DE&E: Chapter 1:1

Thomas begins,

As the Philosopher says in V Metaphysicae cap. 7 (1017a22-35), being has two senses. In one sense, being signifies that which is divided into the ten categories; in another sense, that which signifies the truth of propositions. The difference between these is that, in the second sense, anything can be called a being about which an affirmative proposition can be formed, even if the thing posits nothing in reality. In this way, privations and negations are called beings, as when we say that affirmation is opposed to negation, or that blindness is in the eye. But in the first sense, nothing can be called a being unless it posits something in reality, and thus in this first sense blindness and similar things are not beings.

Oh, there’s so much here; I’m glad I didn’t try to tackle this a few months ago. Let’s take it bit by bit; and perhaps my interlocutors will gently correct any misunderstandings on my part.

the Philosopher: Aristotle.

…being signifies that which is divided into the ten categories: Aristotle tried to establish a set of ten categories into which every manner of being would fall. I found a list of them at Wikipedia: Substance, Quantity, Quality, Relation, Place, Time, Position, State (or Habitus), Action, Affection. The categories are basic to Aristotelian logic.

…that which signifies the truth of propositions: I thought I understood what this meant, until I tried to explain it.

Suppose I say, “Murder is evil.” This is an affirmative proposition. In this sense, “evil” can be said to be a being. But evil is the privation of good; this statement is equivalent to “Murder is not good.” “Good” is the real being, real in both the first sense and the second; “evil” is a being only in the second.

So much is clear from the remainder of the paragraph. It’s still not clear to me in what sense “evil” signifies the truth of propositions…unless Thomas simply means that it’s an object that can be used as a term in a true proposition.

2 Responses to “DE&E: Chapter 1:1”

  1. Every time I try to write on St Thomas, I end up introducing foreign matter and impurity into his thought. I’ll try to clarify your question, but focus on Thomas, not what I’m writing. Hopefully it will help.

    So the question is, in what sense does “evil” signify the truth of propositions? In no way. Thomas is not talking about simple terms, but about propositions, therefore, you need the whole proposition – “murder is evil” signifies a truth about something. The “is” signifies something in truth. Unfortunately, murder is not a privation or negation, except in a sophisticated sense, so you need to start with a privation or negation like blindness – darkness will work. “Darkness is the absence of light” – there we have a proposition. But ‘darkness’ doesn’t posit anything in reality, as “Phil is a student” does – it posits a being called Phil. So the being of darkness is only the being of propositions, which is called truth. Without propositions, such beings have no being.

    heh. The De Ente is so profound and clear that it is hard to ‘explain’ without being reduced to a babbling idiot like myself. It’s almost more appropriate for meditation than for commentary. Bathe your mind in his thought, try to soak it in and imitate it – simple, profound and clear, rooted in being. It’s why he’s so far beyond any of his commentators, who may make things clearer to us, but tend to introduce the ephemeral, the foreign, the complicated, and in general excess.

  2. Will says:

    I thought I was probably getting into trouble using “good” and “evil”.

    So “darkness is the absence of light” is a true proposition, and as a true proposition it has being, and the privation “darkness” has being insofar is it participates in the proposition, but not otherwise.

    And the being of the proposition is truth, solely and simply.

    OK, I think I got it.