The Cambridge Companion to Duns Scotus
Edited by Thomas Williams

Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003; xvi + 408 pp.; hb. £ 47.50, pb. £ 16.99; ISBN: 0-521-63205-6/0-521-63563-2.

review by Guus Labooy
Hoek van Holland, The Netherlands

[1] In twelve quite demanding chapters, outstanding scholars provide an overall view of the key issues of Scotus’s philosophical thought. To this a very concise introduction is added, concerning the life and works of John Duns (very good, especially the survey of works and the information on critical editions etc.). Throughout the book, I find the information clear and the difficult topics well explained. Moreover, the volume gives a quick entrance to the vast literature. Among the topics discussed are: ‘Metaphysics’ (Peter King), ‘Universals and Individuation’ (Timothy Noone), ‘Modal Theory’ (Calvin Normore), ‘Natural Theology’ (James Ross & Todd Bates), ‘Philosophy of Mind’ (Richard Cross), ‘Cognition’ (Robert Pasnau), ‘Moral Dispositions’ (Bonnie Kent). What strikes the eye is the absence of important theological subjects: Trinity, Christology, sin and grace, to name a few. Since the cover text promises that ‘the essays in this volume systematically survey the full range of Scotus’ thought’, this omission is remarkable. It stems, I guess, from the strict philosophical scope of the series of the Cambridge Companions, but such a limitation should have been recognised explicitly: this companion provides, in fact, an introduction to John Duns’s philosophy—i.e., philosophy in our modern sense. Of course, this separation of philosophical from theological thought is not from Scotus. Most of his innovative ‘philosophical’ ideas are developed in a profoundly theological context!

[2] Although it is tempting to list a host of more detailed remarks, I will name only a few: I would have been pleased with more of the original Latin in the references. And to me, the summary at the end of Noone’s fine essay on Universals and Individuation was a bit disappointing. He seems to hold that Scotus’ theory of individuation is only valid within an Aristotelian framework. I quote: ‘Scotus’s theory of individuation seems, accordingly, to support the general observation that the framework of the Aristotelian ontology provided Scholastic authors no ready solution to the problem of individuation and that the more outstanding among them only resolved the problem by creatively adding elements of their own devising to the received Aristotelian ontology.’ To my mind, however, his theory of individuation is a key alternative to both the Aristotelian and the contemporary nominalist theories of individuation.

[3] As a scholar working in field of the Philosophy of Mind, I benefited very much from the contribution of Richard Cross. Cross is very helpful in introducing important Scotistic insights within the context of contemporary Philosophy of Mind. Each essay in this companion is worth reading, I recommend this volume wholeheartedly.