DE&E: Chapter 2:12

Have discoursed at length on the relation between the genus and species, now Thomas spends some time on the relation between the species and individual. And all I can say is, Oh Dear! But let’s take it little by little and see where we get. (Be warned: I make some false steps, here and there, though I think I come out at the right spot.)

Furthermore, since, as said above, the nature of the species is indeterminate with respect to the individual just as the nature of the genus is with respect to the species, and since, further, the genus, as predicated of the species, includes in its signification (although indistinctly) everything that is in the species determinately, so too does the species, as predicated of the individual, signify everything that is in the individual essentially, although it signifies this indistinctly. In this way, the essence of the species is signified by the term man, and so man is predicated of Socrates.

I think I understand the above; but I’m confident I’m missing something. Thomas says, “the nature of the species is indeterminate with respect to the individual just as the nature of the genus is with respect to the species”. I get that. Just as saying that X is an animal doesn’t tell you which species X belongs to, saying that X is a man doesn’t tell you which man X is. But why does he say “the nature of the species” and “the nature of the genus” instead of simply “the species” and “the genus”? The term nature is usually used concerning the operation of some being, but I don’t see how that fits in. And then, at the end of that bit, he says “the essence of the species is signified by the term man”. Why “the essence of the species” instead of just “the species”? Isn’t “man” the name of the species?

Either Thomas is speaking carelessly, which seems unlikely, or the translation is bad, which is possible, or there are subtleties that are eluding me like ghosts in the mist, which is likely.

But wait! It gets worse!

If, however, the nature of the species is signified in such a way as to exclude designate matter, which is the principle of individuation, then the species is related to the individual as a part; and this is how the term humanity signifies, for humanity signifies that by which a man is a man.

Is “designate matter” the same as the “signate” matter Thomas spoke of some paragraphs back? It seems that it is; he says it’s the principle of individuation, and signate matter was that matter found in individual composite beings, as opposed to non-signate matter which was found in the essence of composite beings.

In that case, by “the nature of the species” he means the essence, which is form and non-signate matter. But then, he draws a distinction between “man” and “humanity”, and says that “humanity” is the nature of the species signified in such a way as to exclude designate matter, and that “humanity” is a part of the human individual. Which leads me to the opposite conclusion, that “designate matter” is non-signate matter, or perhaps any kind of matter, signate or non-signate, and that humanity is simply the form of man: essence without matter. In which case, it certainly is just a part of man, as man is form and matter together.

So I’m going to assume, unless corrected, that “man” is the essence, and “humanity” the essential form, indeed, the special form.

Designate matter, however, is not that by which a man is a man, and it is in no way contained among those things that make a man a man.

Ummm…a man isn’t a man without some kind of matter. But it’s the form that makes a man a man, rather than a dog.

Since, therefore, the concept of humanity includes only those things by which a man is a man, designate matter is excluded or pretermitted, and since a part is not predicated of its whole, humanity is predicated neither of man nor of Socrates.

You know, I looked at this right after I got home from work. I was tired, and fuzzy-headed, and it made no sense. Since then I’ve had a nice leisurely dinner out with Jane, and some good conversation, and a nice stroll, and I’m feeling rested and the house is quiet, and I can think without being disturbed. And this still doesn’t make any sense. It appears to be saying that I can’t say that Socrates is human.

Let’s try some propositions:

  1. Socrates is a man. He’d better be; this proposition is to logic as “Now is the time for all good men” is to typewriters.
  2. Socrates is humanity. OK, that’s not true. Like Zaphod Beeblebrox, he’s just this guy, you know?
  3. Socrates has humanity. That looks better. And I suppose it translates to
  4. Socrates is a being of which humanity is a part.

Thus, humanity is not predicable of Socrates directly.

Thus Avicenna says, Metaphysicae V, cap. 5, that the quiddity of a composite thing is not the composite thing of which it is the quiddity, even though the quiddity itself is composite, as humanity, while composite, is not man. On the contrary, it must be received in something that is designate matter.

Blast. I was right about designate matter the first time. Here Thomas indicates clearly that he means humanity to be the quiddity of man in general or of Socrates in singular; and quiddity is essence. And while the quiddity of a composite thing is composite, it is not the same as the composite thing–why? Because the quiddity includes non-signate matter, not signate, or designate, matter. Humanity becomes man only when it is received in something that is designate matter, which is the principle of individuation.

So where did I go wrong? Clearly, I was conflating the species, man, with its essence or quiddity. And since humanity was not man, I concluded that it could not be essence. So species is not essence. The nature of the species is its essence. Socrates is a man; he has the essence of a man.

Could it be that this is a distinction that is often glossed over? That species and essence are often used interchangeably, because most of the time the distinction doesn’t matter? Or have I simply been oversimplifying for the last couple of months?

I’m reminded of that joke about how, having gone through four years of college, we are now confused at a higher level about more important things.

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