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Thursday, November 22, 2012


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Interesting. I wonder: Does (C) really contradict Thomas' doctrine? The common nature cannot be *predicated of many particulars*, since that is the job of the intentional mode of being of universals and the common nature is prior to these; therefore it is not a universal (at least in the ordinary sense). It is also not identical to any really instantiated individual, again since it is prior to these. And it must be prior to universal concepts and to really instantiated forms of individuals because these are clearly intentionally distince, despite being formally identical. So the two modes of instantiation (universal and particular) of 'the same thing' presuppose that each is the instantiation of some prior and distinct common item, the common nature (which of course has intentional existence as soon as we think of it, but not of the same kind as the 'predicable of many' universal concept).

The sense in which felinity is abstraction of abstraction, an emptied-out kind of universal, might be illustrated by considering that one can teach a monkey or a dog to understand (behaviorally) what a cat is, versus say a duck. But I would assert that one cannot teach them whan "felinity" is, because that word is a language-based, verbal abstraction from the general (verbal and/or nonverbal) concept of cat by which both we and the chimp can recognize a cat when we see one.

So perhaps treating felinity as something with being is an artifact of language-based abuse of universals: it is an example of what it means to reify our words about something.


On the concept of an item.

In this post, you seem to say that any impossible object is an item.

But in "Notes on Philosophical Terminology and Its Fluidity", you said: "'Item' commits me to nothing except self-identity."

On this older reading, any item is self-identical. But it seems that on your current reading an item may not be self-identical.

E.g., think of something impossible. Better, think of something that both is and isn't a man. On your current account, you've just thought of an item. Not so on you older account.

So, did you broaden you concept of an item?

Typos: should have been 'your' instead of 'you' in the last two sentences of my comment. Please edit if you can.

Hi Vlastimil,

Thanks for the comment. I hope you are well. I'm glad you remember the old post and are comparing it with the new one. And I encourage you to point out any inconsistencies you might find.

But on this occasion I think my two posts are consistent.

Meinong's favorite example of an impossible object is the round square. That object is what it is, and so is self-identical. Why do you think that an impossible object should lack self-identity?

Same goes for the object, the man who is not a man. That is an impossible object, but nonetheless self-identical. The object cannot exist because it has a contradictory Sosein, but that Sosein is self-identical.

By the way, I hope it is clear that I am not endorsing Meinong. I am making a terminological point, namely, that to avoid begging questions against Meinongians we distinguish 'item' and 'entity.'

My own view is that every item is an entity and every entity an item. So they are extensionally equivalent terms, but intensionally nonequivalent.

If common natures are Meinongian nonexistent objects, then I consider that an argument against common natures.


Thanks for the comment. Sorry if I don't have time to get to your other comments.

One of the jobs of common natures is to broker the transaction between mind and thing in such a way that mind directly contacts thing without the need of representations. Thus common natures play a key role in the Thomist theory of intentionality.

Now if the CN has merely intentional status, as on (C), then it is difficult to see how it could serve as go-between between mind and thing. It has to be logically prior to both mind and thing if it is to serve as their mediator. In other words, something merely on the side of mind cannot secure the direct contact of the mind with what is extramental.

I hope this is clear. This is another reason why I opt for (B).

I could certainly be wrong about this, but as it seems to me, the common nature doesn't exactly 'broker the transaction' between mind and thing (this is the job of the agent intellect and the intelligible species); rather it grounds their correspondence, that is, the formal identity between the two. Thus on (C) I'm not sure why it would be necessary to say that it is a matter *merely* of intentional status - there is also a real metaphysical role for the common nature. One might argue that this metaphysical role is otiose, I suppose, like Plato's separate forms, but certainly that would require an argument. And just because Aristotle and Aquinas reject Platonic forms doesn't mean that they don't want to replace them with a functional equivalent.


Thanks for asking. I'm decently well. What about you? This year I lost much time looking for a philosophy job and thinking about jobs of other kinds.

On reflection, I don't doubt any item (if it exists) is self-identical. But I doubt that none is non-self-identical. For some items (if they exist) are both self-identical and non-self-identical.

Take the man who is not a man. He (given he exists) is both self-identical and not self-identical. For anything follows from him (his existence). And, second, though he is what he is (i.e., the man who is not a man), he also is what he isn't (a man who is a non-man).

Granted, an item is anything that one can single out in thought. And any item is self-identical. But some items are both self-identical and non-self-identical.

Hi Bill. No need for a 'sic'. "Esse naturae" is perfectly OK, as is "esse naturale" The first is the genitive, the second the adjectival form.

Hi Ed,

You're right of course. I used 'sic' to indicate to the reader that I hadn't out of carelessness dropped the 'l.'

But isn't 'esse naturae' infected with an ambiguity absent in 'esse naturale'? The first could mean 'being of a nature' or 'natural being' whereas the second can mean only 'natural being.'

And don't some scholastics use 'esse essentiae' and 'esse existentiae'? Seems to me that there is a clear difference between 'essential being' and 'being of an essence' and (less clearly) between 'existential being' and 'being of existence.'

It is very interesting that 'of' can be used to make an adjective. For example, instead of saying 'wealthy man' I can also say 'man of wealth.'

This raises the following question. Should we classify 'man of wealth' as a genitive construction? It is not logically genitive as is 'son of Ed.'

Or take 'city of London.' That expresses apposition: 'the city, London.' So, arguably, it is not logically genitive. In fact, I am wondering whther it should even be called grammatically genitive.

Vlastimil writes,

>>Take the man who is not a man. He (given he exists) is both self-identical and not self-identical. For anything follows from him (his existence). <<

I am puzzled by this. The man who is not a man logically cannot exist: he is an impossible object. And so your condition "given he exists" cannot be satisfied.

Anything follows from a contradiction, but the man who is not a man is not a contradiction but an object with a constradictory Sosein.

Call this object M. M can be represented like this: i{being a man, not being a man}. The operator i makes a Meinongian object out of any set of properties. It is not M that is contradictory but the properties internal to it.

>>And, second, though he is what he is (i.e., the man who is not a man), he also is what he isn't (a man who is a non-man).<<

Consider the conjuctive property, *being a man & not being a man.* That property cannot be exemplified. But it is self-identical. It is not both self-identical and not self-identical. Analogously with Meinongian objects.


"Broker the transaction" is a loose and metaphorical phrase, so I'll drop it. So let's say, as you do, that the CN grounds the correspondence between mind and thing. Now my question concerns the exact ontological status of this ground. I count three possibilities: it exists really; it exists merely intentionally; it is neutral as to existence. What I have been arguing is that it has to be neutral to play the grounding role.

Consider a time t before there were cats and before there were minds. At t, felinity could have neither esse naturale in concrete singulars nor esse intentionale in minds. And of course the Thomist wants to deny that felinity has real existence as a universal or Platonic form. And yet felinity is not nothing at t. It is something at t. So it is arguable that at t, felinity has Aussersein status.

This argument can also be given a modal form.


-- IF something both is and isn't a man, then anything follows; including that such a thing is not self-identical. In this sense, any man who isn't a man is not self-identical.

-- Of course the antecedent can't be true. But how is that important?

-- Granted, the property "being a man and not being a man" is self-identical yet isn't non-self-identical. Still, anything that instantiates the property is both -- given it exists -- which it, of course, doesn't, for it can't.

-- Perhaps you wonder why I add "given it exists". I do so to avoid the assumption that some x (item, entity, or whatsoever) instantiates contradictory properties.


I am afraid I am not following you. In any case, this is off-topic. Perhaps we can resume this in a separate post. I thank you for your comments.

Hi Bill, just catching up after the weekend

>>And don't some scholastics use 'esse essentiae' and 'esse existentiae'? Seems to me that there is a clear difference between 'essential being' and 'being of an essence' and (less clearly) between 'existential being' and 'being of existence.'

There is a difference in the English that is not there in the Latin, in my view.

Changing the subject somewhat, I read the first chapter of CJFW's Existence again after 32 years. There is much to discuss, including his claim of a circularity in the Fregean definition of 'exist', which seems to resemble yours. Signing off now.


I read it in March 1982. It came out in '81. Did you read it in manuscript?

I'll look to see if his circularity is mine.

He uses the wonderful phrase "circulus in definiendo".

We discussed it in a postgrad seminar group circa 1980-81. I remember the blue coloured ink on the pages produced by the department's mimeograph. Strange to think that this was the only way of copying written material in those days. Typewriters were still mechanical, phones had rotary dials. A lot happens in our lifetime. In technology, anyway.

My response to Bill:

1) I note Bill's distinction of "item" and "entity" and I will maintain it.

2) Bill's crucial claim is the following:

[Absolutely considered nature] is not an entity because it has neither esse naturale nor esse intentionale. Here LN and I agree. But it is an item because we have singled it out in thought and are talking about it.

I would say that this is percisely the misunderstanding (a very natural one). I would not say that the phrase "absolutely considered nature" are used to single out an item in thought so that it can be talked about. It is used to single out certain way how to think about an item - namely, about the common nature. I am not making an ontological claim here, but a semantic claim.

Of course there is an item, indeed an entity, called "common nature". But it is not true that this entity is neither one nor many, neither universal nor particular. The common nature is really particular and numerically multiplied, and it is intentionally universal and numerically one. There is no paradox and not a logical problem of any sort in this claim, I maintain.

Now I maintain that when the claim is made that the absolute nature is neither universal nor particular etc., it should not be understood as an ontological claim about some item called "absolute nature", but as a semantic claim about the term "absolute nature", a claim to the effect that this term must not be interpreted as though it picked out any item (in anddition to the items "common nature as existing really" and "common nature as existing intentionally") in order to make ontological claims about it.

This is not to say that when we are speaking of an absolute nature, we are speaking of nothing. No - we are speaking of the common nature, in a certain way.

So when one speaks of "felinity absolutely considered", one does not speak of some item in some sense distinct both from the felinity in my cat and the felinity in my mind. One speaks of the felinity that is both in my cat and in my mind, disregarding either of these modes of being. The claim "Felinity absolutely considered is not the felinity in my cat, nor the felinity in my mind" can be true only if interpreted to mean "felinity, insomuch as it is considered absolutely, is not considered as being in my cat or being in my mind (and neither of these modes of being is implied by the very meaning of 'felinity')". The scholastics have used to talk in such shorthands, in order not to have to repeat these sophisticated constructions again and again.

3) Bill objects:

But surely the selfsame felinity that is in my cat and in my mind when I think about the cat, precisely because it is common, cannot be identical to the felinity really existing in cats or the felinity intentionally existing in minds thinking about cats.

This is the crucial point. I maintain that there is no contradiction in saying that it is the selfsame felinity which is really existing in cats as particular and which is intentionally existing in my mind as universal. Real particularity is compatible with intentional universality. Therefore, I see no basis for Bill's claim the felinity common to reality and thought must be distinct from the felinities-in-reality and felinity-in-thought.

It seems to me that this solves most of the remaining problems Bill raises; nevertheless, I would like to comment on two more points in some detail.

4) Ad BV:

What the foregoing implies, however, is that the common nature exists only in the mind of one who abstracts both from real existence and from intentional existence. The crucial phrase is, "only insofar as it is thus grasped, we can say that it is neither this nor that." This implies that the common nature is only as grasped by a mind. That in turn implies that common natures have esse after all -- in contradiction to the theory. It also implies that common natures are universals -- again in contradiction to the theory.

It seems to me that this is the same sort of fallacy as Berkeley's argument that it is impossible that there be imperceived objects because it is impossible to point out an object that is not perceived. When we talk about a (particular) "nature taken absolutely" (say, felinity), we surely talk about that common nature grasping it by means of the double abstraction. But its being thus grasped is not part of what is being talked about. What is being talked about is just felinity -- not felinity as existing in the individuals, nor felinity as existing in the common concept, nor even felinity as being grasped by means of this double abstraction. The Scholastics might invoke the "actus signatus" vs. "actus exercitus" distinction here. The nature exists under the double abstraction in actu exercito, that is, as a matter of fact it is being grasped just this way, but it is not so in actu signato, that is, it is not grasped qua being so grasped. Even before it was so grasped it enjoyed, as a matter of fact, real particular existence. As soon as it is grasped, it also enjoys existence in the mind as universal. So it is, as a matter of fact, both universal and particular. But neither of these circumstances enter into the content of what we grasp when we grasp felinity absolutely, that is, just felinity qua felinity.

Of course we can also grasp felinity qua being grasped absolutely, that is, felinity taken absolutely in actu signato. We would need a fresh, reflexive act distinct from the act that grasps felinity absolutely to do so. But the "signated" content of such act would not be felinity + a heap of two superimposed abstractions (i.e. (i)an abstraction making it universal, and (ii) an abstraction abstracting from the circumstance whether it is or is not subject to the first abstraction). For by entertaining the second abstraction we do not add on some further abstraction but - to the contrary - revoke indeterminatedly or take into question the the first abstraction. So our precise object is now the felinity qua grasped in this unresolved way. It is still the selfsame felinity we are dealing with all along; but the way it is being grasped now is not "being grasped absolutely", but "being grasped qua being grasped absolutely". Mark the difference! Of course, considered qua such, the nature has indeed intentional being.

5) Ad Bill's trilemma - in a sense, the three alternatives are all true in my view:

  • "The common nature does really exist" (in the particulars) - only its real existence is not part of what is being grasped when it is grasped absolutely.
  • "The common nature does not exist either really or intentionally" in the sense that having either intentional or real existence is not part of what is being grasped when the nature is grasped absolutely ("just qua felinity").
  • "The common nature exists intentionally as an object of double abstraction" in actu exercito whenever it is grasped absolutely. Moreover, it exists so in actu signato, whenever it is grasped qua being grasped absolutely.

Best regards,

P.S. I hope to be able to get to the bare particulars matter ASAP.

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