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Williams, Thomas, editor. The Cambridge Companion to Duns Scotus.

WILLIAMS, Thomas, editor. The Cambridge Companion to Duns Scotus. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003. xvi + 408 pp. Cloth, $65.00; paper $ 23.00--The editor of this volume in the Cambridge Companion series seems to have aimed at combining two types of essays with two audiences in mind. On the one hand, one finds contributions that expound some of the major themes of Scotus's thought and are intended for readers unfamiliar with the complex thought of this thinker and are in need of some guidance. On the other, the reader will discover essays that are more original in content, either because they treat aspects of Scotus's thought that have not yet received sufficient attention, or because they offer an original reading on already familiar topics.

Peter King's essay on Scotus's metaphysics belongs to the first type. King introduces the reader in a clear and lively manner to some of the major themes of Scotist metaphysics (the categories, the doctrine of distinctions, causality, God's existence, matter, and so on). One may only regret that the Scotist's doctrine of the univocity of being is mentioned all too briefly and that the author does not fully explore the tension it creates with the doctrine of God's transcendence (despites Scotus's claim that the univocal notion of being is an imperfect concept). In "Universal and Individuation" Timothy Noone offers a remarkably clear analysis of this intricate topic and presents Scotus's solution in dialogue with his predecessors and contemporaries. Discussing modal theory, Calvin Normore rightly takes his distance from the possible-world semantic model that has been imposed on Scotus, and he shows that Scotus never completely divorced time and modalities, "retaining a significant distinction between the modal status of the past and that of the future and the use of notions of priority and posteriority modeled on temporal relations in his account of the contingency of the present" (p. 156). Scotus's theology is presented in two essays by James Ross and Todd Bates on "Duns Scotus on Natural Theology" and William Mann's lively discussion of "Duns Scotus on Natural and Supernatural Theology."

To the second category belong Neil Lewis's "Space and Time" and Dominik Perler's "Duns Scotus's Philosophy of Language." Lewis convincingly demonstrates that Scotus's rejection of a flowing now is the result of Scotus's critique of the conception of time as composed of indivisibles, but that it retains the notion of flow as the essential dimension of temporal processes. Perler shows that although Scotus never wrote a grammar or logic handbook, "semantic analysis was not just an instrument for Scotus. It was also an integral part of his philosophical investigations" (p. 187). in "Cognition" Robert Pasnau argues that "Scotus is the first major philosopher to attempt a naturalistic account of the human cognitive system" (p. 303) and offers a detailed account of his complex (and ultimately unresolved) theory of intuitive cognition.

One of the surprises of this volume concerns the reevaluation of Scotus's ethics. While one would expect an essay on the will (a topic which, of course is not forgotten but appears in more than one essay), Thomas Williams's outstanding contribution chooses rather to evaluate Scotus's ethics against the background of the doctrine of the goodness of being. This approach clearly stresses Scotus's departure from prior medieval ethical theories and focuses in particular on the Scotist divorce between primary goodness and moral goodness; thereby the "connection between our activity and the attainment of happiness is altogether contingent" (p. 337). Williams's discussion certainly does not dismiss the importance of the will, but he helps situate it in its proper ontological context. In a similar vein, Bonnie Kent clearly demonstrates that, despites what has been commonly argued, the medieval doctrine of the virtues does not merely vanish with Scotus in order to be replaced by a doctrine of the will and the commands of the moral and divine law, but rather that it undergoes a profound transformation. One cannot claim that virtue is a sufficient ground for moral goodness without committing a vicious circle. "If virtue is a disposition acquired from morally good acts, it must be possible to perform such acts without a virtue; otherwise, how could one develop the virtue in the first place" (p. 359). Yet, virtue adds promptness, ease, and pleasure in the mode of the action; thereby, the best human act "combines the free choice of the will and the natural causality of disposition" (p. 363).

One will also find an essay by Richard Cross on "Philosophy of Mind" and Hannes Mohle on "Scotus's Theory of Natural Law." Altogether, this is a rich volume (some of these contributions would deserve a review of their own) that will be useful for a large spectrum of readers and is likely to become a basic source of reference for further exploration of Scotus's thought.--Pascal Massie, Miami University.
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Author:Massie, Pascal
Publication:The Review of Metaphysics
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 1, 2004
Words:803
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