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Reviewed by:
  • Questions sur la métaphysique by Jean Duns Scot
  • Tobias Hoffmann
Jean Duns Scot. Questions sur la métaphysique. Volume I, books I–III. Introduction, translation, and notes by Olivier Boulnois and Dan Arbib, introduction to the Latin text by Dominique Poirel. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 2017. Pp. 577. Paperback, €39.50.
Jean Duns Scot. Questions sur la métaphysique. Volume II, books IV–VI. Introduction, translation, and notes by Olivier Boulnois, Dominique Demange, Ide Lévi, Kristell Trego, and Magali Roques, introduction to the Latin text by Dominique Poirel. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 2020. Pp. 1012. Paperback, €39.00.

The Questions on Aristotle’s Metaphysics is Duns Scotus’s most important philosophical work. While Scotus’s obscurity is proverbial, that work adds additional layers of impenetrability, so much so that its fifteenth-century editor spoke of a chaos metaphysicum. In the last twenty-five years, scholars have brought a lot of clarity to this chaos, which is partly due to the difficulty of Scotus’s thought and writing style, and partly to the complicated textual tradition of this work. A further contribution to greater readability of the Metaphysics commentary is being made by a research team under the direction of Olivier Boulnois, which is undertaking its French translation, enriched by valuable introductory material. So far, the first two of the projected four volumes have appeared. They will benefit anyone interested in Scotus’s metaphysics, over and above their French target audience. Before outlining their contribution, I will mention some salient characteristics of Scotus’s commentary.

The commentary originates in the classroom, where Scotus approached the Aristotelian text, in line with common practice, by offering a literal commentary and a questions commentary. Until recently, the former commentary, the Notabilia super Metaphysicam, was thought to be lost. It was discovered by Giorgio Pini, who published its critical edition in 2018. The latter text, the Quaestiones super libros Metaphysicorum Aristotelis, is well known, having been printed repeatedly prior to its two-volume critical edition of 1997 (St. Bonaventure, NY: Franciscan Institute). The questions commentary is not primarily concerned with Aristotle, but rather with metaphysical themes discussed at the time, especially by Thomas Aquinas, Henry of Ghent, and Godfrey of Fontaines. In this work, some key topics of Scotus’s thought are given their most detailed discussion, such as the nature and subject matter of metaphysics, the nature and division of the speculative sciences, the four causes, the nature of relation, and the notions of potency and act. Other important topics, such as the problem of individuation, receive their most mature treatment in the commentary. According to the editors of the Franciscan Institute edition, the questions commentary was composed over a long stretch of time, originally resulting from Scotus’s early teaching activity, but having undergone substantial revisions—some deletions and numerous additions—until relatively late in his career. His premature death prevented him from bringing his revisions to completion, and this explains why one finds contradictory affirmations within the same question. For example, in book IV, question 1, which asks whether being (ens) is said univocally of all things, Scotus denies the univocity of being in some passages and affirms it in others. Between the two redactions, Scotus changed his mind: in his early career, he rejected the univocity of being; later, he endorsed it.

The French translation, which is based on the Franciscan Institute edition, and the introductory material are very useful also for an Anglophone audience. There is a full [End Page 503] translation of the text into English, made by Allan Wolter based on the uncritical edition and carefully revised by Girard Etzkorn to make it conform to the Franciscan Institute edition (2 vols. [St. Bonaventure, NY: Franciscan Institute, 1997–98]). Nevertheless, there is value in translating the text from the outset with a clear awareness of the different layers of redaction and hence with clarity about Scotus’s intention in these different passages. The French translation will thus be a welcome additional resource for penetrating Scotus’s difficult text. Many of the notes are taken from the Franciscan Institute edition, but sometimes they are changed or enriched, especially by additional explanatory notes. The Latin...