Scotism refers variously to
- a loosely identified body of views thought to be original with or characteristic of John Duns Scotus,
- a tradition of texts, doctrines, and approaches that traces back to him, and
- a via (“way” or perhaps “school”) that had an institutional presence in the universities of the fifteenth through the seventeenth centuries.
In both the first and the second senses scholars ask whether Charles Sanders Peirce, who had read Scotus with care but was a fiercely independent thinker, was a Scotist. In the third sense scholars inquire about the presence of Scotism in the arts and theology faculties of particular universities in the sixteenth century and investigate its fortuna.
|Charles Sanders Peirce|
Confusion can arise (and has arisen) from running these together and one should take special care to distinguish them all from the influence of Scotus—which was so pervasive in the later Middle Ages that almost every metaphysician and theologian of note felt obliged to locate himself with respect to the Subtle Doctor.
Scotus died young (perhaps as young as forty-two) and left an enormous number of fertile ideas in various stages of development. His immediate students and followers, particularly those at Paris, among whom one might add William of Alnwick (c. 1275–1333), Antonius Andreas, Nicholas Bonet (?–1360), Francis of Marchia (1290–1344), Francis Meyronnes (c. 1285–after 1328), and Petrus Thomae (c. 1280–c. 1337), took up those they found congenial and developed them in somewhat different directions.
Within twenty years of Scotus’s death there had also grown up a number of different explicitly critical responses to his teaching exemplified in the work of Petrus Aureoli (1280–1322) on the one hand and William of Ockham on the other.
|William of Alnwick|
At least four elements of Scotus’s thought became identified with him in particular: In metaphysics the view that there was an isomorphism between the structure of concepts and the structure of things and the associated postulation of formalitates;on the borderline of metaphysics and theology a distinctive argument for the existence and infinity of God; in theology the doctrine that Mary had been conceived immaculately, that is, without the stain of original sin; and also the view that the divine will was the ultimate cause of the truth of all contingent truths.
It is not at all clear that any of these doctrines was entirely original with Scotus and so one should be cautious in locating someone who does not self-identify as a follower of Scotus as a Scotist in either the second or the third senses of the word simply because the person maintains some of them.
In the first half of the fourteenth century it seems to have been the metaphysical doctrines just mentioned that received the most attention. The key concept of a formalitas and the closely associated notion of an haeceitas as a formal principle of individuation attracted the attention of most of the metaphysicians of the period. There even grew up a distinctive genre of treatise De Formalitatibus that studied these notions.
Scotus’s argument for the existence and infinity of God as developed both in his Ordinatio and the treatise De Primo Principio became celebrated soon after his death Thomas Bradwardine devoted his enormous De Causa Dei to correcting, elaborating, and refining it and there was considerable controversy about it throughout the century. Scotus’s distinctive views about the role of the divine will in the truth of contingent truths also attracted considerable attention. Much of this attention was hostile, but it was intense for all that.
In the fifteenth century the doctrine of the immaculate conception, which had been rejected by Thomas Aquinas but maintained by many thinkers including Scotus, Ockham, and Pierre d’Ailly, became associated with Scotus more particularly and by the middle of the sixteenth century, as other alternatives to Thomism faded from the theological scene, it became thought characteristic of Scotism.
The earliest references to a Scotist school or at least to a group of thinkers whom one can identify as such, are, as is quite typical in the Middle Ages, by figures who see themselves as opposed to it. In 1331 Adam Wodeham, no friend of the view, identifies the isomorphism between things and concepts as characteristic of an unnamed group of thinkers who hold it to be the fundamental principle of metaphysics.
By 1400 Jean de Gerson (1363–1429) identified a group holding this view as the formalizantes and set himself vigorously against it. In the fifteenth century one finds thinkers like John Foxoles both self-identifying as Scotists and attempting to work out histories of the movement with which they identified. Peter of Candia (c. 1340–1410) is a particularly interesting thinker of this period much influenced by Scotus whose work has received modern study.
Scotus’s works were intensively studied throughout the Franciscan order during the fifteenth through the seventeenth centuries and the fortunes of that order considerably influenced his reception. Scotism as a via (school) reached its zenith in the seventeenth century.
The Irish Franciscans claimed Scotus as their own (in the middle of the seventeenth century the prominent philosopher-the-ologian John Ponce [1603–1670] even wrote “Scotus Hiberniae restitutus” to prove the point) and under the leadership of Luke Wadding (1588–1657) a team at the Irish college of St. Isidore in Rome prepared an edition of Scotus’s works (Lyons 1639) that has been foundational for all subsequent editions.
The considerable intellectual resources of the Franciscan order in the seventeenth century led to interesting philosophical development and debate of which the most celebrated instance is that between Ponce and Bartholomew Mastrius (1602–1673) over the nature of possibility.