Enough of politics, back to some hard-core technical philosophy. If nothing else, the latter offers exquisite escapist pleasures not unlike those of chess. Of course I don't believe that technical philosophy is escapist; my point is a conditional one: if it is, its pleasures suffice to justify it as a form of recuperation from this all-too-oppressive world of 'reality.' It's what I call a 'fall-back position.'
I have been commissioned to review the collection of which the above-captioned article is a part. The collection is entitled Metaphysics: Aristotelian, Scholastic, Analytic (Ontos Verlag 2012) and includes contributions by Peter van Inwagen, Michael Loux, E. J. Lowe, and several others. My review article will address such topics as predication, truth-makers, bare particulars, and the advantages and liabilities of constituent ontology. I plan a series of posts in which I dig deep into some of the articles in this impressive collection.
Stanislav Sousedik argues for an "identity theory of predication" according to which a predicative sentence such as 'Peter is a man' expresses an identity of some sort between the referent of the subject 'Peter' and the referent of the predicate 'man.' Now to someone schooled in modern predicate logic (MPL) such an identity theory will appear wrongheaded from the outset. For we learned at Uncle Gottlob's knee to distinguish between the 'is' of identity ('Peter is Peter') and the 'is' of predication ('Peter is a man').
But let's give the Thomist theory a chance. Sousedik, who is well aware of Frege's distinction, presents an argument for the identity in some sense of subject and predicate. He begins by making the point that in the declarative 'Peter is a man' and the vocative 'Peter, come here!' the individual spoken about is (or can be) the same as the individual addressed. But common terms such as 'man' can also be used to address a person. Instead of saying, 'Peter, come here!' one can say 'Man, come here!' And so we get an argument that I will put as follows:
1. Both 'Peter' and 'man' can be used to refer to the same individual. Therefore
2. A common term can be used to refer to an individual. But
3. Common terms also refer to traits of individuals. Therefore
4. The traits must be identical in some sense to the individuals. E.g., the referent of 'Peter' must be in some sense identical to the referent of 'man.'
But in what sense are they identical? Where Frege distinguishes between predication and identity, Sousedik distinguishes between weak and strong identity. 'Peter is Peter' expresses strong identity while 'Peter is a man' expresses weak identity. "Strong identity is reflexive, symmetric, and transitive, weak identity has none of these formal properties." (254) It thus appears that strong identity is the same as what modern analytic philosophers call (numerical) identity. It is clear that 'Peter is a man' cannot be taken to express strong identity. But what is weak identity?
S. is a constituent ontologist. He holds that ordinary substances such as Peter have what he calls "metaphysical parts." Whereas Peter's left leg is a physical part of him, his traits are metaphysical parts of him. Thus the referents of the common terms 'man,' 'animal,' living thing,' etc. are all metaphysical parts of Peter. Clearly, these are different traits of Peter. But are they really distinct in Peter? S. says that they are not: they are really identical in Peter and only "virtually distinct" in him. The phrase is defined as follows.
(Def. 1) Between x, y there is a virtual distinction iff (i) x, y are really identical; (ii) x can become an object of some cognitive act Φ without y being the object of the same act Φ . . . . (251)
For example, humanity and animality in Peter are really identical but virtually distinct in that humanity can be the intentional object of a cognitive act without animality being the object of the same act. I can focus my mental glance so to speak on Peter's humanity while leaving out of consideration his animality even though he is essentially both a man and an animal and even though animality is included within humanity.
The idea, then, is that Peter has metaphysical parts (MPs) and that these items are really identical in Peter but virtually distinct, where the virtual distinctness of any two MPs is tied to the possibility of one of them being the object of a cognitive act without the other being the object of the same act.
Is S. suggesting that virtual distinctness is wholly mind generated? I don't think so. For he speaks of a potential distinction of MPs in concrete reality, a distinction that becomes actual when the understanding grasps them as distinct. (253) And so I take the possibility mentioned in clause (ii) of the above definition to be grounded not only in the mind's power to objectify and abstract but also in a real potentiality in the MPs in substances like Peter.
One might be tempted to think of weak identity as a part-whole relation. Thus one might be tempted to say that 'Peter' refers to Peter and 'man' to a property taken in the abstract that is predicable not only of Peter but of other human beings as well. 'Peter is a man' would then say that this abstract property is a metaphysical part of Peter. But this is not Sousedik's or any Thomist's view. For S. is committed to the idea that "Every empirical individual and every part or trait of it is particular." (251) It follows that no metaphysical part of any concrete individual is a universal. Hence no MP is an abstract property. So weak identity is not a part-whole relation.
What is it then?
First of all, weak identity is a relation that connects a concrete individual such as Peter to a property taken abstractly. But in what sense is Peter identical to humanity taken abstractly? In this sense: the humanity-in-Peter and the humanity-in-the-mind have a common constituent, namely, humanity taken absolutely as common nature or natura absoluta or natura secundum se. (254) What makes weak identity identity is the common constituent shared by the really existing humanity in Peter and the intentionally existing humanity in the mind of a person who judges that Peter is human.
So if we ask in what sense the referent of 'Peter' is identical to the referent of 'man,' the answer is that they are identical in virtue of the fact that Peter has a proper metaphysical part that shares a constituent with the objective concept referred to by 'man.' Sousedik calls this common constituent the "absolute subject." In our example, it is human nature taken absolutely in abstraction from its real existence in Peter and from its merely intentional existence in the mind.
I am deeply sympathetic to Sousedik's constituent-ontological approach, his view that existence is a first-level 'property,' and the related view that there are modes of existence. (253) But one of the difficulties I have with S.'s identity theory of predication is that it relies on common natures, and I find it difficult to make sense of them as I already spelled out in a previous post. Common natures are neither one nor many, neither universal nor particular. Humanity is many in things but one in the mind. Hence taken absolutely it is neither one nor many. It is this absolute feature that allows it be the common constituent in humanity-in-Peter and humanity-in-the-mind. And as we just saw, without this common constituent there can be no talk of an identity between Peter and humanity. The (weak) identity 'rides on' the common constituent, the natura absoluta. Likewise, humanity is particular in particular human beings but universal in the mind (and only in the mind). Hence taken absolutely it is neither particular nor universal.
But it also follows that the common nature is, in itself and taken absolutely, neither really existent nor intentionally existent. It enjoys neither esse naturale (esse reale) nor esse intentionale. Consequently it has no being (existence) at all. This is not to say that it is nonexistent. It is to say that it is jenseits von Sein und Nichtsein to borrow a phrase from Alexius von Meinong, "beyond being and nonbeing."
The difficulty is to understand how there could be a plurality of distinct items that are neither universal nor particular, neither one nor many, neither existent nor nonexistent. Note that there has to be a plurality of them: humanity taken absolutely is distinct from animality taken absolutely, etc. And what is the nature of this distinctness? It cannot be mind-generated. This is because common natures are logically and ontologically prior to mind and matter as that which mediates between them. They are not virtually distinct. Are they then really distinct? That can't be right either since they lack esse reale.
And how can these common or absolute natures fail to be, each of them, one, as opposed to neither one nor many? The theory posits a plurality of items distinct among themselves. But if each is an item, then each is one. An item that is neither one nor many is no item at all.
There is also this consideration. Why are common natures more acceptable than really existent universals as constituents of ordinary particulars such as Peter? The Thomists allow universals only if they have merely intentional existence, existence 'in' or rather for a mind. "Intentional existence belongs to entities which exist only in dependence upon the fact that they are objects of our understanding." (253) They insist that, as S. puts it, "Every empirical individual and every part or trait of it is particular." (251) S. calls the latter an observation, but it is not really a datum, but a bit of theory. It is a datum that 'man' is predicable of many different individuals. And it is a datum that Peter is the subject of plenty of essential predicates other than 'man.' But it is not a clear datum that Peter is particular 'all the way through.' That smacks of a theory or a proto-theory, not that it is not eminently reasonable.
One might 'assay' (to use G. Bergmann's term) an ordinary particular as a complex consisting of a thin or 'bare' particular instantiating universals. This has its own difficulties, of course, but why should a theory that posits common natures be preferrable to one that doesn't but posits really existent universals instead? Either way problems will arise.
The main problem in a nutshell is that it is incoherent to maintain that some items are such that they have no being whatsoever. 'Some items are such that they have no being whatsoever' is not a formal-logical contradiction, pace van Inwagen, but it is incoherent nonetheless. Or so it seems to me.