National Dunce Day is celebrated on November 8th of each year in remembrance of Blessed John (Johannes) Duns Scotus who died November 8, 1308.
Scotus has had considerable influence on Catholic thought. The doctrines for which he is best known are the ‘univocity of being,’ that existence is the most abstract concept we have, applicable to everything that exists; the formal distinction, a way of distinguishing between different aspects of the same thing; and the idea of haecceity, the property supposed to be in each individual thing that makes it an individual. Scotus also developed a complex argument for the existence of God, and argued scripturally for the Immaculate conception of Mary.
Scotus was known as ‘Doctor Subtilis’ because of the subtle distinctions and nuances of his thinking. Later philosophers in the 16th century were less complimentary about his work and accused him of sophistry. This lead to his name, ‘dunce’ to become synonymous for ‘somebody who is incapable of scholarship’, or ‘someone who stubbornly refuses to learn anything new.’
Along with the name Dunce was born the Dunce cap. The Dunce cap is a pointy hat and in popular culture is typically made of paper and often marked with a D or the world Dunce. The Dunce cap is given to schoolchildren to wear as punishment by public humiliation for misbehavior and stupidity. While this is now rare practice, it is frequently depicted in popular culture such as animated television series.