Per Caritatem

Summary and Concluding Remarks

As a kind of summary of the important aspects that we have encountered in Scotus’ account of the will thus far, I offer the following.  First, Scotus claims that there are only two kinds of active powers:  natures or wills.  At the heart of his distinction is the self-determination of the will, which points to the intrinsic difference that accounts for the distinctive modality of the will (which acts freely) in contradistinction to a nature (which acts necessarily).  In the midst of this discussion, Scotus also introduces what is now called synchronic contingency, which speaks of the unactualized possibility that is always present as a real possibility.  Here we see, as A. Vos and others have noted, Scotus’ amazement at the wonder of contingency permeating his entire account of the will.   In addition, according to Scotus, the will can will or not will, nill or not nill, or will or nill this or that.  If such is the case, and the will in fact is self-determining, then the question naturally arises as to how such an indeterminate active potency is reduced from potency to act.  Here Scotus offers a rather original proposal with his idea of superabundant sufficiency or positive indeterminacy, which allows for a self-limiting capability on the part of the agent, and which is seen as a perfection rather than a limitation. 

Lastly, as a possible and in no way damaging criticism to Scotus’ overall conclusions as presented in this paper, I wonder whether Wolter’s first inclinations with regard to Scotus’ twisting the wax nose of authority in reference to Aristotle are perhaps worth revisiting-after all Wolter does admit that Aristotle himself “never speaks of the will as a potency in so many words,” much less an active, self-determining potency.[1]  If this is the case, why not highlight Scotus’ unique contributions to the history of our understanding of the will as insights not available to Aristotle as a non-Christian thinker?  Though it is my understanding that the context in which Scotus worked demanded to a certain degree that theology conform to Aristotelian science, and Christians of course want to recognize the truth wherever it can be found, still one might question whether it is the case that this demand to conform with Aristotelian science is in fact the proper direction that Christian theology should take.  Moreover, when one factors in Scotus’ conception of the dual affections inherent to the will, particularly the ability of the affectio iustitiae to transcend the agent’s natural telos, one wonders just how compatible Scotus’ claims really are with those of Aristotle when viewed in an architectonic manner.  That is, perhaps Scotus’ generous reading of Aristotle is a bit too generous given the latter’s non-access to divine (biblical) revelation-revelation which no doubt served as an important source for Scotus’ contemplations on the subject of the will and its freedom. 

Bibliography/Works Consulted

Arendt, Hannah.  The Life of the Mind [Vol. II:  Willing]:  One-Volume Edition. San
     Diego:  Harcourt Brace & Co., 1978.

Dumont, Stephen.  “The Origin of Scotus’s Theory of Synchronic Contingency,”  The
     Modern Schoolmen,
LXXII (January/March 1995):  149-167. 

Scotus, John Duns.  Duns Scotus on the Will and Morality. Trans., Wolter, Allen B. and
     ed., Frank, William.  Washington,  D.C.:  Catholic Univ. of America Press, 1997.

Wolter, Allen B.  “The Will as Rational Potency,” as found in Wolter, The Philosophical
     Theology of Duns Scotus.
 Ed. Marilyn McCord Adams.  Ithaca and London:  Cornell
     University Press, 1990. 


[1] Wolter, “The Will as Rational Potency,” p. 179. 

5 Responses so far


i am looking for latin text of Duns Scotus’ quote “those who deny contingency should be tortured until they admit they could also not have been tortured”
can you help me with this, please?

kind regards,

Lulu Stein

Dear Ms. Stein,

I am familiar with a similar passage, but I do not recall off the top of my head where it is found. It would take some time and searching for me to find it. Have you tried googling keywords to try to find the quote? As I recall, the context of the quote that I have in mind is that Scotus in agreement with Avicenna believes that those who deny the law of non-contradiction shouild be “tortured”. Of course he is simply being rhetorical.


Dear Ms. Stein and Ms. Nielsen,

I believe the passage you have in mind is from Reportatio parisiensis (the Reportatio examinata) I A, prol. q. iii, art. i. An English translation can be found in Duns Scotus, Philosophical Writings, trans. Allan Wolter (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 1987), p.9. The English translation is given on the right-hand page 9, with the original Latin text given on the facing left-hand page 9. Below I quote Wolter’s English translation of the relevant passage in full:

“The proposition: ‘Some being is contingent,’ therefore, seems to be a primary truth and is not demonstrable by an a priori demonstration, which gives the reason for the fact. That is why the Philosopher, in arguing against the theory that future events are necessary, makes no attempt to deduce from it something even more impossible than the hypothesis, but he deduces it from an impossibility that is more apparent to us, namely, that there would be no need to deliberate [about the future]. And therefore, those who deny such manifest things need punishment or knowledge or sense, for as Avicenna puts it (Metaphysics I): ‘Those who deny a first principle should be beaten or exposed to fire until they concede that to burn and not to burn, or to be beaten and not to be beaten, are not identical.’ And so too, those who deny that some being is contingent should be exposed to torments until they concede that it is possible for them not to be tormented.”

Peter Spotswood Dillard

Thank you, Peter!

Dear Cynthia and Peter,

Thank you both so very much!


Lulu Stein