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Proceedings of the American Catholic Philosophical Association

Volume 83, 2009

Reason in Context

Colin Connors
Pages 141-153

Scotus and Ockham
Individuation and the Formal Distinction

This paper is a defense of John Duns Scotus’s theory of individuation against one of William of Ockham’s objections. In the Ordinatio II. D.3. P. 1, John Duns Scotus argues for the existence of haecceity, a positive, indivisible distinction which makes an individual an individual rather than a kind of thing. He argues for the existence of haecceity by arguing for a form which is a “real less than numerical unity” and is neither universal nor singular. In the Summa Logicae, William of Ockham objects to Scotus’s theory of haecceity by attacking his theory of universals, claiming that the same thing would be proper and common simultaneously. The basis of Ockham’s objections is that only a real distinction is possible: if things are distinct, then they can exist separately. Without universals, a principle of individuation is unnecessary. To defend Scotus’s principle of individuation, an account and defense of the formal distinction is necessary. Without the formal distinction, metaphysical categories, such as being and one, are incoherent or contradictory. The formal distinction gives rise to a new law of contradiction: two or more entities are formally distinct if and only if contradiction or non-being results from their separation and the properties of one being do not match the properties of the other being(s)