PHIL360 Later Medieval Philosophy
Week 6: SCOTUS ON UNIVERSALS
Copyright © 1996
(To follow this lecture you will need to have before you A. Hyman and J.J. Walsh (eds.),
Philosophy in the Middle Ages
1973), pp. 582-9, and a printout of Duns Scotus,
, II, dist. 3, pars 1, q. 5 and q. 6
We come now to Scotus's theory of universals or of individuation. This is the subject of
, book 2, distinction 3, extracts from
which are in Hyman and Walsh. The first question is, in effect, whether any theory of individuation is needed. Aren't real things individual
"from themselves", just by being real? The Latin says:
ex natura sua
, "from (or out of) itself, or from its nature". Elsewhere he uses
means from or out of,
means of or by or from. So the question is
whether an individual thing gets it singularity or individuality from itself, not from anything else.
Remember from Boethius and Abelard in PHIL252 the contrast between individuality and universality, a contrast that goes back to Plato's theme
of "one and many". There are many individual human beings, and we can say of each of them "This is a human being", "That is a human
being", "This other is a human being", and so on - the same predicate, "a human being", occurring in each proposition. Something thus
predicable of many individuals is a universal.
Let us now read first the preliminary
arguments. Read p.582, first three paragraphs. Pause the tape while you read this.
The two arguments "on the contrary" require some comment: they suppose that there are in nature, in the real world, species of things, all the
members of which share the same nature; e.g. there are many individual human beings, all of which share in the same real nature, being human,
and there are many stones, all of which share the nature of stone. If such a nature were intrinsically, from itself, singular then there would be
only one instance of that one nature, human being or stone. Whatever that nature was in, would be
human being or stone - there would not
be many instances, only one.
The opinion that no theory of individuation is needed
After the preliminary exchange of short arguments, Scotus presents the opinions of others followed by criticisms. Beside the next paragraph,
"Here it is said", (i.e. by someone else), write "another opinion" and on p.583, near the bottom, at the paragraph that begins "In reply to the
question", write "His own opinion". At the bottom of p.584, beside "But against this" write "objections". On p.584, three quarters of the way
down, beside "And through this" write "Answer to arguments at the beginning".
Now go back to p.582 and read the paragraph beginning "Here it is said". I don't know whose opinion this was; perhaps Scotus invented it.