The following is a comment by Dr. Novak on an earlier post about Stanislav Sousedik's Thomist theory of predication. That post has scrolled off into archival oblivion, so I reproduce the comment here and add some comments in blue.
What is, for me, most striking about Bill's troubles with Sousedík's elaboration of the Thomistic theory of predication is first, that he seems to spell out precisely the questions that I regard as the most fundamental ones in all this business, and second, that these are precisely the questions that had stirred the development of the more and more elaborate late-scholastic theories of universals (or predication, for this is one and the same problem for the scholastics). In this comment, I will try just to sketch the direction in which I think the answers can be found; perhaps to elaborate on some points later.
BV: I am encouraged by LN's judgment that I have stumbled upon the most fundamental questions despite my lack of deep familiarity with late Scholasticism.
Now the core problem of course is the problem of common natures. I am afraid that there is a slight misunderstanding about the meaning of this term, and Sousedík's choice of his term -- "absolute subject" -- just makes it worse. It is common to talk of a common or "absolute" nature as though it were an entity or item beside universals and individuals, indeed, "jenseits von Sein und Nichtsein". Truly it seems absurd to postulate such an entity which clearly violates the principle of excluded middle.
However, despite the manner of talk of the scholastics and of Sousedík, one must resist considering an "absolute nature" as an item or entity. There is no such entity called "absolute nature". There are particulars which exist really, and there are universals which exist intentionally. And they have something in common -- the "objective content" which exists both really, as individualised and
identified with the particular(s), and intentionally, as abstracted and universalised, as a universal. This "something in common" is called the "common nature", but it is not something over and above the universal or the particular. We should not say -- and we do not say, properly -- that there is some "absolute nature". The nature can only be absolutely considered, that is, considered under a kind of "second order abstraction" - viz. under abstraction from the fact whether it is or is not considered under abstraction from individuality.
BV: I note that LN uses 'item' and 'entity' interchangeably. That is not the way I use the terms. For me, an entity is anything that has being or existence, anything that has esse. 'Nonexisting entity' is therefore a contradiction in terms. My use of 'item,' however, is ontologically noncommital. Accordingly, 'nonexisting item' is not a contradiction in terms. I am pleased to find that I use the term in exactly the same way that Daniel D. Novotny does in his paper, "Scholastic Debates About Beings of Reason" in Metaphysics: Aristotelian, Scholastic, Analytic (Ontos Verlag, 2012), p. 26. 'Item' as I use it is the most inclusive term in the philosophical lexicon. Anything to which one can refer, anything that one can single out in thought, anything that can be counted as one, whether it exists or not, is an item. Nonexistent objects, impossible objects, incomplete objects -- all are items.
Now the common nature, the nature considered absolutely, i.e., considered apart from both real existence and intentional existence and from the accidents that accrue to it when it exists either really (in things) or intentionally (in the mind), is clearly not an entity, but it is an item. Or so I maintain. It 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. After all, the common nature is not nothing. It is a definite item. Take felinity considered absolutely. It is distinct from humanity considered absolutely. It is not the felinity in my cat, nor the felinity in my mind when I think about the cat. It is a selfsame item that can exist in either way, or in both ways. And is is a different selfsame item than the common nature humanity that can exist either in particular humans or in minds or both.
LN says that the common nature " is not something over and above the universal or the particular." If this means that the common nature felinity is not an entity in addition to really existing particular cats and the intentionally existing universal, then I agree. It is not an entity because it has no mode of being. 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. So in that sense it is indeed an item (not an entity) "over and above the universals or the particular."
The intended meaning of the saying that this "absolute nature" is neither one nor many, neither real nor intentional etc. is not that there is in fact some primitive constituent item out there devoid of all these properties. That would indeed be absurd. The meaning is that the nature - which in fact is
both many [namely according to its real existence in particulars] and one [according to its intentional existence in a universal] (note that this is not a contradiction!) -- this very nature does not possess any of these two modes of being and the consequent properties "of itself", that is, necessarily, i.e.
it can be consistently grasped without them or "absolutely"; and only insofar as it is thus grasped, we can say that it is neither this nor that. Just like a chemist can grasp water as water, that is, according to the properties that belong to water on the basis of its chemical constitution, and disregard whether it is for example cold or hot. He would say that water as water is neither hot nor cold, even neither hot nor not-hot - without thereby necessarily postulating some item called "absolute water" over and above the individual instances of water of various temperatures.
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.
In this connection it is important to note that Jacques Maritain, no slouch of a Thomist, speaks of THREE esse's. (Degrees of Knowledge, p. 129, n. 115) He calls them esse naturae [sic], esse intentionale, and esse cognitum seu objectivum. The latter mode of being is the mode of being of common natures.
My cat exists outside the mind as a concrete singular. Its mode of existence is esse naturae, or esse naturale. Now my mind, in knowing the cat, does not become a cat. So the felinity in my mind when I know the thing before me as a cat cannot exist in my mind in the same way that it exists in the cat outside my mind. Rather, it exists in the mode of esse intentionale which implies that it is abstract and universal as opposed to concrete and singular. Now suppose I abstract from both of these modes of existence. So abstracting, I focus upon the common nature. About this common nature, Maritain says that it too is "abstract and universal." (Ibid.)
The fact that Maritain speaks of a third mode of esse points up the problem I am having with common natures. What Maritain says strikes as reasonable. But it contradicts what LN says is the Thomist doctrine. The official doctrine is that the common nature is neither universal nor particular. Maritain, however, quite reasonably says that the common nature is abstract and universal.
In other words: you cannot start with "absolute natures" as some elementary items and then try to build the common-sense particulars out of them. Quite the other way around: you take the familiar particulars, then you become aware that you are able to grasp them by means of universal concepts, and then you proceed to identify what the universal concept has "taken" from the particular (its
"objective content") and what not (the properties of concepts /like being universal/ as opposed to their notes). That which the universal concept has captured of the particular is the "common nature"; it is something existing as really identified to the particular (or else it could not have been abstracted
from there) - therefore it cannot, of itself, require universality. But it is also something capable of existing as identified to a universal concept; therefore it cannot, of itself, be incompatible with universality.
So, a common nature is not some elementary ontological item, a philosophical "atom"; it is an abstraction of an abstraction.
BV: LN's phrase 'objective content' is a felicitous one. The common nature is the objective content of my subjective concept of a cat, say, but it is also to be found in the cat existing in the mode of esse naturale. Now the dispute, as I see it, is about the exact status of these objective contents or common natures. I can think of three possibilities:
A. The common nature really exists.
B. The common nature does not exist, really or intentionally, but has Meinongian Aussersein status. (This seems to be Novotny's view. See p. 34 of his article cited above.)
C. The common nature exists intentionally, not really, as an object of a double abstraction.
Now both LN and I reject (A). I opt for (B). Accordingly, my thesis is that the doctrine of common natures inherits -- to put it anachronistically! -- all of the problems of Meinong's doctrine of Aussersein. LN seems to be opting for (C). The trouble with(C) is that it contradicts Thomist doctrine according to which the common nature is neither universal nor particular, neither one nor many, and neither really nor intentionally existent. For on (C), the common nature, as Maritain said, is "abstract and universal." It is also one not neither one nor many, and intentionally existent, not neither really nor intentionally existent.
There is more to LN's comment, but the rest will have to be addressed in a separate post or posts.