ND   JMC : History of Medieval Philosophy / by Maurice De Wulf

327. General Features of his Philosophy. -- We may say that Richard of Middleton, who died about the same time as Duns Scotus, but without having undergone the influence of the latter, is the last representative of the older Franciscan school. We see, in fact, from the letters of Peckham, that about the year 1284 the Oxford Franciscans were showing inclinations to admit a larger element of Aristotelianism.{1} But it was Duns Scotus{2} who really gave the studies of the order a distinctly new orientation. He brought into fashion a peripateticism that was sui generis: his personal genius gave an original stamp even to the earlier scholastic theories that survived in his philosophy. We therefore naturally find that philosophical parties and sections are much more numerous and sharply divided in the Franciscan than in the Dominican order.

Duns Scotus was a destroyer of systems. He attacked most of his contemporaries: St. Thomas, St. Bonaventure, Giles of Rome, Roger Bacon, Robert of Middleton, Godfrey of Fontaines, and more especially Henry of Ghent. He rarely referred to his adversaries by name, but those who were familiar with his controversies could not be mistaken about the identity of the various personalities attacked. This critical but courteous handling of the opinions of others contributed not a little to the freshness and popularity of Scotus's teaching. But oftentimes his long array of divergent opinions and his laboured load of arguments and refutations have the effect of obscuring the philosopher's own thought. The positive, constructive side of his system is less developed than the negative, critical side: whence results a want of equilibrium which diminishes the value of the whole and makes Scotism compare unfavourably with Thomism.

The study of the works of the earlier scholastic period is rendered more difficult by their defective methods of exposition and their obscurity and diffuseness of style. The Reportata mark a distinct improvement in these respects. Yet all the writings of Scotus suffer from an excessive use of distinctions and a frequent ambiguity of thought which indicates a relapse into the earlier style of dialectic controversy. Hence they show to disadvantage in comparison with the calm, majestic sobriety of thought and language, of which St. Thomas possessed the secret. It was his own admirers who first called Duns Scotus the Subtle Doctor; but posterity has often applied in an uncomplimentary sense the title which he first received in flattery.

In his commentaries on Aristotle Scotus does not always interpret the teaching of the Stagirite in the same sense as St. Thomas. Neither does he, however, any more than the latter, follow Aristotle blindly, as one might be led to believe from a brief exposition of the Scotist system.

His system is indeed only a statement, coloured by personal variations, of the great, general scholastic synthesis. By going back to its principles we may easily mark out the stock of ideas it possesses in common with Thomism. This is admitted by the Franciscans themselves: "The divergence commences as soon as the two doctors begin to use this common stock for the purpose of enlarging the domain of knowledge and truth".{3} Let us see what are the main points of divergence.

{1} EHRLE, Zeitsch., etc., p. 191, and Arch., etc., v., p. 605.

{2} Like many critically minded scholars, Duns Scotus eagerly pursued the study of mathematics, mainly owing to the influence of Roger Bacon.

{3} DE MART1GNÉ, op. cit., pp. 332 and 359. Cf. PLUZANSKI, op. cit. (336), pp. 6 sqq.; VACANT, op. cit. (Ann., 1888-89, p. 465).

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