Friday, 3 November 2017

Πρὀς ἕν - Focal Predication in Aristotle's Metaphysics

The concept of πρὀς ἕν (pros hen - "towards one") predication is perhaps one of the most crucial notions in the whole of the Metaphysics. It is the explanation that Aristotle gives in order to maintain the unity of metaphysics as a science - indeed, the unity of every science. This concept will be of immense importance to the later Neoplatonists, who extend it to explain the relationship between Forms and particulars - and to refute Aristotle's own objections (the irony) against the existence of the Platonic Forms. Following in their footsteps, the medieval scholastics - most notably Thomas Aquinas - will later reformulate this notion in terms of the doctrine of analogy, extending it beyond the homonymous or equivocal predication of being to merely created things, to the relationship between created things and God Himself. 

The unity of the many senses of being is maintained, for Aristotle, by their common reference to the primary being of substance. This he explains in Book Γ, chapter 2, of Metaphysics:
The term being is used in many senses, but with reference to one thing and to some one nature and not equivocally. Thus everything healthy is related to health, one thing because it preserves health, another because it causes it, another because it is a sign of it (as urine) and still another because it is receptive of it. The term medical is related in a similar way to the art of medicine; for one thing is called medical because it possesses the art of medicine, another because it is receptive of it, and still another because it is the act of those who have the art of medicine. We can take other words which are used in a way similar to these. And similarly there are many senses in which the term being is used, but each is referred to a first principle. For some things are called beings because they are substances; others because they are affections of substances; others because they are a process toward substance, or corruptions or privations or qualities of substance, or because they are productive or generative principles of substance, or of things which are related to substance, or the negation of some of these or of substance. For this reason too we say that non-being is non-being. (1003a34-1003b11)
This is essentially a matter of definition. To say that being is meant in many senses is to assert that it has many definitions - or rather, that it has no definition, because it does not have the kind of unity of a genus with is differentiated into many species. Thus, all the "kinds" of being - the ten categories - are not species of being, having in common a single, generic, definition. At first sight, then, it would seem to be the case that "being" is simply equivocal. But this Aristotle denies. Being is not simply equivocal - rather, it is equivocal in a qualified sense, because it is said of all the categories always with reference to the single and primary category of substance. Substance is being most properly speaking; and all of the accidents - as well generative or corruptive processes, or non-being itself - are named only with a focal reference to the being of substance. 

This is primarily a logical claim, and yet it must certainly have something to do with metaphysics, since it is in the Metaphysics that Aristotle employs this principle. It is important and highly interesting to note that, although logic and metaphysics are distinct sciences, they alone of all the sciences are the only two that appear to be equal in scope: logic and metaphysics both study the entirety of being; the difference is in the ratio or formality under which being is considered, either as thought or simply as being. This is indeed why logic is of the utmost importance in the practice of all the sciences: because it is truly universal, in a sense - not in the architectonic, governing sense in which metaphysics is universal. Logic is, so to speak, universally useful (it is a practical science, after all - one of the seven liberal arts). This is seen, for example, in Aristotle's discussion of the good in the Nicomachean Ethics, where "good" is not said univocally, but with a focal reference to some final good which constitutes human happiness. To this claim about how we speak of the good, there also corresponds a profound metaphysics of the good. Thus, although a logical claim is not per se a metaphysical claim, one might have good reason to think that to every logical claim about things there corresponds a metaphysical or ontological truth about the structure of reality. 

Thus, in this particular case, the logical observation is that, in the way we speak, it is the mode of  signifying something as substance which first and foremost bears the notion of the subject in any predication. We can predicate things of any of the other nine categories too - but we never predicate substance of an accident, and we always end up predicating the accidents of a substance. Substance is the root of all predication, the final and fundamental condition for speaking predicates. Now, it is not necessarily true that from every logical claim, the corresponding metaphysical claim can be directly inferred; indeed, it is quite dangerous to attempt to do so. (To one who tries to follow this method, Aristotle's claim about the priority of form in book Z would seem unintelligible, as we have seen in my previous post. Hopefully I will get to write in more detail later on the relation between logic and metaphysics.) Nonetheless, by proper method in the science of metaphysics on its own terms, one can discover the ontological basis for all of logic itself. And on the basis of such method, one can see, with Aristotle, that it is indeed substance which communicates being to all other modes of being. For substance alone is that mode of being which is the most independent, self-subsistent, and determinate; all other modes of being are contingent upon the being of substance itself. Logical analogy seems to correspond to a real structure within the fabric of reality. 

In my next post, I will introduce an important Neoplatonic philosopher to this blog: Syrianus, master of the academy in Athens from about 431-437 AD, and commentator on parts of Aristotle's Metaphysics. Syrianus is perhaps best known for being the teacher of Proclus, who himself became known as one of the greatest and most influential philosophers of Late Antiquity. Syrianus and Proclus were both thoroughly acquainted with the works of both Plato and Aristotle, and they appeared within the context of a trend in Neoplatonism towards the harmonization of these two great masters. However, they were far from uncritical of Aristotle, and they were well aware of Aristotle's own heavy-handed criticisms of the Platonic theory of Forms. I hope, next week, to take a look at Syrianus' use of Aristotle's own notion of πρὀς ἕν predication - the doctrine of analogy or focal meaning - to refute Aristotle's objections against the Forms. 

Monday, 23 October 2017

Substance as Form in Aristotle

It is an easy mistake to inadvertently misconceive Aristotle's Categories as a metaphysical work - that is, that it is a work about things, forgetting that in fact it is not about things per se, but about thought. In my experience, this misconception leads to a peculiar understanding of what is real, i.e. the notion of substance, that is set in explicit opposition to the notion of real that was once put forward by Plato: whereas, for Plato, the real or the substantial was primarily form, for Aristotle it is the composite individual that is primarily real or the substantial, according to the Categories. 

What many students of Aristotle forget, when they read the Categories, is that Aristotle is there speaking in a mode that is according to logical intentions, and not according to the ontological order of things in themselves. According to the mode of intentions, which is the same as the mode of predication, the individual as conceived and signified is that which stands most independently, on its own, in relation to that which is attributed to it (its genera and species, as well as its accidents): it is the subject of a proposition that is expressed as standing on its own, independently, whereas the predicate is expressed precisely as being dependent upon the subject. And it is the individual in the genus of substance that is most of all a subject, in propositions. It is not predicated of anything, but all genera and species, and all other categories, are predicated of it. 

This conception of substance is expressed in the Categories, chapter 5: 
Substance, in the truest and primary and most definite sense of the word, is that which is neither predicable of a subject nor present in a subject; for instance, the individual man or horse. But in a secondary sense those things are called substances within which, as species, the primary substances are included; also those which, as genera, include the species. For instance, the individual man is included in the species 'man', and the genus to which the species belongs is 'animal'; these, therefore-that is to say, the species 'man' and the genus 'animal,-are termed secondary substances. 
Witness the apparent contrast with these couple of excerpts from Aristotle's Metaphysics, book Z (or book 7), chapter 3:
The term substance is used chiefly of four things, if not of more; for the essence (or quiddity) and the universal and the genus seem to be the substance of each thing, and fourthly the subject. Now the subject is that of which the others are predicated, while it itself is not predicated of anything else. And for this reason it is first necessary to establish the truth about this, because this first subject seems in the truest sense to be substance. 
Now in one sense matter is said to be the subject, and in another, the form, and in still another, the thing composed of these. By matter I mean the bronze, and by form the specifying figure, and by the thing composed of these the whole statue. 
If, then, the specifying principle is prior to the matter and is being to a greater degree, for the same reason it will also be prior to the thing composed of these... (1028b33-1029a8)
For to exist separately and to be a particular thing seem to belong chiefly to substance; and for this reason it would seem that the specifying principle and the thing composed of both the specifying principle and matter are substance to a greater degree than matter. 
Yet that substance which is now composed of both (I mean of form and matter) must be dismissed; for it is subsequent and open to view. And matter too is in a sense evident. But it is necessary to investigate the third kind of substance, for this is the most perplexing. (1029a29-1029b1)
Here, in contrast to the Categories, Aristotle seems to be asserting that substance is primarily form, rather than the individual that is composed of form and matter. This is potentially confusing to the young student of Aristotelian philosophy. Moreover, many modern interpreters have taken this as a sign that Aristotle rejected the view which he originally proposed in the Categories, and thus the whole philosophical system of Aristotle loses its inner coherence and unity. But I think the key to maintaining the coherence of Aristotle's philosophy is to recognize the difference, though there is a close connection, between logic and metaphysics. Logic treats the intentional order, the order of the mind, the modes of conceptualization and signification, whereas metaphysics treats the real order, the modes of being, unconditioned by mental modes and categories. 

In the real order, as contrasted with the logical order, that which is in fact the most real is the form of a thing, its inner actuality, because it simply is the reality of the thing. The composite only has the notion of substance, of something real, because this notion is communicated to it by the form. Thus, the form has the notion of substance or reality in a way that is prior to the composite itself. The form itself just is the reality of the composite. Act is prior to potency; and it is prior to its own dilution by the admixture of potency - i.e. composition. Substance, inasmuch as it is that which is most independently actual, is therefore primarily the form, since form is to matter as act to potency. Thus, the initial temptation to unqualifiedly oppose Aristotle to Plato is unfounded, since both of them give priority of being to the form, and not to the composite individual.

But there is still confusion. Is it not the case that Plato, in attributing primary reality not to sensible individuals but to their forms, intended to separate form from matter, such that Forms have an existence on their own, as subsistent entities? Is this not exactly what Aristotle denies? Is this not the definitive point of difference between these two great philosophers? 

Thus, the question remains how Aristotle compares to Plato in respect to the precise notion of the separation of form from matter. What did Plato mean by separation? Is there anything in Aristotle that is analogous to the separate Forms of Plato? What are we to make of Aristotle's heavy criticisms of the Platonic Forms? What does all of this entail for the universals? Are Plato's Forms not just hypostasized or reified universals? Are Aristotle's separate substances - and what, indeed, are these? - universals in any sense?

So far, my research has revealed to me that these questions are answered, perhaps in an inchoate way, and in various ways, by the Neoplatonists, whether in their own separate treatises or in commentaries which they made on the texts of Aristotle himself. One of the hallmarks of the various Neoplatonic strands of thought is the attempt to reconcile, to some degree or another, the philosophies of Plato and Aristotle, both of whom they viewed and respected as masters of philosophy. Certainly, the Neoplatonic commentaries were not without heavy criticisms of Aristotle. But on the whole, what the attitude of the Neoplatonists reveal is the possibility of integrating Aristotle's project within the project of Platonism as a whole: the voyage of discovery that begins with sensible reality and proceeds to the sublime heights of the supersensible, the purely intelligible - an essentially theological project (in the sense of natural, not revealed, theology).

This year, and probably next year too, in some form, I will be working on a research project that focuses on the Neoplatonic gradual integration of Aristotle's Metaphysics into the Platonic program, which prefigures what I take to be the great synthesis that occurs in the Middle Ages, with Thomas Aquinas. Today's thoughts on substance as form were a first step, still to be developed, in building up my own understanding of that project in detail, informed by a closer reading of the original texts. I will, of course, be posting more of my thoughts in the upcoming weeks and months. In my next few posts, hopefully, I will attempt to address some of the questions listed above.

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Tradition and Reverence for Form

Today's thought pertains quite closely to that of the previous post, on the subject of form and the attitude of reverence. This is a topic with widespread consequences in discussions of politics and culture. The following excerpt is taken from Richard Weaver's classic piece of conservative literature, Ideas Have Consequences (my emphasis):
"Ideas have consequences."
-- Richard Weaver
The man of self-control is he who can consistently perform the feat of abstraction. He is therefore trained to see things under the aspect of eternity, because form is the enduring part. Thus we invariably find in the man of true culture a deep respect for forms. He approaches even those he does not understand with awareness that a deep thought lies in an old observance. Such respect distinguishes him from the barbarian, on the one hand, and the degenerate, on the other. The truth can be expressed in another way by saying that the man of culture has a sense of style. Style requires measure, whether in space or time, for measure imparts structure, and it is structure which is essential to intellectual apprehension. (23)
I think this excerpt contains a remarkable insight - which desperately needs to be developed - concerning the profound connection between traditional culture and form as something worthy of respect or reverence. A truly cultured man has reverence for tradition, because he has reverence for form - the aspect of things that is most divine and enduring, that most transcends space and time. As such, form is what constitutes the sacredness of things: the immanent presence in a contingent, transient world, of something which is itself transcendent and eternal. Such a thing is not to be approached lightly or with an attitude of easy dismissal; rather it is to be approached for the deep enlightenment which it may have to offer. Tradition is essentially an issue of forms. Forms that are, perhaps, apparently conventional and artificial - or artistic, a word which, I think, better conveys a sense of non-arbitrariness - but they are forms nonetheless. 

Perhaps, however, the objection which the liberal minded modernist might bring against this claim, that the respect for tradition is founded upon the respect for form, is precisely that traditional forms are merely artificial, or merely conventional - that is to say, that they are precisely arbitrary. Reverence for arbitrary forms would indeed seem to be quite unfounded. This is, I think, exactly where Weaver's thought is in need of further development: the traditionalist must establish either: 1) that even the arbitrary forms of human tradition are deserving of respect, and hence that tradition is deserving of respect; or 2) that such forms are, in fact, not arbitrary after all, but profoundly rooted in a nature that is beyond the arbitrary construction of human whims and fancies. I think Weaver, Platonist that he famously is, would subscribe unhesitatingly to the latter view, probably with the Aristotelian defense that art imitates nature; and it is only to the degree that man seeks, by his artistic faculties, to depart from the model of nature that the "forms" which he creates become truly arbitrary. Accordingly, it is the modern liberal mindset, which glorifies individual autonomy over any pre-individualistic standard or archetype, such as might be received in a pre-existing tradition, that is truly arbitrary and unworthy of our reverence or respect. 

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Form, Reverence, Myth... Wherein I Speak of Things Divine

"The world is charged with the grandeur of God..."

Form and esse, those principles in things by which they are actual, are also the principles in things by which they have some share, some participation, in the divine. Inasmuch as the divine is present in them - by way of a contracted similitude - they command an attitude of reverence in the soul who encounters them. Creatures are symbols of God, in each their own fashion, to the degree that they participate in God's likeness - which is to the degree that they have form and being. Form is the intrinsic grandeur of things. This is one place where metaphysics leads to a kind of sublime and reverential contemplation: when the philosopher simply basques in the mystery of being, when he gazes with the eye of his soul upon the resplendence of form in things, he is fulfilling, if only in a partial way, the destiny of his human nature. And note, here I do not mean merely the consideration of the abstract species, but the apprehension of the relation of participation which this species has towards the more universal form of the angelic natures, and especially God. 

The whole trajectory of philosophy is towards vision. To know the inner reality and essences of things is, in a way, to anticipate the pure vision that occurs at the very height of philosophy, where reasoning ceases, and the soul simply rests in the contemplating the most universal principle, the One. This vision is, of course, not fully attainable by philosophical endeavor, but only by the life of holiness and the grace of God, according to traditional Christian doctrine. But it is helpful to recognize, in a qualified sense, the homogeneity or continuity of knowledge that begins in the natural consideration of being and form in things, and terminates in a supernatural beatific vision that could not be attained without grace. I say "in a qualified" sense, because there is a certain heterogeneity between nature and grace; it is important to maintain their distinction in kind, not in mere degree, while still recognizing that grace transforms and elevates nature "from the inside," as it were, not by being merely tacked on like a cherry on top. (I am, of course, referring to the De Lubac affair.)

This is, I think, one of those important connections which metaphysics bears upon the living out of the philosophic life in practice - at least in terms of the fundamental attitude of life: the attitude of reverence. Philosophy, in this sense, is not merely an isolated academic study, though it certainly involves that to a very large degree. Rather, philosophy as a way of life is characterized by a basic way of approaching reality in one's very experience of it, day to day. In the light of such a conception of philosophy, the world becomes suddenly alive with a divine mystery, and the philosopher acquires an awareness that is very much like that of the poet: he senses that he is part of a grand myth (which does not mean a mere fable, by the way), in which the main players are not only men but also gods and angels... This may be a rather quaint way of thinking, but something very analogous is true of the Christian life itself, which one may describe as "lived theology": as Christians, with a kind of theological awareness, we become characters in a mythical plot that is much grander and more beautiful than our own individual roles. We are participators in an action that is performed by God, a God-man, angels, heroes, kings, and sages. Reverence and awe, of the sort due to epic tales and legends, are the characteristic emotions of a life lived this way. (And again, I do not mean tales, legends, or myths, in the sense of a make-believe fable. All the ancient cultures were animated by the belief that their myth was in fact, in some sense, their own ancient past. Mythology was their revelation, a record of a time when gods walked the earth and interacted with men, when miracles of a grand scale shaped the world and the course of its history. Christianity does not lack this element - on the contrary, the historical reality of the Incarnation is crucial to our faith.)

It may seem a very wide jump from the metaphysical notions of form and being, as conceived by very rational men like Aristotle and Thomas, to this more poetic and literary way of conceiving the philosophic life. We moderns are not accustomed to associating these things. Even the modern Aristotelian will often treat the notion of form less as an occasion for mythical awe than as an opportunity for study and investigation. But the world of the ancients had not thus been demythologized and disenchanted. Even for Aristotle and Thomas, form was something divine in things, a powerful symbol and residue of divine activity. The relation of cause and effect was not the mere physical and mechanical notion that it is today, but a tale of divine art. Aristotle may have been much more moderate than Plato in his expression of these ideas, when he wrote his Physics, but the spirit of the Timaeus is in important ways more characteristic of the ancient view of the divine cosmogony. The cosmogony is still taking place, indeed: the gods are still active in the world. God has even become a man in these latter days, and the meaning of things has been renewed and transformed in the context of Christ's revelation. We need only have eyes to see - or the faith to believe - the form that is bestowed on things by the Incarnation.

For this kind of life, worship pervades the whole, being concentrated at a certain topmost level of contemplative activity - which, I would argue, occurs first and foremost in a kind of religious ritual. This is described as theurgy - the work of God - by the Neoplatonists. Theurgy is the context within which the divine meaning of things is fully actualized by the mediation of man as priest-theurgist, and returned back to the gods in the act of sacrifice. In theurgy, the myth of the gods is relived and experienced in a special way. I do not believe Aristotle had a notion of theurgy, at least explicitly, but I think it coincides quite nicely with his account of contemplation, which occurs at the height of metaphysics. In Christian theology, this is, of course, the sacred liturgy, where the attitude of reverence is especially concentrated and focused on the sacramental presence of God, especially in the Eucharist. Indeed, in the liturgy, by way of symbolic forms and meanings, the divine cosmogonic myth of redemption, performed by Christ, is energetically relived upon Christian altars in Christian sanctuaries. We the faithful become participators of a divine story.

An example of Christian Theurgy.

Friday, 6 October 2017

Exitus-Reditus and Nostalgia in Theology

It is the office of the wise man to dispose things in order, and this he does in view of the end or final cause of these things. (SGC, I,1). Theology - which, more than any other science, is wisdom - has for its end or final cause the salvation of humanity: "It was necessary for man's salvation that there should be a knowledge revealed by God..." (ST Ia, q.1, a.1). Man's salvation consists in the knowledge of God: "For this is eternal life, that they might know Thee, the only true God..." (John 17:3). It is striking to me that St. Thomas gives human salvation as the purpose of theology itself, which is a science. It seems that St. Thomas must therefore closely associate the study of theology with the Christian life itself - that is, theology has something to do with living well, since it has for its end the eternal beatitude of man.

But theology does not only end with the beatific vision, the knowledge of God, it also begins with it. Every lower science, St. Thomas tells us (Ia, q.1, a.2), receives its principles from a higher science, as music receives its principles from mathematics. In each science, the principles are accepted by a kind of faith. In theology, these principles are none other than the articles of faith, which are received from "the science of God and the blessed." Beatific vision - God's knowledge of Himself, the participation of the blessed in this divine knowing - is the source and beginning of sacred theology. This is the structure of exitus-reditus: procession and return. The perfection of things consists in their return to the first principle from which they proceeded in the first place.

Theology is thus an essentially nostalgic affair: it seeks to return home, to its beginning, to the beginning of all things, indeed. God is called the subject of this science, even though other things are studied in theology, because it is He who is the principle and end of all things: things are only considered, in theology, inasmuch as they refer to Him as their principle and end. Moreover, the very division of theology, in the Summa, according to Thomas, is structure according to this conception: 1) God in Himself (in which we also consider God as Creator, i.e. beginning of all things); 2) man's advance and return to God (in which, accordingly, we consider God as the end of all things); and 3) Christ, who, as man, is our way to God. (Ia, q.2, prologue.)

Monday, 25 September 2017

Tentative Thoughts on Participation...

This is a somewhat tentative exploration of the doctrine of participation and its meaning, inspired by a variety of reading that I have done on the subject. Hopefully in the upcoming months I will be involved in more intensive studies, and will be able to explore the subject with more depth and recourse to texts and authorities.


In logic, as in the Categories of Aristotle, substance is said primarily of the individual in a genus or species, which is a composite, and secondarily of the genus or species itself. The individual substance as such is predicated of nothing, though it is itself the subject of many predications. The logician is here considering things according to how they are defined in speech; the naming of things accordingly is a kind of mental construction, built to reflect the structure of understanding rather than the structure of reality itself directly. 

In metaphysics, the case is quite different. The metaphysician considers things according to an understanding of their intrinsic and real order outside the mind. It is not so much a question of speech as it is of existence. Individual beings, as considered by metaphysics, are dependent and composite, inasmuch as their very substantiality is communicated to them by one of their parts, namely their form. It is, indeed, from the form that the matter and the whole composite receive the notion of "what it is," that is, that it is "this something." The form, which is actuality, is thus said to have the notion of substantiality in a manner that is simply prior to the substantiality of matter and the composite itself. In other words, form considered in itself exists more independently and on its own right than even the composite itself, and in the composite, it is the form which gives substantiality to the whole.

From this, Aristotle easily infers the existence of absolutely prior forms which exist without composition with matter: these are the separate intelligible substances, beings of a purely spiritual nature. These separate intelligible beings bear the notion of substance in a way that is simple, uncontracted, and whole, in comparison to the partial and contracted manner in which sensible things bear this notion, i.e. by participation in form. Intelligible substances are uncontracted and unlimited form; sensible substances are contracted and limited actualities, because their forms exist in matter. In other words, intelligible substances bear the notion of substantiality through themselves, composite substances through their forms.

Plato thought that the separate substances were the same in species as - or that they were the species of - sensible composites. Aristotle denies the sameness in species simply speaking, but he maintains the existence of separate substances which stand in some way as archetypes of actuality to the lesser and more contracted actualities of sensible beings, which are mixed with and limited by potency. St. Thomas makes this even more evident, and develops a full doctrine of participation that is inspired by Plato but harmonious with Aristotle, drawing out its full implications with regard to the participation of creatures by likeness in the divine being itself.

In some sense, for St. Thomas, it remains that sensible substances are some kind of image with respect to intelligible substances, insofar as they participate in some likeness of the actuality of the latter. There is a fullness of actuality to which one might think the form of a man indeed corresponds, but as a limited and contracted actuality. This fullness of actuality would not in fact be "Man Itself," as if it were the specific form of a man existing in a real, separate, but abstract mode; in this sense, then, Plato errs in positing the separate species of sensible particulars. Nonetheless, the particular man does bear a real relation to some fuller actuality which is not limited by matter, and of which the form of a man is really only a contracted image in matter. Plato is thus perfectly correct to insist that the archetypes in which sensible creatures participate are more real than sensible creatures themselves, quite by definition, for they possess a fuller, more complete, and simpler actuality. Participation thus means, for Thomas (in full harmony with Aristotle) as well as for Plato, the reception by a limited and particular thing of that which belongs in a more universal and complete way to something else. It is important to emphasize here that, for both Thomas and Plato, this received or participated nature is found in a more universal way in something that, indeed, actually exists, something that is truly one in number, and hence universal in the very mode of its being. Ultimately, any finite or composed creature, even a separate substance such as an angel, bears a relation of participation to God Himself, inasmuch as God is supersubstantial being in Himself, perfect simplicity and pure actuality, absolutely uncontracted by any admixture or potency, devoid of all composition - whether of matter and form or of essence and existence. All thing, sensible or intelligible, participate in Him by likeness insofar as they possess some measure of actuality, in being or in form. This God is the One, or the Good, of Plato, the ultimate transcendent first principle, the source and archetype of all things.

However, for St. Thomas, this universality of being is strictly distinguished from that sense of universality which is according to predication, i.e. something merely said of many. This is precisely what, despite the profound truth of his doctrine, Plato seemingly failed to distinguish (according to the most common reading of him): universality of being, on the one hand, and universality of predication, on the other hand. The separate substances which he posited were understood to be the species of things; and species is an intentional category, a predicable term. "Man itself," or "humanity," is something said of many, and thus it is a universal predicate, and as such a being of the mind. Plato supposed - according to the most common reading of him - that this species was also a universal being existing actually in concreto, that is, outside the mind, but in a manner free from the conditions of particularity. But Plato is here jumping from the way we speak - again the logical consideration of things - to the way things actually are - which is a metaphysical consideration. He supposed that, from the fact that we say the same thing about various instances, it must follow that there is some separate reality which corresponds to the common attribute named, i.e. that the spoken universal corresponded to some really existing universal being, one in number but somehow causal of all the instances which take part in it. Aristotle and Thomas realized, more moderately, that from common predicates, it does not follow that there is some common species that exists separately, but merely that all the individual instances are alike in form. There is indeed a commonality among them, but that commonality is something one only insofar as it is abstracted by the intellect, and thereby exists as a unity in the intellect. Outside the intellect it only exists in multiplicity, that is in the multitude of particulars of which it is the species. In other words, its existence as one and universal is merely intentional, and thus predicative, rather than truly causal or real.

This distinction is crucial, for if it is not maintained, then we fall easily into pantheism, by seeking to maintain that the common species of things is also some real existing thing that is separate and one in number, but still informs the things of which it is the species. All things are divinized by their common sharing of a single form which is a divine being in itself. Doubtless, Thomas and Aristotle are concerned to maintain the divinity of form in things - not, however, by conceiving it as a single divine being that somehow inheres in a multiplicity of beings, but as a contracted and multiplied image of something other and separate that is itself more divine and one in number, such as an angel, or ultimately God Himself. Thus, the truth of participation is maintained, but the error of pantheism avoided.

Thus, Plato, Aristotle, and Thomas could be seen to be in profound agreement that particular things really do participate in an actuality that belongs more universally to something else that really exists as a separate substance, and ultimately the divine substance. But this universal substance is not, for Aristotle and Thomas, a species of any sensible thing or things, as it was for Plato, but it is entirely its own species; that is, what is universal in being, in which particulars participate, is not also universal in predication, and vice versa. Nonetheless, it remains true to affirm, with Plato, that that substance in which lesser beings participate is truly a real, and separately existing substance - indeed, it is more real and more substantial in itself than anything which participates in it.


There is a question emerging in all of this, for those who know St. Thomas well, concerning the role that the divine ideas might play in relation to participation. According to a certain understanding, it seems appropriate to say that, for Thomas, the divine ideas essentially replace the Platonic forms, and that creatures might be said to participate by a kind of likeness in the divine ideas themselves, just as Plato would say they participate in the forms or separate species. (This post is largely informed by this way of thinking.) According to such a reading of St. Thomas, the Platonic notion of form is saved by replacing the forms within the divine intellect, since only in this way could their intelligible mode of existence really be maintained - for it is ultimately impossible to say that, as intelligible species, they have a separate existence all of their own, as Aristotle showed. But recently, after reading from Gregory Doolan's book on the divine ideas in St. Thomas, I have become less sure of this reading of St. Thomas, specifically the interpretation according to which creatures participate in a divine idea. Certainly the divine ideas, as Plato's forms, play some sort of causal role towards creatures, but it is less clear how that role corresponds to a notion of participation. As we have seen thus far, St. Thomas preserves Plato's doctrine of participation, but he seems to shift it away from the species and towards the separate substances which have their greater real universality in virtue of being more actual, simply speaking. In other words, it is a notion of participation which takes less account of the kinds of things, but more account of their very thing-hood, i.e. their substantiality. (It is of supreme interest that, whereas pre-Aquinas it seems that the fundamental tension between Plato and Aristotle is participation versus substantiality, for St. Thomas these two things cannot be conceived apart from each other.) Substantiality is the primary attribute of being as being. Thus, according to this account, it is in regard to their being, rather than their kind, their whatness (quidditas), or their essence, that they are said to participate in the divine substance.

So, again, here is the question: What, then, do the divine ideas have to do with participation? Anything at all? Is there anything more which Plato put forward about the ideas that might be saved, if perhaps modified, by St. Thomas and integrated with the metaphysics of Aristotle? Perhaps the above account of participation, which seems to focus on the substantiality of things, i.e. their existence, need not be exhaustive. Perhaps an even more complete account of participation will include some account of how things participate, according to their specific forms, in the divine ideas. Such an account would have to be careful to maintain the distinctions we have already made, i.e. between universals in re and in praedicando, but perhaps this is quite possible?

This is all for another post. Right now it is just a question, to which I am not yet sufficiently well-informed to have a solution which I comfortable to propose. Some other time, perhaps, after more study and reading, I will do my best to address this. But discussion is certainly welcome now.

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Livin' in Leuven

The Institute of Philosophy at KU Leuven.*

I arrived in Leuven on Wednesday the 13th. I have begun to settle in to my living arrangement, and get used to the town itself. Leuven is a beautiful town, with several Gothic and Romanesque churches, many markets and shops, a few old monasteries (I'm living in one of them), lots of bikes, lots of pubs and breweries, and many other interesting things. Not least among the jewels of the quaint town is, of course, the university, KU Leuven, home to the Thomistic revival initiated by Cardinal Mercier in the 20th century, as well as the educational origin of many great names like Theodor Schwann, Otto von Hapsburg, and Charles DeKoninck.

Though historically a Catholic town and a Catholic university, it is, unsurprisingly, not especially easy to see Catholicism thriving in a very lively way here. Many of the churches are regularly kept locked; some of them are museums, or partially museums. As far as I can tell so far, the liturgy is not anything special anywhere here - apart from the fact that the monks at the Abbey of Keizersberg, where I am residing, sing parts of the mass and office in Latin, though otherwise the liturgy is less than ideal. It's a shame really. In my mind, the liturgy and the intellectual life have a very close connection, the former being something like the apex and culmination of the latter. The trajectory of the intellectual life is towards contemplation, and thus towards worship; so it seems natural that those who have a care for their intellects should also have a care for the manner in which they worship God. (I will write a lot more about this later... it is one of those profound thoughts which is simultaneously the most influential and the most mysterious to me.)

Sint Pieterskerk, in the town square and the center of Leuven

The Abbey Keizersberg, where I am residing, is an impressive, almost fortress-like building with parts of it from the 19th century - other parts of it were destroyed during World War II, but have been restored in accordance with the venerable and semi-ancient feel of the place. The abbey was founded by Blessed Columba Marmion, a great writer on Benedictine spirituality, who was its first abbot. The grounds of the abbey are open as a public park for visitors, and are extraordinarily peaceful and beautiful. I have already found it one of the best places to sit outside, smoke a pipe, do some reading, or take a walk and pray my rosary. The abbey sits on the top of a hill which is probably the highest point in Leuven, from which one can get an almost panoramic view of the city below. On the hill, there is an enormous and beautiful statue of the Blessed Mother holding the infant Christ, which one can see from certain spots in town.

Keizersberg Abbey

Courtyard within the cloister,
as seen from my bedroom window.

The giant statue on the hill.

I will be studying for an advanced research Master's degree at the Institute of Philosophy, at KU Leuven. The Institute consists of a small number of lovely buildings relatively close to the town center, less than a minute's walk away from the famous main library. The library at the Institute itself is also quite impressive, with a considerable collection of philosophical works from all the periods of history, stacked in four stories. I have only made one brief visit there so far, but I immediately fell in love, especially when I found the sections devoted to St. Thomas and to the Neoplatonists. I foresee many hours devoted to research and writing spent in this library, and probably a bit of blogging too. Here's hoping that the upcoming months will be highly productive, and that my time here will be well-spent in an undying devotion to and pursuit of wisdom and the good life.

*All photos taken by me.