; Roderick J. Lyall et al. | Go to book overview

ALEXANDER BROADIE


2. Duns Scotus on Intellect and Will

The recent beatification of John Duns Scotus1, the greatest philosopher that Scotland has produced, was not due simply to the quality of his philosophy. Nevertheless, the philosophy was an essential part of the man beatified. He is indeed the first Scottish philosopher to have risen so high in the estimation of the universal church. The second greatest philosopher from the Scottish Borders, David Hume, is unlikely to follow Scotus so far up the same ecclesiastical ladder.

I say that Scotus was the greatest Scottish philosopher. Yet many have regarded him as merely a notable representative of the logic-chopping schoolmen, a dessicated peddler of soulless wares. Yet this same man inspired Gerard Manley Hopkins, a free-flying spirit if ever there was one, who found in Scotus a companion spirit, rejoiced in his ideas, and celebrated him.

Yet ah! this air I gather and release
He lived on; these weeds and waters, these walls are what
He haunted who of all men most sways my spirits to peace.2

What was it that made Scotus the object of the intense intellectual passion of no less than Hopkins? Part of the answer is that that same intensity of intellectual passion was in Scotus also, a philosopher who placed the concept of love at the centre of his system and who wrote with energy and fire when love was the reality he was dealing with – as it often was, for it is basic to his metaphysics and his philosophy of mind, and especially his ethics. In focusing thus upon love Scotus reveals himself as a true Franciscan; his Franciscan background was of central importance in the development of his philosophy.

Here I shall attend to the philosophical context of his doctrine of love. That context is his teaching on the will, for he holds that the will is the psychological faculty within which love is located. In particular I shall attend to his doctrine that will has primacy over intellect. What he says on the matter is of lasting value, dealing, as it does, in an innovative way with a topic of perennial interest.3

1 Very little is known about his life. For many of the sparse details see C.Balic, ‘The life and works of John Duns Scotus’, in J.K.Ryan and B.M.Bonansea (eds.), John Duns Scotus 1265–1965, Catholic University of America (1965). See also entry under ‘Scotus’ by A. T. Wolters in P.Edwards, Encyclopedia of Philosophy, vol. 4.

2 Gerard Manley Hopkins, Duns Scotus’s Oxford, lines 9–11.

3 For an invaluable selection of Scotus’s writings on the topics I shall be dealing with see Duns Scotus on the Will and Morality, Selected and translated with an Introduction by Allan B. Wolter, O.F.M., (Washington D.C. 1986). For a valuable extended discussion ‘Duns Scotus’s voluntarism’, see B.M.Bonansea in J.K.Ryan and B.M.Bonansea (eds.), op.cit. fn.1.

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