Bonansea Bernardino ,
Recensione: John Duns Scotus, A Treatise on God as First Principle, tr. and éd. with commentary by Allan B. Wolter O.F.M. (,
Antonianum, 61/1 (1986) p. 188-189
This is a revised and expanded édition of Duns Scotus' Tractatus de primo principio, with the Latin text and English translation, which was first published in 1966. As Father Wolter says, this new édition includes a commentary that is the fruit of several graduate seminars in which the original édition of the De primo principio was used as the basis for discussion.
The treatise in question, which contains the most perfect and thorough proof for the existence of God ever worked out by a philosopher, is one of Scotus' best known works, even though a great part of it has been taken almost Verbatim from Scotus' major and most reliable work, the Ordinatio, a final version of his Commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard.
As far as the time of the composition of the treatise is concerned, Wolter seems to agree with C. Balic that it must be placed definitely after the Ordinatio and considered as one of Scotus' later works, if not his latest, as L. Ciganotto tried to show on the basis of his critical study of the text of the Wadding edition. One point that seems to be agreed upon by Scotus' commentators is that, while the Subtle Doctor is responsible for both the plan and the content of the work, the services of a « socius » were used to put it into its present form.
The treatise — and relative commentary — is divided into four chapters, dealing respectively with (I) the various types of essential order, (II) the interrelationship of essentially ordered elements, (III) the triple primacy of the First Principle, and (IV) the simplicity, infinity and intellectuality of the First Being. Basically De primo principio is an attempt to construct a proof of the existence of an infinite, and therefore unique and transcendent, being that meets all the requirements of a strict philosophical demonstration along the lines of Aristotle's Posterior Analytics. Scotus does so by showing, first, the possibility of a first efficient cause, which is also the ultimate final cause and the most eminent nature. Next he shows the impossibility that a being enjoying that triple primacy should itself be the effect of a cause in that triple order of causality. Then he goes on to prove by an argument ab absurdo that the being in question, which he shows to be possible but uncausable, can and must exist, or else it would be a contradictory concept.
Proceeding further in his dialectic, Scotus shows that the triple primacy of efficiency, finality, and eminence can only belong to one and the same nature. Finally, by a series of arguments derived from power, knowledge, goodness, and perfection, he argues to the infinity of the being possessing such a nature. Since infinity is for Scotus the attribute or mode of being that best characterizes God in his unique and trans-cedent reality, the existence of God has thus been established.
Wolter's commentary on De primo principio is, to my knowledge, the most complete ever written in any language, especially because it sets Scotus' thought within the context of his other works and in relation to most classic and medieval systems of philosophy. Coming, as it does, from one of the best known Scotist scholars, the work is most valuable for an advanced study of Scotus' thought in the area of what is known today as philosophical theology.