Frames /sing


Descartes as a Scotist

I post here the second chapter of professor Roger Ariew’s Descartes and the Last Scholastics. Importantly it presents the historical and argumentative support for Descartes haveng significant debt to the Scottist strain of Scholasticism which was dominant in Paris at the time of his education and early life. This adds somewhat to the context of Deleuze’s conclusion that Spinoza was Scotist in thought, and gives added significance to Behan’s and Yolton’s suggestion that due to the scholastic conception of “sign” a representationalist reading of Descartes’ notion of “idea” is not complete.

Descartes and the Scotists

Gilson’s Index

To date, the most substantial works on the intellectual relations between Descartes and his predecessors have been Etienne Gilson’s masterful studies.1 In the Index scolasticocartésien, Gilson catalogued various concepts in Descartes and matching ones in his scholastic predecessors. Gilson’s choice of antecedents was carefully chosen. He compared Descartes’ works with those of Thomas Aquinas, the Jesuits of the University of Coimbra, Francisco Suarez, Franciscus Toletus, Antonius Rubius, and Eustachius a Sancto Paulo.2 As Gilson indicated in his introduction to the Index scolastico-cartésien, the teaching at Descartes’ Jesuit college, La Flèche, was based on Saint Thomas, and Descartes continued to consult Thomas throughout his life. Further, Descartes became acquainted at La Flèche with the works of the Coimbran Jesuits, Toletus, and Rubius. Gilson defended the choice of Suarez by indicating that Descartes was familiar with his work-that Suarez’s Disputationes metaphysicae was basically the handbook in metaphysics for Descartes’ teachers. Gilson added passages from Eustachius a Sancto Paulo to those of Thomas and the others-all Jesuits-because Descartes had read Eustachius’ Summa and it could be said to summarize scholastic teaching faithfully and

1 Gilson 1913, 1989 [1913], 1925, and 1930.

2 Gilson also adds an appendix to the Lexicon of Etienne Chauvin (1692). See the appendix for an index of Gilson’s Index.


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concisely.3 It would be difficult to disagree with any of Gilson’s reasons.

Descartes clearly knew the works of Saint Thomas; he even brought one of Thomas’ volumes along with him on his travels-at least, that is what he said in the letter of 25 December 1639 to Marin Mersenne: “I am not at all so deprived of books as you think, and I have here still a Summa of Saint Thomas and a Bible that I have brought with me from France.”4 As is well known, Descartes disputed with Caterus about Thomas’ views in his Replies to the First Objections, and on various occasions compared his own views on the Eucharist with those of Thomas.5 Similarly, in a notorious passage about material falsity in the Fourth set of Replies to Arnauld, Descartes cited Suarez’s Disputationes metaphysicae. Thus Descartes must have consulted Suarez’s works at least once.6 Moreover, as we have previously indicated, there was a revival of the Thomistic interpretation of Aristotelian philosophy during the second half of the sixteenth century. In 1567 Pope Pius V proclaimed Saint Thomas Doctor of the Church; Saint Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, advised the Jesuits to follow the doctrines of Saint Thomas in theology and those of Aristotle in philosophy. This advice was made formal in the Jesuits’ ratio studiorum of 1586. The result was the well-known Jesuit penchant for Thomistic doctrines, at least for the period of the generalship of Claudio Acquaviva (1581-1616), when Descartes was a student at La Flèche (roughly 1607-1615).7  

3 Gilson 1913, pp. iv-v.

4 AT II, 630.

5 In the letter to Charlet of 31 December 1640 there is even a specific reference to Thomas’ views on the Eucharist (AT III, 274). For more on these topics, see chapter 7.

6 AT VII, 235. There is a story that Descartes carried the Disputationes Metaphysicae with him in his travels. The story is repeated by Heilbron (1979), p. 108, but it is unlikely at best, and, as far as I know, there is no evidence for it in AT’s eleven volumes. Heilbron gives three references, but they basically cite one another and lead nowhere.

7 See chapter 1.


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As for the question of which textbooks Descartes consulted while at La Flèche, that can easily be settled. Descartes did refer to the Jesuits of Coimbra, Toletus, and Rubius as author of textbooks he remembers from his youth.8 As can be expected, those textbooks were often paraphrases of Thomas’ reformulations of Aristotle. However, seventeenth-century Thomism was not identical to thirteenth-century Thomism. At the very least, seventeenth-century Thomism was taught against the background of competing fourteenth to sixteenth century doctrines; and since Thomism did not have a doctrine for every possible topic, certain other doctrines and terms were imported to fill gaps. Descartes also indicated that he had read the Summa philosophica quadripartita of Eustachius a Sancto Paulo.9 The textbooks mentioned by Descartes were very widely read Latin-language philosophy texts from the first half of the seventeenth century, with Eustachius a Sancto Paulo’s Summa probably taking first rank.10


8 AT III, 185. For more details on the Coimbrans, Toletus, and Rubius, see chapter 1.

9 AT III, 232. It is unlikely that Descartes had read Eustachius’ Summa at la Flèche. Eustachius also published a Summa Theologiae Tripartita (Eustachius a Sancto Paulo 1613-1616). As Descartes continued his reading of scholastic textbooks, he looked at the textbook of someone he called Draconis (AT III, 234), that is, Abra de Raconis. For more on both these assertions, see chapter 1.

10 The seventeenth century also saw an enormous growth of French-language philosophy texts written by the tutors of the nobility. The movement began in the 1560s with the first French translations of Aristotle’s works, but took off in the 1590s with the first French-language commentaries on the Physics. Works in this genre not mentioned by Descartes included Bouju 1614, by Henry IV’s almoner, Théophraste Bouju, and Ceriziers 1643, by the Jesuit, le Père René de Ceriziers, who became a secular almoner of the Duc d’Orléans and later counselor to Louis XIV (also Marandé 1642, among others). The most noted of such works was Dupleix 1627, by Cardinal Richelieu’s favorite historian, Scipion Dupleix. It exceeded Eustachius’ Summa in popularity; there were more than 24 editions of Dupleix’s Physique in various incarnations during the first half of the seventeenth century. See Ariew, forthcominga. Of course, there were other textbook authors who had a following, not mentioned by Descartes. For example, Henry Alsted seems to have been read by Leibniz, Rudolph Arriaga by Bayle, Franco Burgersdijk by Locke, John Magirus by Newton, and Daniel Sennert by Boyle and Leibniz. In Paris, Latin-language textbook authors included the Protestant, Pierre du Moulin, and Catholics such as François Le Rees, J.-C. Frey, Jacques du Chevreul, and Jean Crassot. See C. H. Lohr’s series of articles, and Schmitt and Skinner 1987. For other sources for the textbook tradition in the seventeenth century, see Reif 1962 and 1969; Brockliss 1981 and 1987.

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Dalbiez’s Critique of Gilson


With the Index scolastico-cartésien as his instrument of research, Gilson proceeded to work on his commentary on Descartes’ Discours de la méthode. Immediately, a criticism of the commentary was issued by Roland Dalbiez. At stake was Gilson’s comment that “in scholastic thought, objective being is not a real being, but a rational being; it does not need a special cause. In Cartesianism, objective being is a lesser being than the actual being of the thing; however, it is a real being and, as a consequence, it requires a cause of its existence.”11 Dalbiez agreed with the comment as long as “scholastic thought” in it was restricted to Thomism. He pointed out that the Thomist doctrine was disputed by many previous thinkers, and especially Scotists. For Thomists, objective being is only a being of reason; for Scotists, it is more than a being of reason.12 Dalbiez proceeded to show that Tommas Cajetan, Thomas Aquinas’ sixteenth century commentator, dealt in some detail with Scotus’ doctrine of objective reality, contrasting it with that of Thomas. And Cajetan’s commentaries were published with the master edition of the works of Saint Thomas in Rome, 1570-71 (at the behest of Pope Pius V)-the edition that Descartes probably consulted. Dalbiez also discussed an issue that seemed tangential to the debate between Thomists and Scotists about objective being, but was waged within the Jesuit order itself, between two of  

11 Dalbiez 1929, p. 464, citing Gilson 1925, p. 321.

12 Dalbiez 1929, p. 465.


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its greatest metaphysicians, Suarez and Gabriel Vasquez. It concerned the distinction between the formal and objective concept and the role of the latter in the definition of truth. Durandus a Sancto Porciano13 had maintained that truth consists in the conformity of the objective concept and the thing. Suarez reported and criticized the thesis:

The first proposition [of Durandus] is that truth does not reside in the formal act or cognition of the intellect, but in the thing cognized as objective in the intellect, so that the thing is in conformity with itself in respect to the existent thing, and in this way he explains that truth is the conformity of the intellect to the thing, that is, the conformity of the objective concept of the enunciative intellect to the thing according to its real being.14

As Dalbiez said, for most scholastics, the objective concept is the thing itself, insofar as it is cognized, but for Durandus, the objective concept seems to become a third reality (tertium quid) between the formal concept and the thing. Suarez rejected the thesis, but it was defended by Vasquez, specifically referring to Durandus.15 Dalbiez concluded that “Descartes could not have been completely unaware of the debate. Whether Descartes’ professor of philosophy was a follower of Suarez or Vasquez, he could not have neglected the exposition of a controversy that divided the two most noted doctors of the Society.”16

The scholastic debate therefore revolved about whether the objective concept collapses into the formal concept, that is, into an act of the intellect, and objective being is thus a being of reason, or whether the objective concept is a third reality between the formal concept and the thing, and objective being is also something more than a being of reason. It is noteworthy that this debate can also be found at the University of Paris in the first few decades of the seventeenth

13 An early fourteenth-century Dominican who held various anti-Thomist views in physics and metaphysics.

14 Dalbiez 1929, p. 468, quoting Suarez discussing Durandus a Sancto Porciano.

15 Dalbiez 1929, p. 469.

16 Dalbiez 1929, p. 470.


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century, for example, in the Summa philosophia of Abra de Raconis.17 De Raconis distinguishes between objective and subjective concepts:

Something can be in the intellect in two ways, either objectively or subjectively: objectively, such as man, insofar as it is the object of the intellect, subjectively, such as an intellection, that which is received in the intellect itself; as a result, there is a difficulty between philosophers, namely, in what consists the causes of exemplar ideas, whether they consist in the objective concept, in which these things are objectively in the intellect, or in the formal concept, in which these things are subjectively in the intellect.18

And de Raconis asserts that there are two opposite opinions about the ratio of the exemplar or idea. The first is held by Thomas and Suarez: “Saint Thomas, part I quest. 15 art. 1, and, supporting him, Suarez, M 1 d 29 s2 n. 10 et seq., hold that the ratio of exemplar causes consists in the formal concept and not in the objective”; but de Raconis thinks that the second opinion, held by Durandus, is more probable: “the essential ratio of the exemplar does not consist in the formal concept: Durandus, 1 Sent. dist. 36 and elsewhere.”19 He clearly favors the latter interpretation, siding with Durandus, and he supports it with various propositions.20

Eustachius a Sancto Paulo holds the same view as Abra de Raconis, although, since Eustachius does not usually cite authorities or impart many details, it is often difficult to make out exactly where he stands on particular issues. With de Raconis’ discussion as background, one can see more clearly what Eustachius intends. For Eustachius an idea is an image of a thing in 

17 For more on de Raconis, see chapter 1.

18 Abra de Raconis 1651, Physica, Tractatus de causis, art. secundus, de causa exemplaris, pp. 94-5. At the risk of multiplying the terminology, in Cartesian language something can be in the intellect objectively or formally (the latter is the same as subjectively for de Raconis).

19 Abra de Raconis 1651, loc. cit., p. 95.

20 Abra de Raconis 1651, loc. cit., pp. 95-96; see also de Raconis 1651, Metaphysica, tract III, pp. 57-68. For more details, see chapter 3.


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the mind of the artificer; it is also an act of the mind.21 Thus, for Eustachius, ideas or concepts can be taken in two ways, objectively or formally. He states:

The concept of any given thing may be taken in two senses, one formal and the other objective. The latter strictly speaking is called a concept only in an analogical and nominal sense; for it is not truly a concept, but rather a thing conceived, or an object of conception. A formal concept, however, is the actual likeness of the thing which is understood by the intellect, produced in order to represent the thing. For example, when the intellect perceives human nature, the actual likeness, which it produces in respect of human nature, is the formal concept of the nature in question, as understood by the intellect. We say actual likeness to distinguish it from the intelligible species, which is the habitual image of the same thing. It may be understood from this that the formal concept is the word which the mind possesses, or the species which it forms of the thing that is understood. The objective concept, however, which is then said to be the formal ratio, is the thing as represented to the intellect by means of the formal concept; thus in the example just given, human nature, as it is actually apprehended, is called the objective concept.22

And, in case it might be thought that the objective concept would collapse into the formal concept or the thing, Eustachius specifies that

To understand what is meant by objective being in the intellect, one must note the distinction between objective and subjective being in the intellect. To be objectively in the intellect is nothing else than to be actually present as an object to the knowing intellect, whether what is present as an object of knowledge has true being within or outside the intellect, or not. To be subjectively in the intellect is to be in it as in a subject,

21 Eustachius 1629, Physica, Pars III, disp. 1, quaest. III, p. 36. See chapter 3.

22 Eustachius 1629, Metaphysica, Pars I, Tract. I, disp. 1, quaest. 2, p. 6. Trans. in ACS p. 93, slightly modified.


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as dispositions and intellectual acts are understood to be in it. But since those things which are in the intellect subjectively can be known by the intellect, it can happen that the same thing can at the same time be both objectively and subjectively in the intellect. Other things which really exist outside the intellect, though they are not subjectively in the intellect can be in it objectively, as we have noted. But since all these things are real, they have some real being in themselves apart from the objective being in the intellect. There are certain items which have no other being apart from objective being, or being known by the intellect: these are called entities of reason.23

The doctrines of Eustachius and de Raconis are plainly an amalgam of those of Scotus and Durandus.24 Although Durandus’ doctrine, that truth is the agreement of the objective concept and the thing, might be held separately from Scotus’ doctrine, that objective being is greater than a being of reason and less than a real being, the doctrines clearly complement each other. Durandus’ doctrine makes sense within the general framework of a theory of distinctions that would allow for a third kind of distinction beyond real distinctions and distinction of reasons. To play its role, the objective concept must be distinguished both from the thing and from the formal concept and those distinctions must be other than distinctions of reason. But formal and objective concepts are both in the intellect; thus, they must be distinguished formally or modally. And of course the formal distinction (or the third kind in addition to real and rational distinctions) is a  

23 Eustachius 1629, Metaphysica, Pars I, Tract. I, disp. 2, quaest. 3, pp. 10-11. Trans. in ACS pp. 93-94.

24 For an analysis of the relation between the doctrines of seventeenth-century scholastics (Eustachius, de Raconis and others) and Descartes on ideas, see chapter 3. See also Leslie Armour’s discussion of Eustachius on (transcendental) truth consisting in the conformity of things to God’s intellect (Armour 1993).


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notorious Scotist doctrine25 accepted by Eustachius and de Raconis. Eustachius argues that there are three kinds of distinctions, realis, a natura rei, and rationis; he further subdivides a natura rei into formalis, modalis, and potentialis.26 De Raconis similarly argues for real, formal and modal, and rational distinctions in the context of debates, both real and terminological, between Thomas and Scotus.27

As one can see, Dalbiez’s critique of Gilson can be both extended (to other writers) and generalized (to other topics). Not only did Gilson miss the Scotism in the seventeenth century scholastic theory of ideas-not only did he fail to notice that Scotism survives in Cajetan’s commentaries on Thomas and in debates within the Jesuit order itself-but, in addition, he did not recognize that Scotist doctrines also survive in the teaching of professors at the University of Paris, of Eustachius and de Raconis, for example. In fact, it can be shown that the philosophical climate in France from the early 1600s (with the major exception of Jesuit philosophy in the first half of the seventeenth century)28 was predominantly Scotist and not Thomist.

What is a Scotist? 

There are, of course, no necessary or sufficient conditions for being a Scotist (or a Thomist, or even an Aristotelian). However, there are a number of different issues on which

25 See, for example, Wolters 1990, pp. 27-42. For a discussion of scholastic and Cartesian theory of distinctions, see Alessandro Ghisalberti, “La dottrina delle distinzioni nei Principia: traditione e innovatione,” in Armogathe and Belgioioiso 1996, pp. 179-201.

26 Eustachius 1629, Metaphysica, Pars III, disp. 3, quaest. 5-8, pp. 52-55. Interestingly, Gilson cites Eustachius on the various distinctions in the Index, but compares him only with Suarez. See the Appendix under “distinction.”

27 Abra de Raconis 1651, Metaphysica, Brevis Appendix, quaest. 1, art. 1, pp. 81-84.

28 Though again with the proviso that seventeenth-century Thomism might itself contain a fair number of Scotist terms and doctrines.


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Scotus disagreed with Thomas, both major and minor, ranging through the philosophical corpus (including logic, metaphysics, physics, and ethics) and theology. Many of Scotus’ followers took up these issues, continuing the disagreement. In the seventeenth century those oppositions were considered significant enough that some authors wrote books detailing the “two great systems of philosophy,” Thomism and Scotism;29 others tried to reconcile them;30 still others wrote books following Thomas31 or following Scotus.32 Thus, the categories, Scotist, Thomist, are not anachronisms or historians’ constructions, but come from the sixteenth and seventeenth century writers themselves.33 Here is a small sample of some sharp dichotomies from the theologicalmetaphysical-cosmological side of the curriculum (apart from the constellation dealing with the formal distinction, objective being, and objective concept that we have already mentioned). 


29 Or the three great systems-Thomist, Scotist and Nominalist (or Ockhamist); sometimes the Averroist system was added. For example: d’Amici 1626, de Rada 1620, Vincent 1660-1671. See also Di Vona 1994.

30 For example, Boccafuoco 1589; Sarnanus 1590.

31 For example: Goudin 1864; John of St. Thomas 1663.

32 For example: Frassen 1668 and 1672-1677; de Llamazares [1669?]; Poncius 1672.

33 In now-fashionable terminology, they are “actors’ categories.”

34 Aquinas 1964-76 I, quaest. 84, art. 7.

35 Scotus 1639, Opus Oxoniense I, dist. 3, quaest. 3.



A Comparison of the Thomist and Scotus positions

Thomas: 1. The proper object of the human intellect is the quiddity of material being (quidditas rei materiali )34

Scotus: 1*. The proper object of the human intellect is being in general (ens in quantum est )35

Thomas: 2. Only analogical predication holds between God and creatures36

Scotus: 2*. The concept of being holds univocally between God and creatures37

Thomas: 3. Man is a unity of single form (the rational soul)38

Scotus: 3*. Man is a composite of a plurality of forms (rational, sensitive, and vegetative souls)39


Thomas: 4. Prime matter is pure potency40

Scotus: 4*. Prime matter can subsist independently of form by God’s omnipotence41


Thomas: 5. The principle of individuation is signate matter (materia signata quantitate)42

Scotus: 5*. The principle of individuation is a haecceity, or form43


Thomas: 6. The immobility of the universe as a whole is the frame of reference for motion44

Scotus: 6*. Space is radically relative: there is no absolute frame of reference for motion45


Thomas: 7. Without motion there would be no time46

Scotus: 7*. Time is independent of motion47


If I may be permitted a certain level of generality, the first couple of theses present Scotus’ moderate Augustinianism, his commitment to the doctrine that humans have knowledge of

36 Aquinas 1964-76 I, quaest. 13, art. 5.

37 Scotus 1639, Opus Oxoniense, II, dist. 3, quaest. 2.

38 Aquinas 1964-76, I, quaest. 76, art. 3.

39 Scotus 1639, Opus Oxoniense, IV, dist. 11, quaest. 3.

40 Aquinas 1964-76, I, quaest. 66, art. 1.

41 Scotus 1639, Opus Oxoniense, II, dist. 12, quaest. 1.

42 Aquinas 1933, chap. 3.

43 Scotus 1639, Opus Oxoniense, II, dist. 3, quaest. 6.

44 Aquinas 1953, IV, lectio 8.

45 Duns Scotus 1639, Quaestiones Quodlibetales, quaest. XII.

46 Aquinas 1953, IV, lectio 16-17.

47 Scotus 1639, Quaestiones Quodlibetales, quaest. XI.


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infinite being,48 leading him even to accept the ontological argument in some fashion49 (as selfevident to us, and not as Thomas would have it,50 as merely self-evident in itself). Most of the other theses demonstrate Scotus’ attachment to the doctrine of God’s absolute omnipotence, causing him to reject or modify many propositions he thinks infringe too much upon that omnipotence.


Seventeenth Century Scotism


It is therefore necessary to discuss the destiny of these propositions in the seventeenth century, that is to ask whether or not they were generally supported by early modern scholastics.

On the key question of whether the proper object of the human intellect, that which is studied by the science of metaphysics, is the quiddity of material being (with the intellect proceeding up the hierarchy of beings ultimately by analogy alone) or whether it is being in general, Eustachius sides with Scotus (proposition 1*):

Philosophers differ on this matter. Some maintain that the object of metaphysics is God, others that it is separate substances, others that it is substance in general, others that it is finite (or so called predicated) being. All these definitions are too narrow, as will appear. Others extend its scope too far, when they say that the object of metaphysics is being taken in the broadest sense, to include both real entities and entities of reason; yet a true and real science, especially the foremost and queen of all the sciences, does not consider such tenuous entities in themselves, only accidentally. So the standard view is far more plausible, namely that the complete object of metaphysics in itself (for our question is not about its partial or incidental object) is real being, complete and in itself, common to God and created things.51

48 Though also attempting to avoid the extreme Augustinianism of Henry of Ghent. See Gilson’s discussion of this issue in Gilson 1952, 116-215.

49 Scotus 1639, Opus Oxoniense, I, dist. 2, quaest. 1 and elsewhere.

50 Cf. Aquinas 1964-76, I, quaest. 2, art. 1.

51 Eustachius 1629, Metaphysica, Praef. quaest, 2, p. 1. Trans. in ACS p. 92.


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Without referring to any particular authority, Eustachius rejects the Thomist position that the object of metaphysics is predicated being. Interestingly, after rejecting another position as too daring, he accepts the Scotist one, that the object of metaphysics is being, common to God and created things, as the standard view. Eustachius also accepts the proposition that God’s essence cannot be conceived except as existing:

Existence belongs to God and to created things, but with a difference. For God exists not through existence being added to his nature, but through his very essence (just as quantity is said to be extended through itself). But this is not true of created things, since their existence is accidental to their essence. Hence existence is essential to God, so that it is a contradiction that he should not exist, but existence is not essential to created things, which can either exist or not exist. Hence the divine nature cannot be conceived except as actually existing; for if it were conceived as not actually existing, there would be something missing in its perfection, which is quite inconsistent with its actual infinity. But the formal or essential concept of a created thing is distinct from its existence.52

And, consistently with the two previous passages, he argues that we can form concepts of God’s essence in this life (proposition 2*):

By means of the natural light we can even in this life have imperfect awareness of God, not merely of his existence but even of his essence. For by the power of natural inference we can infer that God is an infinite being, a substance that is uncreated, purest actuality, an absolutely primary cause, supremely good, most high and incomprehensible. All these things belong to God by his very essence, and indeed uniquely, since they cannot belong to any other being. Hence when I grasp in my mind an infinite or uncreated being, or some such, I fashion for myself a concept uniquely applicable to God, in virtue of which I

52 Eustachius 1629, Metaphysica, Pars II, Disp. II, quaest. 4, p. 24. Trans. in ACS pp. 95-96.


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have imperfect awareness of his essence. Hence we can in this life form concepts of God which are unique and proper to him.53

These passages suggest that Eustachius was structurally or fundamentally Scotist, not Thomist. It would not be difficult to document his support of any of the other Scotist theses-to show that he also accepts the plurality of forms (proposition 3*), for example.54 Yet, by themselves, the passages do not show that the intellectual context of early seventeenth-century France was Scotist. For that, one has to compare Eustachius and other French scholastics in the seventeenth century with respect to the key doctrines listed above. I discuss the issues of matter and form in seventeenth century scholasticism (propositions 4* and 5*) in chapter 4. It should suffice here to assert that Eustachius thinks that prime matter can subsist independently of form by God’s omnipotence (and so do de Raconis, Dupleix, and others, but not Toletus and the Coimbrans), and that he thinks that the principle of individuation is not signate matter, but a form (the same for de Raconis, Dupleix, and others). What follows is a sample of such comparisons for some issues dealing with space and time (propositions 6, 6* and 7, 7*). Again the pattern is that Jesuits (and Dominicans) generally take Thomas’ side, at least in the first half of the century, and the University of Paris doctors (and Franciscans) usually take  

53 Eustachius 1629, Metaphysica, Pars IV, Disp. III, quaest. 1, p. 71. Trans. in ACS p. 96. Eustachius continues, however, by denying that we can demonstrate God’s existence a priori, since God is not known to us per se nota (quaest. 2, pp. 73-74).

54 Eustachius 1629, Physica, Pars III, tract. I, disp. 1, quaest. 6, pp. 174-75. It should be noted that Jesuits were specifically required to teach that “there are not several souls in man, intellective, sensitive and vegetative souls, and neither are there two kinds of souls in animals, sensitive and vegetative souls, according Aristotle and the true philosophy,” see chapter 1. See also the discussion of what Emily Michael calls “Latin pluralism” in Michael 1997.


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Scotus’ side.55

The Relativity of Motion and Ideality of Time. To comprehend the debates about space one has to understand the context in which these debates were conducted, that is, the Aristotelian theory of place, which was itself developed against the backdrop of Platonic and atomist conceptions of space. Plato in the Timaeus56 held that space is an everlasting receptacle that provides a situation for all things that come into being. It is not clear whether Plato’s talk of space as a receptacle entailed its independent existence; according to Aristotle, Plato thought matter and space the same and identified space and place.57 Aristotle agreed. His primary concept was “place,” or location in space, as one might say, space being the aggregate of all places. He defined place as the boundary of a containing body in contact with a contained body that can undergo locomotion. But he also asserted that place is the innermost motionless boundary of what contains. Thus, the place of a ship in a river is not defined by the flowing waters, but by the whole river, because the river is motionless as a whole. These definitions gave rise to questions about whether place is itself mobile or immobile. They also engendered a problem about the place of the ultimate containing body, the ultimate sphere of a universe constituted from a finite number of homocentric spheres. If having a place depends on being contained, the ultimate sphere will not have a place since there is no body outside it to contain it. But the ultimate sphere, or heaven, needs to have a place because it rotates, and motion involves change of place. Aristotle recognized these difficulties.58 In part, his solution was a distinction between place per se and place per accidens. Place per se is the place that bodies capable of locomotion or growth must possess. Place per accidens is the place that some things possess  

55 A more complete comparison of all of these issues has to await the completion of the monograph I have been working on, All of Philosophy in Four Parts: School Doctrines in Descartes’ Century.

56 Timaeus 52a-2d.

57 Physics, 209b 11-16.

58 Physics 212b 7-12.


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indirectly, “through things conjoined with them, as the soul and the heaven. Heaven is, in a way, in place, for all its parts are; for on the orb, one part contains another.”59

Aquinas accepted and modified slightly Aristotle’s account of the place of the ultimate sphere; according to him, the parts of the ultimate sphere are not actually in place, but the ultimate sphere is in a place accidentally because of its parts, which are themselves potentially in place.60 He also rejected Averroes’ popular solution to the same problem, that the ultimate sphere is lodged because of its center, which is fixed.61 The technical vocabulary developed to interpret Aquinas’ view was a distinction between material place and formal place (where, in Aquinas’ vocabulary, formal place is the real ground or ratio of place). Place is then moveable accidentally (as material place) and immovable per se (as formal place, defined as the place of a body with respect to the universe as a whole). Thus the ship is formally immobile (with respect to the universe as a whole) when the waters flow around it. We can note that Averroes’ view required the immobility of the earth and that Aquinas’ view did not, though it did require the immobility of the universe as a whole. However, the Thomist views were not universally accepted, in part because they required the immobility of the universe. This view conflicted with part of the 1277 condemnation of the complex proposition “That God could not move the heavens in a straight line, the reason being that he would then leave a vacuum.”

Scotus and Scotists considerably modified Aristotle’s and Aquinas’ accounts. They rejected the distinction between material and formal place, arguing instead that place is a relation of the containing body with respect to the contained body. Place is then a relative attribute of these bodies. (They also made use of the term ubi, sometimes referred to as inner place, to denote the symmetric relation of the contained body with respect to the containing body). Since the

59 Aristotle 1910-52, Physics IV, chap. 5 (212b 12-14).

60 Aquinas 1953, IV, lectio 7, and De Natura Loci, Opusc. LII of Aquinas 1954. See also Duhem 1985, chap. 4-6.

61 Aquinas 1953, IV, lectio 8, and De Natura Loci, Opusc. LII of Aquinas 1954.


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relation changes with any change of either the contained body or the containing body-here contained or containing bodies-the place of a body does not remain the same when the matter around it changes, even though the body in question might remain immobile. When a body is in a variable medium, the body is in one place at an instant and in another at an other instant; to capture what is meant by the immobility of place, Scotists said that these two places are distinct but equivalent places from the view of local motion.62 On the question of the ultimate sphere, Scotus denied both Averroes’ and Aquinas’ solutions, claiming that heaven can rotate even though no body contained it and could rotate even if it contained no body; it could rotate even if it were formed out of a single homogeneous sphere. (Scotus even denied that the Empyrean heaven could have lodged the ultimate sphere.)63

The seventeenth century discussions of the two questions about the immobility of place and the place of the ultimate sphere generally followed the expected pattern. Toletus, for example, took Aquinas’ side against Scotus on the question of the immobility of place.64 So did Théophraste Bouju, who also kept some Averroist elements. Bouju asserted that place is moveable per se in what he called “lieu de situation” and per accidens in what he called “lieu environnant”:

The earth . . . is in a lieu environnant and can also be said to be in a lieu de situation with respect to the poles of the world. But it cannot change place with respect to its totality;  

62 Duns Scotus 1639, Quaestiones in librum II Sententiarum, dist. II, quaest. VI. See also Duhem 1985, chap. 4-6.

63 Duns Scotus 1639, Quaestiones Quodlibetales, quaest. XII.

64 Toletus 1589, IV, quaest. V: An locus sit immobilis, fol. 120r-121r. Cf. Grant 1976. Here is an abbreviated version of the doctrine, from du Moulin 1644, chap 9, Du Lieu et du Vide: “Le lieu particulier est la superficie interieure du corps, qui touche prochainement le corps contenu. Ainsi la superficie interieure d’un tonneau est le lieu du vin dont il est plein. Ce lieu est mobile. Mais il y a un lieu immobile, a savoir celuy qui se considere au regard de l’univers.”


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thus it is immobile in that respect and mobile only with respect to some parts that can be separated from the totality and moved into others. The firmament is also in a lieu de situation with respect to the earth, but it cannot change except with respect to its parts and not in its totality, in the fashion of the earth.65 Eustachius, in contrast, used Scotus’ vocabulary: place and ubi are relations between the containing and contained bodies, and places are the same by equivalence.66 So did Abra de Raconis, who even attributed the terminology to Scotus.67 Eustachius also developed, very briefly, some odd views about the place of the ultimate sphere. The place of the outermost sphere is internal place or space and external, but imaginary place.68 This seems to be a seventeenth

65 Bouju 1614, vol. I, pp. 458-59 (chap. VII: Comment le ciel et la terre sont en lieu, et peuvent estre dits se mouvoir de mouvement de lieu); see also vol. I, p. 460 (chap. IX: Que le lieu naturel est immobile).

66 Eustachius 1629, Physica, tract. III, 2nd disp., quaest. 1, Quid sit locus, p. 56-58.

67 Eustachius 1629, Physica IV, tract. II, sec. 3, pp. 205-06.

68 Eustachius 1629, Physica, tract. III, 2nd disp., quaest. 2, Quotuplex sit locus, p. 58-59. For more on imaginary place, see Grant 1981, chap. 6-7. There is a nice rejection of the doctrine of imaginary space on pp. 86-90 of Ceriziers’ Métaphysique (Ceriziers 1643): “On ne peut traitter de l’immensité de Dieu, sans toucher quelque chose: par ce mot d’imaginaires on entend un vuide infiny, qu’on feint au dela des cieux, ou l’on place cet estre tout parfait, de peur qu’il ne soit a l’estroit des vastes et larges voutes de l’empyrée. Ceux qui tiennent cette opinion s’appuyent de l’escriture et de la raison; de l’escriture qui assure que Dieu est plus haut que les cieux; de la raison qui ne peut souffrir qu’on limite une essence infinie. Qui ne voit que ce grand Vuide est un estre d’imagination, c’est à dire une chimere? Car ou ces espaces sont quelque chose, ou elles ne sont rien; si elles sont quelque chose de reel, on a tort de les nommer imaginaires; si elles ne sont rien, pourquoy on dit que Dieu est dans le rien? Mais quoy? Sa puissance peut creer un monde hors de celuy-cy, il faut donc qu’il soit dans cet espace, que ce nouveau monde occuperoit: je l’avoue, s’il y a un espace; mais s’il n’y en a point, il n’y est pas: or il n’y a point d’autre espace que celuy que nous y concevons possible: de sorte qu’on ne peut pas dire plus proprement que Dieu y est, que nous […]


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century development, since Abra de Raconis and others held a similar doctrine. De Raconis discussed two kinds of place, external and internal, external being the surface of the concave ambient body, and internal being the space occupied by the body.69 The ultimate heaven is in place internally, or occupies a space of three dimensions,70 given that the external place is the surface of the concave ambient body. “Imaginary place” thus became the standard answer to such questions as to where God could move the universe, if he chose to move it, and what there was before the creation of the universe, that is, before the creation of any corporeal substance. Imaginary places, however, were generally thought of not as real things, independent of body, but on the model of a privation of a measurable thing, like a shadow, given that a privation of a measurable thing can be measured.71 Similarly, it was held that no time elapsed when time and the world began, but that an immense privation of time-an imaginary time-had preceded the creation.

As is often the case, it was Dupleix who stated the contrast most sharply. He held that place is immobile in itself, while bodies change places. He took it that Aquinas had a different

[footnote continued]…dirions qu’il est en ces hommes qui naitront dans le siecle à venir.” Ceriziers’ opposition to any Godfilled imaginary space is an interesting counterpoint to his (ambiguous) acceptance of the relativity of motion in his Physics, p. 91: “Le lieu est donc la superficie du corps, qui nous entoure. D’ou il suit contre l’opinion du vulgaire, que nous pouvons changer de place sans nous remuer; et mesme que nous la changeons aussi souvent, que le vent agite l’air ou l’eau qui nous contient.”

69 The distinction between external and internal place (or space) can also be found in Toletus and the Coimbrans; but they do not use the distinction to resolve the two standard problems about the mobility of place and the place of the universe. For more on internal and external place, see Grant 1981, chap. 2.

70 Physica. IV, tract. II, sec. 1-2, pp. 204-05.

71 In his article on the void, Eustachius further clarified his notion of imaginary space above the heavens by asserting that it is not a vacuum, properly speaking; Eustachius 1629, Physica, tract II, 2nd. disp., quaest 5, An motus in vacuo fieri possit, p. 61. For more on imaginary space, see Leijenhorst 1996.  


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opinion, interpreting Aquinas’ doctrine of formal place as the view that one can imagine a distance from each place to certain parts of the world, with respect to which a given place, though changeable, may be said to be immobile. Dupleix raged against this doctrine:

But since all this consists only in useless imaginations, I am surprised that this opinion was received in several schools of philosophy; however, there are so many weak though opinionated brains who follow so closely the doctrine of certain persons that they would follow them right or wrong, and forget the golden sentence of the Philosopher: I am a friend of Socrates, a friend of Plato, but rather more a friend of truth. These are, I say, weak minds who resemble certain soldiers who would give such devoted service to a Lord that they would just as soon follow him to an unjust as to a just war.72

Dupleix preferred a doctrine that he attributed to Philoponus and Averroes, that when air is blowing around a house, one says that the place of the house changes accidentally. The house is in the same place by equivalence.

On the subject of the place of the universe, Dupleix also rejected Aquinas’ opinion, which he called completely wrong and a mistake. He said of Aquinas’ opinion “Mais c’est abuser et mescompter.”73 Dupleix also held that the heavens do not change place or move locally, since they merely rotate within their own circumference. Ultimately, Gaultruche, a Jesuit, rejected the Thomist doctrine of place, including the Thomist doctrine that the universe cannot move as a whole.74 As with matter and form, the debate about the concept of place was  

72 Dupleix 1990, pp. 149-50.

73 Dupleix 1990, p. 153.

74 Gaultruche 1665, vol. II, p. 331: “notabis vero 5. contra Thomistas; Perinde esse, an puncta illa distantiae sint realia, an solium fictitia et imaginaria. Nam saltem sunt virtualiter realia, quatenus idem per ea praestari potest, quod per realia formaliter. Atque hujusmodi quidem assignari possunt in iis spatiis, quae per imaginationem finguntur a nobis existere supra caelos. Prob. Quia mundus universus potest divinitus moveri sursum, aut deorsum motu recto; quo in casu mutaret locum; et consequenter mataret […]


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not completely settled by the second half of the seventeenth century.75 In sum, while late scholastics agreed in rejecting the independence of space from body, they disagreed about other important issues. Hidden within the debate between Thomists and Scotists on the question of the mobility/immobility of place and the place of the ultimate sphere were questions about the relativity of motion or reference for motion. Some thinkers supported a Thomist doctrine in which the motion of a body is referred to its place, conceived as its relation to the universe as a whole, a universe which is necessarily immobile; others supported a Scotist doctrine in which the motion of an object is referred to its place, conceived as a purely relational property of bodies.

In somewhat the same way as space, the concept of time involved questions about whether it is dependent or independent of bodies, whether it is mind-dependent, and whether there is an absolute reference for it or it is radically relative. One can find disagreement over such issues at the start of the seventeenth century. Many Aristotelians thought time dependent on bodies, but not mind-dependent. Others sided with Augustine, thinking it independent of the

[footnote continued]…etiam aliquas id genus distantias.” Lawrence Brockliss thinks that Gaultruche is representative of French Jesuits and argues that French Jesuits were not always strongly aligned with Thomism (Brockliss, 1992 and 1995); he may be right. However, I think the evidence supports a developmental thesis. The one French Jesuit author of a textbook before 1665, Ceriziers, holds various Thomistic doctrines which Gaultruche will reject, including that no matter can be without form (though with a modification): “on ne doit pas pourtant nier que Dieu ne puisse conserver la matière sans aucune forme, puis que ce sont deux estres distinguez, qui ne dependent pas d’avantage l’un de l’autre, que l’accident de la substance, qui se voit separé d’elle dans l’eucharistie” (pp. 51-52).

75 Although Scotists such as Frassen seem to have had the best of the argument (Frassen 1686, pp. 357) and others such as Barbay and the Jesuit Vincent opted for the middle ground (Barbay 1676, pp. 261-72; Vincent 1660, vol. 2, pp. 847-925), some Thomists resolutely maintained their position (Goudin 1864, vol. 2, pp. 504-506).


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motion of bodies.

For Aristotle, time is the “number” of motion, that is to say, time is the enumeration of motion. There cannot be any time without there being some change; we measure motion by time and time by motion. Consequently, there are as many times as there are motions and all are able to serve as the definition of time. However, the choice of a motion to measure time is not arbitrary. Although Aristotle thought that time has no reality outside of the motion it measures-“the before and after are attributes of movement, and time is these qua numerable”76-he did not think that time has no reality outside of the measurer of the motion.

Thomas seems to have accepted the Aristotelian doctrine that without motion there would be no time,77 but Scotus rejected many elements of Aristotle’s doctrine; inspired by Augustine’s theory of time, Scotus argued that even if all motion were to stop, time would still exist and would measure the universal rest.78 The standard late scholastic view seems to have been that time began with the motion of the heavens and will end with it also. Toletus argued a Thomistic line that if there is no motion, there is no generation or time;79 on the other hand, Eustachius  

76 Physics IV, chap. 14, 223a 28-29.

77Quod tempus non sit motus neque sit sine motu,” Aquinas 1953, IV, lectio 16, and “quod tempus sequitur motum,” lectio 17.

78 Scotus 1639, Quaestiones Quodlibetales, quaest. XI. Questions about the relativity of time also gained theological inspiration through the condemnations of 1277, especially the condemnation of the proposition “That if the heaven stood still, fire would not burn flax because God [time?] would not exist.” See also Duhem 1985, chap. 7-8. Similar arguments were later propounded by anti-Aristotelians. For example, Bernardino Telesio had asserted that Aristotle was right about the constant conjunction of time and motion, but misunderstood their true relation: “the fact that we always perceive them together is no reason to claim that one of them is the ground of the other, but only, what seems to be the case, that every motion occurs in its own time and that no motion can take place without time” (De rerum natura I, 29).

79 Toletus 1589, IIII, quaest. XII: An tempus sit numerus motus secundum prius, & posterius, fol. 142v-143v.


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argued for what may have been the successor to the Scotist line: time is divisible into real time and imaginary time, where imaginary time is that which we imagine precedes the creation of the world.80 And Dupleix referred favorably to Augustine’s account of time and talked of time measuring both motion and rest.81 René de Ceriziers summed up the apparent consensus about time in seventeenth century scholasticism: “Aristotle claims that time is the number of motion or of its parts, insofar as they succeed one another. Now it is certain that time is a work of our mind, since we construct a separated quantity from a continuous one, naming it the number of motion, that is, of the parts that we designate in it. There are two kinds of time: internal is the duration of each thing or its permanence in being, external is the measure of this duration.”82 De Ceriziers then discussed a criticism of the argument that time measures rest and is thus not dependent on motion: “rest is to time as darkness is to light; it is even impossible to understand rest except by relation to motion”; but he limited the critique, saying, “there is no being composed out of what is not . . . One can say that time is composed of instants or parts whose nature consists in existing by fleeing . . . Time is distinguished from motion and the existence of the being only by the various relations that things have among one another.”83 However, as with the questions about space, the debate about time, whether it is mind-dependent and whether it is dependent on motion, continued into the seventeenth century with the majority supporting a Scotist line and Dominicans such as Goudin supporting the Thomist position.84


80 Eustachius 1629, Physics, tract III, quaest. II: Quomodo distinguatur tempus a motu, pp. 63-64. See also Marandé 1642, p. 257: “Le temps imaginaire est celuy que nous figurons auparavant la creation.”

81 Dupleix 1990, pp. 299-303.

82 De Ceriziers 1643, vol. II, p. 100. The same distinction is made in Marandé 1641, p. 256.

83 De Ceriziers 1643, vol. II, pp. 102-103.

84 For example, see Frassen 1686 (quoting Scotus), pp. 400-402, and Goudin 1864 (quoting Thomas), vol. 2, pp. 483-485.


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Descartes’ Scotism


A recent commentator in an article about Descartes’ scholastic background, detailing Descartes’ possible knowledge of fourteenth-century philosophy, concluded that Descartes is “firmly rooted in a Scholastic tradition which is deeply in debt to Duns Scotus.”85 I can only agree. Descartes leans towards Scotism for every one of the Scotist theses, as long as they are at all relevant to his philosophy. It can be argued86 that Descartes agrees that the proper object of the human intellect is being in general; that the concept of being holds univocally between God and creatures;87 that extension subsists independently of any form; that the principle of individuation is soul, that is, a form;88 that space is radically relative;89 and that time is 85Normore 1986, p. 240. The sentence continues: “This makes the problem of Descartes’ immediate sources and the question of his originality even more puzzling.” In his article, Normore acknowledges the difficulty of comparing Cartesian philosophy to the philosophies of Aquinas and Suarez; because of that difficulty, he proposes to begin in the fourteenth century and work forward, rather than to work backward from Descartes. While I agree with the sentiment expressed, I think that one can progress from Descartes and his contemporaries to his potential sources, given that the fourteenth century doctrines are still alive in seventeenth century scholasticism. I hope to have identified some of the sources to be examined. 86Obviously, every one of these propositions might require an extended defence. 87See, for example, Vincent Carraud, “Arnauld: From Ockhamism to Cartesianism,” in Ariew and Grene 1995, pp. 110-128. In his article, Carraud compares Arnauld’s teaching in 1641 with Descartes’ philosophy, especially as it concerns the object of metaphysics and the univocity of being. At the Sorbonne, in 1641, Arnauld taught both propositions 1* and 2*, though he was forced to retract 2*.  

88 See chapter 7.

89 This is a very complex issue; on the question of the relativity of motion, see Garber 1992, chap. 6, and Des Chene 1995.


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independent of motion90 (i.e. propositions 1*, 2*, 4*, 5*, 6*, and 7*). Proposition 3*, on the plurality of forms, is moot, since for Descartes there is only one kind of form, mind; however, given that that form informs another substance, extension, Descartes still has Scotistic-type problems about the unity of man. Descartes, of course, also accepts the ontological argument and thinks that objective being requires a formal cause of its existence.

As Dalbiez stated, Descartes could have become aware of Scotist doctrines from a number of disparate sources. He could have been exposed to the commentaries of Cajetan in the master sixteenth century edition of Thomas’ works. He could have become acquainted with Scotist thought in the very commentaries from which he was taught-after all, they did generally give references to Scotus as an authority before rejecting his views. We should add that Descartes was often in Paris (that center of Scotist thought, we have argued) during the decade between his law degree at Poitier and his long-term retreat to the Netherlands. Moreover, Descartes frequented Dutch libraries in which he could have read Scotist philosophy: one can find Descartes’ name in the student registers of the University of Frankener in 1629; he presumably registered at the University in order to use its facilities. Thus, there are many possible sources for any Scotism in Descartes’ thought. Finally, we should emphasize that Descartes read Eustachius (and looked at de Raconis) in 1640. This is surely relevant to understanding any change in his thought before and after 1640-from the 1632 Le monde to the 1644 Principia, let us say.91

I should return briefly to Gilson in conclusion. The question is, given (what I believe is) very ample evidence of a Scotist climate in seventeenth century philosophy, how did Gilson miss  

90 Time is a difficult topic in Descartes’ philosophy; but what is clear is that “time adds nothing to duration taken in general except a mode of thought,” (Principles I, art 57), and duration is a mode of thought or extension. In this way, duration is independent of motion (although there is a dispute about whether motion is independent of duration). Cf. Garber 1992, pp. 173-176.

91 See chapter 1.


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it? First, he was obviously not anticipating great differences in seventeenth century scholasticism; given the dominance of Thomism in Rome during the sixteenth century, he must have expected Catholic schoolmen to follow along. He might not have been sufficiently attuned to differences within the Church (between the Roman Church and the Gallican Church, for example). Gilson thought that Eustachius faithfully summarized the teaching of the schools, but there was no reason to believe that those doctrines were the same in all schools, in the colleges of the University of Paris as well as in the Jesuit colleges (not to mention possible individual differences among philosophers).92 It would be worthwhile to remember that there were significant cultural and political differences between scholars and teachers of the University of Paris and those of the Jesuit colleges. Throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the University of Paris feuded with the Jesuits; the University waged three separate legal battles to prevent them from establishing a college in the city. From the 1560s, when Collège Clermont (the Jesuits’ main college in Paris) was first established, to their expulsion from France in 1595, to their re-establishment in France (and the subsequent establishment of the Collège de La Flèche in 1604), to the re-establishment of Collège Clermont in 1616 -even as late as the mid 1640s- the University tried to stop the Jesuits from teaching in Paris; it even refused to recognize degrees bestowed by them as equivalent to its own degrees for admittance into its graduate faculties of Law, Medicine, and Theology.93 The cultural opposition between Paris and the Jesuits was just as keen as their legal battles. As J.-R. Armogathe reminds us, Jesuits were foreigners: “in the France of Henry IV, ‘modernity’ spoke Latin; the use of French was the domain of the ‘bons français’, who were convinced that what came from beyond the Alps –  

92 For an example of an author influenced by Gilson’s treatment of Eustachius as a Thomist, please see Carriero 1990, especially the methodological remarks in the Preface, pp. v-ix.

93 See Douarche 1970.


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Jesuits, Italians, Latin – could only ruin the purity of the ancient ways that they wished to preserve or rediscover.”94

Naturally, political and cultural differences by themselves do not entail directly doctrinal differences. The question about whether Eustachius’ philosophy was the same as that of the Jesuits and Thomas might not have needed to be answered as long as Gilson limited himself to collecting various doctrines without actually making any claims about the relationship between Descartes and the scholastics as a whole.

Gilson’s expectations might have been reinforced by the resurgence and dominance of Thomism for Catholics in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (due to the 1878 encyclical Aeterni Patris of Leo XIII, a kindred spirit to Pius V). In any case, not expecting great differences among seventeenth century scholastics, Gilson did not try to locate any. In the Index, Gilson did not generally quote Eustachius and Thomas and the Jesuits on the same topics (cf. the Appendix). And when he did, it was usually on different aspects of the issue. Given the passages Gilson does quote in the Index, it would be difficult to determine that the philosophers cited held conflicting opinions (even if one can sometimes sense their divergences). Had he probed deeper, Gilson would have found that he was right in saying that Eustachius “faithfully summarizes scholastic teaching,” but not in the way he meant it. Ironically, Eustachius did faithfully summarize the teaching of the University of Paris, a teaching that leaned toward Scotism rather than Thomism.

94 J.-R. Armogathe, “L’approche lexique en histoire de la philosophie,” p. 59 in Fattori 1997.

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