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American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly

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published on May 15, 2019

Thomas M. Ward

A Most Mitigated Friar
Scotus on Natural Law and Divine Freedom

In his ethical writings, Duns Scotus emphasized both divine freedom and natural goodness, and these seem to conflict with each other in various ways. I offer an interpretation of Scotus which takes seriously these twin emphases and shows how they cohere. I argue that, for Scotus, all natural laws obtain just by the natures of actual things. Divine commands, such as the Ten Commandments, contingently track natural laws but do not make natural laws to be natural laws. I present textual evidence for this claim. I also show how this view of Scotus on the natural law is consistent with a number of troubling passages. Scotus’s ethical theory implies that there are genuinely moral reasons for acting which are not absolutely binding (because subject to a divine command or permission otherwise) and also some moral reasons for acting which are absolutely binding (because not thus subject).

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