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Duns Scotus (c. 1266 – 1308) was a Scottish philosopher of “univocity of being,” that existence is the most abstract concept we have, applicable to everything that exists. Those who deny the existence of contingency should be tortured.

Duns Scotus

Duns Scotus, philosopher

Quotations from Duns Scotus sourced from: WikiQuote, GoodReads,

If all men by nature desire to know, then they desire most of all the greatest knowledge of science. So the Philosopher argues in chap. 2 of his first book of the work. And he immediately indicates what the greatest science is, namely the science which is about those things that are most knowable. But there are two senses in which things are said to be maximally knowable: either [1] because they are the first of all things known and without them nothing else can be known; or [2] because they are what are known most certainly. In either way, however, this science is about the most knowable. Therefore, this most of all is a science and, consequently, most desirable…”

We speak of the matter [of this science] in the sense of its being what the science is about. This is called by some the subject of the science, but more properly it should be called its object, just as we say of a virtue that what it is about is its object, not its subject. As for the object of the science in this sense, we have indicated above that this science is about the transcendentals. And it was shown to be about the highest causes. But there are various opinions about which of these ought to be considered its proper object or subject. Therefor, we inquire about the first. Is the proper subject of metaphysics being as being, as  Avicenna claims, or God and the Intelligences, as the Commentator,  Averroes

I say that some things can be said to belong to the law of nature in two ways: One way is as first practical principles known from their terms or as conclusions necessarily entailed by them. These are said to belong to the natural law in the strictest sense, and there can be no dispensation in their regard… But this is not the case when we speak in general of all the precepts of the second table. For the reasons behind the commands and prohibitions there are not practical principles that are necessary in an unqualified sense, nor are they simply necessary conclusions from such. For they contain no goodness such as is necessarily prescribed for attaining the goodness of the ultimate end, nor in what is forbidden is there such malice as would turn one away necessarily from the last end, for even if the good found in these [precepts] were not commanded, the ultimate end could still be loved and attained, whereas if the evil proscribed by them were not forbidden, it would still be consistent with the acquisition of the ultimate end.

Those who deny the existence of contingency should be tortured until they admit that it is possible for them not to be tortured.


John Duns Scotus was a subtle reasoner with words and seems never to have said anything in a quotable form that is brief, or comprehensible. Brevity of discourse (by the original philosophers) is the foundation of the Philosophers Squared series. Presented above are only a couple of longer, more comprehensible quotes which give a flavor of his thinking.  His style of writing is one which the much later philosopher of science Karl Popper would challenge as being untestable and presenting nothing to test for deniability. Thus by Popper’s lights Scotus’ writing would fall to the ground as heaps of typesetters’ letters which barely formed even random words out of the scattered letters and certainly not anything resembling useful information. However, that said, Scotus did have an impact on the late Medieval period when the West was transitioning back into a more Greco-Roman method of philosophic thought. Perhaps he was used as a clear example of the confusion arising from the older Scholastic method of reasoning.

Those who deny the existence of contingency should be tortured until they admit that it is possible for them not to be tortured. This was perhaps a cold joke trying to convince some doubter of his seriousness.