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

334. Psychology. -- Contrasting Duns Scotus with St. Thomas, it is customary to emphasize their divergences in psychology; yet we must not forget that even here the two great doctors subscribe to the same broad, fundamental principles. Bearing this in mind let us examine the main features of the Scotist psychology. These relate to the nature of the understanding and of the will, to the inner constitution of the human being and to the immortality of the soul. The "formal" distinction asserted by Scotus between the soul and its faculties, is merely an application of his metaphysics, as outlined above.

First, as to the intellectual faculty, its nature and acts. Claiming for the intellect an immediate apprehension of the individual reality, Scotus advocates, in addition to our abstract and universal knowledge of things, which is in its nature distinct, the existence of an antecedent, intuitive knowledge, which reveals to us in a confused manner the concrete, singular being (species specialissima). This concept of the singular arises on the first contact of our intelligence with the external object and is produced simultaneously with our sense knowledge of the latter (cf. 244, 258). We may well demand in what this intuitive concept of the concrete differs from our sense perception of it, and whether the distinction between them is not a difference in clearness of product rather than in the nature of the mental process involved. But this is not all. For, although in the present state of life on earth the essences of sense-realities are the only proper object of our understanding, the intelligibility of these essences does not exhaust the representative capacity of this faculty considered in itself, absolutely, as a channel of knowledge. Indeed everything that has any real being can, absolutely speaking, fall within the scope of human intelligence, the suprasensible no less than the sensible;{1} and it is always within the power of God's omnipotent free will to enlarge the sphere of action of our nature (332). As for the genesis of our ideas, all of them alike, the noblest no less than the lowliest, have their origin in the same sense process: Scotus has left us some severe but not unmerited criticisms of the special illumination theory propounded by Henry of Ghent and other Augustinians.{2}

Secondly, as regards the will and its pre-eminence over intelligence: while St. Thomas is "intellectualist," Duns Scotus is "voluntarist ". He sees the superiority of the will in its essential attribute of liberty, in its mode of action and in its ethical significance. All volition is free; the will is never necessitated by the intellectual presentation of the good. Even in presence of the absolute good it retains its power of absolute self-determination, its freedom of action (libertas exercitii); for, says Scotus, it is always free to turn away from the intellectual presentation.{3} Henry of Ghent maintains, with St. Thomas, the distinction between necessary volition and free volition; Duns Scotus rejects the distinction. Nihil voluntas necessario vult. As to the manner in which the will exercises its activity, Scotus agrees with the explanation of Henry of Ghent (324). Knowledge of the good is a conditio sine qua non for volition, but nothing more. Abstracting from the general concurrence of God with the activity of all creatures, it may be said that the will is the sole and total cause of its determinations. Scotus and Henry again agree that the will is active, after the manner of the intellectus agens. In its ethical relation to conduct, the will is the sole subject of the moral virtues, for virtue is a habitus electivus, and all electio belongs, to the will. It is likewise the will that obtains for us, by the perfect exercise of its activity, the formal possession of our last end.

Thirdly, as regards soul and body,{4} man is a composite substance, and the soul is the form of the body. But besides the soul, there is in each individual a forma corporeitatis which endows the body with the organic structure it possesses. By this duality of formal principles Scotus did not wish in any way to compromise the unity of the human individual or the intimate, immediate union of all his constituent elements. This is sufficiently evident from the fact that Scotus was an active opponent of the teachings of his confrère, Peter John Olivi (259).

Fourthly and lastly, we have to notice the rather singular attitude of Scotus on the immortality of the soul and the proofs of a future life. Briefly, he holds that human reason is unable to prove peremptorily the immortality of the soul: faith alone can give us certitude on the matter. He examines the usual proofs brought forward in peripatetic philosophy and pronounces them wanting in cogency. The doubts of Scotus were collected by William of Ockam and were afterwards exploited against scholasticism by the Averroïsts and by the philosophers of the Renaissance. But it should be borne in mind that the teaching of Scotus on this point had an exclusively negative significance. He never for a moment dreamt of invoking positive arguments in favour of the mortality of the soul. His system has therefore in it no taint of anti-scholasticism: it differs profoundly both from the materialism that denies the immortality of the soul and the Averroïsm that makes immortality impersonal.

{1} Objectum primarium potentiae assignatur illud quod adaequatur potentiae in ratione potentiae, non autem quod adaequatur potentiae ut in aliquo statu" (In I. Sent., d. iii.. q. 3, n. 24 and 25. Cf. VACANT, op. cit., Ann. phil. chrét., 1888, pp. 450 sqq.).

{2} In I. Sent., d. iii., q. 4.

{3} In potestate voluntatis est avertere intellectum a consideratione finis (ultimi), quo facto voluntas non valet finem, quia non potest habere actum circa ignotum" (op. cit., d. i., q. 4).

{4} Cf. STÖCKL, op. cit., ii.2, pp. 840 sqq.

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