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  • The Singular Voice of Being: John Duns Scotus and Ultimate Difference by Andrew LaZella
  • Mary Beth Ingham CSJ
Andrew LaZella. The Singular Voice of Being: John Duns Scotus and Ultimate Difference. New York: Fordham University Press, 2019. Pp. x + 269. Cloth, $64.99.

While much has been published on the philosophical and theological positions of John Duns Scotus (1266–1308), the univocal concept of being continues to be a source of debate and, for some, condemnation. In this ambitious study, LaZella investigates how central the labor of division can be in order to “cut the univocal concept of being at its joints” (1). Throughout, LaZella engages with classic and contemporary scholarship to achieve a twofold end. First, he clearly shows how, for Scotus, the univocal concept of being does not fall victim to the stereotypical renderings of some proponents of analogy. Second, he analyzes how the univocal concept of being is differentiated. Here is revealed “ultimate differentiation” found throughout reality, from the transcendental disjunctive intrinsic modes (infinite/finite) through the formal distinction (ultimate specific difference) to individual differentiation (known as haecceitas).

Differentiation, far from a deficiency of being, perfects it. With this insight, LaZella frees Scotus from a Parmenidean negativity that ultimately necessitates analogy. He asks, “What is required to think and say being in a single sense? . . . To conceive of nonreified [End Page 147] difference in order to divide being” (14). Part 1 of the study defends nonreified difference as central to an adequate grasp of Scotus’s project that depends upon understanding being as a real concept, with an emphasis on both “real” and “concept” (42–43). Chapter 3 explores how Scotus broadens and deepens the concept of ultimate difference beyond Aristotle. He broadens it when he applies it to intrinsic modes (finite/infinite), and he deepens it beyond the categories to the transcendental level. By means of the in quid/in quale distinction, being appears as the only thing that is in quid (what something is); ultimate differences are in quale (how or of what kind a thing is). In this way, Scotus’s ontological account plays on the “what” of being, along with the “how” of being, in order to affirm the positive perfection of ultimate singulars, whether infinite (God) or finite (creatures). Here lies the dimension of the “less than actual” yet not wholly “conceptual” that perfects the univocity of being.

Throughout, LaZella rightly argues for Scotus’s foundational effort. This effort identifies the more basic, more ultimate, irreducibly positive principle that grounds participation. In his defense of Scotus, LaZella correctly notes how univocity grounds both analogy and participation. He repeatedly reminds the reader that difference, for Scotus, is not a deficiency (as it is for analogy). Ultimate difference is the irreducibly positive principle within all reality.

Part 2 plays out this core insight in three areas: the intrinsic modes of being as ultimate differences (infinite/finite); some specific differences (formal distinction); the naked singular (haecceity). Chapter 4 considers the modal differentiation of infinite/finite, explaining how infinite magnitude is not vague or boundless. Rather it is the wholeness of perfection that cannot be exceeded. God is “most singular” in this regard (107–9). Chapter 5 contrasts ultimate with nonultimate specific differences, proposing a new model of division that is nonoppositional and positively differential. Once again, Scotus uses and deepens Aristotle and “uproots the Porphyrian tree” (124). With chapter 6, the study reaches the most foundational basis for individual, finite singularity: the “being different” of an individual as a perfection. Haecceity is all that is left, once one has excluded signate matter, accidents, quantity, actual existence, and the double negative (“not-not x”) as factors of individuation. Haecceity in an individual is an act determining the reality of a species. At this point in his argument, LaZella surprises when he concludes that as a pure determination, haecceity is a quale (how), not a quid (what), that is, a formal determination. However, by making this a differentiation rather than a “contraction,” I fear that haecceity loses the positive aspect given to it by Scotus and reveals a void at the heart of each “naked singular” being.

The value of establishing an ontology based on...


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pp. 147-148
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