Soto, Dominic de (1494–1560)

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Dominic de Soto, the Dominican scholastic theologian, was born at Segovia, Spain, and died at Salamanca. He studied at Alcalá de Henares and became a professor of philosophy there after advanced studies at the University of Paris. Entering the Dominican order in 1524, Soto taught theology from 1525 onward at the University of Salamanca. He was very active in the deliberations of the Council of Trent. Soto's writings include two commentaries on Aristotle (In Dialecticam Aristotelis, Salamanca, 1543; In Libros Physicorum, Salamanca, 1545). Theological works containing some philosophical thought are Summulae (4 vols., Burgos, 1529); De Natura et Gratia (Venice, 1547); and the treatise De Justitia et Jure (Justice and the law; Salamanca, 1556).

One of the founders of the school of Spanish Thomism, Soto had his own opinions on many philosophical questions. Like John Duns Scotus, he denied the usual Thomistic distinction between essence and existence. In theory of knowledge, he also showed the influence of Scotism, teaching that the primary object of human understanding is indeterminate being in general. His psychology followed that of Thomas Aquinas, with strong emphasis on the intellectual functions: the intellect is a nobler power than the will. Soto is an important figure in the philosophy of law and politics. He violently criticized the theory of the state of pure human nature, as popularized by Cardinal Cajetan and Francisco Suárez. Unlike his teacher, Francisco de Vitoria, Soto taught that law stems from the understanding rather than from the will of the legislator; he clearly differentiated natural law, which depends on the real natures and relations of things, from positive law, which results from a decision of the legislator (De Justitia I, 1, 1). In political philosophy he represents a growing tendency toward democratic thinking in Renaissance scholasticism: Both civil and ecclesiastical power derive ultimately from God, but the civil power proceeds through the medium of society; the people concretize the authority received from God in the persons whom they designate as rulers. Soto is also regarded as one of the founders of the general theory of international law.

See also Aristotle; Cajetan, Cardinal; Philosophy of Law, History of; Philosophy of Law, Problems of; Renaissance; Scotism; Suárez, Francisco; Thomas Aquinas, St.; Thomism; Vitoria, Francisco de.


De Justitia et Jure has been translated into Spanish by Jaime T. Ripoll as Tratado de la justicia y del derecho. 2 vols. (Madrid, 1926).

For literature on Soto, see A. J. Carlyle, History of Mediaeval Political Theory (Edinburgh, 1950), Vol. VI, pp. 254258; T. Davitt, The Nature of Law (St. Louis: Herder, 1951), pp. 161177; and Beltrán de Heredia, "El maestro Domingo (Francisco) de Soto," in La ciencia tomista 43 (1931): 357373.

Vernon J. Bourke (1967)