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Duns Scotus on Natural Theology
James F. Ross


Introduction: Scotus’ natural theology has distinctive claims: (i) that we can reason demonstratively to the necessary existence and nature of God from what is actually so; but not from imagined situations, or from conceivability-to-us; rather, only from the possibility logically required for what we know actually to be so; (ii) that there is a univocal transcendental notion of being; (iii) that there are disjunctive transcendental notions that apply exclusively to everything, like ‘contingent/necessary,’ and such that the inferior cannot have a case unless the superior does; (iv) that an a priori demonstration of the existence of God is impossible because there is nothing explanatorily prior to the divine being, and so, reasoning must be a posteriori, from the real dependences among things we perceive to the possibility of an absolutely First Being (The First Principle); (v) that such a being cannot be possible without existing necessarily; and (vi) that the First Being (God) is simple, omni-intelligent, free (spontaneous), omnipotent and, positively infinite;[1] and moreover, (vii) that there is a formal distinction, that is more than a distinction within our concepts or definitions, among the divine attributes.
He makes that first point obvious throughout his several treatments, that one cannot reliably reason from conceptual consistency for us to the real and formal possibility or necessity of something; one must reason only to those necessities that are conditions of the possibility of what is known to be actual. The schema of the reasoning is, in a word, that “only the existence of God can make an effect even possible”[2]. Thus, it is explicitly incorrect to classify him along with St Anselm, Descartes and Leibniz, among those who reason a priori to the being of God[3].
He characteristically and deftly argues by indirect proof. He supposes the opposite of his intended conclusion and deduces a contradiction between that supposition and certain self-evident, or previously proved propositions, thus, getting his own conclusion by using the principle that whatever entails the denial of what is already known to be so, is false and its opposite is true,[4] “si negatur negatio, ponitur affirmatio.”[5] He also uses the argument form, “ if ‘p’ is not necessary, then ‘not-p’ is possible”. And he uses the general rule, “if possibly P, and not contingently P, then necessarily P”, as well as the rule that whatever is possible is necessarily possible.[6]
Although he is bold, direct and logically explicit about demonstrating the existence of God, he retrenches on some claims in natural theology that others had thought demonstrable: he says the power of God to produce whatever is possible is demonstrable, but not the divine power to do so immediately, without any secondary causes; and he says the immortality of the human soul cannot be demonstrated. He rejects (DPP. 4.22) the usual deduction of particular divine perfections, like love or wisdom, from the fact that God has all pure perfections, alone, saying each requires an additional experiential basis to assure that the attribute is a pure perfection; for parallel reasons he rejects St. Anselm’s proof, as well. He thinks only probable (likely but persuasive) reasons can be given that time will end, that the world was created “in time” (though demonstrably created ex nihilo[7]), and that the created cosmos will somehow endure beyond the end of time.
Two other distinctive positions are: (i) that we name the divine attributes univocally, i.e., in the same sense, as the pure perfections found in creatures, such as being, life, intelligence, freedom and love; such perfections, as mentioned, are not just conceptually distinct from one another in God, but are formally distinct “on the part of the thing” from one another. And he says, (ii) that freedom of choice, both divine and human, is marked by spontaneity; it is the ability to choose that alone explains the election to act one way or another, not any prior reason or any merit in the objects; and in that lies the explanation of how there is anything contingent at all. We shall examine the key parts of the argument for the existence of God, and some aspects of the discussion of the divine nature, ending with a brief comment about human immortality.
Duns Scotus’ Conception of Natural Theology
1 Scotus takes up what we call natural theology within “the science of metaphysics” in accord with Aristotle’s practice in his Metaphysics: the inquiry into the first principles of being—hence the title of Scotus’ book.[8] The science of metaphysics “considers the transcendentals as such,”[9] among which are disjunctive attributes, such as “necessary-or-possible,”[10] and among those disjunctive transcendentals is the one that Scotus uses to begin his proof for the existence of God, by “the more fruitful source of essential order,”[11] among efficient and final causes and orderings of eminence.
2 The fact that natural theology falls within metaphysics does not deter Scotus from being guided by what he already knows by faith –from Scripture and the faith of the Church. He is explicit about that, even in the restrictively philosophical work, De Primo Principio, addressing God, as did St Anselm in his Proslogion,at the outset of that philosophical inquiry. Scotus says,
“You are truly what it means to be, you are the whole of what it means to exist. This, if it is possible for me, I should like to know by way of demonstration. Help me then, O Lord, as I investigate how much our natural ‘ reason can learn about that true being which you are if we begin with what you have produced of yourself”.[12]
He is guided by Faith, in what to look for and where: to look for “what he [your servant] holds with faith most certain, that you are the most eminent, the first efficient cause, and the last end,”[13] and “where”: among the things that begin to be. But notice that Scotus is also guided by philosophy in his understanding of the Scripture and his Faith, as is indicated in the three distinctly philosophical concepts, eminence, efficiency and finality, of his inquiry and prayer. Scotus does not premise revelation in his metaphysical arguments; still, what he knows by faith prompts him toward demonstrating certain conclusions, and suggests certain questions and conceptions.[14]
3Limitations of Scope Because Scotus treats natural theology as the part of metaphysics concerned with the existence and nature of the First Principle of Being, his explicit scope is much narrower than his words “ how much our natural reason can learn about the nature of the being you are” will permit. Related topics, like the temporal beginning of the world, divine providence, governance and foreknowledge, the immortality of the human soul, whether there can be life after death, human freedom, the possibility and scope of miracles, the possibility of divine action in history, the conditions of possibility for various mysteries such as the Trinity and Incarnation, the problem of evil, and the end of the world, are usually considered to be within the capacity of unaided reason, and part of the subject nowadays. And indeed, Scotus treated most of them and did so philosophically, but in (revealed) theological contexts.
On the Univocal Transcendental Concept of Being
4 There is a universal, all-encompassing, univocal concept, ‘being’ with which we can think of anything. He considers such a conception a necessity for a demonstration of God’s existence, and indeed, for a coherent science of metaphysics. A concept is univocal if it cannot be affirmed and denied to fit the same thing without a contradiction; and if univocal, it can function as the middle term of a demonstration without equivocation. A concept is transcendental just in case it has no superior genus and it applies to anything, no matter what. In addition to the transcendental terms, “being”, “one”, “true”, etc., there are also universal, logically exclusive, contrast-dependent, disjunctions, e.g. “necessary/contingent,” “causable/ uncausable,” “finite/infinite,” ”perfect /imperfect,” etc. that are subject to a ‘law of the disjunctive transcendentals,’ namely: that it is impossible that there be a case of the inferior without there being a case of the superior. The proof of that law seems, however, to be cognitively a consequence of a proof of the existence of a divine being rather than a premise for it.
We can ask, beginning with what exists contingently, “whether among actual things there is one that is infinite”. So his conception has to present anything there is to the understanding[15], regardless of its manner of being. Another way he puts the idea is that only a transcendental, univocal notion of being allows a person, uncertain whether a first principle is finite or infinite, to inquire, without circularity of thinking, whether there is such a thing.
5 For, if some empirical predicates are not also univocally applied to whatever we are inquiring about, then “a disconcerting consequence ensues; namely, that from the proper notion of anything found in creatures nothing at all can be inferred about God….”. He seems to think that Aquinas could not know that ‘being’ applied to God by analogy of proper proportionality, where the meaning of the term is captured by the modus essendi of its referent (see #29, below) unless he first knew through some neutral notion of being, that God exists. For Scotus also holds that God exists in a manner ontologically only analogous to contingent things; but conceptually, we have a univocal notion that embraces the ontological diversity of intrinsic modes of being, that is, both the infinite and the finite.
6 The Theoremata, probably a late work (maybe not directly Scotus,’ and maybe not reliably in the order we have it,[16]or even more than a collection of drafts), might seem, and was so thought[17], to repudiate his project in natural theology by affirming opposed positions.[18] But he was not refuting or retracting his other work—rather, he was dislodging the contrary, Latin Averroist, position by deducing absurdities that would result if the notion of ‘being’ were restricted to the domain of Aristotle’s Categories. His opponents’ assumption that ‘being’ immediately divides into the 10 categories, rather than into universal, contrast-dependent[19], disjunctions like “infinite/ finite”, “necessary/contingent” leads to contradictions and anomalies. In Theorem 9, Proposition 5, he writes, “No concept common per se will be the same between the created and uncreated.” There will be no univocal transcendental notion of ‘being’ or of anything else. Among the absurd outcomes is that “It cannot be proved that something numerically the same is or was first among efficient causes” (Theorem 16, Prop 3,n.2). Basically he is saying, ”look where saying you are reasoning with a narrowly categorical notion of being will lead you”.[20]

A: The Proof of the Existence of a First Explanatory Being
7 Scotus offers an original line of argument for the existence of a divine being, using considerations that originate with Avicenna (c. 1000). For Avicenna made clear that if its possible that a divine being exists, it must exist, and that nothing else exists on account of what-it-is. He reasoned, neo-Platonically, that the divine being emanates, necessarily, all contingent being. Scotus adapted that reasoning to his a posteriori framework, and refined the notion of contingency to include not only not-existing-on account-of-what –it-is, but also that even while exiting, such a thing still might not exist. So Scotus deduces the possibility of a divine being ( a First Cause and Eminent Being), from the causation we perceive. His key innovations are (1) to convert the inquiry about the causation of contingent beings (ones that exist but might not have), into an explicit[21] discussion of essentially ordered series, and (2) to reach the intermediate conclusion that it is possible for there to be a First Being, so as to conclude by deducing that the possibility of such a being requires its necessary-being. So he does not end with the existence of such a being as a hypothetical necessity for the contingent effects, but as necessary-being on its own (ens a-se).
He presents his arguments, at least three times in somewhat varying versions.[22] They vary as he reached for a transparent expression of the insights, and one that does notrely on inferences from conceivability-to-us to formal possibility. As a result, commentators have diverged in explaining and appraising the arguments, with some inventive suggestions.[23] But overall there seems to be a consensus that the issue of whether there can be an infinite regress is pivotal[24]. So we treat that at length.
8 He does not rely upon St. Anselm’s argument, even after he gives it a “coloration” that he approves,[25] because without a posteriori arguments, we would not be in a position of unaided natural certainty, by recognition, that such a conception, “a being than which a greater cannot be {consistently} conceived,” is consistent. He sees that consistency-to-a-human is not sufficient for the formal possibility of the thing[26]. (This is, historically, a very important point that was missed 17th Century through 20th Century philosophy).So, the possibility of a First Being has to be demonstrated a posteriori, as one of the necessary conditions for what is actually so.
9 Some reminders. (1) What is formally possible[27]is what can be, non-repugnantly to being-as-such. Everything formally possible is necessarily formally possible, for compatibility with being-as-such is not made or caused. Nor is that a semantic, conceptual or other mind-dependent relation. The ‘terms’ of propositions that he has in mind are realities presented to us conceptually, even where what we think of is a combination that is impossible. Possibility is not a semantic condition, but is, as it turns out later in his metaphysics, non-repugnance in esse intelligibile to being-as-such.(2) Some philosophers may be tempted to understand Scotus anachronistically, as if he thinks of modalities semantically as is fashionable nowadays[28]. There is a superficial similarity, because the axioms and theorems, considered entirely syntactically, are like the system S-5. But his modalities, even as logical, are propositional operators (adverbials modifying propositions), not quantifiers. And his propositions cannot be understood extensionally, or metalinguistically, as having truth-conditions mapped onto domains of worlds of propositions or sentences, or even of abstracta (cf. the ‘individual essences’ of Plantinga). In fact, his syllogistic logic cannot be interpreted as first-order quantification at all and still express his propositions about real natures and active natural principles. (3) For him the explanatory order is from the real modalities of things to the modalities of propositions, whereas, recent logicians talk as if necessity were a feature of sentences, or statements, in relation to arrays of truth-values, and as if we could analyze real necessity into an array of propositional or sentential truths “in all possible worlds”. (4) Scotus’ modal principles are derived from the metaphysical relationships of things considered modally, de re.[29] However, modalities de re are understood nowadays to be shorthand for sentential modalities; not so for Scotus. ‘Being necessarily human’ is a real condition of Socrates, that his humanity is essential to him. That cannot be reductively analysed as an arrangement of propositional truths. And God’s necessary being is a manner of divine being, not a feature of some propositions about God. (5) To say it is possible that something can make something, is either to say there is something that is apt or able to make another thing, or to say there can be, compatibly with being-as-such, such a maker. And there are two senses of the first sort of assertion, as well: that some particular existing thing is able (actively or dispositionally) to do something, or, that things of some particular sort are able to do something, as in “ it is possible for women to bear children” and “penguins can’t fly but can swim”. In such cases, we are talking about real possibility, real impossibility, and real necessity, located in common natures of things that exist. That’s what Scotus is talking about, the sorts, the natures of things.
10 10 To repeat, conceptual consistency-to-us (seeming to be consistent), is no assurance of real possibility, or, a fortiori, of formal possibility. And natural causes are really necessary for the actions of things (no babies without parents), yet such effects can, in principle, be produced in other ways as well. And something can be really impossible, say for lack of an agent able to do it (flying cockroaches, or airplanes, up to a while ago), yet be formally possible. And something may be formally impossible even though some persons think it to be really possible, as the Islamic occasionalists thought God had made the world without natural active principles, and some philosophers think we might have existed with all our experiences when no actual physical world existed at all.
11 11 Scotus argues in terms of the sorts of things (the natures, or natural kinds). Common natures are the relevant effects in the essential order of causes; and common natures are the relevant subjects of real necessity and possibility, as well. (Ox.I.d.2 q.1, n.44): “ probatio ..est..de esse quidditive sive de esse possible, non autem de esse actuale.” And: “If…understood in terms of the natures [rather than individuals], the quiddity and the possibility, then the conclusions follow from necessary premises.”(Ox.ibid. n.46). Nevertheless, the real, not the formal, possibility, say of airplanes, is caused, because the real nature, in esse essentiae, is caused; it is produced by things of the further natures (humans, metals, designs, etc.) on which it depends. There did not have to be “things able to see” any more than there had to be “glowing mice” or “fireflies”. And the ones there are, depend on further sorts, e.g. “birds able to see” or “mammals able to see”, and so forth. That’s the kind of production Scotus is concerned with, production where one sort of thing depends in being and in action, upon the natural action of another sort of thing. Thus the existence of what we start out to explain, say a newborn chick, depends on its sort (swallow), and then upon things of further sorts that have to be all at once. So we get to the question: whether ‘natures-producing-natures’ spirals up to a first, or not. He reasons both that it must, and that it ends at a certain sort of thing: something that exists-by-nature.
12 Note also some of the recently recounted queries about his arguments: that he needs to show all of nature is essentially ordered; that there appears to be a supposed and cognitively circular principle of sufficient reason; that he skips whether there can be uncaused contingent being; that his reliance on modal logic presupposes the existence of God; that the elimination of an infinite regress is not really decisive. (Ockham thought the reasoning would be more obvious in the case of conserving causes[30]).
13 The Argument
14 12 Scotus asks whether among the things that actually exist there is one that is infinite in act. Immediately (Ox. I, 2,q.1), he asks a sub-question, “whether among beings which can produce an effect, there is one that is simply first”. And he promises that if there is, he can show there is an infinite being.
He reasons that (i) some things can be produced (“effectibile”) because some are produced. So, (ii) there can be something productive (effectiva), that is, something of a sort naturally disposed and able to produce things, say, swallow’, or fertile female frog. Now, given that there is such a thing, that there can be such a thing is formally necessary (absolutely, unconditionally necessary).[31] The same will hold, then for each further premise and for the conclusion, as well: because each is a necessary condition for the former.
The productive sort, say, swallow, is either itself caused to be, and its producing caused to happen, by something of a prior sort (say, genetically organized carbon molecules), or not. If not by another, but on account of itself, then we already have what we seek: an unproduced producer. But suppose that the producing sort, say, swallow, depends on another producing sort, via things of the sort, not only for its being but for its producing, as when a pencil makes a mark, because its marking is caused, too, by a moving person. Does that essentially ordered regress end? Does it all spiral up to a first productive sort of thing that can depend on nothing? It seems that it must.
Objector: Suppose that the dependence goes on forever, each sort of thing being of a different kind (nature) from its effect, but each “inside and hanging onto” a prior real nature of a different kind, without end. Scotus calls such a series “infinite,” by which he means “non-terminating”. It would be like the regression from a chick to ‘being a chicken’, which depends on ‘being vitally organized carbon molecules’, which together depends on ‘being particularly organized atoms’, and so on, to further and further conditions, but without end. And if it were non-terminating, it would be non-terminable.
13 Scotus thinks a non-terminable regress is formally impossible. He deploys two lines of argument to block that option. First he argues that a non-terminating regress of essentially ordered causes, where all the causing has to be continuous right through to the last effect, and each successive effect is of a different sort from the prior, as in our “pencil marking” example, is inconsistent. Secondly, a non-terminating regress of that sort is not formally necessary, because its denial is not inconsistent.[32]
So in the first case, there cannot be such a thing, and in the second, there need not be such a thing. And, so in either case, an unproduced producing cause (of a suitable sort) is known to be really possible. For, if the negation of a proposition is either impossible or not necessary, the affirmative is possible, (Cf. “si negatur negatio, ponitur affirmatio” Ox. loc. cit, Wolter,p.39). So the heart of the reasoning is to reject the non-terminating regress (the “infinite series”).
14 As to the inconsistency of a non-ending regress. Scotus does not offer a taxonomy of ordered natural kinds, and so we have to speculate about examples. Further, he is not committed at the outset to saying that all of nature belongs to a single such order. Rather, he relies upon some actual cases only. For if it is impossible that everyregress of essentially ordered causes is infinite (unending), then a terminating one is possible. But that is possible only if a certain sort of thing actually exists, a First Being. And the sort of thing that actually exists will logically prevent there from being any non-terminating regresses of essentially ordered causes at all, because it will be the explanation of all contingent being. So the universal order in nature is a consequence, and outcome of the proof, not a premise of it.
Consider some cases. For asparin to help a headache, chemical reactions are required, and those require certain sorts of and arrangements of molecules (molecular natures: acetylsalicylic acid.) For that, certain molecular structure is required, along with molecular bonding; and for that, certain atomic organization is required, and, so, on. All the latter have to be actual and causing, “all at once”, ”all the way down” for the aspirin to work. The “all at once” can be physical and so, time-bound by the light constant and the medium, and there can even be quantum gaps between cause and effect; the nested causes must still be operating all together. Thus, Ockham’s doubts about whether “simultaneity” of all the causes is demonstrably satisfied, is obviated.[33]
One who says, “still, maybe such a line does not twist up to a first,” is committed to a contradiction. For he has to say that at every stage a sufficient condition is absent and one is never reached by stepwise regression; so one is always absent. And at the same time, he has to postulate the final effect, and, so, that there is a sufficient condition for it. That is explicitly contradictory.
A sentence with an infinite number of “if,if, if,if…”clauses cannot be made complete by adding more; so too, with a phrase inside brackets, inside brackets, repeating without end, never coming to an assertion. So supplying an infinite number of necessary conditions is not enough, by itself, to supply a sufficient condition[34]. Thus supposing only the regression, each member necessary but none sufficient, contradicts the actuality of the effect, for which a sufficient condition is manifestly present. That is Scotus’ insight.
An objection that such reasoning is a “fallacy of composition,”[35] is mistaken. One is not attributing some feature to the series as a whole, solely on the basis of features of the members, but contrasting something always missing in each and every member of the series with something present in the final effect, (a sufficient condition for being). Another illustration: the predicate “unexplained” applies in regression to every member of the series, whereas its negation is by supposition present in the granted effect. Where could “explained” come from? It could not, at all. A logical analogue is that the modal operator of a whole conjunction, no matter how long, even infinite, is the weakest operator of any conjunct.

` The objection that Scotus did not establish that an infinite regress of essentially ordered causes is impossible has been around at least since Ockham raised it, and it gets repeated in the literature now. Perhaps, Scotus didn’t articulate his reasoning transparently enough. But the substance of argument is implicit in the text, needing only examples, as illustrated above. And the objection is merely conclusional, without any basis in fact. Besides, Scotus could also point out that if such a non-ending series per impossibile[36] could happen, it would, nevertheless, be formally causable, whether caused or not. (And that would contradict the supposition that a non-terminating regress of essentially ordered causes could be non-terminable). For conjoining anything at all to the contingent effect, would still give a contingent conjunction. And the contingent, as such is causable[37]. So, even on such a supposition, a first uncausable cause would still be possible, and so, actual, given the reasoning above. As a result, the supposition of a non-terminating regress of essentially ordered causes is impossible (inconsistent).
14 15 As to the non-necessity of any unending essentially ordered regress. Scotus has in mind that there actually are such regresses, though obvious ones, like pencil marks, terminate at members belonging to a series of accidentally ordered causes, like people. (But he has a response to that as well, namely, such additional series are themselves essentially ordered, through their forms in a series that must terminate). For instance, a mark is caused by a pencil whose marking is caused, both in act and in ability by a writer’s gesture, caused by his moving his hand, caused by his acting freely, which he can do on account of what he is. His being is accidentally dependent on generation from his parents, but his causation originates from him, as from an uncaused cause of acting. So there can be a terminating essentially ordered series of causes. That shows that an essentially ordered series of efficient causes does not have to be non-terminating. So the universal proposition “every essentially ordered series of causes is non-terminating” is demonstrably false, indeed found to be inconsistent a posteriori[38].
16 16 The objector may rejoin, “But I am, talking about the whole cosmos: that may regress infinitely.” Scotus’ proper reply, that we make for him, is, “that is a petitio, because there is no other case, and whether that regress is infinite is exactly what is in dispute”. Besides, we know an essentially ordered series of efficient natures that terminates in a first uncaused production, is possible. So, because such a terminating regress, to a cause of all contingent being, is possible ( known a posteriori, too ), a non-terminating regress is impossible
17 Thus, to make clear that a regress has to end, he supposes first, that it does not end, and shows that a contradiction follows. Then he supposes that it need not end, and shows that the possibility of a First Being follows from that, too; but the possibiloity of A First Being excludes any possibility of a non-terminating essentially ordered regress.[39] Therefore, a First Efficient Nature is possible on either supposition; and thus, an unending regress is impossible.
18 He could have stopped at concluding that there is a First actual producer of all essentially dependent effects, because there cannot be an infinite regress. That would be sufficiently obvious, he says, “contingens, sed manifesta”. But he wants a stronger conclusion: that there has to be a first unproducible producer of such actual effects: that it is both really necessary[40] and formally necessary to be. Indeed he wants to establish its necessary-being, as an intrinsic mode of the being. (see Infinity,#53). That way, he can establish the causal ground for any contingent being at all.[41] So, he takes two more steps: that an unproduced first producer is unproducible; and that an unproducible producer has necessary-being.
His “second conclusion”[42] is that if a thing can exist unproduced, and have causal power to produce whatever is producible, it has to be uncausable. (It would be contradictory to say something could cause itself to be). And his “third conclusion” is: if it is possible, it exists necessarily. For whatever is really possible is either causable (such that there can be something that is able to cause it), or exists a-se. But whatever exists that is uncausable, must then exist necessarily.
19 Does Scotus premise a principle of sufficient reason? No;[43]he does not premise e ven a weak principle of explicability. For his reasoning here is that what can exist necessarily, must do so, whereas, what is causable need not exist, and might not have at all. Thus the First Being is uncausable. His earlier claim that there is something producible (effectibile) is made a posteriori from known singulars, and not from a general principle of explicability. And so, a producible actual thing is either producible by itself, from nothing or by another, exclusive options.[44] He eliminates the first two, as incompatible with production and proceeds to the question of the regress, as discussed above.
20 Still, the inquiry, as part of metaphysics, does suppose that being is explicable, but that is by presupposition (entailment as a necessary condition) and not as something cognitively prerequisite for the steps of the existence argument which starts from something that is actually caused and is either first or from something causable. Instead, it is from the actuality of the First Being that we can deduce that every contingent being is causable.[45]
Suppose an objector says, “but, maybe something could, formally, come into being without a cause, say a non-terminating series of ascending causes that does not ‘top out’.” That misses Scotus’ point; his argument is based on the actual causation we know (say, a produced chick). His argument is not based on denying the objector’s speculation; rather it reaches such a denial only after its conclusion is established. So he can get to his conclusion without asserting such a general principle of causation.[46]
21 About the ways of finality and eminence: he says in each case, the reasoning to a First Being parallels that from effective production (efficient causation). The arguments that there cannot be an infinite regress are the same as above; and the starting point is the same, the production of some effect, say, a bird. But the fulcrum for each is different. In the order of finality, the principle is that a produced thing is aimed at something else, usually its sort, and sorts are aimed at other sorts, and so, finibilis, “orderable to another”(as in the food chain, ecosystems, and bodily organs). But a dependent order of natures, each ordered to another required for it, all together, has to twist up to a first, not orderable to anything else,(Ox.I,2,1-2.n 65); and besides, the first efficient being cannot be orderable to another because it is unproducible (ibid, n. 68).

Similarly, anything essentially dependent on another sort of thing is less eminent than it. But a first being, cannot be ordered to something more eminent. So, a first being is not surpassable in eminence, and hence, is most eminent. That there are some things ‘more eminent than others’ is evident from the fact that a cause of causes of a different nature, has to contain the capacity of the latter by eminence (or virtually) because it is, ex hypothesi, of a different nature than the latter. Since there are such causes, the decisive question is whether such an order can be non-terminating. And his answer is that it cannot because that would be contradictory to other truths, as was shown in the case of efficient causes.
The Finality and Eminence arguments have the same internal structure. For being ordered to an end, and being excelled are both alio-relative, and thus, either order must end in a first that is not ordered to anything else or the ordering is non-terminating. But then the double argument, that a non-terminating regress is impossible, applies to the latter supposition; and so, in either case, a First Being is possible; but if possible, it exists necessarily. So everything in the three argument lines seems to rest on the impossibility of an infinite regress of essentially ordered causes.
But we think we have shown that his reasoning on that point is more formidable that some of his near contemporaries thought, and tighter than many recent commentators have supposed. In fact he seems to have displayed that postulating a non-terminating series of nested causing natures contradicts the supposition that there is an actually produced contingent thing of such a final nature.
1922 Embedded argument. Perhaps the arguments are still not elementary and obvious enough even yet. And perhaps one might wonder how much, beyond the superficial structure of argument, rests on the then unchallenged (except for discussions of future contingents) idea that all well-formed propositions are either true or false (bifurcation), and so, on whether indirect proof is valid. And even more, maybe too much rests on the principle that whatever is possible is necessarily possible, which may not follow even from the supposition of a creating necessary being.[47] Still, too much is usually expected from medieval demonstrations because of myths about how such arguments were understood and intended. For such reasoning is by no means presuppositionless, or intended to be. No one ever pretended that one argument all by itself will eliminate all possible oppositions to its conclusion, without any reliance on a larger logical and metaphysical background. Such an idealization does not have any historical cases at all, not even in Euclidean geometry. Indeed, Scotus’ demonstration is embedded in a nest of wider assumptions. And Scotus does not claim otherwise.
2023 However, little of his realism about common natures and real kinds and possibilities, his “active-principle” notion of causation, his commitment to real forms (like programs in things),[48] his understanding of real natures as active dispositions, his notions of individuation, of the certainty of perceptual knowledge, and the like, is explicitly mentioned or used, until after the necessary existence of the First Being, has been concluded. Yet it is obvious that the proof depends on there being real common natures, known to us, and upon absolute (formal) possibilities and necessities and various unchallenged principles of logic, as well as active causal principles in nature.
So, evaluation of his demonstration has to be against objections coherent with his back-grounding assumptions, and not put against the wavering demands of competing philosophies in general, for instance, critical idealist theories (Kant), or nominalist views of kinds (say, Quine), or purely sentential views of possibility and necessity, each of which would deny some key element of his presuppositions. And certainly one cannot read his modal logic as an instance of any version of quantified modal logic (QML) to be found prominently today; the resemblance is, as we remarked, only superficial.
21 Scotus’ argument has to be evaluated nowadays, not as to how effective it is at changing convictions (for it wasn’t intended for changing convictions about the conclusion even then, but as to how effective it was at eliminating all other options), but as to how excellent his craftsmanship is at deriving his conclusions against his general background. That’s how we appraise arguments generally. Beyond that, for those who share the broad realism and cognitive confidence of Scotus, the argument may still, as it were, “put a lock” on the conclusion that there is a divine, infinite being, or, at the least, be “probative,”[49] that is, highly likely and persuasive, --which is about the best we get in philosophy for anything beyond a mere technicality.[50]
22 We think the wonderments at the end of #11, above, don’t bite; the really interesting difficulties are over (i) whether anything really is contingent, and (ii) whether we can reduce to contradiction the speculation that the cosmos as a whole is an unexplained and inexplicable phenomenon. If he is right that the latter is a contradiction (and it would have to be if God is possible), and that the former is evident, then making his reasoning decisive against its background, seems to be a matter of fine tuning. Disagreements would have to shift to disputes about elements of the background, that is, to a quite different part of general metaphysics and of natural philosophy and logic.
24 To summarize, then, tracking Ox I, d.2,,q.1-2,n 43: something is produced, so something is of a sort that is producible; that sort itself is either producible or not. If it is, then there is either an interminable regress of producers (of caused sorts) for it, all of which act together (like the embedded natural bodily organs, cells, molecular, atomic, subatomic, etc., energy-particle systems….), or there is a First Producing Sort. An unending regress is inconsistent with the being of the actual and producible effect.[51] So a First Being (nature), able to produce others, but itself unproducible, is possible; therefore, it exists. For, such a thing can’t be merely possible, because (1) the original effect would not exist and (2) such a thing wouldn’t be unproducible.[52] But if existing, it is necessarily-existing, since the supposition that that sort of thing is possible but not existing, leads to a contradiction.

B: The Nature of the First Principle of Being
25 Scotus determines the intrinsic attributes of the First Being by figuring out, a posteriori, what features a thing must have in order to produce the effects we perceive. He explicitly renounces deduction a priori of the attributes from the idea that God has all pure perfections, mainly, because of the uncertainty whether particular predicates are genuinely consistent and genuinely each “better than any denominative characteristic incompatible with it”.[53] The “absolute”, non-denominative, divine attributes include, necessity, uniqueness, simplicity, intelligence and omniscience, freedom, omnipotence, creation, and infinity. The order of reasoning in each case is structurally the same, an indirect proof, deriving an inconsistency between the denial of the attribute in question and something already known to be true[54].
We next sketch some of his derivations and indicate his distinctive interpretations of the attributes.

26 Necessity follows from primacy. “Nothing can be non-existent unless something either positively or privatively incompatible with it can exist”[55]. And nothing can be positively or privatively incompatible with a being that exists of itself and is uncaused”[56]. Therefore, it can’t not exist. A “largest natural number” is positively inconsistent with “there is a successor by one to every natural number” (positively incompatible), but, of course, such a thing is not possible; and (ii) “being a human mother” is privatively incompatible with ‘being a male human” by some preventing cause.[57] An indirect proof (a destructive dilemma): (i) suppose there could exist something logically incompatible with the First Being; an absurdity follows: that “two incompatible entities will coexist, or rather neither will because each will cancel the other”[58]. Instead, (ii) suppose something could prevent the First Being from existing. That, too, is inconsistent, because the uncausable would have to be causable (preventable). As a result, a First Efficient Cause cannot be a contingent thing. Thus, it must be something that exists necessarily.
27 Unicity and Uniqueness. The first being in each explanatory order, ( efficient and final causation, and priority by eminence), must exist necessarily, by application of the same reasoning to each. But is the first in each order the same being as that which is first in the others?[59]. He reasons as follows: If there were several, they would each be necessary by one common feature, by one nature; so there could not be a plurality of first beings. For, any feature by which one might be supposed to differ from the others cannot be a feature an a-se thing has as such, and thus must be either an additional contingent feature or an additional necessary feature. Again an indirect proof (a destructive dilemma) is offered. Suppose (i) the difference is contingent, then the being is a composite and causable—a contradiction with its being First. Suppose (ii) that differences are necessary to each, then each lacks some essential feature that some thing, one of the others, has on account of being necessary, and so, is not necessary: another contradiction with what has been established. Thus on any relevant supposition, a contradiction results from denying that the First Beings in the distinct orders are one and the same being.
23 28 The First Principle has all pure perfections.[60] A pure perfection requires no limitation on the part of the thing to have it, and excludes no other positive feature that requires no limitation: e.g., ‘to live’ ‘to be’ and ‘to understand.’ As a result, all pure perfections are compatible with one another; so there can be a thing that has all such perfections on account of what it is. But if there can be such a thing, there must be. Still, what can be concluded from that, as to particular attributes, is limited by the unreliability of our mere conceptions to assure possibility.
26 29 Simplicity. Scotus agreed with other theologians that God’s unconditional actuality rules out his having parts, composition of act and potency, or any real distinction as to substance.[61] But he argues that there can still be real difference without real distinction among God’s attributes.[62] For among things distinct in conception, there are some that, though inseparably realized in God’s case, are separately definable and separately realized among finite things, like the attributes of rationality, goodness and wisdom. Moreover, the tendencies of the prudent man are distinct from those of the intelligent man, even when they coincide. So the attributes cannot be only conceptually and definitionally distinct.

Moreover, the unity of the infinite being is more than that of mere simplicity (lack of composition); he says, “simplicity is simply a perfection,” but “it does not follow that every simple creature is more perfect than those not simple.”[63] In addition, “actuality is simply a perfection,” and “actuality is simply more perfect than simplicity.”[64] The infinite being has the unity of “complete actuality”. The degree of a being’s actuality matters more than its simplicity to its perfection and unity. The necessarily first, being a-se, maximizes actuality: it is all that it could be.
30 The Formal Distinction. For this and other purposes in metaphysics and theology, Scotus reasoned that there is often a difference in reality that is not great enough to amount to a real distinction, but is greater than a merely conceptual-definitional distinction; it is, rather, ‘a formal distinction on the part of the thing’ (distinctio formalis a parte rei). For instance, he thought there are features that really differ, and are sometimes separately realizable (like wisdom and justice), even though actual inseparably in the unity of one being, the way intuitive and the deductive intelligence might belong to a single person. Such formally distinct items are (i) separately knowable (at least one without the other, differing in definition where definition is appropriate); (ii) their difference is real independently of our thought;[65] (iii) none can, in a given thing “exist on its own” independently of the other(s); (iv) and each is “perfectly the same” as its related items in the same being, so that even an omnipotent being cannot remove such co-present items from one another. The diverse divine attributes are in that way formally distinct, yet really the same in being. So too, are the human nature and the individuation of Socrates.
31 Scotus thinks a contradiction would result if we regarded the divine perfections as no more than distinct through our conceptions, because “if infinite wisdom were infinite goodness, then wisdom in common, formally would be goodness in common.”[66] They could not, then, occur separately as they do: so, “wisdom in the thing is not formally goodness in the thing.”[67] Thus, there must be a distinction in reality, but less than the distinction of separable elements or elements related as potentiality to act (real distinction). Note that he uses the argument form: what entails the false, is false.
32 Analogy of Meaning vs. Univocity. What then of the meanings of the words we use to describe God, like “wise”, “loving”, “intelligent” and “living”? Do they mean the same things as when applied to creatures? Thomas Aquinas says “No”: as to the verbal definitions, the res significata, yes, they are the same; but, as to the modus significandi , no[68]. For the thing signified, the meaning, follows the definitions of our words, but the manner of attribution (modus significandi) is contracted from the modus essendi (the manner of being) of what is referred to (God, or creature). [69] That is the analogy of proper proportionality, like the contextual capture when you say “the paper turned red with spilled ink” and “his face turned red with embarrassment”, and ‘the sky turned red with the dawn;” the signification, the verbal meaning, “turned red,” is the same, but the manner, the modus significandi , differs according to the different ways the reddening happens. So, Aquinas said, it is with God and creatures and thus, there is no univocation of positive predicates, only analogy (relatedness of meaning).
Scotus rejects that idea. The mode of being of the referent is not part of the meaning of the words. Indeed, the intrinsic modes of being of creatures and God differ (see ‘“infinity”# 53 000 below), but that does not affect the words; he says, “infinity does not destroy the formal nature of that to which it is added.”[70] Scotus thinks the differences of mode of signification that do track the different modes of being of what we are talking about, are not part of the conceptions (the meanings) of what we predicate, but are extralinguistic , “modes of referring” as we might call the differences now. So theirs is a difference in philosophy of language that overflows into natural theology (though the order of suggestion might be the reverse). For Scotus sameness of definition is enough for sameness of meaning. Thus, the divine perfections are univocally predicated of creatures and God.
32 33 Omniscience: Intelligence. The intelligence of the First Being does not derive from some prior explanatory trait: “Intellectuality is the primary nature of intelligent being, constituting it in such being, and nothing exists in the thing essentially prior to that, by which this can be shown of it.”[71] So it has to be established a posteriori, as a condition of the free agency required for the production of something contingent by a being that is necessary. The First Being is “a per se agent.”[72] That is, an agent on account of itself—nothing else moves it to action. But “every per se cause acts because of an end.”[73] Yet this agent can’t act for an end naturally determined because the effect is contingent, while the agent acts necessarily. It must act by choice. But such an agent does not act “because of an end it naturally chooses, or wants without cognition.”[74] So it has to be intelligent.
33 34 The extent of divine knowledge . Scotus accords with theologians generally in saying God knows whatever can be known: “To be able to know and distinctly each and every other thing that can be known is something that pertains to the perfection of knowledge.”[75] But he is more expansive than some (for instance, Aquinas as we interpret him) about what can be known antecedently to any divine election. For instance, he holds that the entire realm of possibility is determined by the divine self-understanding, with no possibility dependent on the divine will, and including all unrealized possibilities and unelected choices, and uncreated natures and individuals in all their particularity. So he takes quite literally Augustine’s claim (De Civ. Dei XV), that God has proper ideas of all that is, or might have been made.
The basic argumentation for such a realm of divine omniscience is that it is a necessary condition for the free creation of all contingent being. As we said, freedom in the cause is required for contingency in the effects of a necessary being. But knowledge of possibilities is required for free choice, with the extent of the knowledge being the whole of what is possible, both the necessary and the contingent. Yet the only way a divine being could have such knowledge, logically antecedently to creation, is by knowing itself directly and completely. Thus, Scotus takes without exception that God “knows everything intelligible actually and distinctly,”[76] by nature and antecedently to any election.

That differs fundamentally from Aquinas,[77] who, on our account, thinks the possibilities, particularly the natural kinds, the regularities of nature, and the individuation of things are not fully determinate from the divine self-knowledge, but are created along with the things[78] and the individuals, and there are no empty natures or merely possible individuals, even in divine conception (in Scotus’ esse intelligibile of haeceities[79]). So what there might have been, instead of what is, including how some actual things might have acted, is indeterminate, apart from divine elections, and unknowable. Scotus disagrees[80]

He thinks God has from eternity a complete idea (concept) of each creature, say Adam, that includes everything Adam does, might have done, had happen, etc, but not with the effect that every feature of the creature is essential to it (as Leibniz later thought). No. Scotus holds very emphatically that humans, even when they act one way freely, are still, in the very act, actively able to choose the opposite (Ox. 39, 1, 3, 2 (d)).(It is like a pianist who, even while striking one key, is able to strike a different one, (Cf. loc. cit. n.1128)). Yet there is nothing knowable about creatures that God does not know through himself from eternity. In brief, the difference we attribute to Scotus and Aquinas, is that Scotus thinks all possibility, down to the smallest detail, has determinate content from the divine self-knowledge, logically antecedently to any creation.
35 Multiplicity of Divine Ideas? Aquinas had denied any real multiplicity of divine ideas by saying the ideas are denominated (counted) by us, from the multiplicity of the objects created, and are at most virtually (as the less perfect is contained in the more perfect) distinct in God. Furthermore, for him, there is a difference between ideas of things that are made, [81] and ideas for things that might have been made, but never are made.[82] Scotus says there is real multiplicity among formally distinct divine ideas, and does not make a distinction between eternal ideas for things that are made and those that are not, because even individuals are eternally known as possible: “the singular is per se intelligible as far as it itself goes.”[83]

That discards Aquinas’s idea that material individuation is consequent on matter with determinate quantity, and so, individuation is not, as such, anything intelligible, and not as such, anything before creation. Scotus says that whatever can be made, “whether in another, or an absolute being, or a relation” is an object “that can be known distinctly by the divine intellect.”[84] Why? “Since another intellect can know this being distinctly, and it can be an object distinctly knowable by a created intellect.”[85] Otherwise, something knowable would not be known as possible, prior to divine willing, by God. So, “every such positive being has a distinct idea.” Hence, while, for Aquinas it might be indeterminate without a divine choice, whether there might have been humans with plastic intestines, star-sized tomatoes, or electrons that think, for Scotus that has to be eternally determinate.

36 `Differences about Universals . Some differences with Aquinas about features of the divine knowledge can be traced their divergent views about universals and natures. Scotus says the common nature, say, ‘humanity,’ has true “real being outside the soul; that is, the common nature has the being proper to it independently of any operation of an intellect.”[86] He discards Aquinas’s position that the common nature has no reality of its own, apart from the understanding where it is abstracted from particulars in which it is wholly individuated. Instead, for Scotus, common natures are in re explanatorily (naturally) prior to individual being and have the created status, esse essentiae, as conditions of the real possibility of the things that come to be; they are knowable as common natures by both humans and God, abstracted from particulars by humans, and in eternal understanding (esse intelligibile) by God.
37 37 Instants. To escape confusion about the apparent multiplicity of stages of divine knowledge, Duns Scotus used the metaphor of instants, succession without separation or interval , to indicate how the diverse knowledge of the essences of all creatures, actual and possible, and divine reflexive awareness of what is known, and divine awareness of the divine knowing itself, can all exist, at once, though ordered, in one perfect being who knows by nature only its own being.[87] The divine knowing is something ontologically simple but logically complex. The “instants” are phases of logical order, not phases of experience or events. The are like “exploding” drawings of one machine, “there all at once” but distinct by internal contrast-dependence and “natural order.” The order of such “instants” is the order of logical priority, that he calls natural priority.[88]. In some cases, where he uses the same metaphor, for instance, for the relationship of common nature to individuation, the order of natural priority is an order of explanatory priority as well, and in some cases, that order is one of real posteriority, as with creation .
38 38 Creation is, from the divine standpoint, eternal.[89] Time is a dimension of the created world; all time is of the world, for all change is in creatures. Similarly, a (non-autobiographical) novel has its own internal time, but no real connection to the (temporal) activity of its author. Even more obviously, musical time is internal to musical compositions and can be transported with them, and has at most conventional relationships to cosmic time. (You can play the “Three blind mice” one note per millennium, just as long as the intervals remain harmonically and rhythmically proportional—there is no time-relationship of the progressing notes to the being of the composer). Thus for the First Being to understand its time-bound and contingent creatures is as much eternal and without succession as is its own being; the condition of being known is successive in the creatures. (See the discussion of divine freedom below, # 000).
39 Omnipotence. The power to cause some contingent being (known a posteriori) has to be the power to cause any contingent being whatever, since only one being can have such power and all contingent being is causable. That power is called omnipotence, “that active power or potency whose scope extends to anything whatever that can be created.”[90]
The First Being, the ultimate cause of all contingent things, has to be omnipotent, that is, able to cause whatever is possible and not necessary[91].Furthermore, unlike any other thing, whatever is consistently conceivable to God is really possible, because of the perfection ofdivine knowledge. It is the power to bring about whatever is not repugnant to being-as-such. Scotus says, “it can be concluded naturally that it [the First Being] is omnipotent.”[92]

Creation requires the ability to make “an immediate effect,”[93]that is, something that does not require a prior effect. Otherwise, God would be unable to cause anything, since “if between that caused effect andGod there is another more immediate effect, and before that another, there will be a progress to infinity in per se ordered causes, and consequently absolutely nothing would be able to cause.”[94]But it does not follow from that that God can create just anything immediately.

40 Scotus distinguishes two senses of “omnipotence.” In one sense, an agent is omnipotent “which can do anything possible either with mediation or immediately, and in this way omnipotence is an active power primarily of efficiency.”[95] This can be derived from the requirement that the divine being be free (spontaneous, see below, 000 ) in order for there to be any contingent thing at all, and omnipotent in that such power has to extend to whatever is possible. And since that requires that the First Being cause something immediately, it is natural to ask whether the omnipotent being can cause directly, everything it can cause through secondary causes. He calls that “omnipotence proper, as Catholics understand the term.”[96] That mode of almighty power cannot be demonstrated,[97] though it is revealed in the Faith. There is a reason for this, namely, that in general, “in the order of superior and inferior causes, this does not follow, since even if the Sun had in itself causality more eminent than a cow or any other animal has, still it is not conceded the Sun can immediately generate the cow….”.[98] So the general principle that ‘the higher cause, acting though secondary causes, can directly produce its effects without such causes’ is not true. Thus there is no known premise from which to conclude that the First Being can do immediately whatever it can do through secondary causes.
41 Now, the impossible is not made to be so by the divine will, but by the repugnance of things that are possible one by one, in esse intelligibile, to combine to “make one thing,”[99] like the head of a man and the body of a lion. Those items do not so combine in the divine understanding, but only in the human imagination. So if “thinking electrons” are impossible, granting that each part is possible, the combination harbors an inconsistency (or a de-facto repugnance) that may not be conceptually accessible to us, but is to God. So God is not to be considered unable to produce such things, but such things, although the parts are possible, cannot make a whole and, so, cannot be. (Aquinas holds the same view, S.T. I,25,3: the impossible is not a limitation on God’s power but what cannot be at all.). Notice, the impossible with content is directly a product of human imagination (A figment : fingere, Ox.I, 43,1, n 1174). Thus, apart from imagining creatures, there are no impossibilities with content at all.
It cannot be demonstrated either that the world is in fact created without a beginning in time, or that there is a beginning in time. For, both are within the power of God. From the fact that some effect has to be immediate for there to be any contingent being; time is not required for divine effects. So, it is possible that there is no beginning of time within creation: “novelty can be in the divine production because of the novelty in the thing produced, although there is no novelty in the producing thing.”[100] But God can also produce temporally ordered effects with a temporal beginning, that has no temporal relation to God at all. So, the Christian belief that the world had a beginning in time is not in conflict with any demonstrable truth, but cannot itself be demonstrated.
43 Next, some points have to be distinguished to avoid contradictions. Obviously an omnipotent being cannot solely cause something whose very description involves a secondary cause, e.g., “an oration by Cicero”. But the same sort of thing, a “ciceronian oration” described by its qualities and not by its particular causes, can indeed be produced directly. But what of the actions we ascribe to creatures, that Muslim Occasionalists think are caused directly and only by God ? Scotus wants to dislodge that, while leaving open the Christian understanding of divine direct power. So he distinguishes between direct divine causation that pre-empts the natural consequence of a creature disposed to cause such effects,--which God can do by intervening—and what he wants to exclude: divine causation that eliminates the dispositions, the ability, of creatures to cause such effects. For the latter is the Muslim Occasionalists’ view: that no creatures do any transitive actions of their own at all; all events are directly caused by God, but in the manner that displays what we regard as natural order,[101] so that nothing naturally produces anything at all; thus, there are no active principles in nature[102] and, “no being has any natural action of its own... they have no essences of their own.”[103] Scotus says that is not possible; for the outcome would contradict the evident fact that there are active secondary causes. The divine omnipotence not only includes the power to intervene in the created order, it also includes the power to have acted entirely outside the created order;. “So I say that God can not only act other than is ordered in particular cases, but otherwise than the universal order, or even the laws of justice….”[104]. Thus, things that are impossible and even inaccessible from the created order, lie within the absolute power of God.
44 The Freedom of the First Being. Now, one cannot prove by a demonstration from something cognitively prior that things exist contingently: contingency in things “can be proved…neither by something more evident, nor a priori….”[105]. But one need not prove it, either, because it is obvious that things perceived do not exist on account of what they are, and thus, might not have been at all.[106] From that beginning, Scotus concludes that the First Being does not by nature, as Avicenna thought, necessitate other things (by emanation); so it the must cause contingently, and so, freely[107]. A contradiction would follow from supposing that the First Being exists necessarily and causes by nature (as Avicenna proposed), yet what it causes is contingent. For that would cancel the contingency of things[108] and reduce them to necessities. The contingency of the effects cannot originate with First Being’s intellect, since “anything it [the intellect] knows before the act of the will, it knows necessarily and naturally, so that there is no contingency in relation to opposites here.”[109] Thus, the First Being has to have a power to operate that is distinct from its intellect, namely, the power of free will. For, “the first distinction of active power is according to the different ways of eliciting an operation,” and if the active power is not “determined ex se,” then “it …can perform this act, or the opposite act, and so act or not act,”[110]which is freedom.
45 In a word, for there to be contingent being, there must be a being that exists a-se and acts freely. [111]There are three focal features of free will for Scotus: (i) the power to choose is netural to the outcomes which, for God, are absolute possibilities; (ii) the will remains able to chose the contrary while actually in the choice of the opposite; and (iii) there is no explanation of the choosing except the ability, as such, to do so.

(i) Neutrality: the divine intellect “understands it [any such complex] as neutral”. “ In a neutral sense, but only as something theoretical. When it is actualized and effected by the will determined to one component [of options], then it is understood as true [so], and before it was only present to the will as neutral.[112] The neutrality is not impeded by the divine immutabillity (unchangeability) because neutrality and preserved ability to do the opposite do not require an ability to change what you do. “The divine will can only have one single volition;” but the First Being’s will “can be related to opposite objects” in the immutable act of its single volition.[113]. Scotus says, “the divine will, of which its being operational precedes its being productive, can also will and not-will something, and…can produce and not-produce something at the same moment of eternity….” “The potency is not temporally before the act, neither is the potency with the act, but the potency is prior by nature with regard to the act.”[114] He explains that “[a] potency is only logical, when the terms are possible in such a way that they are not repugnant to one another, but can be united, even though there is no possibility in reality.”[115] For example, it was true that there can be a world even “before there was a world,” but the possibility of a world before there was a world was merely logical, since “there was no factual reality which corresponded to the terms.”[116]
(ii) The will’s remaining able to chose the opposite at the very moment of choosing as it does is a key idea for Scotus. About the contingent in general, he says, by ‘contingent’ I do not mean something that is not necessary or which was not always in existence, but something whose opposite could have occurred at the time this actually did.”[117] Just as the occurrence of an event does not render the opposite impossible, so, the choice of an act does not render the opposite impossible. On the contrary; it remains possible. So the person, able to do the opposite, remains able to do the opposite, just as one lifting his arm is still actively able not to though, of course, not able to do both at once. There is no further explanation of a free election beyond the ability to make it: “Just as there is no reason why this being has this mode of being except that it is that sort of thing, so also there is no reason why this agent has this mode of action (i.e., free, though necessary) except that it is this sort of active principle”(QQ. 16.46). And the only explanation of an individual choice is in the ability to make it.
Now this is very important to his natural theology because the whole explanatory pattern would collapse if there were some further explanation to be sought, say, in some reason or understanding, for the divine elections. Scotus’ unique answer is that the explanation of the elections by freedom of will is in what-the-will-is, just as the explanation of why a thing is a fish is in its form.
(iii) A free action is spontaneous: it originates entirely from the ability to do it. He gave as an example of a free election, one’s simply stopping entertaining the other alternatives.[118] Free election is from the ability of the agent, undetermined, and from its form, within the range of its ability, unexplained by any other factor all, whether reason, motive, justification, or aim. In a free act, the will is the total cause of the action: “nihil aliud a voluntate est causa totalis volitionis in voluntate.”[119]

Free action is entirely from the will (voluntas).[120]It is an ability that, although within the agent’s understanding, is not determined by what is understood ; it does not have an explanation from outside it. Nor is free choice a consequence of other features, like absence of obstacles, a possible object, a sufficient reason for so acting, etc. Freedom is spontaneity of acting from the ability, alone, to do so. (One can see why he thinks divine grace confers freedom in the most important sense, as Augustine thought (de Libero Arbitrio), because it restores to the sinful person the ability “to act rightly”, or as Anselm called it, “the ability to keep uprightness of the will for its own sake”). What we call the “spontaneity” element of free will contrasts markedly with the ‘activity in accord with the predominant understood good’ (Aristotelian) notion of freedom that seems more prominent in Aquinas, and leaves his explanatory order of divine action incomplete.

He distinguishes features in what Aquinas acknowledged as necessity of will by separating necessity of nature from necessity of inevitability from perfection. Scotus says there is a necessity of inevitability from the perfection of the divine willing power,(QQ 16.35) but “there is no necessity of nature involved” in divine self- love, acting rightly, living, etc. For “necessity of nature” is definitionally opposed to “acting freely”: “the will per se is never an active principle that acts naturally”( QQ 16.42); “it can no more be naturally active than nature, as other than will, can be freely active”. It is not that the beatified’s loving God is not inevitable or that God’s acting rightly is not inevitable; in both cases there is the ability to act otherwise, but the willing is inevitable because of the perfection of the agent and not because of its natural order that takes away election.[121]
There is no other origin of freedom than the being itself: ”just as there is no reason why this being has this mode of being except that it is this sort of thing, so there is no reason why this agent has this mode of action (i.e. ,free, though necessary) except that it is this sort of necessary principle.”
46 However, there seems to be a philosophical “loose end” as to whether it is immediately evident that free will is ‘spontaneity’ of action explained only by the ability so to act. For that would leave an irresolvable dispute with an Aristotelian. Scotus says free action cannot be explained, as an ability, from some prior element of the being, any more than intelligence is ( 000). Is it self-evident that we, humans, have that ability? It is obvious, however, that such an ability must be attributed to God in order to avoid a regress searching looking for “sufficient reasons” to account for divine free choice. The “loose end’ issue concerns where philosophy ‘bottoms out’ in first principles. Could one, perhaps, reason that such spontaneity is an analyzable precondition of the empirically obvious suitability of human action for moral praise and blame, reinforced by the failure of other theories to explain wrongdoing as a result either of ignorance or weakness? Not that the latter is cognitively prior, as something which must be known first, but rather, prior in the order of our cognitive experience by which we are sure spontaneity is a necessary condition?
47 Infinity. Scotus considers “infinite being” the most proper (suitable/ fitting) characterization of the divine being:[122] it stands to ‘being’ as ‘intense whiteness’ stands to ‘white’, not as a kind but as a mode. He says, “ infinite is not a quasi-attribute or property of ‘being’ or of that of which it is predicated,” but rather “it signifies an intrinsic mode of that entity.”[123] For, “if an entity is finite or infinite, it is not so by reason of something incidental to itself, but because it has its own intrinsic degree of finite or infinite perfection, respectively.”[124] “As ‘being’ virtually includes the ‘good’ and the ‘true,’ so ‘infinite being’ includes the ‘infinitely good,’ ‘the infinitely true,’ and all pure perfections under the aspect of infinity.”[125] The divine infinity is manifested from intensively infinite creative power. Note we say “manifested,” not “constituted” for infinity is a mode of being not a sort of power. The First Being’s power “would be [intensively] infinite, because…it has power enough to produce an infinite number all at once, and the more one can produce simultaneously, the greater the power in intensity.”[126] Why? That is because the higher cause contains, in its being, virtually all that is actual in any essentially dependent cause. For, “the full causal power that each thing may have in itself, the First Being possesses even more perfectly than if it were formally present.”[127] For “where each of the things in question needs some perfection proper to itself,” the more things that can be produced, the greater the perfection of the producer.[128] Infinity is not, however, just the extent of the power but the positive mode of being required for such power. “We, nevertheless, understand infinity negatively.”[129] And “even where the nature of the effect was such as to make its simultaneous existence in an infinite number impossible,” it would still follow that the primary agent is infinite in power, “provided that, so far as the causal power of the agent is concerned, it could produce simultaneously an infinite multitude.”[130] Among the five reasons why God is infinite in being, given in De Primo Principio (4.48-63), he concludes with: whatever is possibly infinite is actually infinite (4.63). And he says that although it cannot be proved a priori that ‘being’ and ‘infinity’ are compatible, it is deducible from both omniscience and omnipotence.[131]
Immortality of the soul
48 Scotus holds that we cannot know naturally, and a fortiori cannot demonstrate, that the human soul is immortal, and even less that there will be a resurrection of the dead. He acknowledges that understanding requires activity that cannot be performed by a bodily organ, and that such activity is naturally human. For, “intellection properly speaking is a knowledge which transcends all sense knowledge,” since intellection is not limited to a certain kind of sensible like colored things; but any cognitive act with an organ would be so limited.[132] We know from experience that we “possess some knowledge of an object under an aspect it could not have as an object of sense knowledge,” as for instance when “we experience in ourselves that we know the actual universal.”[133]
Nevertheless, it does not follow, as Aristotle apparently thought and Aquinas claimed, from our understanding’s not employing a bodily organ, as sight does, that the soul, whose power it is, is immortal. In only follows that the intellect is” incapable of dissolution in the same sense that an organic power is corruptible.”[134] But, still, the soul may cease to exist not by separation of organic parts, but simply because, as could occur with angels, “its existence is succeeded by the opposite of existence.”[135] Since its operation is “proper to the composite as a whole,” that is, it is the human as a whole human who understands, and this composite is perishable, then “its operative principle [the intellectual soul] is also perishable.”[136] Besides, he is as definite as Aquinas on this: the soul is not the person, it is the form of a person. The person is the incommunicable suppositum of the rational nature, and for that is required the haecceity (the final individuation). So we cannot demonstrate, that persons will survive death. He does not discuss, nor does Aquinas, whether by natural faith in the order of nature we could be rationally certain of personal survival.
A fortiori, it follows that we cannot naturally know that there will be, or even can be, a resurrection of the dead. For, “the soul, so far as its own being is concerned, is equally perfect whether it is separated from or joined to a body.”[137] So there is no natural necessity for the soul to be embodied, once it has come to be. It may have a disposition to be the proper form of a body, yet even if that disposition were “forever suspended,” “nothing unnatural” would be implied, since no imperfection in its existence would be implied.[138] Since the First Being contingently and freely elects to create, we cannot demonstrate that God will resurrect human beings, or that he will not create individuated human souls for the entire course of their existence without bodies at all.
Parting Thoughts on Scotus’ Natural Theology
If one is realistic, not simplistic, about what a demonstration amounts to, and what a medieval Aristotelian intended, namely, a deduction from surely known premises, that for Scotus are also necessary, to equally certain conclusions, one recognizes there are no demonstrations without background presuppositions. Scotus’ include logical commitments (e.g. to bifurcation, iterative modalities[139]), metaphysical ones (to forms, real common natures, active causal principles), and epistemological ones (as to the role of self-evidence and demonstration, probable reasoning, and the like). Given that, Scotus does as well showing the existence of a First Explanatory Being as any philosopher has ever done on any substantive point. He also displays masterly craftsmanship on many aspects of the divine nature, particularly, in his originality about what divine freedom involves and how it terminates the explanatory inquiry without begging any question.
We emphasized the a posteriori character of Scotus’ reasoning because his constant talk of possibility and necessity might lead our contemporaries to regard him as an a priorist about God’s existence. It may confuse things to regard Scotus as one advocating “modal arguments” for the existence of God, as such arguments were understood in late 20th Century; for those, like Plantinga’s and Malcolm’s, are a priori arguments, that is, arguments that do not depend on premises from experience.[140] Scotus’ argumentation, about both the existence and the nature of God, is grounded in our experiences of the production, function, and eminence of things that might not have been at all. Moreover, his notions of modality are not semantic ones, but root in the capacities of being, and do not rest on a quantificational logic that is extensional in the way First Order Quantification is nowadays.

Nevertheless, there seem to be two central points that need further support than he provides: (1) that there are active causal principles in nature, like forms and efficient causes, as well as some things essentially ordered by finality and by eminence; and (2) that anything at all exists contingently--the very point on which he departs from Avicenna. He regards both as indemonstrable because there is nothing explanatorily prior to either. So they may have to be argued by refutation internally of the opponents. (He did that sort of thing in Theoremata.)But there may also be features that, from general experience, can be used to dislodge error about those points.
The first, that there are active principles in nature, is outright denied by many major philosophers since the 17th Century, as we pointed out; but that, of course is no reason to doubt Scotus, especially since their reasons are flimsy and conflict with the accomplishments of the very physical sciences they revere. Still, refutation of common opinion on such points does not have to be deductive; it can be by better explanations natural science than the others can offer, and in that respect his argumentation should be supplemented for our time.
And the second principle, that there are contingent things, is pretty much enthusiastically affirmed by recent philosophers, (though notably not by David Lewis), but on the even flimsier ground that everything might have happened by chance or for no reason at all. Scotus was quite impatient with silliness[141]. But it is such an important metaphysical matter, involving the key rejection of Avicenna in favor of a central Christian commitment to creation, (that perceived things might not have existed at all), that it needs some philosophical justification. Even allowing Scotus’ claim that there is nothing explanatorily prior from which to deduce contingency, it can be supported by explanations that “emanation,” and the like, is internally incoherent. Aquinas proposed to refute Avicenna by showing that his doctrine of the relationship of being and essence in creatures was incoherent. Perhaps there is reasoning elsewhere by Scotus that will do that, as well. In any case, such a premise, that some things really are contingent (but that everything could not be), needs some special support in light of its conflict with Avicenna and later with Spinoza.[142]
The final remarks about immortality of the soul are illustrate his originality again and indicate the variety of other topics in natural theology that Scotus treated, including future contingents, divine foreknowledge, and the end of the world, and other points not included here.

James Ross and Todd Bates, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia,Pa, 10/3/2001
13,665 wds without the notes.


[1] That is the order of the main philosophical work, De Primo Principio. That work itself is a compilation, more than half of it word for word, of parts of other things, but from the hand of Duns Scotus. See Wolter, Introduction, p.xi, to his edition and translation of that book. In the other three treatments, Opus Oxoniense, Reportatio, and Lectura , all three mainly theological, the order of derivation of divine attributes is from primacy of being to infinity and then to necessity.
[2] Wolter,op.cit.p.xviii.
[3] A recent a priori argument can be found inAlvin Plantinga’s, The Nature of Necessity (.1974).
[4] He accepts “bifurcation”: that every well-formed proposition is either true or false, so that, if “not-p” entails a contradiction, then “p” is true. See note 6.
[5] De Primo Principio, 3.8.
[6] His key reasoning is threatened by a proof that bifurcation does not hold universally, for then, indirect proof is not valid. (Cf. M. Dummett ,The Logical Basis of Metaphysics, 1991. However, his arguments can be reinstated with an additional supposition that the relevant subclass of propositions is bivalent.
[7] Rep.Par.I,II.d.1,q.3,n.9.
[8] “On the First Principle”. The standard usage of “principle” in the 13th Century is “that from which anything proceeds in any way whatever”. The First Principle (God) is the explanatory origin of all else by free causation and eminence, and of all being, as such, by its actual infinity. See Fr. Wolter’s “Introduction” to De Primo Principio, Xiii.
[9] Quaest. Meta. Prol., n. 5, tr. Wolter (1993), p. 2.
[10] Ox.I, d 8, q. 3., Wolter (1993), p. 3.
[11] De Primo Prin. 1.2, tr. Wolter (1966), p. 2.
[12] De Primo Principio, 1. 5, tr. Wolter (1966).
[13] Ibid. 4.2.
[14] Gilson seems unduly troubled that the conception of God might have a religious origin, Jean Duns Scot: Introduction a Ses Positions Fondamentales , Paris, Vrin, 1952.p. 187. The description Scotus uses in his philosophy is framed entirely in terms of metaphysical conceptions: causes and eminence, possibility and necessity. Even his prayer is full of philosophical terminology (see above).

[15] We use the phrase “present to the understanding” to convey that a concept is like a lens through which the understanding can think of things; it is an ability of a thinker, rather than a label on things. A univocal concept is like a fixed lens; an analogous one is like self-focusing binoculars that adjust to bring the different objects into focus.
[16] See Wolter, op.cit.Introduction. p. xv.
[17] See discussion reported in Gilson, op. cit. supra .p .673, and his report of even an Ockamist interpretation of this work, p.674.

[18] Gilson, op. cit., p.673 says the Theoremata is the “apple of discord” among Scotus interpreters. A lot of effort was spent on trying to give interpretations concordant with his general doctrines, and some we offered that really did consider that he might have changed his mind on his central points.(Cf. Wolter, op.cit.)

Todd Bates, an author here, originated the idea that this work defendsScotus’ position on the univocity of being, also treated in Collationes Parisienses, see Gilson, op. cit. p .674. This work fits with a line of anti-Averroist works from Albertus Magnus, Aquinas, Giles of Rome, and four works by Raymond Lull that Copleston cites, History of Philosophy, Vol. II. p.441,( Doubleday, Image Books, NY 1985), all rejecting key Latin Averroist positions that are anti-Christian. Some of the earlier theorems suggest there may be other objectives as well. That accords with the hostilityof his reference to “that accursed Averroes” in Ox.(Wolter,p147).

[19] Such terms are definitionally interdependent, but not mere negations of one another; each has a positive element as does “negative integer” vs. “positive integer”. Scotus says infinity is a positive mode of being that we, however, comprehend negatively, “nos autem, intelligimus infinitatem negative,…..” from Doctor subtilis de cognitione Dei: ms. Published in Harris, Duns Scotus, Oxford, Clarendon, 1927, as cited by E. Gilson, op. cit. p.192.

[20] That accords with the section of Collationes Parisienses, on whether there is a univocal concept of being.See Gilson.op.cit.,p.674,n.4.
[21] Other writers like Aquinas had thought of such series implicitly, having distinguished accidentally ordered causes, as well.
[22] Wolter 1954,p.95.
[23]See Felix Alluntis,”Demonstrability and Demonstration of the Existence of God”, Studies in Philosophy, ,1966; and Rega Wood,” Scotus’s Argument for the Existence of God”, 257-277,Franciscan Studies, Vol. 47, 1987.
[24]See Ignatius Brady , “Comment on Dr. Wolter’s Paper”, Proceedings of the American Catholic Philosophical Association for 1954.” pp. 122-130, commenting on the responses of 14th Century commentators: ”All recognize the premise of the processus of causes in infinitum is vital to the proof” (p.134).
[25]Acoloration was an amendment to another’s argument to deflect an obvious objection (Gaunilo’s perfect island), but not, by itself, an endorsement.Alluntis thinks Scotus regarded the colorized versionas a probable argument (.loc.cit. 166). We think he regards it as conclusive for a believer, but conjectural for a philosopher.
[26] DPP.4.22; Ox I, d.8, q.1, n.22-25. For him the terms of a proposition ( a thought content capable of truth or falsity) present realities, as--conceived, to judgment; as a result, what is presented in a consistent conception may in fact harbor an inconsistency. Cf Alluntis, loc. cit. 167.
[27] It is mistaken to compare formal possibility, that he sometimes calls logical and rational, as if it has anything to do with what is fashionable today. Formal possibility does not guarantee conceptual consistency-for-us (for some people can conceive of the possible, e.g. transubstantiation, as impossible); and we can regard as consistent, as possible, (e.g. Descartes’ option of human minds without any external world at all; or “uncaused cosmos”) what is really and formally impossible. See other supporting comments in text and notes. So judgments of consistency are not reliable as to formal possibility.

[28] Philosophers of Religion sometimes adapt the line of reasoning to a new context, or try to refine what they take to be “the real strength or force” of what Scotus is doing. Cf. Loux, “A Scotistic Argument for the Existence of a First Cause”, American Philosophical Quarterly,(1984), 157-165, also, J.Ross, Philosophical Theology (1968). But it is different matter when one is saying what Scotus said.
[29] He does not let “the satanic notation whisper the ontology”, cf. J. Ross, ”The Crash of Modal Metaphysics”, Rev. Met. p.271 (Dec. 1989). He acknowledges no domain of” all possible worlds”, or of world-relative actuality. (D. Lewis), or “states of affairs”.
[30]Cf. Brady, loc. cit. supra.
[31] ‘Formally possible” is superficially like “logically possible” for us in that it is iteratively necessary. But for him it is non-repugnance to being-as-such, not just a semantic array over domains of propositions (possible worlds). Scotus has no such ontology.
[32] Is this a case of concluding to real possibility from consistency-to-us? It would be if he did not, as he does, have particular a posteriori examples to show such a series can end; but he does (as we supplied). But, then, is this cognitively circular, because one would first have to know ‘there is a first uncaused cause” is formally possible, and that might be what the proof throws into issue? We will see that “no”.
[33] Cf. Brady, loc. cit. supra.
[34] That’s why Scotus says, on several occasions the cause must lie outside the regress of contingent things.
[35]See M. Loux ,cit,supra. . Scotus might be thought to make that mistake when he says ““[the] totality of effects itself must have a cause which is not part of the whole.” Q. Q., tr. Wolter/Alluntis, n 7.76, p.181. But there Scotus is summarizing Aristotle’s argument (Metaph. Bk II, c.2, 994a. 20.) and though he approves it, it is part of a discussion of divine power, not part of this proof.

[36] That’s another form of indirect proof he favors, to assume the very thing he thinks is impossible and show that it still entails what is false: cf. also the organization of Theoremata. He restricts such arguments with impossible suppositions to syntactical and semantic transformations from the “essentials” of the supposition to avoid paradoxes and trivialities—see the C. Narmour, Chapter on modalities, this volume 000.
[37]If a thing does not exist on account of what-it-is, there can be no inconsistency in “something causes it. Can it be demonstrated that it is contradictory that there is something is possible, non-existent and uncausable? Yes, because Scotus thinks, as do his contemporaries, that “something comes to be that has no cause” is inconsistent. Presumably an objector would have a clear example of an uncausable eventin mind?
[38]Remember, the status of a conclusion or reasoning as a posteriori depends on the order of the knowledge from experience, and not on whether the propositions of the conclusion or the reasoning are contingent or necessary.
The mistake that a necessary truth cannot be known a posteriori was only widespread after I. Kant and till the mid 20th century. Now everyone knows two things that Scotus knew:that a necessary truth is implied by everything; and that what is true no matter what, is entailed and often can be known from what is true contingently; and also, some necessary truths are known from some things that are contingently false (though that is rarely mentioned).

[39]So, the first conclusion also follows from the second. He offers a confirming line of thought: “to produce something does not imply any imperfection, it follows that this ability can exist in something without imperfection….but, if every cause depends on some prior cause, then efficiency is never to be found without imperfection….Therefore such an efficient power is possible,” But that is a conceptual argument, and so clearly subject to his limitations on the ‘conceivable-to-us’ as to be no more than a confirmation.

[40] You can’t have the final mark without the marking pen, the moving pen, the moving hand, the acting person, the free willing, all together. Those are really necessary and essentially ordered. None is formally (absolutely necessary); yet they are really necessary in the order of nature.
[41] Fr. Wolter calls that demonstrating “the source of all possibility”, A treatise on God as First Principle, p.xxi (1966).
[42] Ibid.”seconda conclusio de primo effectivo….est incausibile.”.
[43] Rega Wood, M., Loux, and others, see citations above, seem to think he does need that. At one point he uses the idea that what begins to be might need a cause; but that seems the same as the ‘nothing comes from nothing” idea.
[44] “Aut ergo a se, aut a nihilo, vel ab aliquo alio” and “nullius est causa … illud quod nihil est”. Ox.I.d,2,,1.q.1-2,n.43
[45]It needs to be true that every contingent being is causable (as a cognitive consequence of the Triple Primacy, and omnipotence, of the First Being), but he does not have to premise that as something already known, in order to establish the existence of the First Being.
[46] There is also an implied sub-argument that “everything that exists is contingent” implies a contradiction, because it implies “there might have been nothing at all”. Had there been nothing at all, nothing would have been possible. But something exists and so, necessarily, something is possible. Therefore, there is something that exists necessarily. That seems to be Aquinas’s “Third Way” as well.

[47] See Ross” Aquinas’s Exemplarism, Aquinas’s Voluntarism”,loc.cit.
[48] Medieval Aristotelians would consider an analysis of cause/effect in terms of an antecedent event followed by a later event that succeed one another according to natural law (“At/then/at, according to law”) as laughable. For them causation is production, with substantive power in nature. Contemporary causal theorists, e.g. Mackie, Armstrong, and the like, would seem as wrong to Scotus as the Arabic occasionalists who denied there are real essences in things. For Scotus, the match burns the hand by doing it, not just by a flame’s leading a parade of events whose last is a suppurating wound, where the order of the parade of phenomena is set by ‘laws of nature’ (whose status is unexplained, or treated as a general association of ideas, or assome logical relation of ideas).
[49]Brady, loc.cit, supra, p.128 ,quotes Ockham as saying “ ratio probans primitatem efficientis est sufficiens et est ratio omnium philosophorum” (Sent I,d.2,q.10), but it is not the “more” evident way of conservation. See also his report that Ockham commented that aprobatio, but not a demonstration, can be offered for divine infinity. Brady also reports that William Rubio (after 1321)says the existence of the First Efficient Being is demonstrable, butin the looser sense, that it isnot so obvious “quin adversarius posset ipsam evadere aliqualiter cum colore…quia negaret adversaries praedictam assumptum”, (p.126).
[50] Another function of well crafted arguments is to alter the cognitive balance of our convictions, so that, for example, in light of Scotus’ argument and Aquinas’ Third Way, a person who thinks things really do exist contingently, may become intellectually certain, without serious doubt, that there is a divine being.
[51] The reasons he gives in Ox,I.d,2. q.1-2, n.53, are not the best ones he has, though the first is important: that no matter how many, it must depend on something not in it. That, like the passage fromQ.Quod.,7.72.p.181 , cited above,does invite the “fallacy of composition” charge: but it must be remembered that such a fallacy is an informal one and not caused just by attributing to a series what belongs to every member: somethinmgs, as in this case, that is exactly correct: the modality of the weakest conjunct belongs to the whole conjunction; so does dependence, just as he says. The need for explanation is not eliminated by delaying or extending it, and ex hypothesi, there is none; but there is the effect: so: a contradiction.
[52] Fr. Wolter, loc.cit., summarizes the last step: “whatever is possible is either actual or causable; something possible is not causable; therefore it is actual.”[52]
[53] De Primo Principio, 4.22, and Rep Par. I, d.35, q.1, n.14.
[54] Aquinas (S.T. I, 2 et sqq.), uses the same technique to derive the divine attributes, deriving conflicts between denials of the attributes and the lack of act-potency distinction in God.
[55] Ibid, p.50
[56] Ibid.
[57] One might wonder at this phrasing. But for something not to exist, it has either to be impossible, or preventable. It isn’t that there has to be a reason for the non-being of what does not exist, but that there can be. But there cannot, consistently, be a reason why a First Being does not exist.
[58] Ibid.
[59] See the argument at De Primo Principio, 4.88 --4.90, to ”You are one in nature, you are one in number…you alone are by nature God.”
[60]De Primo Principio, 4.3,pp 78-82.
[61] God is free of any distinction in his essence on the traditional view. But that does not exclude the real distinction, by opposition of relations, among the Persons of the Trinity. Thus there is real distinction of Personsin God, but not any realdistinction in God’s essence, among essential divine features; for there is only one such feature, which is inaccessible to us because incomprehensible by us. Now Scotus employs that in theology, but distinguishes real distinction from “formal distinction a parte rei.”That is, he distinguishes “really distinct” as a relation, from ”distinct in reality” as a difference, and says the divine perfections differ in reality, just as the same perfections differ in creatures, even when one has both, say wisdom and goodness.

[62]Scotus, breaks from Aquinas’ view that divine simplicity denies any distinction more than conceptual-for-us among the divine attributes.
[63] Op. Oxon. I, d. 8, q. 1, n. 6. Scotus hasin mind that the individuation principles of material things (haecceities) are completely simple and knowable to God, but are not perfect unities of being because they require a nature to contract.
[64] ibid.

[65] Op. Oxon., I, d. 2, pt. 2, (390) “I understand ‘really’ in this way, what is in no way through the act of an intellect, such that such an entity would be there even if no intellect were contemplating it.”
[66] Ibid.
[67] Ibid.
[68] S.T.I,q.13.
[69] S.T.I, q. 13.
[70] Ox. I, d. 8, q. 4, n. 17. We haven’t derived infinity yet in this presentation which follows the order of the De Primo Principio. In the Opus Oxoniense Scotus follows the order from simplicity, to infinity, to necessity; here the order is from necessity, to simplicity, to infinity.
[71] Rep. Par. I d. 35, q. 1, n. 14
[72] Rep. Par. I d. 35, q. 1, n. 5
[73] Ibid
[74] Ibid
[75] D.P.P 4.8.
[76] Op. Oxon., tr. Wolter (1993), p. 61.
[77]For a reading of Aquinas that makes him in substantial agreement with Scotus on God’s knowledge of possibles and of the natures of created things, see John Wippel, Metaphysical Themes in Thomas Aquinas, Catholic University of America Press, (1984), and The Metaphysical Thought of Thomas Aquinas, (CUA Press, 2000).
[78] Cf. Aquinas, Q.D.De Potentia Dei, 3,5,ad 2;and 3,14. See J.Ross, “Aquinas’s Exemplarism; Aquinas’s Voluntarism”, ACPQ, pp176-197. Scotus thinks natures are created in esse essentiae along with individuals, but also exist eternally in divine knowledge.
[79] Questions on the Metaphysics of Aristotle, vii, q.13.
[80]It should also be noted that the more common interpretation of Aquinas is that same as what we attribute to Scotus here.
[81] cf Q.D.De Potentia Dei, and Summa Theologica.

[82] See Q.D.De Potentia Dei,1,5,ad 11; and De Veritate,3,6.,
[83] Ordinatio, II, d. 3, pt. 1, q. 6, tr. Spade (1994), p. 108. See T. Noone’s Chapter on Universals and Individuation, this volume.
[84] Rep. Par. I, d. 36, q. 3, n. 20.
[85] Ibid.Scotus hold there is direct intuitive knowledge of the existence of perceived singulars.
[86] Ord. II, d. 3, pt. 1, q. 1, tr. Spade (1994), p. 64.
[87] Scotus uses the same notion in his discussion of freedom, and when he speaks of an ordering of “instants of nature” within an instant of time. He also uses it in explaining the order of the created nature to the individual thing: there is a natural priority of instants but no real succession.
[88]Ibid. He says we can postulate four “instants” in divine knowing: the first, absolute self knowledge, the second, say, of ‘stone’ (a possibility) in ‘intelligible being’ (esse intelligibile), “such that that idea is an intelligible divinely understood, but without any further element”; and a third instant in which a merely rational relation, of ‘being divinely understood’ obtains between God and ’stone’ ; and a fourth in which the rational relation, ‘understanding stone’ is itself understood. Nothing happens; this is just what is logically involved. He is using a metaphor to make clear that there is logical but not entitative complexity to the divine knowing, and no real relation of God to finite possibilities or actualities.
[89] Ox.I,d.45,q.1a.n.5“voluntas divina potest in aeternitate sua esse principium volendi quodcumque volibile”.Lectura ,I,d.45, q.1a.n.3.
[90] Quod. Quaest. VII, n. 8. The phrase here is used somewhat out of context: Scotus is not circular in his description of omnipotence as power that extends to whatever is possible and not necessary.(See Lectura definition).
[91] See Lectura definition of omnipotence, 000
[92] Op. Oxon. I, d. 43, n. 2.
[93] Rep. Par. II d. 1, q. 3, n. 8
[94] Ibid
[95] Op. oxon. I, d. 43, n. 2.
[96] DPP 4.71.
[97] He says he reserves that for a projected Treatise on Things Believed. DPP4.
[98] Ibid.
[99] Lectura. I. d.43,q. 1a. n.15..
[100] Ox,II,d.2,q.2,n.5.
[101] That position was developed again by Malebranche (c.1685) to provide the production missing among physical events in Descartes’ account. Hume adopted the same general idea, but eliminated God and necessity from the idea of causation, saying, causation is a certain kind of regularity instead. And the Humean starting point has dominated since, but with a constant drift toward a-priori connections of one sort or another, to explain the regularities in nature.
[102] That idea became an essential element of 17th Century mechanics,, so that Malebranche retreated to occasionalism of his own, and it reappears throughout current philosophy in what is called “At-At causation”, (happenings at a place, at a time, successively), so that even force is analyzed through its logical shadows, as points on a curve, without any active natural principle. Cf. Wesley Salmon, 000. To the contrary, Avicenna said the nature of a thing is the essence considered as the principle of its operations; see Aquinas, De Ente et Essentia. The absurdity proposed by the Arabic occasionalists is made even more absurd in contemporary philosophy by the simultaneous denial of any divine causation and the claim that all causation is no more than regular succession, usually with some element of logical necessity to ground the regularity, as well, e.g. among properties, or propositions—see Mackie, Armstrong, Lewis, and many others. Causation is thus reduced to a semantic relation in parallel with spatio-temporal succession.
[103] Q.Q..7.65 2nd paragraph.
[104] Ox.I,d.44,q.1a. n 5-12. He distinguished the ordained power of God from the absolute power of God, that exceeds any created order. The same in Lectura, I,d.44,q,1a.n.5.
[105]Lect. I d. 39, n. 39. In Ox. 1, 39 1,n1117, he says that the disjunction of ‘being’ into ”necessary/contingent (possible )” is immediate; there is nothing prior to reply upon.
[106] Here he departs as Christian belief requires, but without a crucial argument, from Avicenna who held, also, that perceived things do not exist on account of what they are, but on account of their causes, which however, are necessitated by the divine being. Other Muslim philosophers held that the secondary causes are only apparently causes because God alone is a real cause or everything immediately (and by emanation). Scotus seems to need an argument as to why the fact that perceived things do not exist on account of what they are entails that they might really not have existed at all, but he insists that he does not (see note above).
[107]Scotus does not argue that it could not cause by chance, because, like Aristotle, he thinks chance is the intersection of causes “with other ends in view”, and thus, supposes causation rather than replacing it.
[108] That highlights a matter, mentioned above, about which Avicenna would not yet be satisfied: as to what settles that there really are things that might not have existed at all. It appears that Scotus has not yet eliminated Avicenna’sSpinozistic option that everything is one substance and necessary.
[109]Lect. I d. 39, n. 43.
47 [111] It seems that the logical necessity that there be contingent truth, given that there is contingent being, is a sufficient cognitive base for our knowing that a First Causing Being that acts freely by nature, really exists!. For if it is possible that there is some contingent truth, then it is necessarily possible. But if nothing comes from nothing, then it is possible that there is a cause of contingent truth, in fact, it is necessarily possible. But that can only be so if some free cause of contingent truth exists no matter what: God. Is that another successful existential argument?
[112] Ibid, n. 62
[113]Lect. I d. 39, n. 53
[114] Ibid, n. 60. Note priority of nature is ‘rational’ in these contexts, not causal or entitative.
[115] Ibid, n. 49
[116] Ibid. That way of talking, as Aquinas does too, seems awkward. It would be better to say “before” is vantaged in our temporal order, and ‘before the world was’ is imaginary, as Aquinas does say. Scotus seems to think that logically (only) there could have been a ‘before’, by a conceptual projection from the actual beginning.
[117] Wolter (1993), p. 59
[118]Collationes III,4; Op.Ox. 1, II. d.42. q.4 n.11.
[119] Op.Ox.1,II,d.25,q.1,n.20.
[120] Op-.Ox.1,I, d.17,q.3 n.5.Voluntary action, in general, is action from and in accord with the will, but it can be determined by desire or other apprehended good. However, free action is entirely from the will.
[121]Quaes.Quodlib. 16.1-50. Also, Ox,1, 10,n 6-9 and 30-58. Q.Q. 16.44 says “not every necessity destroys freedom” .
[122]See Chapter by William E. Mann, ” Duns Scotus on Natural and Supernatural knowledge of God,” this volume 000.
[123] Ibid, p. 27. Also, Quaest. Quod 5.10.
[124] Ox, I,d,3,q.1, tr. Wolter (1993), p. 75
[125] ibid.Wolter (1993), p. 27
[126]Op. Ox. I, d. 2, q. 1, tr. Wolter (1987), pp. 64-5.
[127] Ibid, p. 65
[128] Ibid, p. 64.
[129]Gilson,op.cit. p.192, is definite that infinity is an intrinsic, positive mode of being, but conceived “negatively” or “privatively” in contrast to the finite things we know.
[130] Wolter (1993), p. 64.
[131] Ibid,p. 68-70.
[132] Wolter (1993), p. 148
[133] Ibid, pp. 150-1
[134] Ibid, p. 158
[135] Ibid, p. 163
[136] Ibid. Even though the soul is really distinct from the body, we cannot for that reason say the inference to the possibility that the soul may pass out of existence is false without begging the question.
[137] Ibid, p. 164
[138] Ibid
[139]Scotus relies upon two iterative modal principles: (i) possibilities and necessities are themselves formally necessary; and (ii) the weakest modal(propositional) operator of any conjunct is the strongest modal operator of any conjunction:thus any conjunction with a contingent member is itself contingent (e. g,, the regression of causes), and, of course, any conjunction with an impossible conjunct is as a whole impossible. Those, plus the principle of bifurcation (that every non-tensed proposition is either true or false) form the structure of his indirect proofs and of his arguments from “ what entails the false is false”.
[140] We are not suggesting that such arguments cannotbe incorporated into a Scotistic framework, say by deducing a general principle of explicability from the production of contingent things (Cf. J. Ross, Philosophical Theology, Bobbs Merrill, 1968). But without the root in experience, in the actual production of things, the argumentation floats in the dubious realm of speculation based only on our conceptions as far as they go: not what Scotus intended at all.
[141] Ox,p.151 (Wolter).
[142] It is a matter of wonder that so many technically skilled recent philosophers are untroubled by stopping at the idea that everything is without explanation, or is somehow, without further rationale, necessary; but consider the idea of a Creator somehow irrelevant.