In spite of the gulf that separates the transcendent God from the finite human, each effect was seen by the Aristotelians as resembling its cause. The creature has a likeness to God insofar as he is an effect of God. God is the uncaused cause and is the metaphysical ground or all subsequent predication. Humans possess divine names merely by analogy . It is at this point that the philosophical problem of univocity enters into the question. It was Duns Scotus for whom this became a serious philosophical issue. In order to understand how, it is important to explore Aristotle’s “Categories.” For Aristotle, in this work, predicates can be either essential/substantial or accidental. In the case of a substantial predicate, one looks at the kind of thing a subject is. In the case of accidental predicates, we are looking at non-essential attributes of the subject. In the Metaphysics, however, the concepts of “unity” and “being” stand out as features of things which go beyond the classificatory scheme that is outlined in the “Categories.” These features were known by the medievals as “transcendnetals.” It was Duns Scotus for whom the transcendentals became a major issue.
The primary theological opponent of Scotus was not Aquinas, but Henry of Ghent. Henry embarked upona distinct interpretation of the doctrine of the analogy of being. He argued that analogy actually presupposed univocity. Henry believed that being was the first notion to be generated in the mind of the subject. It is, furthermore, univrsal. Some scholars, however, argue that Henry rejected the idea of univocal commonality between creatures and Creator and held, with Aquinas, “a community of analogy between the two orders,” as Tonner says.
In any case, for the 13th century Aristotelians, “being was analogous rather than univocal, with analogy being seen as a middle way between equivocity and univocity. They did not want the word “being” to be univocal because it would then maintain the same meaning in all its embodiments. If it were equivocal, however, we would not have knowledge of God at all. Th medieval Aristotelians did not want being to be univocal because it would compromise God’s transcendence and they did not want it to be equivocal because then no knowledge of God could be had at all. Instead, they insisted that being was analogical. It was Scotus who rejected the idea that being was analogical. Instead, he argued that there was a notion o being, and of other transcendentals, that was univocal to God and creatures, as well as to the other transcendentals. Scotus was concerned that, if Henry of Ghent’s doctrine of analogy were correct, we could not have knowledge of God. Indeed, if God is so absolutely transcendent that the divine nature of God has nothing “creaturely” about it, that is, if he has no reality in common with creatures, how can we know him at all? Henry and Scotus, to be sure, both held that natural knowledge of God was possible. Henry even held that knowledge of anything at all, for the human, entailed knowledge of God. “Being” and other transcendentals applied to God in a primary sense and to be creatures secondarily.
Scotus, on the other hand, completely rejected the analogical view of being and argued for univocity. He argued that being and the other transcendentals were univocal both when applied to substance and accident, as well as to creatures and God. It was only in this way, according to Scotus, that univocity allowed knowledge of God. For Henry, however, “being” reduced to two completely distinct concepts. Infinite being that is proper to God and finite being that is property of categories and creatures. These were the only two kinds of being. There is infinite being and finite being but no other being. Scotus, for his part, argued that it was impossible to argue that being resolved itself into the two distinct notions of finite and infinite, totally void of any conceptual commonality between them, since this would compromise knowledge of God by man.
Scotus argued that since it is possible to doubt whether God is infinite or finite while also being certain that God is a being, it is therefore the case that the concept of being is not reducible to Henry’s two notions. Instead, the concept of being is different from the concepts of “finite” being and “infinite” being. This is because an intellect cannot be both doubtful and certain of something at the same time. Indeed, philosophers have agreed that the first principle is a being while nonetheless disagreeing about whether or not it is finite. It is therefore the case that being is distinct from infinite and finite. It is possible for something to be a “being” without it necessarily being either finite or infinite. It is therefore the case, argued Scotus, that this distinct form of being that is neither finite nor infinite is applicable to both God and creature.
That God is either a finite or infinite being becomes a question secondary to his existence. But this argument presupposes a certainty about something about God otherwise it would begin from premises doubting the existence of God. Therefore, the concept of being is understood as distinct from the concepts of finitude and infinitty. Failure to admit this means that mean that no reasoning about God is possible. Univoity of being must therefore be true of reasoning about God. Scotus therefore insisted that theologians who denied univocal being nonetheless did rely upon it in discussing God, and so they were being inconsistent.
They presupposed this univocity without even being aware of it. To be sure, Scotus accepted the notion of analogy, but he insisted that there must be some grounding shared univocally by both God and humans. “Being” can be predicated of both God and humans, therefore, in their opposition to nothingness. God and humans both exist, and words such as “existence” and “being” share a univocal ground between the two. This notion came to be highly influential in the work of the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze. He argued that being is univocal insofar as all being is opposed to nothingness. He nonetheless insisted that Scotus did not go far enough, insofar as he still maintained God’s transcendence. For Deleuze, on the contrary, all being shares a single plane of immanence.