More Aristotelian than Aristotle. Duns Scotus on Cognizing Singulars
At least from Plato and Aristotle onward the common wisdom of the entire philosophical tradition, hardly ever questioned, was that while universals are grasped by the intellect, individuals are perceived by the senses. Even in the “moderately realistic” Aristotelian-scholastic setting (perhaps best represented by Aquinas) where universals are situated “in rebus”, this axiom naturally generated the idea of two separated realms of objects of cognition – individuals and universals – whose ontological status, mutual relations, etc. would, in turn, be philosophically investigated. In my reading, Scotus does not share this common preconception at all; rather, he takes the position that ultimately there is only one single realm of cognized objects – the individuals or particulars. Thus, although it may be argued that his theory of cognition does not represent any radical departure from the moderate-realistic, Avicenna-inspired paradigm of the 13th century, but rather a specific elaboration of it, a closer look reveals that Scotus takes an entirely new perspective on the problem and reinterprets the old approaches from a new standpoint. And yet, this new perspective can at the same time be understood as being merely a consistent completion of the anti-Parmenidean and anti-Platonic movement in philosophy initiated by Aristotle – namely that of epistemic rehabilitation of the world of ordinary particular things. Scotus’s epistemic thought can thus be described as simultaneously consistently traditional and revolutionary.