Philosophy of Duns Scotus

03.05.2015 |

Episode #9 of the course “Brief history of Medieval philosophy”

Duns Scotus, also known as Johannes Duns, John Duns, or merely Scotus, was one of the most important philosophers of the High Middle Ages, toward the end of the 13th and beginning of the 14th centuries. Duns was a Scotch-English scholar and Franciscan monk who received a doctorate at Oxford University and taught in France. Duns was a highly influential writer, postulating defenses for the immaculate conception of the Virgin Mary that continue to be studied around the world today.

Duns’ most famous work is his commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard. He also published commentaries on Aristotle, whose influence can be seen in Duns’ theology. He argued against Aquinas’ descriptions of infinite and finite beings, adopting a viewpoint like Aristotle’s, which claimed that there is no distinction between “existence” and “being.” He also believed that something could be purely spiritual without being physical, meaning the human spirit knew its connection with God innately. For Duns, it seems that salvation was possible by faith alone, and good works were not necessary for redemption.

John Duns did not create a mass theological treatise or a standardized system that combined all his philosophical ponderings into one study. Instead, he left commentaries on hundreds of texts debating points, responding to the author’s opinions, or listing support for various sides of arguments. His criticism was pointed, and he often did not offer alternatives or forward his own opinion so much as debate or debunk the writings of other contemporary theologians. Because of his early death, many of his works remain unfinished.


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