Archive for September, 2008

DE&E: Chapter 3:3

Tuesday, September 30th, 2008

In the previous paragraph, Thomas discussed how an essence cannot be considered either one or many. In paragraph 3 of chapter 3 of De Ente et Essentia, Thomas discusses the implications of this.

The nature considered in this way, however, has a double existence. It exists in singulars on the one hand, and in the soul on the other, and from each of these there follow accidents.

By “nature”, Thomas means the essence of a being. By “singulars”, Thomas means individual beings that have the given essence. You and I, for example, have the essence of human beings. Clearly, the essence of being human exists in me; and I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt.

Second, when I apprehend another human being, that essence exists in my soul, which is to say, as a concept in my intellect.

In singulars, furthermore, the essence has a multiple existence according to the multiplicity of singulars.

And then, of course, there are many human beings, and all of them possess human nature (though some of them I wonder about).

Nevertheless, if we consider the essence in the first, or absolute, sense, none of these pertain to the essence. For it is false to say that the essence of man, considered absolutely, has existence in this singular, because if existence in this singular pertained to man insofar as he is man, man would never exist outside this singular.

In other words, if it was part of the essence of man that I, personally, am a man, then I’d by definition be the only man–because no one else is me. So while the essence of man exists in me, this fact is not part of the essence of man.

Similarly, if it pertained to man insofar as he is man not to exist in this singular, then the essence would never exist in the singular.

So the essence of man cannot preclude the existence of that essence in individual men.

But it is true to say that man, but not insofar as he is man, has whatever may be in this singular or in that one, or else in the soul. Therefore, the nature of man considered absolutely abstracts from every existence, though it does not exclude the existence of anything either. And the nature thus considered is the one predicated of each individual.

So, then, the essence of man neither requires nor denies the existence of any individual man. And it is the essence understood in this way that is predicated of each individual man.

Given that existence is not a predicate, that makes perfect sense. (Or perhaps I’m fooling myself. But at the very least, I’m clueless at a higher level than I used to be.)

CT 76: Freedom of Choice in Intellectual Substances

Monday, September 29th, 2008

Thomas has established that there are incorporeal beings, and that these beings are intellects. In Chapter 76, he shows that they must have free will.

This fact shows that such beings have freedom of choice.

That is, that such beings are intellects.

The intellect does not act or desire without forming a judgment, as lifeless beings do, nor is the judgment of the intellect the product of natural impulse, as in brutes, but results from a true apprehension of the object. For the intellect perceives the end, the means leading to the end, and the bearing of one on the other. Hence the intellect can be the cause of its own judgment, whereby it desires a good and performs an action for the sake of an end. But what is a cause unto itself, is precisely what we call free. Accordingly the intellect desires and acts in virtue of a free judgment, which is the same as having freedom of choice. Therefore the highest substances enjoy freedom of choice.

In other words, unlike animals, which are more-or-less programmed to act in ways that are good for them, intellects can perceive a good, can perceive what steps to take to achieve that good, and can then will to take take those steps based on its judgement. It can thereby cause itself to take those steps; and as I emphasized in the passage above, that’s precisely what it means to be free: to be able to cause oneself to do one thing or another.

Furthermore, that is free which is not tied down to any one definite course. But the appetite of an intellectual substance is not under compulsion to pursue any one definite good, for it follows intellectual apprehension, which embraces good universally. Therefore the appetite of an intelligent substance is free, since it tends toward all good in general.

In other words, there are many goods to choose from, and the intellect is free to choose from among them.

This is an interesting point. Peter Kreeft points out that we must have free will, even in Heaven; which means that we must have choices, all of which are good. Where there is only one good choice, and with sin being entirely in the past (thus eliminating the ability to make bad choices), there can be no free will. So we will have choices of good things in Heaven.

You’ll hear people say, “God has an amazing plan for your life.” I’ve always taken this to mean that God has some particular path He wants me to follow: not just in general, to Him, but in every specific. And that, if I were to truly turn to Him and obey all His promptings, that’s the path I’d follow. But apparently that’s not the case. All good roads lead to God, and Christ is the Way; but Christ is God and God is infinite. There are apparently many ways I can choose to serve God, all of which are good. I must follow God, no matter what way I go, but it’s neat to think that it isn’t all scripted, and that He lets me participate in it in a very real way.

But I digress.

DE&E: Chapter 3:2

Sunday, September 28th, 2008

Thomas continues describing the essence of a thing. There’s a lot packed into this short paragraph:

The nature, however, or the essence thus understood can be considered in two ways.

OK; we’ll take them in turn.

First, we can consider it according to its proper notion, and this is to consider it absolutely. In this way, nothing is true of the essence except what pertains to it absolutely: thus everything else that may be attributed to it will be attributed falsely. For example, to man, in that which he is a man, pertains animal and rational and the other things that fall in his definition; white or black or whatever else of this kind that is not in the notion of humanity does not pertain to man in that which he is a man.

In other words, Socrates is a man; and when we say that we say that he is a rational animal, and that he is a being composed of matter and the form of humanity. We do not address his color, wisdom, ethnicity, cleanliness, location, or what have you.

This is not a surprise; these things are clearly accidents. So why bring it up here?

Hence, if it is asked whether this nature, considered in this way, can be said to be one or many, we should concede neither alternative, for both are beyond the concept of humanity, and either may befall the conception of man. If plurality were in the concept of this nature, it could never be one, but nevertheless it is one as it exists in Socrates. Similarly, if unity were in the notion of this nature, then it would be one and the same in Socrates and Plato, and it could not be made many in the many individuals.

Aha! If the essence were many, then it can’t be one; and yet it is one in Socrates. Thus, Thomas avoids nominalism. But if the essence were a unity, then it would be one in the same in Socrates, Plato, me, you, and Thomas himself, and we would all be one Man, rather than many men. Thus, Thomas avoids Platonic idealism. I suspect he got this example from Aristotle; and I wonder if it tickled Aristotle to use Plato in this context.

Instead, quantity evidently isn’t a concept that applies to essences.

OK, that was the first sense; what’s the second?

Second, we can also consider the existence the essence has in this thing or in that: in this way something can be predicated of the essence accidentally by reason of what the essence is in, as when we say that man is white because Socrates is white, although this does not pertain to man in that which he is a man.

So anything that can be predicated of this man can be predicated of Man in general. I fancy what he’s talking about here is the extension of the term man: in this sense, Man consists of all men with all of their accidents.

Words that Grow

Sunday, September 28th, 2008

Just Thomism has a fantastic post on the meanings of terms like form, matter, and substance as they were used by St. Thomas. The post explains a great deal of my frustration over the last six months; every time I think I’ve got a term figured out, it seems to shift a bit. JT explains why–and that it really does make sense.

I wish I’d read something like this six months ago. Of course, six months ago I probably wouldn’t have been in a position to appreciate it.

CT 75: Intellectual Substances

Saturday, September 27th, 2008

Incorporeal substances, those really existing beings who consist of form only, with no matter, must also be intellectual. Once again, in Chapter 75, Thomas is speaking of angels:

The substances mentioned above, which are called immaterial, must also be intellectual. A being is intellectual for the reason that it is free from matter. This can be perceived from the very way it understands. The intelligible in act and the intellect in act are the same thing. But it is clear that a thing is intelligible in act because it is separated from matter, we cannot have intellectual knowledge of material things except by abstracting from matter. Accordingly we must pronounce the same judgment regarding the intellect; that is, whatever is immaterial, is intellectual.

This point is implicit in everything Thomas has covered so far; this is basic Aristotelian logic. We sense things by their appearance, but we know them by their form, which we must abstract from matter. The concept I have in my mind and the form of the being I know are one and the same! (If you deny this, you fall either to the Scylla of Platonic Idealism on the one hand, or the Charybdis of Nominalism on the other.) And since that form is abstracted from matter, it is immaterial, the intellect that knows it must also be immaterial.

In short, given the intellectual basis of Thomas’ thought this is a fairly straightforward point, even if it seems weird to us. But then, our modern modes of thinking are steeped in Nominalism.

Furthermore, immaterial substances hold the first place and are supreme among beings; for act naturally has precedence over potency. But the intellect is clearly superior to all other beings; for the intellect uses corporeal things as instruments. Therefore immaterial substances must be intellectual.

Act is greater than potency, and matter is the principle of potency, so immaterial beings are greater than material beings. And intellect is superior to corporeal beings, because it can make use of them, but the reverse is not true. Somehow these points combine to indicate that the immaterial must be intellectual. I don’t see it; the argument seems backwards in some way. But I’m just beginning my study of Aristotelian logic.

Moreover, the higher a thing is in the scale of being, the closer it draws to likeness with God. Thus we observe that some things, those pertaining to the lowest degree, such as lifeless beings, share in the divine likeness with respect to existence only; others, for example, plants, share in the divine likeness with respect to existence and life; yet others, such as animals, with respect to sense perception. But the highest degree, and that which makes us most like to God, is conferred by the intellect. Consequently the most excellent creatures are intellectual. Indeed, they are said to be fashioned in God’s image for the very reason that among all creatures they approach most closely to likeness with God.

All creatures are made in the likeness of God; this must clearly be true, since their purpose is to manifest His Perfections, and they can only do so by being like Him. Of all material creatures, we human beings are most like God, and we are so especially in that which distinguishes us from all other animals, our intellect; and it’s reasonable that those beings greater than us, more like God, would retain intellect while losing matter.

DE&E: Chapter 3:1

Friday, September 26th, 2008

As Chapter 3 of De Ente et Essentia opens, we get to think see just how the term essence relates to the genus, species, and difference we’ve been discussing.

Having seen what the term essence signifies in composite substances, we ought next see in what way essence is related to the logical intentions of genus, species, and difference.

I still haven’t quite come to grips with the use of the term intention in this context. But genus, species, and difference are three of the five “predicables”, the five kinds of things which may be predicated of a substance, though I venture to guess that in this context, as intentions, Thomas is referring to them as subjects rather than as predicates.

Since that to which the intentions of genus or species or difference is appropriate is predicated of this signate singular, it is impossible that a universal intention, like that of the species or genus, should be appropriate to the essence if the genus or species is signified as a part, as in the term humanity or animality.

Socrates has humanity; but he also has matter. If we wish to say that Socrates is a man, the notion of “a man” needs to include matter, even if non-signate. Humanity is the special form of man, but as man is a composite of form and matter, it’s only part.

The other day, I suggested that this is the distinction between comprehension and extension of a term. The comprehension of a term is its meaning, a set of predicates, and the extension of a term is the set of things to which it refers. But I don’t think that’s right. Thomas is doing something different here.

Thus, Avicenna says, Metaphysicae V, cap. 6, that rationality is not the difference but the principle of the difference. For the same reason, humanity is not a species, and animality is not a genus.

Rather, “man” is the species, and humanity the special form.

Similarly, we cannot say that the intention of species or genus is appropriate to the essence as to a certain thing existing beyond singulars, as the Platonists used to suppose,….

The exact sense of the words Thomas is using here eludes me no matter how I look at it; but what he’s talking about are the Platonic Ideas: the notion that the ideas of Humanity and Animality and (for all I know) Chairness exist all by themselves, independent of any particular Human or Animal or Chair or any mind to know them. Thomas doesn’t buy this idea, and why?

…for then the species and the genus would not be predicated of an individual: we surely cannot say that Socrates is something that is separated from him, nor would that separate thing advance our knowledge of this singular thing.

We wish to know Socrates. If Humanity exists wholly apart from Socrates, then in what way can knowing Humanity tell us anything about Socrates?

And so the only remaining possibility is that the intention of genus or species is appropriate to the essence as the essence is signified as a whole, as the term man or animal implicitly and indistinctly contains the whole that is in the individual.

I don’t quite see what Thomas means by “the intention of species is appropriate to the essence as the essence is signified as a whole”. Or, rather, I think I know what he means: he means that a thing’s species describes a thing’s essence when you consider essence as defining the whole of the thing, not just its form. I don’t see why he used the exact words he used.

CT 74: Incorporeal Substances Requisite for the Perfection of the Universe

Thursday, September 25th, 2008

Having said a great deal about God, in Chapter 74 Thomas begins to talk about the highest creatures, which are incorporeal substances. He doesn’t use the word “angel”, at least not yet, but that’s what we’re getting to.

A being is noble and perfect in the measure that it approaches likeness to God, who is pure act without any admixture of potency. Therefore beings that are supreme among entities must be more in act and must have less of potency, whereas inferior beings must be more in potency. How this is to be understood, we must now examine.

God is pure act, and is greater than beings with mostly act and only a little potency, which are greater than beings with less act and more potency. Got it.

Since God is eternal and immutable in His being, those things are lowest in the scale of being, as possessing less likeness to God, which are subject to generation and corruption. Such beings exist for a time, and then cease to be. And, since existence follows the form of a thing, beings of this kind exist while they have their form, but cease to exist when deprived of their form. Hence there must be something in them that can retain a form for a time, and can then be deprived of the form. This is what we call matter. Therefore such beings, which are lowest in degree among things, must be composed of matter and form.

That is to say, the beings lowest in the scale of being are composite beings of the sort Thomas has been discussing in the first couple of sections of De Ente et Essentia: beings like me and you and your dog and your prize rose bush, things that can be born and then later die. As I’ve been blogging excessively about such beings, I won’t belabor it here.

But beings that are supreme among created entities approach most closely to likeness with God. They have no potency with regard to existence and non-existence; they have received everlasting existence from God through creation. Since matter, by the very fact that it is what it is, is a potency for that existence which is imparted through form, those beings which have no potency for existence and nonexistence, are not composed of matter and form, but are forms only, subsisting in their being which they have received from God. Such incorporeal substances must be incorruptible. For all corruptible beings have a potency for non-existence; but incorporeal beings have no such potency, as we said. Hence they are incorruptible.

In short, angels. They are not born; they do not die; they cannot be killed. They have no matter, for matter is that which has the potency for existence and non-existence, for generation and corruption. They were created directly by God.

Furthermore, nothing is corrupted unless its form is separated from it, for existence always follows form. Since the substances in question are subsisting forms, they cannot be separated from their forms, and so cannot lose existence. Therefore they are incorruptible.

Being pure form, with no matter, they cannot lose their form. Since that’s what corruption–death–means, they cannot die.

Between those two poles, we have yet another excursion into Medieval Science. The folks in the Middle Ages were a lot smarter and more knowledgeable than they usually get credit for, but their notions of physics and astronomy were lacking:

Between the extremes mentioned, there are certain intermediate beings which have no potency for existence and nonexistence, but which have a potency for ubi, or presence in place. Such are the heavenly bodies, which are not subject to generation and corruption, since contrarieties are not found in them. However, they are changeable according to local presence. Thus in some beings there is found matter as well as motion. For motion is the act of a being in potency. Accordingly such bodies have matter that is not subject to generation and corruption, but is subject only to change of place.

The planets were believed to be perfect heavenly objects which were neither born nor died, and which never changed, except in place. Thus they have a potency for “ubi”, as he calls it; think of the word “ubiquitous”. They can move from place to place, they have a potency to be somewhere else. Since matter is that which has potency, the planets must involve matter, though not matter that is subject to generation and corruption.

I find this last paragraph interesting for what it doesn’t say…which is that the higher beings of pure form either have no potency, including the potency for “ubi”, or they have a limited potency that doesn’t involve matter. In the former case, this implies that angels aren’t really located anywhere. I’m quite curious to see which it is; but no doubt Thomas will get there eventually.

DE&E: Chapter 2:14

Wednesday, September 24th, 2008

Wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles, we are finally about to conclude Chapter 2 of De Ente et Essentia. And in this paragraph we learn that I really need to start reading ahead, because pretty much verifies what I conjectured Thomas meant by the last paragraph:

Therefore, the term man and the term humanity both signify the essence of man, though in diverse ways, as said above. The term man signifies the essence as a whole, in other words, insofar as the essence does not exclude designation of matter but implicitly and indistinctly contains it, in the way in which we said that the genus contains the difference. Hence, the term man is predicated of individuals. But the term humanity signifies the essence of man as a part because it contains in its signification only what belongs to man insofar as he is man, and it excludes all designation, and so it is not predicated of individual men. And for this reason the term essence is sometimes found predicated of the thing, as when we say that Socrates is a certain essence; and sometimes the term essence is denied of the thing, as when we say that the essence of Socrates is not Socrates.

So “humanity” is the form of Socrates, excluding even non-signate matter, and is Socrates’ essence in one sense, while “man” is “humanity” plus non-signate matter, and is Socrates’ essence in a second sense; and we’re going to see both senses used in practice. And it matters, because a part cannot be predicated of a whole: that is, we can’t say “X is a part-of-X”.*

Honestly, I think that last sentence is the payoff that Thomas has been driving at for a good bit of this chapter.

* “You are Number 2.” “I am not a number! I am a free man!”

CT 73: Diversity in Things According to Degree and Order

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2008

Having established the reason for diversity in created things, Thomas then goes on in Chapter 73 to begin to characterize that diversity.

Diversity among things was rightly established according to a definite order, so that some things might be more excellent than others. For this pertains to the lavishness of the divine goodness, that God should communicate a likeness of His goodness to created things, so far as possible. God is not only good in Himself, but exceeds other beings in goodness, and guides them toward goodness. Consequently, that the likeness which created beings bear to God might be heightened, it was necessary for some things to be made better than others, and for some to act upon others, thus leading them toward perfection.

God is better than all things; consequently, some created things are better than other created things. Contemplating this order in nature leads us to contemplate God in His goodness.

The basic diversity among things consists chiefly in diversity of forms. Formal diversity is achieved by way of contrariety; for genus is divided into various species by contrary differences. But order is necessarily found in contrariety, for among contraries one is always better than the other. Therefore diversity among things had to be established by God according to a definite order, in such a way that some beings might be more excellent than others.

Two propositions are contraries if no more than one of them can be true. Any given thing can be either a dog or a human, but not both (and most likely neither).

The statement I find most interesting is the one I emphasized above. Why on earth should one of a pair of contraries always be the better? I’ll grant than men are better (more perfect) than dogs, but are apples necessarily better than oranges (or, perhaps, vice versa)? Must all kinds of being be absolutely ranked?

DE&E: Chapter 2:13

Monday, September 22nd, 2008

We continue discussing the designation of genus, species and individual, with, one hopes, fewer pyrotechnics than last time.

But since, as said above, the designation of the species with respect to the genus is through the form, and the designation of the individual with respect to the species is through matter, the term signifying that from which the nature of the genus is taken thus excludes the determinate form that completes the species and signifies the material part of the whole, as the body is the material part of the man.

The genus does not designate the forms taken by members of species within the genus, because those forms are determined by the specific differences. Thus, to rearrange Thomas’ words a bit, “the term signifying that from which the nature of the genus is taken…signifies the material part of the whole.”


However, the term signifying that from which the nature of the species is taken, excluding designate matter, signifies the formal part. Thus, humanity is signified as a certain form, and it is said that it is the form of the whole, not, certainly, as a form superadded to the essential parts (the form and the matter), but rather as the form of a house is superadded to its integral parts; and that is better called the form which is the whole, in other words, that which embraces the form and the matter, albeit excluding those things through which the designatability of matter arises.

I usually like to break up difficult paragraphs like this one into digestible chunks, but I have no idea how to do that in this case. Still, I think I get what he’s saying, which is as follows:

  1. Man is a being composed of form and matter. In the above, Thomas refers to this form as humanity.
  2. Man’s essence is to be a composite of a form, humanity, and designate matter.
  3. This essence is the composite of the form humanity and non-signate matter.
  4. It makes more sense to refer to Man’s essence as his form than it does to call humanity his form, because Man’s essence describes the whole man.
  5. And of course all of this applies to genera, species, and individuals in general, not just to animal, man, and individual men.
  6. There are too many forms floating around here for comfort.
  7. Matter complicates everything.

I think that’s about it. The last two points are my own.