Does Scotus matter

Having first given some account of the 'shape' of reason in its broadest sense, we must now make some progress directly with the nature of reason in its narrower sense of 'ratiocination', and, more specifically, on the matter of the logic of proof itself. And if we begin with Duns Sco-tus, this is because the primary issue is with the difficulty set against any case for the possibility of proof of God, which is that any such proposal must entail an 'onto-theological' consequence, and the charge of 'onto-theology' is thought to stick on Duns Scotus most especially. Moreover, some recent literatures have pressed the argument that the conception of a natural theology itself has its origin, or at least its historically significant origin, in the early fourteenth century, in the thought of Duns Scotus, and, as we have seen, there are those for whom natural theology is inherently onto-theological. Scotus' historical significance has in this way been reinserted into the record very recently by the followers of 'Radical Orthodoxy', who seem united in their perception of certain conceptual links within his thought which are definitive of this natural theology, and in their hostility to it. In summary, the critique of Scotus seems to involve four propositions: first, that a 'natural theology' maintains the existence of God to be demonstrable without appeal to premises of faith; second, that such a demonstration is logically possible only if 'existence' is predicable univocally of God and creatures; and third, that if existence is to be predicable univocally of God and creatures, this can be so only if we have available to us some concept of 'existence' which is neutral as between any difference there can be between the Creator and the created - the difference, namely, between 'infinite' and 'finite' being. It is that third proposition which is said to be 'onto-theological'. Not incidentally, moreover, a fourth proposition is presupposed to the third: if there are any predicates predicable univocally of God and creatures, a fortiori those same predicates must be predicable univocally, that is to say neutrally, also as between any and all differences of creatures one from one another.

On this account, then, the systematic and explicit defence of those conceptual linkages is said to be found historically in the works of Duns Scotus in a form which contributed to a decisive turn within Western theological and philosophical traditions (though here, the Radical Orthodox thesis is less than precise as to the nature of this historical causation). Put in its most moderate and defensible form in a recent paper of Catherine Pickstock, this intellectual shift is not said to have been uniquely causal of subsequent developments in Western intellectual history, but only in the long run to have removed a conceptual barrier, set firmly in place by Thomas's doctrine of 'analogy', standing in the way of the development of a rationalist and secularist ideology,1 of which Kant is the classical 'modern' inheritor. For Kant's 'speculative reason' is inherently secular, 'this-worldly' - indeed, one may say that Kant strategically secularises speculative reason precisely, as he puts it, 'so as to leave room for [practical] faith' - a conceptual move, as we have seen, which is governed by the argument that, were reason to be permitted theological ambitions, it could possess them only in competition with faith. And from this it would seem to follow that from any ground occupied by the one, the other must thereby be excluded. It is no purpose of this essay to engage in an argument with this historical aetiology, but only with the conceptual and logical linkages themselves which underlie it. Those linkages are, indeed, to be found in Duns Scotus, whose significance for this essay -the purposes of which are entirely conceptual - lies in the opportunity he provides for determining whether or not in truth they are unbreakable. In my view they are not: more particularly, I shall argue that the rational demonstrability of the existence of God is not logically dependent, in the way in which Scotus believes that it is, on the univocal predication of existence of God and creatures.

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