Between Medieval and Modern Beholding: Heidegger, Deleuze and the Duns Scotus Affair
John Duns Scotus (1265/66-1308) has long been a controversial figure. In his lifetime, he divided opinion as consequence of his philosophy and theology. Such was his notoriety that he was even decried as a heretic by Jean de Pouilly, professor of theology in Paris in 1309. Both Scotus’ life and his ideas have had repercussions through the intervening centuries. In recent times, interest in Scotus has not been confined to medieval studies: European philosophers influenced by Martin Heidegger (1889-1976) and Gilles Deleuze (1925-95) now regard him as a major point of reference in the genesis of both Heideggerian phenomenology and Deleuzeian post-structuralism. In particular, Scotus’ concept of ‘haecceitas’ (‘thisness’) proved decisive for the early Heidegger: in it he found a principle of individuality and unrepeatability that would influence the framing of existential philosophy and his treatment of the question of being. Gilles Deleuze, for his part, considered Scotus’ arguments on the univocity of being to be the first point in a ‘secret history’ of philosophy. In what is now regarded as his masterwork, Deleuze, in his 1968 Difference and Repetition, commented that the philosophy of univocity runs from Scotus to Spinoza to Nietzsche to Heidegger and ultimately to Deleuze himself.1 ‘There has only ever been one ontological proposition: Being is univocal. There has only ever been one ontology, that of Duns Scotus, which gave being a single voice’.2 Engaging with Scotus is necessary for readers of both Heidegger and Deleuze and it is likely that his works will remain an essential point of reference for philosophers in the European tradition, alongside Plato and Aristotle, in debates surrounding the concept of being.