Duns Scotus: univocal being and haecceity Scotus was a medieval Catholic scholastic philosopher who lived from 1266 – 1308 AD. Scotus’ nickname was the “Subtle Doctor”, because his work  was remarkably nuanced and detailed while being broad. His ideas were widely influential, with his most famous student being William of Ockham.

Scotus is famous for disagreeing with Aquinas’ ideas regarding being as analogy. Recall that Aquinas argued that all contingent things have a distinction between their essence and existence. Scotus denies this notion, instead preferring the idea that being is univocal – and creatures differ only from the creator in degrees rather than type of being. Scotus contends that under this view firmer knowledge of God can be drawn from the study of creatures – as when a creature is good it is good in the same way (i.e. univocally) as is God.  As an argument for his position, Scotus says that because we cannot fathom anything of an essence without it existing, we need not make any distinction between essence and existence.

Scotus also introduced a novel principle of individuation called the “haecceity”. Scotus agrees with the Aristotelian orthodoxy that man has a nature. For example, one may study Socrates and Plato and find that they commonly share a human nature – this Scotus creatively calls “common nature”. However, there is a principle of indivuation acting in both Socrates and Plato which grants them their unity as individuals. The haecceity is unique and non-repeatable, where as the common nature of humanity is repeatable and exemplified many times over.


4 responses to this post.

  1. […] William of Ockham (1288 – 1348) was an English Friar and influential scholastic philosopher . He is believed to have been born in Ockham (hence the name “of Ockham”). He was a pupil of Duns Scotus. […]


  2. I always found the concept of haeccity to be destructive to the theory of secondary substance. Haeccity seems to replace secondary substance with the primary substance.


  3. […] During the Islamic Golden Age, there was a renewed interest in classical philosophies of antiquity – particularly Aristotelian and Platonic schools of thought that were readily compatible with monotheistic religious doctrine. This trend was continued in late medieval times by Scholastic philosophers such as Thomas Aquinas and Duns Scotus. […]


  4. […] would complete his doctoral thesis on the works of Duns Scotus, but it was Edmund Husserl and his philosophy of phenomenology that would become Heidegger’s […]


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