Duns Scotus, John (c.1266–1308)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-B035-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved April 21, 2021, from

2. Works

As with the details of his career, Scotus’ works suffered greatly in transmission. It is fair to say that no scholastic thinker of his stature has been so burdened by misattribution and textual confusion. While much progress has been made in untangling Scotus’ corpus, fundamental questions remain, particularly concerning chronology.

Scotus’ works can be divided into philosophical and theological writings, with the latter generally regarded as later and more definitive. The philosophical writings consist first of all of questions on Porphyry and on the Categories, Peri hermeneias and Sophistical Refutations of Aristotle. These logical works are all presumed to be early products of his arts training, and they appear to have exercised little influence. Much more important are Scotus’ lengthy questions on the Metaphysics (only books I–IX are authentic), also traditionally regarded as an early work dating from his arts career. The questions on the Metaphysics are notorious for their difficulty, arising in part from the hundreds of revisions, additions and intrusions made to the text. Their traditionally early dating has been somewhat tempered in light of research indicating that certain sections appear to have been later. Finally, a much shorter set of questions on Aristotle’s On the Soul is attributed to Scotus, but its chronology is uncertain.

Scotus’ reputation, however, rests on his longer and more developed theological writings, and principal among these are his commentaries on the Sentences. A major advance of textual research on Scotus has been to tease apart the various versions of his Sentences that had been conflated even by his earliest disciples. At least three commentaries are now recognized: the Lectura, which are his earliest lectures on the Sentences at Oxford; the Ordinatio, a greatly expanded revision of the Lectura; and the Reportatio parisiensis, which are students’ reports of his Parisian lectures. Of capital importance for the interpretation of Scotus is the chronological relationship of the Ordinatio and Reportatio parisiensis, because the treatment of important issues in the Paris lectures differs markedly from that in the Oxford commentaries. A governing thesis of the critical edition of this work has been that the Ordinatio formed the latest and most definitive of Scotus’ commentaries, incorporating both his early Oxford Lectura and his Paris lectures. A revised tendency, however, has been to see the first book of the Ordinatio as earlier than the Reportatio parisiensis. In other words, it is increasingly thought that Scotus must have begun work on the Ordinatio before he left Oxford for Paris in 1302. Resolution of this must await further study of the Paris reports, which remain unedited for the first book.

In addition to his commentaries on the Sentences, Scotus left two sets of theological disputations. The first, his Quaestiones quodlibetales (Quodlibetal Questions), certainly date from his regency at Paris and should be regarded as the mature work of a master at the height of his career. A second set of university disputations, the Collationes (Collations) are also important but have been little studied. As with the Sentences, Scotus has Collations from both Oxford and Paris. Finally, Scotus wrote two treatises, the De primo principio (On the First Principle) and the Theoremata. The former is a lengthy and systematic deduction of the existence and nature of God according to axiomatic method. Nearly two-thirds of the De primo principio, however, comes directly from the Ordinatio, which suggests that Scotus may not have finished the treatise himself. The authenticity of the Theoremata has been contested owing to a section which argues, among other things, that natural reason cannot demonstrate the existence of God. The Theoremata is a work nonetheless attributed to Scotus both by manuscripts and by his contemporaries.

Citing this article:
Dumont, Stephen D.. Works. Duns Scotus, John (c.1266–1308), 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-B035-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2021 Routledge.

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