Duns Scotus: A Brief Introduction to his Life and Thought

Duns-ScotusDuns Scotus: A Brief Introduction to his Life and Thought

By Jeremiah Hackett

Studies in Scottish Literature, Vol. 26: Iss. 1 (1991)

Introduction: In his Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, James Joyce presents the aesthetics of Thomas Aquinas in the following manner:

Look at the basket, he said … In order to see that basket, said Stephen, your mind first of all separates the basket from the rest of the visible universe which is not the basket. The first phase of apprehension is a bounding line drawn about the object to be apprehended. An esthetic image is presented to us either in space or in time. What is audible is presented in space. But, temporal or spatial, the esthetic image is first luminously apprehended as selfbounded and self contained upon the immeasurable background of space and time which is not it. You apprehend it as ane thing. You see it as one whole. You apprehend its wholeness. That is integritas.

Taken with simple apprehension, and the act of judgment which grasps the concrete individual existence of objects, Joyce’s account presents in road outline elements of a Thomistic aesthetic. Yet, a problem arises for the Thomistic aesthetic: if real scientific demonstrative knowledge in the Aristotelian sense is about universals, how can there by any genuine knowledge of the individual?

Duns Scotus, from his early years as a philosopher and theologian was confronted with this problem from within Aristotelian philosophy. And he gave a novel answer to it, one which differed from the Thomistic account. What does Scotus say about integritas? He says:

Beauty is not some kind of absolute quality in the beautiful object. It is rather an aggregate (aggregatio) of all the properties of such objects-for example, magnitude, shape, and color, and the sum of all the connections among themselves and between themselves and the object.

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