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Title: Ontology or the Theory of Being

Author: Peter Coffey

Release Date: March 30, 2011 [Ebook #35722]

Language: English

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***START OF THE PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK ONTOLOGY OR THE THEORY OF BEING***

Ontology

Or the

Theory of Being

By

Peter Coffey, Ph.D. (Louvain)

Professor of Logic and Metaphysics, Waynooth College, Ireland

Longmans, Green and Co.

London, New York, Bombay, Calcutta, and Madras

1918


[pg vi]

To
The Students
Past And Present
Of
Maynooth College

[pg vii]

Preface.

It is hoped that the present volume will supply a want that is really felt by students of philosophy in our universities—the want of an English text-book on General Metaphysics from the Scholastic standpoint. It is the author's intention to supplement his Science of Logic1 and the present treatise on Ontology, by a volume on the Theory of Knowledge. Hence no disquisitions on the latter subject will be found in these pages: the Moderate Realism of Aristotle and the Schoolmen is assumed throughout.

In the domain of Ontology there are many scholastic theories and discussions which are commonly regarded by non-scholastic writers as possessing nowadays for the student of philosophy an interest that is merely historical. This mistaken notion is probably due to the fact that few if any serious attempts have yet been made to transpose these questions from their medieval setting into the language and context of contemporary philosophy. Perhaps not a single one of these problems is really and in substance alien to present-day speculations. The author has endeavoured, by his treatment of such characteristically “medieval” discussions as those on Potentia and Actus, Essence and Existence, Individuation, the Theory of Distinctions, Substance and Accident, Nature and Person, Logical and Real Relations, Efficient and Final Causes, to show that the issues involved are in every instance as fully and keenly debated—in an altered setting and a new terminology—by recent and living philosophers of every [pg viii] school of thought as they were by St. Thomas and his contemporaries in the golden age of medieval scholasticism. And, as the purposes of a text-book demanded, attention has been devoted to stating the problems clearly, to showing the significance and bearings of discussions and solutions, rather than to detailed analyses of arguments. At the same time it is hoped that the treatment is sufficiently full to be helpful even to advanced students and to all who are interested in the “Metaphysics of the Schools”. For the convenience of the reader the more advanced portions are printed in smaller type.

The teaching of St. Thomas and the other great Schoolmen of the Middle Ages forms the groundwork of the book. This corpus of doctrine is scarcely yet accessible outside its Latin sources. As typical of the fuller scholastic text-books the excellent treatise of the Spanish author, Urraburu,2 has been most frequently consulted. Much assistance has also been derived from Kleutgen's Philosophie der Vorzeit,3 a monumental work which ought to have been long since translated into English. And finally, the excellent treatise in the Louvain Cours de Philosophie, by the present Cardinal Archbishop of Mechlin,4 has been consulted with profit and largely followed in many places. The writer freely and gratefully acknowledges his indebtedness to these and other authors quoted and referred to in the course of the present volume.

[pg 001]

General Introduction.

I. Reason of Introductory Chapter.—It is desirable that at some stage in the course of his investigations the student of philosophy should be invited to take a brief general survey of the work in which he is engaged. This purpose will be served by a chapter on the general aim and scope of philosophy, its distinctive characteristics as compared with other lines of human thought, and its relations to these latter. Such considerations will at the same time help to define Ontology, thus introducing the reader to the subject-matter of the present volume.

II. Philosophy: the Name and the Thing.—In the fifth book of Cicero's Tusculan Disputations we read that the terms philosophus and philosophia were first employed by Pythagoras who flourished in the sixth century before Christ, that this ancient sage was modest enough to call himself not a “wise man” but a “lover of wisdom” (φίλος, σοφία), and his calling not a profession of wisdom but a search for wisdom. However, despite the disclaimer, the term philosophy soon came to signify wisdom simply, meaning by this the highest and most precious kind of knowledge.

Now human knowledge has for its object everything that falls in any way within human experience. It has extensively a great variety in its subject-matter, and intensively a great variety in its degrees of depth and clearness and perfection. Individual facts of the past, communicated by human testimony, form the raw materials of historical knowledge. Then there are all the individual things and events that fall within one's own personal experience. Moreover, by the study of human language (or languages), of works of the human mind and products of human genius and skill, we gain a knowledge of literature, and of the arts—the fine arts and the mechanical arts. But not merely do we use our senses and memory thus to accumulate an unassorted stock of informations about isolated facts: a miscellaneous mass of mental furniture which constitutes the bulk of human knowledge [pg 002] in its least developed form—cognitio vulgaris, the knowledge of the comparatively uneducated and unreflecting classes of mankind. We also use our reasoning faculty to reflect, compare, classify these informations, to interpret them, to reason about them, to infer from them general truths that embrace individual things and events beyond our personal experience; we try to explain them by seeking out their reasons and causes. This mental activity gradually converts our knowledge into scientific knowledge, and thus gives rise to those great groups of systematized truths called the sciences: as, for example, the physical and mathematical sciences, the elements of which usually form part of our early education. These sciences teach us a great deal about ourselves and the universe in which we live. There is no need to dwell on the precious services conferred upon mankind by discoveries due to the progress of the various special sciences: mathematics as applied to engineering of all sorts; astronomy; the physical sciences of light, heat, sound, electricity, magnetism, etc.; chemistry in all its branches; physiology and anatomy as applied in medicine and surgery. All these undoubtedly contribute much to man's bodily well-being. But man has a mind as well as a body, and he is moreover a social being: there are, therefore, other special sciences—“human” as distinct from “physical” sciences—in which man himself is studied in his mental activities and social relations with his fellow-men: the sciences of social and political economy, constitutional and civil law, government, statesmanship, etc. Furthermore, man is a moral being, recognizing distinctions of good and bad, right and wrong, pleasure and happiness, duty and responsibility, in his own conduct; and finally he is a religious being, face to face with the fact that men universally entertain views, beliefs, convictions of some sort or other, regarding man's subjection to, and dependence on, some higher power or powers dwelling somehow or somewhere within or above the whole universe of his direct and immediate experience: there are therefore also sciences which deal with these domains, morality and religion. Here, however, the domains are so extensive, and the problems raised by their phenomena are of such far-reaching importance, that the sciences which deal with them can hardly be called special sciences, but rather constituent portions of the one wider and deeper general science which is what men commonly understand nowadays by philosophy.

[pg 003]

The distinction between the special sciences on the one hand and philosophy, the general science, on the other, will help us to realize more clearly the nature and scope of the latter. The special sciences are concerned with discovering the proximate reasons and causes of this, that, and the other definite department in the whole universe of our experience. The subject-matter of some of them is totally different from that of others: physiology studies the functions of living organisms; geology studies the formation of the earth's crust. Or if two or more of them investigate the same subject-matter they do so from different standpoints, as when the zoologist and the physiologist study the same type or specimen in the animal kingdom. But the common feature of all is this, that each seeks only the reasons, causes, and laws which give a proximate and partial explanation of the facts which it investigates, leaving untouched and unsolved a number of deeper and wider questions which may be raised about the whence and whither and why, not only of the facts themselves, but of the reasons, causes and laws assigned by the particular science in explanation of these facts.

Now it is those deeper and wider questions, which can be answered only by the discovery of the more remote and ultimate reasons and causes of things, that philosophy undertakes to investigate, and—as far as lies within man's power—to answer. No one has ever disputed the supreme importance of such inquiries into the ultimate reasons and causes of things—into such questions as these, for instance: What is the nature of man himself? Has he in him a principle of life which is spiritual and immortal? What was his first origin on the earth? Whence did he come? Has his existence any purpose, and if so, what? Whither does he tend? What is his destiny? Why does he distinguish between a right and a wrong in human conduct? What is the ultimate reason or ground of this distinction? Why have men generally some form or other of religion? Why do men generally believe in God? Is there really a God? What is the origin of the whole universe of man's experience? Of life in all its manifestations? Has the universe any intelligible or intelligent purpose, and if so, what? Can the human mind give a certain answer to any of these or similar questions? What about the nature and value of human knowledge itself? What is its scope and what are its limitations? And since vast multitudes of men believe that the human race has been specially [pg 004] enlightened by God Himself, by Divine Revelation, to know for certain what man's destiny is, and is specially aided by God Himself, by Divine Grace, to work out this destiny—the question immediately arises: What are the real relations between reason alone on the one hand and reason enlightened by such Revelation on the other, in other words between natural knowledge and supernatural faith?

Now it will be admitted that the special sciences take us some distance along the road towards an answer to such questions, inasmuch as the truths established by these sciences, and even the wider hypotheses conceived though not strictly verified in them, furnish us with most valuable data in our investigation of those questions. Similarly the alleged fact of a Divine Revelation cannot be ignored by any man desirous of using all the data available as helps towards their solution. The Revelation embodied in Christianity claims not merely to enlighten us in regard to many ultimate questions which mankind would be able to answer without its assistance, but also to tell us about our destiny some truths of supreme import, which of ourselves we should never have been able to discover. It is obvious, then, that whether a man has been brought up from his infancy to believe in the Christian Revelation or not, his whole outlook on life will be determined very largely by his belief or disbelief in its authenticity and its contents. Similarly, if he be a Confucian, or a Buddhist, or a Mohammedan, his outlook will be in part determined by what he believes of their teachings. Man's conduct in life has undoubtedly many determining influences, but it will hardly be denied that among them the predominant influence is exerted by the views that he holds, the things he believes to be true, concerning his own origin, nature and destiny, as well as the origin, nature and destiny of the universe in which he finds himself. The Germans have an expressive term for that which, in the absence of a more appropriate term, we may translate as a man's world-outlook; they call it his Weltanschauung. Now this world-outlook is formed by each individual for himself from his interpretation of his experience as a whole. It is not unusual to call this world-outlook a man's philosophy of life. If we use the term philosophy in this wide sense it obviously includes whatever light a man may gather from the special sciences, and whatever light he may gather from a divinely revealed religion if he believes in such, as well as the light his own reason may shed upon a [pg 005] special and direct study of those ultimate questions themselves, to which we have just referred. But we mention this wide sense of the term philosophy merely to put it aside; and to state that we use the term in the sense more commonly accepted nowadays, the sense in which it is understood to be distinct from the special sciences on the one side and from supernatural theology or the systematic study of divinely revealed religion on the other. Philosophy is distinct from the special sciences because while the latter seek the proximate, the former seeks the ultimate grounds, reasons and causes of all the facts of human experience. Philosophy is distinct from supernatural theology because while the former uses the unaided power of human reason to study the ultimate questions raised by human experience, the latter uses reason enlightened by Divine Revelation to study the contents of this Revelation in all their bearings on man's life and destiny.

Hence we arrive at this simple and widely accepted definition of philosophy: the science of all things through their ultimate reasons and causes as discovered by the unaided light of human reason.5 The first part of this definition marks off philosophy from the special sciences, the second part marks it off from supernatural theology.

We must remember, however, that these three departments of knowledge—scientific, philosophical, and revealed—are not isolated from one another in any man's mind; they overlap in their subject-matter, and though differing in their respective standpoints they permeate one another through and through. The separation of the special sciences from philosophy, though adumbrated in the speculations of ancient times and made more definite in the middle ages, was completed only in modern times through the growth and progress of the special sciences themselves. The line of demarcation between philosophy and supernatural theology must be determined by the proper relations between Reason and Faith: and naturally these relations are a subject of debate between philosophers who believe in the existence of an authentic Divine Revelation and philosophers who do not. It is the duty of the philosopher as such to determine by the light of reason whether a Supreme Being exists and whether a Divine Revelation to man is possible. If he convinces himself of the existence of God he will have little difficulty in inferring the possibility of a Divine Revelation. The fact of a Divine Revelation is a matter not for philosophical but for historical research. Now when a man has convinced himself of the existence of God and the fact of a Divine Revelation—the preambula fidei or prerequisite conditions of Faith, as they are called—he must see that it is eminently reasonable for him [pg 006] to believe in the contents of such Divine Revelation; he must see that the truths revealed by God cannot possibly trammel the freedom of his own reason in its philosophical inquiries into ultimate problems concerning man and the universe; he must see that these truths may possibly act as beacons which will keep him from going astray in his own investigations: knowing that truth cannot contradict truth he knows that if he reaches a conclusion really incompatible with any certainly revealed truth, such conclusion must be erroneous; and so he is obliged to reconsider the reasoning processes that led him to such a conclusion.6 Thus, the position of the Christian philosopher, aided in this negative way by the truths of an authentic Divine Revelation, has a distinct advantage over that of the philosopher who does not believe in such revelation and who tries to solve all ultimate questions independently of any light such revelation may shed upon them. Yet the latter philosopher as a rule not only regards the independent position, which he himself takes up in the name of freedom of thought and freedom of research, as the superior position, but as the only one consistent with the dignity of human reason; and he commonly accuses the Christian philosopher of allowing reason to be enslaved in the shackles of dogma. We can see at once the unfairness of such a charge when we remember that the Christian philosopher has convinced himself on grounds of reason alone that God exists and has made a revelation to man. His belief in a Divine Revelation is a reasoned belief, a rationabile obsequium (Rom. XII. 1); and only if it were a blind belief, unjustifiable on grounds of reason, would the accusation referred to be a fair one. The Christian philosopher might retort that it is the unbelieving philosopher himself who really destroys freedom of thought and research, by claiming for the latter what is really an abuse of freedom, namely license to believe what reason shows to be erroneous. But this counter-charge would be equally unfair, for the unbelieving philosopher does not claim any such undue license to believe what he knows to be false or to disbelieve what he knows to be true. If he denies the fact or the possibility of a Divine Revelation, and therefore pursues his philosophical investigations without any regard to the contents of such revelation, it is because he has convinced himself on grounds of reason that such revelation is neither a fact nor a possibility. He and the Christian philosopher cannot both be right; one of them must be wrong; but as reasonable men they should agree to differ rather than hurl unjustifiable charges and counter-charges at each other.

All philosophers who believe in the Christian Revelation and allow its authentic teachings to guide and supplement their own rational investigation into ultimate questions, are keenly conscious of the consequent superior depth and fulness and certitude of Christian philosophy as compared with all the other conflicting and fragmentary philosophies that mark the progress of human speculation on the ultimate problems of man and the universe down through the centuries. They feel secure in the possession of a philosophia [pg 007] perennis,7 and none more secure than those of them who complete and confirm that philosophy by the only full and authentic deposit of Divinely Revealed Truth, which is to be found in the teaching of the Catholic Church.

The history of philosophical investigation yields no one universally received conception of what philosophy is, nor would the definition given above be unreservedly accepted. Windelband, in his History of Philosophy8 instances the following predominant conceptions of philosophy according to the chronological order in which they prevailed: (a) the systematic investigation of the problems raised by man and the universe (early Grecian philosophy: absence of differentiation of philosophy from the special sciences); (b) the practical art of human conduct, based on rational speculation (later Grecian philosophy: distrust in the value of knowledge, and emphasis on practical guidance of conduct); (c) the helper and handmaid of the Science of Revealed Truth, i.e. supernatural theology, in the solution of ultimate problems (the Christian philosophy of the Fathers of the Church and of the Medieval Schools down to the sixteenth century: universal recognition of the value of the Christian Revelation as an aid to rational investigation); (d) a purely rational investigation of those problems, going beyond the investigations of the special sciences, and either abstracting from, or denying the value of, any light or aid from Revelation (differentiation of the domains of science, philosophy and theology; modern philosophies from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century; excessive individualism and rationalism of these as unnaturally divorced from recognition of, and belief in, Divine Revelation, and unduly isolated from the progressing positive sciences); (e) a critical analysis of the significance and scope and limitations of human knowledge itself (recent philosophies, mainly concerned with theories of knowledge and speculations on the nature of the cognitive process and the reliability of its products).

These various conceptions are interesting and suggestive; much might be said about them, but not to any useful purpose in a brief introductory chapter. Let us rather, adopting the definition already set forth, try next to map out into its leading departments the whole philosophical domain.

III. Divisions of Philosophy: Speculative and Practical [pg 008] Philosophy.—The general problem of classifying all the sciences built up by human thought is a logical problem of no little complexity when one tries to work it out in detail. We refer to this general problem only to mention a widely accepted principle on which it is usually approached, and because the division of philosophy itself is a section of the general problem. The principle in question is that sciences may be distinguished indeed by partial or total diversity of subject-matter, but that such diversity is not essential, that diversity of standpoint is necessary and sufficient to constitute distinct sciences even when these deal with one and the same subject-matter. Now applying this principle to philosophy we see firstly that it has the same subject-matter as all the special sciences taken collectively, but that it is distinct from all of them inasmuch as it studies their data not from the standpoint of the proximate causes, but from the higher standpoint of the ultimate causes of these data. And we see secondly that philosophy, having this one higher standpoint throughout all its departments, is one science; that its divisions are only material divisions; that there is not a plurality of philosophies as there is a plurality of sciences, though there is a plurality of departments in philosophy.9 Let us now see what these departments are.

If we ask why people seek knowledge at all, in any department, we shall detect two main impelling motives. The first of these is simply the desire to know: trahimur omnes cupiditate sciendi. The natural feeling of wonder, astonishment, admiratio,” which accompanies our perception of things and events, prompts us to seek their causes, to discover the reasons which will make them intelligible to us and enable us to understand them. But while the possession of knowledge for its own sake is thus a motive of research it is not the only motive. We seek knowledge in order to use it for the guidance of our conduct in life, for the orientation of our activities, for the improvement of our condition; knowing that knowledge is power, we seek it in order to make it minister to our needs. Now in the degree in which it fulfils such ulterior purposes, or is sought for these purposes, [pg 009] knowledge may be described as practical; in the degree in which it serves no ulterior end, or is sought for no ulterior end, other than that of perfecting our minds, it may be described as speculative. Of course this latter purpose is in itself a highly practical purpose; nor indeed is there any knowledge, however speculative, but has, or at least is capable of having, some influence or bearing on the actual tenor and conduct of our lives; and in this sense all knowledge is practical. Still we can distinguish broadly between knowledge which has no direct, immediate bearing on our acts, and knowledge that has.10 Hence the possibility of distinguishing between two great domains of philosophical knowledge—Theoretical or Speculative Philosophy, and Practical Philosophy. There are, in fact, two great domains into which the data of all human experience may be divided; and for each distinct domain submitted to philosophical investigation there will be a distinct department of philosophy. A first domain is the order realized in the universe independently of man; a second is the order which man himself realizes: things, therefore, and acts. The order of the external universe, the order of nature as it is called, exists independently of us: we merely study it (speculari, θεωρέω), we do not create it. The other or practical order is established by our acts of intelligence and will, and by our bodily action on external things under the direction of those faculties in the arts. Hence we have a speculative or theoretical philosophy and a practical philosophy.11

[pg 010]

IV. Departments of Practical Philosophy: Logic, Ethics and Esthetics.—In the domain of human activities, to the right regulation of which practical philosophy is directed, we may distinguish two departments of mental activity, namely intellectual and volitional, and besides these the whole department of external, executive or bodily activity. In general the right regulation of acts may be said to consist in directing them to the realization of some ideal; for all cognitive acts this ideal is the true, for all appetitive or volitional acts it is the good, while for all external operations it may be either the beautiful or the useful—the respective objects of the fine arts and the mechanical arts or crafts.

Logic, as a practical science, studies the mental acts and processes involved in discovering and proving truths and systematizing these into sciences, with a view to directing these acts and processes aright in the accomplishment of this complex task. Hence it has for its subject-matter, in a certain sense, all the data of human experience, or whatever can be an object of human thought. But it studies these data not directly or in themselves or for their own sake, but only in so far as our acts of reason, which form its direct object, are brought to bear upon them. In all the other sciences we employ thought to study the various objects of thought as things, events, realities; and hence these may be called “real” sciences, scientiae reales; while in Logic we study thought itself, and even here not speculatively for its own sake or as a reality (as we study it for instance in Psychology), but practically, as a process capable of being directed towards the discovery and proof of truth; and hence in contradistinction to the other sciences as “real,” we call Logic the “rational” science, scientia rationalis. Scholastic philosophers express this distinction by saying that while Speculative Philosophy studies real being (Ens Reale), or the objects of direct thought (objecta primae intentionis mentis), Logic studies the being which is the product of thought (Ens Rationis), or objects of reflex thought (objecta secundae intentionis mentis).12 The mental processes involved in the attainment of scientific truth are conception, judgment and inference; moreover these processes have to be exercised methodically by the combined application of analysis and synthesis, [pg 011] or induction and deduction, to the various domains of human experience. All these processes, therefore, and the methods of their application, constitute the proper subject-matter of Logic. It has been more or less a matter of debate since the days of Aristotle whether Logic should be regarded as a department of philosophical science proper, or rather as a preparatory discipline, an instrument or organon of reasoning—as the collection of Aristotle's own logical treatises was called,—and so as a vestibule or introduction to philosophy. And there is a similar difference of opinion as to whether or not it is advisable to set down Logic as the first department to be studied in the philosophical curriculum. Such doubts arise from differences of view as to the questions to be investigated in Logic, and the point to which such investigations should be carried therein. It is possible to distinguish between a more elementary treatment of thought-processes with the avowedly practical aim of setting forth canons of inference and method which would help and train the mind to reason and investigate correctly; and a more philosophical treatment of those processes with the speculative aim of determining their ultimate significance and validity as factors of knowledge, as attaining to truth, as productive of science and certitude. It is only the former field of investigation that is usually accorded to Logic nowadays; and thus understood Logic ought to come first in the curriculum as a preparatory training for philosophical studies, accompanied, however, by certain elementary truths from Psychology regarding the nature and functions of the human mind. The other domain of deeper and more speculative investigation was formerly explored in what was regarded as a second portion of logical science, under the title of “Critical” Logic—Logica Critica. In modern times this is regarded as a distinct department of Speculative Philosophy, under the various titles of Epistemology, Criteriology, or the Theory of Knowledge.

Ethics or Moral Philosophy (ἤθος, mos, mores, morals, conduct) is that department of practical philosophy which has for its subject-matter all human acts, i.e. all acts elicited or commanded by the will of man considered as a free, rational and responsible agent. And it studies human conduct with the practical purpose of discovering the ultimate end or object of this conduct, and the principles whereby it must be regulated in order to attain to this end. Ethics must therefore analyse and account for the distinction of right and wrong or good and bad in human conduct, for [pg 012] its feature of morality. It must examine the motives that influence conduct: pleasure, well-being, happiness, duty, obligation, moral law, etc. The supreme determining factor in all such considerations will obviously be the ultimate end of man, whatever this may be: his destiny as revealed by a study of his nature and place in the universe. Now the nature of man is studied in Psychology, as are also the nature, conditions and effects of his free acts, and the facilities, dispositions and forms of character consequent on these. Furthermore, not only from the study of man in Psychology, but from the study of the external universe in Cosmology, we amass data from which in Natural Theology we establish the existence of a Supreme Being. We then prove in Ethics that the last end of man, his highest perfection, consists in knowing, loving, serving, and thus glorifying God, both in this life and in the next. Hence we can see how these branches of speculative philosophy subserve the practical science of morals. And since a man's interpretation of the moral distinctions—as of right or wrong, meritorious or blameworthy, autonomous or of obligation—which he recognizes as pertaining to his own actions—since his interpretation of these distinctions is so intimately bound up with his religious outlook and beliefs, it is at once apparent that the science of Ethics will be largely influenced and determined by the system of speculative philosophy which inspires it, whether this be Theism, Monism, Agnosticism, etc. No doubt the science of Ethics must take as its data all sorts of moral beliefs, customs and practices prevalent at any time among men; but it is not a speculative science which would merely aim at a posteriori inferences or inductive generalizations from these data; it is a practical, normative science which aims at discovering the truth as to what is the right and the wrong in human conduct, and at pointing out the right application of the principles arising out of this truth. Hence it is of supreme importance for the philosopher of morals to determine whether the human race has really been vouchsafed a Divine Revelation, and, convincing himself that Christianity contains such a revelation, to recognize the possibility of supplementing and perfecting what his own natural reason can discover by what the Christian religion teaches about the end of man as the supreme determining principle of human conduct. Not that he is to take the revealed truths of Christianity as principles of moral philosophy; for these are the principles of the supernatural [pg 013] Christian Theology of human morals; but that as a Christian philosopher, i.e. a philosopher who recognizes the truth of the Christian Revelation, he should reason out philosophically a science of Ethics which, so far as it goes, will be in harmony with the moral teachings of the Christian Religion, and will admit of being perfected by these. This recognition, as already remarked, will not be a hindrance but a help to him in exploring the wide domains of the individual, domestic, social and religious conduct of man; in determining, on the basis of theism established by natural reason, the right moral conditions and relations of man's conduct as an individual, as a member of the family, as a member of the state, and as a creature of God. The nature, source and sanction of authority, domestic, social and religious; of the dictate of conscience; of the natural moral law and of all positive law; of the moral virtues and vices—these are all questions which the philosopher of Ethics has to explore by the use of natural reason, and for the investigation of which the Christian philosopher of Ethics is incomparably better equipped than the philosopher who, though possessing the compass of natural reason, ignores the beacon lights of Divinely Revealed Truths.

Esthetics, or the Philosophy of the Fine Arts, is that department of philosophy which studies the conception of the beautiful and its external expression in the works of nature and of man. The arts themselves, of course, whether concerned with the realization of the useful or of the beautiful, are distinct from sciences, even from practical sciences.13 The technique itself consists in a skill acquired by practice—by practice guided, however, by a set of practical canons or rules which are the ripe fruit of experience.14 But behind every art there is always some background of more or less speculative truth. The conception of the useful, however which underlies the mechanical arts and crafts, is not an ultimate conception calling for any further analysis than it receives in the various special sciences and in metaphysics. But the conception of the beautiful does seem to demand a special philosophical consideration. On the subjective or mental side the esthetic sense, artistic taste, the sentiment of the beautiful, the complex emotions accompanying such experience; on the objective side the elements [pg 014] or factors requisite to produce this experience; the relation of the esthetic to the moral, of the beautiful to the good and the true—these are all distinctly philosophical questions. Up to the present time, however, their treatment has been divided between the other departments of philosophy—psychology, cosmology, natural theology, general metaphysics, ethics—rather than grouped together to form an additional distinct department.

V. Departments of Speculative Philosophy: Metaphysics.—The philosophy which studies the order realized in things apart from our activity, speculative philosophy, has been variously divided up into separate departments from the first origins of philosophical speculation.

When we remember that all intellectual knowledge of things involves the apprehension of general truths or laws about these things, and that this apprehension of intelligible aspects common to a more or less extensive group of things involves the exercise of abstraction, we can understand how the whole domain of speculative knowledge, whether scientific or philosophical, can be differentiated into certain layers or levels, so to speak, according to various degrees of abstractness and universality in the intelligible aspects under which the data of our experience may be considered. On this principle Aristotle and the scholastics divided all speculative knowledge into three great domains, Physics, Mathematics and Metaphysics, with their respective proper objects, Change, Quantity and Being, objects which are successively apprehended in three great stages of abstraction traversed by the human mind in its effort to understand and explain the Universal Order of things.

And as a matter of fact perhaps the first great common and most obvious feature which strikes the mind reflecting on the visible universe is the feature of all-pervading change (κίνησις), movement, evolution, progress and regress, growth and decay; we see it everywhere in a variety of forms, mechanical or local change, quantitative change, qualitative change, vital change. Now the knowledge acquired by the study of things under this common aspect is called Physics. Here the mind abstracts merely from the individualizing differences of this change in individual things, and fixes its attention on the great, common, sensible aspect itself of visible change.

But the mind can abstract even from the sensible changes that take place in the physical universe and fix its attention on a static feature in the changing things. This static element [pg 015] (τὸ ἀκίνητον), which the intellect apprehends in material things as naturally inseparable from them (ἀκίνητον ἀλλ᾽ οὐ χωριστόν), is their quantity, their extension in space. When the mind strips a material object of all its visible, sensible properties—on which its mechanical, physical and chemical changes depend—there still remains as an object of thought a something formed of parts outside parts in three dimensions of space. This abstract quantity, quantitas intelligibilis—whether as continuous or discontinuous, as magnitude or multitude—is the proper object of Mathematics.

But the mind can penetrate farther still into the reality of the material data which it finds endowed with the attributes of change and quantity: it can eliminate from the object of its thought even this latter or mathematical attribute, and seize on something still more fundamental. The very essence, substance, nature, being itself, of the thing, the underlying subject and root principle of all the thing's operations and attributes, is something deeper than any of these attributes, something at least mentally distinct from these latter (τὸ ἀκίνητον και χωριστόν): and this something is the proper object of man's highest speculative knowledge, which Aristotle called ἡ πρώτη φιλοσοφία, philosophia prima, the first or fundamental or deepest philosophy.15

But he gave this latter order of knowledge another very significant title: he called it theology or theological science, ἐπιστήμη θεολογίκή, by a denomination derived a potiori parte, from its nobler part, its culmination in the knowledge of God. Let us see how. For Aristotle first philosophy is the science of being and its essential attributes.16 Here the mind apprehends its [pg 016] object as static or abstracted from change, and as immaterial or abstracted from quantity, the fundamental attribute of material reality—as ἀκίνητον καὶ χωριστόν. Now it is the substance, nature, or essence of the things of our direct and immediate experience, that forms the proper object of this highest science. But in these things the substance, nature, or essence, is not found in real and actual separation from the material attributes of change and quantity; it is considered separately from these only by an effort of mental abstraction. Even the nature of man himself is not wholly immaterial; nor is the spiritual principle in man, his soul, entirely exempt from material conditions. Hence in so far as first philosophy studies the being of the things of our direct experience, its object is immaterial only negatively or by mental abstraction. But does this study bring within the scope of our experience any being or reality that is positively and actually exempt from all change and all material conditions? If so the study of this being, the Divine Being, will be the highest effort, the crowning perfection, of first philosophy; which we may therefore call the theological science. “If,” writes Aristotle,17 “there really exists a substance absolutely immutable and immaterial, in a word, a Divine Being—as we hope to prove—then such Being must be the absolutely first and supreme principle, and the science that attains to such Being will be theological.”

In this triple division of speculative philosophy into Physics, Mathematics, and Metaphysics, it will naturally occur to one to ask: Did Aristotle distinguish between what he called Physics and what we nowadays call the special physical sciences? He did. These special analytic studies of the various departments of the physical universe, animate and inanimate, Aristotle described indiscriminately as “partial” sciences: αἱ ἐν μέρει ἐπιστημάι—ἐπιστημαὶ ἐν μέρει λεγόμεναι. These descriptive, inductive, comparative studies, proceeding a posteriori from effects to causes, he conceived rather as a preparation for scientific knowledge proper; this latter he conceived to be a synthetic, deductive explanation of things, in the light of some common aspect detected in them as principle or cause of all their concrete characteristics.18 Such synthetic knowledge of things, in the light of some such common aspect as change, is what he regarded as scientific knowledge, meaning thereby what we mean by philosophical [pg 017] knowledge.19 What he called Physics, therefore, is what we nowadays understand as Cosmology and Psychology.20

Mathematical science Aristotle likewise regarded as science in the full and perfect sense, i.e. as philosophical. But just as we distinguish nowadays between the special physical and human sciences on the one hand, and the philosophy of external nature and man on the other, so we may distinguish between the special mathematical sciences and a Philosophy of Mathematics: with this difference, that while the former groups of special sciences are mainly inductive the mathematical group is mainly deductive. Furthermore, the Philosophy of Mathematics—which investigates questions regarding the ultimate significance of mathematical concepts, axioms and assumptions: unity, multitude, magnitude, quantity, space, time, etc.—does not usually form a separate department in the philosophical curriculum: its problems are dealt with as they arise in the other departments of Metaphysics.

Before outlining the modern divisions of Metaphysics we may note that this latter term was not used by Aristotle. We owe it probably to Andronicus of Rhodes († 40 b.c.), who, when arranging a complete edition of Aristotle's works, placed next in order after the Physics, or physical treatises, all the parts and fragments of the master's works bearing upon the immutable and immaterial object of the philosophia prima; these he labelled τὰ μετὰ τὰ (βιβλία) φυσικα, post physica, the books after the physics: hence the name metaphysics,21 applied to this highest section of speculative philosophy. It was soon noticed that the term, thus fortuitously applied to such investigations, conveyed a very appropriate description of their scope and character if interpreted in the sense of supra-physica,” or trans-physica”: inasmuch [pg 018] as the object of these investigations is a hyperphysical object, an object that is either positively and really, or negatively and by abstraction, beyond the material conditions of quantity and change. St. Thomas combines both meanings of the term when he says that the study of its subject-matter comes naturally after the study of physics, and that we naturally pass from the study of the sensible to that of the suprasensible.22

The term philosophia prima has now only an historical interest; and the term theology, used without qualification, is now generally understood to signify supernatural theology.

VI. Departments of Metaphysics: Cosmology, Psychology, and Natural Theology.—Nowadays the term Metaphysics is understood as synonymous with speculative philosophy: the investigation of the being, nature, or essence, and essential attributes of the realities which are also studied in the various special sciences: the search for the ultimate grounds, reasons and causes of these realities, of which the proximate explanations are sought in the special sciences. We have seen that it has for its special object that most abstract aspect of reality whereby the latter is conceived as changeless and immaterial; and we have seen that a being may have these attributes either by mental abstraction merely, or in actual reality. In other words the philosophical study of things that are really material not only suggests the possibility, but establishes the actual existence, of a Being that is really changeless and immaterial: so that metaphysics in all its amplitude would be the philosophical science of things that are negatively (by abstraction) or positively (in reality) immaterial. This distinction suggests a division of metaphysics into general and special metaphysics. The former would be the philosophical study of all being, considered by mental abstraction as immaterial; the latter would be the philosophical study of the really and positively changeless and immaterial Being,—God. The former would naturally fall into two great branches: the study of inanimate nature and the study of living things, Cosmology and Psychology; while special metaphysics, the philosophical study of the Divine Being, would constitute Natural Theology. These three departments, one of special metaphysics and two of general metaphysics, would not [pg 019] be three distinct philosophical sciences, but three departments of the one speculative philosophical science. The standpoint would be the same in all three sections, viz. being considered as static and immaterial by mental abstraction: for whatever positive knowledge we can reach about being that is really immaterial can be reached only through concepts derived from material being and applied analogically to immaterial being.

Cosmology and Psychology divide between them the whole domain of man's immediate experience. Cosmology, utilizing not only the data of direct experience, but also the conclusions established by the analytic study of these data in the physical sciences, explores the origin, nature, and destiny of the material universe. Some philosophers include among the data of Cosmology all the phenomena of vegetative life, reserving sentient and rational life for Psychology; others include even sentient life in Cosmology, reserving the study of human life for Psychology, or, as they would call it, Anthropology.23 The mere matter of location is of secondary importance. Seeing, however, that man embodies in himself all three forms of life, vegetative, sentient, and rational, all three would perhaps more naturally belong to Psychology, which would be the philosophical study of life in all its manifestations (ψυχή, the vital principle, the soul). Just as the conclusions of the physical sciences are the data of Cosmology, so the conclusions of the natural or biological sciences—Zoology, Botany, Physiology, Morphology, Cellular Biology, etc.—are the data of Psychology. Indeed in Psychology itself—especially in more recent years—it is possible to distinguish a positive, analytic, empirical study of the phenomena of consciousness, a study which would rank rather as a special than as an ultimate or philosophical science; and a synthetic, rational study of the results of this analysis, a study which would be strictly philosophical in character. This would have for its object to determine the origin, nature and destiny of living things in general and of man himself in particular. It would inquire into the nature and essential properties of living matter, into the nature of the subject of conscious states, into the operations and faculties of the human mind, into the nature of the human soul and its mode of union with the body, into the rationality of the human [pg 020] intellect and the freedom of the human will, the spirituality and immortality of the human soul, etc.

But since the human mind itself is the natural instrument whereby man acquires all his knowledge, it will be at once apparent that the study of the phenomenon of knowledge itself, of the cognitive activity of the mind, can be studied, and must be studied, not merely as a natural phenomenon of the mind, but from the point of view of its special significance as representative of objects other than itself, from the point of view of its validity or invalidity, its truth or falsity, and with the special aim of determining the scope and limitations and conditions of its objective validity. We have already referred to the study of human knowledge from this standpoint, in connexion with what was said above concerning Logic. It has a close kinship with Logic on the one hand, and with Psychology on the other; and nowadays it forms a distinct branch of speculative Philosophy under the title of Criteriology, Epistemology, or the Theory of Knowledge.

Arising out of the data of our direct experience, external and internal, as studied in the philosophical departments just outlined, we find a variety of evidences all pointing beyond the domain of this direct experience to the supreme conclusion that there exists of necessity, distinct from this directly experienced universe, as its Creator, Conserver, and Ruler, its First Beginning and its Last End, its Alpha and Omega, One Divine and Infinite Being, the Deity. The existence and attributes of the Deity, and the relations of man and the universe to the Deity, form the subject-matter of Natural Theology.

VII. Departments of Metaphysics: Ontology and Epistemology.—According to the Aristotelian and scholastic conception speculative philosophy would utilize as data the conclusions of the special sciences—physical, biological, and human. It would try to reach a deeper explanation of their data by synthesizing these under the wider aspects of change, quantity, and being, thus bringing to light the ultimate causes, reasons, and explanatory principles of things. This whole study would naturally fall into two great branches: General Metaphysics (Cosmology and Psychology), which would study things exempt from quantity and change not really but only by mental abstraction; and Special Metaphysics (Natural Theology), which would study the positively immaterial and immutable Being of the Deity.

This division of Metaphysics, thoroughly sound in principle, [pg 021] and based on a sane and rational view of the relation between the special sciences and philosophy, has been almost entirely24 supplanted in modern times by a division which, abstracting from the erroneous attitude that prompted it in the first instance, has much to recommend it from the standpoint of practical convenience of treatment. The modern division was introduced by Wolff (1679-1755), a German philosopher,—a disciple of Leibniz (1646-1716) and forerunner of Kant (1724-1804).25 Influenced by the excessively deductive method of Leibniz' philosophy, which he sought to systematize and to popularize, he wrongly conceived the metaphysical study of reality as something wholly apart and separate from the inductive investigation of this same reality in the positive sciences. It comprised the study of the most fundamental and essential principles of being, considered in themselves; and the deductive application of these principles to the three great domains of actual reality, the corporeal universe, the human soul, and God. The study of the first principles of being in themselves would constitute General Metaphysics, or Ontology (ὄντος-λόγος). Their applications would constitute three great departments of Special Metaphysics: Cosmology, which he described as “transcendental” in opposition to the experimental physical sciences; Psychology, which he termed “rational” in opposition to the empirical biological sciences; and finally Natural Theology, which he entitled Theodicy (Θεός-δίκη-δικαιόω), using a term invented by Leibniz for his essays in vindication of the wisdom and justice of Divine Providence notwithstanding the evils of the universe.

The spirit that animated this arrangement of the departments of metaphysics, writes Mercier, was unsound in theory and unfortunate in tendency. It stereotyped for centuries a disastrous divorce between philosophy and the [pg 022] sciences, a divorce that had its origin in circumstances peculiar to the intellectual atmosphere of the early eighteenth century. As a result of it there was soon no common language or understanding between scientists and philosophers. The terms which expressed the most fundamental ideas—matter, substance, movement, cause, force, energy, and such like—were taken in different senses in science and in philosophy. Hence misunderstandings, aggravated by a growing mutual distrust and hostility, until finally people came to believe that scientific and metaphysical preoccupations were incompatible if not positively opposed to each other.26

How very different from the disintegrating conception here criticized is the traditional Aristotelian and scholastic conception of the complementary functions of philosophy and the sciences in unifying human knowledge: a conception thus eloquently expressed by Newman in his Idea of a University:—27

All that exists, as contemplated by the human mind, forms one large system or complex fact.... Now, it is not wonderful that, with all its capabilities, the human mind cannot take in this whole vast fact at a single glance, or gain possession of it at once. Like a short-sighted reader, its eye pores closely, and travels slowly, over the awful volume which lies open for its inspection. Or again, as we deal with some huge structure of many parts and sides, the mind goes round about it, noting down, first one thing, then another, as best it may, and viewing it under different aspects, by way of making progress towards mastering the whole.... These various partial views or abstractions ... are called sciences ... they proceed on the principle of a division of labour.... As they all belong to one and the same circle of objects, they are one and all connected together; as they are but aspects of things, they are severally incomplete in their relation to the things themselves, though complete in their own idea and for their own respective purposes; on both accounts they at once need and subserve each other. And further, the comprehension of the bearings of one science on another, and the use of each to each, and the location and limitation and adjustment and due appreciation of them all, one with another, this belongs, I conceive, to a sort of science distinct from all of them, and in some sense, a science of sciences, which is my own conception of what is meant by Philosophy....

Without in any way countenancing such an isolation of metaphysics from the positive sciences, we may, nevertheless, adopt the modern division in substance and in practice. While recognizing the intimate connexion between the special sciences and metaphysics in all its branches, we may regard as General Metaphysics all inquiries into the fundamental principles of being and of knowing, of reality and of knowledge; and as Special Metaphysics the philosophical study of physical nature, of human nature, and of God, the Author and Supreme Cause of all finite reality. Thus, while special metaphysics would embrace Cosmology, Psychology, and Natural Theology, general metaphysics [pg 023] would embrace Ontology and Epistemology. These two latter disciplines must no doubt investigate what is in a certain sense one and the same subject-matter, inasmuch as knowledge is knowledge of reality, nor can the knowing mind (the subjectum cognoscens) and the known reality (the objectum cognitum) be wholly separated or studied in complete isolation from each other. Yet the whole content of human experience, which forms their common subject-matter, can be regarded by mental abstraction from the two distinct standpoints of the knowing mind and the known reality, and can thus give rise to two distinct sets of problems. Epistemology is thus concerned with the truth and certitude of human knowledge; with the subjective conditions and the scope and limits of its validity; with the subjective or mental factors involved in knowing.28 Ontology is concerned with the objects of knowledge, with reality considered in the widest, deepest, and most fundamental aspects under which it is conceived by the human mind: with the being and becoming of reality, its possibility and its actuality, its essence and its existence, its unity and plurality; with the aspects of truth, goodness, perfection, beauty, which it assumes in relation with our minds; with the contingency of finite reality and the grounds and implications both of its actual existence and of its intelligibility; with the modes of its concrete existence and behaviour, the supreme categories of reality as they are called: substance, individual nature, and personality; quantity, space and time, quality and relation, causality and purpose. These are the principal topics investigated in the present volume. The investigation is confined to fundamental concepts and principles, leaving their applications to be followed out in special metaphysics. Furthermore, the theory of knowledge known as Moderate Realism,29 the Realism of Aristotle and the Scholastics, in regard to the validity of knowledge both sensual and intellectual, is assumed throughout: because not alone is this the true theory, but—as a natural consequence—it is the only theory which renders the individual things and events of human experience really intelligible, and at the same time keeps the highest and most abstract intellectual speculations of metaphysics in constant and wholesome contact with the concrete, actual world in which we live, move, and have our being.

VIII. Remarks on Some Misgivings and Prejudices.—The [pg 024] student, especially the beginner, will find the investigations in this volume rather abstract; but if he remembers that the content of our intellectual concepts, be they ever so abstract and universal, is really embodied in the individual things and events of his daily experience, he will not be disposed to denounce all ultimate analysis of these concepts as “unprofitable” or “unreal”. He will recognize that the reproach of “talking in the air,” which was levelled by an eminent medieval scholastic30 at certain philosophers of his time, tells against the metaphysical speculations of Conceptualism, but not against those of Moderate Realism. The reproach is commonly cast at all systematic metaphysics nowadays—from prejudices too numerous and varied to admit of investigation here.31 The modern prejudice which denies the very possibility of metaphysics, a prejudice arising from Phenomenism, Positivism, and Agnosticism—systems which are themselves no less metaphysical than erroneous—will be examined in due course.32

But really in order to dispel all such misgivings one has only to remember that metaphysics, systematic or otherwise, is nothing more than a man's reasoned outlook on the world and life. Whatever his conscious opinions and convictions may be regarding the nature and purpose of himself, and other men, and the world at large—and if he use his reason at all he must have some sort of opinions and convictions, whether positive or negative, on these matters—those opinions and convictions are precisely that man's metaphysics. “Breaking free for the moment from all historical and technical definition, let us affirm: To get at reality—this is the aim of metaphysics.” So writes Professor Ladd in the opening chapter of his Theory of Reality.33 But if this is so, surely a systematic attempt to “get at reality,” no matter how deep and wide, no matter how abstract and universal be the conceptions and speculations to which it leads us, cannot nevertheless always and of necessity have the effect of involving us in a mirage of illusion and unreality.

Systematic metaphysics—to quote again the author just referred to—34 is ... the necessary result of a patient, orderly, well-informed, and prolonged [pg 025] study of those ultimate problems which are proposed to every reflective mind by the real existences and actual transactions of selves and of things. Thus considered it appears as the least abstract and foreign to concrete realities of all the higher pursuits of reason. Mathematics is abstract; logic is abstract; mathematical and so-called pure physics are abstract. But metaphysics is bound by its very nature and calling always to keep near to the actual and to the concrete. Dive into the depths of speculation indeed it may; and its ocean is boundless in expanse and deep beyond all reach of human plummets. But it finds its place of standing, for every new turn of daring explanation, on some bit of solid ground. For it is actuality which it wishes to understand—although in reflective and interpretative way. To quote from Professor Royce: The basis of our whole theory is the bare, brute fact of experience which you have always with you, namely, the fact: Something is real. Our question is: What is this reality? or, again, What is the ultimately real?35

The wonderful progress of the positive sciences during the last few centuries has been the occasion of prejudice against metaphysics in a variety of ways. It is objected, for instance, that metaphysics has no corresponding progress to boast of; and from this there is but a small step to the conclusion that all metaphysical speculation is sterile. The comparison is unfair for many reasons. Research into the ultimate grounds and causes of things is manifestly more difficult than research into their proximate grounds and causes. Again, while the positive sciences have increased our knowledge mainly in extent rather than in depth, it is metaphysics and only metaphysics that can increase this knowledge in its unity, comprehensiveness, and significance.

A positive increase in our knowledge of the manifold data of human experience is not the aim of metaphysics; its aim is to give an ultimate meaning and interpretation to this knowledge. It is not utilitarian in the narrower sense in which the positive and special sciences are utilitarian by ministering to our material needs; but in the higher and nobler sense of pointing out to us the bearing of all human knowledge and achievement on our real nature and destiny. True, indeed, individual leaders and schools of metaphysics have strayed from the truth and spoken with conflicting and uncertain voices, especially when they have failed to avail themselves of Truth Divinely Revealed. This, however, is not a failure of metaphysics but of individual metaphysicians. And furthermore, it is undeniable withal, that the metaphysical labours of the great philosophers in all ages have contributed richly to the enlightenment and civilization of mankind—particularly [pg 026] when these labours have been in concord and co-operation with the elevating and purifying influences of the Christian religion. Of no metaphysical system is this so entirely true as of that embodied in Scholastic Philosophy. The greatest intellect of the Middle Ages, St. Thomas Aquinas, gave to this philosophy an expression which is rightly regarded by the modern scholastic as his intellectual charter and the most worthy starting-point of his philosophical investigations. The following passage from an eminent representative of modern scholastic thought36 is sufficiently suggestive to admit of quotation:—

Amid the almost uninterrupted disintegration of systems during the last three centuries, the philosophy of St. Thomas has alone been able to stand the shock of criticism; it alone has proved sufficiently solid and comprehensive to serve as an intellectual basis and unifying principle for all the new facts and phenomena brought to light by the modern sciences. And unless we are much mistaken, those who take up and follow this philosophy will come to think, as we do, that on the analysis of mental acts and processes, on the inner nature of corporeal things, of living things, and of man, on the existence and nature of God, on the foundations of speculative and moral science, none have thought or written more wisely than St. Thomas Aquinas. But though we place our programme and teaching under the patronage of the illustrious name of this prince of scholastics, we do not regard the Thomistic philosophy as an ideal beyond possibility of amelioration, or as a boundary to the activity of the human mind. We do think, however, on mature reflection, that we are acting no less wisely than modestly in taking it as our starting-point and constant standard of reference. This we say in answer to those of our friends and enemies who are occasionally pleased to ask us if we really do mean to lead back the modern mind into the Middle Ages, and to identify philosophy simply with the thought of any one philosopher. Manifestly, we mean nothing of the kind. Has not Leo XIII., the great initiator of the new scholastic movement, expressly warned us37 to be mindful of the present: Edicimus libenti gratoque animo recipiendum esse quidquid sapienter dictum, quidquid utiliter fuerit a quopiam inventum atque excogitatum?

St. Thomas himself would be the first to rebuke those who would follow his own philosophical opinions in all things against their own better judgment, and to remind them of what he wrote at the head of his Summa: that in philosophy, of all arguments that based on human authority is the weakest, locus ab auctoritate quæ fundatur super ratione humana, est infirmissimus.38

Again, therefore, let us assert that respect for tradition is not servility but mere elementary prudence. Respect for a doctrine of whose soundness and worth we are personally convinced is not fetishism; it is but a rational and rightful tribute to the dominion of Truth over Mind.

[pg 027]

Modern scholastics will know how to take to heart and profit by the lessons of the seventeenth and eighteenth century controversies; they will avoid the mistakes of their predecessors; they will keep in close contact with the special sciences subsidiary to philosophy and with the views and teachings of modern and contemporary thinkers.39

An overweening confidence in the power of the special sciences to solve ultimate questions, or at least to tell us all that can be known for certain about these problems, a confidence based on the astonishing progress of those sciences in modern times, is the source of yet another prejudice against metaphysics. It is a prejudice of the half-educated mind, of the camp-followers of science, not of its leaders. These latter are keenly conscious that the solution of ultimate questions lies entirely beyond the methods of the special sciences. Not that even the most eminent scientists do not indulge in speculations about ultimate problems—as they have a perfect right to do. But though they may be themselves quite aware that such speculations are distinctly metaphysical, there are multitudes who seem to think that a theory ceases to be metaphysical and becomes scientific provided only it is broached by a scientific expert as distinct from a metaphysician.40 But all sincere thinkers will recognize that no ultimate question about the totality of human experience can be solved by any science which explores merely a portion of this experience. Nay, the more rapid and extensive is the progress of the various special sciences, the more imperative and insistent becomes the need to collect and collate their separate findings, to interrogate them one and all as to whether and how far these findings fit in with the facts and conditions of human life and existence, to determine what light and aid they contribute to the solution of the great and ever recurring questions of the whence? and whither? and why? of man and the universe. One who is a sincere scientist as well as an earnest philosopher has written à propos of this necessity in the following terms:—

The farther science has pushed back the limits of the discernible universe, the more insistently do we feel the demand within us for some satisfactory explanation of the whole. The old, eternal problems rise up before us and clamour loudly and ever more loudly for some newer and better solution. The solution offered by a bygone age was soothing at least, if it was not final. In the present age, however, the problems reappear with [pg 028] an acuteness that is almost painful: the deep secret of our own human nature, the questions of our origin and destiny, the intermeddling of blind necessity and chance and pain in the strange, tangled drama of our existence, the foibles and oddities of the human soul, and all the mystifying problems of social relations: are not these all so many enigmas which torment and trouble us whithersoever we turn? And all seem to circle around the one essential question: Has human nature a real meaning and value, or is it so utterly amiss that truth and peace will never be its portion?41

A final difficulty against philosophical research is suggested by the thought that if the philosopher has to take cognizance of all the conclusions of all the special sciences his task is an impossible one, inasmuch as nowadays at all events it would take a lifetime to become proficient in a few of these sciences not to speak of all of them.

There is no question, however, of becoming proficient in them; the philosopher need not be a specialist in any positive science; his acquaintance with the contents of these sciences need extend no farther than such established conclusions and such current though unverified hypotheses as have an immediate bearing on ultimate or philosophical problems.

Moreover, while it would be injurious both to philosophy and to science, as is proved by the history of both alike, to separate synthetic from analytic speculation by a divorce between philosophy and science; while it would be unwise to ignore the conclusions of the special sciences and to base philosophical research exclusively on the data of the plain man's common and unanalysed experience, it must be remembered on the other hand that the most fundamental truths of speculative and practical philosophy, the truths that are most important for the right and proper orientation of human life, can be established and defended independently of the special researches of the positive sciences. The human mind had not to await the discovery of radium in order to prove the existence of God. Such supreme truths as the existence of God, the immortality of the human soul, the freedom of the human will, the existence of a moral law, the distinction between right and wrong, etc., have been always in possession of the human race. It has been, moreover, confirmed in its possession of them by Divine Revelation. And it has not needed either the rise or the progress of modern science to defend them. These fundamental rational truths constitute a philosophia perennis: [pg 029] a fund of truth which is, like all truth, immutable, though our human insight into it may develop in depth and clearness.

But while this is so it is none the less true that philosophy, to be progressive in its own order, must take account of every new fact and conclusion brought to light in every department of scientific—and historical, and artistic, and literary, and every other sort of—research. And this for the simple reason that every such accession, whether of fact or of theory, is an enlargement of human experience; as such it clamours on the one hand for philosophical interpretation, for explanation in the light of what we know already about the ultimate grounds and causes of things, for admission into our world-outlook, for adjustment and co-ordination with the previous contents of the latter; while, on the other hand, by its very appearance on the horizon of human experience it may enrich or illumine, rectify or otherwise influence, this outlook or some aspect of it.42

If, then, philosophy has to take account of advances in every other department of human research, it is clear that its mastery at the present day is a more laborious task than ever it was in the past. In order to get an intelligent grasp of its principles in their applications to the problems raised by the progress of the sciences, to newly discovered facts and newly propounded hypotheses, the student must be familiar with these facts and hypotheses; and all the more so because through the medium of a sensational newspaper press that has more regard for novelty than truth, these facts and hypotheses are no sooner brought to light by scientists than what are often garbled and distorted versions of them are circulated among the masses.43

Similarly, in order that a sound system of speculative and [pg 030] practical philosophy be expounded, developed, and defended at the present time, a system that will embrace and co-ordinate the achieved results of modern scientific research, a system that will offer the most satisfactory solutions of old difficulties in new forms and give the most reasonable and reliable answers to the ever recurring questionings of man concerning his own nature and destiny—it is clear that the insufficiency of individual effort must be supplemented by the co-operation of numbers. It is the absence of fulness, completeness, adequacy, in most modern systems of philosophy, their fragmentary character, the unequal development of their parts, that accounts very largely for the despairing attitude of the many who nowadays despise and turn away from philosophical speculation. Add to this the uncertain voice with which these philosophies speak in consequence of their advocates ignoring the implications of the most stupendous fact in human experience,—the Christian Revelation. But there is one philosophy which is free from these defects, a philosophy which is in complete harmony with Revealed Truth, and which forms with the latter the only true Philosophy of Life; and that one philosophy is the system which, assimilating the wisdom of Plato, Aristotle and all the other greatest thinkers of the world, has been traditionally expounded in the Christian schools—the Scholastic system of philosophy. It has been elaborated by no one man, and is the original fruit of no one mind. Unlike the philosophies of Kant or Hegel or Spencer or James or Comte or Bergson, it is not a “one-man” philosophy. It cannot boast of the novelty or originality of the many eccentric and ephemeral “systems” which have succeeded one another so rapidly in recent times in the world of intellectual fashion; but it has ever possessed the enduring novelty of the truth, which is ever ancient and ever new. Now although this philosophy may have been mastered in its broad outlines and applications by specially gifted individuals in past ages, its progressive exposition and development, and its application to the vastly extended and ever-growing domains of experience that are being constantly explored by the special sciences, can never be the work of any individual: it can be accomplished only by the earnest co-operation of Christian philosophers in every part of the civilized world.44

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In carrying on this work we have not to build from the beginning. “It has sometimes been remarked,” as Newman observes,45 “when men have boasted of the knowledge of modern times, that no wonder we see more than the ancients because we are mounted upon their shoulders.” Yes; the intellectual toilers of to-day are heirs to the intellectual wealth of their ancestors. We have tradition: not to despise but to use, critically, judiciously, reverently, if we are to use it profitably. Thomas Davis has somewhere said that they who demolish the past do not build up for the future. And we have the Christian Revelation, as a lamp to our feet and a light to our paths46 in all those rational investigations which form the appointed task of the philosopher. Hence,

Let knowledge grow from more to more,
But more of reverence in us dwell;
That mind and soul, according well,
May make one music as before,
But vaster.47
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Chapter I. Being And Its Primary Determinations.

1. Our Concept of Being: its Expression and Features.—The term Being (Lat. ens; Gr. ὤν; Ger. Seiend; Fr. étant) as present participle of the verb to be (Lat. esse; Gr. ἔιναι; Ger. Sein; Fr. être) means existing (existens, existere). But the participle has come to be used as a noun; and as such it does not necessarily imply actual existence hic et nunc. It does indeed imply some relation to actual existence; for we designate as “being” (in the substantive sense) only whatever we conceive as actually existing or at least as capable of existing; and it is from the participial sense, which implies actual existence, that the substantive sense has been derived. Moreover, the intelligible use of the word “being” as a term implies a reference to some actually existing sphere of reality.48 It is in the substantive meaning the term will be most frequently used in these pages, as the context will show. When we speak of “a being” in the concrete, the word has the same meaning as “thing” (res) used in the wide sense in which this latter includes persons, places, events, facts and phenomena of whatsoever kind. In the same sense we speak of “a reality,” this term having taken on a concrete, in addition to its original abstract, meaning. “Being” has also this abstract sense when we speak of “the being or reality of things”. Finally it may be used in a collective sense to indicate the sum-total of all that is or can be—all reality.

(a) The notion of being, spontaneously reached by the human mind, is found on reflection to be the simplest of all notions, defying every attempt at analysis into simpler notions. It is involved in every other concept which we form of any object of thought whatsoever. Without it we could have no concept of anything.

(b) It is thus the first of all notions in the logical order, i.e. in the process of rational thought.

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(c) It is also the first of all notions in the chronological order, the first which the human mind forms in the order of time. Not, of course, that we remember having formed it before any other more determinate notions. But the child's awakening intellectual activity must have proceeded from the simplest, easiest, most superficial of all concepts, to fuller, clearer, and more determinate concepts, i.e. from the vague and confused notion of “being” or “thing” to notions of definite modes of being, or kinds of thing.

(d) This direct notion of being is likewise the most indeterminate of all notions; though not of course entirely indeterminate. An object of thought, to be conceivable or intelligible at all by our finite minds, must be rendered definite in some manner and degree; and even this widest notion of “being” is rendered intelligible only by being conceived as positive and as contrasting with absolute non-being or nothingness.49

According to the Hegelian philosophy pure thought can apparently think pure being, i.e. being in absolute indeterminateness, being as not even differentiated from pure not-being or absolute nothingness. And this absolutely indeterminate confusion (we may not call it a synthesis or unity) of something and nothing, of being and not-being, of positive and negative, of affirmation and denial, would be conceived by our finite minds as the objective correlative of, and at the same time as absolutely identical with, its subjective correlative which is pure thought. Well, it is with the human mind and its objects, and how it thinks those objects, that we are concerned at present; not with speculations involving the gratuitous assumption of a Being that would transcend all duality of subject and object, all determinateness of knowing and being, all distinction of thought and thing. We believe that the human mind can establish the existence of a Supreme Being whose mode of Thought and Existence transcends all human comprehension, but it can do so only as the culminating achievement of all its speculation; and the transcendent Being it thus reaches has nothing in common with the monistic ideal-real being of Hegel's philosophy. In endeavouring to set out from the high a priori ground of such an intangible conception, the Hegelian philosophy starts at the wrong end.

(e) Further, the notion of being is the most abstract of all notions, poorest in intension as it is widest in extension. We derive it from the data of our experience, and the process by which we reach it is a process of abstraction. We lay aside all the differences whereby things are distinguished from one another; we do not consider these differences; we prescind or abstract from them mentally, and retain for consideration only what is [pg 034] common to all of them. This common element forms the explicit content of our notion of being.

It must be noted, however, that we do not positively exclude the differences from the object of our concept; we cannot do this, for the simple reason that the differences too are “being,” inasmuch as they too are modes of being. Our attitude towards them is negative; we merely abstain from considering them explicitly, though they remain in our concept implicitly. The separation effected is only mental, subjective, notional, formal, negative; not objective, not real, not positive. Hence the process by which we narrow down the concept of being to the more comprehensive concept of this or that generic or specific mode of being, does not add to the former concept anything really new, or distinct from, or extraneous to it; but rather brings out explicitly something that was implicit in the latter. The composition of being with its modes is, therefore, only logical composition, not real.

On the other hand, it would seem that when we abstract a generic mode of being from the specific modes subordinate to the former, we positively exclude the differentiating characteristics of these species; and that, conversely, when we narrow down the genus to a subordinate species we do so by adding on a differentiating mode which was not contained even implicitly in the generic concept. Thus, for example, the differentiating concept “rational” is not contained even implicitly in the generic concept “animal”: it is added on ab extra to the latter50 in order to reach the specific concept of “rational animal” or “man”; so that in abstracting the generic from the subordinate specific concept we prescind objectively and really from the differentiating concept, by positively excluding this latter. This kind of abstraction is called objective, real, positive; and the composition of such generic and differentiating modes of being is technically known as metaphysical composition. The different modes of being, which the mind can distinguish at different levels of abstraction in any specific concept—such as “rational,” “sentient,” “living,” “corporeal,” in the concept of “man”—are likewise known as “metaphysical grades” of being.

It has been questioned whether this latter kind of abstraction is always used in relating generic, specific, and differential modes of being. At first [pg 035] sight it would not appear to be a quite satisfactory account of the process in cases where the generic notion exhibits a mode of being which can be embodied only in one or other of a number of alternative specific modes by means of differentiae not found in any things lying outside the genus itself. The generic notion of plane rectilinear figure does not, of course, include explicitly its species triangle, quadrilateral, pentagon, etc.; nor does it include even implicitly any definite one of them. But the concept of each of the differentiating characters, e.g. the differentia three-sidedness, is unintelligible except as a mode of a plane rectilinear figure.51 This, however, is only accidental, i.e. due to the special objects considered;52 and even here there persists this difference that whereas what differentiates the species of plane rectilinear figures is not explicitly and formally plane-rectilinearity, that which differentiates finite from infinite being, or substantial from accidental being, is itself also formally and explicitly being. But there are other cases in which the abstraction is manifestly objective. Thus, for example, the differentiating concept rational does not even implicitly include the generic concept animal, for the former concept may be found realized in beings other than animals; and the differentiating concept living does not even implicitly include the concept corporeal, for it may be found realized in incorporeal beings.

(f) Since the notion of being is so simple that it cannot be analysed into simpler notions which might serve as its genus and differentia, it cannot strictly speaking be defined. We can only describe it by considering it from various points of view and comparing it with the various modes in which we find it realized. This is what we have been attempting so far. Considering its fundamental relation to existence we might say that “Being is that which exists or is at least capable of existing”: Ens est id quod existit vel saltem existere potest. Or, considering its relation to its opposite we might say that “Being is that which is not absolute nothingness”: Ens est id quod non est nihil absolutum. Or, considering its relation to our minds, we might say that “Being is whatever is thinkable, whatever can be an object of thought”.

(g) The notion of being is so universal that it transcends all actual and conceivable determinate modes of being: it embraces infinite being and all modes of finite being. In other words it is not itself a generic, but a transcendental notion. Wider than all, even the widest and highest genera, it is not itself a genus. A genus is determinable into its species by the addition of differences which lie outside the concept of the genus itself; being, [pg 036] as we have seen, is not in this way determinable into its modes.

2. In what Sense are all Things that Exist or can Exist said to be Real or to have Being?—A generic concept can be predicated univocally, i.e. in the same sense, of its subordinate species. These latter differ from one another by characteristics which lie outside the concept of the genus, while they all agree in realizing the generic concept itself: they do not of course realize it in the same way,53 but as such it is really and truly in each of them and is predicated in the same sense of each. But the characteristics which differentiate all genera and species from one another, and from the common notion of being, in which they all agree, are likewise being. That in which they differ is being, as well as that in which they agree. Hence we do not predicate “being” univocally of its various modes. When we say of the various classes of things which make up our experience that they are “real” (or “realities,” or “beings”), we do not apply this predicate in altogether the same sense to the several classes; for as applied to each class it connotes the whole content of each, not merely the part in which this agrees with, but also the part in which it differs from, the others. Nor yet do we apply the concept of “being” in a totally different sense to each separate determinate mode of being. When we predicate “being” of its modes the predication is not merely equivocal. The concept expressed by the predicate-term “being” is not totally different as applied to each subject-mode; for in all cases alike it implies either actual existence or some relation thereto. It only remains, therefore, that we must regard the notion of being, when predicated of its several modes, as partly the same and partly different; and this is what we mean when we say that the concept of being is analogical, that being is predicated analogically of its various modes.

Analogical predication is of two kinds: a term or concept may be affirmed of a variety of subjects either by analogy of attribution or by analogy of proportion. We may, for instance, speak not only of a man as “healthy,” but also of his food, his countenance, [pg 037] his occupation, his companionship, etc., as “healthy”. Now health is found really only in the man, but it is attributed to the other things owing to some extrinsic but real connexion which they have with his health, whether as cause, or effect, or indication, of the latter. This is analogy of attribution; the subject of which the predicate is properly and primarily affirmed being known as the primary analogue or analogum princeps, those to which it is transferred being called the analogata. It underlies the figures of speech known as metynomy and synechdoche. Now on account of the various relations that exist between the different modes of being, relations of cause and effect, whole and part, means and end, ground and consequence, etc.—relations which constitute the orders of existing and possible things, the physical and the metaphysical orders—being is of course predicated of its modes by analogy of attribution; and in such predication infinite being is the primary analogue for finite beings, and the substance-mode of being for all accident-modes of being.

Inasmuch, however, as being is not merely attributed to these modes extrinsically, but belongs to all of them intrinsically, it is also predicated of them by analogy of proportion. This latter sort of analogy is based on similarity of relations. For example, the act of understanding bears a relation to the mind similar to that which the act of seeing bears to the eye, and hence we say of the mind that it “sees” things when it understands them. Or, again, we speak of a verdant valley in the sunshine as “smiling,” because its appearance bears a relation to the valley similar to that which a smile bears to the human countenance. Or again, we speak of the parched earth as “thirsting” for the rains, or of the devout soul as “thirsting” for God, because these relations are recognized as similar to that of a thirsty person towards the drink for which he thirsts. In all such cases the analogical concept implies not indeed the same attribute (differently realized) in all the analogues (as in univocal predication) but rather a similarity in the relation or proportion in which each analogue embodies or realizes some attribute or attributes peculiar to itself. Seeing is to the eye as understanding is to the mind; smiling is to the countenance as the pleasing appearance of its natural features is to the valley. Rain is to the parched earth, and God is to the devout soul, as drink is to the thirsty person. It will be noted that in all such cases the analogical concept is affirmed primarily and properly of some one thing (the analogum princeps), [pg 038] and of the other only secondarily, and relatively to the former.

Now, if we reflect on the manner in which being is affirmed of its various modes (e.g. of the infinite and the finite; or of substance and accident; or of spiritual and corporeal substances; or of quantities, or qualities, or causes, etc.) we can see firstly that although these differ from one another by all that each of them is, by the whole being of each, yet there is an all-pervading similarity between the relations which these modes bear each to its own existence. All have, or can have, actual existence: each according to the grade of perfection of its own reality. If we conceive infinite being as the cause of all finite beings, then the former exists in a manner appropriate to its all-perfect reality, and finite beings in a manner proportionate to their limited realities; and so of the various modes of finite being among themselves. Moreover, we can see secondly, as will be explained more fully below,54 that being is affirmed of the finite by virtue of its dependence on the infinite, and of accident by virtue of its dependence on substance.55 Being or reality is therefore predicated of its modes by analogy of proportion.56

Is a concept, when applied in this way, one, or is it really manifold? It is not simply one, for this would yield univocal predication; nor is it simply manifold, for this would give equivocal predication. Being, considered in its vague, imperfect, inadequate sense, as involving some common or similar proportion or relation to existence in all its analogues, is one; considered as representing clearly and adequately what is thus similarly related to each of the analogues, it is manifold.

Analogy of proportion is the basis of the figure of speech known as metaphor. It would be a mistake, however, to infer from this that what is thus analogically predicated of a number of things belongs intrinsically and properly only to one of them, being transferred by a mere extrinsic denomination to the others; and that therefore it does not express any genuine knowledge [pg 039] on our part about the nature of these other things. It does give us real knowledge about them. Metaphor is not equivocation; but perhaps more usually it is understood not to give us real knowledge because it is understood to be based on resemblances that are merely fanciful, not real. Still, no matter how slender and remote be the proportional resemblance on which the analogical use of language is based, in so far forth as it has such a real basis it gives us real insight into the nature of the analogues. And if we hesitate to describe such a use of language as “metaphorical,” this is only because “metaphor” perhaps too commonly connotes a certain transferred and improper extension of the meaning of terms, based upon a purely fanciful resemblance.

All our language is primarily and properly expressive of concepts derived from the sensible appearances of material realities. As applied to the suprasensible, intelligible aspects of these realities, such as substance and cause, or to spiritual realities, such as the human soul and God, it is analogical in another sense; not as opposed to univocal, but as opposed to proper. That is, it expresses concepts which are not formed directly from the presence of the things which they signify, but are gathered from other things to which the latter are necessarily related in a variety of ways.57 Considering the origin of our knowledge, the material, the sensible, the phenomenal, comes first in order, and moulds our concepts and language primarily to its own proper representation and expression; while the spiritual, the intelligible, the substantial, comes later, and must make use of the concepts and language thus already moulded.

If we consider, however, not the order in which we get our knowledge, but the order of reality in the objects of our knowledge, being or reality is primarily and more properly predicated of the infinite than of the finite, of the Creator than of the creature, of the spiritual than of the material, of substances than of their accidents and sensible manifestations or phenomena. Yet we do not predicate being or reality of the finite, or of creatures, in a mere transferred, extrinsic, improper sense, as if these were mere manifestations of the infinite, or mere effects of the First Cause, to which alone reality would properly belong. For creatures, finite things, are in a true and proper sense also real.

Duns Scotus and those who think with him contend that the concept of being, derived as it is from our experience of finite being, if applied only [pg 040] analogically to infinite being would give us no genuine knowledge about the latter. They maintain that whenever a universal concept is applied to the objects in which it is realized intrinsically, it is affirmed of these objects univocally. The notion of being, in its most imperfect, inadequate, indeterminate sense, is, they say, one and the same in so far forth as it is applicable to the infinite and the finite, and to all the modes of the finite; and it is therefore predicated of all univocally.58 But although they apply the concept of being univocally to the infinite and the finite, i.e. to God and creatures, they admit that the reality corresponding to this univocal concept is totally different in God and in creatures: that God differs by all that He is from creatures, and they by all that they are from Him. While, however, Scotists emphasize the formal oneness or identity of the indeterminate common concept, followers of St. Thomas emphasize the fact that the various modes of being differ totally, by all that each of them is, from one another; and, from this radical diversity in the modes of being, they infer that the common concept should not be regarded as simply the same, but only as proportionally the same, as expressive of a similar relation of each intrinsically different mode of reality to actual existence.

Thomists lay still greater stress, perhaps, upon the second consideration referred to above, as a reason for regarding being as an analogical concept when affirmed of Creator and creature, or of substance and accident: the consideration that the finite is dependent on the infinite, and accident on substance. If being is realized in a true and proper sense, and intrinsically, as it undoubtedly is, in whatever is distinguishable from nothingness, why not say that we should affirm being or reality of all things either as a genus in the strict sense, or else in some sense not analogical but proper, after the manner in which we predicate a genus of its species and individuals?... Since the object of our universal idea of being is admitted to be really in all things, we can evidently abstract from what is proper to substance and to accident, just as we abstract from what is proper to plants and to animals when we affirm of these that they are living things.59

In reply to this difficulty, Father Kleutgen continues,60 we say in the first place that the idea of being is in truth less analogical and more proper than any belonging to the first sort of analogy [i.e. of attribution], and that therefore it approaches more closely to generic concepts properly so called. At the same time the difference which separates both from the latter concepts remains. For a name applied to many things is analogical if what it signifies is realized par excellence in one, and in the others only subordinately and dependently on that. Hence it is that Aristotle regards predication as analogical when something is affirmed of many things (1) either because these have a certain relation to some one thing, (2) or because they depend on some one thing. In the former case the thing signified by the name is really and properly found only in one single thing, and is affirmed of all the others only in virtue of some real relation of these to the former, whether this be (a) that these things merely resemble that single thing [pg 041] [metaphor], or (b) bear some other relation to it, such as that of effect to cause, etc. [metonymy]. In the latter case the thing signified by the name is really in each of the things of which it is affirmed; but it is in one alone par excellence, and in the others only by depending, for its very existence in them, on that one. Now the object of the term being is found indeed in accidents, e.g. in quantity, colour, shape; but certainly it must be applied primarily to substance, and to accidents only dependently on the latter: for quantity, colour, shape can have being only because the corporeal substance possesses these determinations. But this is not at all the case with a genus and its species. These differ from the genus, not by any such dependence, but by the addition of some special perfection to the constituents of the genus; for example, in the brute beast sensibility is added to vegetative life, and in man intelligence is added to sensibility. Here there is no relation of dependence for existence. Even if we considered human life as that of which life is principally asserted, we could not say that plants and brute beasts so depended for their life on the life of man that we could not affirm life of them except as dependent on the life of man: as we cannot attribute being to accidents except by reason of their dependence on substance. Hence it is that we can consider apart, and in itself, life in general, and attribute this to all living things without relating it to any other being.61

It might still be objected that the one single being of which we may affirm life primarily and principally, ought to be not human life, but absolute life. And between this divine life and the life of all other beings there is a relation of dependence, which reaches even to the very existence of life in these other beings. In fact all life depends on the absolute life, not indeed in the way accident depends on substance, but in a manner no less real and far more excellent. This is entirely true; but what are we to conclude from it if not precisely this, which scholasticism teaches: that the perfections found in the various species of creatures can be affirmed of these in the same sense (univocé), but that they can be affirmed of God and creatures only analogically?

From all of which we can understand why it is that in regard to genera and species the analogy is in the things but not in our thoughts, while in regard to substance and accidents it is both in the things and in our thoughts: a difference which rests not solely on our manner of conceiving things, nor a fortiori on mere caprice or fancy, but which has its basis in the very nature of the things themselves. For though in the former case there is a certain analogy in the things themselves, inasmuch as the same nature, that of the genus, is realized in the species in different ways, still, as we have seen, that is not sufficient, without the relation of dependence, to yield a basis for analogy in our thoughts. For it is precisely because accident, as a determination of substance, presupposes this latter, that being cannot be affirmed of accident except as dependent on substance.

These paragraphs will have shown with sufficient clearness why we should regard being not as an univocal but as an analogical concept, when referred to God and creatures, or to substance and accident. For the rest, the divergence between the Scotist and the Thomist views is not very important, because [pg 042] Scotists also will deny that being is a genus of which the infinite and the finite would be species; finite and infinite are not differentiae superadded to being, inasmuch as each of these differs by its whole reality, and not merely by a determining portion, from the other; it is owing to the limitations of our abstractive way of understanding reality that we have to conceive the infinite by first conceiving being in the abstract, and then mentally determining this concept by another, namely, by the concept of infinite mode of being62; the infinite, and whatever perfections we predicate formally of the infinite, transcend all genera, species and differentiae, because the distinction of being into infinite and finite is prior to the distinction into genera, species and differentiae; this latter distinction applying only to finite, not to infinite being.63

The observations we have just been making in regard to the analogy of being are of greater importance than the beginner can be expected to realize. A proper appreciation of the way in which being or reality is conceived by the mind to appertain to the data of our experience, is indispensable to the defence of Theism as against Agnosticism and Pantheism.

3. Real Being and Logical Being.—We may next illustrate the notion of being by approaching it from another standpoint—by examining a fundamental distinction which may be drawn between real being (ens reale) and logical being (ens rationis).

We derive all our knowledge, through external and internal sense perception, from the domain of actually existing things, these things including our own selves and our own minds. We form, from the data of sense-consciousness, by an intellectual process proper, mental representations of an abstract and universal character, which reveal to us partial aspects and phases of the natures of things. We have no intuitive intellectual insight into these natures. It is only by abstracting their various aspects, by comparing these in judgments, and reaching still further aspects by inferences, that we progress in our knowledge of things—gradually, step by step, discursivé, discurrendo. All this implies reflection on, and comparison of, our own ideas, our mental views of things. It involves the processes of defining and classifying, affirming and denying, abstracting and generalizing, analysing and synthesizing, comparing and relating in a variety of ways the objects grasped by our thought. Now in all these complex functions, by which alone the mind can interpret rationally what is given to it, by which alone, in other words, it can know reality, the mind necessarily and inevitably forms for itself (and expresses [pg 043] in intelligible language) a series of concepts which have for their objects only the modes in which, and the relations by means of which, it makes such gradual progress in its interpretation of what is given to it, in its knowledge of the real. These concepts are called secundae intentiones mentis—concepts of the second order, so to speak. And their objects, the modes and mutual relations of our primae intentiones or direct concepts, are called entia rationis—logical entities. For example, abstractness is a mode which affects not the reality which we apprehend intellectually, but the concept by which we apprehend it. So, too, is the universality of a concept, its communicability or applicability to an indefinite multitude of similar realities—the intentio universalitatis,” as it is called—a mode of concept, not of the realities represented by the latter. So, likewise, is the absence of other reality than that represented by the concept, the relative nothingness or non-being by contrast with which the concept is realized as positive; and the absolute nothingness or non-being which is the logical correlative of the concept of being; and the static, unchanging self-identity of the object as conceived in the abstract.64 These are not modes of reality as it is but as it is conceived. Again, the manifold logical relations which we establish between our concepts—relations of (extensive or intensive) identity or distinction, inclusion or inherence, etc.—are logical entities, entia rationis: relations of genus, species, differentia, proprium, accidens; the affirmative or negative relation between predicate and subject in judgment;65 the mutual relations of antecedent and consequent in inference. Now all these logical entities, or objecta secundae intentionis mentis, are relations established by the mind itself between its own thoughts; they have, no doubt, a foundation in the real objects of those thoughts as well as in the constitution and limitations of the mind itself; but they have themselves, and can have, no other being than that which they have as products of thought. Their sole being consists in being thought of. They are necessary creations or products of the thought-process as this goes on in the human mind. We see [pg 044] that it is only by means of these relations we can progress in understanding things. In the thought-process we cannot help bringing them to light—and thinking them after the manner of realities, per modum entis. Whatever we think we must think through the concept of “being”; whatever we conceive we must conceive as “being”; but on reflection we easily see that such entities as “nothingness,” “negation or absence or privation of being,” “universality,” “predicate”—and, in general, all relations established by our own thought between our own ideas representative of reality—can have themselves no reality proper, no actual or possible existence, other than that which they get from the mind in virtue of its making them objects of its own thought. Hence the scholastic definition of a logical entity or ens rationis as “that which has objective being merely in the intellect”: illud quod habet esse objective tantum in intellectu, seu ... id quod a ratione excogitatur ut ens, cum tamen in se entitatem non habeat.66 Of course the mental process by which we think such entities, the mental state in which they are held in consciousness, is just as real as any other mental process or state. But the entity which is thus held in consciousness has and can have no other reality than what it has by being an object of thought. And this precisely is what distinguishes it from real being, from reality; for the latter, besides the ideal existence it has in the mind which thinks of it, has, or at least can have, a real existence of its own, independently altogether of our thinking about it. We assume here, of course—what is established elsewhere, as against the subjective idealism of phenomenists and the objective idealism of Berkeley—that the reality of actual things does not consist in their being perceived or thought of, that their esse is not percipi,” that they have a reality other than and independent of their actual presence to the thought of any human mind. And even purely possible things, even the creatures of our own fancy, the fictions of fable and romance, could, absolutely speaking and without any contradiction, have an existence in the actual order, in addition to the mental existence they receive from those who fancy them. Such entities, therefore, differ from entia rationis; they, too, are real beings.

What the reality of purely possible things is we shall discuss later on. Actually existing things at all events we assume to be given to the knowing mind, not to be created by the latter. Even in regard to these, however, we [pg 045] must remember that the mind in knowing them, in interpreting them, in seeking to penetrate the nature of them, is not purely passive; that reality as known to us—or, in other words, our knowledge of reality—is the product of a twofold factor: the subjective which is the mind, and the objective which is the extramental reality acting on, and thus revealing itself to, the mind. Hence it is that when we come to analyse in detail our knowledge of the nature of things—or, in other words, the natures of things as revealed to our minds—it will not be always easy to distinguish in each particular case the properties, aspects, relations, distinctions, etc., which are real (in the sense of being there in the reality independently of the consideration of the mind) from those that are merely logical (in the sense of being produced and superadded to the reality by the mental process itself).67 Yet it is obviously a matter of the very first importance to determine, as far as may be possible, to what extent our knowledge of reality is not merely a mental interpretation, but a mental construction, of the latter; and whether, if there be a constructive or constitutive factor in thought, this should be regarded as interfering with the validity of thought as representative of reality. This problem—of the relation of the ens rationis to the ens reale in the process of cognition—has given rise to discussions which, in modern times, have largely contributed to the formation of that special branch of philosophical enquiry which is called Epistemology. But it must not be imagined that this very problem was not discussed, and very widely discussed, by philosophers long before the problem of the validity of knowledge assumed the prominent place it has won for itself in modern philosophy. Even a moderate familiarity with scholastic philosophy will enable the student to recognize this problem, in a variety of phases, in the discussions of the medieval schoolmen concerning the concepts of matter and form, the simplicity and composition of beings, and the nature of the various distinctions—whether logical, virtual, formal, or real—which the mind either invents or detects in the realities it endeavours to understand and explain.

4. Real Being and Ideal Being.—The latter of these expressions has a multiplicity of kindred meanings. We use it here in the sense of “being known,” i.e. to signify the “esse intentionale,” the mental presence, which, in the scholastic theory of knowledge, an entity of whatsoever kind, whether real or logical, must have in the mind of the knower in order that he be aware of that entity. A mere logical entity, as we have seen, has and can have no other mode of being than this which consists in being an object of the mind's awareness. All real being, too, when it becomes an object of any kind of human cognition whatsoever—of intellectual thought, whether direct or reflex; of sense perception, whether external or internal—must obtain this sort of mental presence or mental existence: thereby alone can it become an “objectum cognitum. Only by such mental [pg 046] mirroring, or reproduction, or reconstruction, can reality become so related and connected with mind as to reveal itself to mind. Under this peculiar relation which we call cognition, the mind, as we know from psychology and epistemology, is not passive: if reality revealed itself immediately, as it is, to a purely passive mind (were such conceivable), the existence of error would be unaccountable; but the mind is not passive: under the influence of the reality it forms the intellectual concept (the verbum mentale), or the sense percept (the species sensibilis expressa), in and through which, and by means of which, it attains to its knowledge of the real.

But prior (ontologically) to this mental existence, and as partial cause of the latter, there is the real existence or being, which reality has independently of its being known by any individual human mind. Real being, then, as distinguished here from ideal being, is that which exists or can exist extramentally, whether it is known by the human mind or not, i.e. whether it exists also mentally or not.

That there is such real being, apart from the thought-being whereby the mind is constituted formally knowing, is proved elsewhere; as also that this esse intentionale has modes which cannot be attributed to the esse reale. We merely note these points here in order to indicate the errors involved in the opposite contentions. Our concepts are characterized by abstractness, by a consequent static immutability, by a plurality often resulting from purely mental distinctions, by a universality which transcends those distinctions and unifies the variety of all subordinate concepts in the widest concept of being. Now if, for example, we attribute the unifying mental mode of universality to real being, we must draw the pantheistic conclusion that all real being is one: the logical outcome of extreme realism. If, again, we transfer purely mental distinctions to the unity of the Absolute or Supreme Being, thus making them real, we thereby deny infinite perfection to the most perfect being conceivable: an error of which some catholic philosophers of the later middle ages have been accused with some foundation. If, finally, we identify the esse reale with the esse intentionale, and this with the thought-process itself, we find ourselves at the starting-point of Hegelian monism.68

5. Fundamental Distinctions in Real Being.—Leaving logical and ideal being aside, and fixing our attention exclusively on real being, we may indicate here a few of the most fundamental distinctions which experience enables us to recognize in our study of the universal order of things.

(a) Possible or Potential Being and Actual Being.—The first of these distinctions is that between possibility and actuality, between [pg 047] that which can be and that which actually is. For a proper understanding of this distinction, which will be dealt with presently, it is necessary to note here the following divisions of actual being, which will be studied in detail later on.

(b) Infinite Being and Finite Beings.—All people have a sufficiently clear notion of Infinite Being, or Infinitely Perfect Being: though not all philosophers are agreed as to how precisely we get this notion, or whether there actually exists such a being, or whether if such being does exist we can attain to a certain knowledge of such existence. By infinite being we mean a being possessing all conceivable perfections in the most perfect conceivable manner; and by finite beings all such beings as have actually any conceivable limitation to their perfection. About these nominal definitions there is no dispute; and scholasticism identifies their respective objects with God and creatures.

(c) Necessary Being and Contingent Beings.—Necessary being we conceive as that being which exists of necessity: being which if conceived at all cannot be conceived as non-existent: being in the very concept of which is essentially involved the concept of actual existence: so that the attempt to conceive such being as non-existent would be an attempt to conceive what would be self-contradictory. Contingent being, on the other hand, is being which is conceived not to exist of necessity: being which may be conceived as not actually existent: being in the concept of which is not involved the concept of actual existence. The same observations apply to this distinction as to the preceding one. It is obvious that any being which we regard as actual we must regard either as necessary or as contingent; and, secondly, that necessary being must be considered as absolutely independent, as having its actual existence from itself, by its own nature; while contingent being must be considered as dependent for its actual existence on some being other than itself. Hence necessary being is termed Ens a se, contingent being Ens ab alio.

(d) Absolute Being and Relative Beings.—In modern philosophy the terms “absolute” and “relative,” as applied to being, correspond roughly with the terms “God” and “creatures” in the usage of theistic philosophers. But the former pair of terms is really of wider application than the latter. The term absolute means, etymologically, that which is loosed, unfettered, disengaged or free from bonds (absolutum, ab-solvere, solvo = se-luo, from λύω): that, therefore, which is not bound up with anything else, [pg 048] which is in some sense self-sufficing, independent; while the relative is that which is in some way bound up with something else, and which is so far not self-sufficing or independent. That, therefore, is ontologically absolute which is in some sense self-sufficing, independent of other things, in its existence; while the ontologically relative is that which depends in some real way for its existence on something else. Again, that is logically absolute which can be conceived and known by us without reference to anything else; while the logically relative is that which we can conceive and know only through our knowledge of something else. And since we usually name things according to the way in which we conceive them, we regard as absolute any being which is by itself and of itself that which we conceive it to be, or that which its name implies; and as relative any being which is what its name implies only in virtue of some relation to something else.69 Thus, a man is a man absolutely, while he is a friend only relatively to others.

It is obvious that the primary and general meaning of the terms “absolute” and “relative” can be applied and extended in a variety of ways. For instance, all being may be said to be “relative” to the knowing mind, in the sense that all knowledge involves a transcendental relation of the known object to the knowing subject. In this widest and most improper sense even God Himself is relative, not however as being, but as known. Again, when we apply the same attribute to a variety of things we may see that it is found in one of them in the most perfect manner conceivable, or at least in a fuller and higher degree than it is found in the others; and that it is found in these others only with some sort of subordination to, and dependence on, the former: we then say that it belongs to this primarily or absolutely, and to the others only secondarily or relatively. This is a less improper application of the terms than in the preceding case. What we have especially to remember here is that there are many different kinds of dependence or subordination, all alike giving rise to the same usage.

Hence, applying the terms absolute and relative to the predicate “being” or “real” or “reality,” it is obvious in the first place that the potential as such can be called “being,” or “reality” only in relation to the actual. It is the actual that is being simpliciter, par excellence; the potential is so only in [pg 049] relation to this.70 Again, substances may be termed beings absolutely, while accidents are beings only relatively, because of their dependence on substances; though this relation is quite different from the relation of potential to actual being. Finally all finite, contingent realities, actual and possible, are what they are only because of their dependence on the Infinite and Necessary Being: and hence the former are relative and the latter absolute; though here again the relation is different from that of accident to substance, or of potential to actual.

Since the order of being includes all orders, and since a being is absolutely such-or-such in any order only when that being realizes in all its fulness and purity such-or-such reality, it follows that the being which realizes in all its fulness the reality of being is the Absolute Being in the highest possible sense of this term. This concept of Absolute Being is the richest and most comprehensive of all possible concepts: it is the very antithesis of that other concept of “being in general” which is common to everything and distinguished only from nothingness. It includes in itself all actual and possible modes and grades and perfections of finite things, apart from their limitations, embodying all of them in the one highest and richest concept of that which makes all of them real and actual, viz. the concept of Actuality or Actual Reality itself.

Hegel and his followers have involved themselves in a pantheistic philosophy by neglecting to distinguish between those two totally different concepts.71 A similar error has also resulted from failure to distinguish between [pg 050] the various modes in which being that is relative may be dependent on being that is absolute. God is the Absolute Being; creatures are relative. So too is substance absolute being, compared with accidents as inhering and existing in substance. But God is not therefore to be conceived as the one all-pervading substance, of which all finite things, all phenomena, would be only accidental manifestations.

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Chapter II. Becoming And Its Implications.

6. The Static and the Changing.—The things we see around us, the things which make up the immediate data of our experience, not only are or exist; they also become, or come into actual existence; they change; they pass out of actual existence. The abstract notion of being represents its object to the mind in a static, permanent, changeless, self-identical condition; but if this condition were an adequate representation of reality change would be unreal, would be only an illusion. This is what the Eleatic philosophers of ancient Greece believed, distinguishing merely between being and nothingness. But they were mistaken; for change in things is too obviously real to be eliminated by calling it an illusion: even if it were an illusion, this illusion at least would have to be accounted for. In order, therefore, to understand reality we must employ not merely the notion of being (something static), but also the notion of becoming, change, process, appearing and disappearing (something kinetic, and something dynamic). In doing so, however, we must not fall into the error of the opposite extreme from the Eleatics—by regarding change as the adequate representation of reality. This is what Heraclitus and the later Ionians did: holding that nothing is, that all becomes (πάντα ρέι), that change is all reality, that the stable, the permanent, is non-existent, unreal, an illusion. This too is false; for change would be unintelligible without at least an abiding law of change, a permanent principle of some sort; which, in turn, involves the reality of some sort of abiding, stable, permanent being.

We must then—with Aristotle, as against both of those one-sided conceptions—hold to the reality both of being and of becoming; and proceed to see how the stable and the changing can both be real.

To convince ourselves that they are both real, very little [pg 052] reflection is needed. We have actual experience of both those elements of reality in our consciousness and memory of our own selves. Every human individual in the enjoyment of his mental faculties knows himself as an abiding, self-identical being, yet as constantly undergoing real changes; so that throughout his life he is really the same being, though just as certainly he really changes. In external nature, too, we observe on the one hand innumerable processes of growth and decay, of motion and interaction; and on the other hand a similarly all-pervading element of sameness or identity amid all this never-ending change.

7. The Potential and the Actual. (a) Possibility, Absolute, Relative, and Adequate.—It is from our experience of actuality and change that we derive not only our notion of temporal duration, but also our notion of potential being or possibility, as distinct from that of actual being or actuality. It is from our experience of what actually exists that we are able to determine what can, and what cannot exist. We know from experience what gold is, and what a tower is; and that it is intrinsically possible for a golden tower to exist, that such an object of thought involves no contradiction, that therefore its existence is not impossible, even though it may never actually exist as a fact. Similarly, we know from experience what a square is, and what a circle is; and that it is intrinsically impossible for a square circle to exist, that such an object of thought involves a contradiction, that therefore not only is such an object never actually existent in fact, but that it is in no sense real, in no way possible.

Thus, intrinsic (or objective, absolute, logical, metaphysical) possibility is the mere non-repugnance of an object of thought to actual existence. Any being or object of thought that is conceivable in this way, that can be conceived as capable of actually existing, is called intrinsically (or objectively, absolutely, logically, metaphysically) possible being. The absence of such intrinsic capability of actual existence gives us the notion of the intrinsically (objectively, absolutely, logically, metaphysically) impossible. We shall return to these notions again. They are necessary here for the understanding of real change in the actual universe.

Fixing our attention now upon the real changes which characterize the data of our experience, let us inquire what conditions are necessary in order that an intrinsically possible object of thought become here and now an actual being. It matters not [pg 053] whether we select an example from the domain of organic nature, of inorganic nature, or of art—whether it be an oak, or an iceberg, or a statue. In order that there be here and now an actual oak-tree, it is necessary not only (1) that such an object be intrinsically possible, but (2) that there have been planted here an actual acorn, i.e. an actual being having in it subjectively and really the passive potentiality of developing into an actual oak-tree, and (3) that there be in the actual things around the acorn active powers or forces capable of so influencing the latent, passive potentiality of the acorn as gradually to evolve the oak-tree therefrom. So, too, for the (1) intrinsically possible iceberg, there are needed (2) water capable of becoming ice, and (3) natural powers or forces capable of forming it into ice and setting this adrift in the ocean. And for the (1) intrinsically possible statue there are needed (2) the block of marble or other material capable of becoming a statue, and (3) the sculptor having the power to mould this material into an actual statue.

In order, therefore, that a thing which is not now actual, but only intrinsically or absolutely possible, become actual, there must actually exist some being or beings endowed with the active power or potency of making this possible thing actual. The latter is then said to be relatively, extrinsically possible—in relation to such being or beings. And obviously a thing may be possible relatively to the power of one being, and not possible relatively to lesser power of another being: the statue that is intrinsically possible in the block of marble, may be extrinsically possible relatively to the skilled sculptor, but not relatively to the unskilled person who is not a sculptor.

Furthermore, relatively to the same agent or agents, the production of a given effect, the doing of a given thing, is said to be physically possible if it can be brought about by such agents acting according to the ordinary course of nature; if, in other words they have the physical power to do it. Otherwise it is said to be physically impossible, even though metaphysically or intrinsically possible, e.g. it is physically impossible for a dead person to come to life again. A thing is said to be morally possible, in reference to free and responsible agents, if they can do it without unreasonable inconvenience; otherwise it is considered as morally impossible, even though it be both physically and metaphysically possible: as often happens in regard to the fulfilment of one's obligations.

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That which is both intrinsically and extrinsically possible is said to be adequately possible. Whatever is intrinsically possible is also extrinsically possible in relation to God, who is Almighty, Omnipotent.

8. (b) Subjective Potentia, Active and Passive.—Furthermore, we conceive the Infinite Being, Almighty God, as capable of creating, or producing actual being from nothingness, i.e. without any actually pre-existing material out of whose passive potentiality the actual being would be developed. Creative power or activity does not need any pre-existing subject on which to exercise its influence, any subject in whose passive potentiality the thing to be created is antecedently implicit.

But all other power, all activity of created causes, does require some such actually existing subject. If we examine the activities of the agencies that fall within our direct experience, whether in external nature or in our own selves, we shall find that in no case does their operative influence or causality extend beyond the production of changes in existing being, or attain to the production of new actual being out of nothingness. The forces of nature cannot produce an oak without an acorn, or an iceberg without water; nor can the sculptor produce a statue except from some pre-existing material.

The natural passive potentiality of things is, moreover, limited in reference to the active powers of the created universe. These, for example, can educe life from the passive potentiality of inorganic matter, but only by assimilating this matter into a living organism: they cannot restore life to a human corpse; yet the latter has in it the capacity to be restored to life by the direct influence of the Author of Nature. This special and supernatural potentiality in created things, under the influence of Omnipotence, is known as potentia obedientalis.72

This consideration will help us to realize that all reality which is produced by change, and subject to change, is essentially a mixture of becoming and being, of potential and actual. The reality of such being is not tota simul. Only immutable being, whose duration is eternal, has its reality tota simul: it alone is purely actual, the Actus Purus; and its duration is one eternal now,” without beginning, end, or succession. But mutable being, whose duration in actual existence is measured by time, is actualized only successively: its actuality at any particular instant does not embody the whole of its reality: this [pg 055] latter includes also a was and will be; the thing was potentially what it now is actually, and it will become actually something which it now is only potentially; nor shall we have understood even moderately the nature or essence of any mutable being—an oak-tree, for example—until we have grasped the fact that the whole reality of its nature embraces more than what we find of it actually existing at any given instant of its existence. In other words, we have to bear in mind that the reality of such a being is not pure actuality but a mixture of potential and actual: that it is an actus non-purus, or an actus mixtus.

We have to note well that the potential being of a thing is something real—that it is not merely a modus loquendi, or a modus intelligendi. The oak is in the acorn in some true and real sense: the potentiality of the oak is something real in the acorn: if it were not so, if it were nothing real in the acorn, we could say with equal truth that a man or a horse or a house is potentially in the acorn; or, again with equal truth, that the oak is potentially in a mustard-seed, or a grain of corn, or a pebble, or a drop of water. Therefore the oak is really in the acorn—not actually but potentially, potentia passiva.

The oak-tree is also really in those active forces of nature whose influence on the acorn develop the latter into an actual oak-tree: it is in those causes not actually, of course, but virtually, for they possess in themselves the operative powerpotentia activa sive operativa—to educe the oak-tree out of the acorn. These two potential conditions of a being—in the active causes which produce it, and in the pre-existing actual thing or things from which it is produced—are called each a real or subjective potency, potentia realis, or potentia subjectiva, in distinction from the mere logical or objective possibility of such a being.

And just as the passive potentiality of the statue is something real in the block of marble, though distinct from the actuality of the statue and from the process by which this is actualized, so is the active power of making the statue something real in the sculptor, though distinct from the operation by which he makes the statue. If an agent's power to act, to produce change, were not a reality in the agent, a reality distinct from the action of the latter; or if a being's capacity to undergo change, and thereby to become something other, were not a reality distinct from the process of change, and from the actual result of this process—it would follow not only that the actual alone is real, and [pg 056] the merely possible or potential unreal, but also that no change can be real, that nothing can really become, and nothing really disappear.73

9. (c) Actuality: Its Relation to Potentiality.—It is from our experience of change in the world that we derive our notions of the potential and the actual, of active power and passive potentiality. The term “act” has primarily the same meaning as “action,” “operation,” that process by which a change is wrought. But the Latin word actus (Gr. ἐνέργεια, ἐντελέχεια) means rather that which is achieved by the actio, that which is the correlative and complement of the passive potentiality, the actuality of this latter: that by which potential being is rendered formally actual, and, by way of consequence, this actual being itself. Potentia activa and its correlative actus might, perhaps, be appropriately rendered by power (potestas agendi) and action or operation; potentia passiva and its correlative actus,” by potentiality and actuality respectively.

In these correlatives, the notion underlying the term “actual” is manifestly the notion of something completed, achieved, perfected—as compared with that of something incomplete, imperfect, determinable, which is the notion of the potential. Hence the notions of potentia and actus have been extended widely beyond their primary signification of power to act and the exercise of this power. Such pairs of correlatives as the determinable and the determined, the perfectible and the perfected, the undeveloped or less developed and the more developed, the generic and the specific, are all conceived under the aspect of this widest relation of the potential to the actual. And since we can distinguish successive stages in any process of development, or an order of logical sequence among the contents of our concept of any concrete reality, it follows that what will be conceived as an actus in one relation will be conceived as a potentia in another. Thus, the disposition of any faculty—as, for example, the scientific habit in the intellect—is an actus or perfection of the faculty regarded as a potentia; but it is itself a potentia which is actualized in the operation of actually studying. This illustrates the distinction commonly drawn between an actus primus and an actus secundus in any particular order or line of reality: the actus primus is that which presupposes no prior [pg 057] actuality in the same order; the actus secundus is that which does presuppose another. The act of knowing is an actus secundus which presupposes the cognitive faculty as an actus primus: the faculty being the first or fundamental equipment of the soul in relation to knowledge. Hence the child is said to have knowledge in actu primo as having the faculty of reason; and the student to have knowledge in actu secundo as exercising this faculty.

The actus or perfecting principles of which we have spoken so far are all conceived as presupposing an existing subject on which they supervene. They are therefore accidents as distinct from substantial constitutive principles of this subject; and they are therefore called accidental actualities, actus accidentales. But the actual existence of a being is also conceived as the complement and correlative of its essence: as that which makes the latter actual, thus transferring it from the state of mere possibility. Hence existence also is called an actus or actuality: the actus existentialis,” to distinguish it from the existing thing's activities and other subsequently acquired characters. In reference to these existence is a “first actuality”Esse est actus primus; Prius est esse quam agere: “Existence is the first actuality”; “Action presupposes existence”—while each of these in reference to existence, is a “second actuality,” an actus secundus.

When, furthermore, we proceed to examine the constitutive principles essential to any being in the concrete, we may be able to distinguish between principles which are determinable, passive and persistent throughout all essential change of that being, and others which are determining, specifying, differentiating principles. In water, for example, we may distinguish the passive underlying principle which persists throughout the decomposition of water into oxygen and hydrogen, from the active specifying principle which gives that substratum its specific nature as water. The former or material principle (ὕλη, materia) is potential, compared with the latter or formal principle (μορφή, εἶδος, ἐντελέχεια, forma, species, actus) as actual. The concept of actus is thus applied to the essence itself: the actus essentialis or formalis of a thing is that which we conceive to be the ultimate, completing and determining principle of the essence or nature of that thing. In reference to this as well as the other constitutive principles of the thing, the actual existence of the thing is a “second actuality,” an actus secundus.

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In fact all the constitutive principles of the essence of any existing thing, and all the properties and attributes involved in the essence or necessarily connected with the essence, must all alike be conceived as logically antecedent to the existential actus whereby they are constituted something in the actual order, and not mere possible objects of our thought. And from this point of view the existence of a thing is called the ultimate actualization of its essence. Hence the scholastic aphorism: Esse est ultimus actus rei.

The term actus may designate that complement of reality by which potential being is made actual (actus actuans), or this actual being itself (actus simpliciter dictus). In the latter sense we have already distinguished the Being that is immutable, the Being of God, as the Actus Purus, from the being of all mutable things, which latter being is necessarily a mixture of potential and actual, an actus mixtus.

Now if the essences of corporeal things are composite, if they are constituted by the union of some determining, formative principle with a determinable, passive principle—of “form” with “matter,” in scholastic terminology—we may call these formative principles actus informantes; and if these cannot actually exist except in union with a material principle they may be called actus non-subsistentes: e.g., the formative principle or forma substantialis of water, or the vital principle of a plant. If, on the other hand, there exist essences which, being simple, do not actualize any material, determinable principle, but subsist independently of any such, they are called actus non-informantes,” or actus subsistentes. Such, for example, are God, and pure spirits whose existence is known from revelation. Finally, there may be a kind of actual essence which, though it naturally actualizes a material principle de facto, can nevertheless continue to subsist without this latter: such an actual being would be at once an actus informans and an actus subsistens; and such, in fact, is the human soul.

Throughout all distinctions between the potential and the actual there runs the conception of the actual as something more perfect than the potential. There is in the actual something positive and real over and above what is in the potential. This is an ultimate fact in our analysis; and its importance will be realized when we come to apply the notions we have been explaining to the study of change.

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The notion of grades of perfection in things is one with which everyone is familiar. We naturally conceive some beings as higher upon the scale of reality than others; as having “more” reality, so to speak—not necessarily, of course, in the literal sense of size or quantity—than others; as being more perfect, nobler, of greater worth, value, dignity, excellence, than others. Thus we regard the infinite as more perfect than the finite, spiritual beings as nobler than material beings, man as a higher order of being than the brute beast, this again as surpassing the whole vegetable kingdom, the lowest form of life as higher on the scale of being than inorganic matter, the substance-mode of being as superior to all accident-modes, the actualized state of a being as more perfect than its potential state, i.e. as existing in its material, efficient and ideal or exemplar causes. The grounds and significance of this mental appreciation of relative values in things must be discussed elsewhere. We refer to it here in order to point out another scholastic aphorism, according to which the higher a thing is in the scale of actual being, and the more perfect it is accordingly, the more efficient it will also be as a principle of action, the more powerful as a cause in the production of changes in other things, the more operative in actualizing their passive potentialities; and conversely, the less actual a thing is, and therefore the more imperfect, the greater its passive capacity will be to undergo the influence of agencies that are actual and operative around it. “As passive potentiality,” says St. Thomas,74 “is the mark of potential being, so active power is the mark of actual being. For a thing acts, in so far as it is actual; but is acted on, so far as it is potential.” Our knowledge of the nature of things is in fact exclusively based on our knowledge of their activities: we have no other key to the knowledge of what a thing is than our knowledge of what it does: Operari sequitur esse: Qualis est operatio talis est natura“Acting follows being”: “Conduct is the key to nature”.

A being that is active or operative in the production of a change is said to be the efficient cause of the change, the latter being termed the effect. Now the greater the change, i.e. the higher and more perfect be the grade of reality that is actualized in the change, the higher too in the scale of being must be the efficient cause of that change. There must be a proportion in degree of perfection or reality between effect and cause. The [pg 060] former cannot exceed in actual perfection the active power, and therefore the actual being, of the latter. This is so because we conceive the effect as being produced or actualized through the operative influence of the cause, and with real dependence on this latter; and it is inconceivable that a cause should have power to actualize other being, distinct from itself, which would be of a higher grade of excellence than itself. The nature of efficient causality, of the influence by which the cause is related to its effect, is not easy to determine; it will be discussed at a subsequent stage of our investigations (ch. xi.); but whatever it be, a little reflection should convince us of the truth of the principle just stated: that an effect cannot be more perfect than its cause. The mediæval scholastics embodied this truth in the formula: Nemo dat quod non habet—a formula which we must not interpret in the more restricted and literal sense of the words giving and having, lest we be met with the obvious objection that it is by no means necessary for a boy to have a black eye himself in order to give one to his neighbour! What the formula means is that an agent cannot give to, or produce in, any potential subject, receptive of its causal influence, an actuality which it does not itself possess virtually, or in its active power: that no actuality surpassing in excellence the actual perfection of the cause itself can be found thus virtually in the active power of the latter. There is no question of the cause or agent transferring bodily as it were a part of its own actuality to the subject which is undergoing change75; nor will such crude imagination images help us to understand what real change, under the influence of efficient causality, involves.76 An analysis of change will enable us to appreciate more fully the real difficulty of explaining it, and the futility of any attempt to account for it without admitting the real, objective validity of the notions of actual and potential being, of active powers or forces and passive potentialities in the things that are subject to change.

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10. Analysis of Change.Change (Mutatio, Motus, μεταβολή, κίνησις) is one of those simplest concepts which cannot be defined. We may describe it, however, as the transition of a being from one state to another. If one thing entirely disappeared and another were substituted for it, we should not regard the former as having been changed into the latter. When one thing is put in the place of another, each, no doubt, undergoes a change of place, but neither is changed into the other. So, also, if we were to conceive a thing as absolutely ceasing to exist, as lapsing into nothingness at a given instant, and another as coming into existence out of nothingness at the same instant (and in the same place), we should not consider this double event as constituting a real change of the former thing into the latter. And although our senses cannot testify to anything beyond sequence in sense phenomena, our reason detects in real change something other than a total substitution of things for one another, or continuous total cessations and inceptions of existence in things. No doubt, if we conceive the whole phenomenal or perceptible universe and all the beings which constitute this universe as essentially contingent, and therefore dependent for their reality and their actual existence on a Supreme, Necessary Being who created and conserves them, who at any time may cease to conserve any of them, and produce other and new beings out of nothingness, then such absolute cessations and inceptions of existence in the world would not be impossible. God might annihilate, i.e. cease to conserve in existence, this or that contingent being at any instant, and at any instant create a new contingent being, i.e. produce it in its totality from no pre-existing material. But there is no reason to suppose that this is what is constantly taking place in Nature: that all change is simply a series of annihilations and creations. On the contrary, the modes of being which appear and disappear in real change, in the transition of anything from one state to a really different state of being, do not appear de novo, ex nihilo, as absolute beginnings out of nothingness; or disappear totaliter, in nihilum, as absolute endings or lapses of reality into nothingness. The real changes which take place in Nature are due to the operation of natural causes. These causes, being finite in their operative powers, cannot create, i.e. produce new being from nothingness. They can, however, with the concurrence of the Omnipotent Being, modify existing modes of being, i.e. make actual what was only potential in these latter. The notion of change is not [pg 062] verified in the conception of successive annihilations and creations; for there is involved in the former concept not merely the notion of a real difference between the two actual states, that before and that after the change, but also the notion of some potential reality persisting throughout the change, something capable of being actually so and so before the change and actually otherwise after the change. For real change, therefore, we require (1) two positive and really different states of the same being, a terminus a quo and a terminus ad quem; and (2) a real process of transition whereby something potential becomes actual. In creation there is no real and positive terminus a quo; in annihilation there is no real and positive terminus ad quem; these therefore are not changes in the proper sense of the term. Sometimes, too, change is affirmed, by purely extrinsic denomination, of a thing in which there is no real change, but only a relation to some other really changing thing. In this sense when an object unknown or unthought of becomes the actual object of somebody's thought or cognition, it is said to “change,” though the transition from “unknown” to “known” involves no real change of state in the object, but only in the knowing subject. If thought were in any true sense “constitutive” of reality, as many modern philosophers contend, the change in the object would of course be real.

Since, therefore, change consists in this, that a thing which is actually in a given state ceases to be actually such and begins to be actually in another state, it is obvious that there persists throughout the process some reality which is in itself potential and indifferent to either actual state; and that, moreover, something which was actual disappears, while some new actuality appears, in this persisting potentiality. The abiding potential principle is called the matter or subject of the change; the transient actualizing principles are called forms. Not all these “forms” which precede or result from change are necessarily positive entities in themselves: they may be mere privations of other forms (privatio,” στέρησις): not all changes result in the acquisition of a new degree of positive actual being; some result in loss of perfection or actuality. Still, even in these cases, the state characterized by the less perfect degree of actuality has a determinate actual grade of being which is proper to itself, and which, as such, is not found actually, but only potentially, in the state characterized by the more perfect degree of actuality. When, then, a being changes from a more perfect to a less [pg 063] perfect state, the actuality of this less perfect state cannot be adequately accounted for by seeking it in the antecedent and more perfect state: it is not in this latter state actually, but only potentially; nor do we account for it by saying that it is “equivalently” in the greater actuality of the latter state: the two actualizing principles are really distinct, and neither is wholly or even partially the other. The significance of this consideration will appear presently in connection with the scholastic axiom: Quidquid movetur ab alio movetur.

Meanwhile we must guard against conceiving the potential or material factor in change as a sort of actual but hidden core of reality which itself persists unchanged throughout; and the formative or actualizing factors as superficially adorning this substratum by constantly replacing one another. Such a substitution of imagination images for intellectual thought will not help, but rather hinder, all accurate analysis. It is not the potential or material factor in things that changes, nor yet the actualizing or formal factors, but the things themselves; and if “things” are subject to “real change” it is manifest that this fact can be made intelligible, if at all, only by intellectually analysing the things and their changes into constitutive principles or factors which are nor themselves “things” or “changes”. Were we to arrive only at principles of the latter sort, so far from explaining anything we would really only have pushed back the problem a step farther. It may be that none of the attempts yet made by philosophers or scientists to offer an ultimate explanation of change is entirely satisfactory,—the scholastic explanation will be gradually outlined in these pages,—but it will be of advantage at least to recognize the shortcomings of theories that are certainly inadequate.

We are now in a position to state and explain the important scholastic aphorism embodying what has been called the Principle of Change (Principium Motus): Quidquid movetur, ab alio movetur: “Whatever undergoes change is changed by something else”. The term motus is here taken in the wide sense of any real transition from potentiality to actuality, as is evident from the alternative statements of the same principle: Nihil potest seipsum reducere e potentia in actum: “Nothing can reduce itself from potentiality to actuality,” or, again, Potentia, qua talis, nequit per semetipsam ad actum reduci, sed reducitur ab alio principio in actu: “The potential as such cannot be reduced [pg 064] by itself to the actual, but only by some other already actual principle”.77 This assertion, rightly understood, is self-evidently true; for the state of passive potentiality, as such, involves the absence of the correlative actuality in the potential subject; and since the actual, as such, involves a perfection which is not in the potential, the latter cannot confer upon itself this perfection: nothing can be the adequate principle or source of a perfection which is not in this principle or source: nemo dat quod non habet.

We have already anticipated the objection arising from the consideration that the state resulting from a change is sometimes in its totality less perfect than the state which existed prior to the change. Even in such cases there results from the change a new actuality which was not in the prior state, and which cannot be conceived as a mere part or residue of the latter, or regarded as equivalently contained in the latter. Even granting, as we must, that the net result of such a change is a loss of actuality or perfection in the subject of change, still there is always a gain which is not accounted for by the loss; there is always a new actual state which, as such, was not in the original state.

A more obvious objection to the principle arises from the consideration of vital action; but it is based on a misunderstanding of the principle under discussion. Living things, it is objected, move themselves: their vital action is spontaneous and immanent: originating within themselves, it has its term too within themselves, resulting in their gradual development, growth, increase of actuality and perfection. Therefore it would appear that they move and perfect themselves; and hence the so-called “principle of change” is not true universally.

In reply to all this we admit that vital action is immanent, remaining within the agent to perfect the latter; also that it is spontaneous, inasmuch as when the agent is actually exercising vital functions it need not be actually undergoing the causal influence of any other created agent, or actually dependent on any such agent. But it must, nevertheless, in such action, be dependent on, and influenced by, some actual being other than itself. And the reason is obvious: If by such action it increases [pg 065] its own actual perfection, and becomes actually other than it was before such action, then it cannot have given itself the actuality of this perfection, which it possessed before only potentially. No doubt, it is not merely passively potential in regard to such actual perfections, as is the case in non-vital change which results in the subject from the transitive action of some outside cause upon the latter. The living thing has the active power of causing or producing in itself these actual perfections: there is interaction between its vital parts: through one organ or faculty it acts upon another, thus educing an actuality, a new perfection, in this other, and thus developing and perfecting its own being. But even considered as active it cannot be the adequate cause of the actuality acquired through the change. If this actuality is something really over and above the reality of its active and passive potential principles, then it remains true that change implies the influence of an actual being other than the subject changed: Quid quid movetur, ab alio movetur.

The question here arises, not only in reference to vital agents, but to all finite, created causes: Does the active cause of change (together with the passive potentiality of the subject of change, whether this subject be the agent itself as in immanent activity, or something other than the agent as in transitive activity),—does this active power account adequately for the new actuality educed in the change? It obviously does not; for the actuality acquired in the change is, as such, a new entity, a new perfection, in some degree positively surpassing the total reality of the combined active powers and passive potentialities which it replaces. In other words, if the actuality resulting from the change is not to be found in the immediate active and passive antecedents of the change, then we are inevitably referred, for an adequate explanation of this actuality, to some actual being above and beyond these antecedents. And to what sort of actual being are we referred? To a being in which the actuality of the effect resides only in the same way as it resides in the immediate active and passive antecedents of the change, that is potentially? No; for this would be useless, merely pushing the difficulty one step farther back. We are obliged rather to infer the existence of an Actual Being in whom the actuality of the said effect resides actually: not formally, of course, as it exists in itself when it is produced through the change; but eminently, eminenter, in such a way that its actualization outside Himself and under His influence does not involve in Him any loss of perfection, any increase of perfection, or any manner of change whatsoever. We are compelled in this way to infer, from the existence of change in the universe of our direct experience, the existence of a transcendent Immovable Prime Mover, a Primum Movens Immobile. All the active causes or principles of change which fall under our notice in the universe of direct experience are themselves subject to change. None of them causes change in any other thing without itself undergoing change. The active power of finite causes is [pg 066] itself finite. By educing the potentiality of other things into actuality they gradually use up their own energy; they diminish and lose their active power of producing effects: this belongs to the very nature of finite causes as such. Moreover, they are themselves passive as well as active; interaction is universal among the finite causes which constitute the universe of our direct experience: they all alike have passive potentiality and undergo change. Now, if any one finite cause in this system cannot adequately account for the new actuality evolved from the potential in any single process of change, neither can the whole system adequately account for it. What is true of them distributively is true of them taken all together when there is question of what belongs to their nature; and the fact that their active powers and passive potentialities fall short of the actuality of the effects we attribute to them is a fact that appertains to their very nature as finite things. The phenomenon of continuous change in the universe involves the continuous appearance of new actual being. To account for this constant stream of actuality we are of necessity carried beyond the system of finite, changing being itself; we are forced to infer the existence of a source and principle which must itself be purely actual and exempt from all change—a Being who can cause all the actuality that results from change without losing or gaining or changing in any way Himself, because He possesses all finite actuality in Himself in a supereminent manner which transcends all the efforts of finite human intelligence to comprehend or characterize in any adequate or positive manner. The scholastics expressed this in the simple aphorism: Omne novum ens est a Deo. And it is the realization of this profound truth that underlies their teaching on the necessity of the Divine Concursus, i.e. the influence of the Infinite First Cause or Prime Mover permeating the efficiency of all finite or created causes. Here, for example, is a brief recent statement of that doctrine:—

If we must admit a causal influence of these things [of direct experience] on one another, then a closer examination will convince us that a finite thing can never be the adequate cause of any effect, but is always, metaphysically regarded, only a part-cause, ever needing to be completed by another cause. Every effect is—at least under one aspect, at least as an effect—something new, something that was not there before. Even were the effect contained, whether formally or virtually, in the cause, it is certainly not identical with this latter, for if it were there would be no causality, nothing would happen. In all causing and happening, something which was heretofore only possible, becomes real and actual. But things cannot determine themselves to influence others, or to receive the influence of others, since they are not dependent in their being on one another. Hence the necessary inference that all being, all happening, all change, requires the concurrence of an Absolute Principle of being. When two things act on each other the Absolute Being must work in and with them, the same Absolute Being in both—to relate them to each other, and supplement their natural insufficiency.

Such is the profound teaching about the Divine Concursus with every creature.... God works in all and with all. He permeates all reality, everywhere; there is no being beyond Him or independent of His conserving and concurring power. Just as creatures are brought into being only through God's omnipotence, and of themselves have no independent reality, so do [pg 067] they need the self-same ever-present, all-sustaining power to continue in this being and develop it by their activity. Every event in Nature is a transitory, passing phenomenon, so bound up with conditions and circumstances that it must disappear to give place to some other. How could a mode of being so incomplete discharge its function in existence without the concurrence of the First Cause?78

We have seen now that in the real order the potential presupposes the actual; for the potential cannot actualize itself, but can be actualized only by the action of some already actual being. Nor can we avoid this consequence by supposing the potential being to have had no actual beginning in time, but to be eternally in process of actualization; for even so, it must be eternally actualized by some other actual being—a position which Aristotle and some scholastics admit to be possible. Whether, then, we conceive the actualization as beginning in time or as proceeding from all eternity, it is self-contradictory to suppose the potential as capable of actualizing itself.

It is likewise true that the actual precedes the possible in the order of our knowledge. The concept of a thing as possible presupposes the concept of that thing as actual; for the possible is understood to be possible only by its intelligible relation to actual existence. This is evidently true of extrinsic possibility; but our knowledge even of the intrinsic possibility of a thing cannot be the first knowledge we possess in the order of time. Our first knowledge is of the actual; for the mind's first cognitive act must have for object either itself or something not itself. But it knows itself as a consciously acting and therefore actual being. And it comes to know things other than itself only by the fact that such other things act upon it either immediately or mediately through sense-consciousness; so that in every hypothesis its first known object is something actual.79

The priority of the actual as compared with the potential in the real order, suggests a proof of the existence of God in the manner indicated above. It also affords a refutation of Hegelian monism. The conception of the world, including all the phenomena of mind and matter, as the gradual self-manifestation or evolution of a potential being eternally actualizing itself, is a self-contradictory conception. Scholastics rightly maintain that the realities from which we derive our first most abstract and transcendental notion of being in general, are actual realities. Hegelians seize on the object [pg 068] of this notion, identify it with pure thought, proclaim it the sole reality, and endow it with the power of becoming actually everything. It is manifest, therefore, that they endow purely potential being with the power of actualizing itself.

Nor can they fairly avoid this charge by pointing out that although their starting-point is not actual being (with which the scholastic philosophy of being commences), yet neither is it possible or potential being, but being which has neither of these determinations, being which abstracts from both, like the real being of the scholastics (7, 13). For though real being can be an object of abstract human thought without either of the predicates existent or non-existent, yet it cannot be anything in the real order without either of them. There it must be either actually existent or else merely potential. But Hegelians claim absolutely indeterminate being to be as such something in the real order; and though they try to distinguish it from potential being they nevertheless think of it as potential being, for they distinctly and repeatedly declare that it can become all things, and does become all things, and is constantly, eternally transforming itself by an internal dialectic process into the phenomena which constitute the worlds of mind and matter. Contrasting it with the abstract inert being which they conceive to be the object of the traditional metaphysics, they endow indeterminate being with the active power of producing, and the passive potentiality of becoming, actually everything. Thus, in order to show a priori how this indeterminate being must evolve itself by internal logical necessity into the world of our direct and immediate experience, they suppose it to be subject to change and to be at the same time self-actualizing, in direct opposition to the axiom that potential reality, reality which is subject to change, cannot actualize itself: Quidquid movetur ab alio moveatur oportet.

11. Kinds of Change.—Following Aristotle,80 we may recognize a broad and clear distinction between four great classes of change (μεταβολή, mutatio) in the phenomena of our sense experience: local change (κίνησις κατὰ τόπον, φορά, latio); quantitative change (κατὰ τὸ πόσον, ἀύζησις ἤ φθίσις, augmentatio vel diminutio); qualitative change (κατὰ τὸ ποίον, ἀλλοίωσις, alteratio); and substantial change (κατ᾽ οὐσίαν, γένεσις ἤ φθορά). The three former are accidental, i.e. do not reach or affect the essence or substance of the thing that is changed; the fourth is substantial, a change of essence. Substantial change is regarded as taking place instantaneously, as soon as the condition brought about by the accidental changes leading up to it becomes naturally incompatible with the essence or nature of the subject. The accidental changes, on the other hand, are regarded as taking place gradually, as realizing and involving a succession of states or conditions in the subject. These changes, especially when they take place in corporeal things, are properly described as [pg 069] movement or motion (motus, motio). By movement or motion in the strict sense we therefore mean any change which takes place gradually or successively in a corporeal thing. It is only in a wider and improper sense that these terms are sometimes applied to activity of whatsoever kind, even of spiritual beings. In this sense we speak of thoughts, volitions, etc., as movements of the soul, motus animae; or of God as the Prime Mover ever in motion, the Primum Movens semper in motu.

With local change in material things, as also with quantitative change, growth and diminution of quantity (mass and volume), everyone is perfectly familiar. From the earliest times, moreover, we find both in science and philosophy the conception of matter as composed of, and divisible into, ultimate particles, themselves supposed to admit of no further real division, and hence called atoms (ἄ-τομος, τέμνω). From the days of Grecian atomism men have attempted to show that all change in the Universe is ultimately reducible to changes of place, order, spatial arrangement and collocation, of those hypothetical atomic factors. It has likewise been commonly assumed that change in mass is solely due to change in the number of those atoms, and change in volume (of the same mass) to the relative density or closeness with which the atoms aggregate together; though some have held—and it is certainly not inconceivable—that exactly the same material entity, an atom let us say, may be capable of real contraction and expansion, and so of real change of volume: as distinct from the apparent contraction and expansion of bodies, a change which is supposed to be due to change of density, i.e. to decrease or increase in the dimensions of the pores or interstices between the smaller constituent parts or molecules. However this may be, the attempts to reduce all change in physical nature to mere mechanical change i.e. to spatial motions of the masses (molar motions), the molecules (molecular motions), and the atoms or other ultimate components of matter (whether vibratory, undulatory, rotatory or translational motions), have never been satisfactory.

Qualitative change is wider than material change, for it includes changes in spiritual beings, i.e. in beings which are outside the category of quantity and have a mode of existence altogether different from the extensional, spatial existence which characterizes matter. When, for instance, the human mind acquires knowledge, it undergoes qualitative change. But matter, too, has qualities, [pg 070] and is subject to qualitative change. It is endowed with active qualities, i.e. with powers, forces, energies, whereby it can not merely perform mechanical work by producing local changes in the distribution of its mass throughout space, but also produce physical and chemical changes which seem at least to be different in their nature from mere mechanical changes. It is likewise endowed with passive qualities which appear to the senses to be of various kinds, differing from one another and from the mechanical or quantitative characteristics of size, shape, motion, rest, etc. While these latter are called “primary qualities” of bodies—because conceived to be more fundamental and more closely inherent in the real and objective nature of matter—or “common sensibles” (sensibilia communia), because perceptible by more than one of our external senses—the former are called “secondary qualities,” because conceived to be less characteristic of the real and objective nature of matter, and more largely subjective products of our own sentient cognitive activity—or “proper sensibles” (sensibilia propria), because each of them is apprehended by only one of our external senses: colour, sound, taste, odour, temperature, material state or texture (e.g. roughness, liquidity, softness, etc.). Now about all these perceived qualities and their changes the question has been raised: Are they, as such, i.e. as perceived by us, really in the material things or bodies which make up the physical universe, and really different in these bodies from the quantitative factors and motions of the latter? Or, as such, are they not rather partially or wholly subjective phenomena—products, at least in part, of our own sense perception, states of our own consciousness, having nothing really corresponding to them in the external matter of the universe beyond the quantitative, mechanical factors and motions whereby matter acts upon our faculties of sense cognition and produces these states of consciousness in us? This is a question of the first importance, the solution of which belongs to Epistemology. Aristotle would not allow that the objective material universe can be denuded, in the way just suggested, of qualities and qualitative change; and scholastic philosophers have always held the same general view. What we have to note here, however, in regard to the question is simply this, that even if the world of matter were thus simplified by transferring all qualitative change to the subjective domain of consciousness, the reality of qualitative change and all the problems arising from it would [pg 071] still persist. To transfer qualitative change from object to subject, from matter to mind, is certainly something very different from explaining it as reducible to quantitative or mechanical change. The simplification thus effected would be more apparent than real: it would be simplifying the world of matter by transferring its complexity to the world of mind. This consideration is one which is sometimes lost sight of by scientists who advance mechanical hypotheses as ultimate explanations of the nature and activities of the physical universe.

If all material things and processes could be ultimately analysed into configurations and local motions of space-occupying atoms, homogeneous in nature and differing only in size and shape, then each of these ultimate atomic factors would be itself exempt from intrinsic change as to its own essence and individuality. In this hypothesis there would be really no such thing as substantial change. The collection of atoms would form an immutable core of material reality, wholly simple and ever actual. Such an hypothesis, however, is utterly inadequate as an explanation of the facts of life and consciousness. And even as an account of the processes of the inorganic universe it encounters insuperable difficulties. The common belief of men has always been that even in this domain of reality there are fundamentally different kinds of matter, kinds which differ from one another not merely in the shape and size and configuration and arrangement of their ultimate actual constituents, but even in the very substance or nature of these constituents; and that there are some material changes which affect the actual substance itself of the matter which undergoes them. This belief scholastics, again following Aristotle, hold to be a correct belief, and one which is well grounded in reason. And this belief in turn involves the view that every type of actual material entity—whether merely inorganic, or endowed with life, or even allied with a higher, spiritual mode of being as in the case of man himself—is essentially composite, essentially a synthesis of potential and actual principles of being, and therefore capable of substantial change. The actually existing material being scholastics describe as materia secunda, the ὕλη ἐσχάτη of Aristotle; the purely potential factor, which is actualized in this or that particular kind of matter, they describe as materia prima, the ὕλη πρώτη of Aristotle; the actualizing, specifying, formative principle, they designate as forma substantialis (εἶδος). And since the purely potential principle [pg 072] cannot actually exist except as actualized by some formative principle, all substantial change or transition from one substantial type to another is necessarily both a corruptio and a generatio. That is, it involves the actual disappearance of one substantial form and the actual appearance of another. Hence the scholastic aphorism regarding substantial change: Corruptio unius est generatio alterius: the corruption or destruction of one kind of material thing involves the generation of another kind.

The concepts of materia prima and forma substantialis are concepts not of phenomenal entities directly accessible to the senses or the imagination, but of principles which can be reached only mediately and by intellect proper. They cannot be pictured in the imagination, which can only attain to the sensible. We may help ourselves to grasp them intellectually by the analogy of the shapeless block of marble and the figure educed therefrom by the sculptor, but this is only an analogy: just as the statue results from the union of an accidental form with an existing matter, so this matter itself, the substance marble, is composed of a substantial form and a primordial, potential matter. But there the analogy ceases.

Furthermore, when we consider that the proper and primary objects of the human intellect itself are corporeal things or bodies, and that these bodies actually exist in nature only as composite substances, subject to essential or substantial change, we shall realize why it is that the concept of materia prima especially, being a mediate and negative concept, is so difficult to grasp; for, as the scholastics describe it, translating Aristotle's formula, it is in itself neque quid, neque quantum, neque quale, neque aliquid eorum quibus ens determinatur.81 But it is through intellectual concepts alone, and not through imagination images, that we may hope to analyse the nature and processes even of the world of corporeal reality; and, as St. Thomas well observes, it was because the ancient Greek atomists did not rise above the level of thinking in imagination images that they failed to recognize the existence, or explain the nature, of substantial change in the material universe82: an observation which applies with equal [pg 073] force to those scientists and philosophers of our own time who would fain reduce all physical processes to mere mechanical change.

Those, then, are the principal kinds of change, as analysed by Aristotle and the scholastics. We may note, finally, that the distinction between immanent and transitive activity is also applied to change—that is, to change considered as a process, not to the result of the change, to change in fieri, not in facto esse. Immanent movement or activity (motio, actio immanens) is that of which the term, the educed actuality, remains within the agent—which latter is therefore at once both agens and patiens. Vital action is of this kind. Transitive movement or activity, on the other hand (motio, actio transiens), is that of which the term is some actuality educed in a being other than the agent. The patiens is here really distinct from the agens; and it is in the former, not in the latter, that the change takes place: actio fit in passo. All change in the inorganic universe is of this sort (101).

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Chapter III. Existence And Essence.

12. Existence.—In the preceding chapters we examined reality in itself and in its relation to change or becoming. We have now to examine it in relation to its actual existence and to its intrinsic possibility (7, a).

Existing or being (in the participial sense: esse, existere, τὸ εἶναι) is a simple, indefinable notion. A being is said to exist when it is not merely possible but actual, when it is not merely potential in its active and passive causes but has become actual through those causes (existere: ex-sisto: ex-stare: to stand forth, distinct from its causes); or, if it have no causes, when it simply is (esse),—in which sense God, the Necessary, purely Actual Being, simply is. Thus, existence implies the notion of actuality, and is conceived as that by which any thing or essence is, distinct from nothingness, in the actual order.83 Or, again, it is the actuality of any thing or essence. About any conceivable being we may ask two distinct questions: (a) What is it? and (b) Does such a being actually exist? The answer to the former gives us the essence, what is presented to the mind through the concept; the answer to the latter informs us about the actual existence of the being or essence in question.

To the mind of any individual man the real existence (as also the real essence) of any being whatsoever, not excepting his own, can be known only through its ideal presence in his mind, through the concept or percept whereby it becomes for him a “known object,” an objectum cognitum. But this actual presence of known being to the knowing mind must not be confounded with the real existence of such being (4). Real being does not get its real existence in our minds or from our minds. Our cognition does not produce, but only discovers, actually existing reality. The latter, by acting on the mind, engenders therein the cognition [pg 075] of itself. Now all our knowledge comes through the senses; and sense cognition is excited in us by the direct action of material or phenomenal being on our sense faculties. But through sense cognition the mind is able to attain to a knowledge both of the possibility and of the actual existence of suprasensible or spiritual realities. Hence we cannot describe existence as the power which material realities have to excite in us a knowledge of themselves. Their existence is prior to this activity: prius est esse quam agere. Nor can we limit existence to material realities; for if there are spiritual realities these too have existence, though this existence can be discerned only by intellect, and not by sense.

13. Essence.—In any existing thing we can distinguish what the thing is, its essence, from its actual existence. If we abstract from the actual existence of a thing, not considering whether it actually exists or not, and fix our attention merely on what the thing is, we are thinking of its real essence. If we positively exclude the notion of actual existence from our concept of the essence, and think of the latter as not actually existing, we are considering it formally as a possible essence. There is no being, even the Necessary Being, whose essence we cannot think of in the former way, i.e. without including in our concept the notion of actual existence; but we cannot without error positively exclude the notion of actual existence from our concept of the Necessary Being, or think of the latter as a merely possible essence.

Taken in its widest sense, the essence of a thing (οὐσία, essentia, τὸ τί ἐστι, quod quid est, quidditas) means that by which a thing is what it is: id quo res est id quod est: that which gives us the answer to the question, What is this thing? Quid est haec res? τί ἐστι τόδε τι.84 Now of course any individual thing is what it is just precisely by all the reality that is in it; but we have no direct or intuitive intellectual insight into this reality; we understand it only by degrees; we explore it from various [pg 076] points of view, abstracting and generalizing partial aspects of it as we compare it with other things and seek to classify and define it: ratio humana essentias rerum quasi venatur, as the scholastics say: the human mind hunts, as it were, after the essences or natures of things. Understanding the individual datum of sense experience (what Aristotle called τόδε τι, or οὐσία πρώτη, and the scholastics hoc aliquid, or substantia prima), e.g. this individual, Socrates, first under the vaguest concept of being, then gradually under the more and more determinate concepts of substance, corporeal, living, sentient, rational, it finally forms the complex concept of his species infima, expressed by his lowest class-name, “man,” and explicitly set forth in the definition of his specific nature as a “rational animal”. Nor does our reason fail to realize that by reaching this concept of the specific essence or nature of the individual, Socrates, it has not yet grasped all the reality whereby the individual is what he is. It has reached what he has in common with all other individuals of his class, what is essential to him as a man; it has distinguished this from the unanalysed something which makes him this particular individual of his class, and which makes his specific essence this individual essence (essentia atoma,” or individua); and it has also distinguished his essence from those accidental and ever varying attributes which are not essential to him as a man, and from those which are not essential to him as Socrates. It is only the unfathomed individual essence, as existing hic et nunc, that is concrete. All the mind's generic and specific representations of it—e.g. of Socrates as a corporeal substance, a living being, a sentient being, a rational animal—are abstract, and all more or less inadequate, none of them exhausting its knowable reality. But it is only in so far as the mind is able to represent concrete individual things by such abstract concepts, that it can attain to intellectual knowledge of their nature or reality. Hence it is that by the term “essence,” simply and sine addito, we always mean the essence as grasped by abstract generic or specific concepts (ἔιδος, species), and as thus capable of definition (λόγος, ratio rei). “The essence,” says St. Thomas, “is that by which the thing is constituted in its proper genus or species, and which we signify by the definition which states what the thing is”.85 Thus understood, the essence is abstract, and [pg 077] gives the specific or generic type to which the individual thing belongs; but we may also mean by essence, the concrete essence, the individual person or thing (persona, suppositum, res individua). The relations between the objects of those two concepts of essence will be examined later.

Since the specific essence is conceived as the most fundamental reality in the thing, and as the seat and source of all the properties and activities of the thing, it is sometimes defined or described, in accordance with this notion of it, as the primary constitutive of the thing and the source of all the properties of the thing. Conceived as the foundation of all the properties of the thing it is sometimes called substance (οὐσία, substantia). Regarded as the source of the thing's activities, and the principle of its growth or development, it is called the nature of the thing (φύσις, natura, from φύω, nascor).86

Since what makes a thing that which it is, by the same fact differentiates this thing from every other thing, the essence is rightly conceived as that which gives the thing its characteristic being, thereby marking it off from all other being. In reality, of course, each individual being is distinct by all that it is from every other. But since we get our intellectual knowledge of things by abstracting, comparing, generalizing, and classifying partial aspects of them, we apprehend part of the imperfectly grasped abstract essence of each individual as common to other classes (generic), and part as peculiar to that class itself (differential); and thus we differentiate classes of things by what is only part of their essence, by what we call the differentia of each class, distinguishing mentally between it and the generic element: which two are really one, really identical, in every individual of the species thus defined and classified.

But in the Aristotelian and scholastic view of the constitution of any corporeal thing, there is a danger of taking what is really only part of the essence of such a thing for the whole essence. According to this view all corporeal substance is essentially composite, constituted by two really distinct, substantial principles, primal matter (πρώτη ὕλη, materia prima) and substantial form (ἔιδος, μορφή) united substantially, as potential and actual principles, to form one composite nature or essence. Now the kind, or species, or specific type, to which a body belongs—e.g., a horse, an oak, gold, water, etc.—depends upon the substantial form which [pg 078] actualizes the matter or potential principle. In so far as the corporeal essence is known to us at all it is known through the form, which is the principle of all the characteristic properties and activities of that particular kind of body. Hence it is quite natural that the εἲδος, μόρφη, or forma substantialis of a body should often be referred to as the specific essence of the body, though of course the essence of the body really includes the material as well as the formal factor.

We may look at the essence of any being from two points of view. If we consider it as it is conceived actually to exist in the being, we call it the physical essence. If we consider it after the manner in which it is apprehended and defined by our intellects through generic and differentiating concepts, we call it the metaphysical essence. Thus, the essence of man conceived by the two defining concepts, “rational animal,” is the metaphysical essence; the essence of man as known to be composed of the two really distinct substantial principles, soul and body, is the physical essence. Understood in this way both are one and the same essence considered from different points of view—as existing in the actual order, and as conceived by the mind.87

The physical essence of any being, understood as the constitutive principle or principles from which all properties spring, is either simple or composite according as it is understood to consist of one such constitutive principle, or to result from the substantial union of two constitutive principles, a material and a formal. Thus, the essence of God, the essence of a purely spiritual being, the essence of the human soul, are physically simple; the essence of man, the essences of all corporeal beings, are physically composite.

According to our mode of conceiving, defining and classifying essences by means of the abstract generic and differential grades of being which we apprehend in them, all essences, even physically simple essences, are conceived as logically and metaphysically composite. Moreover we speak and think of their generic and differential [pg 079] factors as “material” and “formal” respectively, after the analogy of the composition of corporeal or physically composite essences from the union of two really distinct principles, matter and form; the analogy consisting in this, that as matter is the indeterminate principle which is determined and actuated by form, so the generic concept is the indeterminate concept which is made definite and specific by that of the differentia.88 But when we think of the genus of any corporeal essence as “material,” and the differentia as “formal,” we must not consider these “metaphysical parts” as really distinct; whereas the “physical parts” of a corporeal substance (such as man) are really distinct. The genus (animal), although a metaphysical part, expresses the whole essence (man) in an indeterminate way; whereas the “matter” which is a physical part, does not express the whole essence of man, nor does the soul which is also a physical part, but only both together. Not a little error has resulted from the confusion of thought whereby genus and differentia have been regarded as material and formal constitutives in the literal sense of those expressions.

14. Characteristics of Abstract Essences.—When we consider the essences of things not as actually existing, but as intrinsically possible—the abstract, metaphysical essences, therefore—we find that when as objects of our thought they are analysed into their simplest constituents and compared or related with themselves and with one another they present themselves to our minds in these relations as endowed with certain more or less remarkable characteristics.

(a) In the first place, being abstract, they present themselves [pg 080] to the mind as being what they are independently of actual existence at any particular time or place. Their intelligibility is something apart from any relation to any actual time or place. Being intrinsically possible, they might exist at any time or place; but as possible, they are out of time and out of place—detemporalized and delocalized, if we may be permitted to use such expressions.89

(b) Furthermore, since the intellect forms its notions of them, through the aid of the senses and the imagination, from actual realizations of themselves or their constituent factors, and since it understands them to be intrinsically possible, or free from intrinsic incompatibility of their constituent factors, it conceives them to be capable of indefinitely repeated actualizations throughout time and space—unless it sees some special reason to the contrary, as it does in the case of the Necessary Being, and (according to some philosophers) in the case of purely immaterial beings or pure spirits. That is to say it universalizes them, and sees them to be capable of existing at any and every conceivable time and place. This relation of theirs to space is not likely to be confounded with the immensity or ubiquity of God. But their corresponding relation to time is sometimes described as eternity; and if it is so described it must be carefully distinguished from the positive eternity of God, the Immutable Being. To distinguish it from the latter it is usually described as negative eternity,—this indifference of the possible essence to actual existence at any particular point of time.

But apart from this relation which we conceive it as having to existence in the order of actual reality, can we, or do we, or must we conceive it as in itself an intrinsic possibility from all eternity, in the sense that it never began to be intrinsically possible, and will never cease to be so? Must we attribute to it a positive eternity, not of course of actuality or existence, but of ideal being, as an object of thought to an Eternally Existing Mind? What is this supposed eternal possibility of the possible essence? Is it nothing actual: the possible as such is nothing actual. But is it anything real? Has it only ideal being—esse ideale or intentionale? And has it this only in and from the human mind, or independently of the human mind? And also independently of the actual essences from which the human mind gets the data for its thought,—so that we must ascribe to it an eternal ideal being? To these questions we shall return presently.

(c) Thirdly, essences considered apart from their actual existence, and compared with their own constitutive factors or with one another, reveal to the mind relations which the mind sees to [pg 081] be necessary, and which it formulates for itself in necessary judgments,—judgments in materia necessaria. By virtue of the principle of identity an abstract essence is necessarily what it is, what the mind conceives it to be, what the mind conceives as its definition. Man, as an object of thought, is necessarily a rational animal, whether he actually exists or not. And if he is thought of as existing, he cannot at the same time be thought of as non-existing,—by the principle of contradiction. An existing man is necessarily an existing man,—by the principle of identity. These logical principles are rooted in the nature of reality, whether actual or possible, considered as an object of thought. There is thus a necessary relation between any complex object of thought and each of the constituent factors into which the mind can analyse it. And, similarly, there is a necessary negative relation—a relation of exclusion—between any object of thought and anything which the mind sees to be incompatible with that object as a whole, or with any of its constituent factors.

Again, the mind sees necessary relations between abstract essences compared with one another. Five and seven are necessarily twelve. Whatever begins to exist actually must have a cause. Contingent being, if such exists, is necessarily dependent for its existence on some other actually existing being. If potential being is actualized it must be actualized by actual being. The three interior angles of a triangle are necessarily equal to two right angles. And so on.

But is the abstract essence itself—apart from all mental analysis of it, apart from all comparison of it with its constituent factors or with other essences—in any sense necessary? There is no question of its actual existence, but only of itself as an object of thought. Now our thought does not seem to demand necessarily, or have a necessary connexion with, any particular object of which we do de facto think. What we do think of is determined by our experience of actual things. And the things which we conceive to be possible, by the exercise of our reason upon the data of our senses, memory and imagination, are determined as to their nature and number by our experience of actual things, even although they themselves can and do pass beyond the domain of actually experienced things. The only necessary object of thought is reality in general: for the exercise of the function of thought necessarily demands an object, and this object must be reality of some sort. Thought, as we saw, begins with actual [pg 082] reality. Working upon this, thought apprehends in it the foundations of those necessary relations and judgments already referred to. Considering, moreover, the actual data of experience, our thought can infer from these the actual existence of one Being Who must exist by a necessity of His Essence.

But, furthermore, must all the possible essences which the mind does or can actually think of, be conceived as necessarily possible in the same sense in which it is suggested that they must be conceived as eternally possible? To this question, too, we shall return presently.

(d) Finally, possible essences appear to the mind as immutable, and consequently indivisible. This means simply that the relations which we establish between them and their constitutive factors are not only necessary but immutable: that if any constitutive factor of an essence is conceived as removed from it, or any new factor as added, we have no longer the original essence but some other essence. If “animal” is a being essentially embodying the two objective concepts of “organism” and “sentient,” then on removing either we have no longer the essence “animal”. So, too, by adding to these some other element compatible with them, e.g. “rational,” we have no longer the essence “animal,” but the essence “man”. Hence possible essences have been likened to numbers, inasmuch as if we add anything to, or subtract anything from, any given number, we have now no longer the original number but another.90 This, too, is only an expression of the laws of identity and contradiction.

We might ask, however, whether, apart from analysis and comparison of an abstract object of thought with its constitutive notes or factors, such a possible essence is in itself immutably possible. This is similar to the question whether we can or must conceive such a possible essence as eternally and necessarily possible.

15. Grounds of Those Characteristics.—In considering the grounds or reasons of the various characteristics just enumerated it may be well to reflect that when we speak of the intrinsic possibility of a possible essence we conceive the latter as something complex, which we mentally resolve into its constitutive notes or factors or principles, to see if these are compatible. If they are we pronounce the essence intrinsically possible, if not we pronounce it intrinsically impossible. For [pg 083] our minds, absence of internal incompatibility in the content of our concept of any object is the test of its intrinsic possibility. Whatever fulfils this test we consider capable of existing. But what about the possibility of the notes, or factors, or principles themselves, whereby we define those essences, and by the union of which we conceive those essences to be constituted? How do we know that those abstract principles or factors—no one of which can actually exist alone, since all are abstract—can in certain combinations form possible objects of thought? We can know this only because we have either experienced such objects as actual, or because we infer their possibility from objects actually experienced. And similarly our knowledge of what is impossible is based upon our experience of the actual. Since, moreover, our experience of the actual is finite and fallible, we may err in our judgments as to what essences are, and what are not, intrinsically possible.91

If now we ask ourselves what intelligible reason can we assign for the characteristics just indicated as belonging to possible essences, we must fix our attention first of all on the fundamental fact that the human intellect always apprehends its object in an abstract condition. It contemplates the essence apart from the existence in which the essence is subject to circumstances of time and place and change; it grasps the essence in a static condition as simply identical with itself and distinct from all else; it sees the essence as indifferent to existence at any place or time; reflecting then on the actualization of this essence in the existing order of things, it apprehends the essence as capable of indefinite actualizations (except in cases where it sees some reason to the contrary), i.e. it universalizes the essence; comparing it with its constituent notes or elements, and with those of other essences, it sees and affirms certain relations (of identity or diversity, compatibility or incompatibility, between those notes or elements) as holding good necessarily and immutably, and independently of the actual embodiment of those notes or elements in any object existing at any particular place or time. All these features of the relations between the constituents of abstract, possible essences, seem so far to be adequately accounted for by the fact [pg 084] that the intellect apprehends those essences in the abstract: the data in which it apprehends them being given to it through sense experience. What may be inferred from the fact that the human intellect has this power of abstract thought, is another question92. But granting that it does apprehend essences in this manner, we seem to have in this fact a sufficient explanation of the features just referred to.

We have, however, already suggested other questions about the reality of those possible essences. Is their possibility, so far as known to us, explained by our experience of actual things? Or must we think them as eternally, necessarily and immutably possible? From the manner in which we must apprehend them, can we infer anything about the reality of an Eternal, Immutable, Necessary Intelligence, in whose Thought and Essence alone those essences, as apprehended by our minds, can find their ultimate ground and explanation? These are the questions we must now endeavour to examine.

16. Possible Essences as such are Something Distinct from mere Logical Being, and from Nothingness.—There have been philosophers who have held that the actual alone is real, and only while it is actual; that a purely (intrinsically) possible essence as such is nothing real; that the actual alone is possible; that the purely possible as such is impossible. This view is based on the erroneous assumption that whatever is or becomes actual is so, or becomes so, by some sort of unintelligible fatalistic necessity. Apart from the fact that it is incompatible with certain truths of theism, such as the Divine Omnipotence and Freedom in creating, it also involves the denial of all real becoming or change, and the assertion that all [pg 085] actuality is eternal; for if anything becomes actual, it was previously either possible or impossible; if impossible, it could never become actual; if possible, then as possible it was something different from the impossible, or from absolute nothingness. Moreover, the intrinsically possible is capable of becoming actual, and may be actualized if there exists some actual being with power to actualize it; but absolute nothingness—or, in other words, the intrinsically impossible—cannot be actualized, even by Omnipotence; therefore the possible essence as such is something positive or real, as distinct from nothingness. Finally, intrinsically possible essences can be clearly distinguished from one another by the mind; but their negation which is pure non-entity or nothingness cannot be so distinguished. It is therefore clear that possible essences are in some true sense something positive or real. From which it follows that nothingness, in the strict sense, is not the mere absence or negation of actuality, but also the absence or negation of that positive or real something which is intrinsic possibility; in other words that nothingness in the strict sense means intrinsic impossibility.

Even those who hold the opinion just rejected—that the purely possible essence as such has no reality in any conceivable sense—would presumably admit that it is an object of human thought at all events; they would accord to it the being it has from the human mind which thinks it. It would therefore be an ens rationis according to this view, having only the ideal being which consists in its being constituted and contemplated by the human mind. That it has the ideal being, the esse ideale or esse intentionale, which consists in its being contemplated by the human mind as an object of thought, no one will deny. But a little reflection will show, firstly, that this ideal being is something more than the ideal being of an ens rationis, of a mere logical entity; and, secondly, that a possible essence must have some other ideal being than that which it has in the individual human mind.

The possible essence is not a mere logical entity; for the latter cannot be conceived as capable of existing apart from the human mind, in the world of actual existences (3), whereas the former can be, and is in fact, conceived as capable of such existence. Its ideal being in the human mind is, therefore, something other than that of a mere logical entity.

The ideal being which it has in the human mind as an object [pg 086] of thought is undoubtedly derived from the mind's knowledge of actual things. We think of the essences of actually experienced realities apart from their actual existence. Thus abstracted, we analyse them, compare them, reason from them. By these processes we can not merely attain to a knowledge of the actual existence of other realities above and beyond and outside of our own direct and immediate intuitional experience, but we can also form concepts of multitudes of realities or essences as intrinsically possible, thus giving these latter an ideal existence in our own minds. Here, then, the question arises: Is this the only ideal being that can be ascribed to such essences? In other words, are essences intrinsically possible because we think them as intrinsically possible? Or is it not rather the case that we think them to be intrinsically possible because they are intrinsically possible? Does our thought constitute, or does it not rather merely discover, their intrinsic possibility? Does the latter result from, or is it not rather presupposed by, our thought-activity? The second alternative suggested in each of these questions is the true one. As our thought is not the source of their actuality, neither is it the source of their intrinsic possibility. Solipsism is the reductio ad absurdum of the philosophy which would reduce all actuality experienced by the individual mind to phases, or phenomena, or self-manifestations, of the individual mind itself as the one and only actuality. And no less absurd is the philosophy which would accord to all intrinsically possible realities no being other than the ideal being which they have as the thought-objects of the individual human mind. The study of the actual world of direct experience leads the impartial and sincere inquirer to the conclusion that it is in some true sense a manifestation of mind or intelligence: not, however, of his own mind, which is itself only a very tiny item in the totality of the actual world, but of one Supreme Intelligence. And in this same Intelligence the world of possible essences too will be found to have its original and fundamental ideal being.

17. Possible Essences have, besides Ideal Being, no other sort of Being or Reality Proper and Intrinsic to Themselves.—Before inquiring further into the manner in which we attain to a knowledge of this Intelligence, and of the ideal being of possible essences in this Intelligence, we may ask whether, above and beyond such ideal being, possible essences have not perhaps from all eternity some being or reality proper [pg 087] and intrinsic to themselves; not indeed the actual being which they possess when actualized in time, but yet some kind of intrinsic reality as distinct from the extrinsic ideal being, or esse intentionale, which consists merely in this that they are objects of thought present as such to a Supreme Intelligence or Mind.

Some few medieval scholastics93 contended that possible essences have from all eternity not indeed the existence they may receive by creation or production in time, but an intrinsic essential being which, by creation or production, may be transferred to the order of actual existences, and which, when actual existence ceases (if they ever receive it), still continues immutable and incorruptible: what these writers called the esse essentiae, as distinct from the esse existentiae, conceiving it to be intermediate between the latter on the one hand and mere ideal or logical being on the other, and hence calling it esse diminutum or secundum quid. Examining the question from the standpoint of theism, these authors seem to have thought that since God understands these essences as possible from all eternity, and since this knowledge must have as its term or object something real and positive, these essences must have some real and proper intrinsic being from all eternity: otherwise they would be simply nothingness, and nothingness cannot be the term of the Divine Intelligence. But the obvious reply is that though possible essences as such are nothing actual they must be distinguished as realities, capable of actually existing, from absolute nothingness; and that as thus distinguished from absolute nothingness they are really and positively intelligible to the Divine Mind, as indeed they are even to the human mind. To be intelligible they need not have actual being. They must, no doubt, be capable of having actual being, in order to be understood as realities: it is precisely in this understood capability that their reality consists, for the real includes not only what actually exists but whatever is capable of actual existence. Whatever is opposed to absolute nothingness is real; and this manifestly includes not only the actual but whatever is intrinsically possible.

Realities or essences which have not actual being have only [pg 088] ideal being; and ideal being means simply presence in some mind as an object of thought. Scholastic philosophers generally94 hold that possible essences as such have no other being than this; that before and until such essences actually exist they have of themselves and in themselves no being except the ideal being which they have as objects of the Divine Intelligence and the virtual being they have in the Divine Omnipotence which may at any time give them actual existence. One convincing reason for this view is the consideration that if possible essences as such had from all eternity any proper and intrinsic being in themselves, God could neither create nor annihilate. For in that hypothesis essences, on becoming actual, would not be produced ex nihilo, inasmuch as before becoming actual they would in themselves and from all eternity have had their own proper real being; and after ceasing to be actual they would still retain this. But creation is the production of the whole reality of actual being from nothingness; and is therefore impossible if the actual being is merely produced from an essence already real, i.e. having an eternal positive reality of its own. The same is true of annihilation. The theory of eternally existing uncreated matter is no less incompatible with the doctrine of creation than this theory of eternally real and uncreated forms or essences.

Again, what could this supposed positive and proper reality of the possible essence be? If it is anything distinct from the mere ideal being of such an essence, as it is assumed to be, it must after all be actual being of some sort, which would apparently have to be actualized again in order to have actual existence! Finally, this supposed eternal reality, proper to possible essences, cannot be anything uncreated. For whatever is uncreated is God; and since it is these supposed proper realities of possible essences that are made actual, and constitute the existing created universe, the latter would be in this view an actualization of the Divine Essence itself,—which is pantheism pure and simple. And neither can this supposed eternal reality, proper to possible essences, be anything created. For such creation would be eternal and necessary; whereas God's creative activity is admitted by all scholastics to be essentially free; and although they are not agreed as to whether “creation from all [pg 089] eternity” (creatio ab aeterno) is possible, they are agreed that it is not a fact.

Possible essences as such are therefore nothing actual. Furthermore, as such they have in themselves no positive being. But they are not therefore unreal. They are positively intelligible as capable of actual existence, and therefore as distinct from logical entities or entia rationis which are not capable of such existence. They are present as objects of thought to mind; and to some mind other than the individual human mind. About this ideal being which they have in this Mind we have now in the next place to inquire.

18. Inferences from our Knowledge of Possible Essences.—We have stated that an impartial study of the actual world will lead to the conclusion that it is dependent on a Supreme Intelligence; and we have suggested that in this Supreme Intelligence also possible essences as such have their primary ideal being (16, 17). When the existence of God has been established—as it may be established by various lines of argument—from actual things, we can clearly see, as will be pointed out presently, that in the Divine Essence all possible essences have the ultimate source of their possibility. But many scholastic philosophers contend that the nature and properties of possible essences, as apprehended by the human mind, furnish a distinct and conclusive argument for the existence of a Supreme Uncreated Intelligence.95 Others deny the validity of such a line of reasoning, contending that it is based on misapprehension and misinterpretation of those characteristics.

All admit that it is not human thought that makes essences possible: they are intelligible to the human mind because they are possible, not vice versa.96 For the human mind the immediate source and ground of their intrinsic possibility and characteristics is the fact that they are given to it in actual experience while it has the power of considering them apart from their actual existence.

[pg 090]

But (1) are they not independent of experienced actuality, no less than of the human mind, so that we are forced to infer from them the reality of a Supreme Eternal Mind in which they have eternal ideal being?

(2) Is not any possible essence (e.g. water, or a triangle) so necessarily what it is that even if it never did and never will exist, nay even were there no human or other finite mind to conceive it, it would still be what it is (e.g. a chemical compound of oxygen and hydrogen, or a plane rectilinear three-sided figure)—so that there must be some Necessarily Existing Intelligence in and from which it has this necessary truth as a possible essence?97 These essences, as known to us, are so far from being grounded in, [pg 091] or explained by, the things of our actual experience, that we rather regard the latter as grounded in the former. Do we not consider possible essences as the prototypes and exemplars to which actual things must conform in order to be actual, in order to exist at all?98

(3) Finally, the relations which we apprehend as obtaining between them, we see to be necessary and immutable relations. They embody necessary truths which are for our minds the standards of all truth. Such necessary truths cannot be grounded either in the contingent human mind, or in the contingent and mutable actuality of the things of our immediate experience. Therefore we can and must infer from them the reality of a Necessary, Immutable Being, of whose essence they must be imitations.

If, then, this ideal order of intrinsically possible essences is logically and ontologically prior to the contingent actualizations of any of them (even though it be posterior to them in the order of our knowledge, which is based on actual experience), there must be likewise ontologically prior to all contingent actualities (including our own minds) some Necessary Intelligence in which this order of possible essences has its ideal being.

19. Critical Analysis of Those Inferences.—The validity of the general line of argument indicated in the preceding paragraphs has been seriously questioned. Among other criticisms the following points have been urged99:—

(1) Actual things furnish the basis of irrefragable proofs of the existence of God—the Supreme, Necessary, Eternal, Omniscient, and Omnipotent Being. But we are here inquiring whether a mind which has not yet so [pg 092] analysed actual being as to see how it involves this conclusion, or a mind which abstracts altogether from the evidence furnished by actual things for this conclusion, can prove the existence of such a being from the separate consideration of possible essences, their attributes and relations. Now it is not evident that to such a mind possible essences reveal themselves as having eternal ideal being. Such a mind is, no doubt, conscious that it is not itself the cause of their possibility. But it sees that actual things plus the abstract character of its own thought account sufficiently for all their features as it knows them. To the question: Is not their ideal being eternal? it can only answer: That will depend on whether the world of actual things can be shown to involve the existence of an Eternal Intelligence. Until this is proved we cannot say whether possible essences have any ideal being other than that which they have in human minds.

(2) The actual things from which we get our concepts of possible essences do not exist necessarily. But, granted their existence, we know from them that certain essences are de facto possible. They are not necessarily given to us as possible, any more than actual things are necessarily given to us as actual. Of course, when they are thought of at all, they are, as objects of thought, necessarily and immutably identical with themselves, and related to one another as mutually compatible or incompatible, etc. But this necessity of relations, hypothetical as it is and contingent on the mental processes of analysis and comparison, involved as it is in the very nature of being and thought, and expressed as it is in the principles of identity and contradiction, is just as true of actual contingent essences as of possible essences;100 and it is something very different from the sort of necessity claimed for possible essences by the contention that they must be conceived as having ideal being necessarily. The ideal being they have in the human mind is certainly not necessary: the human mind might never have conceived these possible essences.

But must the human mind conceive a possible essence as having some ideal being necessarily? No; unless that mind has already convinced itself, from a study of actual things, that an Eternal, Necessary, Omniscient Intelligence exists: to which, of course, such essences would be eternally and necessarily present as objects of thought. If the human mind had already reached this conviction it could then see that even if there were no human intellect, things would still be true in relation to the Divine Intellect. But if both intellects were, per impossibile, conceived as non-existent truth would persist no longer.101 Suppose, therefore, that it has not yet reached this conviction, or abstracts altogether from the existence of God as known from actual things; and then, further, imagines the actual things of its experience and all human intellects and finite intellects of whatsoever kind as non-existent: must it still conceive possible things as possible? No; possibility and impossibility, [pg 093] truth and falsity will now have ceased to have any meaning. After such attempted abstraction the mind would have before it only what Balmes describes as the abyss of nothing. And Balmes is right in saying that the mind is unable to abstract all existence. But the reason of the inability is not, as Balmes contends, because when it has removed actual things and finite minds there still remains in spite of it a system or order of possible essences which forces it to infer and posit the existence of an Eternal, Necessary Mind as the source and ground of that order. The reason rather is because the mind sees that the known actual things, from which it got all its notions of possible essences, necessarily imply, as the only intelligible ground of their actuality, the existence of a Necessary Being, in whose Intelligence they must have been contained ideally, and in whose Omnipotence they must have been contained virtually, from all eternity. From contingent actuality, as known to it, the mind can argue to the eternal actuality of Necessary Being, and to the impossibility either of a state of absolute nothingness, or of an order of purely possible things apart from all actuality.

(3) Of course, whether the mind has thus thought out the ultimate implications of the actuality of experienced things or not, once it has thought and experienced those things it cannot by any effort banish the memory of them from its presence: they are there still as objects of its thought even when it abstracts from their actual existence. But if, while it has not yet seen that their actuality implies the existence of a Necessary, Omniscient and Omnipotent Being, it abstracts not only from their actual existence but from the existence of all finite minds (itself included), then in that state, so far as its knowledge goes, there would be neither actual nor ideal nor possible being. Nor can the fact that an ideal order of possible things still persists in its own thought mislead it into concluding that such an ideal order really persists in the hypothesis it has made. For it knows that this ideal order still persists for itself simply because it cannot think itself away. It sees all the time that if it could effectively think itself away, this ideal order would have to disappear with it, leaving nothing—so far as it knows—either actual or possible. Mercier has some apposite remarks on this very point. From the fact, he writes, that those abstract essences, grasped by our abstractive thought from the dawn of our reason, have grown so familiar to us, we easily come to look upon them as pre-existing archetypes or models of our thoughts and of things; they form a fund of predicates by which we are in the habit of interpreting the data of our experience. So, too, the hypothetically necessary relations established by abstract thought between them we come to regard as a sort of eternal system of principles, endowed with a sort of legislative power, to which created things and intelligences must conform. But they have really no such pre-existence. The eternal pre-existence of those essence-types, which Plato called the intelligible world, the τόπος νοητός, and the supposed eternal legislative power of their relations, are a sort of mental optical illusion. Those abstract essences, and the principles based upon them, are the products of our mental activity working on the data of our actual experience. When we enter on the domain of speculative reflection ... they are there before us; ... but we must not forget that reflection is consequent on the spontaneous thought-activity which—by working abstractively on the actual data of sensible, contingent, changeable, temporal realities—set them up there.... We know [pg 094] from psychology how those ideal, abstract essence-types are formed.... But because we have no actual memory of their formation, which is so rapid as practically to escape consciousness in spontaneous thought, we are naturally prone to imagine that they are not the product of our own mental action on the data of actual experience, but that they exist in us, or rather above us, and independently of us. We can therefore understand the psychological illusion under which Plato wrote such passages as the following: But if anyone should tell me why anything is beautiful, either because it has a blooming, florid colour, or figure, or anything else of the kind, I dismiss all other reasons, for I am confounded by them all; but I simply, wholly, and perhaps naïvely, confine myself to this, that nothing else causes it to be beautiful, except either the presence or communication of that abstract beauty, by whatever means and in whatever way communicated; for I cannot yet affirm with certainty, but only that by means of beauty all beautiful things become beautiful (τῷ καλῷ τὰ καλὰ γίγνεται καλά). For this appears to me the safest answer to give both to myself and others, and adhering to this I think that I shall never fall [into error].... And that by magnitude great things become great, and greater things greater; and by littleness less things become less.102 St. Augustine's doctrine on the invariable laws of numbers, on the immutable principles of wisdom, and on truth generally, draws its inspiration from this Platonic idealism.103

But this Platonic doctrine, attributing to the abstract essences conceived by our thought a reality independent both of our thought and of the actual sense data from which directly or indirectly we derive our concepts of them, is rejected as unsound by scholastics generally. When we have proved from actual things that God exists, and is the Intelligent and Free Creator of the actual world of our direct experience, we can of course consider the Divine Intellect as contemplating from all eternity the Divine Essence, and as seeing therein the eternal archetypes or ideas of all actual and possible essences. We may thus regard the Divine Mind as the eternal τόπος νοητός, or mundus intelligibilis. This, of course, is not Plato's thought; it is what St. Augustine substituted for Platonism, and very properly. But we must not infer, from this truth, that when we contemplate possible essences, with all the characteristics we may detect in them, we are contemplating this mundus intelligibilis which is the Divine Mind. This was the error of the ontologists. They inferred that since possible essences, as known by the human mind, have ideal being independently of the latter and of all actual contingent reality, the human mind in contemplating them has really an intuition of them as they are seen by the Divine Intellect Itself in the Divine Essence; so that, in the words of Gioberti, the Primum Ontologicum, the Divine Being Himself, is also the primum logicum, or first reality apprehended by human thought.104

Now those authors who hold that the ideal order of possible essences contemplated by the human mind is seen by the latter, as so contemplated, to have some being, some ideal being, really independent of the human mind itself, and of the actual contingent things from which they admit that the human mind derives its knowledge of such essences,—these authors do not hold, but deny, that this independent ideal being, which they claim for these [pg 095] essences, is anything Divine, that it is the Divine Essence as seen by the Divine Intellect to be imitable ad extra.105 Hence they cannot fairly be charged with the error of ontologism.

Renouncing Plato's exaggerated realism, and holding that our knowledge of the ideal order of possible essences is derived by our mind from its consideration of actual things, they yet hold that this ideal order is seen to have some sort of being or reality independent both of the mind and of actual things.106 This is not easy to understand. When we ask, Is this supposed independent being (or reality, or possibility) of possible essences the ideal being they have in the Divine mind?—we are told that it is not;107 but that it is something from which we can infer, by reasoning, this eternal, necessary, and immutable ideal being of these same essences in the Divine Mind.

The considerations urged in the foregoing paragraphs will, however, have shown that the validity of this line of reasoning from possible essences to the reality of an Eternal, Divine, Immutable Intelligence is by no means evident or free from difficulties. Of course, when the existence of God has been proved from actual things, the conception of the Divine Intelligence and Essence as the ultimate source of all possible reality, no less than of all actual reality, will be found to shed a great deal of new light upon the intrinsic possibility of possible essences. Since, however, our knowledge of the Divine is merely analogical, and since God's intuition of possible essences, as imitations of His own Divine Essence, completely transcends our comprehension, and is totally different from our abstractive knowledge of such essences, our conception of the manner in which these essences are related to the Divine Nature and the Divine Attributes, must be determined after the analogy of the manner in which our own minds are related to these essences.

20. Essences are intrinsically Possible, not because God can make them exist actually; nor yet because He freely wills them to be possible; nor because He understands them as possible; but because they are modes in which the Divine Essence is Imitable ad extra.—(a) The ultimate source of the extrinsic possibility of all contingent realities is the Divine Omnipotence: just as the proximate source of the extrinsic possibility of a statue is the power of the sculptor to educe it from the block of wood or marble. But just as the power of the sculptor presupposes the intrinsic possibility of the statue, so does the Divine Omnipotence presuppose the intrinsic possibility of all possible things. It is not, as William of Ockam († 1347), a scholastic of the decadent period, erroneously thought, [pg 096] because God can create things that such things are intrinsically possible, but rather because they are intrinsically possible He can create them.

(b) Not less erroneous is the voluntarist theory of Descartes, according to which possible essences are intrinsically possible because God freely willed them to be possible.108 The actuality of all created things depends, of course, on the free will of God to create them; but that possible essences are what they are, and are related to each other necessarily as they are, because God has willed them to be such, is absolutely incredible. Descartes seems to have been betrayed into this strange error by a false notion of what is requisite for the absolute freedom and independence of the Divine Will: as if this demanded that God should be free to will, e.g. that two plus two be five, or that the radii of a circle be unequal, or that creatures be independent of Himself, or that blasphemy be a virtuous act! The intrinsic possibility of essences is not dependent on the Free Will of God; the actualization of possible essences is; but God can will to actualize only such essences as He sees, from comprehending His own Divine Essence, to be intrinsically possible. But it derogates in no way from the supremacy of the Divine Will to conceive its free volition as thus consequent on, and illumined by, the Divine Knowledge; whereas it is incompatible with the wisdom and sanctity of God, as well as inconceivable to the human mind, that the necessary laws of thought and being—such as the principles of contradiction and identity, the principle of causality, the first principles of the moral order—should be what they are simply because God has freely willed them to be so, and might therefore have been otherwise.

From the fact that we have no direct intuition of the Divine Being, some philosophers have concluded that all speculation on the relation of God to the world of our direct experience is necessarily barren and fruitless. This is a phase of agnosticism; and, like all error, it is the exaggeration of a truth: the truth being that while we may reach real knowledge about the Divine Nature and attributes by such speculation, we can do so only on condition that we are guided by analogies drawn from God's creation, and remember that our concepts, as applied to God, are analogical (2).

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We can know God only by analogy with contingent and finite beings, and consequently the realities and laws of the contingent and finite world must necessarily serve as our term of comparison. But, among finite realities, we see an essential subordination of the extrinsically possible to the intelligible, of this to the intrinsically possible, and of this again to the essential type which is presupposed by our thought. Therefore, a pari, we must consider the omnipotent will of God, which is the first and universal cause of all [contingent] existences, as under the direction of the Divine Omniscience, and this in turn as having for its object the Divine Essence and in it the essential types whose intrinsic possibility is grounded on the necessary imitability of the Divine Being.

When, therefore, in defence of his position, Descartes argues that In God willing and knowing are one and the same; the reason why He knows anything is because He wills it, and for this reason only can it be true: Ex hoc ipso quod Deus aliquid velit, ideo cognoscit, et ideo tantum talis res est vera—he is only confusing the issue. We might, indeed, retort the argument: In God willing and knowing are one and the same; the reason why He wills anything is because He knows it, and for this reason only can it be good: Ex hoc ipso quod aliquid cognoscit, ideo vult, et ideo tantum talis res est bona, but both inferences are equally unwarranted. For, though willing and knowing are certainly one and the same in God, this one and the same thing is formally and for our minds neither will nor intellect, but a reality transcending will and intellect, a substance infinitely above any substances known to us: ὑπερούσια, supersubstantia, as the Fathers of the Church and the Doctors of the Schools call it. But of this transcendent substance we have no intuitive knowledge. We must therefore either abandon all attempts to find out anything about it, or else apprehend it and designate it after the analogy of what we know from direct experience about created life and mind. And as in creatures will is not identical with intellect, nor either of these with the nature of the being that possesses them; so what we conceive in God under the concept of will, we must not identify in thought with what we conceive in Him under the concept of intellect, nor may we with impunity confound either in our thought with the Nature or Essence of the Divine Being.109

(c) Philosophers who deny the validity of all the arguments advanced by theists in proof of the existence of a transcendent Supreme Being, distinct from the world of direct human experience, endeavour to account in various ways for the intrinsic possibility of abstract essences. Agnostics either deny to these latter any reality whatsoever (16), or else declare the problem of their reality insoluble. Monists of the materialist type—who try to reduce all mind to matter and its mere mechanical energies (11)—treat the question in a still more inadequate and unsatisfactory manner; while the advocates of idealistic monism, like Hegel and his followers, refer us to the supposed Immanent Mind [pg 098] of the universe for an ultimate explanation of all intrinsic possibility. Certainly this must have its ultimate source in some mind; and it is not in referring us to an Eternal Mind that these philosophers err, but in their conception of the relation of this mind to the world of direct actual experience. It is not, however, with such theories we are concerned just now, but only with theories put forward by theists. And among these latter it is surprising to find some few110 who maintain that the intrinsic possibility of abstract essences depends ultimately and exclusively on these essences themselves, irrespective of things actually experienced by the human mind, irrespective of the human mind itself, and irrespective of the Divine Mind and the Divine Nature.

As to this view, we have already seen (19) that if we abstract from all human minds, and from all actual things that can be directly experienced by such minds, we are face to face either with the alternative of absolute nothingness wherein the true and the false, the possible and the impossible, cease to have any intelligible meaning, or else with the alternative of a Supreme, Eternal, Necessary, Omniscient and Omnipotent Being, whose actual existence has been, or can be, inferred from the actual data of human experience. Now the theist, who admits the existence of such a Being, cannot fail to see that possible essences must have their primary ideal being in the Divine Intellect, and the ultimate source of their intrinsic possibility in the Divine Essence Itself. For, knowing that God can actualize intrinsically possible essences by the creative act, which is intelligent and free, he will understand that these essences have their ideal being in the Divine Intellect; that the Divine Intellect sees their intrinsic possibility by contemplating the Divine Essence as the Uncreated Prototype and Exemplar of all intrinsically possible things; and that these latter are intrinsically possible precisely because they are possible adumbrations or imitations of the Divine Nature.

(d) But are we to conceive that essences are intrinsically possible precisely because the Divine Intellect, by understanding them, makes them intrinsically possible? Or should we rather conceive their intrinsic possibility as antecedent to this act by which the Divine Intellect understands them, and as dependent only on the Divine Essence Itself, so that essences would be [pg 099] intrinsically possible simply because the Divine Essence is what it is, and because they are possible imitations or expressions of it? Here scholastics are not agreed.

Some111 hold that the intrinsic possibility of essences is formally constituted by the act whereby the Divine Intellect, contemplating the Divine Essence, understands the latter to be indefinitely imitable ad extra; so that as the actuality of things results from the Fiat of the Divine Will, and as their extrinsic possibility is grounded in the Divine Omnipotence, so their intrinsic possibility is grounded in the Divine Intellect. The latter, by understanding the Divine Essence, would not merely give an ideal being to the intrinsic possibility of essences, but would make those essences formally possible, they being only virtually possible in the Divine Essence considered antecedently to this act of the Divine Intellect. Or, rather, as some Scotists explain the matter,112 this ideal being which possible essences have from the Divine Intellect is not as extrinsic to them as the ideal being they have from the human intellect, but is rather the very first being they can be said formally to have, and is somehow intrinsic to them after the analogy of the being which mere logical entities, entia rationis, derive from the human mind: which being is intrinsic to these entities and is in fact the only being they have or can have.

Others113 hold that while, no doubt, possible essences have ideal being in the Divine Intellect from the fact that they are objects of the Divine Knowledge, yet we must not conceive these essences as deriving their intrinsic possibility from the Divine Intellect. For intellect as such presupposes its object. Just, therefore, as possible essences are not intrinsically possible because they are understood by, and have ideal being in, the human mind, so neither are they intrinsically possible because they are understood by, and have ideal being in, the Divine Mind. In order to be understood actually, in order to have ideal being, in order to be objects of thought, they must be intelligible; and in order to be intelligible they must be intrinsically possible. Therefore they are formally constituted as intrinsically possible essences, not by the fact that they are understood by the Divine Intellect, but by the fact that antecedently [pg 100] to this act (in our way of conceiving the matter: for there is really no priority of acts or attributes in God) they are already possible imitations of the Divine Essence Itself.

This view seems preferable as being more in accordance with the analogy of what takes place in the human mind. The speculative intellect in man does not constitute, but presupposes its object. Now, while actual things are the objects of God's practical science—the scientia visionis,” which reaches what is freely decreed by the Divine Will,—possible things are the objects of God's speculative science—the scientia simplicis intelligentiae,” which is not, like the former, productive of its object, but rather contemplative of objects presented to it by and in the Divine Essence.

Why, then, ultimately will the notions “square” and “circle” not coalesce so as to form one object of thought for the human mind, while the notions “equilateral” and “triangle” will so coalesce? Because the Essence of God, the Necessary Being, the First Reality, and the Source of all contingent reality, affords no basis for the former as a possible expression or imitation of Itself; in other words, because Being is not expressible by nothingness, and a “square circle” is nothingness: while the Divine Essence does afford a basis for the latter; because Necessary Being is in some intelligible way imitated, expressed, manifested, by whatever has any being to distinguish it from nothingness, and an “equilateral triangle” has such being and is not nothingness.

It is hardly necessary to add that when we conceive the Divine Essence, contemplated by the Divine Intellect, as containing in itself the exemplars or prototypes of all possible things, we are not to understand the Divine Essence as the formal exemplar of each, or, a fortiori, as a vast collection of such formally distinct exemplars; but only as virtually and equivalently the exemplar of each and all. We are not to conceive that possible essences are seen by the Divine Intellect imaged in the Divine Essence as in a mirror, but rather as in their supreme source and principle: so that they are faint and far off reflections of It, and, when actualized, become for us the only means we have, in this present state, for reaching any knowledge of the Deity: videmus nunc per speculum.114

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21. Distinction Between Essence and Existence in Actually Existing Contingent or Created Beings.—Passing now from the consideration of possible essences as such, to the consideration of actually existing essences, we have to examine a question which has given rise to a great deal of controversy, partly on account of its inherent difficulty, and partly because of a multitude of ambiguities arising from confusion of thought: What is the nature of the distinction between essence and existence in the actually existing things of our experience?

We have seen already that the concepts of essence and existence are distinct from each other (12, 13); in other words, that in all cases there is at least a logical distinction between the essence and the existence of any being. We must, however, distinguish between created or contingent beings and the Uncreated, Necessary, Self-Existent Being. The latter exists essentially, eternally, by His own Essence, so that in Him essence and existence are really identical. His essence is formally His Existence; and, therefore, in thinking of His Essence we cannot positively exclude the notion of existence or think of Him as non-existent. The distinction between essence and existence, which we find in our thoughts, is, therefore, when applied to God, a purely logical distinction, due solely to our finite human mode of thinking, and having no ground or basis or reason in the reality which is the object of our thought. On this there is complete unanimity among scholastic philosophers.

But while we conceive that God actually exists by that whereby He is God, by His Essence Itself, we do not conceive that any created or contingent being exists by that whereby it is what it is, by its essence. We do not, for example, regard the essence of Socrates, whether specific or individual (that whereby he is a man, or that whereby he is this man, Socrates), as that whereby he actually exists. In other words, the essence of the existing Socrates, being a contingent essence, does not necessarily demand or imply that it actually exist. Our concept of such an essence does not include the note of actual existence. Therefore if we find such an essence actually existing we consider this actually existing essence as caused or produced, and conserved in existence, by some other being, viz. by the Necessary Being: so that if it were not so created and conserved [pg 102] it would be a pure possibility and nothing actual.115 The same difference between the Necessary Being and contingent beings will be seen from considering their existence. The abstract concept of existence is rendered definite and determinate by the essence which it actualizes. Now every finite essence is of some particular kind; and its existence is rendered determinate by the fact that it is the existence of a definite kind of essence. The existence of a contingent being we conceive as the actuality of its essence; and its essence as a definite potentiality of existence. Thus if we conceive existence as a perfection it is restricted by the finite nature of the potentiality which it actualizes. But the existence of the Necessary Being is the plenitude of actuality, an existence not restricted by being the existence of any essence that is determinate because finite, but of an essence that is determinate by being above all genera and species, by being infinite, by being Itself pure actuality, in no sense potential but perfectly and formally identical with actual existence. While, therefore, the essence of the Necessary Being is a necessarily existing essence, that of a contingent being is not necessarily existent, but is conceived as a potentiality which has been de facto actualized or made existent by the Necessary Being, and which may again cease to be actually existent.116 On this too there is unanimity among scholastic philosophers.

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We distinguish mentally or logically between the essence of an actually existing contingent being and its existence; considering the former as the potential principle, in relation to the latter as the actualizing principle, of the contingent existing reality. But is the distinction between such an essence and its existence something more than a logical distinction? Is it a real distinction? This is the question in dispute. And in order to avoid misunderstanding, we must be clear on these two points: firstly, of what essence and existence is there question? and secondly, what exactly are we to understand by a real distinction in this matter?

22. State of the Question.—In the first place, there is no question here of the relation of a possible essence as such to existence. The possible essence of a contingent being, as such, has no reality outside the Divine Essence, Intellect, Will, and Omnipotence. Before the world was created the possible essences of all the beings that constitute it were certainly really distinct from the actual existence of these beings which do constitute the created universe. On this point there can be no difference of opinion. To contend that it is on the eternal reality of the possible essence that actual existence supervenes, when a contingent being begins to exist, would be equivalent to contending that it is the Divine Essence that becomes actual in the phenomena of our experience: which is the error of Pantheism.

Again, before a contingent thing comes into actual existence it may be virtually and potentially in the active powers and passive potentialities of other actually existing contingent things: as the oak, for instance, is in the passive potentiality of the acorn and in the active powers of the natural agencies whereby it is evolved from the acorn; or the statue in the block of marble and in the mind and artistic power of the sculptor. But neither is there any question here of the relation of such potential being [pg 104] or essence as a thing has in its causes to the actual existence of this thing when actually produced. Whatever being or essence it has in its active and passive causes is certainly really distinct from the existence which the thing has when it has been actually produced. Nor is there any doubt or dispute about this point. At the same time much controversy is due to misunderstandings arising from a confusion of thought which fails to distinguish between the essence as purely possible, the essence as virtually or potentially in its causes, and the essence as actually existing. It is about the distinction between the latter and its existence that the whole question is raised. And it must be borne in mind that this essence, whether it is really distinct from its existence or not, is itself a positive reality from the moment it is created or produced. The question is whether the creative or productive act—whereby this essence is placed “outside its causes,” and is now no longer merely possible, or merely virtual or potential in its causes, but something real in itself—has for its term one reality, or two realities, viz. the essence as real subjective potentiality of existence, and the existential act or perfection whereby it is constituted actually existent.117

The question is exclusively concerned with the essence which began to exist when the contingent being came into actual existence, and which ceases to exist when, or if, this being again passes out of actual existence; and the question is whether this essence which actually exists is really distinct from the existence whereby it actually exists. Finally, the question concerns the essence and existence of any and every actual contingent reality, whether such reality be a substance or an accident. Of course it is primarily concerned with the essence and existence of substances; but it also applies to the essence and existence of accidents in so far as these latter will be found to be really distinct from the substances in which they inhere, and to have reality proper to themselves.

23. The Theory of Distinctions in its Application to the Question.—In the next place, what are we to understand by a real distinction in this matter? Ambiguity and obscurity of thought in regard to the theory of distinctions, and in regard to the application of the theory to the present question, has been probably the most fertile source of much tedious and fruitless controversy in this connexion.

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Anticipating what will be considered more fully at a later stage (30), we must note here the two main classes of distinction which, by reflecting on our thought-processes, we discover between the objects of our thought. The real distinction is that which exists in things independently of the consideration of our minds; that which is discovered, but not made, by the mind; that which is given to us in and with the data of our experience. For example, the act of thinking is a reality other than, and therefore really distinct from, the mind that thinks; for the mind persists after the act of thinking has passed away.

Opposed to this is the mental or logical distinction, which is the distinction made by the mind itself between two different concepts of one and the same reality; which is not in the reality independently of our thought, but is introduced into it by our thought, regarding the same reality under different aspects or from different points of view. The mind never makes such a distinction without some ground or reason for doing so.

Sometimes, however, this reason will be found exclusively in the mind itself—in the limitations of its modes of thought—and not in the reality which is the matter or object of the thought. The distinction is then said to be purely logical or mental. Such distinctions are entia rationis, logical entities. An example would be the distinction between the concept “man” and the concept “rational animal,” or, in general, between any definable object of thought and its definition; the distinction, therefore, between the essence and the existence of the Necessary Being is a purely logical distinction, for in a definition it is the essence of the thing we define, and existence is of the essence or definition of the Necessary Being.

Sometimes, again, the reason for making a mental distinction will be found in the reality itself. What is one and the same reality presents different aspects to the mind and evokes different concepts of itself in the mind: though really one, it is virtually manifold; and the distinction between the concepts of these various aspects is commonly known as a virtual distinction. For example, when we think of any individual man as a “rational animal,” though our concept of “animal nature” is distinct from that of “rational nature,” we do not regard these in him as two realities co-existing or combining to form his human nature, but only as two distinct aspects under which we view the one reality which is his human nature. And we view it under [pg 106] these two aspects because we have actual experience of instances in which animal nature is really distinct and separated from rationality, e.g., in the brute beast. Or, again, since we can recognize three grades of life in man—vegetative, sentient, and rational—we conceive the one principle of life, his soul, as virtually three principles; and so we distinguish mentally or virtually between three souls in man, although in reality there is only one. Or, once more, when we think of the Wisdom, the Will, and the Omnipotence of God, we know that although these concepts represent different aspects of the Deity, these aspects are not distinct realities in Him; but that because of His infinite perfection and infinite simplicity they are all objectively one and the same self-identical reality.

A virtual distinction is said to be imperfect (thus approaching nearer to the nature of a purely logical distinction) when each of the concepts whereby we apprehend the same reality only prescinds explicitly from what is expressed by the other, although one of them is found on analysis to include implicitly what is expressed by the other. Such is the distinction between the being and the life of any living thing; or the distinction between the spirituality and the immortality of the human soul; or the distinction between Infinite Wisdom and Infinite Power: the distinction between the divine attributes in general. A virtual distinction is said to be perfect (thus approaching nearer to the nature of a real distinction) when neither of the concepts includes either explicitly or implicitly what is expressed by the other. Such, for instance, is the distinction between the principle of intellectual life and the principle of animal or sentient life in man; for not only can these exist separately (the former without the latter, e.g. in pure spirits, the latter without the former, e.g. in brute beasts), but also it will be found that by no analysis does either concept in any way involve the other.118

Our only object in setting down the various examples just given is to illustrate the general scholastic teaching on the doctrine of distinction. In themselves they are not beyond dispute, for the general doctrine of distinction is not easy of application in detail; but they will be sufficient for our present purpose. Probably the greatest difficulty in applying the general doctrine will be found to lie in discriminating between virtual distinctions—especially perfect virtual distinctions—and real [pg 107] distinctions.119 And this difficulty will be appreciated still more when we learn that a real distinction does not necessarily involve separability of the objects so distinguished. In other words there may be, in a composite existing individual being, constitutive factors or principles, or integral parts, each of which is a positive real entity, really distinct from the others, and yet incapable of existing separately or in isolation from the others. “Separability,” says Mercier,120 “is one of the signs of a real distinction; but it is neither essential to, nor a necessary property of the latter. Two separable things are of course really distinct from each other; but two entities may be really distinct from each other without being separable or capable of existing apart from each other. Thus we believe that the intellect and the will in man are really distinct from each other, and both alike from the substance of the human soul; yet they cannot exist isolated from the soul.” Therefore, even though the objects which we apprehend as distinct, by means of distinct concepts, be understood to be such that they cannot actually exist in isolation from each other, but only as united in a composite individual being, still if it can be shown that each of them has its own proper reality independently of our thought, so that the distinction between them is not the result of our thought, or introduced by our thought into the individual thing or being which we are considering, then the distinction must be regarded as real. If, on the other hand, it can be shown that the different aspects which we apprehend in any datum by means of distinct concepts have not, apart from the consideration of the mind, apart from the analytic activity of our own thought, each its own proper reality, but are only distinct mental views of what is objectively one and the same reality, then the distinction must be regarded as logical, not real,—and this even although there may be in the richness and fulness of that one reality comparatively to the limited capacity of our minds, as well as in the very constitution and modes of thought of our minds themselves, a reason or basis for, and an explanation of, the multiplicity of concepts whereby we attain to an understanding of some one reality.

24. Solutions of the Question.—Postponing further [pg 108] consideration of the serious problems on the validity of knowledge and its relation to reality, to which those reflections inevitably give rise, let us now return to the main question: the nature of the distinction between the essence and the existence of any actually existing contingent being. We need not be surprised to find that the greatest minds have been unable to reach the same solution of this question. For it is but a phase of the more general metaphysical problem—at once both ontological and epistemological—of the nature of reality and the relation of the human mind thereto. Nor will any serious modern philosopher who is at all mindful of the wealth of current controversial literature on this very problem, or of the endless variety of conflicting opinions among contemporary thinkers in regard to it, be disposed to ridicule the medieval controversies on the doctrine of distinction as applied to essence and existence. No doubt there has been a good deal of mere verbal, and perhaps trifling, argumentation on the matter: it lends itself to the dialectical skill of the controversialist who “takes sides,” as well as to the serious thought of the open-minded investigator. It is not, however, through drawing different conclusions from the same premisses that conflicting solutions of the question have been reached, but rather through fundamentally different attitudes in regard to the premisses themselves which different philosophers profess to find in the common data of their experience. When we have once grasped what philosophers mean by a logical or a real distinction as applied to the relation between essence and existence we shall not get any very material assistance towards the choice of a solution by considering at length the arguments adduced on either side.121

Those who believe there is a real distinction122 between the essence and the existence of all actually existing contingent beings mean by this that the real essence which comes into [pg 109] actual existence by creation, or by the action of created causes, is a reality distinct from the existence whereby it actually exists. The actually existing essence is the total term of the creative or productive act; but what we apprehend in it under the concept of essence is really distinct from what we apprehend in it under the concept of existence: the existence being a real principle which actualizes the essence, and this latter being itself another real principle which is in itself a positive, subjective potentiality of existence.123 Neither, of course, can actually exist without the other: no actual existence except that of a real essence; no existing essence except by reason of the existence which makes it actual. But these two real principles of existing contingent being, inseparable as they are and correlative, are nevertheless distinct realities—distinct in the objective order and independently of our thought,—and form by their union a really composite product: the existing thing.

We might attempt to illustrate this by the analogy of a body and its shape or colour. The body itself is really distinct from its actual shape and colour: it may lose them, and yet remain the same body; and it may acquire other shapes and colours. At any time the body has actually some particular shape and colour; but that by which it is formally so shaped and coloured is something really different from the body itself. Furthermore, before the body actually possessed this particular shape and colour, these were in it potentially: that is to say, there were then in the body the real, passive, subjective potentialities of this particular shape and colour. So too that by which a real (contingent) essence actually exists (i.e. the existential act, existence) is really distinct from that which actually exists (i.e. the essence, the potentiality of that existential act). The analogy is, however, at best only a halting one. For while it is comparatively easy to understand how the passive, subjective potentiality of a shape or colour can be something real in the already actually existing body, it is not so easy to understand how the potentiality of existence, i.e. the real essence, can be anything that is itself real and really distinct from the existence.124 The oak is really in the acorn, for the passive, subjective potentiality of the oak is in the actual acorn; but is this potentiality anything really distinct from the acorn? or should we not rather say that the actual acorn is potentially the oak, or is the potentiality of the oak? At all events even if it is really distinct from the actual acorn, it is in the actual acorn. But is it possible to conceive a real, subjective potentiality which does not reside in anything actual?125 Now if the real essence is really distinct from its existence it must be conceived as a real, subjective potentiality of existence. Yet it cannot be conceived as a potentiality in anything actual: except indeed in the actually existing essence which is the composite result of its union with the existential act. It is not a [pg 110] real, subjective potentiality antecedently to the existential act, and on which the latter is, as it were, superimposed:126 in itself, it is, in fact, nothing real except as actualized by the latter; but, as we have already observed, the process of actualization, whether by direct creation or by the action of created causes, must be conceived as having for its total term or effect a composite reality resulting from what we can at best imperfectly describe as the union of two correlative, con-created, or co-produced principles of being, a potential and an actual, really distinct from each other: that whereby the thing can exist, the potentiality of existence, the essence; and that whereby the thing does exist, the actuality of essence, the existence. The description is imperfect because these principles are not con-created or co-produced separately; but, rather, the creation or production of an existing essence, the efficiency by which it is placed outside its causes, has one single, though composite, term: the actually existing thing.

This view, thus advocating a real distinction between essence and existence, may obviously be regarded as an emphatic expression of the objective validity of intellectual knowledge. It might be regarded as an application of the more general view that the objective concepts between which the intellect distinguishes in its interpretation of reality should be regarded as representing distinct realities, except when the distinction is seen to arise not from the nature of the object but from the nature of the subject, from the limitations and imperfections of our own modes of thought. But in the case of any particular (disputed) distinction, the onus probandi should lie rather on the side of those who contend that such distinction is logical, and not real. On the other hand, many philosophers who are no less firmly convinced of the objective validity of intellectual knowledge observe that it is possible to push this principle too far, or rather to err by excess in its application. Instead of placing the burden of proof solely on the side of the logical distinction, they would place it rather more on the side of the real distinction—in conformity with the maxim of method, Entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem. And they think that it is an error by excess to hold the distinction between essence and existence to be real. This brings us to the second alternative opinion: that the distinction in question is not real, but only virtual.127

[pg 111]

According to this view, the essence and the existence of any existing contingent being are one and the same reality. There is, however, in this reality a basis for the two distinct objective concepts—of essence and of existence—whereby we apprehend it. For the contingent being does not exist necessarily: we see such beings coming into existence and ceasing to exist: we can therefore think of what they are without thinking of them as actually existent: in other words, we can think of them as possible, and of their existence as that by which they become actual. This is a sufficient reason for distinguishing mentally, in the existing being, the essence which exists and the existence by which it exists.128 But when we think of the essence of an actually existing being as objectively possible, or as potential in its causes, we are no longer thinking of it as anything real in itself, but only of its ideal being as an object of thought in our minds, or of the ideal being it has in the Divine Mind, or of the potential being it has in created causes, or of the virtual being it has in the Divine Omnipotence, or of the ultimate basis of its possibility in the Divine Essence. But all these modes of “being” we know to be really distinct from the real, contingent essence itself which begins to exist actually in time, and may cease once more to exist in time when and if its own nature demands, and God wills, such cessation. But that the real, contingent essence itself which so exists, is something really distinct from the existence whereby it exists; that it forms with the latter a really composite being; that it is in itself a real, subjective potentiality, receptive of existence as another and actualizing reality, really distinct from it, so that the creation or production of any single actually existing contingent being would have for its term two really distinct principles of being, a potential and an actual, essence and existence, created or produced per modum unius, so to speak: for asserting all this it is contended by supporters of [pg 112] the virtual distinction that we have no sufficient justifying reason.129 Hence they conclude that a real distinction must be denied: Entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem.

Though each of these opinions has been defended with a great deal of ability, and an exhaustive array of arguments, a mere rehearsal of these latter would not give much material assistance towards a solution of the question. We therefore abstain from repeating them here. There are only a few points in connexion with them to which attention may be directed.

In the first place, some defenders of the real distinction urge that were the distinction not real, things would exist essentially, i.e. necessarily; and thus the most fundamental ground of distinction between God and creatures, between the Necessary Being and contingent beings, would be destroyed: creatures would be no longer in their very constitution composite, mixtures of potentiality and actuality, but would be purely actual, absolutely simple and, in a word, identical with the Infinite Being Himself. Supporters of the virtual distinction deny that those very serious consequences follow from their view. They point out that though the existence of the creature is really identical with its essence, the essence does not exist necessarily or a se; the whole existing essence is ab alio, is caused, contingent; and the fundamental distinction between such a being and the Self-Existing Being is in this view perfectly clear. Nor is the creature, they contend, purely actual and absolutely simple; it need not have existed, and it may cease to exist; it has, therefore, a potentiality of non-existence, which is inconceivable in the case of the Necessary and purely Actual Being; it is, therefore, mutable as regards existence; besides which the essences even of the most simple created beings, namely pure spirits are composite in the sense that they have faculties and operations really distinct from their substance.

Secondly, it is alleged by some defenders of the real distinction that this latter view of the nature of existing contingent reality is a cardinal doctrine in the whole philosophical system of St. Thomas, and of scholastics generally: so fundamental, in fact, that many important doctrines, unanimously held to be true by all scholastics, cannot be successfully vindicated apart from it.130 To which it is replied that there are no important truths of scholastic philosophy which cannot be defended quite adequately apart altogether from the view one may hold on the present question; and that, this being the case, it is unwise to endeavour to base admittedly true doctrines, which [pg 113] can be better defended otherwise, upon an opinion which can at best claim only the amount of probability it can derive from the intrinsic merits of the arguments by which it is itself supported.131

Before passing from this whole question we must note the existence of a third school of thought, identified mainly with the followers of Duns Scotus.132 These authors contend that the distinction between essence and existence is not a real distinction, nor yet, on the other hand, is it merely a virtual distinction, but one which they call formalis, actualis ex natura rei, that between a reality and its intrinsic modes. It is better known as the Scotistic distinction. We shall see the nature of it when dealing ex professo with the general doctrine of distinctions.

The multiplicity of these views, and the unavoidable difficulty experienced in grasping and setting forth their meaning with any tolerable degree of clearness, would suggest the reflection that in those controversies the medieval scholastics were perhaps endeavouring to think and to express what reality is, apart from thought and independently of the consideration of the mind—a task which, conceived in these terms, must appear fruitless; and one which, anyhow, involves in its very nature the closest scrutiny of the epistemological problem of the power of the human mind to get at least a true and valid, if not adequate and comprehensive, insight into the nature of reality.

[pg 114]

Chapter IV. Reality As One And Manifold.

25. The Transcendental Attributes or Properties of Being: Unity, Truth, and Goodness.—So far, we have analysed the notions of Real Being, of Becoming or Change, of Being as Possible and as Actual, of Essence and Existence. Before approaching a study of the Categories or Suprema Genera Entis, the highest and widest modes in which reality manifests itself, we have next to consider certain attributes or properties of being which reveal themselves as co-extensive with reality itself. Taking human experience in its widest sense, as embracing all modes that are cognitive or allied with consciousness, as including intellect, memory, imagination, sense perception, will and appetite, as speculative, ethical or moral, and esthetic or artistic,—we find that the reality which makes up this complex human experience of ours is universally and necessarily characterized by certain features which we call the transcendental attributes or properties of being, inasmuch as they transcend all specific and generic modes of being, pervade all its categories equally, and are inseparable from any datum of experience. We shall see that they are not really distinct from the reality which they characterize, but only logically distinct from it, being aspects under which we apprehend it, negations or other logical relations which we necessarily annex to it by the mental processes whereby we seek to render it actually intelligible to our minds.

The first in order of these ontological attributes is unity: the concept of that whereby reality considered in itself becomes a definite object of thought. The second in order is truth: which is the conception of reality considered in its relation to cognitive experience, to intellect. The third is goodness: the aspect under which reality is related as an object to appetitive experience, to will.

Now when we predicate of any reality under our consideration that it is “one,” or “good,” or “true”—in the ontological [pg 115] sense to be explained,—that which we predicate is not a mere ens rationis, but something real, something which is really identical with the subject, and which is distinguished from the latter in our judgment only by a logical distinction. The attribution of any of these properties to the subject does not, however, add anything real to the latter: it adds merely some logical aspect involved in, or supposed by, the attribution. At the same time, this logical aspect gives us real information by making explicit some real feature of being not explicitly revealed in the concept of being itself, although involved in, and following as a property from, the latter.

There do not seem to be any other transcendental properties of being besides the three enumerated. The terms “reality,” “thing,” “something,” are synonymous expressions of the concept of being itself, rather than of properties of being. “Existence” is not a transcendental attribute of being, for it is not co-extensive with reality or real being. And although reality must be either possible or actual,” either necessary or contingent,” either infinite or finite,” etc., this necessity of verifying in itself one or other member of any such alternatives is not a property of being, but rather something essentially rooted in the very concept of reality itself. Some would regard as a distinct transcendental attribute of being the conception of the latter as an object of esthetic contemplation, as manifesting order and harmony, as beautiful. This conception of being will be found, however, to flow from the more fundamental aspects of reality considered as true and as good, rather than directly from the concept of being itself.

26. Transcendental Unity.—When we think of anything as one we think of it as undivided in itself. The unity or oneness of being is the undividedness of being: Unum est id quod est indivisum in se: Universaliter quaecunque non habent divisionem, inquantum non habent, sic unum dicuntur.133 When, therefore, we conceive being as undivided into constitutive parts, and unmultiplied into repetitions of itself, we conceive it as a being, as one. For the concept of being, formally as one, it does not seem necessary that we conceive being as divided or distinct from all other being. This second negation, of identity with other being, rather follows the conception of being as one: being is distinct from other being because it is already itself one: it is [pg 116] a prior negation that formally constitutes its unity, namely, the negation of internal division or multiplication of itself: God was truly one from all eternity, before there was any other being, any created being, distinct from Him. The division or distinction of an object of thought from whatever is not itself is what constitutes the notion of otherness.134

It is manifest that being and unity are really identical, that when we think of being we think of what is really undivided in itself, that once we introduce dividedness into the object of our concept we are no longer thinking of being but of beings, i.e. of a multitude or plurality each member of which is a being and one. For being, as an object of thought, is either simple or composite. If simple, it is not only undivided but indivisible. If composite, we cannot think of it as a being, capable of existing, so long as we think its parts as separate or divided: only when we think of them as actually united and undivided have we the concept of a being: and eo ipso we have the concept of being as one, as a unity.135

Hence the scholastic formulæ: Ens et unum convertuntur, and Omne ens est unum. The truth embodied in these is so self-evident that the expression of it may seem superfluous; but they are not mere tautologies, and in the interests of clear and consistent thinking our attention may be profitably directed to them. The same remark applies to much in the present and subsequent chapters on the transcendental attributes of being.

27. Kinds of Unity.—(a) The unity we have been describing has been called transcendental, to distinguish it from predicamental unity—the unity which is proper to a special category of being, namely, quantity, and which, accordingly, is also called quantitative or mathematical unity. While the former is common to all being, with which it is really identical, and to which it adds nothing real, the latter belongs and is applicable, properly speaking, only to the mode of being which is corporeal, [pg 117] which exists only as affected by quantity, as occupying space, as capable of measurement; and therefore, also, this latter unity adds something real to the being which it affects, namely, the attribute of quantity, of which unity is the measure and the generating principle.136 For quantity, as we shall see, is a mode of being really distinct from the corporeal substance which it affects. The quantity has its own transcendental unity; so has the substance which it quantifies; so has the composite whole, the quantified body, but this latter transcendental unity, like the composite being with which it is identical, is not a unum per se but only a unum per accidens (cf. b, infra).

We derive our notion of quantitative or mathematical unity, which is the principle of counting and the standard of measuring, from dividing mentally the continuous quantity or magnitude which is one of the immediate data of sense experience. Now the distinction between this unit and transcendental unity supposes not merely that quantity is really distinct from the corporeal substance, but also that the human mind is capable of conceiving as real certain modes of being other than the corporeal, modes to which quantitative concepts and processes, such as counting and measuring, are not properly applicable, as they are to corporeal reality, but only in an analogical or transferred sense (2). The notion of transcendental unity, therefore, bears the same relation to that of quantitative unity, as the notion of being in general bears to that of quantified or corporeal being.

(b) Transcendental unity may be either essential (or substantial, “unum per se,” “unum simpliciter), or accidental (“unum per accidens,” “unum secundum quid). The former characterizes a being which has nothing in it beyond what is essential to it as such, e.g. the unity of any substance: and this unity is twofold—(1) unity of simplicity and (2) unity of composition—according as the substance is essentially simple (such as the human soul or a pure spirit) or essentially composite (such as man, or any corporeal substance: since every such substance is composed essentially of a formative and an indeterminate principle).137

[pg 118]

Accidental unity is the unity of a being whose constituent factors or contents are not really united in such a way as to form one essence, whether simple or composite. It is threefold: (1) collective unity, or unity of aggregation, as of a heap of stones or a crowd of men; (2) artificial unity, as of a house or a picture; and (3) natural or physical unity, as of any existing substance with its connatural accidents, e.g. a living organism with its size, shape, qualities, etc., or the human soul with its faculties.138

(c) Transcendental unity may be either individual (singular, numerical, concrete, real) or universal (specific, generic, abstract, logical). The former is that which characterizes being or reality considered as actually existing or as proximately capable of existing: the unity of an individual nature or essence: the unity whereby a being is not merely undivided in itself but incapable of repetition or multiplication of itself. It is only the individual as such that can actually exist: the abstract and universal is incapable of actually existing as such. We shall examine presently what it is that individuates reality, and what it is that renders it capable of existing actually in the form of “things” or of “persons”—the forms in which it actually presents itself in our experience.

Abstract or universal unity is the unity which characterizes a reality conceived as an abstract, universal object by the human intellect. The object of a specific or generic concept, “man” or “animal,” for example, is one in this sense, undivided in itself, but capable of indefinite multiplication or repetition in the only mode in which it can actually exist—the individual mode. The universal is unum aptum inesse pluribus.

Finally, we can conceive any nature or essence without considering it in either of its alternative states—either as individual or as universal. Thus conceived it is characterized by a unity which has been commonly designated as abstract, or (by Scotists) as formal unity.

28. Multitude and Number.—The one has for its correlative [pg 119] the manifold. Units, one of which is not the other, constitute multitude or plurality. If unity is the negation of actual division in being, multitude results from a second negation, that, namely, by which the undivided being or unit is marked off or divided from other units.139 We have defined unity by the negation of actual intrinsic dividedness; and we have seen it to be compatible with extrinsic dividedness, or otherness. Thus the vague notion of dividedness is anterior to that of unity. Now multitude involves dividedness; but it also involves and presupposes the intrinsic undividedness or unity of each constituent of the manifold. In the real order of things the one is prior to all dividedness; but on account of the sensuous origin of our concepts we can define the former only by exclusion of the latter. The order in which we obtain these ideas seems, therefore, to be as follows: “first being, then dividedness, next unity which excludes dividedness, and finally multitude which consists of units”.140

The relation of the one to the manifold is that of undivided being to divided being. The same reality cannot be one and manifold under the same aspect; though obviously a being may be actually one and potentially manifold or vice versa, or one under a certain aspect and manifold under another aspect.

From the transcendental plurality or multitude which we have just described we can distinguish predicamental or quantitative plurality: a distinction which is to be understood in the same way as when applied to unity. Quantitative multitude is the actually separated or divided condition of quantified being. Number is a multitude measured or counted by unity: it is a counted, and, therefore, necessarily a definite and finite multitude. Now it is mathematical unity that is, properly, the principle of number and the standard or measure of all counting; and therefore it is only to realities which fall within the category of quantity—in other words, to material being—that the concept of number is properly applicable. No doubt we can and do [pg 120] conceive transcendental unity after the analogy of the quantitative unity which is the principle of counting and measuring; and no doubt we can use the transcendental concept of “actually undivided being” as a principle of enumeration, and so “count” or “enumerate” spiritual beings; but this counting is only analogical; and many philosophers, following Aristotle and St. Thomas, hold that the concepts of numerical multiplicity and numerical distinction are not properly applicable to immaterial beings, that these latter differ individually from one another not numerically, but each by its whole nature or essence, that is, formally.141

29. The Individual and the Universal.—We have distinguished transcendental unity into individual and universal (27, c). Reality as endowed with universal unity is reality as apprehended by abstract thought to be capable of indefinite repetition or multiplication of itself in actual existence. Reality as endowed with individual unity is reality apprehended as actually existing, or as proximately capable of actually existing, and as therefore incapable of any repetition or multiplication of itself, of any division of itself into other “selves” or communication of itself to other “selves”. While, therefore, the universal has its reality only in the individuals to which it communicates itself, and which thus embody it, the individual has its reality in itself and of its own right, so to speak: when it actually exists it is sui juris,” and as such incommunicable, incommunicabilis. The actually existing individual is called in Latin a suppositum—a term which we shall render by the English “thing” or “individual thing”. It was called by Aristotle the οὐσία πρωτή, substantia prima, “first substance,” or “first essence,” to distinguish it from the substance or essence conceived by abstract thought as universal; the latter being designated as οὐσία δέυτερα, substantia secunda, “second substance” or “second essence”.

Now it is a fundamental assumption in Aristotelian and scholastic philosophy that whatever actually exists, or whatever [pg 121] is real in the sense that as such it is proximately capable of actual existence, is and must be individual: that the universal as such is not real, i.e. as such cannot actually exist. And the manifest reason for this assumption is that whatever actually exists must be, with entire definiteness and determinateness, its own self and nothing else: it cannot be capable of division or repetition of itself, of that which it really is, into “other” realities which would still be “that individual thing”. But reality considered as universal is capable of such repetition of itself indefinitely. Therefore reality cannot actually exist as universal, but only as individual.

This is merely plain common sense; nor does the idealistic monism which appears to attribute reality to the universal as such, and which interprets reality exclusively according to the forms in which it presents itself to abstract thought, really run counter to this consideration; for what it really holds is not that universals as such are real, but that they are phases of the all-one reality which is itself one individual being.

But many modern philosophers hold that individuality, no less than universality, is a form of thought. No doubt individuality in the abstract is, no less than universality, an object abstracted from the data of experience by the mind's analysis of the latter. But this is not what those philosophers mean. They mean that the individual as such is not a real datum of experience. From the Kantian view that individuality is a purely mental form with which the mind invests the datum, they draw the subjectivist conclusion that the world, thus interpreted as consisting of individuals, is a phenomenal or mental product for the objective validity of which there can be to man's speculative reason no sufficient guarantee.

To this theory we oppose that of Aristotle and the scholastics, not merely that the individual alone is actually existent, but that as actually existent and as individual it is actually given to us and apprehended by us in internal and external sense experience; and that although in the inorganic world, and to some extent in the lower forms of life, we may not be able to determine for certain what portions of this experience are distinct individuals, still in the world of living things generally, and especially of the animal kingdom, there can be no difficulty in determining this, for the simple reason that here reality is given to us in sense experience as consisting of distinct individuals.

At the same time it is true that we can understand these individual realities, interpret them, read the meaning of them, only by the intellectual function of judgment, i.e. by the analytic and synthetic activity whereby we abstract and universalize certain aspects of them, and use these aspects as predicates of the individuals. Now, seeing that intellectual thought, as distinct from sense experience, apprehends its objects only as abstract and potentially universal, only as static, self-identical, [pg 122] possible essences, and nevertheless predicates these of the concrete, individual, contingent, actually existing “things” of sense experience, identifying them with the latter in affirmative judgments; seeing moreover, that—since the intellectual knowledge we thus acquire about the data of sense experience is genuine and not chimerical—those “objects” of abstract thought must be likewise real, and must be really in those individual sense data (according to the theory of knowledge which finds its expression in Moderate Realism),—there arises immediately the problem, or rather the group of problems, regarding the relations between reality as revealed to intellect, i.e. as abstract and universal, and reality as revealed to sense, i.e. as concrete and individual. In other words, we have to inquire how we are to interpret intellectually the fact that reality, which as a possible essence is universal for abstract thought, is nevertheless, as actually existing, individualized for sense—and consequently for intellect reflecting on the data of sense.142

30. The Metaphysical Grades of Being in the Individual.—What, then is the relation between all that intellect can apprehend in the individual, viz. its lowest class essence or specific nature, and its whole nature as an individual, its essentia atoma or individual nature? We can best approach this problem by considering first these various abstract thought-objects which intellect can apprehend in the individual.

What are called the metaphysical grades of being, those positive moments of perfection or reality which the mind detects in the individual, as, for instance, substantiality, materiality, organic life, animality, rationality, individuality, in the individual man—whether we describe them as “phases” or “aspects” or “formalities” of being—are undoubtedly distinct objects for abstract thought. Why does it thus distinguish between them, and express them by distinct concepts, even when it finds them [pg 123] embodied in a single individual? Because, reflecting on the manner in which reality presents itself, through sense experience, as actually existing, it finds resemblances and differences between individually distinct data. It finds in some of them grades of reality which it does not find in others, individual, specific, and generic grades; and some—transcendental—grades common to all. Now between these various grades of being as found in one and the same individual it cannot be denied that there exists a logical distinction with a foundation or ground for it in the individual reality; because the latter, being more or less similar to other individual realities, causes the mind to apprehend it by a number of distinct concepts: the individuality whereby it differs really from all other individuals of the same species; the specific, differential and generic grades of being whereby it is conceptually identified with wider and wider classes of things; and the transcendental grades whereby it is conceptually identified with all others. The similarity of really distinct individuals, which is the conceptual identity of their qualities, is the ground on which we conceptually identify their essences. Now is there any reason for thinking that these grounds of similarity, as found in the individual, are really distinct from one another in the latter? They are certainly conceptually distinct expressions—each less inadequate than the wider ones—of what is really one individual essence. But we must take them to be all really identical in and with this individual essence, unless we are prepared to hold conceptual plurality as such to be real plurality; in which case we should also hold conceptual unity as such to be real unity. But this latter view is precisely the error of extreme realism, of reifying abstract concepts and holding the universale a parte rei: a theory which leads logically to monism.143

31. Individuality.—The distinction, therefore, between these grades of being in the individual, is a virtual distinction, i.e. a logical distinction with a ground for it in the reality. This is the sort of distinction which exists between the specific nature of the individual, i.e. what is contained in the definition of the lowest class to which it belongs, and its individuality, i.e. what constitutes its nature or essence as an individual. No doubt the concrete existing individual contains, besides its individual nature or essence, a variety of accidental characteristics which serve as [pg 124] marks or signs whereby its individuality is revealed to us. These are called “individualizing characteristics,” notae individuantes,” the familiar scholastic list of them being forma, figura, locus, tempus, stirps, patria, nomen,” with manifest reference to the individual “man”. But though these characteristics enable us to mark off the individual in space and time from other individuals of the same class, thus revealing individuality to us in the concrete, it cannot be held that they constitute the individuality of the nature or substance in each case. If the human substance, essence, or nature, as found in Socrates, were held to differ from the human substance, essence, or nature, as found in Plato, only by the fact that in each it is affected by a different set of accidents, i.e. of modes accidental to the substance as found in each, then it would follow that this substance is not merely conceptually identical in both, but that it is really identical in both; which is the error of extreme realism. As a matter of fact it is the converse that is true: the sets of accidents are distinct because they affect individual substances already really and individually distinct.

It is manifest that the accidents which are separable from the individual substance, e.g. name, shape, size, appearance, location, etc., cannot constitute its individuality. There are, however, other characteristics which are inseparable from the individual substance, or which are properties of the latter, e.g. the fact that an individual man was born of certain parents. Perhaps it is such characteristics that give its individuality to the individual substance?144 To think so would be to misunderstand the question under discussion. We are not now inquiring into the extrinsic causes whereby actually existing reality is individuated, into the efficient principles of its individuation, but into the formal and intrinsic principle of the latter. There must obviously be something intrinsic to the individual reality itself whereby it is individuated. And it is about this intrinsic something we are inquiring. The individual man is this individual, human nature is thus individuated in him, by something that is essential to human [pg 125] nature as found in him. This something has been called—after the analogy of the differentia specifica which differentiates species within a genus—the differentia individua of the individual. It has also been called by some the differentia numerica, and by Scotists the haecceitas. However we are to conceive this something, it is certain at all events that, considered as it is really found in the individual, it cannot be anything really distinct from the specific nature of the latter. No doubt, the differentia specifica, considered in the abstract, it is not essential and intrinsic to the natura generica considered in the abstract: it is extrinsic and accidental to the abstract content of the latter notion; but this is because we are conceiving these grades of being in the abstract. The same is true of the differentia individua as compared with the natura specifica in the abstract. But we are now considering these grades of reality as they are actually in the concrete individual being: and as they are found here, we have seen that a real distinction between them is inadmissible.

32. The Principle of Individuation.—How, then, are we to conceive this something which individuates reality? It may be well to point out that for the erroneous doctrine of extreme realism, which issues in monism, the problem of individuation, as here understood, does not arise. For the monist all plurality in being is merely apparent, not real: there can be no question of a real distinction between individual and individual.145 Similarly, the nominalist and the conceptualist evade the problem. For these the individual alone is not merely formally real: it alone is fundamentally real: the universal is not even fundamentally real, has no foundation in reality, and thus all scientific knowledge of reality as revealed in sense experience is rendered [pg 126] impossible. But for the moderate realist, while the individual alone is formally real, the universal is fundamentally real, and hence the problem arises. It may be forcibly stated in the form of a paradox: That whereby Socrates and Plato are really distinct from each other as individuals is really identical with the human nature which is really in both. But what individuates human nature in Socrates, or in Plato, is logically distinct from the human nature that is really in Socrates, and really in Plato. We have only to inquire, therefore, whether the intrinsic principle of individuation is to be conceived merely as a negation, as something negative added by the mind to the concept of the specific nature, whereby the latter is apprehended as incapable of multiplication into “others” each of which would be formally that same nature, or, in other words, as incommunicable; or is the intrinsic ground of this incommunicability to be conceived as something positive, not indeed as something really distinct from, and superadded to, the specific nature, but as a positive aspect of the latter, an aspect, moreover, not involved in the concept of the specific nature considered in the abstract.

Of the many views that have been put forward on this question two or three call for some attention. In the opinion of Thomists generally, the principle which individuates material things, thus multiplying numerically the same specific nature, is to be conceived as a positive mode affecting the latter and revealing it in a new aspect, whereas the specific nature of the spiritual individual is itself formally an individual. The principle of the latter's individuation is already involved in the very concept of its specific nature, and therefore is not to be conceived as a distinct positive aspect of the latter but simply as the absence of plurality and communicability in the latter. In material things, moreover, the positive mode or aspect whereby the specific nature is found numerically multiplied, and incommunicable as it exists in each, consists in the fact that such a specific nature involves in its very constitution a material principle which is actually allied with certain quantitative dimensions. Hence the principle which individuates material substances is not to be conceived—after the manner in which Scotists conceive it—as an ultimate differentia affecting the formal factor of the nature, determining the specific nature just as the differentia specifica determines the generic nature, but as a material differentiating principle. What individuates the material individual, what marks it off as one in itself, distinct [pg 127] or divided from other individuals of the same specific nature, and incommunicable in that condition, is the material factor of that individual's nature—not, indeed, the material factor, materia prima, considered in the abstract, but the material factor as proximately capable of actual existence by being allied to certain more or less definite spatial or quantitative dimensions: “matter affected with quantity”: materia quantitate signata.146

In regard to material substances this doctrine embraces two separate contentions: (a) that the principle which individuates such a substance must be conceived as something positive, not really distinct from, but yet not contained in, the specific nature considered in the abstract; (b) that this positive aspect is to be found not in the formal but in the material principle of the composite corporeal substance.

To the former contention it might be objected that what individuates the specific nature cannot be conceived as anything positive, superadded to this nature: it cannot be anything accidental to the latter, for if it were, the individual would be only an accidental unity, a unum per accidens and would be constituted by an accident, which we have seen to be inadmissible; nor, on the other hand, can it be anything essential to the specific nature, for if it were, then individuals should be capable of adequate essential definition, and furthermore the definition of the specific nature would not really give the whole essence or quidditas of the individuals—two consequences which are commonly rejected by all scholastics. To this, however, it is replied that the principle of individuation is something essential to the specific nature in the sense that it is something intrinsic to, and really identical with, the whole real substance or entity of this nature, though not involved in the abstract concept by the analysis of which we reach the definition or quidditas of this nature. What individuates Socrates is certainly essential to Socrates, and is therefore really identical with his human nature; it is intrinsic to the human nature in him, a mode or aspect of his human substance; yet it does not enter into the definition of his nature—animal rationale—for such definition abstracts from individuality. When, therefore, we say that definition of the specific nature [pg 128] gives the whole essence of an individual, we mean that it gives explicitly the abstract (specific) essence, not the individuality which is really identical with this, nor, therefore, the whole substantial reality of the individual. We give different answers to the questions, “What is Socrates?” and “Who is Socrates?” The answer to the former question—a “man,” or a “rational animal”—gives the “essence,” but not explicitly the whole substantial reality of the individual, this remaining incapable of adequate conceptual analysis. The latter question we answer by giving the notes that reveal individuality. These, of course, are “accidental” in the strict sense. But even the principles which constitute the individuality of separate individuals of the same species, and which differentiate these individuals numerically from one another, we do not describe as essential differences, whereas we do describe specific and generic differences as essential. The reason of this is that the latter are abstract, universal, conceptual, amenable to intellectual analysis, scientifically important, while the former are just the reverse; the universal differences alone are principles about which we can have scientific knowledge, for “all science is of the abstract and universal”;147 and this is what we have in mind when we describe them as “essential” or “formal,” and individual differences as “entitative” or “material”.

The second point in the Thomistic doctrine is that corporeal substances are individuated by reason of their materiality. The formative, specific, determining principle of the corporeal substance is rendered incommunicable by its union with the material, determinable principle; and it becomes individually distinct or separate by the fact that this latter principle, in order to be capable of union with the given specific form, has in its very essence an exigence for certain more or less determinate dimensions in space. Corporeal things have their natural size within certain limits. The individual of a given corporeal species can exist only because the material principle, receptive of this specific form, has a natural relation to the fundamental property of corporeal things, viz. quantity, within certain more or less determinate limits. The form is rendered incommunicable by its reception in the matter. This concrete realization of the form in the matter is individually distinct and separate from other realizations of the same specific form, by the fact that the matter of this realization [pg 129] demands certain dimensions of quantity: this latter property being the root-principle of numerical multiplication of corporeal individuals within the same species.

On the other hand, incorporeal substances such as angels or pure spirits, being “pure” forms, formæ subsistentes,” wholly and essentially unallied with any determinable material principle, are of themselves not only specific but individual; they are themselves essentially incommunicable, superior to all multiplication or repeated realization of themselves: they are such that each can be actualized only “once and for all”: each is a species in itself: it is the full, exhaustive, and adequate expression of a divine type, of an exemplar in the Divine Mind: its realization is not, like that of a material form, the actuation of an indefinitely determinable material principle: it sums up and exhausts the imitable perfection of the specific type in its single individuality, whereas the perfection of the specific type of a corporeal thing cannot be adequately expressed in any single individual realization, but only by repeated realizations; nor indeed can it ever be adequately, exhaustively expressed, by any finite multitude of these.

It follows that in regard to pure spirits the individuating principle and the specific principle are not only really but also logically, conceptually identical; that the distinction between individual and individual is here properly a specific distinction; that it can be described as numerical only in an analogical sense, if by numerical we mean material or quantitative, i.e. the distinction between corporeal individuals of the same species (28).

But the distinction between individual human souls is not a specific or formal distinction. These, though spiritual, are not pure spirits. They are spiritual substances which, of their very nature, are essentially ordained for union with matter. They all belong to the same species—the human species. But they do not constitute individuals of this species unless as existing actually united with matter. Each human soul has a transcendental relation to its own body, to the materia signata for which, and in which, it was created. For each human soul this relation is unique. Just as it is the material principle of each human being, the matter as allied to quantitative dimensions, that individuates the man, so it is the unique relation of his soul to the material principle thus spatially determined, that individuates his soul. Now the soul, even when disembodied and existing after death, [pg 130] necessarily retains in its very constitution this essential relation to its own body; and thus it is that disembodied souls, though not actually allied with matter, remain numerically distinct and individuated in virtue of their essential relation, each to its own body. We see, therefore, that human souls, though spiritual, are an entirely different order of beings, and must be conceived quite differently, from pure spirits.

We must be content with this brief exposition of the Thomistic doctrine on individuation. A discussion of the arguments for and against it would carry us too far.148 There is no doubt that what reveals the individuality of the corporeal substance to us is its material principle, in virtue of which its existence is circumscribed within certain limits of time and space and affected with individual characteristics, notae individuantes. But the Thomistic doctrine, which finds in materia signata the formal, intrinsic, constitutive principle of individuation, goes much deeper. It is intimately connected with the Aristotelian theory of knowledge and reality. According to this philosophy the formative principle or ἔιδος, the forma subtantialis, is our sole key to the intelligibility of corporeal things: these are intelligible in so far forth as they are actual, and they are actual in virtue of their forms. Hence the tendency of the scholastic commentators of Aristotle to use the term form as synonymous with the term nature, though the whole nature of the corporeal substance embraces the material as well as the formal principle: for even though it does, we can understand nothing about this nature beyond what is intelligible in it in virtue of its form. The material principle, on the other hand, is the potential, indeterminate principle, in itself unintelligible. We know that in ancient Greek philosophy it was regarded as the ἄλογον, the surd and contingent principle in things, the element which resisted rational analysis and fell outside the scope of science, or knowledge of the necessary and universal. While it revealed the forms or natures of things to sense, it remained itself impervious to intellect, which grasped these natures and rendered them intelligible only by divesting them of matter, by abstracting them from matter. Reality is intelligible only in so far forth as it is immaterial, either in fact or by abstraction. The human intellect, being itself spiritual, is receptive of forms without matter. But being itself allied with matter, its proper object is none other than the natures or essences of corporeal things, abstracted, however, from the matter in which they are actually immersed. The only reason, therefore, why any intelligible form or essence which, as abstract and universal, is one for intellect, is nevertheless actually or potentially manifold in its reality, is because it is allied with a material principle. It is the latter that accounts for the numerical multiplication, in actual reality, of any intelligible form or essence. If the latter is material it can be actualized only by indefinitely repeated, numerically [pg 131] or materially distinct, alliances with matter. It cannot be actualized tota simul, or once for all, as it were. It is, therefore, the material principle that not merely reveals, but also constitutes, the individuation of such corporeal forms or essences. Hence, too, the individual as such cannot be adequately apprehended by intellect; for all intelligible principles of reality are formal, whereas the individuating principle is material.

On the other hand, if an intelligible essence or form be purely spiritual, wholly unrelated to any indeterminate, material principle, it must be one not alone conceptually or logically but also really: it can exist only as one: it is of itself individual: it can be differentiated from other spiritual essences not materially but only formally, or, in other words, not numerically but by a distinction which is at once individual and specific. Two pure spirits cannot be two numerically and one specifically, two for sense and one for intellect, as two men are: if they are distinct at all they must be distinct for intellect, i.e. they cannot be properly conceived as two members of the same species.

In this solution of the question it is not easy to see how the material principle, which, by its alliance with quantity, individuates the form, is itself individuated so as to be the source and principle of a multiplicity of numerically distinct and incommunicable realizations of this form. Perhaps the most that can be said on this point is that we must conceive quantity, which is the fundamental property of corporeal reality, as being itself essentially divisible, and the material principle as deriving from its essential relation to quantity its function of multiplying the same specific nature numerically.

Of those who reject the Thomistic doctrine some few contend that it is the actual existence of any specific nature that should be conceived as individuating the latter. No doubt the universal as such cannot exist; reality in order to exist actually must be individual. Yet it cannot be actual existence that individuates it. We must conceive it as individual before conceiving it as actually existent; and we can conceive it as individual while abstracting from its existence. We can think, for instance, of purely possible individual men, or angels, as numerically or individually distinct from one another. Moreover, what individuates the nature must be essential to the latter, but actual existence is not essential to any finite nature. Hence actual existence cannot be the principle of individuation.149 Can it be contended that possible existence is what individuates reality? No; for possible existence is nothing more than intrinsic capacity to exist actually, and this is essential to all reality: it is the criterion whereby we distinguish real being [pg 132] from logical being; but real being, as such, is indifferent to universality or individuality; as far as the simple concept of real being is concerned the latter may be either universal or individual; the concept abstracts equally from either condition of being.

The vast majority, therefore, of those who reject the Thomistic doctrine on individuation, support the view that what individuates any nature or substance is simply the whole reality, the total entity, of the individual. This total entity of the individual, though really identical with the specific nature, must be conceived as something positive, superadded to the latter, for it involves a something which is logically or mentally distinct from the latter. This something is what we conceive as a differentia individua, after the analogy of the differentia specifica which contracts the concept of the genus to that of the species; and by Scotists it has been termed haecceitas or “thisness”. Without using the Scotist terminology, most of those scholastics who reject the Thomist doctrine on this point advocate the present view. The individuality or “thisness” of the individual substance is regarded as having no special principle in the individual, other than the whole substantial entity of the latter. If the nature is simple it is of itself individual; if composite, the intrinsic principles from which it results—i.e. matter and form essentially united—suffice to individuate it.

In this view, therefore, the material principle of any individual man, for example, is numerically and individually distinct from that of any other individual, of itself and independently of its relation either to the formative principle or to quantity. The formative principle, too, is individuated of itself, and not by the material principle which is really distinct from it, or by its relation to this material principle. Likewise the union of both principles, which is a substantial mode of the composite substance, is individuated and rendered numerically distinct from all other unions of these two individual principles, not by either or both these, but by itself. And finally, the individual composite substance has its individuation from these two intrinsic principles thus individually united.

It may be doubted, perhaps, whether this attempt at explaining the real, individual manifoldness of what is one for intellect, i.e. the universal, throws any real light upon the problem. No doubt, every element or factor which is grasped by intellect in its analysis of reality—matter, form, substance, [pg 133] accident, quantity, nay, even individuality itself—is apprehended as abstract and universal; and if we hold the doctrine of Moderate Realism, that the intellect in apprehending the universal attains to reality, and not merely to a logical figment of its own creation, the problem of relating intelligibly the reality which is one for intellect with the same reality as manifestly manifold in its concrete realizations for sense, is a genuine philosophical problem. To say that what individuates any real essence or nature, what deprives it of the oneness and universality which it has for intellect, what makes it this, that, or the other incommunicable individual, must be conceived to be simply the whole essential reality of that nature itself—leaves us still in ignorance as to why such a nature, which is really one for intellect, can be really manifold in its actualizations for sense experience. The reason why the nature which is one and universal for abstract thought, and which is undoubtedly not a logical entity but a reality capable of actual existence, can be actualized as a manifold of distinct individuals, must be sought, we are inclined to think, in the relation of this nature to a material principle in alliance with quantity which is the source of all purely numerical, space and time distinctions.

33. Individuation of Accidents.—The rôle of quantity in the Thomistic theory of individuation suggests the question: How are accidents themselves individuated? We have referred already (29, n.) to the view that they are individuated by the individual subjects or substances in which they inhere. If we distinguish again between what reveals individuality and what constitutes it, there can be no doubt that when accidents of the same kind are found in individually distinct subjects what reveals the numerical distinction between the former is the fact that they are found inhering in the latter. So, also, distinction of individual substances is the extrinsic, genetic, or causal principle of the numerical distinction between similar accidents arising in these substances. But when the same kind of accident recurs successively in the same individual substance—as, for example, when a man performs repeated acts of the same kind—what reveals the numerical or individual distinction between these latter cannot be the individual substance, for it is one and the same, but rather the time distinction between the accidents themselves.

The intrinsic constitutive principle which formally individuates the accidents of individually distinct substances is, according to Thomists generally, their essential relation to the individual substances in which they appear. It is not clear how this theory can be applied to the fundamental accident of corporeal substances. If the function of formally individuating the corporeal substance itself is to be ascribed in any measure to quantity, it would seem [pg 134] to follow that this latter must be regarded as individuated by itself, by its own total entity or reality. And this is the view held by most other scholastics in regard to the individuation of accidents generally: that these, like substances, are individuated by their own total positive reality.

When there is question of the same kind of accident recurring in the same individual subject, the “time” distinction between such successive individual accidents of the same kind would appear not merely to reveal their individuality but also to indicate a different relation of each to its subject as existing at that particular point of space and time: so that the relation of the accident to its individual subject, as here and now existing in the concrete, would be the individuating principle of the accident.

Whether a number of accidents of the same species infima, and distinct merely numerically, could exist simultaneously in the same individual subject, is a question on which scholastic philosophers are not agreed: the negative opinion, which has the authority of St. Thomas, being the more probable. Those various questions on the individuation of accidents will be better understood from a subsequent exposition of the scholastic doctrine on accidents (Ch. viii.).

It may be well to remark that in inquiring about the individuation of substances and accidents we have been considering reality from a static standpoint, seeking how we are to conceive and interpret intellectually, or for abstract thought, the relation of the universal to the individual. If, however, we ascribe to time distinctions any function in individuating accidents of the same kind in the same individual substance, we are introducing into our analysis the kinetic aspect of reality, or its subjection to processes of change.

We may call attention here to a few other questions of minor import discussed by scholastics. First, have all individuals of the same species the same substantial perfection, or can individuals have different grades of substantial perfection within the same species? All admit the obvious fact that individual differs from individual within the same species in the number, variety, extent and intensity of their accidental properties and qualities. But, having the human soul mainly in view, they disagree as to whether the substantial perfection of the specific nature can be actualized in different grades in different individuals. According to the more common opinion there cannot be different substantial grades of the same specific nature, for the simple reason that every such grade of substantial perfection should be regarded as specific, as changing the species: hence, e.g. all human souls are substantially equal in perfection. This view is obviously based upon the conception of specific types or essences as being, after the analogy of [pg 135] numbers, immutable when considered in the abstract. And it seems to be confirmed by the consideration that the intrinsic principle of individuation is nothing, or adds nothing, really distinct from the specific essence itself.

Another question in connexion with individuation has derived at least an historical interest from the notable controversy to which it gave rise in the seventeenth century between Clarke and Leibniz. The latter, in accordance with the principles of his system of philosophy,—the Law of Sufficient Reason and the Law of Continuity among the monads or ultimate principles of being,—contended that two individual beings so absolutely alike as to be indiscernible would be eo ipso identical, in other words, that the reality of two such beings is impossible.

Of course if we try to conceive two individuals so absolutely alike both in essence and accidents, both in the abstract and in the concrete, as to be indiscernible either by our senses or by our intellect, or by any intellect—even the Divine Intellect—we are simply conceiving the same thing twice over. But is there anything impossible or contradictory in thinking that God could create two perfectly similar beings, distinct from each other only individually, so similar, however, that neither human sense nor human intellect could apprehend them as two, but only as one? The impossibility is not apparent. Were they two material individuals they should, of course, occupy the same space in order to have similar spatial relations, but impenetrability is not essential to corporeal substances. And even in the view that each is individuated by its materia signata it is not impossible to conceive numerically distinct quantified matters allied at the same time to the same dimensions of space. If, on the other hand, there be question of two pure spirits, absolutely similar specifically, even in the Thomistic view that here the individual distinction is at the same time specific there seems to be no sufficient ground for denying that the Divine Omnipotence could create two or more such individually (and therefore specifically) distinct spirits:150 such distinction remaining, of course, indiscernible for the finite human intellect.

The argument of Leibniz, that there would be no sufficient reason for the creation of two such indiscernible beings, and that it would therefore be repugnant to the Divine Wisdom, is extrinsic to the question of their intrinsic possibility: if they be intrinsically possible they cannot be repugnant to any attribute of the Divinity, either to the Divine Omnipotence or to the Divine Wisdom.

34. Identity.—Considering the order in which we acquire our ideas we are easily convinced that the notion of finite being is antecedent to that of infinite being. Moreover, it is from reflection on finite beings that we arrive at the most abstract notion of being in general. We make the object of this latter notion definite only by dividing it off mentally from nothingness, conceived per modum entis, or as an ens rationis. Thus the natural way of making our concepts definite is by limiting them; it is only when we come to reflect on the necessary implications [pg 136] of our concept of “infinite being” that we realize the possibility of conceiving a being which is definite without being really limited, which is definite by the very fact of its infinity, by its possession of unlimited perfection; and even then our imperfect human mode of conceiving “infinite being” is helped by distinguishing or dividing it off from all finite being and contrasting it with the latter. All this goes to prove the truth of the teaching of St. Thomas, that the mental function of dividing or distinguishing precedes our concepts of unity and multitude. Now the concepts of identity and distinction are closely allied with those of unity and multitude; but they add something to these latter. When we think of a being as one we must analyse it further, look at it under different aspects, and compare it with itself, before we can regard it as the same or identical with itself. Or, at least, we must think of it twice and compare it with itself in the affirmative judgment “This is itself,” “A is A,” thus formulating the logical Principle of Identity, in order to come into possession of the concept of identity.151 Every affirmative categorical judgment asserts identity of the predicate with the subject (S is P): asserts, in other words, that what we apprehend under the notion of the predicate (P) is really identical with what we have apprehended under the distinct notion of the subject (S). The synthetic function of the affirmative categorical judgment identifies in the real order what the analytic function of mental abstraction had separated in the logical order. By saying that the affirmative categorical judgment asserts identity we mean that by asserting that “this is that,” “man is rational” we identify “this” with “that,” “man” with “rational,” thus denying that they are two, that they are distinct, that they differ. Identity is one of those elementary concepts which cannot be defined; but perhaps we may describe it as the logical relation through which the mind asserts the objects of two or more of its thoughts to be really one.

If the object formally represented by each of the concepts is one and the same—as, e.g. when we compare A with A,” or “man” with “rational animal,” or, in general, any object with its definition—the identity is both real and logical (or conceptual, formal). If the concepts differ in their formal objects while [pg 137] representing one and the same reality—as when we compare “St. Peter” with “head of the apostles,” or “man” with “rational”—the identity is real, but not logical or formal. Finally, if we represent two or more realities, “John, James, Thomas,” by the same formal concept, “man,” the identity is merely logical or formal, not real. Of these three kinds of identity the first is sometimes called adequate, the second and third inadequate.

Logical identity may be specific or generic, according as we identify really distinct individuals under one specific concept, or really distinct species or classes under one generic concept. Again, it may be essential or accidental, according as the abstract and universal class-concept under which really distinct members are classified represents a common part of the essence of these members or only a common property or accident. Thus John, James and Thomas are essentially identical in their human nature; they are accidentally identical in being all three fair-haired and six feet in height. Logical identity under the concept of quality is based on the real relation of similarity; logical identity under the concept of quantity is based on the real relation of equality. When we say that essential (logical) identity (e.g. the identity of John, James and Thomas under the concept of “man”) is based on the fact that the really distinct individuals have really similar natures, we merely mean that our knowledge of natures or essences is derived from our knowledge of qualities, taking “qualities” in the wide sense of “accidents” generally: that the properties and activities of things are our only key to the nature of these things: Operari sequitur esse. It is not implied, nor is it true, that real similarity is a partial real identity: it is but the ground of a partial logical identity,—identity under the common concept of some quality (in the wide sense of this term). For example, the height of John is as really distinct from that of James as the humanity of John is from that of James. If, then, individual things are really distinct, how is it that we can represent (even inadequately) a multitude of them by one concept? To say that we can do so because they reveal themselves to us as similar to one another is to say what is undoubtedly true; but this does not solve the problem of the relation between the universal and the individual in human experience: rather it places us face to face with this problem.

Reverting now to real identity: whatever we can predicate affirmatively about a being considered as one, and as subject of a [pg 138] judgment, we regard as really identical with that being. We cannot predicate a real part of its real whole, or vice versa. But our concepts, when compared together in judgment, bear logical relations of extension and intension to each other, that is, relations of logical part to logical whole. Thus, the logical identity of subject and predicate in the affirmative judgment may be only inadequate.152 But the real identity underlying the affirmative judgment is an adequate real identity. When we say, for example, that “Socrates is wise,” we mean that the object of our concept of “wisdom” is in this case really and adequately identical with the object of our concept of “Socrates”: in other words that we are conceiving one and the same real being under two distinct concepts, each of which represents, more or less adequately, the whole real being, and one of them in this case less adequately than the other.

We have to bear in mind that while considering being as one or manifold, identical or distinct, we are thinking of it in its static mode, as an object of abstract thought, not in its dynamic and kinetic mode as actually existing in space and time, and subject to change. It is the identity of being with itself when considered in this static, unchanging condition, that is embodied in the logical Principle of Identity. In order, therefore, that this principle may find its application to being or reality as subject to actual change—and this is the state in which de facto reality is presented to us as an immediate datum of experience—we must seize upon the changing reality and think of it in an indivisible instant apart from the change to which it is actually subject; only thus does the Principle of Identity apply to it—as being, not as becoming, not in fieri, but in facto esse. The Principle of Identity, which applies to all real being, whether possible or actual, tells us simply that “a thing is what it is”. But for the understanding of actual being as subject to real change we must supplement the Principle of Identity by another principle which tells us that such an actual being not only is actually what it is (Principle of Identity), but also that it is potentially something other than what it actually is, that it is potentially what it can become actually (Ch. ii.).

We have seen that, since change is not continuous annihilation and creation, the changing being must in some real and true sense persist throughout the process of change. It is from [pg 139] experience of change we derive our notion of time-duration; and the concept of permanence or stability throughout change gives us the notion of a real sameness or abiding self-identity which is compatible with real change. But a being which persists in existence is identical with itself throughout its duration only in so far forth as it has not changed. Only the Necessary Being, whose duration is absolutely exempt from all change, is absolutely or metaphysically identical with Himself: His duration is eternity—which is one perpetual, unchanging now. A being which persists unchanged in its essence or nature, which is exempt from substantial change, but which is subject to accidental change, to a succession of accidental qualities such as vital actions—such a being is said to retain its physical identity with itself throughout those changes. Such, for instance, is the identity of the human soul with itself, or of any individual living thing during its life, or even of an inorganic material substance as long as it escapes substantial change. Finally, the persisting identity of a collection of beings, united by some moral bond so as to form a moral unit, is spoken of as moral identity as long as the bond remains, even though the constituent members may be constantly disappearing to be replaced by others: as in a nation, a religious society, a legal corporation, etc.

35. Distinction.—Distinction is the correlative of identity; it is the absence or negation of the latter. We express the relation called distinction by the negative judgment, “this is not that”; it is the relation of a being to whatever is not itself, the relation of one to other.

Distinction may be either adequate or inadequate, according as we distinguish one total object of thought from another total object, or only from a part of itself. For example, the distinction between John and James is an adequate real distinction, while that between John and his body is an inadequate real distinction; the distinction between John's rationality and his animality is an adequate logical distinction, while the distinction between either of these and his humanity is an inadequate logical distinction.

We have already (23) briefly explained and illustrated the most important classification of distinctions: that into real and logical; the sub-division of the latter into purely logical and virtual; and of the latter again into perfect (complete, adequate) and imperfect (incomplete, inadequate). But the theory there [pg 140] briefly outlined calls for some further analysis and amplification.

36. Logical Distinctions and their Grounds.—The purely logical distinction must not be confounded with a mere verbal distinction, e.g. that between an “edifice” and a “building,” or between “truthfulness” and “veracity”. A logical distinction is a distinction in the concepts: these must represent one and the same reality but in different ways: the one may be more explicit, more fully analysed than the other, as a definition is in comparison with the thought-object defined; or the one may represent the object less adequately than the other, as when we compare (in intension) the concepts “man” and “animal”; or the one may be predicated of the other in an affirmative judgment; or the one may represent the object as concrete and individual, the other the same object as abstract and universal.153

Comparing, in the next place, the purely logical with the virtual distinction, we see that the grounds for making these distinctions are different. Every distinction made by the mind must have an intelligible ground or reason of some sort—a fundamentum distinctionis. Now in the case of the purely logical distinction the ground is understood to consist exclusively in the needs of the mind itself—needs which spring from the mind's own limitations when confronted with the task of understanding or interpreting reality, of making reality intelligible. Purely logical distinctions are therefore seen to be a class of purely logical relations, i.e. of those entia rationis which the mind must construct for itself in its effort to understand the real. They have no other reality as objects of thought than the reality they derive from the constitutive or constructive activity of the mind. They are modes, or forms, or terms, of the cognitive activity itself, not of [pg 141] the reality which is the object apprehended and contemplated by means of this cognitive activity.

The virtual distinction, on the other hand, although it also, as an object of thought, is only an ens rationis—inasmuch as there is no real duality or plurality corresponding to it in the reality into which the mind introduces it, this reality being a real unity—the virtual distinction is considered, nevertheless, to have a ground, or reason, or foundation (for making and introducing it) in the nature of this one reality; that is, it is regarded as having a real foundation, a fundamentum in re. In so far, therefore, as our knowledge is permeated by virtual distinctions, reality cannot be said to be formally, but only fundamentally what this knowledge represents it to be. Does this fact interfere with the objective validity of our knowledge? Not in the least; for we do not ascribe to the reality the distinctions, and other such modes or forms, which we know by reflection to be formally characteristic not of things but of our thought or cognition of things. Our knowledge, therefore, so far as it goes, may be a faithful apprehension of reality, even though it be itself affected by modes not found in the reality.

But what is this real foundation of the virtual distinction? What is the fundamentum in re? It is not a real or objective duality in virtue of which we could say that there are, in the object of our thought, two beings or realities one of which is not the other. Such duality would cause a real distinction. But just here the difficulties of our analysis begin to arise: for we have to fix our attention on actually existing realities; and, assuming that each and every one of these is an individual, we have to bear in mind the relation of the real to the actual, of reality as abstract and universal to reality as concrete and individual, of the simple to the composite, of the stable to the changing, of essential to accidental unity—in any and every attempt to discriminate in detail between a real and a virtual distinction. Nor is it easy to lay down any general test which will serve even theoretically to discriminate between them. Let us see what grounds have been mainly suggested as real foundations for the virtual distinction.

If a being which is not only one but simple, manifests, in the superior grade of being to which it belongs, a perfection which is equivalent to many lesser perfections found really distinct and separate elsewhere, in separate beings of an inferior order, this is [pg 142] considered a sufficient real ground for considering the former being, though really one and simple, as virtually manifold.154 The human soul, as being virtually threefold—rational, sentient and vegetative—is a case in point: but only on the assumption that the soul of the individual man can be proved to be one and simple. This, of course, all scholastics regard as capable of proof: even those of them who hold that the powers or faculties whereby it immediately manifests these three grades of perfection are accidental realities, really distinct from one another and from the substance of the soul itself.

Again, the being which is the object of our thought may be so rich in reality or perfection that our finite minds cannot adequately grasp it by any one mental intuition, but must proceed discursively, by analysis and abstraction, taking in partial aspects of it successively through inadequate concepts; while realizing that these aspects, these objects of our distinct concepts, are only partial aspects of one and the same real being. This, in fact, is our common experience. But the theory assumes that we are able to determine when these objects of our concepts are only mental aspects of one reality, and when they are several separate realities; nay, even, that we can determine whether or not they are really distinct entities united together to form one composite individual being, or only mentally distinct views of one simple individual being. For example, it is assumed that while the distinction between the sentient and the rational grades of being in a human individual can be shown to be only a virtual distinction, that between the body and the soul of the same individual can be shown to be a real distinction; or, again, that while the distinction between essence, intellect, and will in God, can be shown to be only a virtual distinction, that between essence, intellect, and will in man, can be shown to be a real distinction.

37. The Virtual Distinction and the Real Distinction.—Now scholastics differ considerably in classifying this, that, or the other distinction, as logical or as real; but this does [pg 143] not prove that it is impossible ever to determine with certitude whether any particular distinction is logical or real. What we are looking for just now is a general test for discriminating, if such can be found. And this brings us to a consideration of the test suggested in the very definitions themselves. At first sight it would appear to be an impracticable, if not even an unintelligible test: “The distinction is real if it exists in the reality—i.e. if the reality is two (or more) beings, not one being—antecedently to, or independently of, the consideration of the mind; otherwise the distinction is logical”. But—it might be objected—how can we possibly know whether or not any object of perception or thought is one or more than one antecedently to, or independently of, the consideration of the mind? It is certainly impossible for us to know what, or what kind, reality is, or whether it is one or manifold, apart from and prior to, the exercise of our own cognitive activity. This, therefore, cannot be what the test means: to interpret it in such a sense would be absurd. But when we have perceived reality in our actual sense experience, when we have interpreted it, got the meaning of it, made it intelligible, and actually understood it, by the spontaneous exercise of intellect, the judging and reasoning faculty: then, obviously, we are at liberty to reflect critically on those antecedent spontaneous processes, on the knowledge which is the result of them, and the reality which is known through them; and by such critical reflection on those processes, their objects and their products, on the “reality as perceived and known” and on the “perceiving” and “knowing” of it, we may be able to distinguish between two classes of contributions to the total result which is the “known reality”: those which we must regard as purely mental, as modes or forms or subjectively constructed terms of the mental function of cognition itself (whether perceptual or conceptual), and those which we must regard as given or presented to the mind as objects, which are not in any sense constructed or contributed by the mind, which, therefore, are what they are independently of our mental activity, and which would be and remain what they are, and what we have apprehended them to be, even if we had never perceived or thought of them. This, according to the scholastics, is the sense—and it is a perfectly intelligible sense—in which we are called on to decide whether the related terms of any given distinction have been merely rendered distinct by the analytic activity of [pg 144] the cognitive process, or are themselves distinct realities irrespective of this process. That it is possible to carry on successfully, at least to some extent, this work of discrimination between the subjective and the objective factors of our cognitive experience, can scarcely be denied. It is what philosophers in every age have been attempting. There are, however, some distinctions about the nature of which philosophers have never been able to agree, some holding them to be real, others to be only virtual: the former view being indicative of the tendency to emphasize the rôle of cognition as a passive representation of objectively given reality; the latter view being an expression of the opposite tendency to emphasize the active or constitutive or constructive factors whereby cognition assimilates to the mind's own mode of being the reality given to it in experience. In all cognition there is an assimilation of reality and mind, of object and subject. When certain distinctions are held to be real this consideration is emphasized: that in the cognitive process, as such, it is the mind that is assimilated to the objective reality.155 When these same distinctions are held to be logical this other consideration is emphasized: that in the cognitive process reality must also be assimilated to mind, must be mentalized so to speak: Cognitum est in cognoscente secundum modum cognoscentis: that in this process the mind must often regard what is one reality under distinct aspects: and that if we regard these distinct aspects as distinct realities we are violating the principle, Entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem.

Now those philosophers who hold certain distinctions to be virtual, and not real, thereby ascribe to cognitive experience a larger sphere of constitutive [pg 145] or constructive influence than would be allowed to it by advocates of the reality of such distinctions. But by doing so are they to be regarded as calling into question the objective validity of human knowledge? By no means: the fact that the human mind can understand reality only by processes of abstracting, generalizing, comparing, relating, analysing and synthesizing—processes which involve the production of logical entities—in no way vitiates the value of these modes of understanding: it merely indicates that they are less perfect than intuitive modes of understanding which would dispense with such logical entities,—the modes characteristic of pure, angelic intelligences, or the knowledge of the Deity. The objective validity of human cognition is not interfered with either by enlarging or by restricting the domain of the mind's constitutive activity in forming such logical entities; nor, therefore, by claiming that certain distinctions are real rather than virtual, or vice versa. It must be remembered, moreover, that the virtual distinction is not purely logical: it has a foundation in the reality, a fundamentum in re; and in so far as it has it gives us an insight into the nature of reality.

No doubt, any particular distinction cannot be virtual and at the same time simply real: either view of it must be erroneous: and possibly both, if it happen to be de facto a purely logical distinction. But the error of confounding a virtual distinction with a real is not so great as that of regarding either as a purely logical distinction. Now the tendency of much modern philosophy, under the influence of Kant, has been to regard all the categories in which the mind apprehends reality as being wholly and exclusively forms of cognition, as being in the reality neither formally nor even fundamentally; and to infer from this an essential, constitutional inability of the mind to attain to a valid knowledge of reality. But if, as a matter of fact, these categories are in the reality formally, nay, even if they are in it only fundamentally, the inference that issues in Kantian subjectivism is unwarranted. And those categories we hold to be in the reality at least fundamentally; we therefore reject the Kantian phenomenism of the speculative reason. Moreover, we can see no valid ground for admitting the Kantian division of the human mind into two totally separate cognitive compartments, the speculative and the practical reason, and ascribing to each compartment cognitive principles and capacities entirely alien to the other. To arrive at a right theory of knowledge human cognitive experience as a whole must be analysed; but provided the analysis is really an analysis of this experience it may be legitimately directed towards discovering what the mental conditions must be—i.e. the conditions on the side of the knowing subject, the subject having the experience—which are necessarily prerequisite for having such experience. And if it be found by such analysis that cognitive experience presupposes in the knowing subject not merely a sentient and intelligent mind, but a mind which perceives, imagines, remembers reality in certain definite ways; which thinks reality in certain modes and through certain forms which by its own constitutive activity it constructs for itself, and which it recognizes by reflection to be its own constructions (e.g. distinctions, relations, affirmations and negations, abstractions, generalizations, etc.: intentiones logicae, logical entities),—there is no reason whatever in all this for inferring that because the mind is so constituted, because it has these modes of cognition, it [pg 146] must necessarily fail to reach, by means of them, a true, valid, and genuine knowledge of reality. From the fact that human modes of cognition are human, and not angelic or divine; from the fact that reality can be known to man only through these modes, these finite modes of finite human faculties,—we may indeed infer that even our highest knowledge of reality is inadequate, that it does not comprehend all that is in the reality, but surely not that it is essentially illusory and of its very nature incapable of giving us any true and valid insight into the nature of reality.

Fixing our attention on the virtual distinction we see that the mind is supposed by means of it to apprehend, through a plurality of distinct concepts, what it knows somehow or other to be one being. Now if it knows the reality to be really one, it knows that the formal object of every distinct concept of this reality is really identical with the objects of all the other concepts of the latter. This condition of things is certainly verified when the mind can see that each of the distinct concepts, though not explicitly presenting the objects of the others, nevertheless implicitly and necessarily involves all these other objects:156 for by seeing that the distinct concepts necessarily involve one another objectively it sees that the reality apprehended through all of them must necessarily be one reality. This is what takes place in the imperfect virtual distinction: the concepts prescind from one another formally, not objectively. But suppose that the distinct concepts prescind from one another objectively, so that they cannot be seen by any analysis to involve one another even [pg 147] implicitly, but present to the mind, so far as they themselves are concerned, adequately distinct modes of being—as happens in the perfect virtual distinction, e.g. between organic life, sentient life, and intellectual life (in man), or between animality and rationality (in man),—then the all-important question arises: How do we know, in any given case of this kind, whether or not these adequately distinct thought-objects are identical with one another in the reality? What is the test for determining whether or not, in a given case, these objects, which are many for abstract intellectual thought, are one being in the real order? The answer seems to be that internal and external sense experience can and does furnish us with embodiments of these intellectual manifolds,—embodiments each of which we apprehend as a being that is really one, as an individual subject of which they are conceptually distinct predicates.

It would appear, therefore, that we cannot reach a true conception of what we are to regard as really one, or really manifold, by abstract thought alone. It is external and internal sense experience, not abstract thought, which first brings us into direct and immediate mental contact with actually existing reality. What we have therefore to determine is this: Does sense experience, or does it not, reveal reality to us as a real manifold, not as one being but as beings coexisting outside one another in space, succeeding one another in time, interdependent on one another, interacting on one another, and by this interaction causing and undergoing real change, each producing others, or being produced by others, really distinct from itself? In other words, is separateness of existence in time or space, as revealed in sense experience, a sufficient index of the real manifoldness of corporeal being, and of the really distinct individuality of each such being?—or are we to take it that because those space and time distinctions have to be apprehended by thought in order that not merely sense but intellect may apprehend corporeal beings as really manifold, therefore these distinctions are not in the reality given to us? Or, again, is each person's own conscious experience of himself as one being, of his own unity, and of his distinctness from other persons, a sufficient index that the distinction between person and person is a real distinction?—or are we to take it that because his feeling of his individual unity through sense consciousness must be interpreted by the thought-concepts of oneindividualpersondistinct from others, these concepts do not truly express what is really given him to interpret? Finally, if we can infer from the actually existing material reality which forms the immediate datum of direct experience, or from the human Ego as given in this experience, the actual existence of a real mode of being which is not material but spiritual, by what tests can we determine whether this spiritual mode of being is really one, or whether there is a real plurality of such beings? The solution of these questions bears directly on the validity of the adequate or greater real distinction, the distinctio realis major seu absoluta.

[pg 148]

The philosophy which defends the validity of this distinction,—which holds that the distinction between individual human beings, and between individual living things generally, is in the fullest and truest sense a real distinction,—is at all events in conformity with universally prevailing modes of thought and language; while the monism which repudiates these spontaneous interpretations of experience as invalid by denying all real manifoldness to reality, can make itself intelligible only by doing violence to thought and language alike. Not that this alone is a disproof of monism; but at all events it creates a presumption against a system to find it running counter to any of those universal spontaneous beliefs which appear to be rooted in man's rational nature. On the other hand, the philosophy which accords with common belief in proclaiming a real plurality in being has to reconcile intellect with sense, and the universal with the individual, by solving the important problem of individuation: What is it that makes real being individual, if, notwithstanding the fact that intellect apprehends reality as abstract and universal, reality nevertheless can exist only as concrete and individual? (29-33).

38. The Real Distinction.—In the next place it must be remembered, comparing the virtual distinction with the real, that philosophers have recognized two kinds of real distinction: the major or absolute real distinction, and the minor real, or modal distinction. Before defining these let us see what are the usual signs by which a real distinction in general can be recognized.

The relation of efficient causality, of efficient cause and effect, between two objects of thought, is sometimes set down as a sure sign of a (major) real distinction between them.157 And the reason alleged is that a thing cannot be the efficient cause of itself: the efficient cause is necessarily extrinsic to the effect and cannot be really identical with the latter. It is to be noted that this test applies to reality as actually existing, as producing or undergoing change, and that it is derived from our sense experience of reality in process of change. But since our concept of efficient causality has its origin in our internal experience of our own selves as active agents, as causing some portion of what enters into our experience, the test seems to assume that we have already introduced into this experience a real distinction between the self and what is caused by the self. It is not clear that the relation of efficient cause to effect, as applied to created causes, can precede and reveal, in our experience, the relation of what is really one to what is really other, in this experience. If the reality revealed to us in our direct experience, the phenomenal universe, has been brought into existence by the creative act of a Supreme Being, this, of course, implies a real distinction between Creator and creature. But it does not seem possible in this case, or indeed in any case, to prove the existence of the causal relation antecedently to that of the real distinction, or to utilize the former as an index to the latter.

Two distinct thought-objects are regarded as really distinct (1) when they are found to exist separately and apart from each [pg 149] other in time or space, as is the case with any two individuals such as John and James, or a man and a horse; (2) when, although they are found in the same individual, one of them at least is separable from the other, in the sense that it can actually exist without that other: for example, the soul of any individual man can exist apart from the material principle with which it is actually united to form this living human individual; the individual himself can exist without the particular accidental modes, such as sitting, thinking, speaking, which actually affect his being at any particular instant of his existence.

From this we can gather in the first place that the distinction between two “individuals,”—individual “persons” or individual “things”—is a real distinction in the fullest and plainest sense of this expression, a major or absolute real distinction. It is, moreover, not merely real but actual. Two existing “individuals” are always actually divided and separate from each other, while each is actually one or actually undivided in itself. And they are so “independently of the consideration of the mind”.

In the second place, assuming that the mind can apprehend, in the individuals of its experience, a unity resulting from the union or composition of separable factors or principles, whether essential or accidental [27 (b)]; and assuming that it can know these factors to be really separable (though actually one and undivided), that is, separable in the sense that each of any two such factors, or at least one of them, could actually exist without the other,—it regards the distinction between such factors as real. They are really distinct because though actually one and undivided they are potentially manifold. If each has a positive entity of its own, so that absolutely speaking each could exist without the other, the distinction is still regarded as an absolute or major real distinction. For example, the human soul can exist without the body; the body can exist without the soul, being actualized by the new formative principle or principles which replace the soul at death; therefore there is an absolute real distinction between the soul and the body of the living human individual: although both factors form one actual being, still, independently of the consideration of the mind the one factor is not the other: each is really, though only potentially, other than the factor with which it is united: the relation of “one” to “other” though not actually verified of either factor (since there is only one actual being: the existing individual [pg 150] man), is potentially and really verified, i.e. verifiable of each. Again, the individual corporeal substance can, absolutely speaking, exist without its connatural accident of external or local extension; this latter can, absolutely speaking, exist without its connatural substance;158 therefore these are absolutely and really distinct.

If only one of the factors is seen to be capable of existing without the other, and the latter to be such that it could not actually exist except as united with the former, so that the separability is not mutual, the distinction is regarded still as real, but only as a minor or modal distinction. Such, for instance, is the distinction between a body and its location, or its state of rest or motion: and, in general, the distinction between a substance and what are called its accidental modes or modal accidents. The distinction is regarded as real because reflection is held to assure us that it is in the reality itself independently of the mind, and not merely imposed by the mind on the reality because of some ground or reason in the reality. It is called a modal distinction rather than an absolute real distinction because those accidental modes of a substance do not seem to have of themselves sufficient reality to warrant our calling them “things” or “realities,” but rather merely “modes” or “determinations” of things or realities. It is significant, as throwing light on the relation of the virtual to the real distinction, that some authors call the modal distinction not a real distinction but a “distinctio media,” i.e. intermediate between a real and a logical distinction; and that the question whether it should be called simply a real distinction, or “intermediate” between a real and a logical distinction is regarded by some as “a purely verbal question.”159 We shall recur to the modal distinction later (68).

In the third place it must be noted that separability in the sense explained, even non-mutual, is not regarded as the only index to a real distinction. In other words, certain distinctions are held by some to be real even though this test of separability does not apply. For instance, it is commonly held that not merely in man but in all corporeal individuals the formative and the determinable principle of the nature or substance, the forma substantialis and the materia prima, are really distinct, although it is admitted that, apart from the case of the human soul, neither can actually exist except in union with the other. What is held [pg 151] in regard to accidental modes is also applied to these essential principles of the corporeal substance: viz. that there is here a special reason why such principles cannot actually exist in isolation. Of their very nature they are held to be such that they cannot be actualized or actually exist in isolation, but only in union. But this fact, it is contended, does not prove that the principles in question are merely mentally distinct aspects of one reality: the fact that they cannot actually exist as such separately does not prove that they are not really separable; and it is contended that they are really and actually separated whenever an individual corporeal substance undergoes substantial change.

This, then, raises once more the question: What sort of separation or separability is the test of a real distinction? Is it separateness in and for sense perception, or separateness in and for intellectual thought? The former is certainly the fundamental index of the real distinction; for all our knowledge of reality originates in sense experience, and separateness in time and space, which marks its data, is the key to our knowledge of reality as a manifold of really distinct individual beings; and when we infer from sense-experience the actual existence of a spiritual domain of reality we can conceive its individuals only after the analogy of the corporeal individuals of our immediate sense experience. Scholastic philosophers, following Aristotle, have always taken the manifoldness of reality, i.e. its presentation in sense experience in the form of individuals, of this and that, τοδὲ τι, hoc aliquid, as an unquestioned and unquestionable real datum. Not that they naïvely assumed everything perceived by the senses as an individual, in time and space, to be really an individual: they realized that what is perceived by sense as one limited continuum, occupying a definite portion of space, may be in reality an aggregate of many individuals; and they recognized the need of scrutinizing and analysing those apparent individuals in order to test their real individuality; but they held, and rightly, that sense experience does present to us some data that are unmistakably real individuals—individual men, for instance. Next, they saw that intellectual thought, by analysing sense experience, amasses an ever-growing multitude of abstract and conceptually distinct thought-objects, which it utilizes as predicates for the interpretation of this sense experience. These thought-objects intellect can unite or separate; can in some cases positively see to be mutually compatible or incompatible; can form into ideal or possible complexes. But whether or not the conceptually distinct, though mutually compatible, thought-objects forming any such complex, will be also really distinct from one another, is a question which evidently cannot arise until such a complex is considered as an actual or possible individual being: for it is the individual only that exists or can exist. They will be really distinct when found actualized in distinct individuals. Even the conceptually one and self-identical abstract thought-object will be really distinct from itself when embodied in distinct individuals; the one single abstract thought-object, humanity, human nature, is really distinct from itself in John and in James; the humanity of John is really other than the humanity of James.

[pg 152]

Of course, if conceptually distinct thought-objects are seen to be mutually incompatible they cannot be found realized except in really distinct individuals: the union of them is only an ens rationis. Again it may be that the intellect is unable to pronounce positively as to whether they are compatible or not (18): as to whether the complex forms a possible being or not. But when the intellect positively sees such thought-objects to be mutually compatible—by interpretation of, and inference from, its actual sense experience of them as embodied in individuals (18)—and when, furthermore, it now finds a number of them co-existing in some one actual individual, the question recurs: How can it know whether they are really distinct from each other, though actually united to form one (essentially or accidentally composite) individual, or only conceptually distinct aspects of one (simple) individual [27 (b)]?

This, as we have seen already, is the case for which it is really difficult to find a satisfactory test: and hence the different views to be found among scholastic philosophers as to the nature of the distinctions which the mind makes or discovers within the individual. The difficulty is this. The conceptual distinction between compatible thought-objects is not a proof of real distinction when these thought-objects are found united in one individual of sense experience, as e.g. animality and rationality in man; and the only distinction given to us by sense experience, at least directly and immediately, as undoubtedly real, is the distinction between corporeal individuals existing apart in space or time, as e.g. between man and man. How then, can we show that any distinctions within the individual are real?

Well, we have seen that certain entities, which are objects of sense or of thought, or of both, can disappear from the individual without the residue thereby perishing or ceasing to exist actually as an individual: the human soul survives, as an actual individual reality, after its separation from the material principle with which it formed the individual man; the individual man persists while the accidental modes that affect him disappear. In such cases as these, intellect, interpreting sense experience and reasoning from it, places a real distinction, in the composite individual, between the factors that can continue to exist without others, and these latter. In doing so it is apparently applying the analogy of the typical real distinction—that between one individual and another. The factor, or group of factors, which can continue to exist actually after the separation of the others, is an individual: and what were separated from it were apparently real entities, though they may have perished by the actual separation. But on what ground is the distinction between the material principle and the vital principle of a plant or an animal, for example, regarded as real? Again on the ground furnished by the analogy of the distinction between individuals of sense experience. Note that it is not between the material and the vital principles as objects of abstract thought, i.e. between the materiality and the vitality of the plant or the animal, that a real distinction is claimed: these are regarded only as conceptually distinct aspects of the plant or the animal; nor is it admitted that because one of these thought-objects is found embodied elsewhere in nature without the other—materiality without vitality in the inorganic universe—we can therefore conclude that they are really distinct in the plant or the animal. No; it is between the two principles conceived as coexisting and united in the concrete individual that the real distinction is claimed. And it is held to be [pg 153] a real distinction because substantial change in corporeal things, i.e. corruption and generation of individual corporeal substances, is held to be real. If it is real there is a real separation of essential factors when the individual perishes. And the factors continue to be real, as potential principles of other individuals, when any individual corporeal substance perishes. Each principle may not continue to exist actually as such in isolation from the other—though some scholastics hold that, absolutely speaking, they could be conserved apart, as actual entities, by the Author of Nature. But they can actually exist as essential principles of other actual individuals: they are real potentialities, which become actual in other individuals. Thus we see that they are conceived throughout after the analogy of the individual. Those who hold that, absolutely speaking, the material principle as such, materia prima, could actually exist in isolation from any formative principle, should apparently admit that in such a case it would be an individual reality.

39. Some Questionable Distinctions. The Scotist Distinction.—The difficulty of discriminating between the virtual and the real distinction in an individual has given rise to the conception of distinctions which some maintain to be real, others to be less than real. The virtual distinction, as we have hitherto understood it, may be described as extrinsic inasmuch as it arises in the individual only when we consider the latter under different aspects, or in different relations to things extrinsic to it. By regarding an individual under different aspects—e.g. a man under the aspects of animality and rationality—we can predicate contradictory attributes of the individual, e.g. of a man that “he is similar to a horse,” and that “he is not similar to a horse”. Now it is maintained by some that although independently of the consideration of the mind the grounds of these contradictory predications are not actually distinct in the individual, nevertheless even before such consideration the individual has a real intrinsic capacity to have these contradictory predicates affirmed of him: they can be affirmed of him not merely when he is regarded, and because he is regarded, under conceptually different aspects, but because these principles, “animality” and “rationality,” are already really in him not merely as aspects but as distinct capacities, as potentially distinct principles of contradictory predications.

The virtual distinction, understood in this way, is described as intrinsic. It is rejected by some on the ground that, at least in its application to finite realities, it involves a violation of the principle of contradiction: it seems to imply that one and the same individual has in itself absolutely (and not merely as considered [pg 154] under different aspects and relations) the capacity to verify of itself contradictory predicates.

Scotus and his followers go even farther than the advocates of this intrinsic virtual distinction by maintaining the existence of a distinction which on the one hand they hold to be less than real because it is not between “thing and thing,” and on the other hand to be more than logical or virtual, because it actually exists between the various thought-objects or formalitates (such, e.g. as animality and rationality) in the individual, independently of the analytic activity whereby the mind detects these in the latter. This distinction Scotists call a “formal distinction, actual on the part of the thing”distinctio formalis, actualis ex natura rei.” Hence the name “formalists” applied to Scotists, from their advocacy of this “Scotistic” distinction. It is, they explain, a distinction not between “things” (res) but between “formalities” (formalitates). By “thing” as opposed to “formality” they mean not merely the individual, but also any positive thought-object which, though it may not be capable of existing apart, can really appear in, or disappear from, a thing which can so exist: for instance, the essential factors of a really composite essence, its accidental modes, and its real relations. By “formality” they mean a positive thought-object which is absolutely inseparable from the thing in which it is apprehended, which cannot exist without the thing, nor the thing without it: for instance, all the metaphysical grades of being in an individual, such as substantiality, corporeity, life, animality, rationality, individuality, in an individual man. The distinction is called “formal” because it is between such “formalities”—each of which is the positive term of a separate concept of the individual. It is called actual on the side of the thing” because it is claimed to be actually in the latter apart from our mental apprehension of the individual. What has chiefly influenced Scotists in claiming this distinction to be thus actually in the individual, independently of our mental activity, is the consideration that these metaphysical grades are grounds on which we can predicate contradictory attributes of the same individual, e.g. of an individual man that “he is similar to a horse” and that “he is not similar to a horse”: whence they infer that in order to avoid violation of the principle of contradiction, we must suppose these grounds to be actually distinct in the thing.

[pg 155]

To this it is replied, firstly, that if such predications were truly contradictory we could avoid violation of the principle of contradiction only by inferring a real distinction—which Scotists deny to exist—between these grounds; secondly, that such predications are not truly contradictory inasmuch as “he is similar” really means “he is partially similar,” and “he is not similar” means “he is not completely similar”; therefore when we say that a man's rationality is not the principle whereby he resembles a horse,” and his animality is the principle whereby he resembles a horse,” we mean (a) that his rationality is not the principle of complete resemblance, though we know it is the principle of partial resemblance, inasmuch as we see it to be really identical with that which is the principle of partial resemblance, viz. his animality; and we mean (b) that his animality is the principle of his partial resemblance to a horse, not of total resemblance, for we know that the animality of a man is not perfectly similar to that of a horse, the former being really identical with rationality, the latter with irrationality. When, then, we predicate of one thing that “it is similar to some other thing,” and that “it is not similar to this other thing” we are not really predicating contradictories of the same thing; if we take the predicates as contradictories they are true of the same reality undoubtedly, but not under the same aspect. Scotists themselves admit that the real identity of these aspects involves no violation of the principle of contradiction; why, then, should these be held to be actually distinct formalities independently of the consideration of the mind? How can a distinction that is actual independently of the mind's analysis of the reality be other than real? Is not predication a work of the mind? And must not the conditions on which reality verifies the predication be determined by the mind? If, then, we see that in order to justify this predication—of “similar” and “not similar”—about any reality, it is merely necessary that the mind should apprehend this reality to be in its undivided unity equivalent to manifold grades of being or perfection which the mind itself can grasp as mentally distinct aspects, by distinct concepts, how can we be justified in supposing that these grades of being are not merely distinguishable, but actually distinct in the reality itself, independently of the mind?

The Scotist doctrine here is indicative of the tendency to emphasize, perhaps unduly, the assimilation of reality as a datum with the mind which interprets this datum; to regard the constitution of reality itself as being what [pg 156] abstract thought, irrespective of sense experience, would represent it; and accordingly to place in the reality as being actually there, independently of thought, distinctions which as a matter of fact may be merely the product of thought itself.

Scotists, by advocating an actual distinction between these grades of being, as formalities in the individual, have exposed themselves to the charge of extreme realism. They teach that each of these formalities has, for abstract thought, a formal unity which is sui generis. And this unity is not regarded as a product of thought, any more than the distinction between such unities. Thus, the materiality apprehended by thought in all material things is one, not because it is made one by the abstracting and universalizing activity of thought, as most if not all other scholastics teach; it is not merely conceptually one through our thought-activity, it is formally one apart from the latter; and it thus knits into a formal unity all material things. And so does life all living things; and animality all animals; and rationality all men. Now, if this formal unity of any such essential or metaphysical grade of being were regarded as a real unity, monism would be of course the logically inevitable corollary of the theory.

But the formal unity of any such essential grade of being Scotists will not admit to be a real unity, though they hold it to be characteristic of reality independently of our thought. They contend that this unity is quite compatible with the real plurality conferred upon being by the principles which individuate the latter; and thus they cannot be fairly accused of monism. Their reasoning here is characteristically subtle. Just as any metaphysical grade of being, considered as an object of thought, is in itself neither manifold individually nor one universally—so that, as Thomists say, designating it in this condition as the universale directum, or metaphysicum, or fundamentale, or quoad rem conceptam, we can truly affirm of it in this condition neither that it is one (logically, as a universal) nor that it is manifold (really, as multiplied in actual individuals),160—so likewise, Scotists contend, it is in this condition ontologically, as an entity in the real order independently of thought, and as such has a unity of its own, a formal unity, which, while uniting in a formal unity all the individuals that embody it, is itself incapable of fitting this grade of being for actual existence, and therefore admits those ultimate individuating principles which make it a real manifold in the actual order.161

Thus, the metaphysical grade of being, which, as considered in itself, [pg 157] Thomists hold to be an abstraction, having no other unity than that which thought confers upon it by making it logically universal, Scotists on the contrary hold to be as such something positive in the ontological order, having there a formal unity corresponding to the conceptual or logical unity which thought confers upon it by universalizing it. The metaphysical grade of being, thus conceived as something positive in the real order, Scotists will not admit to be a reality, nor the unity which characterizes it a real unity. But after all, if such a formality with its proportionate unity, is independent of thought; and if on the other hand universality is the work of thought, so that the universal as such cannot be real, it is not easy to see how the Scotist doctrine escapes the error of extreme realism. The metaphysical grade of being is a formality only because it is made abstract by thought; and it has unity only because it is made logically universal by thought; therefore to contend that as such it is something positive in the real order, independently of thought, is to reify the abstract and universal as such: which is extreme realism.

[pg 158]

Chapter V. Reality And The True.

40. Ontological Truth Considered from Analysis of Experience.—We have seen that when the mind thinks of any reality it apprehends it as “one,” that ontological unity is a transcendental attribute of being; and this consideration led us to consider the manifoldness and the distinctions which characterize the totality of our experience. Now man himself is a real being surrounded by all the other real beings that constitute the universe. Moreover he finds himself endowed with faculties which bring him into conscious relations both with himself and with those other beings; and only by the proper interpretation of these relations can he understand aright his place in the universe. The first in order of these relations is that of reality to mind (25). This relation between mind and reality is what we understand by Truth.

Now truth is attributed both to knowledge and to things. We say that a person thinks or judges truly, that his knowledge is true (or correct, or accurate), when things really are as he thinks or judges them to be. The truth which we thus ascribe to knowledge, to the mind interpreting reality, is logical truth: a relation of concord or conformity of the mind interpreting reality—or, of the mind's judgment about reality—with the reality itself.162 Logical truth is dealt with in Logic and Epistemology. We are concerned here only with the truth that is attributed to reality, to things themselves: ontological, metaphysical, transcendental truth, as it is called. There is nothing abstruse or far-fetched about the use of the terms “true” and “truth” as equivalent to “real” and “reality”. We speak of “true” gold, a “true” friend, a “veritable” hero, etc. Now what do we mean by thus ascribing truth to a thing? We mean that it corresponds to a mental type or ideal. We call a liquid true wine or real wine, for [pg 159] instance, when it verifies in itself the definition we have formed of the nature of wine. Hence whenever we apply the terms “true” or “truth” to a thing we shall find that we are considering that thing not absolutely and in itself but in reference to an idea in our minds: we do not say of a thing simply that it is true, we say that it is truly such or such a thing, i.e. that it is really of a certain nature already conceived by our minds. If the appearance of the thing suggests comparison with some such ideal type or nature, and if the thing is seen on examination not really to verify this nature in itself, we say that it is not really or truly such or such a thing: e.g. that a certain liquid is not really wine, or is not true wine. When we have no such ideal type to which to refer a thing, when we do not know its nature, cannot classify and name it, we have to suspend our judgment and say that we do not know what the thing really is. Hence, for example, the new rays discovered by Röntgen were called provisionally “X rays,” their real nature being at first unknown. We see, then, that real or ontological truth is simply reality considered as conformable with an ideal type, with an idea in the mind.

Whence does the human mind derive these ideal types, these concepts or definitions of the nature of things? It derives them from actually experienced reality by abstraction, comparison, generalization, and reflection on the data of its experience.163 Hence it follows that the ontological truth of things is not known by the mind antecedently to the formation of the mental type. It is, of course, in the things antecedently to any judgment we form about the things; and the logical truth of our judgments is dependent on it, for logical truth is the conformity of our judgments with the real nature of things. But antecedently to all exercise of human thought, antecedently to our conception of the nature of a thing, the thing has not for us formal or actual ontological truth: it has only fundamental or potential ontological truth. If in this condition reality had actual ontological truth for us, there would be no ground for our distinguishing mentally between the reality and the truth of things; whereas the existence of this mental or logical distinction is undeniable. The concept of reality is the concept of something absolute; the concept of ontological truth is the concept of something relative, not of an absolute but of a relative property of being.

[pg 160]

But if for the human mind the ontological truth of things is—at least proximately, immediately, and in the first place—their conformity with the abstract concepts of essences or natures, concepts derived by the mind from an analysis of its experience, how can this ontological truth be one for all men, or immutable and necessary? For, since men form different and divergent and conflicting conceptions as to the natures of things, and so have different views and standards of truth for things, ontological truth would seem, according to the exposition just outlined, to be not one but manifold, not immutable but variable: consequences which surely cannot be admitted? The answer to this difficulty will lead us to a deeper and more fundamental conception of what ontological truth really is.

First, then, we must consider that all men are endowed with the same sort of intellect, an intellect capable of some insight at least into the nature of things; that therefore they abstract the same transcendental notions and the same widest concepts from their experience: transcendental concepts of being, unity, truth, goodness; generic concepts of substance, matter, spirit, cause, of accident, quantity, multitude, number, identity, similarity, distinction, diversity, etc. They also form the same specific concepts of possible essences. Although, therefore, they may disagree and err in regard to the application of those concepts, especially of the lower, richer and more complex specific concepts, to the actual data of their experience, they agree in the fact that they have those common concepts or idea-types of reality; also in the fact that when they apply those concepts rightly (i.e. by logically true judgments) to the things that make up their experience, they have so far grasped the real natures of these things; and finally in recognizing that the ontological truth of these things lies in the conformity of the latter with their true and proper mental types or essences. And just as each of these latter is one, indivisible, immutable, necessary and eternal (14, 15), so is the ontological truth of things, whether possible or actual, one, indivisible, immutable, necessary and eternal. Of course, just as the human mind does not constitute but only apprehends reality, so the human mind does not constitute the ontological truth of reality, but only apprehends it. Every reality is capable of producing in the human mind a more or less adequate mental representation of itself: in this lies what we may call the potential or fundamental ontological truth of reality. When it does produce such a mental concept of itself its relation of conformity to this concept is its formal ontological truth. Of course the human mind may err in applying to any reality a wrong concept; when it does it has so far failed to grasp the real nature of the thing and therefore the ontological truth which is really identical with this nature. But the thing still has its ontological truth, independently of the erring mind; not only fundamental truth, but also possibly formal truth in so far as it may be rightly apprehended, and thus related to its proper mental type, by other human minds. Reality itself, therefore, is not and cannot be false, as we shall see more fully later; error or falsity is an accident only of the mind interpreting reality.

41. Ontological Truth Considered Synthetically, from the Standpoint of its Ultimate Real Basis.—So far we have explained ontological truth as a relation of reality to the [pg 161] human intelligence; but this relation is not one of dependence. The objective term of the relation, the reality itself, is anterior to the human mind, it is not constituted by the latter. The subjective term, the abstract concept, is indeed as a vital product dependent on the mind, but as representative of reality it is determined only by the latter. Is there, however, an Intelligence to which reality is essentially conformed, other than the human intelligence? Granted the actual existence of contingent realities, and granted that the human mind can derive from these realities rational principles which it sees to be necessarily and universally applicable to all the data of experience, we can demonstrate the existence of a Necessary Being, a First and Self-Existent Intelligence. Realizing, then, that God has created all things according to Infinite Wisdom, we can see that the essences of things are imitations of exemplar ideas in the Divine Mind (20). On the Divine Mind they depend essentially for their reality and intelligibility. It is because all created realities, including the human mind itself, are adumbrations of the Divine Essence, that they are intelligible to the human mind. Thus we see that in the ontological order, in the order of real gradation and dependence among things, as distinct from the order of human experience,164 the reason why reality has ontological truth for the human mind is because it is antecedently and essentially in accord with the Divine Mind from which it derives its intelligibility. Although, therefore, ontological truth is for us proximately and immediately the conformity of reality with our own conceptions, it is primarily and fundamentally the essential conformity of all reality with the Divine Mind. All reality, actual and possible, including the Divine Essence itself, is actually comprehended by the Divine Mind, is actually in conformity with the exemplar ideas in the Divine Mind, and has therefore ontological truth even independently of its relation to created minds; but “in the (impossible) hypothesis of the absence of all intellect, such a thing as truth would be inconceivable”.165

The reason, therefore, why things are ontologically true for our minds, why our minds can apprehend their essences, why we can have any true knowledge about them, is in fact because both our minds and all things else, being expressions of the Divine [pg 162] Essence, are in essential conformity with the Divine Intellect. Not that we must know all this in order to have any logical truth, any true knowledge, about things; or in order to ascribe to things the ontological truth which consists in their conformity with our conception of their nature. The atheist can have a true knowledge of things and can recognize in them their conformity with his mental conception of their nature; only he is unaware of the real and fundamental reason why he can do so. Nor can he, of course, while denying the existence of God, rise to the fuller conception of ontological truth which consists in the essential conformity of all reality with the Divine Intellect, and its essential dependence on the latter for its intelligibility to the human intellect.

Naturally, it is this latter and fuller conception of ontological truth that has been at all times expounded by scholastic philosophers.166 We may therefore, define ontological truth as the essential conformity of reality, as an object of thought, with intellect, and primarily and especially with the Divine Intellect.

The conformity of reality with the Divine Intellect is described as essential to reality, in the sense that the reality is dependent on the Divine Intellect for its intelligibility; it derives its intelligibility from the latter. The conformity of reality with the human intellect is also essential in the sense that potential conformity with the latter is inseparable from reality; it is an aspect really identical with, and only logically distinct from, the latter. But inasmuch as the actual conformity of reality with our human conception of it is contingent on the existence of human intelligences, and is not ultimately dependent on the latter, inasmuch as reality does not derive its intelligibility ultimately from this conception—seeing that rather this conception is derived from the reality and is ultimately dependent on the Divine Exemplar,—this conformity of reality with the human mind is sometimes spoken of as accidental to reality in contrast with the relation of dependence which exists between reality and the Divine Mind.

Bearing in mind that reality derives its intelligibility from its essential conformity with the Divine Mind, and that the human mind derives its truth from the reality, we can understand how it has been said of truth in general that it is first in the Uncreated Intellect, then in things, then in created intellects; that the primary source and measure of all truth is the Divine Intellect Itself Unmeasured, mensurans, non mensuratus; that created reality is measured by, or conformed with, the Divine Intellect, and is in turn the measure of the human intellect, conforming the latter with itself, mensurans et mensurata; and that, finally, the human intellect, measured by created reality and the Divine Mind, is itself the measure of no natural things but only of the products of human art, intellectus noster ... non mensurans quidem res naturales, sed artificiales tantum.167

[pg 163]

Is truth one, then, or is it manifold? Logical truth is manifold—multiplied by the number of created intelligences, and by the number of distinct cognitions in each. The primary ontological truth which consists in the conformity of all reality with the Divine Intellect is one: there is no real plurality of archetype ideas in the Divine Mind; they are manifold only to our imperfect human mode of thinking. The secondary ontological truth which consists in the conformity of things with the abstract concepts of created intelligences is conditioned by, and multiplied with, the manifoldness of the latter.168

Again to the question: Is truth eternal or temporal?—we reply in a similar way that the truth of the Divine comprehension of reality, actual and possible, is eternal, but that no other truth is eternal. There is no eternal truth outside of God. Created things are not eternal; and truth is consecutive on reality: where there is no reality there is no ontological truth: the conformity of things with human conceptions and the logical truth of the latter are both alike temporal.169

Finally, we may say that the truth of the Divine Intellect is immutable; and so is the essential conformity of all reality with the Divine Intellect. The change to which created reality is essentially subject is itself essentially conformed with the Divine Mind; it is, so to speak, part and parcel of the ontological truth of this reality in relation to the Divine Mind, and cannot therefore interfere with this ontological truth. When the acorn grows into the oak the whole process has its ontological truth; that of the acorn changes, not into falsity, but into another truth, that of the oak.170 We see, then, that as things change, their truth does not change in the sense of being lost or giving place to falsity: the truth of one state changes to the truth of another while the ontological truth of the changing reality perseveres immutably.

The same immutability attaches to the truth of things in relation to the human mind: with the qualification, to which we shall return (43), that they may occasion false judgments in the human mind, and on that account be designated false.

Finally, the logical truth which has its seat in created intelligences is mutable: it may be increased or diminished, acquired or lost.

42. Ontological Truth a Transcendental Attribute of Reality.—From what has been said it will be apparent that ontological truth is a transcendental attribute of reality. That is to say, whatever is real, whether actual or possible, is ontologically true; or, in scholastic terminology, Omne ens est verum; Ens et verum convertuntur: All being is true; The real and the true are convertible terms”. For in the first place there is no [pg 164] mode or category of real being, of which the human mind actually thinks, to which it does not attribute ontological truth in the sense of conformity with the right human conception of it. Moreover, the proper object of the human intellect is reality; all true knowledge is knowledge of reality. Reality of itself is manifestly knowable, intelligible, and thus potentially or fundamentally true; and, on the other hand, intellect is, according to the measure of its capacity, a faculty of insight into all reality, into whatever is real: intellectus potens fieri omnia; anima ... quodammodo fit omnia.171 Deny either of these postulates regarding the terms of the ontological relation, reality and mind, and all rational thought is instantly paralysed. Hence, in so far as a reality becomes an actual object of human knowledge it has formal ontological truth in relation both to the human mind and to the Divine Mind; while antecedently to human thought it is fundamentally true, or intelligible, to the human mind, and of course formally true in relation to the Divine Mind.

Thus we see that whatever is real is ontologically true; that ontological truth is really identical with real being; that, applied to the latter, it is not a mere extrinsic denomination, but signifies an intrinsic, positive aspect of reality, viz. the real, essential, or transcendental relation of all real being to Mind or Intellect: a relation which is logically or conceptually distinct from the notion of reality considered in itself.

43. Attribution of Falsity to Real Being.—If ontological truth is really identical with real being, if it is an essential aspect of the latter, a transcendental relation of reality to mind, it follows immediately that there can be no such thing as transcendental falsity: if whatever is real is ontologically true, then the ontologically false must be the unreal, must be nothingness. And this is really so: ontologically falsity is nothingness. We have, therefore, to discover the real meaning of attributing falsity to things, as when we speak of a false friend, false gold, false teeth, a false musical note, a false measure in poetry, etc.

First of all, then, it will be noted that each such object has its own real nature and character, its proper mental correlate, and, therefore, its ontological truth. The false friend is a true or real deceiver, or traitor, or coward, or whatever his real character may be; the false gold is true or real bronze, or alloy, or whatever it may be in reality; the false teeth are true or real ivory, [pg 165] or whatever substance they are made of; a false musical note is a true or real note but not the proper one in its actual setting; and so of a false measure in poetry. Next, when we thus ascribe falsity to a friend, or gold, or such like, we see that the epithet “false” is in reality merely transferred from the false judgment which a person is liable to make about the object. We mean that to judge that person a friend, or that substance gold, or those articles real teeth, would be to form a false judgment. We see that it is only in the judgment there can be falsity; but we transfer the epithet to the object because the object is likely to occasion the erroneous judgment in the fallible human mind, by reason of the resemblance of the object to something else which it really is not. We see, therefore, that falsity is not in the objects, but is transferred to them by a purely extrinsic denomination on account of appearances calculated to mislead. We commonly say, in such cases that “things mislead us,” that “appearances deceive us”. Things, however, do not deceive or mislead us necessarily, but only accidentally: they are the occasions of our allowing ourselves to be deceived: the fallibility and limitations of our own minds in interpreting reality are the real cause of our erroneous judgments.172

Secondly, there is another improper sense in which we attribute falsity to works of art which fail to realize the artist's ideal. In this sense we speak of a “false” note in music, a “false” measure in poetry, a “false” tint in painting, a “false” curve in sculpture or architecture. “False” here means defective, bad, wanting in perfection. The object being out of harmony with the ideal or design in the practical intellect of the artist, we describe it as “false” after the analogy of what takes place when we describe as “false gold” a substance which is out of harmony with the idea of gold in the speculative intellect. It is in relation to the speculative, not the practical, intellect, that things have ontological truth. All created things are, of course, as such, in conformity not only with the Divine Intellect considered as speculative, but also with the Divine Intellect considered as [pg 166] practical. For God, being omnipotent, does all things according to the designs of His Wisdom. For Him nothing is accidental, nothing happens by chance. But the world He has freely willed to create is not the best possible world. Both in the physical and in the moral order there are things and events which are defective, which fall short of their natural perfection. This defectiveness, which is properly physical or moral evil, is sometimes described as falsity, lying, vanity, etc., on account of the discrepancy between those things and the ideal of what they should be. But all such defective realities are known to be what they are by the Divine Mind, and may be known as they really are by the human mind. They have, therefore, their ontological truth. The question of their perfection or imperfection gives rise to the consideration of quite a different aspect of reality, namely its goodness. This, then, we must deal with in the next place.

[pg 167]

Chapter VI. Reality And The Good.

44. The Good as Desirable and as Suitable.—The notion of the good (L. bonum; Gr. ἀγαθόν) is one of the most familiar of all notions. But like all other transcendental or widely generic concepts, the analysis of it opens up some fundamental questions. The princes of ancient Greek philosophy, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, gave much anxious thought to its elucidation. The tentative gropings of Socrates involved an ambiguity which issued in the conflicting philosophies of Stoicism and Epicureanism. Nor did Plato succeed in bringing down from the clouds the “Idea of the Good” which he so devotedly worshipped as the Sun of the Intellectual World. It needed the more sober and searching analysis of the Stagyrite to bring to light the formula so universally accepted in after ages: The Good of beings is that which all desire: Bonum est quod omnia appetunt.173 Let us try to reach the fundamental idea underlying the terms “good,” “goodness,” by some simple examples.

The child, deriving sensible pleasure from a sweetmeat, cries out: That is good! Whatever gratifies its senses, gives it sensible delight, it likes or loves. Such things it desires, seeks, yearns for, in their absence; and in their presence enjoys. At this stage the good means simply the pleasure-giving. But as reason develops the human being apprehends and describes as good not merely what is pleasure-giving, but whatever satisfies any natural need or craving, whether purely organic, or purely intellectual, or more widely human: food is good because it satisfies a physical, organic craving; knowledge is good because it satisfies a natural intellectual thirst; friendship is good because it satisfies a wider need of the heart. Here we notice a transition from “agreeable” in the sense of “pleasure-giving” to “agreeable” in the more proper sense of “suitable” or useful. The good is now conceived not in the narrow sense of what yields [pg 168] sensible pleasure but in the wider sense of that which is useful or suitable for the satisfaction of a natural tendency or need, that which is the object of a natural tendency.

Next, let us reflect, with Aristotle, that each of the individual persons and things that make up the world of our direct experience has an end towards which it naturally tends. There is a purpose in the existence of each. Each has a nature, i.e. an essence which is for it a principle of development, a source of all the functions and activities whereby it continually adapts itself to its environment and thereby continually fulfils the aim of its existence. By its very nature it tends towards its end along the proper line of its development.174 In the world of conscious beings this natural tendency is properly called appetite: sense appetite of what is apprehended as good by sense cognition, and rational appetite or will in regard to what is apprehended as good by intellect or reason. In the world of unconscious things this natural tendency is a real tendency and is analogous to conscious appetite. Hence it is that Aristotle, taking in all grades of real being, describes the good as that which is the object of any natural tendency or “appetite” whatsoever: the good is the appetibile or “desirable,” that which all things seek: bonum est quod omnia appetunt.

45. The Good as an End, Perfecting the Nature.—So far, we have analysed the notion of what is “good” for some being; and we have gathered that it implies what suits this being, what contributes to the latter's realization of its end. But we apply the term “good” to objects, and speak of their goodness, apart from their direct and immediate relation of helpfulness or suitability for us. When, for instance, we say of a watch that it is a good one, or of a soldier that he is a good soldier, what precisely do we mean by such attribution of goodness to things or persons? A little reflection will show that it is intelligible only in reference to an end or purpose. And we mean by it that the being we describe as good has the powers, qualities, equipments, which fit it for its end or purpose. A being is good whose nature is equipped and adapted for the realization of its natural end or purpose.

Thus we see that the notion of goodness is correlative with the notion of an end, towards which, or for which, a being has a natural tendency or desire. Without the concept of a nature as [pg 169] tending to realize an end or purpose, the notion of “the good” would be inexplicable.175 And the two formulæ, “The good is that which beings desire, or towards which they naturally tend,” and “The good is that which is adapted to the ends which beings have in their existence,” really come to the same thing; the former statement resolving itself into the latter as the more fundamental. For the reason why anything is desirable, why it is the object of a natural tendency, is because it is good, and not vice versa. The description of the good as that which is desirable, Bonum est id quod est appetibile,” is an a posteriori description, a description of cause by reference to effect.176 A thing is desirable because it is good. Why then is it good, and therefore desirable? Because it suits the natural needs, and is adapted to the nature, of the being that desires it or tends towards it; because it helps this being, agrees with it, by contributing towards the realization of its end: Bonum est id quod convenit naturæ appetentis: The good is that which suits the nature of the being that desires it. The greatest good for a being is the realization of its end; and the means towards this are also good because they contribute to this realization.

No doubt, in beings endowed with consciousness the gradual realization of this natural tendency, by the normal functioning and development of their activities, is accompanied by pleasurable feeling. The latter is, in fact, not an end of action itself, but rather the natural concomitant, the effect and index, of the healthy and normal activity of the conscious being: delectatio sequitur operationem debitam. It is the pleasure felt in tending towards the good that reveals the good to the conscious agent: that is, taking pleasure in its wide sense as the feeling of well-being, of satisfaction with one's whole condition, activities and environment. Hence it is the anticipated pleasure, connected by past association with a certain line of action, that stimulates the conscious being to act in that way again. It is in the first instance because a certain operation or tendency is felt to be [pg 170] pleasing that it is desired, and apprehended as desirable. Nor does the brute beast recognize or respond to any stimulus of action other than pleasure. But man—endowed with reason, and reflecting on the relation between his own nature and the activities whereby he duly orients his life in his environment—must see that what is pleasure-giving or “agreeable” in the ordinary sense of this term is generally so because it is “agreeable” in the deeper sense of being “suitable to his nature,” “adapted to his end,” and therefore “good”.

The good, then, is whatever suits the nature of a being tending towards its end: bonum est conveniens naturæ appetentis. In what precisely does this suitability consist? What suits any nature perfects that nature, and suits it precisely in so far as it perfects it. But whatever perfects a nature does so only because and in so far as it is a realization of the end towards which this nature tends. Here we reach a new notion, that of “perfecting” or “perfection,” and one which is as essentially connected with the notion of “end” or “purpose,” as the concept of the “good” itself is. Let us compare these notions of “goodness,” “end,” and “perfection”. We have said that a watch or a soldier are good when they are adapted to their respective ends. But they are so only because the end itself is already good. And we may ask why any such end is itself good and therefore desirable. For example, why is the accurate indication of time good, or the defence of one's country? And obviously in such a series of questions we must come to something which is good and desirable in and for itself, for its own sake and not as leading and helping towards some remoter good. And this something which is good in and for itself is a last or ultimate end—an absolute, not a relative, good. There must be such an absolute good, such an ultimate end, if goodness in things is to be made intelligible at all. And it is only in so far as things tend towards this absolute good, and are adapted to it, that they can be termed good. The realization of this tendency of things towards the absolute good, or ultimate end, is what constitutes the goodness of those things, and it does so because it perfects their natures.

The end towards which any nature tends is the cause of this tendency, its final cause; and the influence of a final cause consists precisely in its goodness, i.e. in its power of actualizing and perfecting a nature. This influence of the good is sometimes described as the diffusive character of goodness: Bonum est diffusivum sui: Goodness tends to diffuse or communicate [pg 171] itself, to multiply or reproduce itself. This character, which we may recognize in the goodness of finite, created things, is explained in the philosophy of theism as being derived, with this goodness itself, from the uncreated goodness of God who is the Ultimate End and Supreme Good of all reality. Every creature has its own proper ultimate end and highest perfection in its being a manifestation, an expression, a shewing forth, of the Divine Goodness. It has its own actuality and goodness, distinct from, but dependent on, the Divine Goodness; but inasmuch as its goodness is an expression or imitation of the Divine Goodness, we may, by an extrinsic denomination, say that the creature is good by the Divine Goodness. In a similar way, and without any suspicion of pantheism, we may speak of the goodness of creatures as being a participation of the Divine Goodness (5).

46. The Perfect. Analysis of the Notion of Perfection.—It is the realization of the end or object or purpose of a nature that perfects the latter, and so far formally constitutes the goodness of this nature. Now the notion of perfection is not exactly the same as the notion of goodness: although what is perfect is always good, what is good is not always perfect. The term “perfect” comes from the Latin perficere, perfectum, meaning fully made, thoroughly achieved, completed, finished. Strictly speaking, it is only finite being, potential being, capable of completion, that can be spoken of as perfectible, or, when fully actualized, perfect. But by universal usage the term has been extended to the reality of the Infinite Being: we speak of the latter as the Infinitely Perfect Being, not meaning that this Being has been “perfected,” but that He is the purely Actual and Infinite Reality. Applied to any finite being, the term “perfect” means that this being has attained to the full actuality which we regard as its end, as the ideal of its natural capacity and tendency. The finite being is subject to change; it is not actualized all at once, but gradually; by the play of those active and passive powers which are rooted in its nature it is gradually actualized, and thus perfected, gaining more and more reality or being by the process. But what directs this process and determines the line of its tendency? The good which is the end of the being, the good towards which the being by its nature tends. This good, which is the term of the being's natural tendency—which is, in other words, its end—is the fundamental principle177 which perfects the nature of the being, is the source and explanation of the process whereby [pg 172] this nature is perfected: bonum est perfectivum: the good is the perfecting principle of reality. The end itself is “the good which perfects,” bonum quod; the “perfecting” itself is the formal cause of the goodness of the being that is perfected, bonum quo; the being itself which is perfected, and therefore ameliorated or increased in goodness, is the bonum cui. In proportion, therefore, to the degree in which a being actually possesses the perfection due to its nature it is “good”; in so far as it lacks this perfection, it is wanting in goodness, or is, as we shall see, ontologically “bad” or “evil”.

While, then, the notion of the “good” implies a relation of the appetite or natural tendency of a being towards its end, the notion of “perfection,” or “perfecting,” conveys to our minds actual reality simply, or the actualizing of reality. The term “perfection” is commonly used as synonymous with actual reality. In so far forth as a reality is actual we say it “has perfection”. But we do not call it “perfect” simply, unless it has all the actuality we conceive to be due to its nature: so long as it lacks any of this it is only perfect secundum quid, i.e. in proportion to the actuality it does possess. Hence we define “the perfect” as that which is actually lacking in nothing that is due to its nature. The perfect is therefore not simply the good, but the complete or finished good; and it is even logically distinct from the latter, inasmuch as the actuality connoted by the former has added to it the relation to appetite connoted by the latter. Similarly “goodness” is logically distinct from “perfection” by adding the like relation to the latter. Although a thing has goodness in so far as it has perfection, and vice versa, still its perfection is its actuality simply, while its goodness is this actuality considered as the term of its natural appetite or tendency.

47. Grades of Perfection. Reality as Standard of Value.—We may distinguish between stages of perfection in the changing reality of the same being, or grades of perfection in comparing with one another different classes or orders of being.

In one and the same being we may distinguish between what is called its first or essential perfection, which means its essence or nature considered as capable of realizing its purpose in existence by tending effectively towards its end; what is called its intermediate or accidental perfection, which consists in all the powers, faculties and functions whereby this tendency is gradually actualized; and what is called its final or integral perfection, [pg 173] which consists in its full actualization by complete attainment of its end.

Again, comparing with one another the individual beings that make up our experience, we classify them, we arrange them in a hierarchical order of relative “perfection,” of inferiority or superiority, according to the different grades of reality or perfection which we think we apprehend in them. Thus, we look on living things as a higher, nobler, more perfect order of beings than non-living things, on animal life as a higher form of being than plant life, on intelligence as higher than instinct, on will as superior to sense appetite, on mind or spirit as nobler than matter, and so on. Now all such comparisons involve the apprehension of some standard of value. An estimation of relative values, or relative grades of perfection in things, is unintelligible except in reference to some such standard; it involves of necessity the intuition of such a standard. We feel sure that some at least of our appreciations are unquestionably correct: that man, for instance, is superior to the brute beast, and the latter superior to the plant; that the lowest manifestation of life—in the amœba, or whatever monocellular, microscopic germ may be the lowest—is higher on the scale of being than the highest expression of the mechanical, chemical and physical forces of the inorganic universe. And if we ask ourselves what is our standard of comparison, what is our test or measure, and why are we sure of our application of it in such cases, our only answer is that our standard of comparison is reality itself, actual being, perfection; that we rely implicitly on our intuition of such actual reality as manifested to us in varying grades or degrees within our experience; that without claiming to be infallible in our judgments of comparison, in our classifications of things, in our appreciations of their relative perfection, we may justly assume reality itself to be as such intelligible, and the human mind to be capable of obtaining some true and certain insight into the nature of reality.

48. The Good, the Real, and the Actual.—Having compared “perfection” with “goodness” and with “being,” let us next compare the two latter notions with each other. We shall see presently that every actual being has its ontological goodness, that these are in reality identical. But there is a logical distinction between them. In the first place the term “being” is applied par excellence to substances rather than to [pg 174] accidents. But we do not commonly speak of an individual substance, a person or thing, as good in reference to essential or substantial perfection.178 When we describe a man, or a machine, as “good,” we mean that the man possesses those accidental perfections, those qualities and endowments, which are suitable to his nature as a man; that the machine possesses those properties which adapt it to its end. In the second place the notion of being is absolute; that of the good is relative, for it implies the notion not of reality simply but of reality as desirable, agreeable, suitable, as perfecting the nature of a subject, as being the end, or conducive to the end, towards which this nature tends. And since what thus perfects must be something not potential but actual, it follows that, unlike real truth, real goodness is identical not with potential, but only with actual reality. It is not an attribute of the abstract, possible essence, but only of the concrete, actually existing essence.179

From the fact that the notion of the good is relative it follows that the same thing can be simultaneously good and bad in different relations: “What is one man's meat is another man's poison”.

49. Kinds of Goodness; Divisions of the Good.—(a) The goodness of a being may be considered in relation to this being itself, or to other beings. What is good for a being itself, what makes it intrinsically and formally good, bonum sibi, is whatever perfects it, and in the fullest sense the realization of its end. Hence we speak of a virtuous, upright man, whose conduct is in keeping with his nature and conducive to the realization of his end, as a good man. But a being may also be good to others, bonum alteri, by an extrinsic, active, effective goodness, inasmuch as by its action it may help other beings [pg 175] in the realization of their ends. In this sense, a beneficent man, who wishes the well-being of his fellow-men and helps them to realize this well-being, is called a good man. This kind of goodness is what is often nowadays styled philanthropy; in Christian ethics it is known as charity.

(b) We have described the good as the term or object of natural tendency or appetite. In the domain of beings not endowed with the power of conscious apprehension, determinism rules this natural tendency; this latter is always oriented towards the real good: it never acts amiss: it is always directed by the Divine Wisdom which has given to things their natures. But in the domain of conscious living agents this natural tendency is consequent on apprehension: it takes the form of instinctive animal appetite or of rational volition. And since this apprehension of the good may be erroneous, since what is not really good but evil may be apprehended as good, the appetite or will, which follows this apprehension—nil volitum nisi praecognitum—may be borne towards evil sub ratione boni. Hence the obvious distinction between real good and apparent goodbonum verum and bonum apparens.

(c) In reference to any individual subject—a man, for instance—it is manifest that other beings can be good for him in so far as any of them can be his end or a means to the attainment of his end. They are called in reference to him objective goods, and their goodness objective goodness. But it is equally clear that they are good for him only because he can perfect his own nature by somehow identifying or uniting himself with them, possessing, using, or enjoying them. This possession of the objective good constitutes what has been already referred to as formal or subjective goodness.180

(d) We have likewise already referred to the fact that in beings endowed with consciousness and appetite proper, whether sentient or rational, the function of possessing or attaining to what is objectively good, to what suits and perfects the nature of the subject, has for its natural concomitant a feeling of pleasure, satisfaction, well-being, delight, enjoyment. And we have observed that this pleasurable feeling may then become a stimulus to fresh desire, may indeed be desired for its own sake. Now this subjective, pleasure-giving possession of an objective [pg 176] good has been itself called by scholastics bonum delectabile—delectable or delight-giving good. The objective good itself considered as an end, and the perfecting of the subject by its attainment, have been called bonum honestum—good which is really and absolutely such in itself. While if the good in question is really such only when considered as a means to the attainment of an end, of something that is good in itself, the former is called bonum utile—useful good.181

In this important triple division bonum honestum is used in the wide sense in which it embraces any real good, whether physical or moral. As applied to man it would therefore embrace whatever perfects his physical life as well as whatever perfects his nature considered as a rational, and therefore moral, being. But in common usage it has been restricted to the latter, and is in this sense synonymous with moral good, virtue.182

Furthermore, a good which is an end, and therefore desirable for its own sake, whether it be physical or moral, can be at the same time a means to some higher good and desired for the sake of this latter. Hence St. Thomas, following Aristotle, reduces all the moral goods which are desirable in themselves to two kinds: that which is desirable only for itself, which is the last end, final felicity; and those which, while good in themselves, are also conducive to the former, and these are the virtues.183

When these various kinds of goodness are examined in reference to the nature, conduct and destiny of man, they raise a multitude of problems which belong properly to Ethics and Natural Theology. The fact that man has a composite nature which is the seat of various and conflicting tendencies, of the flesh and of the spirit; that he perceives in himself a double law, a higher and a lower appetite; that he is subject to error in his apprehension of the good; that he apprehends a distinction between pleasure and duty; [pg 177] that he feels the latter to be the path to ultimate happiness,—all this accentuates the distinction between real and apparent good, between bonum honestum, bonum utile, and bonum delectabile. The existence of God is established in Natural Theology; and in Ethics, aided by Psychology, it is proved that no finite good can be the last end of man, that God, the Supreme, Infinite Good, is his last end, and that only in the possession of God by knowledge and love can man find his complete and final felicity.

50. Goodness a Transcendental Attribute of Being.—We have shown that there is a logical distinction between the concept of “goodness” and that of “being”. We have now to show that the distinction is not real, in other words, that goodness is a transcendental attribute of all actual reality, that all being, in so far forth as it is actual, has goodness—transcendental or ontological goodness in the sense of appetibility, desirability, suitability, as already explained.

When the thesis is formulated in the traditional scholastic statement, Omne ens est bonum: All being is good it sounds a startling paradox. Surely it cannot be contended that everything is good? A cancer in the stomach is not good; lies are not good; yet these are actual realities; cancers exist and lies are told; therefore not every reality is good. This is unquestionably true. But it does not contradict the thesis rightly understood. The true meaning of the thesis is, not that every being is good in all respects, or possesses such goodness as would justify us in describing it as “good” in the ordinary sense, but that every being possesses some goodness: every being in so far as it has actuality has formal, intrinsic goodness, or is, in other words, the term or object of natural tendency or desire. This goodness, which we predicate of any and every actual being, may be (1) the term of the natural tendency or appetite of that being itself, bonum sibi, or (2) it may be conceivably the term of the appetite of some other being, bonum alteri. Let us see whether it can be shown that every actual being has goodness in one or both of these senses.

(1) Bonum sibi.—Is there any intelligible sense in which it can be said that the actuality of any and every existing being is good for that beingbonum sibi? There is. For if we recognize in every such being, as we must, a nature, a potentiality of further actualization, a tendency towards a state of fuller actuality which is its end; and if, furthermore, we recognize that every such being at any instant not merely is or exists, but is becoming or changing, and thereby tending effectively towards its end; we [pg 178] must admit not merely that the full attainment of its end (its integral or final perfection) is “desired” by, and “perfects,” and is “good” for, that being's nature; but also that the partial realization of its end, or, in other words, the actuality it has at any instant in its changing condition of existence (its accidental or intermediate perfection) is similarly “good” for it; and even that its actual existence as compared with its mere possibility (its first or essential perfection) is “desirable” and “good” for its nature. Actually existing beings are intelligible only because they exist for some end or purpose, which, by their very existence, activities, operations, conduct, they tend to realize. If this be admitted we cannot deny that the full attainment of this end or purpose is “good” for them—suitable, desirable, agreeable, perfecting them. In so far as they fail in this purpose they are wanting in goodness, they are bad, evil. For the realization of their end their natures are endowed with appropriate powers, faculties, forces, by the normal functioning of which they gradually develop and grow in actuality. No real being is by nature inert or aimless; no real being is without its connatural faculties, forces and functions. But the natural result of all operation, of all action and interaction among things, is actualization of the potential, amelioration, development, growth in perfection and goodness by gradual realization of ends. If by accident any of these powers is wanting, or acts amiss by failing to contribute its due perfection to the nature, there is in the being a proportionate want of goodness—it is so far bad, evil. But, even so, the nature of the thing preserves its fundamental orientation towards its end, towards the perfection natural to it, and struggles as it were against the evil—tries to make good the deficiency. A cancer in the stomach is never good for the stomach, or for the living subject of which the stomach is an organ. For the living being the cancer is an evil, a failure of one of the organs to discharge its functions normally, an absence of a good, viz. the healthy functioning of an organ. But the cancerous growth, considered in itself and for itself, biologically and chemically, has its own nature, purpose, tendencies, laws; nor can we deny that its development according to these laws is “good” for its specific nature,184 bonum sibi.

It may be asked how can the first or essential perfection of an existing substance, which is nothing else than the actual existence of the nature itself, be conceived as “good” for this nature? It [pg 179] is so inasmuch as the actual existence of the substance is the first stage in the process by which the nature tends towards its end; an existing nature desires and tends towards the conservation of its own being;185 hence the saying, “Self-preservation is the first law of nature”; and hence, too, the scholastic aphorism, Melius est esse quam non esse.

The argument just outlined tends to show that every nature of which we can have direct experience, or in other words every finite, contingent nature, is bonum sibi, formally and intrinsically good for itself.

It is, of course, equally applicable to the Uncreated, Necessary Being Himself. The Infinite Actuality of the Divine Nature is essentially the term and end of the Divine Love. Therefore every actual being has intrinsic, formal goodness, whereby it is bonum sibi, i.e. its actuality is, in regard to its nature, really an object of tendency, desire, appetite, a something that really suits and perfects this nature. Thus understood, the thesis formulates no mere tautology. It makes a real assertion about real being; nor can the truth of this assertion be proved otherwise than by an argument based, as ours is, on the recognition of purpose, of final causality, of adaptation of means to ends, in the actual universe of our experience.

Notwithstanding all that has been said, it may still be asked why should those individual beings, whose existence we have claimed to be good for them, exist at all. It will be objected that there exist multitudes of beings whose existence is manifestly not good for them. Take, for instance, the case of the reprobate. If they wish their total annihilation, if they desire the total cessation of their being, rather than an existence of eternal punishment, they undoubtedly wish it as a good. Is annihilation or absolute non-existence really a good for them? De facto it is for them, considered in their actual condition which is accidental to their nature. Christ said of the scandal-giver what is surely true of the reprobate: “It were better for that man had he never been born”. We may admit, therefore, that for the reprobate themselves simple non-existence is more desirable, and better, than their actual concrete state of existence [pg 180] as reprobate: because simple non-existence is for them the simple negation of their reality, whereas the absolute and irreparable loss of their last end, the total frustration of the purpose for which they came into being, is for them the greatest conceivable privation. But this condition of the reprobate is accidental to their nature, alien to the purpose of their being, a self-incurred failure, a deliberate thwarting of their natural tendency. It remains true, therefore, that their nature is good though incapable of progress, its purpose is good though frustrated. In so far as they have actual reality they have “essential” goodness. Their natures still tend towards self-conservation and the realization of their end. They form no real exception to the general truth that “it is better to be than not to be: melius est esse quam non esse. It is not annihilation as such that is desired by them, but only as a less evil alternative than the eternal privation of their last end.186 If the evils accidentally and actually attaching to a certain state of existence make the continuance of this state undesirable for a being, it by no means follows that the continuance of this being in existence, simply and in itself, is less desirable than non-existence.

(2) Bonum alteri.—Even, however, if it were granted that the actual existence of some beings is not good for themselves, might it not nevertheless be good for other beings, and in relation to the general scheme of things? Is there not an intelligible sense in which every actual being is bonum alteri, good for other things? Here again the same experience of actual reality, which teaches us that each individual being has a nature whereby it tends to its own good as a particular end, also teaches us that in the general scheme of reality things are helpful to one another, nay, are intended by their interaction and co-operation with one another to subserve the wider end which is the good of the whole system of reality. There is little use in puzzling, as people sometimes do, over the raison d'être of individual things or classes of things in human experience, over the good or the evil of the existence of these things, over the question whether or [pg 181] not it would be better that these things should never have existed, until we have consulted not any isolated portion of human experience but this experience as a whole. In this we can find sufficient evidence for the prevalence of a beneficent purpose everywhere. Not that we can read this purpose in every detail of reality. Even when we have convinced ourselves that all creation is the work of a Supreme Being who is Infinite Goodness Itself, we cannot gain that full insight into the secret designs of His Providence, which would be needed in order to “justify His ways” in all things. But when we have convinced ourselves that the created universe exists because God wills it, we can understand that every actual reality in it must be “good,” as being an object or term of the Divine Will. Every created reality is thus bonum alteri inasmuch as it is good for God, not, of course, in the impossible sense of perfecting Him, but as an imitation and expression of the Goodness of the Divine Nature Itself. The experience which enables us to reach a knowledge of the existence and nature of God, the Creator, Conserver, and Providence of the actual universe, also teaches us that this universe can have no other ultimate end or good than God Himself, i.e. God's will to manifest His goodness by the extrinsic glory which consists in the knowledge and love of Him by His rational creatures. The omnipotence of the Creator, His freedom in creating, and our knowledge of the universe He has actually chosen to create from among indefinite possible worlds, all alike convince us that the actual world is neither the best possible nor the worst possible, absolutely speaking. But our knowledge of His wisdom and power also convinces us that for the purpose of manifesting His glory in the measure and degree in which He has actually chosen to manifest it by creating the existing universe, and relatively to the attainment of this specific purpose, the existing universe is the best possible.

51. Optimism and Pessimism.—Those few outlines of the philosophy of theism—theses established in Natural Theology—will reveal to us the place of theism in relation to “optimist” and “pessimist” systems of philosophy. Pessimism, as an outcome of philosophical speculation, is the proclamation in some form or other of the conviction that human existence, nay, existence in general, is a failure, an evil. It is the analogue, in relation to will, of what scepticism is in relation to intellect; and it is no less self-contradictory than the latter. While the latter [pg 182] points to total paralysis of thought, the former involves a like paralysis of all will, all effort, all purpose in existence—a philosophy of despair, despondency, gloom. Both are equally erroneous, equally indicative of philosophical failure, equally repugnant to the normal, healthy mind. Optimism on the other hand is expressive of the conviction that good predominates in all existence: melius est esse quam non esse; that at the root of all reality there is a beneficent purpose which is ever being realized; that there is in things not merely a truth that can be known but a goodness that can be loved. Existence is not an evil, life is not a failure. This is a philosophy of hope, buoyancy, effort and attainment. But is it true, or is it an empty illusion? Well, to maintain that the actual universe is the best absolutely, would, of course, be absurd. If Leibniz's “Principle of Sufficient Reason” obliged him to contend, in face of the painfully palpable facts of physical and moral evil in the universe, that this universe is the best absolutely possible, the best that God could create, we can only say: so much the worse for his “Principle”. The true optimism is that of the theist who, admitting the prevalence of evil in the universe, in the sense to be explained presently, at the same time holds that throughout creation the good predominates, that God's beneficent purpose in regard to individuals does in the main prevail, and that His glory is manifested in giving to rational creatures the perfection and felicity of knowing and loving Himself. For the theist, then, the problem of the existence of evil in the universe assumes the general form of reconciling the fact of evil in God's creation with the fact of God's infinite power and goodness. This is a problem for Natural Theology. Here we have merely to indicate some general principles arising from the consideration of evil as the correlative and antithesis of goodness.

52. Evil: its Nature and Causes. Manicheism.—Admitting the existence of evil in the universe, the scholastic apparently withdraws the admission forthwith by denying the reality of evil. The paradox explains itself by comparing the notions of good and evil, and thus trying to arrive at a proper conception of the latter.

If ontological goodness is really identical with actual being, if being is good in so far as it is actual, then it would appear that ontological evil must be identical with non-being, nothingness. And so it is, in the sense that no evil is a positive, actual reality, that all evil is an absence of reality. But just as the good, though [pg 183] really identical with the actual, is nevertheless logically distinct from the latter, so is evil logically distinct from nothingness, or the absence of reality. As we have seen, the good is that which perfects a nature, that which is due to a nature as the realization of the end of the latter. So, too, is evil the privation of any perfection due to a nature, the absence of something positive and something which ought to be present. Evil, therefore, is not a mere negation or absence of being; it is the absence of a good, or in other words the absence of a reality that should be present. All privation is negation, but not vice versa; for privation is the negation of something due: the absence of virtue is a mere negation in an animal, in man it is a privation. Hence the commonly accepted definition of evil: Malum est privatio boni debiti: Evil is the privation of the goodness due to a thing.187 Evil is always, therefore, a defect, a deficiency. The notion of evil is a relative, not an absolute notion. As goodness is the right relation of a nature to its proper end, so is evil a failure, a defect in this relation: Malum est privatio ordinis ad finem debitum.188

The very finiteness of a finite being is the absence of further reality in this being; but as this further reality is not due to such a being, its absence, which has sometimes been improperly described as “metaphysical evil,” is not rightly regarded as evil at all: except, indeed, we were to conceive it as happening to the Infinite Being Himself, which would be a contradiction in thought.

Evil, then, in its formal concept is nothing positive; it is essentially negative, or rather privative. For this very reason, when we consider evil in the concrete, i.e. as affecting actual things, as occurring in the actual universe—we can scarcely speak of it with propriety as “existing,”—we see that it essentially involves some positive, real subject which it affects, some nature which, by affecting, it renders so far evil. Cancer in the stomach is a real evil of the stomach, a defect, a deficiency, a failure, in the adaptation of the stomach to its proper end. It is not itself a positive, absolute, evil entity. In so far as it is itself a positive, physical reality, a growth of living cells, it has its own nature, its natural tendency, its development towards an end in accordance with biological laws: in all of which it verifies the definition of ontological goodness. But the existence of such a [pg 184] growth in the stomach is pathological, i.e. a disease of the stomach, a prevention of the natural, normal function of the stomach, a failure of the latter's adaptation to its end, and hence an evil for the stomach. Lying, too, is an evil, a moral evil of man as a moral subject. But this does not mean that the whole physical process of thinking, judging, speaking, whereby a man lies, is itself a positive evil entity. The thinking is itself good as a physical act. So is the speaking in itself good as a physical act. Whatever of positive reality there is in the whole process is good, ontologically good. But there is a want of conformity of the language with the thought, entailing a privation or failure of adaptation of the man as a moral subject with his end, with his real good; and in this failure of adaptation, this privation of goodness, lies the moral evil of lying.

Evil, then, has a material or subjective cause, viz. some positive, actual reality, which is good in so far forth as it is actual, but which is evil, or wanting in something due to it, in so far as the privation which we have called evil affects it.

But evil has no formal cause: formally it is not a reality but a privation: “evil has no formal cause, but is rather the privation of a form”.189

Nor has evil any final cause, for it consists precisely in the failure of a being's natural tendency towards its end, in the want of adaptation of a nature to its end: “nor has evil a final cause, but is rather the privation of a being's due relation to its natural end”.190 Evil cannot be the natural result of a being's tendency towards its end, or a means to the attainment of this end. For that which is really an end must be good, and a means derives its goodness from the end to which it is a means. The good, because it is an end, or a means to an end, is desirable; and so, too, might evil be defined a posteriori as that which is the object of no natural tendency or desire, that from which all things are averse: malum est quod nullum ens appetit, vel a quo omnia aversantur. Nor can evil be itself an end, or be as such desired or desirable. Real evil is no doubt often sought and desired by conscious beings, sometimes physical evil, sometimes moral evil. But it is always desired and embraced as a good, sub specie boni, i.e. when apprehended as here and now good in the sense of [pg 185] gratifying, pleasure-giving, bonum delectabile. This is possible because pleasure, especially organic, sensible pleasure, as distinct from the state of real well-being which characterizes true happiness, is not the exclusive concomitant of seeking and possessing a real good: it often accompanies the seeking and possessing of a merely apparent good: and in such cases it is itself a merely apparent good, and in reality evil. The unfortunate man who commits suicide does not embrace evil as such. He wrongly judges death to be good, as being in his view a lesser evil than the miseries of his existence, and under this aspect of goodness he embraces death.

Finally we have to inquire whether evil has an efficient cause. Seeing that it is not merely a logical figment, seeing that it really affects actual things, that it really occurs in the actual universe, it must have a real source among the efficient causes of these actual things that make up the universe. It is undoubtedly due to the action of efficient causes, i.e. to the failure, the defective action, of efficient causes. But being itself something negative, a privation, it cannot properly be said to have an “efficient” cause; for the influence of an efficient cause is positive action, which in turn must have for its term something positive, something real, and therefore good. Hence St. Augustine very properly says that evil should be described as having a deficient cause rather than an “efficient” cause.191 In other words, evil is not the direct, natural or normal result of the activity of efficient causes; for this result is always good. It must therefore be always an indirect, abnormal, accidental consequence of their activity. Let us see how this can be—firstly in regard to physical evil, then in regard to moral evil.

In the action of physical causes we may distinguish between the operative agencies themselves and the subjects in which the effects of these operations are produced. Sometimes the effect is wanting in due perfection, or is in other words imperfect, physically evil, because of some defect in the agencies: the statue may be defective because the sculptor is unskilled, or his instruments bad; offspring may be weak or malformed owing to some congenital or accidental weakness or unfitness in the parents. Sometimes the evil in the effect is traceable not to the agents but to the materials on which they have to work: the [pg 186] sculptor and his instruments may be perfect, but if there be a flaw in the marble the statue will be a failure; the educator may be efficient, but if the pupil be wanting in aptitude or application the results cannot be “good”.

All this, however, does not carry us very far, for we must still inquire why are the agencies, or the materials, themselves defective. Moreover, physical evil sometimes occurs without any defect either in the agencies or in the materials. The effect produced may be incompatible with some minor perfection already in the subject; it can then be produced only at the sacrifice of this minor perfection: which sacrifice is for the subject pro tanto an evil. It is in the natural order of things that the production of a new “form” or perfection excludes the actuality of a pre-existing form or perfection. All nature is subject to change, and we have seen that all change is ruled by the law: Generatio unius est corruptio alterius. It might perhaps be said that this privation or supplanting of perfections in things by the actualization in these things of incompatible perfections, is inherent in the nature of things and essential to their finiteness—at least, if we regard the things not individually but as parts of a whole, as members of a system, as subserving a general scheme;—and that therefore such privation should not be regarded as physical evil proper, but rather as “metaphysical” evil, improperly so called. However we regard it, it can have no other first source than the Will of the Creator decreeing the actual order of the existing universe. And the same must be said of the physical evils proper that are incident to the actual order of things. These evils are “accidental” when considered in relation to the individual natures of the created agencies and materials. They are defects or failures of natural tendencies: were these natural tendencies always realized there would be no such evils. But they are not realized; and their “failure” or “evil” is not “accidental” in regard to God; for God has willed and created these agencies with natural tendencies which He has destined to be fulfilled not always and in every detail, but in such measure as will secure the actual order of the universe and show forth His perfections in the finite degree in which He has freely chosen to manifest these perfections. The world He has chosen to create is not the best absolutely possible: there are physical evils in it; but it is the best for the exact purpose for which He created it.

[pg 187]

There is also moral evil in the universe. In comparison with moral evil, the physical defects in God's creation—physical pain and suffering, material privations and hardships, decay and death of living things—are not properly evils at all. At least they are not evils in the same profound sense as the deliberate turning away of the moral agent from God, his Last End and Ultimate Good, is an evil. For the physical evils incident to individual beings in the universe can be not only foreseen by God but accepted and approved, so to speak, by His Will, as subserving the realization of the total physical good which He wills in the universe; and as subordinate to, and instrumental in the realization of, the moral good of mankind: for it is obvious that in the all-wise designs of Providence physical evils such as pain, suffering, poverty, hunger, etc., may be the means of realizing moral goodness. But moral evil, on the contrary, or, in the language of Christian ethics, Sin—the conscious and deliberate rejection, by the free agent, of God who is his true good—though necessarily foreseen by God in the universe He has actually chosen to create, and therefore necessarily permitted by the Will of God consequently on this foresight, cannot have been and cannot be intended or approved by Him. Having created man an intelligent and free being, God could not will or decree the revolt of the latter from Himself. He loves essentially His own Infinite Goodness: were He to identify His Will with that of the sinning creature He would at the same time be turning away from His Goodness: which is a contradiction in terms. God, therefore, does not will moral evil. Nevertheless He permits it: otherwise it would not occur, for nothing can happen “against His will”. He has permitted it by freely choosing to create this actual universe of rational and free creatures, foreseeing that they would sin. He could have created instead a universe of such beings, in which there would be no moral evil: for He is omnipotent. Into the secrets of His election it is not given to finite minds to penetrate. Acknowledging His Infinite Power, Wisdom and Goodness, realizing at the same time the finiteness of our faculties, we see how rational it is to bow down our minds with St. Paul and to exclaim in admiration: “O, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and of the knowledge of God! How incomprehensible are His judgments, and how unsearchable His ways!”192

[pg 188]

If it be objected that God's permission of moral evil in the universe is really the cause of this evil, and makes God Himself responsible for sin and its consequences, a satisfactory answer is not far to seek. It is absolutely incompatible with God's Infinite Sanctity that He be responsible for sin and its consequences. For these the free will of the creature is alone responsible. The creation of intelligent beings, endowed with the power freely to love, honour and serve God, is the most marvellous of all God's works. Free will is the noblest endowment of a creature of God, as it is also the most mysterious. Man, who by his intelligence has the power to know God as his Supreme Good, has by his will the power freely to tend towards God and attain to the possession of God as his Last End. In so far as man sins, i.e. knowingly, deliberately, and freely violates the tendency of his nature towards God by turning away from Him, he and he alone is responsible for the consequences, because he has the power to accomplish what he knows to be God's design in his regard, and to be his true destiny and path to happiness—viz. that he tend towards union with God and the possession of God—and he deliberately fails to make use of this power. Such failure and its consequences are, therefore, his own; they leave absolutely untouched and unassailed the Infinite Goodness and Benevolence of God's eternal design in his regard.

In scholastic form, the objection is proposed and answered in this way: “The cause of a cause is the cause of the latter's effects; but God is the cause of man, and sin is the latter's effect; therefore God is the cause of sin”. “That the cause of a non-free cause is the cause of the latter's effects, we admit. That the cause of a free cause is the cause of the latter's effects, at least in the sense of permitting, without intending and being thereby responsible for them, we also admit; always in the sense of intending and being responsible for them, we deny. The positive effects of a created free cause, those which the latter by nature is intended to produce, are attributable to the first cause or creator of the free cause, and the first cause is responsible for them. The failures of the created free cause to produce its natural and intended effects, are not due to the first cause; they are not intended by, nor attributable to, the first cause; nor is the latter responsible for them: they are failures of the free cause, and of him alone; though they are of course foreseen and permitted by the first cause or creator of the latter. The minor [pg 189] premiss of the objection we may admit—noting, however, that sin is not properly called an effect, but rather, like all evil, a failure of some cause to produce its connatural effect: it is a defect, a deficiency, a privation of some effect, of some positive perfection, which the cause ought naturally to have produced. The conclusion of the objection we distinguish, according to our analysis of the major premiss: God is the cause of sin in the proper sense of intending it, willing it, and producing it positively, and being thereby responsible for it, we deny; God is the cause of sin in the improper sense of merely foreseeing and permitting it as incidental to the universe He has actually willed and decreed to create, as occurring in this universe by the deliberate failure of free creatures to conform themselves to His primary benevolent intention in their regard, we may grant. And this Divine permission of moral evil cannot be shown to be incompatible with any attribute of the Divinity.”

In the preceding paragraphs we have barely outlined the principles on which the philosophy of theism meets the problem of evil in the universe. We have made assumptions which it is the proper province of Natural Theology to establish, and to that department also we must refer the student for a fuller treatment of the whole problem.

It has been sometimes said that the fact of evil in the universe is one of the greatest difficulties against the philosophy of Theism. If this be taken as an insinuation that the fact of evil can be better explained—or even as well explained—on the assumptions of Pantheism, Monism, Manicheism, or any other philosophy besides Theism, it is false. If it means simply that in accounting for evil—whether on principles of Theism or of any other philosophy—we are forced to raise some ultimate questions in the face of which we must admit that we have come upon depths of mystery which the plummet of our finite intellects cannot hope to fathom, in this sense indeed the assertion may be admitted. As we have already hinted, even with the light of the Christian Revelation to aid the natural light of reason, there are questions about the existence and causes of evil which we may indeed ask, but which we cannot adequately answer. And obviously this is no reflection on Theism; while in the latter system we have a more intelligible and more satisfactory analysis of the problem than in any other philosophy.

Among the ancient Greek philosophers we find “matter” [pg 190] (ὕλη) identified with “vacuum” or “empty space” (το κενόν) and this again with “nothingness” or non-being (τὸ μη νὀ). Now the concept of evil is the concept of something negative—a privation of goodness, of being or reality. Thus the notion of evil came to be associated with the notion of matter. But the latter notion is not really negative: it is that of a formless, chaotic, disorderly material. When, therefore, the Manicheans attributed a positive reality to evil—conceiving it as the principle of all disorder, strife, discord—they naturally regarded all matter as the expression of the Evil Principle, in opposition to soul or spirit as the expression of the Good Principle. The Manichean philosophy of Evil, a product of the early Christian centuries, has been perhaps the most notable alternative or rival system encountered by the theistic philosophy of Evil; for, notwithstanding the fantastic character of its conceptions Manicheism has reappeared and reasserted itself repeatedly in after ages, notably in the Middle Ages. Its prevalence has probably been due partly to the concreteness of its conceptions and partly to a certain analogy which they bear towards the conception of Satan and the fallen angels in Christian theology. In both cases there is the idea of conflict, strife, active and irreconcilable opposition, between the powers of good and the powers of evil. But there the analogy ends. While in Christian theology the powers of evil are presented as essentially subject to the Divine Omnipotence, in Manicheism the Evil Principle, the Summum Malum, is presented as a supreme, self-existent principle, essentially independent of, as well as antagonistic to, the Divine Being, the Summum Bonum. Since there is evil in the world, and since good cannot be the cause of evil—so the Manicheans argue—there must be an essentially Evil First Principle which is the primary source of all the evil in the universe, just as there is an essentially Good First Principle which is the source of all its good. Everything in the world—and especially man himself, composed of matter and spirit—is the expression and the theatre of the essential conflict which is being ever waged between the Good and the Evil Principle. Everywhere throughout the universe we find this dualism: between spirit and matter, light and darkness, order and disorder, etc.

From all that has been said in the preceding paragraphs regarding the nature and causes of good and evil the errors of the Manichean system will be apparent. Its fundamental error is the [pg 191] conception of evil as a positive entity. Evil is not a positive entity but a privation. And this being so, its occurrence does not demand a positive efficient cause. It can be explained and accounted for by deficiency or failure in causes that are good in so far forth as they are operative, but which have not all the goodness their nature demands. And we have seen how this failure of created causes is permitted by the First Cause, and is not incompatible with His Infinite Goodness.

Besides, the Manichean conception of an intrinsically evil cause, a cause that could produce only evil, is a contradiction in terms. The operation of an efficient cause must have a positive term: in so far as the term is positive it is good: and therefore its cause cannot have been totally evil, but must have been in some degree good. The crucial point in the whole debate is this, that we cannot conceive evil as a positive entity. By doing so we render reality unintelligible; we destroy the fundamental ground of any possible distinction between good and evil, thus rendering both alike inconceivable. Each is correlative to the other; we cannot understand the one without the other. If, therefore, goodness is an aspect of real being, and identical with reality, evil must be a negation of reality, and cannot be made intelligible otherwise.

Finally, the Manichean conception of two Supreme, Self-Existent, Independent First Principles is obviously self-contradictory. As is shown in Natural Theology, Being that is absolutely Supreme, Self-Existent and Necessary, must by Its very nature be unique: there could not be two such Beings.

[pg 192]

Chapter VII. Reality And The Beautiful.

53. The Concept of the Beautiful From the Standpoint Of Experience.—Truth and Goodness characterize reality as related to intellect and to will. Intimately connected with these notions is that of the beautiful,193 which we must now briefly analyse. The fine arts have for their common object the expression of the beautiful; and the department of philosophy which studies these, the philosophy of the beautiful, is generally described as Esthetics.194

Like the terms “true” and “good,” the term “beautiful” (καλόν; pulchrum, beau, schön, etc.) is familiar to all. To reach a definition of it let us question experience. What do men commonly mean when, face to face with some object or event, they say “That is beautiful? They give expression to this sentiment in the presence of a natural object such as a landscape revealing mountain and valley, lake and river and plain and woodland, glowing in the golden glow of the setting sun; or in contemplating some work of art—painting, sculpture, architecture, music: the Sistine Madonna, the Moses of Michael Angelo, the Cathedral of Notre Dame, a symphony of Beethoven; or some literary masterpiece: Shakespeare's Macbeth, or Dante's Divina Commedia, or Newman's Apologia, or Kickham's Knocknagow. There are other things the sight of which arouses no such sentiment, but leaves us indifferent; and others again, the sight of which arouses a contrary sentiment, to which we give expression by designating them as “commonplace,” “vulgar,” “ugly”. The sentiment in question is one of pleasure and approval, or of displeasure and disapproval.

Hence the first fact to note is that the beautiful pleases us, [pg 193] affects us agreeably, while the commonplace or the ugly leaves us indifferent or displeases us, affects us disagreeably.

But the good pleases us and affects us agreeably. Is the beautiful, then, identical with the good? No; the really beautiful is indeed always good; but not everything that is good is beautiful; nor is the pleasure aroused by the good identical with that aroused by the beautiful. Whatever gratifies the lower sense appetites and causes organic pleasure is good—bonum delectabile—but is not deemed beautiful. Eating and drinking, resting and sleeping, indulging the senses of touch, taste and smell, are indeed pleasure-giving, but they have no association with the beautiful. Again, the deformed child may be the object of the mother's special love. But the pleasure thus derived from the good, as the object of appetite, desire, delight, is not esthetic pleasure. If we examine the latter, the pleasure caused by the beautiful, we shall find that it is invariably a pleasure peculiar to knowledge, to apprehension, perception, imagination, contemplation. Hence in the domain of the senses we designate as “beautiful” only what can be apprehended by the two higher senses, seeing and hearing, which approximate most closely to intellect, and which, through the imagination, furnish data for contemplation to the intellect.195 This brings us to St. Thomas's definition: Pulchra sunt quæ visa placent: those things are beautiful whose vision pleases us,—where vision is to be understood in the wide sense of apprehension, contemplation.196 The owner of a beautiful demesne, or of an art treasure, may derive pleasure [pg 194] from his sense of proprietorship; but this is distinct from the esthetic pleasure that may be derived by others, no less than by himself, from the mere contemplation of those objects. Esthetic pleasure is disinterested: it springs from the mere contemplation of an object as beautiful; whereas the pleasure that springs from the object as good is an interested pleasure, a pleasure of possession. No doubt the beautiful is really identical with the good, though logically distinct from the latter.197 The orderliness which we shall see to be the chief objective factor of beauty, is itself a perfection of the object, and as such is good and desirable. Hence the beautiful can be an object of interested desire, but only under the aspect of goodness. Under the aspect of beauty the object can excite only the disinterested esthetic pleasure of contemplation.

But if esthetic pleasure is derived from contemplation, is not this identifying the beautiful with the true, and supplanting art by science? Again the consequence is inadmissible; for not every pleasure peculiar to knowledge is esthetic. There is a pleasure in seeking and discovering truth, the pleasure which gratifies the scholar and the scientist: the pleasure of the philologist in tracing roots and paradigms, of the chemist in analysing unsavoury materials, of the anatomist in exploring the structure of organisms post mortem. But these things are not “beautiful”. The really beautiful is indeed always true, but it cannot well be maintained that all truths are beautiful. That two and two are four is a truth, but in what intelligible sense could it be said to be beautiful?

But besides the scientific pleasure of seeking and discovering truth, there is the pleasure which comes from contemplating the object known. The aim of the scientist or scholar is to discover truth; that of the artist is, through knowledge to derive complacency from contemplating the thing known. The scientist or scholar may be also an artist, or vice versa; but the scientist's pleasure proper lies exclusively in discovering truth, whereas that of the artist lies in contemplating something apprehended, imagined, conceived. The artist is not concerned as to whether what he apprehends is real or imaginary, certain or conjectural, [pg 195] but only as to whether or how far the contemplation of it will arouse emotions of pleasure, admiration, enthusiasm; while the scientist's supreme concern is to know things, to see them as they are. The beautiful, then, is always true, either as actual or as ideal; but the true is beautiful only when it so reveals itself as to arouse in us the desire to see or hear it, to consider it, to dwell and rest in the contemplation of it.

Let us accept, then, the a posteriori definition of the beautiful as that which it is pleasing to contemplate; and before inquiring what precisely is it, on the side of the object, that makes the latter agreeable to contemplate, let us examine the subjective factors and conditions of esthetic experience.

54. The Esthetic Sentiment. Apprehension of the Beautiful.—We have seen that both the appetitive and the cognitive faculties are involved in the experience of the beautiful. Contemplation implies cognition; while the feeling of pleasure, complacency, satisfaction, delight, indicates the operation of appetite or will. Now the notion of the beautiful, like all our notions, has its origin in sense experience; but it is itself suprasensible for it is reached by abstraction, and this is above the power of sense faculties. While the senses and imagination apprehend beautiful objects the intellect attains to that which makes these objects beautiful, to the ratio pulchri that is in them. No doubt, the perception or imagination of beautiful things, in nature or in art, produces as its natural concomitant, a feeling of sensible pleasure. To hear sweet music, to gaze on the brilliant variety of colours in a gorgeous pageant, to inhale delicious perfumes, to taste savoury dishes—all such experiences gratify the senses. But the feeling of such sensible pleasure is quite distinct from the esthetic enjoyment which accompanies the apprehension of the beautiful; though it is very often confounded with the latter. Such sentient states of agreeable feeling are mainly passive, organic, physiological; while esthetic enjoyment, the appreciation of the beautiful, is eminently active. It implies the operation of a suprasensible faculty, the intelligence; it accompanies the reaction of the latter faculty to some appropriate objective stimulus of the suprasensible, intelligible order, to some “idea” embodied in the object of sense.198

The error of confounding esthetic enjoyment with mere [pg 196] organic sense pleasure is characteristic of all sensist and materialist philosophies. A feeling of sensible gratification always, no doubt, accompanies our apprehension and enjoyment of the beautiful; for just as man is not a merely sentient being so neither is he a pure intelligence. Beauty reaches him through the senses; in order that an object be beautiful for him, in order that the contemplation of it may please him, it must be in harmony with his whole human nature, which is both sentient and intelligent; it must, therefore, be agreeable to the senses and imagination as well as to the intellect. “There is no painting,” writes M. Brunetière,199 “but should be above all a joy to the eye! no music but should be a delight for the ear!” Otherwise we shall not apprehend in it the order, perfection, harmony, adaptation to human nature, whereby we pronounce an object beautiful and rejoice in the contemplation of it. And it is this intellectual activity that is properly esthetic. “What makes us consider a colour beautiful,” writes Bossuet,200 is the secret judgment we pronounce upon its adaptation to the eye which it pleases. Beautiful sounds, songs, cadences, have a similar adaptation to the ear. To apprehend this adaptation promptly and accurately is what is described as having a good ear, though properly speaking this judgment should be attributed to the intellect.

According to some the esthetic sentiment, the appreciation and enjoyment of the beautiful, is an exclusively subjective experience, an emotional state which has all its sources within the conscious subject, and which has no real, extramental correlative in things. According to others beauty is already in the extramental reality independently of any subjective conditions, and has no mental factors in its constitution as an object of experience. Both of these extreme views are erroneous. Esthetic pleasure, like all pleasure, is the natural concomitant of the full, orderly, normal exercise of the subject's conscious activities. These activities are called forth by, and exercised upon, some object. For esthetic pleasure there must be in the object something the contemplation of which will elicit such harmonious exercise of the faculties. Esthetic pleasure, therefore, cannot be purely subjective: there must be an objective factor in its realization. But on the other hand this objective [pg 197] factor cannot provoke esthetic enjoyment independently of the dispositions of the subject. It must be in harmony with those dispositions—cognitive, appetitive, affective, emotional, temperamental—in order to evoke such a mental view of the object that the contemplation of the latter will cause esthetic pleasure. And it is precisely because these dispositions, which are so variable from one individual to another, tinge and colour the mental view, while this in turn determines the quality of the esthetic judgment and feeling, that people disagree and dispute interminably about questions of beauty in art and nature. Herein beauty differs from truth. No doubt people dispute about the latter also; but at all events they recognize its objective character and the propriety of an appeal to the independent, impersonal standard of evidence. Not so, however, in regard to beauty: De gustibus non est disputandum: there is no disputing about tastes. The perception of beauty, the judgment that something is or is not beautiful, is the product of an act of taste, i.e. of the individual's intelligence affected by numerous concrete personal dispositions both of the sentient and of the spiritual order, not only cognitive and appetitive but temperamental and emotional. Moreover, besides this variety in subjective dispositions, we have to bear in mind the effects of artistic culture, of educating the taste. The eye and the ear, which are the two main channels of data for the intellect, can be made by training more delicate and exacting, so that the same level of esthetic appreciation can be maintained only by a constantly increasing measure of artistic stimulation. Finally, apart from all that a beautiful object directly conveys to us for contemplation, there is something more which it may indirectly suggest: it arouses a distinct activity of the imagination whereby we fill up, in our own individual degree and according to our own interpretation, what has not been actually supplied in it by nature or art.

All those influences account sufficiently for the subjectivity and variability of the esthetic sentiment, for diversity of artistic tastes among individuals, for the transitions of fashion in art from epoch to epoch and from race to race. But it must not be concluded that the subjective factors in the constitution of the beautiful are wholly changeable. Since human nature is fundamentally the same in all men there ought to be a fund of esthetic judgments and pleasures common to all; there ought to [pg 198] be in nature and in art some things which are recognized and enjoyed as beautiful by all. And there are such. In matters of detail the maxim holds: De gustibus non disputandum. But there are fundamental esthetic judgments for which it does not hold. Since men have a common nature, and since, as we shall see presently, there are recognizable and stable objective factors to determine esthetic judgments, there is a legitimate foundation on which to discuss and establish some esthetic canons of universal validity.

55. Objective Factors in the Constitution of the Beautiful.“Ask the artist,” writes St. Augustine,201 “whether beautiful things are beautiful because they please us, or rather please us because they are beautiful, and he will reply unhesitatingly that they please us because they are beautiful.” What, then is it that makes them beautiful, and so causes the esthetic pleasure we experience in contemplating them? In order that an object produce pleasure of any sort in a conscious being it must evoke the exercise of this being's faculties; for the conscious condition which we describe as pleasure is always a reflex of conscious activity. Furthermore, this activity must be full and intense and well-ordered: if it be excessive or defective, if it be ill-regulated, wrongly distributed among the faculties, it will not have pleasure for its reflex, but either indifference or pain.

Hence the object which evokes the esthetic pleasure of contemplation must in the first place be complete or perfect of its kind (46). The truncated statue, the stunted oak, the deformed animal, the crippled human being, are not beautiful. They are wanting in the integrity due to their nature.

But this is not enough. To be beautiful, the object must in the second place have a certain largeness or amplitude, a certain greatness or power, whereby it can act energetically on our cognitive faculties and stimulate them to vigorous action. The little, the trifling, the commonplace, the insignificant, evokes no feeling of admiration. The sight of a small pasture-field leaves us indifferent; but the vision of vast expanses of meadow and cornfield and woodland exhilarates us. A collection of petty hillocks is uninteresting, while the towering snow-clad Alps are magnificent. The multiplication table elicits no emotion; but the triumphant discovery and proof of some new truth in science, some far-reaching theorem that opens up new vistas of research [pg 199] or sheds a new light on long familiar facts, may fill the mind with ecstasies of pure esthetic enjoyment.202 There is no moral beauty in helping up a child that has stumbled and fallen in the mud, but there is in risking one's life to save the child from burning or drowning. There must, then, be in the object a certain largeness which will secure energy of appeal to our cognitive faculties; but this energy must not be excessive, it must not dazzle, it must be in proportion to the capacity of our faculties.203

A third requisite for beauty is that the object be in itself duly proportioned, orderly, well arranged. Order generally may be defined as right or proper arrangement. We can see in things a twofold order, dynamic, or that of subordination, and static, or that of co-ordination: the right arrangement of means towards ends, and the right arrangement of parts in a whole, or members in a system. The former indicates the influence of final causes and expresses primarily the goodness of things. The latter is determined by the formal causes of things and expresses primarily their beauty. The order essential to beauty consists in this, that the manifold and distinct things or acts which contribute to it must form one whole. Hence order has been defined as unity in variety: unitas in varietate; variety being the material cause, and unity the formal cause, of order. But we can apprehend unity in a variety of things only on condition that they are arranged, i.e. that they show forth clearly to the mind a set of mutual relations which can be easily grasped. Why is it that things mutually related to one another in one way make up what we declare to be a chaotic jumble, while if related in another way we declare them to be orderly? Because unless these relations present themselves in a certain way they will fail to unify the manifold for us. We have an intellectual intuition of the numerical series; and of proportion, which is equality of numerical relations. In the domains of magnitude and multitude the mind naturally seeks to detect these proportions. So also in the domains of sensible qualities, such as sounds and colours, we have an analogous intuition of a qualitative series, and we naturally try to [pg 200] detect harmony, which is the gradation of qualitative relations in this series. The detection of proportion and harmony in a variety of things pleases us, because we are thus enabled to grasp the manifold as exhibiting unity; while the absence of these elements leaves us with the dissatisfied feeling of something wanting. Whether this be because order in things is the expression of an intelligent will, of purpose and design, and therefore calls forth our intelligent and volitional activity, with its consequent and connatural feeling of satisfaction, we do not inquire here. But certain it is that order is essential to beauty, that esthetic pleasure springs only from the contemplation of proportion and harmony, which give unity to variety.204 And the explanation of this is not far to seek. For the full and vigorous exercise of contemplative activity we need objective variety. Whatever lacks variety, and stimulates us in one uniform manner, becomes monotonous and causes ennui. While on the other hand mere multiplicity distracts the mind, disperses and weakens attention, and begets fatigue. We must, therefore, have variety, but variety combined with the unity that will concentrate and sustain attention, and thus call forth the highest and keenest energy of intellectual activity. Hence the function of rhythm in music, poetry and oratory; of composition and perspective in painting; of design in architecture.

The more perfect the relations are which constitute order, the more clearly will the unity of the object shine forth; hence the more fully and easily will it be grasped, and the more intense the esthetic pleasure of contemplating it.

St. Thomas thus sums up the objective conditions of the beautiful: integrity or perfection, proportion or harmony, and clarity or splendour.205

[pg 201]

56. Some Definitions of the Beautiful.—An object is beautiful when its contemplation pleases us; and this takes place when the object, complete and entire in itself, possesses that order, harmony, proportion of parts, which will call forth the full and vigorous exercise of our cognitive activity. All this amounts to saying that the beauty of a thing is the revelation or manifestation of its natural perfection.206 Perfection is thus the foundation of beauty; the showing forth of this perfection is what constitutes beauty formally. Every real being has a nature which constitutes it, and activities whereby it tends to realize the purpose of its existence. Now the perfection of any nature is manifested by the proportion of its constitutive parts and by the harmony of all its activities. Hence we see that order is essential to beauty because order shows forth the perfection of the beautiful. An object is beautiful in the degree in which the proportion of its parts and the harmony of its activities show forth the perfection of its nature.

Thus, starting with the subjective, a posteriori definition of beauty from its effect: beauty is that whose contemplation pleases us—we have passed to the objective and natural definition of beauty by its properties: beauty is the evident integrity, order, proportion and harmony, of an object—and thence to what we may call the a priori or synthetic definition, which emphasizes the perfection revealed by the static and dynamic order of the thing: the beauty of an object is the manifestation of its natural perfection by the proportion of its parts and the harmony of its activities.207

A few samples of the many definitions that have been set forth by various authors will not be without interest. Vallet208 defines beauty as the splendour of perfection. Other authors define it as the splendour of order. These definitions sacrifice clearness to brevity. Beauty is the splendour of the true. This definition, commonly attributed to Plato, but without reason, is inadequate and ambiguous. Cousin209 defines beauty as unity in variety. This leaves out an essential element, the clarity or clear manifestation of order. Kant defines beauty as the power an object possesses of giving free play to the imagination without transgressing the laws of the understanding.210 [pg 202] This definition emphasizes the necessary harmony of the beautiful with our cognitive faculties, and the fact that the esthetic sentiment is not capricious but subject to the laws of the understanding. It is, however, inadequate, in as much as it omits all reference to the objective factors of beauty.

57. Classifications. The Beautiful in Nature.—All real beauty is either natural or artificial. Natural beauty is that which characterizes what we call the “works of Nature” or the “works of God”. Artificial beauty is the beauty of “works of art”.

Again, just as we can distinguish the real beauty of the latter from the ideal beauty which the human artist conceives in his mind as its archetype and exemplar cause, so, too, we can distinguish between the real beauty of natural things and the ideal beauty of their uncreated archetypes in the Mind of the Divine Artist.

We know that the beauty of the human artist's ideal is superior to, and never fully realized in, that of the actually achieved product of his art. Is the same true of the natural beauty of God's works? That the works of God in general are beautiful cannot be denied; His Wisdom “spreads beauty abroad” throughout His works; He arranges all things according to weight and number and measure:cum pondere, numero et mensura; His Providence disposes all things strongly and sweetly: fortiter et suaviter. But while creatures, by revealing their own beauty, reflect the Uncreated beauty of God in the precise degree which He has willed from all eternity, it cannot be said that they all realize the beauty of their Divine Exemplars according to His primary purpose and decree. Since there is physical and moral evil in the universe, since there are beings which fail to realize their ends, to attain to the perfection of their natures, it follows that these beings are not beautiful. In so far forth as they have real being, and the goodness or perfection which is identical with their reality, it may be admitted that all real beings are fundamentally beautiful; for goodness or perfection is the foundation of beauty.211 But in so far as they fail to realize the perfection due to their natures they lack even the foundation of beauty. Furthermore, in order that a thing which has the full perfection due to its nature be formally beautiful, it must actually show forth by the clearness of its proportions [pg 203] and the harmony of its activities the fulness of its natural perfections. But there is no need to prove that this is not universally verified in nature—or in art either. And hence we must infer that formal beauty is not a transcendental attribute of reality.212

Real beauty may be further divided into material or sensible or physical, and intellectual or spiritual. The former reveals itself to hearing, seeing and imagination; the latter can be apprehended only by intellect; but intellect depends for all its objects on the data of the imagination. The beauty of spiritual realities is of course of a higher, nobler and more excellent order than that of the realities of sense. The spiritual beauty which falls directly within human experience is that of the human spirit itself; from the soul and its experiences we can rise to an apprehension—analogical and inadequate—of the Beauty of the Infinite Being. In the soul itself we can distinguish two sources of beauty: what we may call its natural endowments such as intellect and will, and its moral dispositions, its perfections and excellences as a free, intelligent, moral agent—its virtues. Beauty of soul, especially the moral beauty of the virtuous soul, is incomparably more precious than beauty of body. The latter, of course, like all real beauty in God's creation, has its proper dignity as an expression and revelation, however faint and inadequate, of the Uncreated Beauty of the Deity. But inasmuch as it is so inferior to the moral beauty proper to man, in itself so frail and evanescent, in its influence on human passions so dangerous to virtue, we can understand why in the Proverbs of Solomon it is proclaimed to be vain and deceitful in contrast with the moral beauty of fearing the Lord: Fallax gratia et vana est pulchritudo; mulier timens dominum ipsa laudabitur.213

58. The Beautiful in Art. Scope and Function of the [pg 204] Fine Arts.—The expression of beauty is the aim of the fine arts. Art in general is “the proper conception of a work to be accomplished”: “ars nihil aliud est quam recta ratio aliquorum operum faciendorum”.214 While the mechanical arts aim at the production of things useful, the fine arts aim at the production of things beautiful, i.e. of works which by their order, symmetry, harmony, splendour, etc., will give such apt expression to human ideals of natural beauty as to elicit esthetic enjoyment in the highest possible degree. The artist, then, must be a faithful student and admirer of all natural beauty; not indeed to aim at exact reproduction or imitation of the latter; but to draw therefrom his inspiration and ideals. Even the most beautiful things of nature express only inadequately the ideal beauty which the human mind may gather from the study of them. This ideal is what the artist is ever struggling to express, with the ever-present and tormenting consciousness that the achievement of his highest effort will fall immeasurably short of giving adequate expression to it.

If each of the things of nature were so wholly simple and intelligible as to present the same ideal type of beauty to all, and leave no room for individual differences of interpretation, there would be no variety in the products of artistic genius, except indeed what would result from perfect or imperfect execution. But the things of nature are complex, and in part at least enigmatical; they present different aspects to different minds and suggest a variety of interpretations; they leave large scope to the play of the imagination both as to conception of the ideal itself and as to the arrangement and manipulation of the sensible materials in which the ideal is to find expression. By means of these two functions, conception and expression, the genius of the artist seeks to interpret and realize for us ideal types of natural beauty.

The qualities of a work of art, the conditions it must fulfil, are those already enumerated in regard to beauty generally. It must have unity, order, proportion of parts; it must be true to nature, not in the sense of a mere copy, but in the sense of drawing its inspiration from nature, and so helping us to understand and appreciate the beauties of nature; it must display a power and clearness of expression adjusted to the capacity of the normal mind.

We may add—as indicating the connexion of art with morality—that [pg 205] the work of art must not be such as to excite disapproval or cause pain by shocking any normal faculty, or running counter to any fundamental belief, sympathy, sentiment or feeling, of the human mind. The contemplation of the really beautiful, whether in nature or in art, ought per se to have an elevating, ennobling, refining influence on the mind. But the beautiful is not the good; nor does the cultivation of the fine arts necessarily enrich the mind morally. From the ethical point of view art is one of those indifferent things which the will can make morally good or morally evil. Since man is a moral being, no human interest can fall outside the moral sphere, or claim independence of the moral law; and art is a human interest. Neither the creator, nor the critic, nor the student of a work of art can claim that the latter, simply because it is a work of art, is neither morally good nor morally bad; or that he in his special relation to it is independent of the moral law.

Under the specious plea that science in seeking truth is neither positively moral nor positively immoral, but abstracts altogether from the quality of morality, it is sometimes claimed that, a pari, art in its pursuit of the beautiful should be held to abstract from moral distinctions and have no concern for moral good or evil. But in the first place, though science as such seeks simply the true, and in this sense abstracts from the good and the evil, still the man of science both in acquiring and communicating truth is bound by the moral law: he may not, under the plea that he is learning or teaching truth, do anything morally wrong, anything that will forfeit or endanger moral rectitude, whether in himself or in others. And in the second place, owing to the different relations of truth and beauty to moral goodness, we must deny the parity on which the argument rests. Truth appeals to the reason alone; beauty appeals to the senses, the heart, the will, the passions and emotions: Pulchrum trahit ad se desiderium. The scientist expresses truth in abstract laws, definitions and formulas: a law of chemistry will help the farmer to fertilize the soil, or the anarchist to assassinate sovereigns. But the artist expresses beauty in concrete forms calculated to provoke emotions of esthetic enjoyment from the contemplation of them. Now there are other pleasure-giving emotions, sensual and carnal emotions, the indiscriminate excitement and unbridled indulgence of which the moral law condemns as evil; and if a work of art be of such a kind that it is directly calculated to [pg 206] excite them, the artist stands condemned by the moral law, and that even though his aim may have been to give expression to beauty and call forth esthetic enjoyment merely. If the preponderating influence of the artist's work on the normal human individual be a solicitation of the latter's nature towards what is evil, what is opposed to his real perfection, his moral progress, his last end, then that artist's work is not a work of art or truly beautiful. The net result of its appeal being evil and unhealthy, it cannot be itself a thing of beauty.

Art for art's sake is a cry that is now no longer novel. Taken literally it is unmeaning, for art is a means to an end—the expression of the beautiful; and a means as such cannot be for its own sake. But it may signify that art should subserve no extrinsic purpose, professional or utilitarian; that it should be disinterested; that the artist must aim at the conception and expression of the beautiful through a disinterested admiration and enthusiasm for the beautiful. In this sense the formula expresses a principle which is absolutely true, and which asserts the noble mission of the artist to mankind. But the formula is also commonly understood to claim the emancipation of the artist from the bonds of morality, and his freedom to conceive and express beauty in whatever forms he pleases, whether these may aid men to virtue or solicit them to vice. This is the pernicious error to which we have just referred. And we may now add that this erroneous contention is not only ethically but also artistically unsound. For surely art ought to be based on truth: the artist should understand human nature, to which his work appeals: he should not regard as truly beautiful a work the contemplation of which will produce a discord in the soul, which will disturb the right order of the soul's activities, which will solicit the lower faculties to revolt against the higher; and this is what takes place when the artist ignores moral rectitude in the pursuit of his art: by despising the former he is false to the latter. He fails to realize that the work of art must be judged not merely in relation to the total amount of pleasure it may cause in those who contemplate it, but also in relation to the quality of this pleasure; and not merely in relation to esthetic pleasure, but in relation to the total effect, the whole concrete influence of the work on all the mental faculties. He fails to see that if this total influence is evil, the work that causes it cannot be good nor therefore really beautiful.

Are we to conclude, then, that the artist is bound to aim positively and always at producing a good moral effect through his work? By no means. Esthetic pleasure is, as we have said, indifferent. The pursuit of it, through the conception and expression of the beautiful, is the proper and intrinsic end of the fine arts, and is in itself legitimate so long as it does not run counter to the moral law. It has no need to run counter to the moral law, nor can it do so without defeating its own end. Outside its proper limits art ceases to be art; within its proper limits it has a noble and elevating mission; and it can serve indirectly but powerfully the interests of truth and goodness by helping men to substitute for the lower and grosser pleasures of sense the higher and purer esthetic pleasures which issue from the disinterested contemplation of the beautiful.

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Chapter VIII. The Categories Of Being. Substance And Accident.

59. The Conception of Ultimate Categories.—Having examined so far the notion of real being itself, which is the proper subject-matter of ontology, and those widest or transcendental notions which are coextensive with that of reality, we must next inquire into the various modes in which we find real being expressed, determined, actualized, as it falls within our experience. In other words, we must examine the highest categories of being, the suprema genera entis. Considered from the point of view of the logical arrangement of our concepts, each of these categories reveals itself as a primary and immediate limitation of the extension of the transcendental concept of real being itself. Each is ultimately distinct from the others in the sense that no two of them can be brought under any other as a genus, nor can we discover any intermediate notion between any one of them and the notion of being itself. The latter notion is not properly a genus of which they would be species, nor can it be predicated univocally of any two or more of them (2). Each is itself an ultimate genus, a genus supremum.

By using these notions as predicates of our judgments we are enabled to interpret things, to obtain a genuine if inadequate insight into reality; for we assume as established in the Theory of Knowledge that all our universal concepts have real and objective validity, that they give us real knowledge of the nature of those individual things which form the data of our sense experience. Hence the study of the categories, which is for Logic a classification of our widest concepts, become for Metaphysics an inquiry into the modes which characterize real being.215 By determining what these modes are, by studying their characteristics, by tracing them through the data of experience, we advance in our knowledge of reality.

The most divergent views have prevailed among philosophers [pg 208] both as to what a category is or signifies, and as to what or how many the really ultimate categories are. Is a category, such as substance, or quality, or quantity, a mode of real being revealed to the knowing mind, as most ancient and medieval philosophers thought, with Aristotle and St. Thomas? or is it a mental mode imposed on reality by the knowing mind, as many modern philosophers have thought, with Kant and after him? It is for the Theory of Knowledge to examine this alternative; nor shall we discuss it here except very incidentally: for we shall assume as true the broad affirmative answer to the first alternative. That is to say, we shall hold that the mind is able to see, in the categories generally, modes of reality; rejecting the sceptical conclusions of Kantism in regard to the power of the Speculative Reason, and the principles which lead to such conclusions.

As to the number and classification of the ultimate categories, this is obviously a question which cannot be settled a priori by any such purely deductive analysis of the concept of being as Hegel seems to have attempted; but only a posteriori, i.e. by an analysis of experience in its broadest sense as including Matter and Spirit, Nature and Mind, Object and Subject of Thought, and even the Process of Thought itself. Moreover it is not surprising that with the progress of philosophical reflection, certain categories should have been studied more deeply at certain epochs than ever previously, that they should have been “discovered” so to speak, not of course in the sense that the human mind had not been previously in possession of them, but in the sense that because of closer study they furnished the mind with a richer and fuller power of “explaining” things. It is natural, too, that historians of philosophy, intent on tracing the movement of philosophic thought, should be inclined to over-emphasize the relativity of the categories, as regards their “explaining” value—their relativity to the general mentality of a certain epoch or period.216 But there is danger here of confounding certain large hypothetical conceptions, which are found to yield valuable results at a certain stage in the progress of the sciences,217 with the categories proper of real being. If the mind of man is of the same nature in all men, if it contemplates the same universe, if it is capable of reaching truth about this universe—real truth which is immutable,—then the modes of being which it [pg 209] apprehends in the universe, and by conceiving which it interprets the latter, must be in the universe as known, and must be there immutably. Nowhere do we find this more clearly illustrated than in the futility of the numerous attempts of modern philosophers to deny the reality of the category of substance, and to give an intelligible interpretation of experience without the aid of this category. We shall see that as a matter of fact it is impossible to deny in thought the reality of substance, or to think at all without it, however philosophers may have denied it in language,—or thought that they denied it when they only rejected some erroneous or indefensible meaning of the term.

60. The Aristotelian Categories.—The first palpable distinction we observe in the data of experience is that between substance and accident. “We might naturally ask,” writes Aristotle,218 “whether what is signified by such terms as walking, sitting, feeling well, is a being (or reality).... And we might be inclined to doubt it, for no single one of such acts exists by itself (καθ᾽ αὐτὸ πεφυκός), no one of them is separable from substance (οὐσία); it is rather to him who walks, or sits, or feels well, that we give the name of being. That which is a being in the primary meaning of this term, a being simply and absolutely, and not merely a being in a certain sense, or with a qualification, is substance—ὡστε τὸ πρώτως ὂν καὶ οὐ τὶ ὂν ἀλλ᾽ ὂν ἁπλῶς ἡ οὐσία ἂν εἴν.”219 But manifestly, though substances, or what in ordinary language we call “persons” and “things”—men, animals, plants, minerals—are real beings in the fullest sense, nevertheless sitting, walking, thinking, willing, and actions generally, are also undoubtedly realities; so too are states and qualities; and shape, size, posture, etc. And yet we do not find any of these latter actually existing in themselves like substances, but only dependently on substances—on “persons” or “things” that think or walk or act, or are large or small, hot or cold, or have some shape or quality. They are all accidents, in contradistinction to substance.

It is far easier to distinguish between accidents and substance than to give an exhaustive list of the ultimate and irreducible classes of the former. Aristotle enumerates nine: Quantity (ποσόν), Quality (ποῖον), Relation (πρὸς τι), Action (ποιέιν), [pg 210] Passion (πάσχειν), Where (ποῦ), When (ποτέ), Posture (κεῖσθαι), External Condition or State (ἔχειν). Much has been said for and against the exhaustive character of this classification. Scholastics generally have defended and adopted it. St. Thomas gives the following reasoned analysis of it:220 Since accidents may be distinguished by their relations to substance, we see that some affect substances intrinsically, others extrinsically; and in the former case, either absolutely or relatively: if relatively we have the category of relation; if absolutely we have either quantity or quality according as the accident affects the substance by reason of the matter, or the form, of the latter. What affects and denominates a substance extrinsically does so either as a cause, or as a measure, or otherwise. If as a cause, the substance is either suffering action, or acting itself; if as a measure, it denominates the subject as in time, or in place, or in regard to the relative position of its parts, its posture, in the place which it occupies. Finally, if the accident affects the substance extrinsically, though not as cause or as measure, but only as characterizing its external condition and immediate surroundings, as when we describe a man as clothed or armed, we have the category of condition.

It might be said that all this is more ingenious than convincing; but it is easier to criticize Aristotle's list than to suggest a better one. In addition to what we have said of it elsewhere,221 a few remarks will be sufficient in the present context.

Some of the categories, as being of lesser importance, we may treat incidentally when dealing with the more important ones. Ubi, Quando, and Situs, together with the analysis of our notions of Space and Time, fall naturally into the general doctrine of Quantity. The final category, ἔχειν, however interpreted,222 may be referred to Quality, Quantity, or Relation.

A more serious point for consideration is the fact, generally admitted by scholastics,223 that one and the same real accident may belong to different categories if we regard it from different standpoints. Actio and passio are one and the same motus or change, regarded in relation to the agent and to the effect, respectively. Place, in regard to the located body belongs to the category ubi, whereabouts; in regard to the locating body it is an aspect of the latter's quantity. Relation, as we shall see, is probably not an [pg 211] entity really distinct from its foundation—quality, quantity, or causality. The reason alleged for this partial absence of real distinction between the Aristotelian categories is that they were thought out primarily from a logical point of view—that of predication.224 And the reason is a satisfactory one, for real distinction is not necessary for diversity of predication. Then, where they are not really distinct entities these categories are at least aspects so fundamentally distinct and mutually irreducible that each of them is indeed a summum genus immediately under the concept of being in general.

It seems a bold claim to make for any scheme of categories, that it exhausts all the known modes of reality. We often experience objects of thought which seem at first sight incapable of reduction to any of Aristotle's suprema genera. But more mature reflection will always enable us to find a place for them. In order that any extrinsic denomination of a substance constitute a category distinct from those enumerated, it must affect the substance in some real way distinct from any of those nine; and it must moreover be not a mere complex or aggregate of two or more of the latter. Hence denominations which objects derive from the fact that they are terms of mental activities which are really immanent, actiones intentionales,”—denominations such as “being known,” “being loved,”—neither belong to the category of passio proper, nor do they constitute any distinct category. They are entia rationis, logical relations. Again, while efficient causation resolves itself into the categories of actio and passio, the causation of final, formal and material causes cannot be referred to these categories, but neither does it constitute any new category. The influence of a final cause consists in nothing more than its being a good which is the term of appetite or desire. The causation of the formal cause consists in its formally constituting the effect: it is always either a substantial or an accidental form, and so must be referred to the categories of substance, or quality, or quantity. Similarly material causality consists in this that the matter is a partial constitutive principle of the composite being; and it therefore [pg 212] refers us to the category of substance. It may be noted, too, that the ontological principles of a composite being—such as primal matter and substantial form—since they are themselves not properly “beings,” but only “principles of being,” are said to belong each to its proper category, not formally but only referentially, not formaliter but only reductivé. Finally, the various properties that are assigned to certain accidents themselves are either logical relations (such as “not having a contrary” or “being a measure”), or real relations, or intrinsic modes of the accident itself (as when a quality is said to have a certain “intensity”); but in all cases where they are not mere logical entities they will be found to come under one or other of the Aristotelian categories.

The “real being” which is thus “determined” into the supreme modes or categories of substance and accidents is, of course, “being” considered substantially as essential (whether possible or actual), and not merely being that is actually existent, existential being, in the participial sense. Furthermore, it is primarily finite or created being that is so determined. The Infinite Being is above the categories, super-substantial. It is because substance is the most perfect of the categories, and because the Infinite Being verifies in Himself in an incomprehensibly perfect manner all the perfections of substance, that we speak of Him as a substance: remembering always that these essentially finite human concepts are to be predicated of Him only analogically (2, 5).

It may be inquired whether “accident” is a genus which should be predicated univocally of the nine Aristotelian categories as species? or is the concept of “accident” only analogical, so that these nine categories would be each a summum genus in the strict sense, i.e. an ultimate and immediate determination of the concept of “being” itself? We have seen already that the concept of “being” as applied to “substance” and “accident” is analogical (2). So, too, it is analogical as applied to the various categories of accidents. For the characteristic note of “accident,” that of “affecting, inhering in” a subject, can scarcely be said to be verified “in the same way,” “univocally,” of the various kinds of accidents; it is therefore more probably correct not to regard “accident” as a genus proper, but to conceive each kind of accident as a summum genus coming immediately under the transcendental concept of “being”.

[pg 213]

61. The Phenomenist Attack on the Traditional Doctrine of Substance.—Passing now to the question of the existence and nature of substances, and their relation to accidents, we shall find evidences of misunderstandings to which many philosophical errors may be ascribed at least in part. It is a fairly common contention that the distinction between substance and accident is really a groundless distinction; that we have experience merely of transient events or happenings, internal and external, with relations of coexistence or sequence between them; that it is an illusion to suppose, underlying these, an inert, abiding basis called “substance”; that this can be at best but a useless name for each of the collections of external and internal appearances which make up our total experience of the outer world and of our own minds. This is the general position of phenomenists. “What do you know of substance,” they ask us, “except that it is an indeterminate and unknown something underlying phenomena? And even if you could prove its existence, what would it avail you, since in its nature it is, and must remain, unknown? No doubt the mind naturally supposes this ‘something’ underlying phenomena; but it is a mere mental fiction the reality of which cannot be proved, and the nature of which is admitted, even by some who believe in its real existence, to be unknowable.”

Now there can be no doubt about the supreme importance of this question: all parties are pretty generally agreed that on the real or fictitious character of substance the very existence of genuine metaphysics in the traditional sense depends. And at first sight the possibility of such a controversy as the present one seems very strange. “Is it credible,” asks Mercier,225 “that thinkers of the first order, like Hume, Mill, Spencer, Kant, Wundt, Paulsen, Littré, Taine, should have failed to recognize the substantial character of things, and of the Ego or Self? Must they not have seen that they were placing themselves in open revolt against sound common sense? And on the other hand is it likely that the genius of Aristotle could have been duped by the naïve illusion which phenomenists must logically ascribe to him? Or that all those sincere and earnest teachers who adopted and preserved in scholastic philosophy for centuries the peripatetic distinction between substance and accidents [pg 214] should have been all utterly astray in interpreting an elementary fact of common sense?”

There must have been misunderstandings, possibly on both sides, and much waste of argument in refuting chimeras. Let us endeavour to find out what they are and how they gradually arose.

Phenomenism has had its origin in the Idealism which confines the human mind to a knowledge of its own states, proclaiming the unknowability of any reality other than these; and in the Positivism which admits the reality only of that which falls directly within external and internal sense experience. Descartes did not deny the substantiality of the soul, nor even of bodies; but his idealist theory of knowledge rendered suspect all information derived by his deductive, a priori method of reasoning from supposed innate ideas, regarding the nature and properties of bodies. Locke rejected the innatism of Descartes, ascribing to sense experience a positive rôle in the formation of our ideas, and proving conclusively that we have no such intuitive and deductively derived knowledge of real substances as Descartes contended for.226 Locke himself did not deny the existence of substances,227 any more than Descartes. But unfortunately he propounded the mistaken assumption of Idealism, that the mind can know only its own states; and also the error of thinking that because we have not an intuitive insight into the specific nature of individual substances we can know nothing at all through any channel about their nature: and he gathered from this latter error a general notion or definition of substance which is a distinct departure from what Aristotle and the medieval scholastics had traditionally understood by substance. For Locke substance is merely a supposed, but unknown, support for accidents.228 Setting out [pg 215] with these two notions—that all objects of knowledge must be states or phases of mind, and that material substance is a supposed, but unknown and unknowable, substratum of the qualities revealed to our minds in the process of sense perception—it was easy for Berkeley to support by plausible arguments his denial of the reality of any such things as material substances. And it was just as easy, if somewhat more audacious, on the part of Hume to argue quite logically that if the supposed but unknowable substantial substratum of external sense phenomena is illusory, so likewise is the supposed substantial Ego which is thought to underlie and support the internal phenomena of consciousness.

Hume's rejection of substance is apparently complete and absolute, and is so interpreted by many of his disciples. But a thorough-going phenomenism is in reality impossible; no philosophers have ever succeeded in thinking out an intelligible theory of things without the concepts of “matter,” and “spirit,” and “things,” and the “Ego” or “Self,” however they may have tried to dispense with them; and these are concepts of substances. Hence there are those who doubt that Hume was serious in his elaborate reasoning away of substances. The fact is that Hume “reasoned away” substance only in the sense of an unknowable substratum of phenomena, and not in the sense of a something that exists in itself.229 So far from denying the existence of entities that exist in themselves, he seems to have multiplied these beyond the wildest dreams of all previous philosophers by substantializing accidents.230 What he does call into doubt is the capacity of [pg 216] the human mind to attain to a knowledge of the specific natures of such entities; and even here the arguments of phenomenism strike the false Cartesian theory of knowledge, rather than the sober and moderate teachings of scholasticism regarding the nature and limitations of our knowledge of substances.

62. The Scholastic View of our Knowledge in regard to the Existence and Nature of Substances.—What, then, are these latter teachings? That we have a direct, intellectual insight into the specific essence or nature of a corporeal substance such as gold, similar to our insight into the abstract essence of a triangle? By no means; Locke was quite right in rejecting the Cartesian claim to intuitions which were supposed to yield up all knowledge of things by “mathematical,” i.e. deductive, a priori reasoning. The scholastic teaching is briefly as follows:—

First, as regards our knowledge of the existence of substances, and the manner in which we obtain our concept of substance. We get this concept from corporeal substances, and afterwards apply it to spiritual substances; so that our knowledge of the former is “immediate” only in the relative sense of being prior to the latter, not in the sense that it is a direct intuition of the natures of corporeal substances. We have no such direct insight into their natures. But our concept of them as actually existing is also immediate in the sense that at first we spontaneously conceive every object which comes before our consciousness as something existing in itself. The child apprehends each separate stimulant of its sense perception—resistance, colour, sound, etc.—as a “this ”or a “that,” i.e. as a separate something, existing there in itself; in other words it apprehends all realities as substances: not, of course, that the child has yet any reflex knowledge of what a substance is, but unknowingly it applies to all realities at first the concept which it undoubtedly possesses “something existing in itself”. It likewise apprehends each such reality as “one” or “undivided in itself,” and as “distinct from other things”. Such is the child's immediate, direct, and implicit idea of substance. [pg 217] But if we are to believe Hume, what is true of the child remains true of the man: for the latter, too, “every perception is a substance, and every distinct part of a perception a distinct substance”.231 Nothing, however, could be more manifestly at variance with the facts. For as reason is developed and reflective analysis proceeds, the child most undoubtedly realizes that not everything that falls within its experience has the character of “a something existing in itself and distinct from other things”. “Walking,” “talking,” and “actions” generally, it apprehends as realities,—as realities which, however, do not “exist in themselves,” but in other beings, in the beings that “walk” and “talk” and “act”. And these latter beings it still apprehends as “existing in themselves,” and as thus differing from the former, which “exist not in themselves but in other things”. Thus the child comes into possession of the notion of “accident,” and of the further notion of “substance” as something which not only exists in itself (οὐσία, ens in se subsistens), but which is also a support or subject of accidents (ὑποκείμενον, substans, substare).232 Nor, indeed, need the child's reason be very highly developed in order to realize that if experience furnishes it with “beings that do not exist in themselves,” there must also be beings which do exist in themselves: that if “accidents” exist at all it would be unintelligible and self-contradictory to deny the existence of “substances”.

Hence, in the order of our experience the first, implicit notion of substance is that of “something existing in itself” (οὐσία); the first explicit notion of it, however, is that by which it is apprehended as “a subject or support of accidents” (ὑποκείμενον, sub-stare, substantia); then by reflection we go back to the explicit notion of it as “something existing in itself”. In the real or ontological order the perfection of “existing in itself” is manifestly more fundamental than that of “supporting accidents”. It is in accordance with a natural law of language that we name things after the properties whereby they reveal themselves to us, rather than by names implying what is more fundamental and essential in them. “To exist in itself” is an absolute perfection, essential to substance; “to support accidents” is only a relative perfection; nor can we know a priori but a substance might perhaps exist without any accidents: we only know that accidents [pg 218] cannot exist without some substance, or subject, or power which will sustain them in existence.

Can substance be apprehended by the senses, or only by intellect? Strictly speaking, only by intellect: it is neither a “proper object” of any one sense, such as taste, or colour, or sound; nor a “common object” of more than one sense, as extension is with regard to sight and touch: it is, in scholastic language, not a sensibile per se,” not itself an object of sense knowledge, but only sensibile per accidens,” i.e. it may be said to be “accidentally” an object of sense because of its conjunction with accidents which are the proper objects of sense: so that when the senses perceive accidents what they are really perceiving is the substance affected by the accidents. But strictly and properly it is by intellect we consciously grasp that which in the reality is the substance: while the external and internal sense faculties make us aware of various qualities, activities, or other accidents external to the “self,” or of various states and conditions of the “self,” the intellect—which is a faculty of the same soul as the sense faculties—makes us simultaneously aware of corporeal substances actually existing outside us, or of the concrete substance of the “ego” or “self,” existing and revealing itself to us in and through its conscious activities, as the substantial, abiding, and unifying subject and principle of these conscious activities.

Thus, then, do we attain to the concept of substance in general, to a conviction of the concrete actual existence of that mode of being the essential characteristic of which is “to exist in itself”.

In the next place, how do we reach a knowledge of the specific natures of substances?233 What is the character, and what are the limitations, of such knowledge? Here, especially, the very cautious and moderate doctrine of scholasticism has been largely misconceived and misrepresented by phenomenists and others. About the specific nature of substances we know just precisely what their accidents reveal to us—that and no more. We have no intuitive insight into their natures; all our knowledge here is abstractive and discursive. As are their properties—their activities, energies, qualities, and all their accidents—so is their nature. [pg 219] We know of the latter just what we can infer from the former. Operari sequitur esse; we have no other key than this to knowledge of their specific natures. We have experience of them only through their properties, their behaviour, their activities; analysis of this experience, a posteriori reasoning from it, inductive generalization based upon it: such are the only channels we possess, the only means at our disposal, for reaching a knowledge of their natures.

63. Phenomenist Difficulties against this View. Its Vindication.—Now the phenomenist will really grant all this. His only objection will be that such knowledge of substance is really no knowledge at all; or that, such as it is, it is useless. But surely the knowledge that this mode of being really exists, that there is a mode of being which “exists in itself,” is already some knowledge, and genuine knowledge, of substance? No doubt, the information contained in this very indeterminate and generic concept is imperfect; but then it is only a starting point, an all-important starting point, however; for not only is it perfectible but every item of knowledge we gather from experience perfects it, whereas without it the intellect is paralysed in its attempt to interpret experience: indeed so indispensable is this concept of substance to the human mind that, as we have seen, no philosopher has ever been really able to dispense with it. When phenomenists say that what we call mind is only a bundle of perceptions and ideas; when they speak of the flow of events, which is ourselves, of which we are conscious,234 the very language they themselves make use of cries out against their professed phenomenism. For why speak of “we,” “ourselves,” etc., if there be no “we” or “ourselves” other than the perceptions, ideas, events, etc., referred to?

Of course the explanation of this strange attitude on the part of these philosophers is simple enough; they have a wrong conception of substance and of the relation of accidents thereto; they appear to imagine that according to the traditional teaching nothing of all we can discover about accidents—or, as they prefer to term them, “phenomena”—can possibly throw any light upon the nature of substance: as if the rôle of phenomena were to cover up and conceal from us some sort of inner core (which they call substance), and not rather to reveal to us the nature of that [pg 220] “being, existing in itself,” of which these phenomena are the properties and manifestations.

The denial of substance leads inevitably to the substantializing of accidents. It is possible that the manner in which some scholastics have spoken of accidents has facilitated this error.235 Anyhow the error is one that leads inevitably to contradictions in thought itself. Mill, for instance, following out the arbitrary postulates of subjectivism and phenomenism, finally analysed all reality into present sensations of the individual consciousness, plus permanent possibilities of sensations. Now, consistently with the idealistic postulate, these “permanent possibilities” should be nothing more than a certain tone, colouring, quality of the “present” sensation, due to the fact that this has in it, as part and parcel of itself, feelings of memory and expectation; in which case the “present sensation,” taken in its concrete fulness, would be the sole reality, and would exist in itself. This “solipsism” is the ultimate logical issue of subjective idealism, and it is a sufficient reductio ad absurdum of the whole system. Or else, to evade this issue, the “permanent possibilities” are supposed to be something really other than the “present sensations”. In which case we must ask what Mill can mean by a “permanent possibility. Whether it be subjective or objective possibility, it is presumably, according to Mill's thought, some property or appurtenance of the individual consciousness, i.e. a quality proper to a subject or substance.236 But to deny that the conscious subject is a substance, and at the same time to contend that it is a “permanent possibility of sensation,” i.e. that it has properties which can appertain only to a substance, is simply to hold what is self-contradictory.

After these explanations it will be sufficient merely to state formally the proof that substances really exist. It is exceedingly simple, and its force will be appreciated from all that has been said so far: Whatever we become aware of as existing at all [pg 221] must exist either in itself, or by being sustained, supported in existence, in something else in which it inheres. If it exists in itself it is a substance; if not it is an accident, and then the “something else” which supports it, must in turn either exist in itself or in something else. But since an infinite regress in things existing not in themselves but in other things is impossible, we are forced to admit the reality of a mode of being which exists in itself—viz. substance.

Or, again, we are forced to admit the real existence of accidents—or, if you will, “phenomena” or “appearances”i.e. of realities or modes of being whose nature is manifestly to modify or qualify in some way or other some subject in which they inhere. Can we conceive a state which is not a state of something? a phenomenon or appearance which is not an appearance of something? a vital act which is not an act of a living thing? a sensation, thought, desire, emotion, unless of some conscious being that feels, thinks, desires, experiences the emotion? No; and therefore since such accidental modes of being really exist, there exists also the substantial mode of being in which they inhere.

And the experienced realities which verify this notion of “substance” as the “mode of being which exists in itself,” are manifestly not one but manifold. Individual “persons” and “things”—men, animals, plants—are all so many really and numerically distinct substances (38). So, too, are the ultimate individual elements in the inorganic universe, whatever these may be (31). Nor does the universal interaction of these individuals on one another, or their manifold forms of interdependence on one another throughout the course of their ever-changing existence and activities, interfere in any way with the substantiality of the mode of being of each. These mutual relations of all sorts, very real and actual as they undoubtedly are, only constitute the universe a cosmos, thus endowing it with unity of order, but not with unity of substance (27).

Let us now meet the objection of Hume: that there is no substantial soul distinct from its acts, that it is only the sum-total of the acts, each of these being a substance. The objection has been repeated in the metaphorical language in which Huxley and Taine speak of the soul, the living soul, as nothing more than a republic of conscious states, or the movement of a luminous sheaf etc. And Locke and Berkeley had already contended [pg 222] that an apple or an orange is nothing more than a collection or sum-total of sensible qualities, so that if we conceive these removed there is nothing left, for beyond these there was nothing there.

Now we admit that the substance of the soul is not adequately distinct from its acts, or the substance of the apple or orange from its qualities. As a matter of fact we never experience substance apart from accidents or accidents apart from substance;237 we do not know whether there exists, or even whether there can exist, a created substance devoid of all accidents; nor can we know, from the light of reason alone, whether any accidents could exist apart from substance.238 We have, therefore, no ground in natural experience for demonstrating such an adequate real distinction (38) between substance and accidents as would involve the separability of the latter from the former. But that the acts of the soul are so many really distinct entities, each “existing in itself,” each therefore a substance, so that the term “soul” is merely a title we give to their sum-total; and similarly the terms “apple” and “orange” merely titles of collections of qualities each of which would be an entity existing in itself and really distinct from the others, each in other words a substance,—this we entirely deny. We regard it as utterly unreasonable of phenomenists thus to multiply substances. Our contention is that the individual soul or mind is one substance, and that it is partially and really, though not adequately, distinct from the various conscious acts, states, processes, functions, which are certainly themselves real entities,—entities, however, the reality of which is dependent on that of the soul, entities which this dependent or “inhering” mode of being marks off as distinct in their nature, and incapable of total identification with that other non-inhering or subsisting mode of being which characterizes the substance of the soul.

We cannot help thinking that this phenomenist denial of [pg 223] substance, with its consequent inevitable substantialization of accidents, is largely due to a mistaken manner of regarding the concrete existing object as a mere mechanical bundle of distinct and independent abstractions. Every aspect of it is mentally isolated from the others and held apart as an “impression,” an “idea,” etc. Then the object is supposed to be constituted by, and to consist of, a sum-total of these separate “elements,” integrated together by some sort of mental chemistry. The attempt is next made to account for our total conscious experience of reality by a number of principles or laws of what is known as “association of ideas”. And phenomenists discourse learnedly about these laws in apparent oblivion of the fact that by denying the reality of any substantial, abiding, self-identical soul, distinct from the transient conscious states of the passing moment, they have left out of account the only reality capable of “associating” any mental states, or making mental life at all intelligible. Once the soul is regarded merely as “a series of conscious states,” or a “stream of consciousness,” or a succession of “pulses of cognitive consciousness,” such elementary facts as memory, unity of consciousness, the feeling of personal identity and personal responsibility, become absolutely inexplicable.239

Experience, therefore, does reveal to us the real existence of substances, of “things that exist in themselves,” and likewise the reality of other modes of being which have their actuality only by inhering in the substances which they affect. “A substance,” says St. Thomas, “is a thing whose nature it is to exist not in another, whereas an accident is a thing whose nature it is to exist in another.”240 Every concrete being that falls within our experience—a man, an oak, an apple—furnishes us with the data of these two concepts: the being existing in itself, the substance; and secondly, its accidents. The former concept comprises only constitutive principles which we see to be essential to that sort of being: the material, the vegetative, the sentient, the rational principle, in a man, or his soul and his body; the material principle and the formal or vital principle in an apple. The latter concept, that of accidents, comprises only those [pg 224] characteristics of the thing which are no doubt real, but which do not constitute the essence of the being, which can change or be absent without involving the destruction of that essence. An intellectual analysis of our experience enables us—and, as we have remarked above, it alone enables us—to distinguish between these two classes of objective concepts, the concept of the principles that are essential to the substance or being that exists in itself, and the concept of the attributes that are accidental to this being; and experience alone enables us, by studying the latter group, the accidents of the being, whether naturally separable or naturally inseparable from the latter, to infer from those accidents whatever we can know about the former group, about the principles that constitute the specific nature of the particular kind of substance that may be under investigation.

It may, perhaps, be urged against all this, that experience does not warrant our placing a real distinction between the entities we describe as “accidents” and those which we claim to be constitutive of the “substance,” or “thing which exists in itself”; that all the entities without exception, which we apprehend by distinct concepts in any concrete existing being such as a man, an oak, or an apple, are only one and the same individual reality looked at under different aspects; that the distinction between them is only a logical or mental distinction; that we separate in thought what is one in reality because we regard each aspect in the abstract and apart from the others; that to suppose in any such concrete being the existence of two distinct modes of reality—viz. a reality that exists in itself, and other realities inhering in this latter—is simply to make the mistake of transferring to the real order of concrete things what we find in the logical order of conceptual abstractions.

This objection, which calls for serious consideration, leads to a different conclusion from the previous objection. It suggests the conclusion, not that substances are unreal, but that accidents are unreal. Even if it were valid it would leave untouched the existence of substances. We hope to meet it satisfactorily by establishing presently the existence of accidents really distinct from the substances in which they inhere. While the objection draws attention to the important truth that distinctions recognized in the conceptual order are not always real, it certainly does not prove that all accidents are only mentally distinct aspects of substance. [pg 225] For surely a man's thoughts, volitions, feelings, emotions, his conscious states generally, changing as they do from moment to moment, are not really identical with the man himself who continues to exist throughout this incessant change; yet they are realities, appearing and disappearing and having all their actuality in him, while he persists as an actual being “existing in himself”.

64. Erroneous Views on the Nature of Substance.—If we fail to remember that the notion of substance, as “a being existing in itself and supporting the accidents which affect it,” is a most abstract and generic notion; if we transfer it in this abstract condition to the real order; if we imagine that the concrete individual substances which actually exist in the real order merely verify this widest notion and are devoid of all further content; that they possess in themselves no further richness of reality; if we forget that actual substances, in all the variety of their natures, as material, or living, or sentient, or rational and spiritual, are indeed full, vibrant, palpitating with manifold and diversified reality; if we rob them of all this perfection or locate it in their accidents as considered apart from themselves,—we are likely to form very erroneous notions both of substances and of accidents, and of their real relations to one another. It will help us to form accurate concepts of them, concepts really warranted by experience, if we examine briefly some of the more remarkable misconceptions of substance that have at one time or other gained currency.

(a) Substance is not a concrete core on which concrete accidents are superimposed, or a sort of kernel of which they form the rind. Such a way of conceiving them is as misleading as it is crude and material. No doubt the language which, for want of better, we have to employ in regard to substance and accidents, suggests fancies of that kind: we speak of substance “supporting,” “sustaining” accidents, and of these as “supported by,” and “inhering in” the former. But this does not really signify any juxtaposition or superposition of concrete entities. The substance is a subject determinable by its various accidents; these are actualizations of its potentiality; its relation to them is the relation of the potential to the actual, of a “material” or “determinable” subject to “formal” or “determining” principles. But the appearance or disappearance of accidents never takes place in the same concrete subject: by their variations the [pg 226] concrete subject is changed: at any instant the substance affected by its accidents is one individual concrete being (27), and the inevitable result of any modification in them is that this individual, concrete being is changed, is no longer the same. No doubt, it preserves its substantial identity throughout accidental change, but not its concrete identity,—that is to say, not wholly. This is the characteristic of every finite being, subject to change and existing in time: it has the actuality of its being, not tota simul, but only gradually, successively (10). From this, too, we see that although substance is a more perfect mode of being than accident—because the former exists in itself while the latter has its actuality only in something else,—nevertheless, created, finite substance is a mode of being which is itself imperfect, and perfectible by accidents: another illustration of the truth that all created perfection is only relative, not absolute. To the notion of “inherence” we shall return in connexion with our treatment of accidents (65).

(b) Again, substance is wrongly conceived as an inert substratum underlying accidents. This false notion appears to have originated with Descartes: he conceived the two great classes of created substances, matter and spirit, as essentially inert. For him, matter is simply a res extensa; extension in three dimensions constitutes its essence, and extension is of course inert: all motion is given to matter and conserved in it by God. Spirit or soul is simply a res cogitans, a being whose essence is thought; but in thinking spirit too is passive, for it simply receives ideas as wax does the impress of a seal. Nay, even when soul or spirit wills it is really inert or passive, for God puts all its volitions into it.241 From these erroneous conceptions the earlier disciples of Descartes took the obvious step forward into Occasionalism; and to them likewise may be traced the conviction of many contemporary philosophers that the human soul—a being that is so eminently vital and active—cannot possibly be a substance: neither indeed could it be, if substance were anything like what Descartes conceived it to be. The German philosophers, Wundt and Paulsen, for example, argue that the soul cannot be a substance. But when we inquire what they mean by substance, what do we find? That with them the concept of substance applies only to the corporeal [pg 227] universe, where it properly signifies the atoms which are “the absolutely permanent substratum, qualitatively and quantitatively unchangeable, of all corporeal reality”.242 No wonder they would argue that the soul is not a substance!

No actually existing substance is inert. What is true, however, is this, that when we conceive a being as a substance, when we think of it under the abstract concept of substance, we of course abstract from its concrete existence as an active agent; in other words we consider it not from the dynamic, but from the static aspect, not as it is in the concrete, but as constituting an object of abstract thought: and so the error of Descartes seems to have been that already referred to,—the mistake of transferring to the real order conditions that obtain only in the logical order.

(c) To the Cartesian conception of substances as inert entities endowed only with motions communicated to them ab extra, the mechanical or atomist conception of reality, as it is called, Leibniz opposed the other extreme conception of substances as essentially active entities. For him substance is an ens præditum vi agendi: activity is the fundamental note in the concept of substance. These essentially active entities he conceived as being all simple and unextended, the corporeal no less than the spiritual ones. And he gave them the title of monads. It is unnecessary for our present purpose to go into any details of his ingenious dynamic theory of the universe as a vast system of these monads. We need only remark that while combating the theory of inert substances he himself erred in the opposite extreme. He conceived every monad as endowed essentially with active tendency or effort which is never without its effect,—an exclusively immanent effect, however, which is the constant result of constant immanent action: for he denied the possibility of transitive activity, actio transiens; and he conceived the immanent activity of the monad as being in its nature perceptive,243 that is to say, cognitive or representative, in the sense that each monad, though “wrapt up in itself, doorless and windowless,” if we may so describe it, nevertheless [pg 228] mirrors more or less inchoatively, vaguely, or clearly, all other monads, and is thus itself a miniature of the whole universe, a microcosm of the macrocosm. Apart from the fancifulness of his whole system, a fancifulness which is, however, perhaps more apparent than real, his conception of substance is much less objectionable than that of Descartes. For as a matter of fact every individual, actually existing substance is endowed with an internal directive tendency towards some term to be realized or attained by its activities. Every substance has a transcendental relation to the operations which are natural to it, and whereby it tends to realize the purpose of its being. But nevertheless substance should not be defined by action, for all action of created substances is an accident, not a substance; nor even by its transcendental relation to action, for when we conceive it under this aspect we conceive it as an agent or cause, not as a substance simply. The latter concept abstracts from action and reveals its object simply as “a reality existing in itself”. When we think of a substance as a principle of action we describe it by the term nature.

(d) A very widespread notion of substance is the conception of it as a permanent,” stable,” persisting subject of transient,” ephemeral realities called accidents or phenomena. This view of substance is mainly due to the influence of Kant's philosophy. According to his teaching we can think the succession of phenomena which appear to our sense consciousness only by the aid of a pure intuition in which our sensibility apprehends them, viz. time. Now the application of the category of substance to this pure intuition of our sensibility engenders a schema of the imagination, viz. the persistence of the object in time. Persistence, therefore, is for him the essential note of substance.

Herbert Spencer, too, has given apt expression to this widely prevalent notion: “Existence means nothing more than persistence; and hence in Mind that which persists in spite of all changes, and maintains the unity of the aggregate in defiance of all attempts to divide it, is that of which existence in the full sense of the word must be predicated—that which we must postulate as the substance of Mind in contradistinction to the varying forms it assumes. But if so, the impossibility of knowing the substance of Mind is manifest.”244

Thus, substance is conceived as the unique but hidden and [pg 229] unknowable basis of all the phenomena which constitute the totality of human experience.

What is to be said of such a conception? There is just this much truth in it: that substance is relatively stable or permanent, i.e. in comparison with accidents; the latter cannot survive the destruction or disappearance of the substance in which they inhere, while a substance can persist through incessant change of its accidents. But accidents are not absolutely ephemeral, nor is substance absolutely permanent: were an accident to exist for ever it would not cease to be an accident, nor would a substance be any less a substance were it created and then instantaneously annihilated. But in the latter case the human mind could not apprehend the substance; for since all human cognitive experience takes place in time, which involves duration, the mind can apprehend a substance only on condition that the latter has some permanence, some appreciable duration in existence. This fact, too, explains in some measure the error of conceiving permanence as essential to a substance. But the error has another source also: Under the influence of subjective idealism philosophers have come to regard the individual's consciousness of his own self, the consciousness of the Ego, as the sole and unique source of our concept of substance. The passage we have just quoted from Spencer is an illustration. And since the spiritual principle of our conscious acts is a permanent principle which abides throughout all of them, thus explaining the unity of the individual human consciousness, those who conceive substance in general after the model of the Ego, naturally conceive it as an essentially stable subject of incessant and evanescent processes.

But it is quite arbitrary thus to conceive the Ego as the sole type of substance. Bodies are substances as well as spirits, matter as well as mind. And the permanence of corporeal substances is merely relative. Nevertheless they are really substances. The relative stability of spirit which is immortal, and the relative instability of matter which is corruptible, have nothing to do with the substantiality of either. Both alike are substances, for both alike have that mode of being which consists in their existing in themselves, and not by inhering in other things as accidents do.

(e) Spencer's conception of substance as the permanent, unknowable ground of phenomena, implies that substance is one, not manifold, and thus suggests the view of reality known as [pg 230] Monism. There is yet another mistaken notion of substance, the notion in which the well known pantheistic philosophy of Spinoza has had its origin. Spinoza appears to have given the ambiguous definition of Descartes—Substantia est res quae ita existit, ut nulla alia re indigeat ad existendum—an interpretation which narrowed its application down to the Necessary Being; for he defined substance in the following terms: Per substantiam intelligo id quod est in se et per se concipitur: hoc est, id cujus conceptus non indiget conceptu alterius rei a quo formari debeat. By the ambiguous phrase, that substance “requires no other thing for existing,” Descartes certainly meant to convey what has always been understood by the scholastic expression that substance “exists in itself”. He certainly did not mean that substance is a reality which “exists of itself,” i.e. that it is what scholastics mean by Ens a se, the Being that has its actuality from its own essence, by virtue of its very nature, and in absolute independence of all other being; for such Being is One alone, the Necessary Being, God Himself, whereas Descartes clearly held and taught the real existence of finite, created substances.245 Yet Spinoza's definition of substance is applicable only to such a being that our concept of this being shows forth the actual existence of the latter as absolutely explained and accounted for by reference to the essence of this being itself, and independently of any reference to other being. In other words, it applies only to the Necessary Being. This conception of substance is the starting-point of Spinoza's pantheistic philosophy.

Now, the scholastic definition of substance and Spinoza's definition embody two entirely distinct notions. Spinoza's definition conveys what scholastics mean by the Self-Existent [pg 231] Being, Ens a se; and this the scholastics distinguish from caused or created being, ens ab alio. Both phrases refer formally and primarily, not to the mode of a being's existence when it does exist, but to the origin of this existence in relation to the being's essence; and specifically it marks the distinction between the Essence that is self-explaining, self-existent, essentially actual (a se”), the Necessary Being, and essences that do not themselves explain or account for their own actual existence, essences that have not their actual existence from themselves or of themselves, essences that are in regard to their actual existence contingent or dependent, essences which, therefore, if they actually exist, can do so only dependently on some other being whence they have derived this existence (ab alio”) and on which they essentially depend for its continuance.

Not the least evil of Spinoza's definition is the confusion caused by gratuitously wresting an important philosophical term like substance from its traditional sense and using it with quite a different meaning; and the same is true in its measure of the other mistaken notions of substance which we have been examining. By defining substance as an ens in se, or per se stans, scholastic philosophers mean simply that substance does not depend intrinsically on any subjective or material cause in which its actuality would be supported; they do not mean to imply that it does not depend extrinsically on an efficient cause from which it has its actuality and by which it is conserved in being. They assert that all created substances, no less than all accidents, have their being ab alio from God; that they exist only by the Divine creation and conservation, and act only by the Divine concursus or concurrence; but while substances and accidents are both alike dependent on this extrinsic conserving and concurring influence of a Divine, Transcendent Being, substances are exempt from this other and distinct mode of dependence which characterizes accidents: intrinsic dependence on a subject in which they have their actuality.246

When we say that substance exists in itself, obviously we do not attach to the preposition in any local signification, as a part existing in the whole. Nor do we mean that they exist in themselves in the same sense as they have their being in God. In a certain true sense all creatures exist in God: In ipso enim vivimus, et movemur, et sumus (Acts xxii., [pg 232] 28), in the sense that they are kept in being by His omnipresent conserving power. But He does not sustain them as a subject in which they inhere, as substance sustains the accidents which determine it, thereby giving expression to its concrete actuality.247 By saying that substance exists in itself we mean to exclude the notion of its existing in another thing, as an accident does. And this we shall understand better by examining a little more closely this peculiar mode of being which characterizes accidents.

65. The Nature of Accident. Its Relation to Substance. Its Causes.—From all that has preceded we will have gathered the general notion of accident as that mode of real being which is found to have its reality, not by existing in itself, but by affecting, determining, some substance in which it inheres as in a subject. What do we mean by saying that accidents inhere in substances as their subjects? Here we must at once lay aside as erroneous the crude conception of something as located spatially within something else, as contained in container, as e.g. water in a vessel; and the equally crude conception of something being in something else as a part is in the whole, as e.g. an arm is in the body. Such imaginations are wholly misleading.

The actually existing substance has its being or reality; it is an actual essence. Each real accident of it is likewise a reality, and has an essence, distinct from that of the substance, yet not wholly independent of the latter: it is a determination of the determinable being of the substance, affecting or modifying the latter in some way or other, and having no other raison d'être than this rôle of actualizing in some specific way some receptive potentiality of the concrete substance. And since its reality is thus dependent on that of the substance which it affects, we cannot ascribe to it actual essence or being in the same sense as we ascribe this to substance, but only analogically248 (2). Hence scholastics commonly teach that we ought to conceive an accident rather as an “entity of an entity,” “ens entis,” than as an entity simply; rather as inhering, indwelling, affecting (in-esse) some subject, than simply as existing itself (esse); as something whose essence is rather the determination, affection, modification of an essence than itself an essence proper, the term “essence” designating properly only a substance: accidentis esse est inesse.249 This [pg 233] conception might, no doubt, if pressed too far, be inapplicable to absolute accidents, like quantity, which are something more than mere modifications of substance; but it rightly emphasizes the dependence of the reality of accident on that of substance, the non-substantial and “diminished” character of the “accident”-mode of being; it also helps to show that the “inherence” of accident in substance is a relation—of determining to determinable being—which is sui generis; and finally it puts us on our guard against the errors that may be, and have been, committed by conceiving accidents in the abstract and reasoning about them apart from their substances, as if they themselves were substances.

This “inherence” of accident in substance, this mode of being whereby it affects, determines or modifies the substance, differs from accident to accident; these, in fact, are classified into suprema genera by reason of their different ways of affecting substance (60). To this we shall return later. Here we may inquire, about this general relation of accident to substance, whether it is essential to an accident actually to inhere in a substance, if not immediately, then at least through the medium of some other accident. We suggest this latter alternative because as we shall see presently there are some accidents, such as colour, taste, shape, which immediately affect the extension of a body, and only through this the substance of the body itself. Now the ordinary course of nature never presents us with accidents except as inhering, mediately or immediately, in a substance. Nor is it probable that the natural light of our reason would ever suggest to us the possibility of an exception to this general law. But the Christian philosopher knows, from Divine Revelation, that in the Blessed Eucharist the quantity or extension of bread and wine, together with the taste, colour, form, etc., which affect this extension, remain in existence after their connatural substance of bread and wine has disappeared by transubstantiation. In the [pg 234] supernatural order of His providence God preserves these accidents in existence without a subject; but in this state, though they do not actually inhere in any substance, they retain their natural aptitude and exigence for such inherence. The Christian philosopher, therefore, will not define accident as “the mode of being which inheres in a subject,” but as “the mode of being which in the ordinary course of nature inheres in a subject,” or as “the mode of being which has a natural exigence to inhere in a subject”. It is not actual inherence, but the natural exigence to inhere, that is essential to an accident as such.250

Furthermore, an accident needs a substance not formally qua substance, or as a mode of being naturally existing in itself; it needs a substance as a subject in which to inhere, which it will in some way affect, determine, qualify; but the subject in which it immediately inheres need not always be a substance: it may be some other accident, in which case both of course will naturally require some substance as their ultimate basis.

Comparing now the concept of accident with that of substance, we find that the latter is presupposed by the former; that the latter is prior in thought to the former; that we conceive accident as something over and above, something superadded to substance as subject. For instance, we can define matter and form without the prior concept of body, or animality and rationality without the prior concept of man; but we cannot define colour without the prior concept of body, or the faculty of speech without the prior concept of man.251

Substance, therefore, is prior in thought to accident; but is the substance itself also prior temporally (prior tempore) to its accidents? It is prior in time to some of them, no doubt; the individual human being is thus prior, for instance, to the knowledge he may acquire during life. But there is no reason for saying that a substance must be prior in time to all its accidents;252 so far as we can discover, no created substance comes into existence devoid of all accidents: corporeal substance devoid of internal quantity, or spiritual substance devoid of intellect and will.

[pg 235]

If prior in thought, though not necessarily in time, to its accidents, is a substance prior to its accidents really, ontologically (prior natura)? Yes; it is the real or ontological principle of its accidents; it sustains them, and they depend on it. It is a passive or material cause (using the term “material” in the wide sense, as applicable even to spiritual substances), or a receptive subject, determined in some way by them as formal principles. It is at the same time an efficient and passive cause of some of its own accidents: the soul is an efficient cause of its own immanent processes of thought and volition, and at the same time a passive principle of them, undergoing real change by their occurrence. Of others it is merely a receptive, determinable subject, of those, namely, which have an adequate and necessary foundation in its own essence, and which are called properties in the strict sense: without these it cannot exist, though they do not constitute its essence, or enter into the concept of the latter; but it is not prior to them in time, nor is it the efficient cause of them; it is, however, a real principle of them, an essence from the reality of which they necessarily result, and on which their own reality depends. Such, for instance, is the faculty of thought, or volition, or speech in regard to man.

The accident-mode of being is, therefore, a mode of being which determines a substance in some real way. Its formal effect is to give the substance some real and definite determination: not esse simpliciter but esse tale. With the substance it constitutes a concrete real being which is unum per accidens, not unum per se.

The accident has no formal cause: it is itself a “form” and its causality is that of a formal cause, which consists in its communicating itself to a subject, and, by its union therewith, constituting some new reality—in this case a concrete being endowed with “accidental” unity.

Accidents have of course, a material cause; not, however, in the sense of a materia ex qua, a material from which they are constituted, inasmuch as they are simple “forms”; but in the sense of a subject in which they are received and in which they inhere; and this “material cause” is, proximately or remotely, substance.

Substance also is the final cause, the raison d'être, of the reality of the accidental mode of being. Accidents exist for the [pg 236] perfecting of substances: accidentia sunt propter substantiam. As we have seen already, and as will appear more clearly later on, the fundamental reason for the reality of an accidental mode of being, really distinct from the created or finite substance (for the Infinite Substance has no accidents), is that the created substance is imperfect, limited in its actual perfection, does not exist tota simul, but develops, through a process of change in time, from its first or essential perfection, through intermediate perfections, till it reaches the final perfection (46) of its being.

Have all accidents efficient causes? Those which are called common accidents as distinct from proper accidents or properties (66) have undoubtedly efficient causes: the various agencies which produce real but accidental changes in the individual substances of the universe. Proper accidents, however, inasmuch as they of necessity exist simultaneously with the substances to which they belong, and flow from these substances by a necessity of the very essence of these latter, cannot be said to have any efficient causes other than those which contribute by their efficiency to the substantial changes by which these substances are brought into actual existence; nor can they be said to be caused efficiently by these substances themselves, but only to “flow” or “result” necessarily from the latter, inasmuch as they come into existence simultaneously with, but dependently on, these substances. Hence, while substances are universally regarded as real principles of their properties—as, for instance, the soul in regard to intellect and will, or corporeal substance in regard to quantity—they are not really efficient causes of their properties, i.e. they do not produce these properties by action. For these properties are antecedent to all action of the substance; nor can a created substance act by its essence, but only through active powers, or faculties, or forces, which meditate between the essence of a created substance and its actions, and which are the proximate principles of these actions, while the substance or nature is their remote principle. Hence the “properties” which necessarily result from a substance or nature, have as their efficient causes the agencies productive of the substance itself.253

66. Main Divisions of Accidents.—These considerations will help us to understand the significance of a few important divisions of accidents: into proper and common, inseparable and separable. We shall then be in a position to examine the nature [pg 237] of the distinction between accidents and substance, and to establish the existence of accidents really distinct from substance.

(a) The attributes which we affirm of substance, other than the notes constitutive of its essence, are divided into proper accidents, or properties in the strict sense (ἴδιον, proprium), and common accidents, or accidents in the more ordinary sense (συμβεβηκός, ac-cidens). A property is an accident which belongs exclusively to a certain class or kind of substance, and is found always in all members of that class, inasmuch as it has an adequate foundation in the nature of that substance and a necessary connexion therewith. Such, for instance, are the faculties of intellect and will in all spiritual beings; the faculties of speaking, laughing, weeping in man; the temporal and spatial mode of being which characterizes all created substances.254 When regarded from the logical point of view, as attributes predicable of their substances considered as logical subjects, they are distinguished on the one hand from what constitutes the essence of this subject (as genus, differentia, species), but also on the other hand from those attributes which cannot be seen to have any absolutely necessary connexion with this subject. The latter attributes alone are called logical accidents, the test being the absence of a necessary connexion in thought with the logical subject.255 But the former class, which are distinguished from “logical” accidents and called logical properties (propria) are none the less real accidents when considered from the ontological standpoint; for they do not constitute the essence of the substance; they are outside the concept of the latter, and super-added—though necessarily—to it. Whether, however, all or any of these “properties,” which philosophers thus classify as real or ontological accidents, “proper” accidents, of certain substances, are really distinct from the concrete, individual substances to which they belong, or are only aspects of the latter, “substantial modes,” only virtually distinct in each case from the individual substance itself,—is another and more difficult question (69). Such a property is certainly not really separable from [pg 238] its substance; we cannot conceive either to exist really without the other; though we can by abstraction think, and reason, and speak, about either apart from the other.256 Real inseparability is, however, regarded by scholastic philosophers as quite compatible with what they understand by a real distinction (38).

A common accident is one which has no such absolutely necessary connexion with its substance as a “property” has; one which, therefore, can be conceived as absent from the substance without thereby entailing the destruction of the latter's essence, or of anything bound up by a necessity of thought with this essence. And such common accidents are of two kinds.

They may be such that in the ordinary course of nature, and so far as its forces and laws are concerned, they are never found to be absent from their connatural substances—inseparable accidents. Thus the colour of the Ethiopian is an inseparable accident of his human nature as an Ethiopian; he is naturally black; but if born of Ethiopian parents he would still be an Ethiopian even if he happened to grow up white instead of black. We could not, however, conceive an Ethiopian, or any other human being, existing without the faculties (not the use) of intellect and will, or the faculty (not the organs, or the actual exercise of the faculty) of human speech.

Or common accidents may be such that they are sometimes present in their substances, and sometimes absent—separable accidents. These are by far the most numerous class of accidents: thinking, willing, talking, and actions generally; health or illness; virtues, vices, acquired habits; rest or motion, temperature, colour, form, location, etc.

(b) The next important division of accidents is that into mere extrinsic denominations and intrinsic accidents; the latter being subdivided into modal and absolute accidents, respectively.

An absolute accident is one which not merely affects its substance intrinsically, giving the latter an actual determination or mode of being, of some sort or other, but which has moreover some entity or reality proper to itself whereby it thus affects the substance, an entity really distinct from the essence of the substance thus determined by it. Such, for instance, are all vital activities of living things;257 knowledge, and other acquired habits; quantity, the fundamental accident whereby corporeal [pg 239] substances are all capable of existing extended in space; and such sensible qualities and energies of matter as heat, colour, mechanical force, electrical energy, etc. Such, too, according to many, are intellect, will, and sense faculties in man.

There are, however, other intrinsic determinations of substance, other modifications of the latter, which do not seem to involve any new or additional reality in the substance, over and above the modification itself. Such, for instance, are motion, rest, external form or figure, in bodies. These are called modal accidents. They often affect not the substance itself immediately, but some absolute accident of the latter, and are hence called “accidental modes”. Those enumerated are obviously modes of the quantity of bodies. Now the appearance or disappearance of such an accident in a substance undoubtedly involves a real change in the latter, and not merely in our thought; when a body moves, or comes to rest, or alters its form, there is a change in the reality as well as in our thought; and in this sense these accidents are real and intrinsic to their substances. Yet, though we cannot say that motion, rest, shape, etc., are really identical with the body and only mentally distinct aspects of it, at the same time neither can we say that by their appearance or disappearance the body gains or loses any reality other than an accidental determination of itself; whereas it does gain something more than this when it is heated, or electrified, or increased in quantity; just as a man who acquires knowledge, or virtue, is not only really modified, but is modified by real entities which he has acquired, not having actually possessed them before.

Finally, there are accidents which do not affect the substance intrinsically at all, which do not determine any real change in it, but merely give it an extrinsic denomination in relation to something outside it (60). Thus, while the quality of heat is an absolute accident in a body, the action whereby the latter heats neighbouring bodies is no new reality in the body itself, and produces no real change in the latter, but only gives it the extrinsic denomination of heating in reference to these other bodies in which the effect really takes place. Similarly the location of any corporeal substance in space or in time relatively to others in the space or time series—its external place (ubi) or time (quando), as they are called—or the relative position of its parts (situs) in the place occupied by it: these do not intrinsically determine it or confer upon it any intrinsic modification of its substance. Not, [pg 240] indeed, that they are mere entia rationis, mere logical fictions of our thought. They are realities, but not realities which affect the substances denominated from them; they are accidental modes of other substances, or of the absolute accidents of other substances. Finally, the accident which we call a real relation” presupposes in its subject some absolute accident such as quantity or quality, or some real and intrinsic change determining these, or affecting the substance itself; but whether relation is itself a reality over and above such foundation, is a disputed question.

From these classifications of accidents it will be at once apparent that the general notion of accident, as a dependent mode of being, superadded to the essence of a substance and in some way determining the latter, is realized in widely different and merely analogical ways in the different ultimate classes of accidents.

67. Real Existence of Accidents. Nature of the Distinction between Accidents and Substance.—It would be superfluous to prove the general proposition that accidents really exist. In establishing the real existence of substances we have seen that the real existence of some accidents at least has never been seriously denied. These are often called nowadays phenomena; and philosophers who have denied or doubted the real existence of substances have been called “phenomenists” simply because they have admitted the real existence only of these phenomena; though, if they were as logical as Hume they might have seen with him that such denial, so far from abolishing substance, could only lead to the substantializing of accidents (63).

But while undoubtedly there are realities which “exist in themselves,” such as individual men, animals and plants, there is no reason for attributing this same mode of existence to entities such as the thoughts, volitions, emotions, virtues or vices, of the individual man; or the instinct, hunger, or illness of the dog; or the colour, perfume, or form of the rose. The concrete individual man, or dog, or rose, reveals itself to our minds as a substantial entity, affected with these various accidental entities which are really distinct from the substantial entity itself and from one another. Nay, in most of the instances just cited, they are physically separable from the substantial entity in which they inhere; not of course in the sense that they could actually exist without it, but in the sense that it can and does continue to exist [pg 241] actually without them (38); for it continues to exist while they come and go, appear and disappear.258 Of course the concrete individual man, or dog, or rose, does not continue to exist actually unchanged, and totally identical with itself throughout the change of accidents (64), for the accidents are part of the concrete individual reality; nay, even the substance itself of the concrete individual does not remain totally unaffected by the change of the accidents; because if they really affect it, as they do, their change cannot leave it totally unaffected; substance is not at all a changeless, concrete core, surrounded by an ever-changing rind or vesture of accidents; or a dark, hidden, immutable and inscrutable background of a panorama of phenomena (64). But though it is beyond all doubt really affected by the change of its accidents, it is also beyond all doubt independent of them in regard to the essential mode of its being, in as much as it exists and continues to exist in itself throughout all fluctuation of its accidents; while these on the other hand have only that essentially dependent mode of being whereby they are actual only by affecting and determining some subject in which they inhere and which supports their actuality.

The existence, therefore, of some accidents, which are not only really distinct but even physically separable from their substances, cannot reasonably be called into question. To deny the existence of such accidents, or, what comes to the same thing, their real distinction from substance, is to take up some one of these three equally untenable positions: that all the changes which take place within and around us are substantial changes; or, that there is no such thing as real change, all change being a mental illusion; or, that contradictory states can be affirmed of the same reality.259

But the nature of the real distinction between accidents and substance is not in all cases so easy to determine. Nor can we discuss the question here in reference to each summum genus of accident separately. Deferring to the chapter on Relation the question of the distinction of this particular accident from substance [pg 242] and the other categories, we may confine our attention here to the distinction between substance and the three classes of accidents we have called extrinsic denominations, modal accidents, and absolute accidents respectively. “There are accidents,” writes Kleutgen,260 “which place nothing and change nothing in the subject itself, but are ascribed to it by reason of some extrinsic thing; others, again, produce indeed in the subject itself some new mode of being, but without their existing in it as a new reality, distinct from its reality; others, finally, are themselves a new reality, and have thus a being which is proper to themselves, though this being is of course dependent on the substance. These latter alone can be really distinct from the substance, in the full sense in which a real distinction is that between thing and thing. Now Cartesian philosophers have denied that there are any such accidents as those of the latter class; rejecting the division of accidents into absolute and modal, they teach that all accidents are mere modifications or determinations of substance, that they consist solely of various locations and combinations of the ultimate parts of a substance, or relations of the latter to other substances.”

Now all extrinsic denominations of a substance do seem on analysis ultimately to resolve themselves partly into relations of the latter to other substances, and partly into modal or absolute accidents of other substances. Hence we may confine our attention here to the distinction between these two classes of accident and their connatural substances.

And, approaching this question, it will be well for us to bear two things in mind. In the first place, our definitions both of substance and of accident are abstract and generic or universal. But the abstract and universal does not exist as such. The concrete, individual, actually existing substance is never merely a being that naturally exists in itself, nor is the accident of such a substance merely a verification of its definition as a being that naturally inheres in something else. In every case what really and actually exists is the individual, a being concreted of substance and accidents, a being which is ever and always a real unity, composite no doubt, but really one; and this no matter what sort of distinction we hold to obtain between the substance and its accidents. This is important; its significance will be better appreciated according as we examine the distinctions in question. Secondly, as scholastics understand a real distinction, this can obtain not merely between different persons or things which are separate from one another in time or space, but also between different constitutive principles of any one single concrete, composite, individual being (38). We have seen that they are not agreed as [pg 243] to whether the essence and the existence of any actual creature are really distinct or not (24). And it may help us to clear up our notion of accident if we advert here to their discussion of the question whether or not an accident ought to be regarded as having an existence of its own, an existence proper to itself.

Those who think that the distinction between essence and existence in created things is a real distinction, hold that accidents as such have no existence of their own, that they are actualized by the existence of the substance, or rather of the concrete, composite individual; that since the latter is a real unity—not a mere artificial aggregation of entities, but a being naturally one—it can have only one existence: Impossibile est quod unius rei non sit unum esse;261 that by this one existence the concrete, composite essence of the substance, as affected and determined by its accidents, is actualized. They contend that if each of the principles, whether substantial or accidental, of a concrete individual being had its own existence, their union, no matter how intimate, could not form a natural unitary being, an individual, but only an aggregate of such beings. It is neither the matter, nor the form, nor the corporeal substance apart from its accidents, that exists: it is the substance completely determined by all its accidents and modes that is the proper subject of existence.262 It alone is actualized, and that by one existence, which is the ultimate actuality of the concrete, composite, individual essence: esse est ultimus actus. Hence it is too, they urge, that an accident should be conceived not properly as a being, but only as that whereby a being is such or such: Accidens non est ens, sed ens entis. But it cannot be so conceived if we attribute to it an existence of its own; for then it would be a being in the full and proper sense of the word.

This is the view of St. Thomas, and of Thomists generally. The arguments in support of it are serious, but not convincing. And the same may be said of the reasons adduced for the opposite view: that existence not being really distinct from essence, accidents in so far as they can be said to have an essence of their own have likewise an existence of their own.

Supporters of this view not only admit but maintain that the entity of a real, existing accident is a diminished entity, inasmuch as it is dependent in a sense in which a really existing substance is not dependent. They simply deny the Thomist assertion that substantial and accidental principles cannot combine to form a real and natural unit, an individual being, if each be accorded an existence appropriate and proportionate to its partial essence; nor indeed can Thomists prove this assertion. Moreover, if existence be not really distinct from essence, there is no more inconvenience in the claim that [pg 244] partial existences can combine to form one complete existence, unum esse, than in the Thomist claim that partial essences, such as substantial and accidental constitutive principles, can combine to form one complete essence, one individual subject of existence. Then, furthermore, it is urged that the substance exists prior in time to some of its accidents; that it is prior in nature to its properties, which are understood to proceed or flow from it; and that therefore its existence cannot be theirs, any more than its essence can be theirs. Finally, it is pointed out that since existence is the actuality of essence, the existence which actualizes a substance cannot be identical with that which actualizes an accident. At all events, whether the one existence of the concrete individual substance as determined by its accidents be as it were a simple and indivisible existential act, which actualizes the composite individual subject, as Thomists hold, or whether it be a composite existential act, really identical with the composite individual subject, as in the other view,263 this concrete existence of the individual is constantly varying with the variation of the accidents of the individual. This is equally true on either view.

Inquiring into the distinction between substance and its intrinsic accidents, whether modal or absolute, we have first to remark that all accidents cannot possibly be reduced to relations; for if relation itself is something extrinsic to the things related, it must at least presuppose a real and intrinsic foundation or basis for itself in the things related. Local motion, for instance, is a change in the spatial relations of a body to other bodies. But it cannot be merely this. For if spatial relations are not mere subjective or mental fabrications, if they are in any intelligible sense real, then a change in them must involve a change of something intrinsic to the bodies concerned. Now Descartes, in denying the existence of absolute accidents, in reducing all accidents to modes of substances, understood by modes not any intrinsic determinations of substance, but only extrinsic determinations of the latter. All accidents of material substance were for him mere locations, arrangements, dispositions of its extended parts: extension being its essence. Similarly, all accidents of spiritual substance were for him mere modalities and mutual relations of its “thought” or “consciousness”: this latter being for him the essence of spirit. We have here not only the error of identifying or confounding accidents such as thought and extension with their connatural substances, spirit and matter, but also the error of supposing that extrinsic relations and modes of a [pg 245] substance, and changes in these, can be real, without there being in the substances themselves any intrinsic, real, changeable accidents, which would account for the extrinsic relations and their changes. If there are no intrinsic accidents, really affecting and determining substances, and yet really distinct from the latter, then we must admit either that all change is an illusion or else that all change is substantial; and this is the dilemma that really confronts the Cartesian philosophy.

68. Modal Accidents and the Modal Distinction.—The real distinction which we claim to exist between a substance and its intrinsic accidents is not the same in all cases: in regard to some accidents, which we have called intrinsic modes of the substance, it is a minor or modal real distinction; in regard to others which we have called absolute accidents, it is a major real distinction (38). Let us first consider the former.

The term mode has a variety of meanings, some very wide, some restricted. When one concept determines or limits another in any way we may call it a mode of the latter. If there is no real distinction between the determining and the determined thought-object, the mode is called a metaphysical mode: as rationality is of animality in man. Again, created things are all “modes” of being; and the various aspects of a creature may be called “modes” of the latter: as “finiteness” is a mode of every created being. We do not use the term in those wide senses in the present context. Here we understand by a mode some positive reality which so affects another and distinct reality as to determine the latter proximately to some definite way of existing or acting, to which the latter is itself indifferent; without, however, adding to the latter any new and proper entity other than the said determination.264 Such modes are called physical modes. And some philosophers maintain that there are not only accidental modes, thus really distinct from the substance, but that there are even some substantial modes really distinct from the essence of the substance which they affect: for instance, that the really distinct constitutive principles of any individual corporeal substance, matter and form, are actually united only in virtue of a substantial mode whereby each is ordained for union with the other; or that subsistence, whereby the individual substance is made a [pg 246] subsistent and incommunicable “person” or “thing,” is a substantial mode of the individual nature.265 With these latter we are not concerned here, but only with accidental modes, such as external shape or figure, local motion, position, action,266 etc. Now when a substance is affected by such accidents as these it is impossible on the one hand to maintain that they add any new positive entity of their own to it; they do not seem to have any reality over and above the determination or modification in which their very presence in the substance consists. And on the other hand it cannot be denied that they express some real predicate which can be affirmed of the substance in virtue of their presence in it, and that independently of our thought; in other words it cannot be maintained that they are mere figments or forms of thought, mere entia rationis. If a piece of wax has a certain definite shape, this shape is inseparable from the wax: it is nothing except in the wax, for it cannot exist apart from the wax; but in the wax it is something in some real sense distinct from the wax, inasmuch as the wax would persist even if it disappeared. No doubt it is essential to the wax, as extended in space, to have some shape or other; but it is indifferent to any particular shape, and hence something distinct from it is required to remove this indifference. This something is the particular shape it actually possesses. The shape, therefore, is an accidental mode of the extension of the wax, a mode which is really distinct, by a minor real distinction, from this extension which is its immediate subject.267 Hence we conclude that there are accidental modes, or modal accidents, really distinct from the subjects in which they inhere.

69. Distinction between Substance and its Proper Accidents. Unity of the Concrete Being.—Turning next to the distinction between absolute accidents and substance, we have seen already that separable absolute accidents such as acquired habits of mind and certain sensible qualities and energies of bodies are really distinct from their subjects. Absolute accidents [pg 247] which are naturally inseparable from their subjects—such as external quantity or spatial extension or volume is in regard to the corporeal substance—are also really distinct from their subjects; though we cannot know by reason alone whether or how far such accidents are absolutely separable from these subjects: from Christian Revelation we know that extension at least is separable from the substance of a body, and with extension all the other corporeal accidents which inhere immediately in extension.268

But a special difficulty arises in regard to the nature of the distinction between a substance and its proper accidents,269 i.e. those which have such an adequate and necessary ground in the essence of the substance that the latter cannot exist without them: accidents which are simultaneous with the substance and proceed necessarily from it, such as the internal quantity of a corporeal substance, or the intellectual and appetitive powers or faculties of a spiritual substance. The medieval scholastic philosophers were by no means unanimous as to the nature of this distinction. Their discussion of the question centres mainly around the distinction between the spiritual human soul and its spiritual faculties, intellect and will, and between these faculties themselves. It is instructive—as throwing additional light on what they understood by a real distinction—to find that while Thomists generally have held that the distinction here in question is a real distinction, many other scholastics have held that it is only a virtual distinction, while Scotists have generally taught that it is a formal distinction (35-39).

Kleutgen270 interprets the formal distinction advocated by Scotus in the present context as really equivalent to the virtual distinction. St. Bonaventure, after referring to the latter distinction, and to the real distinction propounded by St. Thomas, adopts himself an intermediate view: that the faculties of the [pg 248] soul are indeed really distinct from one another, but nevertheless are not really distinct, as accidental entities, from the substance of the soul itself. We see how this can be by considering that the material and formal principles which constitute a corporeal substance, though really distinct from each other, are not really distinct from the substance itself. They are not accidents of the latter but constitute its essence, and so are to be referred reductivé to the category of substance. So, by analogy, the faculties of the soul, though really distinct from each other, do not belong to any accidental category really distinct from the substance of the soul, but belong reductivé to the latter category, not indeed as constituting, but as flowing immediately and necessarily from, the substance of the soul itself.271 And, like St. Thomas, he finds the ultimate source and explanation of this multiplicity of faculties and forces in the finiteness of the created substance as such.272 But St. Thomas went farther than St. Bonaventure, for he taught—as indeed Thomists generally teach, and many who are not Thomists—that the faculties of the human soul are really distinct from one another, not merely as proximate principles of really distinct vital acts, but as accidental entities or essences; and that as such they are really distinct from the essence or substance itself of the human soul. The arguments in favour of this view [pg 249] will be given in their proper place in connexion with the category of Quality. If they are not demonstrative in their force, they are certainly such that the view for which they make is very highly probable; but we are concerned here to show, in this concluding section, that the recognition of a real distinction in general between substance and its accidents does not in any way compromise the real unity of the concrete individual being. It has been widely accused of doing so by philosophers who try to discredit this view without fully understanding it. This characteristically modern attitude is illustrated by the persistent attempts that have been made in recent times to throw ridicule on what they describe as the “faculty psychology”.273

The source of this groundless charge lies partly in the mistaken conception of accident and substance as concrete entities superadded the one to the other; partly in the mistaken notion that the union of substance and accidents cannot result in a real unity, that there cannot be more or less perfect grades of real unity (27); and partly in the false assumption that real distinction always implies mutual separability of concrete entities. Of these errors we need only refer to that concerning unity.

Modern philosophers not uncommonly conceive the union of substance and accidents as being necessarily a mere mechanical union or aggregation, and oppose it to “organic” unity which they regard as a real unity involving the richness of an energetic, “living” multiplicity. This involves a misrepresentation of the traditional scholastic view. The union of substance and accident is not a mechanical union. Nothing could be farther from the minds of the scholastic interpreters of Aristotle than the conception of the ultimate principles of the universe of our experience as inert entities moved according to purely mechanical laws; or of the individual concrete being as a mere machine, or a mere aggregate of mechanical elements. They recognized even in the individual inorganic substance an internal, unifying, active and directive principle of all the energies and activities of the thing—its substantial form. And if this is all those philosophers mean by the metaphorical transference of the terms “organic unity,” “internal living principle of development,” etc., to the mineral world, they are so far in accord with the traditional [pg 250] scholastic philosophy;274 while if they mean that all substances are principles of “vital” energy, or that all reality is one organic unity, in the literal sense of these terms, they are committing themselves either to the palpably false theory of pan-psychism, or to the gratuitous reassertion of a very old and very crude form of monism.

By “organic” unity we understand the unity of any living organism, a unity which is much more perfect than that of the parts of a machine, or than any natural juxtaposition of material parts in an inorganic whole; for the organs, though distinct in number and in nature from one another, are united by an internal principle to form one living individual, so that if any organ were separated from the living organism it would cease to be an organ.275 But organic unity is not by any means the most perfect kind of unity conceivable.276 The living organism exists and develops and attains to the perfection of its being only through a multiplicity of integral parts extended in space. The spiritual substance is subject to no such dispersion of its being. From its union with the faculties whereby it attains to its natural development, there results a real unity of a higher order than that of any organism.

And nevertheless, even though the unity of the concrete spiritual substance and its faculties be so far higher than a mechanical or even an organic unity, it is not perfect. Even though the faculties of the soul be determinations of its substance, even though they flow from it as actualities demanded by its essence for the normal and natural development of its [pg 251] being, still it is a complete subsisting essence of its kind without them; it possesses its essential perfection without them, so that however intimate be their union with it they can never form one essence with it; it needs them only for the fuller development of its being by acquiring further intermediate perfections and thus attaining to its final perfection (46).

And here we touch on the most fundamental ground of the distinction, in all created things, between their substance and their accidental perfections. Unlike the Necessary, Absolute Being, whose infinite perfection is the eternal actuality of His essence, no creature possesses the actuality of its being tota simul, but only by a progressive development whereby it gradually acquires really new intermediate and final perfections, really distinct from, though naturally due to, its essence. Hence, even though some of its accidents—properties such as the powers and faculties we have been discussing—be not really distinct from the essence wherewith they are necessarily connected, this is not true of its acquired habits and dispositions, or of the activities which proceed from these latter as their proximate principles. At the same time the concrete being is, at every moment of its existence and development, a real unity, but a unity which, involving in itself as it does a real multiplicity of distinct principles, must ever fall infinitely short of the perfect type of real unity—that realized only in the Self-Existent, Necessary Being.

[pg 252]

Chapter IX. Nature And Person.

70. Some Divisions of Substances.—In the preceding chapter we discussed the nature of substance and accident in general, and the relation between a substance and its accidents. We must next examine the category of substance more in detail, terminating as it does in the important concept of personality or person. This latter conception is one which must have its origin for all philosophers in the study of the human individual, but which, for scholastic philosophers, is completed and perfected by the light of Christian Revelation. We shall endeavour to show in the first place what can be gathered from the light of reason about the constitution of personality, and also briefly to note how Christian Revelation has increased our insight into the perfections involved in it. As leading up to the concept of person, we must set forth certain divisions or classifications of substance: into first and second substances, and into complete and incomplete substances.277

(a) The specific and generic natures of substantial entities do not inhere, like accidents, in individual substances; they constitute the essence of the latter, and hence these universals are called substances. But the universal as such does not really exist; it is realized only in individuals; in the logical order it pre-supposes the individual as a logical subject of which it is affirmed, a subjectum attributionis seu praedicationis. Hence it is called a second substance, while the individual substance is called a first substance. Of course we can predicate attributes of universal substances, and use these as logical subjects, as when we say Man is mortal”. But such propositions have no real meaning, and give us no information about reality, except in so far as we can refer their predicates (“mortal”), through the medium of their universal subjects (“man”), back ultimately to the individual [pg 253] substances (John, James, etc.) which alone are real, and in which alone the universal (“man”) has its reality. Hence the individual is, in the logical order, the ultimate and fundamental subject of all our predications. And furthermore, the individual substance cannot be used as a logical predicate of anything underlying itself, while the universal substance can be so used in relation to the individual.

In the ontological order, of course, the universal substance is individualized, and, as individual, it is the subject in which all accidents inhere, their subjectum inhaesionis: the only subject of many of them, and the remote or ultimate subject of those of them which inhere immediately in other accidents.

Thus while in the ontological order all substances, whether we think of them as universal or as individual, are the ultimate subjects of inhesion for all real accidents, in the logical order it is only the individual substance that is the ultimate subject of attribution for all logical predicates. Hence it was that the individual substance (τόδε τί ὄν), vindicating for itself more fully the rôle of subject, was called by Aristotle οὐσία πρώτη, substantia prima, while he called the universal, specific or generic substance, οὐσία δεύτερα, substantia secunda.278 These are, of course, two ways of regarding substance, and not two really distinct species of substance as genus. The distinction between the membra dividentia is logical, not real.

The perfectly intelligible sense in which Aristotle and the scholastics designate the universal a substance, the sense of moderate realism, according to which the universal constitutes, and is identical with, the essence of the individual person or thing, is entirely different from the sense in which many exponents of modern monistic idealism conceive the universal as the substance par excellence, the ens realissimum, determining, expressing, evolving itself in the individual phenomena of mind and of nature, which would be merely its manifestations.279

(b) The divisions of substance into spiritual and corporeal, of the latter into inorganic and organic, of these again into vegetative and animal, and finally of animal substances into brute animals and human beings,—offer no special difficulties. All purely natural or rational knowledge of the possibility and nature of purely spiritual substances is based on the analogy of our knowledge of the human soul, which, though a spiritual substance, is [pg 254] not a pure spirit, but is naturally allied with matter in its mode of existence. The individual human being offers to human experience the sole example of the sufficiently mysterious conjunction and combination of matter and spirit, of the corporeal mode of being and the spiritual mode of being, to form one composite substance, partly corporeal and partly spiritual.

(c) This in turn suggests the division of substances into simple and composite. The latter are those which we understand to be constituted by the natural and substantial union of two really distinct but incomplete substantial principles, a formative, determining, specifying principle, and a material, determinable, indifferent principle: such are all corporeal substances whether inorganic, vegetative, sentient, or rational. The former, or simple substances, are those which we understand to be constituted by a sole and single substantial principle which determines and specifies their essence, without the conjunction of any material, determinable principle. We have no direct and immediate experience of any complete created substance of this kind; but each of us has such direct experience of an incomplete simple substance, viz. his own soul; while we can infer from our experience the existence of other incomplete simple substances, viz. the formative principles of corporeal substances, as also the possibility of such complete simple substances as pure spirits, and the actual existence of the perfectly simple, uncreated substance of the Infinite Being.

(d) If there are such things as composite substances, i.e. substances constituted by the substantial union of two really distinct principles, then it follows that while the composite substance itself is complete, each of its substantial constitutive principles is incomplete. Of course there are many philosophers nowadays who reject as mere mental fictions, as products of mere logical distinctions, and as devoid of objective validity, the notions of composite substance and incomplete substance. Nor is this to be wondered at when we remember what a variety of groundless and gratuitous notions are current in regard to substance itself (64). But understanding substance in the traditional sense already explained (62), there is nothing whatever inconsistent in the notion of a composite substance, or of an incomplete substance,—provided these notions are understood in the sense to be explained presently. Nay, more, not only are these notions intrinsically possible: we must even hold them to [pg 255] be objectively valid and real, to be truly expressive of the nature of reality, unless we are prepared to hold that there is no such thing as substantial change in the universe, and that man himself is a mere aggregate of material atoms moved according to mechanical laws and inhabited by a conscious soul, or thinking principle, rather than an individual being with one definite substantial nature.

What, then, are we to understand by complete and incomplete substances respectively? A substance is regarded as complete in the fullest sense when it is wanting in no substantial principle without which it would be incapable of existing and discharging all its functions in the actual order as an individual of some definite species. Of course no created substance exists or discharges its functions unless it is endowed with some accidents, e.g. with properties, faculties, forces, etc. But there is no question of these here. We are considering only the essential perfections of the substance. Thus, then, any existing individual of any species—a man, a horse, an oak—is a complete substance in this fullest sense. It is complete in the line of substance, in substantial perfection, in ordine substantialitatis,” inasmuch as it can exist (and does actually exist) without being conjoined or united substantially with any other substance to form a composite substance other than itself. And it is complete in the line of specific perfection, in ordine speciei,” because not only can it exist without such conjunction with any other substantial principle, but it can discharge all the functions natural to its species, and thus tend towards its final perfection (47) without such conjunction.

But it is conceivable that a substance might be complete in the line of substantial perfections, and thus be capable of existing in the actual order and discharging there some of the functions of its species without conjunction with any other substantial principle, and yet be incapable of discharging all the functions natural to an individual of its species without conjunction with some other substantial principle, in which case it would be incomplete in the line of specific perfection, though complete in everything pertaining to its substantiality. We know of one such substance,—the human soul. Being spiritual and immortal, it can exist apart from the body to which it is united by nature, and in this separated condition retain and exercise its spiritual faculties of intellect and will; it is therefore complete as regards the distinctively substantial perfection whereby it is “capable of [pg 256] existing in itself”. But being of its nature destined for union with a material principle, constituting an individual of the human species only by means of such union, and being capable of discharging some of the functions of this species, viz. the sentient and vegetative functions, only when so united, it has not all the perfections of its species independently of the body; and it is therefore an incomplete substance in the line of specific perfections, though complete in those essential to its substantiality.

Again, if it be true that just as man is composed of two substantial principles, soul and body, so every living thing is composed of a substantial vital principle and a substantial material principle, and that every inorganic individual thing is likewise composed of two really distinct substantial principles, a formative and a passive or material principle; and if, furthermore, it be true that apart from the spiritual principle in man every other vital or formative principle of the composite “things” of our experience is of such a nature that it cannot actually exist except in union with some material principle, and vice versa,—then it follows necessarily that all such substantial principles of these complete composite substances are themselves incomplete substances: and incomplete not only in regard to perfections which would make them subsisting individuals of a species, but (unlike the human soul) incomplete even in the line of substantiality itself, inasmuch as no one of them is capable of actually existing at all except in union with its connatural and correlative principle.

Thus we arrive at the notion of substances that are incomplete in the line of specific perfections, or in that of substantial perfections, or even in both lines. An incomplete substance, therefore, is not one which verifies the definition of substance only in part. The incomplete substance fully verifies the definition of a substance.280 It is conjoined, no doubt, with another to form a complete substance; but it does not exist in the other, or in the composite substance, as accidents do. It is a substantial principle of the composite substance, not an accidental determination of the latter, or of the other substantial principle with which it is conjoined. It thus verifies the notion of substance as a mode of being which naturally exists in itself; and united with its correlative substantial principle it discharges the function of supporting all accidental determinations which affect the composite substantial [pg 257] essence. Since, however, it does not exist itself independently as an individual of a species, but only forms the complete individual substance by union with its correlative substantial principle, it may be, and has been, accurately described as not belonging to the category of substance formally, but only referentially, reductivé.

The concepts of composite substance, of complete and incomplete substances, understood as we have just explained them, are therefore perfectly intelligible in themselves. And this is all we are concerned to show in the present context. This is not the place to establish the theses of psychology and cosmology from which they are borrowed. That the human soul is spiritual and immortal; that its union with a really distinct material principle to form the individual human substance or nature is a substantial union; that all living organisms and all inorganic bodies are really composite substances and subject to substantial change: these various theses of scholastic philosophy we here assume to be true. And if they are true the conception of incomplete substances naturally united to form a complete composite substance is not only intelligible as an hypothesis but is objectively true and valid as a thesis; and thus the notion of an incomplete substance is not only a consistent and legitimate notion, but is also a notion which gives mental expression to an objective reality.

We may add this consideration: The concept of an accident really distinct from its substance involves no intrinsic repugnance. Yet an accident is a mode of being which is so weak and wanting in reality, if we may speak in such terms, that it cannot naturally exist except by inhering, mediately or immediately, in the stronger and more real mode of being which is substance. But an incomplete substance is a higher grade of reality than any accident. Therefore if accidents can be real, a fortiori incomplete substances can be real.

71. Substance and Nature.—We have already pointed out (13) that the terms “essence,” “substance,” and “nature” denote what is really the same thing, regarded under different aspects. The term “essence” is somewhat wider than “substance,” inasmuch as it means “what a thing is,” whether the thing be a substance, an accident, or a concrete existing individual including substance and accidents.

The traditional meaning of the term “nature” in Aristotelian [pg 258] and scholastic philosophy is unmistakable. It means the essence or substance of an individual person or thing, regarded as the fundamental principle of the latter's activities. Every finite individual comes into existence incomplete, having no doubt its essential perfections and properties actually, but its intermediate and final perfections only potentially (47). These it realizes gradually, through the exercise of its connatural activities. Every being is essentially intended for activity of some sort: “Omne ens est propter suam operationem,” says St. Thomas. And by the constant interplay of their activities these beings realize and sustain the universal order which makes the world a cosmos. There is in all things an immanent purpose or finality which enables us to speak of the whole system which they form as “Universal Nature.281

Therefore what we call a substance or essence from the static point of view we call a nature when we consider it from the dynamic standpoint, or as an agent.282 No doubt the forces, faculties and powers, the active and passive accidental principles, whereby such an agent exerts and undergoes action, are the proximate principles of all this action and change, but the remote and fundamental principle of the latter is the essence or substance of the agent itself, in other words its nature.

Not all modern scholastics, however, are willing thus to identify nature with substance. We have no intuitive insight into what any real essence or substance is; our knowledge of it is discursive, derived by inference from the phenomena, the operations, the conduct of things, in accordance with the principle, Operari sequitur esse. Moreover, the actually existing, concrete individual—a man, for instance—has a great variety of activities, spiritual, sentient, vegetative, and inorganic; he has, moreover, in the constitution of his body a variety of distinct organs and members; he assimilates into his body a variety of inorganic substances; the tissues of his body appear to be different in kind; the vital functions which subserve nutrition, growth and reproduction are at least analogous to mechanical, physical and chemical changes, if indeed they are not really and simply such; it may be, therefore, that the ultimate material constituents of his body remain substantially unaltered in their passage into, and through, and out of the cycle of his vegetative life; that they retain their elemental substantial forms while they assume a new nature by becoming parts of the one organic whole, whose higher directive principle dominates and co-ordinates all their various [pg 259] energies.283 If this be so there is in the same individual a multiplicity of really and actually distinct substances; each of these, moreover, has its own existence proportionate to its essence, since the existence of a created reality is not really distinct from its essence; nor is there any reason for saying that any of these substances is incomplete; what we have a right to say is that no one of them separately is a complete nature, that each being an incomplete nature unites with all the others to form one complete nature: inasmuch as no one of them separately is an adequate intrinsic principle of all the functions which it can discharge, and is naturally destined to discharge, by its natural union with the others, whereas there results from their union a new fundamental principle of a co-ordinated and harmonized system of operations—in a word, a new nature.

This line of thought implies among other things (a) the view that whereas there is no ground for admitting the existence of incomplete substances, there is ground for distinguishing between complete and incomplete natures; (b) the view that from the union or conjunction of an actual multiplicity of substances, each remaining unaltered and persisting in its existence actually distinct from the others, there can arise one single complete nature—a nature which will be one being simply and really, unum ens per se et simpliciter, and not merely an aggregate of beings or an accidental unity, unum per accidens,—and there does arise such a nature whenever the component substances not merely co-operate to discharge certain functions which none of them could discharge separately (which indeed is true of an accidental union, as of two horses drawing a load which neither could draw by itself), but when they unite in a more permanent and intimate way according to what we call natural laws or laws of nature, so as to form a new fundamental principle of such functions.284 These views undoubtedly owe their origin to the belief that certain facts brought to light by the physical and biological sciences in modern times afford strong evidence that the elementary material constituents of bodies, whether inorganic or living, remain substantially unaltered while combining to form the multitudinous natural kinds or natures of those living or non-living material things. It was to reconcile this supposed plurality of actually distinct and diverse substances in the individual with the indubitable real unity of the latter, that these philosophers distinguished between substance and nature. But it is not clear that the facts alleged afford any such evidence. Of course if the philosopher approaches the consideration of it with what we may call the atomic preconception of material substances as permanent, unchangeable entities, this view will preclude all recognition of substantial change in the universe; it will therefore force him to conclude that each individual, composite agent has a unity which must be less than substantial, and which, because he feels it to be more than a mere accidental or artificial unity, he will describe as natural, as a union to form one nature. But if he approach the evidence in question with the view that substantial change is possible, this view, involving the recognition of incomplete substances as real, will remove all necessity for distinguishing between [pg 260] substance and nature, and will enable him to conclude that however various and manifold be the activities of the individual, their co-ordination and unification, as proceeding from the individual, point to a substantial unity in the latter as their fundamental principle, a unity resulting from the union of incomplete substances.

This latter is undoubtedly the view of St. Thomas, of practically all the medieval scholastics, and of most scholastics in modern times. Nor do we see any sufficient reason for receding from it, or admitting the modern distinction between substance and nature. And if it be objected that the view which admits the reality of incomplete substances and substantial change is as much a preconception as what we have called the atomic view of substance, our answer is, once more, that since we have no intellectual intuition into the real constitution of the substances which constitute the universe, since we can argue to this only by observing and reasoning from their activities on the principle Operari requitur esse, the evidence alone must decide which view of these substances is the correct one. Does the evidence afforded us by a scientific analysis of all the functions, inorganic, vegetative, sentient and rational, of an individual man, forbid us to conclude that he is one complete substance, resulting from the union of two incomplete substantial principles, a spiritual soul and a material principle? and at the same time compel us to infer that he is one complete nature resulting from the union of a plurality of principles supposed to be complete as substances and incomplete as natures? We believe that it does not; nor can we see that any really useful purpose is served by thus setting up a real distinction between substance and nature. From the evidence to hand it is neither more nor less difficult to infer unity of substance than unity of nature in the individual. The inference in question is an inference from facts in the phenomenal order, in the domain of the senses, to what must be actually there in the noumenal order, in the domain of nature or substance, a domain which cannot be reached by the senses but only by intellect. Nor will any imagination images which picture for us the physical fusion or coalescence of material things in the domain of the senses help us in the least to conceive in any positive way the mode in which incomplete natures or substances unite to form a complete nature or substance. For these latter facts belong to the domain which the senses cannot reach at all, and which intellect can reach only inferentially and not by direct insight.

Hence we consider the view which regards real unity of nature as compatible with real and actual plurality of complete substances in the individual, as improbable. At the same time we do not believe that this view is a necessary corollary from the real identification of essence with existence in created things. We have seen that even if accidents have their own existence in so far as they have their own essence—as they have if essence and existence be really identical—nevertheless the concrete substance as determined by its accidents can have a really unitary existence, unum esse corresponding to and identical with its composite constitution (67). Similarly, if the existence of each incomplete substance is identical with its incomplete essence, this is no obstacle to the complete substance—which results from the union of two such incomplete substantial principles—having one complete unitary existence identical with its composite essence. Hence it is useless to argue against the view that [pg 261] a plurality of actually distinct and complete substances can unite to form a complete nature which will be really one being, on the ground that each complete substance has already its own existence and that things which have and preserve their own existence cannot form one being. Such an argument is inconclusive; for although one being has of course only one existence, it has not been proved that this one existence cannot result from the union of many incomplete existences: especially if these existences be identical with the incomplete essences which are admittedly capable of uniting to form one complete essence.

It may, however, be reasonably urged against the opinion under criticism that, since the complete substances are supposed to remain complete and unchanged in their state of combination, it is difficult to see how this combination can be a real union and not merely an extrinsic juxtaposition,—one which remains in reality a merely accidental conjunction, even though we may dignify it with the title of a natural union.

And finally it may be pointed out that in this view the operations of the individual have not really one ultimate intrinsic principle at all, since behind the supposed unity of nature there is a more fundamental plurality of actually distinct substances.

72. Subsistence and Personality.—We have already examined the relation between the individual and the universal, between first and second substances, in connexion with the doctrine of Individuation (31-3). And we then saw that whatever it be that individuates the universal nature, it is at all events not to be regarded as anything extrinsic and superadded to this nature in the individual, as anything really distinct from this nature: that, for instance, what makes Plato's human nature to be Plato's is not anything really distinct from the human nature that is in Plato. We have now to fix our attention on the nature as individualized. We have to consider the complete individual nature or substance itself in actually existing individual “things” or “persons”.

We must remember that scholastics are not agreed as to whether there is a real distinction or only a virtual distinction between the actual existence and the complete individual essence or substance or nature of created individual beings (21-4). Furthermore we have seen that philosophers who study the metaphysics of the inorganic world and of the lower forms of life are unable to say with certainty what is the individual in these domains: whether it is the chemical molecule or the chemical atom or the electron; whether it is the single living cell or the living mass consisting of a plurality of such cells (31). But we have also seen that as we ascend the scale of living things all [pg 262] difficulty in designating the genuine individual disappears: that a man, a horse, an oak tree, are undoubtedly individual beings.

Bearing these things in mind we have now to inquire into what has been called the subsistence or personality of the complete individual substance or nature: that perfection which enables us formally to designate the latter a “subsisting thing”285 or a “person”. By personality we mean the subsistence of a complete individual rational nature. We shall therefore inquire into the meaning of the generic term subsistentia (or suppositalitas), subsistence, in the abstract. But let us look at it first in the concrete.

A complete individual nature or substance, when it exists in the actual order, really distinct and separate in its own complete entity from every other existing being, exercising its powers and discharging its functions of its own right and according to the laws of its own being, is said to subsist, or to have the perfection of subsistence. In this state it not only exists in itself as every substance does; it is not only incommunicable to any other being as every individual is, in contradistinction with second or universal substances which are, as such, indefinitely communicable to individuals; but it is also a complete whole, incommunicable as a mere integral or essential part to some other whole, unlike the incomplete substantial constituents, or integral parts, members or organs of, say, an individual organic body; and finally it is incommunicable in the sense that it is not capable of being assumed into the subsisting unity of some other superior “suppositum” or “person”. All those characteristics we find in the individual “subsisting thing” or “person”. It “exists in itself” and is not communicable to another substance as an accident, because it is itself a substance. It is not communicable to individuals as a universal, because it is itself an individual. It is not communicable as an integral or essential part to a whole, because it is itself a complete substance and nature.286 Finally it is not communicable to, and cannot be assumed into, the unity of [pg 263] a higher personality so as to subsist by virtue of the latter's subsistence, because it has a perfection incompatible with such assumption, viz. its own proper subsistence, whereby it is already an actually subsisting thing or person in its own right, or sui juris, so to speak.

The mention of this last sort of incommunicability would be superfluous, and indeed unintelligible, did we not know from Divine Revelation that the human nature of our Divine Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, though it is a complete and most perfect individual nature, is nevertheless not a person, because It is assumed into the Personality of the Second Person of the Divine Trinity, and, united hypostatically or personally with this Divine Person, subsists by virtue of the Divine Subsistence of the latter.

We see, therefore, what subsistence does for a complete individual nature in the static order. It makes this nature sui juris, incommunicable, and entirely independent in the mode of its actual being: leaving untouched, of course, the essential dependence of the created “subsisting thing” or “person” on the Creator. In the dynamic order, the order of activity and development, subsistence makes the complete individual nature not only the ultimate principle by which all the functions of the individual are discharged, but also the ultimate principle or agent which exercises these functions: while the nature as such is the ultimate principium quo, the nature as subsisting is the ultimate principium quod, in regard to all actions emanating from this nature. Hence the scholastic aphorism: Actiones sunt suppositorum. That is, all actions emanating from a complete individual nature are always ascribed and attributed to the latter as subsisting, to the “subsisting thing” or “person”. In regard to an individual human person, for instance, whether his intellect thinks, or his will resolves, or his imagination pictures things, or his eyes see, or his hand writes, or his stomach digests, or his lungs breathe, or his head aches, it is the man, the person, properly, that discharges or suffers all these functions, though by means of different faculties, organs and members; and it is to him properly that we ascribe all of them.287

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Now the individual human person is neither his soul, nor his body, nor even both conceived as two; he is one being, one complete substance or nature composed partly of a spiritual principle or soul and partly of a material principle which the soul “informs” and so constitutes a living human body. Hence the human soul itself, whether we consider it as united to the material principle in the living human person, or as disembodied and separate from its connatural material principle, is not a complete substance, is not capable of subsisting and having its human activities referred ultimately to itself as the subsisting, personal principle which elicits these activities. No doubt the disembodied soul has actual existence, but it has not the perfection of subsistence or personality: it is not a complete individual of the human species to which it belongs, and therefore it cannot be properly called a human person, a complete subsisting individual of the human species.288

Furthermore, even though an individual nature be complete as a nature, endowed with all the substantial and specific perfections which constitute it a complete individual of the species to which it belongs, nevertheless if it is assumed into the personality of another and higher nature, and