Archive for November, 2008

Isagoge: Chapter 2:1 — Of the Nature of Genus and Species

Sunday, November 30th, 2008

Most of the chapters of the Isagoge are fairly short; this one is an exception, and so we will take it in pieces. In this chapter Porphyry discusses the meaning of the terms genus and species.

Neither genus nor species appear to be simply denominated,…

I believe what he means, here, is that each term has a number of distinct (but analogical) senses.

…for that is called genus which is a collection of certain things, subsisting in a certain respect relatively to one thing, and to each other, according to which signification the genus of the Heraclidae is denominated from the habitude from one, I mean Hercules, and from the multitude of those who have alliance to each other from him, denominated according to separation from other genera.

So the tribe of the Heraclidae is a genus, because it is a distinct group, and all members of the group are related to each other due to their shared relationship to Hercules.

Again, after another manner also, the principle of the generation of every one is called genus, whether from the generator or from the place in which a person is generated, for thus we say that Orestes had his genus from Tantalus, Hyllus from Hercules, and again, that Pindar was by genus a Theban, but Plato an Athenian, for country is a certain principle of each man’s generation, in the same manner as a father. Still, this signification appears to be most ready, for they are called Heraclidae who derive their origin from the genus of Hercules, and Cecropidae who are from Cecrops; also their next of kin. The first genus, moreover, is so called, which is the principle of each man’s generation, but afterwards the number of those who are from one principle, e. g. from Hercules, which defining and separating from others, we call the whole collected multitude the genus of the Heraclidae.

The principle of generation of a thing is called its genus, e.g., that person’s father or country of origin. This sense applies to the prior sense as well, for the Heraclidae are precisely those who are the descendants of Hercules.

As Thomas points at the beginning of De Ente et Essentia, the proper approach to philosophy is to begin with the well-known and familiar and move by analogical steps to the logical and metaphysical, and that’s clearly what Porphyry is doing here. The second paragraph of the chapter, which I expect we’ll get to tomorrow, begins to discuss genus in the terms I’ve become familiar with over the last few months; here, he’s clearly describing the usual, every-day meanings it would have had for his readers.

Isagoge: Chapter 1: Object of the writer, in the present Introduction

Saturday, November 29th, 2008

Porphyry lays out his intent, as follows:

Since it is necessary, Chrysaorius, both to the doctrine of Aristotle’s Categories, to know what genus, difference, species, property, and accident are, and also to the assignments of definitions, in short, since the investigation of these is useful for those things which belong to division and demonstration, I will endeavour by a summary briefly to discuss to you, as in the form of introduction, what on this subject has been delivered by the ancients, abstaining, indeed, from more profound questions, yet directing attention in a fitting manner, to such as are more simple.

So he’s going to explain to us the five predicables: genus, difference, species, property, and accident. It’s worth noting that Porphyry was a neo-Platonist, and though he’s commenting on Aristotle he does so from a Platonist point of view–and (according to the footnotes) using Plato’s own words as much as possible.

division and demonstration: According to Plato, dialectic consists of division, definition, demonstration, and analysis. Demonstration is presumably the use of the third act of the mind, rational argumentation. I’m not sure what falls under division, but as it is listed before “definition” it presumably has to do with making distinctions and coming to terms.

Anyway, he’s going to keep things simple:

For instance, I shall omit to speak about genera and species, as to whether they subsist (in the nature of things) or in mere conceptions only; whether also if subsistent, they are bodies or incorporeal, and whether they are separate from, or in, sensibles, and subsist about these, for such a treatise is most profound, and requires another more extensive investigation.

In short, Porphyry is going to eschew metaphysics.

Even though this passages tells us what the author is not going to talk about, it’s still the most famous and influential part of the whole work, being a concise statement of the Problem of Universals. Philosophy is first of all about the questions you ask, and many, many people found Porphyry’s questions to be a useful jumping-off point.

Nevertheless, how the ancients, and especially the Peripatetics, discussed these and the other proposed subjects, in a more logical manner, I will now endeavour to point out to you.

That is to say, he’s going to talk about the teachings of Aristotle and his followers.


Porphyry’s Isagoge

Friday, November 28th, 2008

My original plan was to blog my way through Thomas’ De Ente et Essentia, and then return to the Compendium Theologiae. It’s clear to me, though, that I need to spend more time working with De Ente et Essentia; and as I began to read through it once more, and through my blog posts, I found Phil’s reference to a work called the Isagoge. A quick trip to Google found me both a Wikipedia entry and a copy of the work itself, which happily is in the public domain.

The Isagoge turns out to be a short work written in the third century by a Greek fellow named Porphyry as an introduction to Aristotle’s Categories. As such it was used as an introduction to Aristotelian logic by both the Arabs and the Scholastics, and would have been familiar to Thomas and his fellow friars, and in particular to those to whom De Ente et Essentia was addressed.

I’m not yet sure what form my additional work on De Ente et Essentia will take; I’m sure no one wants me to start over and blog the whole thing all over again. At the same time, I need to spend some time with it, outlining it and understanding all of the terms within it, in their various flavors, or all the time I’ve put into it will be lost. The final result might be an annotated copy of the text with outline and glossary. (If you’d be interested in such a thing, please let me know; it’s more likely to get finished in that case.)

In any event, it’s clear that this additional work is mostly going to take place off-line. It’s also clear that I would benefit from taking a glance at Porphyry, as he addresses many of the basic concepts I’ve been struggling to learn. And so, consequently, I’m going to blog my way through the Isagoge and see if I can’t fill in some holes. I plan to start on that sequence of posts tomorrow.

Philosophy vs. The Real World

Friday, November 28th, 2008

I’ve been reading Josef Pieper’s Leisure, the Basis of Culture, and it has prompted a question that I’m sure Pieper did not intend.

What, if anything, have movements in philosophy to do with the day-to-day life of people in general?

Some background: in this book, Pieper argues that we have lost the notion of leisure. We have entered the “total world of work”, where everything must be related in some way to useful, productive work. Even vacations are not an end in themselves, but are intended to refresh us so that we can get back to work with renewed vigor. And in this, he finds the term “intellectual worker”, that is, one who works with his intellect, to be particularly significant. At one time, he says, the realm of the intellect was seen as the realm of the Muses, of the Liberal Arts, of all that was essentially human without being strictly necessary for the preservation of human life. But now, the notion of work has invaded even this space, with the notion of the “intellectual worker”.

Now, here’s the kicker. Pieper traces the notions of “intellectual work” and the “intellectual worker” back to Immanuel Kant, who said that all knowing is discursive, i.e., involves active labor. The implication seems to be that without Kant’s work, this idea would not have arisen. This strikes me as simply absurd.

I cannot deny that intellectual work is a prominent feature of the 20th and 21st centuries. I’m a software engineer by profession; almost all of my work is mental in one way or another. And certainly many people are classified as “knowledge workers” or “mind workers” or what have you. And yet, it seems to me extremely unlikely that the cause of this has anything to do with Immanuel Kant, or with any abstract notion that every human activity must involve effort, or practical use, to be worth doing. We don’t have a vast number of intellectual workers these days because of something a philosopher said, but because certain forms of intellectual work have been made to pay.

In short, Pieper writes as though developments in society follow developments in philosophy. I’ve run into this fairly often in my historical reading; I first recall noticing it while reading Will Durant’s Story of Civilization many years ago now.

So here, at least, is my question: to what extent is this true? To what extent does society change due to new trends in philosophy? And to what extent do fashions in philosophy simply reflect the thinking of the masses: that is, the spirit of the age?

I’ve been toying with the notions of “explicit” vs. “implicit” philosophy. An explicit philosophy is simply a philosophy as such: the philosophy of Kant, or Descartes, or Aquinas, or Aristotle. There are as many explicit philosophies as there are philosophers, though they tend to be grouped into schools. An implicit philosophy is the philosophy implied by a man’s actions and values, whether he has reflected on them or not. This is not necessarily the philosophy he would arrive at if he did reflect on his actions and values; I suspect many of us would be greatly ashamed if our implicit philosophies were made plain to us.

Given these definitions, it makes sense to talk about the implicit philosophy (or philosophies) of a culture, a society, or a nation. And then my question becomes, to what extent can a nation’s implicit philosophy really be caused by or traced back to an explicit philosophy?

Well, No, Not Really

Tuesday, November 25th, 2008

Every few days I take a look at the search terms that bring people to this blog; most of them are about what you’d expect. This one, however, caught me by surprise:

was Thomas Aquinas a Calvinist

Um…no, I don’t think so, no.

DE&E: Chapter 6:9 — The Conclusion

Tuesday, November 25th, 2008

And here we are: the final, ultimate paragraph of De Ente et Essentia:

We have thus made clear how essence is found in substances and in accidents, and how in composite substances and in simple ones, and in what way the universal intentions of logic are found in all of these, except for the first being, which is the extreme of simplicity and to which, because of its simplicity, the notions of genus, species, and thus definition do not apply; and having said this we may make an proper end to this discourse. Amen.

I’ve not much to add to this, except to note that this seems a clearer statement of Thomas’ goals in writing De Ente et Essentia than I got from his introduction.

And so, back to the Compendium Theologiae…except that I have this nagging feeling that if I’m to retain anything of what I’ve learned, I really need to read through De Ente et Essentia a couple of more times. I should outline the work, perhaps make a glossary of the terms, and so forth. I’m off work for the next few days, and I might take some time and give this a try. We’ll see.

DE&E: Chapter 6:8

Monday, November 24th, 2008

Here we are, with the penultimate paragraph of the discourse.

The differences in accidents are taken from the diversity of principles by which they are caused.

This statement baffled me for a moment; but then I went back to the definitions of the terms.
Logically, a species is a genus and a difference. So the implied question is, what differentiates one accident from another? The “diversity of principles by which they are caused.” And remember that a “principle” is the first cause of something. That’s an important distinction between philosophy and experimental science. Experimental science is usual looking for the immediate, or proximate cause of something; philosophy is looking for the ultimate cause. When we say, (as I seem to have been saying repeatedly for months now) that “matter is the principle of individuation”, I’m saying that matter is what causes individuals to be individual.

Since passions are properly caused by the proper principles of the subject, the subject is placed in the definition of the passion in place of the difference if the passion is being defined in the abstract and properly in its genus, as when we say that having a snubnose is the upward curvature of the nose.

A property of a substance is something inessential that is nevertheless always true, i.e., something that follows necessarily from the substance’s nature. I would surmise, then, that the proper principles of a subject are the principles, the most important causes, of the subject’s properties.

The term passion confuses me; it doesn’t mean what we usually think of when we think about passion. If I understand it correctly, a passion is something that a substance does passively. Since they are “properly caused” by the “proper principles”, one imagines that passions are indeed properties of the substance, so I’ll go with that.

Thomas says, “the subject is placed in the definition of the passion in place of the difference if the passion is being defined in the abstract….” In the example, the genus is “upward curvature” and the difference, or in this case, the subject, is “the nose”. A snubnose has an upward curvature, indeed, and it always has it; this is a property, a passion, of a snubnose.

But it would be the converse if the definition of the passion were taken according to its concrete sense; in this way, the subject is placed in the definition as a genus, for then the passion is defined in the mode of composite substances in which the notion of the genus is taken from the matter, as when we say that a snubnose is an upwardly curving nose.

In the abstract sense, we’re talking about snubness of noses; in the concrete sense, we’re talking about noses that are snub. So here, the genus is nose and the difference is upwardly curving.

The case is similar when one accident is the principle of another, as the principle of relation is action and passion and quantity, and thus by reference to these the Philosopher divides relation in V Metaphysicae cap. 15 (1020b26-32).

A relation consists of, is caused by, an action, a passion, and a quantity. I’d like to hear an explanation of that.

But because the proper principles of accidents are not always manifest, we sometimes take the differences of accidents from their effects, as we do with the concentrative and the diffusive, which are called the differences of color and which are caused by the abundance or the paucity of light, which cause the different species of color.

What makes all of this so hard is that there’s so much of it that we can’t directly perceive, and things that we can know in theory we can’t know in practice. We can know that accidents have proper principles…but we can’t necessarily know what they are. And so we go with what we can know, such as the effect of the accidents.

DE&E: Chapter 6:7

Friday, November 21st, 2008

Long one tonight. But on the bright side, there are only two more paragraphs after this.

We should further note that in accidents, the genus, difference, and species are taken in a way different from that in substances.

Duly noted. How so?

For in substances, from the substantial form and the matter there is made something one per se, a certain single nature resulting from the conjunction of these two, and this nature is properly placed in the predicament of substance.

That is, the category of substance.

Hence, in substances, the concrete terms that signify the composite are properly said to be in the genus, in the manner of the species or the genus, as, for example, man or animal. But in this way neither the form nor the matter is in a predicament except by means of reduction, as when we say that the principles of a thing are in its genus.

OK, I’m lost again. What does he mean “in the genus, in the manner of the species or the genus”? And then, “neither the form or the matter is in a predicament except by means of reduction…” Is this because the essence is a composite, and so the composite is in a predicament but the form and matter individually are not? That would make sense, I think….

Clearly, this last bit is intended to be review. Unfortunately, while I might have understood it a couple of weeks OK, I’ve moved on, and it’s all fading.

However, from the accident and the subject there does not result something that is one per se, and thus from the conjunction of these two there does not result a nature to which the intention of genus or species might be attributed.

If my son runs, he’s running; that’s accidental not essential, and it doesn’t change his genus or species. Some new thing doesn’t come to be when he starts running.

Therefore, the accidental terms taken concretely, like white or musical, cannot be placed in a predicament except by means of reduction; but they can be placed in a predicament when they are signified abstractly, as whiteness and music.

“Placed in a predicament…” should mean, “placed in a category.” A white dog is white, so “white” as a concrete term is a predicable; but it can’t be placed in a category. “Quality” is one of the ten categories, and so I presume, then, that “whiteness” is a quality, but “white” is not. You can think of “whiteness” as a thing in itself, at least as an object of thought; but “white” only applies to some other thing that has the quality of whiteness.

By reduction, then, I have to assume Thomas means a kind of decomposition, where the accident is removed from the substance and treated as, e.g., a quality.

And because accidents are not composed of matter and form, in accidents the genus cannot be taken from the matter, the difference from the form, as is the case with composite substances; rather, the first genus is taken from their very mode of existing, as being is said in different ways according to what is prior and what is posterior in the ten genera of predicaments, and thus we call the measure of a substance quantity, the disposition of a substance quality, and so on for the others, as the Philosopher says in IX Metaphysicae cap. 1 (1045b27-32).

OK; quantity exists in a substance in a different way than quality, and so we have two distinct genera. So what are the species within these genera?

Looking Back: DE&E: Chapter 5:8

Thursday, November 20th, 2008

I just discovered that while I’d written a post on the final paragraph of Chapter 5 of De Ente et Essentia, and in fact had posted it to the weblog, it somehow got marked as a draft. I’ve fixed that, so it’s now visible.

DE&E: Chapter 6:6

Thursday, November 20th, 2008

Let the parade of accidents continue! (And isn’t that a vivid image!)

We should also note that some accidents are caused by the essential principles of a thing according to its perfect act, as heat in fire, which is always hot, while other accidents are the result of an aptitude in the substance, and in such cases the complete accident arises from an exterior agent, as transparency in air, which is completed through an exterior luminescent body. In such things, the aptitude is an inseparable accident, but the complement, which comes from some principle that is beyond the essence of the thing, or that does not enter into the constitution of the thing, is separable, as the ability to be moved, and so on.

So we’ve got the following:

  • Accidents based on the essential principles of a thing:
    • E.g., heat in fire: fire is always hot
  • Accidents resulting from an aptitude in the substance that is completed by some other agent
    • E.g., Air will always let light pass–if there’s light to pass.
    • E.g., an apple is moveable–if I choose to pick it up.

In the latter case, the aptitude is always present–it’s a property of the substance, I guess–but the aptitude is only manifest when some other agent takes advantage of it. For example, a book by Terry Pratchett always has the aptitude to induce laughter, but only does so if you read it.