THE NATURAL LAW AND THE DECALOGUE IN ST. THOMAS AQUINAS AND BLESSED JOHN DUNS SCOTUS
What are the philosophical reasons why Duns Scotus says that God can grant dispensations to the last seven precepts of the Decalogue, whereas St. Thomas denies that God can do so? Duns Scotus's explicit arguments for his inclusion are based on the sovereign liberty of God. For example: because God is free in relation to created objects, argues Duns Scotus, it follows that created objects do not, absolutely speaking, necessitate love from an ordinate or moral will. Since the Decalogue's last seven precepts directly concern created objects, rather than God, they cannot be absolutely necessary. Basing themselves on such arguments, interpreters of Duns Scotus have concluded that what ultimately decides the question for Duns Scotus is his concern for God's liberty, with the implication that somehow his distinctive notion divine liberty explains his disagreement on this point with St. Thomas Aquinas. This dissertation, however, argues that Duns Scotus's notion of divine liberty is not the ultimate reason why he disagrees with St. Thomas on this point. Duns Scotus's notion of divine liberty is not all that distinctive: he and St. Thomas agree that, excepting inherent contradictions, God is free to do anything whatsoever. The range of God's freedom is neither more nor less in Duns Scotus than it is in St. Thomas. Rather, the ultimate source for the disagreement between St. Thomas and Duns Scotus on this point is their notions of human liberty. Duns Scotus's notion of human liberty leads him to emphasize the uniqueness and transcendence of the human will. In fact he stresses the will's transcendence so much that it would be contradictory for him to hold, in his ethics, that the human will must be guided by natural inclinations in man toward created perfections. Hence for Duns Scotus the will's essential moral perfection simply transcends the relation of the whole man to created objects. St. Thomas, on the contrary, intimately links the will with the rest of man in his metaphysical and psychological doctrines of the will. Hence in his ethics St. Thomas concludes that the moral rule is a right reason regulated by the natural inclinations to the perfections of every essential part of man. St. Thomas's insistence on the will's integral unity with the rest of man leads him to insist equally on man's essential ethical relations to temporal, created objects. In Duns Scotus, the will's utter uniqueness and transcendence lead to opposite results.
WILLIAM PATRICK LEE,
"THE NATURAL LAW AND THE DECALOGUE IN ST. THOMAS AQUINAS AND BLESSED JOHN DUNS SCOTUS"
(January 1, 1980).
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