[4.15.1] John Duns Scotus on Metaphysics as Science

John Duns Scotus (the “Subtle Doctor”, 1265/66–1308 AD), in his work “Quaestiones super libros Metaphysicorum Aristotelis” defines the place of metaphysics in the hierarchy of sciences:

  • All sciences studies subject matter.
  • Metaphysics is theoretical science.
  • The subject matter of metaphysics are concepts related to being, like transcendentals, and Aristotelian categories (see also [1.3.2])
  • The transcendentals are being, the proper attributes of being (like one, true and good, see also [4.7]), disjunctions, and pure perfections.

The following OntoUML diagram presents Duns Scotus’s analysis of metaphysics as science:

Duns Scotus on metaphysics as science
Sciencescience in that it proceeds from self-evident principles to conclusions that follow deductively from them.” studies SubjectMatter
SubjectMatterEach science studies a limited number of specific subject matter(s).
TheoreticalScience“Metaphysics, according to Scotus, is a ‘real theoretical science’: it is real in that it treats things rather than concepts, theoretical in that it is pursued for its own sake rather than as a guide for doing or making things,”is subkind of Science
MetaphysicsMetaphysics, according to Scotus, is a ‘real theoretical science’ […] The various real theoretical sciences are distinguished by their subject matter, and Scotus devotes considerable attention to determining what the distinctive subject matter of metaphysics is.”is subkind of TheoreticalScience; studies Transcendental; studies Category
Transcendental“The study of being qua being includes, first of all, the study of the transcendentals, so called because they transcend the division of being into finite and infinite […]”inherits from SubjectMatter; characterizes Category
Being“His conclusion is that metaphysics concerns ‘being qua being’ (ens inquantum ens). That is, the metaphysician studies being simply as such, rather than studying, say, material being as material. […]
Being itself is a transcendental, and so are the ‘proper attributes’ of being—one, true, and good—which are coextensive with being.”
inherits from Transcendental; characterizes Thing
AttributeOfBeing “Being itself is a transcendental, and so are the ‘proper attributes’ of beingone, true, and good—which are coextensive with being.” (see also [4.7])inherits from Transcendental; characterizes Being
Disjunction“Scotus also identifies an indefinite number of disjunctions that are coextensive with being and therefore count as transcendentals, such as infinite-or-finite and necessary-or-contingent.”inherits from Transcendental; coextensive with being
PurePerfection“A pure perfection [perfectiones simpliciter] is any predicate that does not imply limitation.
[…] all the pure perfections (see above) are transcendentals, since they transcend the division of being into finite and infinite. Unlike the proper attributes of being and the disjunctive transcendentals, however, they are not coextensive with being. For God is wise and Socrates is wise, but earthworms—though they are certainly beings—are not wise.”
inherits from Transcendental
Category“The study of the Aristotelian categories also belongs to metaphysics insofar as the categories, or the things falling under them, are studied as beings. (If they are studied as concepts, they belong instead to the logician.) There are exactly ten categories, Scotus argues. The first and most important is the category of substance. Substances are beings in the most robust sense, since they have an independent existence: that is, they do not exist in something else. Beings in any of the other nine categories, called accidents, exist in substances. The nine categories of accidents are quantity, quality, relation, action, passion, place, time, position, and state (habitus).” (see also [1.3.2])inherits from SubjectMatter
ThingA thing is an individual, (otherwise particular).Inherits from Category


  • All citations from: Williams, Thomas, “John Duns Scotus“, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2019 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)
  • King, Peter, “Scotus on Metaphysics”, The Cambridge Companion to Duns Scotus, Cambridge University Press 2003, ed. Thomas Williams,

First published: 1/4/2021
Updated: 6/5/2021

2 thoughts on “[4.15.1] John Duns Scotus on Metaphysics as Science

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