Saturday, November 08, 2014

John Duns Scotus

Today is the feast of Bl. John Duns Scotus, the Subtle Doctor. Given his importance in the intellectual realm, we know surprisingly little about his life. We know that he was ordained March 17, 1291. He was known as Johannes Duns, which suggests that he was from Duns, Scotland -- but it has also been argued that Duns was a family name and that he might have been from Northern England or even Ireland. He was a member of the Friars Minor, or Franciscans. He alternated between the two major universities of Oxford and Paris for much of his career, although he was called to Cologne for unknown reasons in 1307 and died there in 1308. All of his work is brilliant, but it is very difficult to work through, because it is almost all in various states of partial revision and incompletion.

Famously, the word 'dunce' comes from his name, arising as a part of humanist derision of scholastic technicalities; so if anyone calls you a 'dunce', take it as the compliment it is: you're too subtle a genius for them to handle.

You can read Thomas Williams's article on him at the SEP, and Jeffrey Hause's article on him at the IEP.

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