Duns Scotus holds that if the intellect had unconditional control over its cognitive acts, then, for example, cognizing a fly with a high degree of attention may be more intellectually rewarding than cognizing God, but with a low degree of attention. However, he also holds that we are totally free to know material things when we want and to the degree that we pay attention to them. How can these two positions be reconciled? In this paper I present Scotus’ original answer to the question and his rejection of the extreme views of two prominent contemporaries: Peter of John Olivi and Godfrey of Fontaines.
Godfrey of Fontaines was a Master of Theology at the University of Paris in a period when free will was a much-debated topic. He claimed that immateriality is the root of freedom. Why? I argue that, since she has an immaterial soul, a human being is able to have ‘perfect cognition’ of her end. That is, she is able to apprehend the nature of her end, the means to that end and the relationship between the two. For Godfrey, a human being has control over her actions by acting with such an apprehension and therefore acts freely.
Depicted on medieval drawings we see the embryo’s animation. Hidden inside a woman’s belly the soul’s recipient is formed out of different bodily substances. Those substances themselves are a mix of material and immaterial things. Scholastics held complex discussions about the relation of spiritual and bodily matters, which cut through a variety of topics like heredity, Immaculate Conception, and resurrection. This paper suggests that we get new insights into major medieval debates by looking at the embryo as a combination of body and soul. Additionally we could rethink the tension of materiality and immateriality.