Encyclopedia of Renaissance Philosophy

Living Edition
| Editors: Marco Sgarbi


  • Thomas JeschkeEmail author
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-02848-4_684-1


Scotism is a current or school of thought which is linked to the positions that the Franciscan John Duns Scotus taught in Paris. Unlike Thomism, Scotism was not a school in the strict sense (at least not until the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries); instead, the term was commonly used to describe philosophers who adopted Scotus’s way of doing philosophy and theology. Scotism did not play an important role in Renaissance philosophy, with one exception: the University of Padua, which continued the medieval tradition of Scotism. Nevertheless, Scotus and Scotist positions were well regarded and made use of from time to time in Renaissance philosophy.

Although Scotism, unlike Thomism, was mainly characterized by its methodological approach to philosophy and theology, some key doctrines can nevertheless be identified: above all, Scotus’s formal distinction and his theory of grades (on both of which, see below). These doctrines, in particular, have been used over many centuries to identify Scotism, Scotist positions, and Scotists. There are, however, other doctrines which also characterized Scotist thought, such as the theory of the univocity of being, the concept of haecceitas (by which something is individualized), and the form of corporeity.


Fifteenth Century Fourteenth Century Common Nature Loose Grouping Late Fifteenth 
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Heritage and Rupture with the Tradition

“Scotism” as a name or attribute seems to have been coined in the Baroque era; yet as early as the 1320s, one finds authors describing themselves as scotiçantes (Knebel 1995). Scotists were also called formalistae, which indicates that Scotism was more about applying a specific method than about following Scotus or the set of doctrines associated with him. It is, therefore, correct to say that, in Scotism, it was the method that produced the school, whereas, in Thomism, it was the school that produced the method (Hoenen 1998).

Although it is common to speak of “schools” at the end of the thirteenth and the beginning of the fourteenth centuries – for instance, the “early Thomist” or “early Scotistic school” – these loose groupings disappeared after the 1330s (Hoenen 1997). They reappeared, however, in the fifteenth century, but in a new context, that of universities. The new lines of division were “via antiqua vs. moderna,” “reales vs. nominales,” etc. Interestingly, Scotism – together with Thomism and Albertism – belonged to the “old way” (via antiqua) and the realistic approach (reales), while the “new way” or nominalist approach was closely linked to another Franciscan, William of Ockham.

Unlike Thomism, Scotism was rarely institutionalized, but instead operated as a “sheer conceptual force” (Hoenen 1998, p. 199). What this means is that individual authors, whether or not they were Franciscans, defended Scotus’s positions rather than following the doctrine of a particular order. In fifteenth-century Cologne, for instance, Scotism, unlike Thomism and Albertism, was not institutionally grounded. A difficulty for the Franciscan Order was that it had two “stars”: Scotus and Ockham. It was only later, when the order attempted to downplay Ockham’s importance (as a corrupter of “synthetic scholasticism”), that it explicitly promoted Duns Scotus (Roest 2000, p. 185).

A defining feature of Scotists was their method (processus), which was set out in its so-called regulae. A table attached to a later edition of Francis of Mayronnes’s commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard lists 139 rules which Scotists followed (Hoenen 1998, p. 207).

In the sixteenth and especially the seventeenth century, Scotism finally became an influential force. Many books (commentaries on Aristotelian works, as well as courses in theology and philosophy) ad mentem Scoti were printed (Schmitt 1978, p. 306; Edwards 2009). Scotist course textbooks such as those of Bartholomew Mastrius (de Meldola) († 1673) and Bonaventura Belluti († 1678) (Mastrius and Belluti 1727), and Theodor Smising († 1626) (Smising 1627) were published, and primers of Scotus’s philosophy and theology also appeared in early printed editions: for instance in William Gorris’s Scotus pauperum (Gorris 1492) or Mathurin Le Bret’s Scotus parvus (Mathurin Le Bret 1528/29) (Schmutz 2002). Starting in 1639, Luke Wadding († 1657) and John Punch (Poncius) († 1661) published their edition of Scotus’s Opera omnia, which remained the most important edition for centuries and which even nowadays is a point of reference. In the late fifteenth and early sixteenth century, Scotist chairs were established in Alcalá, Paris, Oxford, Cambridge, Padua, Toulouse, Cracow, Coimbra, and Salamanca, thus institutionalizing Scotism in the most important universities in Europe. This is the context in which the famous statement of Juan Caramuel y Lobkowitz (1606–1682) that the Scotist school is far more numerous than the others put together (“Scoti schola numerosior est aliis simul sumptis”) should be understood (Bak 1956; Edwards 2009; Schmutz 2002; also Schmutz 2016). Nevertheless, contrary to Lobkowitz’s view, Scotism at the time was not, in fact, numerically the largest school, though it was among the most influential ones. Roger Ariew speaks of the “ubiquity of Scotism in the Latin and vernacular textbook culture” (Ariew 2000) and therefore assumes that Scotism even exerted influence on Descartes. Other scholars have identified a “Scotist Bodin” or “Scotist Pico” (Schmutz 2002, p. 68). The pivotal figures in the transmission of Scotist thought, however, were the Jesuits Francisco Suárez († 1617) and Gabriel Vázquez († 1604) and, above all, the Cistercian Eustache de Saint-Paul († 1640), for whom a key issue was the difference between esse objective and esse cognitum as defended by Scotus and Peter Auriol (Schmutz 2002).

Innovative and Original Aspects

Although Scotism is primarily defined by its methodological approach, nonetheless certain central doctrines, strongly connected to this approach, can be identified. Notably important are two doctrines which, throughout the centuries, have served to mark Scotist positions: Scotus’s formal distinction and his theory of grades (Hoenen 1998). Scotus makes use of a formal distinction whenever he does not want to assume either a real distinction or a merely conceptual one: for example, the distinction between the persons of the Trinity and the divine essence, or between the soul and its powers. Even the difference between the common nature of a thing and its individual difference is described in terms of a formal distinction. While Scotus’s terminology with regard to individuation is not consistent (he first assumes a form of individuation, then later an individual grade, and scarcely uses the term haecceitas), most Scotists interpreted Scotus as saying that the principle of individuation was a grade or even an intrinsic mode (e.g., William of Alnwick, Francis of Myronnes; see Dumont 1995, p. 217). Other doctrines which further characterize Scotist thought follow from these two main assumptions. One such doctrine is the theory of the univocity of being: the view that being is predicated of God and his creation not analogically (as the Thomist tradition has it) but univocally, so that the difference between God and His creation is only “one of degree” (Cross 1999, p. 39; Williams 2016). Another is the concept of haecceitas, which is used as an alternative description of individuation: “haecceity” is what renders the common nature individual. Finally, Scotus argues for at least two substantial forms in man: one is the human soul, which has powers formally distinct from the soul’s essence; the other is a form of corporeity, which is responsible for the shape of the body (Duba 2012).

Impact and Legacy

Scotism was a major force in Paris during the late fifteenth and early sixteenth century (see the list below) and, next to Thomism, “the only other major theological influence in Italy” (Monfasani 1993, p. 270). It was also strong in German universities such as Freiburg or Tübingen (Zahnd 2014, esp. pp. 449–491; Bolliger 2003). In Freiburg, the via moderna was even for a time called the via Scoti.

The University of Padua played a central role in Renaissance Scotism, in that “the Paduan school, along with several others, forms a continuity with the medieval Scotism” (Schmitt 1978, p. 306). In 1474, a Scotist chair in metaphysics was established, followed 2 years later by another in Scotist theology. In 1490, Thomist chairs of metaphysics and theology were also established. All four of these chairs persisted until the eighteenth century. Professors of Scotist and Thomist metaphysics and theology were called “concurrents,” lecturing at the same time on the same day. Nevertheless, their competition was entirely professional and carried out in a friendly atmosphere (Gaetano 2013). Antonio Trombetta and Maurice O’Fihely were the most outstanding Scotists of the end of fifteenth century. Trombetta disputed with his Thomist “concurrent” Francesco Securo di Nardò; Trombetta opposed Nardò’s Thomism, as well as Averroes’s doctrine of the unity of the intellect and even denied Scotus’s idea that human reason could demonstrate the immortality of the soul. O’Fihely took a philological approach to Scotus by producing editions, including texts relevant to the Franciscan tradition (Mahoney 1978, pp. 217–218). Apart from the institutionalized Scotism in Padua, many other Renaissance philosophers picked up ideas from Scotus and integrated them into their own philosophy: for instance, Nicoletto Vernia, Agostino Nifo, and Pietro Pomponazzi. In addition, Marcantonio Zimara tried to come to the best philosophical positions by making use of (almost) all the different school traditions, including Scotism.

The success of Scotism in Padua is all the more surprising given the problems which had to be overcome (di Napoli 1978, p. 265). First, Scotus did not hand down a consistent or systematic presentation of his work (Pini 2010), already in the fifteenth century O’Fihely complained about the “chaos metaphysicale Scoticum” (cf. Duns Scotus 1891, p. 429a). Second, Scotism stood in opposition to all the major currents of thought: Aristotelianism, Thomism, and Ockhamism. Third, Franciscans, who might have been Scotus’s “natural followers,” had to choose between him and Ockham, whereas the Dominicans, in general, followed the doctrine of Thomas Aquinas.

Other philosophers and theologians who have been labeled “Scotists” include (Roßmann 1989):

Early Scotists: Henry of Harclay († 1317), Antonius Andreae (= Scotellus) († 1320), Hugh of Novocastro († 1322), Anfredus Gonteri († ca. 1325), Francis of Mayronis († after 1326), William of Alnwick († ca. 1333), Francis of Marchia († ca. 1344), John of Reading († 1346), John of Bassolis († 1347), and Landolfo Caraccioli († 1351).

Scotists of the second half of the fourteenth century: Walter Burley († 1344/45), Thomas Bradwardine († 1349), Peter Thomae († 1350), Peter of Aquila (= Scotellus) († 1361), Andreas of Novocastro († ca. 1400), and Peter of Candia († 1410).

Scotists of the fifteenth century (mostly commentators on Scotus’s works): William of Vaurouillon († 1463), Nicholas of Orbellis, Stephen Brulefer († c. 1497), Pelbart of Temesvar († 1504), Paul Scriptoris (1505), Gratian of Brescia († 1505), Peter Tartaretus († 1509/13), and Antonio Trombetta († 1517).

Later Scotists: Francis Lachetus († 1520), Claudius Frassen († 1711), Hieronymus de Montefortino († 1738), Aodh Mac Cathmhaoil (Hugo Cavellus) († 1626), Parthenius Minges († 1926), and Déodat de Basly († 1937).



Primary Literature

  1. Duns Scotus, John. 1891. Quaestiones subtilissimae super libros Metaphysicorum Aristotelis. In Opera omnia, ed. Luke Wadding and John Punch, vol. VII. Paris: Apud Ludovicum Vivès.Google Scholar
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  3. Mathurin Le Bret. 1528/29. Parvus Scotus Lavallensis. Anger: Apud Clementem Alexandre, Petrum Arnoul, Johannem Helye.Google Scholar
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  5. Smising, Theodor. 1627. Disputationum theologicarum, 2 vols. Antwerp: Apud Guilielmum Lesteenium.Google Scholar

Secondary Literature

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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Thomas-InstitutUniversität zu KölnKölnGermany

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