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Reviewed by:
  • Duns Scotus’s Theory of Cognition by Richard Cross
  • Robert Andrews
Richard Cross. Duns Scotus’s Theory of Cognition. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014. Pp. xiv + 224. Cloth, $74.00.

The explicit intent of this volume is to provide an “original interpretation” of a number of “highly novel contributions” (3) made by John Duns Scotus to theories of cognition. Professor Cross has certainly provided the most detailed and meticulous analysis of Scotus’s discussions of cognition to date. Cross was initially motivated in his efforts, he states (vii), by his move from a department of theology (at Oxford) to one of philosophy (at Notre Dame). His transfer is evidenced not only in his subject matter—Scotus is most philosophical in his psychology—but also in his method, which utilizes the techniques of analytic philosophy.

Cross’s work is valuable first for its accumulation of its material pertaining to cognition from throughout Scotus’s oeuvre, both philosophical and theological—much of which is not even critically edited. Cross must occasionally appeal to manuscript sources, but whenever he does so he is careful to quote that text. His results are likely to withstand any but the most paradigm-changing discovery.

Valuable also are Cross’s extensive translations, a contribution to the ongoing effort to make Scotus—indeed, all of Latin scholasticism—accessible in modern languages. Father [End Page 548] Allan Wolter’s earlier translations of Scotus remain important because he translated so much and so consistently. Cross’s nuances and improvements in translation will serve as a thesaurus for the terminology of future translators.

Valuable as well is Cross’s explication of complex theories of cognition, placed in their historical context. Cross perhaps seeks philosophy department cred with the occasional Greek letter variable (143), and an unnecessary investment in alphabetic subscripts, where it would have been better to retain natural language: the triad distinguished could as well have been designated ‘really real,’ ‘merely intentional,’ and ‘really intentional’ or ‘intentionally real’ (35)—the latter two being the same. Cross’s detailed arguments are not improved by such finesses.

This book is certainly not for the everyday reader, nor even for the average analytic philosopher. It requires someone with considerable familiarity with the “technical medieval jargon” (174)—say, someone who immediately knows what is meant by the footnote “Henry, Quod. 4.8 (fo. 98rP)” (92n26). Cross has few contemporaries with whom to debate; his principal dialectical partners include Peter King, Robert Pasnau, Dominik Perler, Giorgio Pini, and, to some degree, Martin Tweedale and Paul Spade.

Cui bono? There can be found a certain delight in coming to an understanding of medieval thought, in all of its complexity and subtlety—deciding how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, as it were. And Cross is an admirable guide to incredibly dense and complex Scotistic arguments. But anyone looking for truth in Scotus’s writings must overcome several aspects which, historically, have led to philosophical dead-ends. Cross alludes to Scotus as a “committed hypostatizer of forms, substantial and accidental” (100)—in plain talk, this means that Scotus believed in the “real reality” of such entities as haecceity (“thisness”), quiddity (“thatness”), equinity (“horse-ness”), and other conceptual entities later medievals parodied with formulations like quamobremitas (“why-ness”) or usquequaqueitas (“constantly-ness”)—and which Rabelais characterized as “categories, jecabots, emnins, dimions, abstractions, harborins, chelemins, second intentions, carradoths, antitheses, metempsychoses, transcendent prolepsies, and such other light food.” Add to this Scotus’s medieval acceptance of “substance dualism” and “the immaterial soul” (195), there remain hardly any theorists subscribing to his ontology, except perhaps subsequent Scotists and possibly some Heideggerians.

But Cross suggests without emphasizing why Scotus deserves detailed study—his influence upon William Ockham. Scotus was, after all, the thinker at whom Ockham slashed his razor. Cross shows that “Scotus does indeed have some elementary account of a kind of mental language [paradigmatically] … associated with Ockham” (173), and that “Scotus has an account of mental language [which] … clearly anticipates aspects of Ockham’s own theory” (201). It is in these respects that Cross’s meticulous analyses and nuanced translations will advance the next stage of medieval exegesis.

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