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Thursday, February 11, 2010


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"had it not been for the doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation, medieval Christian thinkers would never have been led to assert that suppositum and substance (or: individual nature) are distinct concepts."

I haven't read all of the linked article, but your quote seems to show Freddoso failing to clearly articulate the difference between an individual nature and a supposit. It may or may not be true as a historical fact that this distinction was first formulated in order to expound the special cases of the Trinity and the Incarnation, but the two are definitely distinct in ordinary things as well.

For instance: Socrates is not his humanity. Socrates' humanity is his individual nature, but it is not the irreducible substrate of all his attributes. It is not Socrates' humanity which supports his whiteness, but Socrates himself, the composite whole of individual nature (*this* humanity), matter, and individuating factor or factors. We don't say that the humanity is white, or that his matter or his Socrateity is white, but that Socrates is white.

So individual nature and supposit are distinct in ordinary cases and not just in theological special cases. Aquinas makes this point, for instance, in the Summa III.2.3.

As for "what is the relation of assumption?" it seems to me that the best approach to the question without bringing in a lot more technical language is to try to make illuminative analogies. Say I have a heart problem and have a pacemaker, or (better) an artificial heart installed. I could say that I have "assumed" the gadget into my body. My new artificial heart is a part of me. However, my nature is biological, but the newly assumed thing's nature is mechanical. You could say that a biological person has assumed a mechanical nature - according to a metaphysics like Aquinas', the artificial heart is not a substance in its own right, since it is a part of something else. But it hasn't lost its own nature, since it hasn't become biological; it's still mechanical. Nor would you say that I have become a mechanical person; I'm a biological person with an assumed mechanical nature.

There are obviously places where the analogy breaks down; for instance, the gadget pre-existed its installation in body, whereas the human nature in Christ is not taken to have existed before its creation and assumption by the divine person; the human nature in Christ is not taken to be or to replace a part of the divine nature; and there are others. So I don't know if it's helpful, but it's the best I can do after midnight.

Freddoso is confused in one point: he identifies individual nature and substance. In so far as we use "substance" as a concrete term, that is, we say that Socrates is a substance, or that Socrates is composed of matter and form, "substance" refers to a substantial suppositum.

On the other hand, when we take "substance" to mean "individual nature", the Socrates is not a substance but has one. Similarly, in this sense it is not his substance, strictly speaking, what is composed of matter and form, or soul and body, it is Socrates himself.

This ambiguity of "substance" is derived from the ambiguity of Aristotle's "ουσία", which is both "essence" and "substance".

Indeed, when you identify the substance with the soul-body complex, the question why you need an additional entity, the suppositum, is justified. But in my opinion Freddoso is just wrong here. The Aristotelian primary substance, the here and now existing hylomorphic composite, just is a suppositum. But it is distinct from its individual nature, the principle thorugh which it exists as this individual instance of this kind, as Michael Sullivan illustrates.

Of course, as soon as you make two aristotelian primary substances of the natures in Christ, you arrive at a nonsense.

I think that your theory of supposita can be somehow interesting in analytic debate on ontology, as regards the notion of "multi-inherence" (distinguished from "multi-exemplification"):
- one and the same instance of property and natural kind can inhere in many suppositalities (in the case of the Trinity: an instance of the universal natural kind "Godhood" inheres in 3 Persons)
- different instances of different properties and natural kinds can inhere in one and the same suppositality (in the case of the Incarnation: an instance of the universal natural kind "Godhood" and an instance of the universal natural kind "Manhood" inhere in the Second Person of the Trinity)
I don't think that multi-inherence is generally admitted within the analytic debate, however it doesn't seem to me inconsistent as such either.
Multi-inherence can also show interesting applications regarding modality and identity (as you just tried to demonstrate above).
The point is that its explanatory power seems to obtain only in the case of Trinity and Incarnation doctrines (I'm wondering if we have also to list the case of "Eucharistia").
Furthermore, besides multi-inherence there are additional conditions which have little to do with the multi-inherence theory as such but more with the christian trinitarian doctrine, which look problematic to me and explicitely tailored to support this particular case:
- The idea that there is necessarily only one and unique instance or exemplification of the universal natural kind "Godhood" which contradicts the notion of 'universal' (a universal is precisely something that CAN be multi-exemplified)
- The relation of inherence between God and the 3 Persons is not of the same type in the three cases, as you explicate in another post:
"The distinction of the persons consists only in the fact that Father has his essence as 'unbegotten', the Son has the same essence from the Father, and the Holy Ghost has it from the Father and Son jointly. These relations of origin are real (independent from our thought), therefore also the distinction of the Persons is real; but from certain point of view there is nothing more than the divine essence related to itself in various ways. Or better said: what is there are the three Persons (for existence and operation is properly ascribed to the suppositum, not its nature), but the three Persons are only distinguished in the way they posses their common essence"


1) What is the difference between 'multi-inherence' vs. 'multi-exemplification'?

2) Is it the case that when 'P' inheres in an individual a, then it is true that "a is P"?

3) Does the term 'beget' in the present context means the same as 'bring about' or 'cause'?

If it does, then if x begets y at t, then y does not exist prior to t. Hence, y cannot be said to necessarily or eternally exist.

If it does not, then what does it mean in the present context?

Michael and Lukas,

You should be very wary of accusing Freddoso of confusion. He is a distinguished philosopher at the U. of Notre Dame which has an outstanding phil. dept. (Plantinga, van Inwagen, et al.)He is a rigorous thinker who publishes in top journals and, as far as I can tell, is a very good scholar who works from the Latin texts. He is engaged in a massive translation project, rendering the whole of the ST into English. I am quite sure he has discussed these matters with the late Ralph McInerny and people at the Maritain Center. His homepage: http://www.nd.edu/~afreddos/

I am sure you will both agree with me that there can be justified appeals to authority, not that I would rest my case on that alone.


Don't be offended, but have you heard the humorous definition of medieval philosophy as 'substance abuse'? (I assume you understand the joke; if not, I will explain it.) What you say about the ambiguity of 'ousia' is exactly right. (My teacher John Niemeyer Findlay once spoke of substance in Aristotle as an "irridescent concept.")

That ambiguity is part of the problem with vast tracts of scholastic phil. One never knows when one is reading Gilson or Maritain what exactly they mean by 'substance' and 'being' and 'individual nature.' One suspects a sliding back and forth between different senses that papers over real problems.

You say that the Aristotelian primary substance (prote ousia),the concrete hylomorphic composite, just is a suppositum. And then you distinguish between the primary substance and its individual nature.

That's fine. Now please explain the exact nature of the distinction between the primary substance and its individual nature? What, if anything, must be added to the individual nature to get the primary substance? Esse? Materia signata?

Is the primary substance a whole of which the individual nature is a proper ontological part? If yes, then what more is there to the primary substance that this ontological proper part?

If the primary substance just is a suppositum, is the individual nature an ontological proper part of the suppositum?


Inter-Trinity relations are not the topic in this thread, but the Father's begetting of the Son, and the Holy Ghost's proceeding from the Father and the Son (filioque!)are not temporal relations and therefore not causal if you think causes must temporally precede their effects.

Suppose you have two necessary beings N1 and N2. Can we conceive of a situation in which N1 is ontologically prior to N2? (That is, not temporally prior, but not merely logically prior either.)

This may be an example. God, a necessary being, has before his mind the proposition *7 + 5 = 12*. You will grant that this proposition is nec. true. Now if it has the property of being true in all worlds, then it must exist in all worlds. So the prop. in question is a necessary being. AND YET, it seems to me to make sense to say that God is ontologically prior to the proposition. Why? Because the prop. is a divine accusative. It depends for its existence on God, but not the other way around, despite the fact that both are necessary beings in the sense that both exist in all poss. worlds.

Aquinas would say that God has his necessity from himself, whereas the proposition has its necessity from another. That makes sense to me.

Now of course the Son is not a proposition, but he is perhaps LIKE a proposition insofar as he is the Logos, Verbum, Word of God. The Father and the Son are both necessary beings, and co-ternal, but the Father is ontologically prior to the Son.

Or how about the relation beween a proposition and its truth-maker? That is not causal relation: the T-maker does not cause the prop. to be true. And it is not a logical relation either because the T-maker is not a prop. (Logical relations are defined over propositions.) And yet it makes sense to say that the T-maker is ontologically prior to the proposition it makes true.

As far as I've understood, in a sentence like "Socrates is old" Lukas distinguishes 3 items:
1) The suppositality (what remains of a given thing after removing all its properties) denoted rigidly and de re by "Socrates"
2) The universal property denoted by the abstract general term "oldness"
3) The instance of the universal property "oldness" denoted by the definite description "Socrates's own oldness" (and is what the monadic predicate refers to)
The relation that links the universal property "oldness" with the instance "Socrates's own oldness" is called 'exemplification' (namely, the instance of the universal property exemplifies the universal property)
while the relation that links the universal property "Socrates" with the instance "Socrates's own oldness" is called 'inherence' (namely, the instance of the universal property inheres in the suppositality)
Therefore the concrete object, called 'suppositum' is the compound of suppositality and all its instances of universal monadic properties (therefore it's the instance of the universal property what ontologically constitutes the suppositum, and not the universal property itself).
Among these instances of properties there is the instance of a universal 'natural kind' property or 'universal nature' (like manhood or godhood) which corrisponds to what Lukas call "the individual nature"
Finally there are ambiguities tied to linguistic conventions like:
- 'essence' can refer both to the 'individual nature' and to 'the universal nature'
- 'subject' (of predication) can refer both to the 'suppositality' (de re and rigid use) and to the whole 'suppositum' (de dicto and loose use)
According to all these distinctions, we can easily quantify both on suppositalities and on universal properties and on instance of properties and say something like:
- there exists exactly one instance of a given universal nature which inheres to 3 distinct suppositalities at the same time (by 'distinct' I also mean there is no relation part/whole between these suppositalities)
- there are exactly 2 instances of 2 distinct universal natures (by 'distinct' I mean there is no relation of inclusion in their extensions) which inheres to one and the same suppositality at the same time.
According to this reading a sentence like 'The Son is God' can be easily interpreted not as an identity (no matter if relative or absolute) but simply as a predication of 'God' (as denoting an instance of the universal nature "Godhood") which inheres to a suppositality named 'The Son' (even though it sounds confusing to give a proper name like 'God' to an instance of universal nature, because proper names are used to denote suppositalities or supposita, not instance of properties; they probably justify this choice by saying that God is not barely an instance of the universal nature 'Godhood', but even more it is the ONLY and UNIQUE instance of the universal nature 'Godhood', so it's worth it to give it a proper name)
And again '3 Persons are one and the same God' means one and the same instance of universal nature inheres in or is predicated of 3 distinct suppositalities.

As regards the notion of 'beget', no idea how Lukas would face it. (Honestly also sentences like "God is almighty, omniscient, created the world, judges you and loves you" sound very confusing to me").


I know the work of Freddoso and I hold him in high esteem. Yet, the matter of Trinity is very difficult, and the fluid semantics of "substance" is, well, a nightmare :-) This is why I tried to avoid the term if possible in all my commenting. So I do not think pointing to such a slip is much damaging to Freddoso's authority. As a Catholic I cannot but agree that there are legitimate appeals to authority, even in philosophy. But in philosophy, "cedat auctoritas rationi" :-)

Yes, the nature is a part of the suppositum. The other part is called "suppositality". I have already confessed that I am not sure what precisely plays the role of suppositality in created things. There are basically 3 opinions: the "esse" (minority thomists), a substantial mode (majority thomists, suarezians), or a mere negation, "not being received in a further subject and not being capable of that" (scotists). But I am thinking hard about it continuously :-)

In the Trinity, the suppositalities are the constitutive relations of origin.

I like the "substance abuse" joke!


We need a better word than 'suppositality.' That's not English. What Latin term do you have in mind? You say you don't know what plays the role of suppositality. But what is the role?

Does suppositality have anything to with what Maritain calls subsistence in *Degrees of Knowledge*?


I agree about "suppositality" not being English (neither is it Latin, FWIW). I don't know about Maritain, but yes, "subsistence" is a synonym in most authors. The problem is that it is ambiguous: it can also mean "existence of a substance", or "esse in se and per se" in the existential sense. Which is only the "minority thomist" interpretation of what suppositality is. Not to speak of the modern use of the word in such authors like Russell or Quine, who seem to apply "subsistence" to any kind of existence which in some way appears mysterious to them. But as long as we are aware of the meaning and avoid all a priori "existential" implications, we can use it.

What's its role: to turn an individual nature into a suppositum, that is, to bestow the final perfection on the nature which 1) makes it absolutely incommunicable to a subject; 2) integrates and unifies the nature to the effect that it may become a subject of accidental properties. It is that which turns "this humanity" into "this man" - the final "seal" or "finish" of the essence.

This is a "majority thomist" account by J. Gredt that I have already posted in "Supposita" - I repost it here to document that suppositum is identified with primary substance and distinguished from individual nature:

A singular substance that is complete according to its species, perfect in its substantiality and absolutely incommunicable is also called a "suppositum" (hypostasis). A suppositum of rational nature is called a "person" (prosopon). In all created things there is a distinction between the suppositum and the singular nature or quiddity or substantial essence; for no created being (ens) is its own existence (esse), but is composed of essence and existence (esse). Therefore there can never be indentity between the whole existing in reality and the singular substantial essence. The essence has the character of "that by means of which" ("quo"), whereas solely the suppositum has the character of "that which" ("quod"). Since suppositum is that which is, it is also that which operates; while nature is that by means of which the suppositum operates. Hence the axiom: operations belong to the supposita (actiones sunt suppositorum). Therefore, anything that is predicated of a thing accidentally, is predicated not according to the nature or quiddity, but according to the suppositum, insofar as subsistence, being the form of a suppositum, on the one hand makes the nature incommunicable in relation to anything that is outside the essence of the thing, but on the other hand integrates the substantial nature as a subject of everything that comes to it accidentally.


I do not say that anything ever inheres in a suppositalily (or let us use "subsistence" instead). The subject in which all things inhere is the suppositum. In fact, the subsistence itself inheres in the suppositum.

Now concrete terms refer standardly to supposita both when used de re and de dicto. The difference is that used de re such a term refers in all possible worlds to the suppositum that satisfies its semantics in the actual world, whereas used de dicto it refers in each possible world to the suppositum that satisfies the semantics of the term in that given world.

So instead of saying "a nature inheres in a suppositality" you should have said "a nature is connected with a suppositality" or so. Otherwise, it seems to me that you have it pretty correct.

Concerning "beget", there seems to be a disagreement whether it is a causal relation or not. But even if it is (like in Scotus), note that the scholastic understanding of causality is very different from the modern conceptions. This would be an entire new topic to discuss.


I was trying to clarify your conceptual framework for a better matching between your terminology and the analytic ontology terminology, like below:
- universal nature = universal natural kind
- instance of property = trope
- suppositality or subsistence = thin particular
But I failed because the last equivalence between 'subsistence' and 'individual' is not valid. In analytic ontology a thin particular doesn't inhere in or is not predicable of anything. While 'subsistence' inheres in something.
I was misled by the fact that suppositality seems to play a role analogous to a 'thin particular' in constituting the identity of a subject across possible worlds.
In short the ultimate term of predication (the suppositum) is defined by 'subsitence'+'instance of a universal nature'+'haecceitas' (scotist meaning).
The 3 contituents are predicable of or inhere in the suppositum (somewhat like proper parts inhere to the whole)

As regards the 'universality' issue: does 'Godhood' correspond to a universal (mind-indipendent) property or natural kind as 'Manhood'? If so, is 'God' the only and unique exemplification of 'Godhood' by necessity? If so how can be 'Godhood' a universal since the definition of 'universal' implies the possibility of 'multi-exemplifications'?



1) "the relation that links the universal property "Socrates" with the instance "Socrates's own oldness" is called 'inherence'"

How can there be a universal property "Socrates"? 'Socrates' is an individual term, not a general term: thus, it cannot express a property, unless I misunderstand your point here.

2) "there exists exactly one instance of a given universal nature which inheres to 3 distinct suppositalities at the same time (by 'distinct' I also mean there is no relation part/whole between these suppositalities)"

How can a universal nature have exactly one instance and at the same time "inhere" in three anything, including "three distinct suppositalities"?

3)"And again '3 Persons are one and the same God' means one and the same instance of universal nature inheres in or is predicated of 3 distinct suppositalities."

If a universal nature features a *single* instance, then it cannot inhere in or be predicated of three distinct anything, including three suppositalities (whatever it is the later may be).


1) I agree that the issues raised about ‘beget’ and proceeds’ do not quite belong to this thread. I simply did not know where to put these questions. Nevertheless…

2) If the terms ‘beget’ and ‘proceed’ are not used in a temporal sense in describing the inter-Trinity relations, then they must be used metaphorically. This adds another layer of complication.

3) You propose a relation of *ontological priority* which is neither purely logical nor temporal. Your example of such ontological priority is the manner in which God’s necessary existence is in some sense prior to the necessary existence of mathematical propositions. But, how shall we understand the notion of *priority* here? You propose the following:

“Aquinas would say that God has his necessity from himself, whereas the proposition has its necessity from another. That makes sense to me.”

But if the necessity of a mathematical proposition emanates from “another”, then could it be that some other mathematical proposition could have so emanated? For instance, could it have been the case that the proposition “2+3 =7” would have emanated from the necessity of God and thus would have been a necessary mathematical truth?

4) I find your example of a proposition and its truth maker as potentially illuminating here. I agree that a T-maker and its corresponding proposition are neither causally nor purely logically related. So what is the nature of this relationship? Well, that is one of the central problems any robust theory (in contrast to a deflationary theory) of truth makers needs to solve. The trouble is that while the T-maker example may be helpful as an analogy in understanding what the relationship is not, it does not shed light on what the relationship is.

5) “Now of course the Son is not a proposition, but he is perhaps LIKE a proposition insofar as he is the Logos, Verbum, Word of God.”

I find expressions such as ‘Logos’, ‘Verbum’, and ‘Word’ in this context very intriguing in that they hint towards a deep and mysterious significance, but I cannot quite find my way toward uncovering this significance (this is not to say that because I cannot find it, it is not there). The term ‘Word’ for instance cannot mean what it normally means, for words are part of a particular language. So the word ‘Word’ here may point towards some property that is essential to words; perhaps, something such as *meaning* or *form*. Perhaps, what is intended (and this is highly speculative) is that the Son is the Word or Logos which God injected into the world in the sense that it is the meaning or form of the world.

Sorry Peter and all of you. I just mistyped:
Instead of "the relation that links the universal property "Socrates" with the instance 'Socrates's own oldness' is called 'inherence'"
I had to write: "the relation that links the suppositality 'Socrates' with the instance 'Socrates's own oldness' is called 'inherence'".
But then Lukas who got my point, nonetheless corrected me: he precised that the relation of inherence holds between property instances and the whole suppositum, and not between property instances and a suppositality as I thought.
As regards your other comments, I was just trying to summarize Lukas's point of view and underlining that his conceptual framework admits multi-inherence (besides multi-exemplification) in a way that the mainstream analytic ontology generally refuses (either because it doesn't accept trope-theory or because tropes can't multi-inhere in distinct supposita or for some other reasons).


no problem.

I must admit that I have not been able yet to wrap my mind around this whole theory of suppositum or suppositality and how this concept relates to the standard concepts of universals, substance, nature, etc. Of course, this is my own problem and not Lukas' or yours.

Lukas's theory of suppositum is explained in his post (Tuesday, February 02, 2010 at 08:04 AM) here:
This schema is also useful:


>>Not to speak of the modern use of the word in such authors like Russell or Quine, who seem to apply "subsistence" to any kind of existence which in some way appears mysterious to them.<< That's not quite right. The early Russell of The Principles of
Mathematics (1903) distinguishes between Being and existence (p. 449). Being belongs to very possible object of thought including such items as Pegasus. But Pegasus does not exist. Existence "is the prerogative of some only amongst beings."

Pegasus subsists but does not exist. Russell abandoned this subsistence/existence distinction later. Quine never subscribed to it. Many analytic philosophers think that Meinong maintained that Pegasss, the golden mountain, and the round square all subsist. Not so. He ascribed to these items no Being whatsoever. He spoke of "das Aussersein des reinen Gegenstandes."


So this coffee cup on my desk is a suppositum (= a primary substance). Subsistence or what you are calling suppositality is the mode of Being of supposita. It is clear that a primary substance cannot be identical to what Gredt calls its "singular substantial essence" and what you call its individual nature.

Gredt brings in existence-essence composition, and he seems to be saying that it is because there is a real distinction between essence and existence in created entities that a suppositum or primary substance cannot be identical to its individual nature. That makes sense.

Is this what you mean? Maybe not, since "What's its role: to turn an individual nature into a suppositum" seems to suggest that subsistence (suppositality) is not the mode of Being common to all supposita as supposita, but an ontological factor that is added to an individual nature to yield a suppositum.

You see the difference, I trust.


Priority/posteriority that is neither causal nor narrowly logical would make a nice separate post.


Following the above line of reasoning, my understanding is that Socrates' suppositality appears to be the *singularity* consisting of Socrates' instantiation of the ontological category '...being an individual featuring a human nature'.

*If* this is correct, then I suppose God's suppositality is the singularity of God instantiating the ontological property of "...being an individual with a divine nature".

Again, *if this is correct*, then suppositality appears to me to be some sort of a second order singularity or perhaps something akin to an individual-concept in Carnap’s intensional-logic sense consisting of an individual instantiating an ontological category or property.

Thus, suppose F is a suitable property or ontological category, x an individual object (e.g., Socrates, The Son, etc.,), and S(x/F) designates the individual concept or suppositality of the singularity of x instantiating F. S(x/F) is not identical to x, nor to x’s nature or essence, nor is it identical to the property F. It is the singular concept of x’s instantiating F.

Thus, suppose that x and y are two distinct individuals instantiating the same ontological category; say humanity (H). Then since x and y are distinct, we have two distinct singular or individual concepts S(x/H) and S(y/H). According to this model, corresponding to the three persons the Father, the Son, and the HS there are three distinct individual concepts consisting of the singularities of each person instantiating the property of being a divine being.

Is this model on the right track of capturing the intended meaning of the notion of a supposit or suppositality?

Honestly, I can't clearly see how Lukas'stance can be rendered in Carnap's terms (like individual, class, truth value, individual concept, property, proposition). The basic assumptions are the following:
- suppositality is an ontological constituent of the suppositum (suppositum = suppositality + haecceitas + individual nature). Suppositality as the other constituents of the suppositum can be pradicated of and inhere in the suppositum. Maybe an individual concept can be predicated of an individual but it doesn't constitute it.
- suppositality is what "makes the suppositum precisely a suppositum". Lukas offers 4 ways of intending how suppositality plays this role: but none of them seems to me correspond to the individual concept 'being an individual featuring a human nature' as you suggest
- the number of supposita corresponds to the number of suppositalities: in the case of the Trinity there are 3 supposita because there are 3 suppositalities, and they aren't 3 distinct exemplifications of the universal property 'Godhood' (if you mean that by saying 'each person instantiating the property of being a divine being' and take 'instantiation' as synonym of 'exemplification'); the exemplification of the universal property 'Godhood' is only one and correspondes to the not-universal property-instance named 'God'.
Hope Lukas agrees. Otherwise I'll surrender :)


Part of the problem I at least face with this theory of suppositum, et al, is that there is a class of 'supposit' terms that are keep being defined in terms of each other. e.g.,

(i)"suppositality is an ontological constituent of the suppositum"

what is 'suppositum' one might ask. Here it is:

(ii) "(suppositum = suppositality + haecceitas + individual nature)."

so, then, what is 'suppositality', one might ask?

(iii) "suppositality is what "makes the suppositum precisely a suppositum"."

So here we are back to where we started; namely, 'suppositum' [(i) above].

Is there a way of breaking out of this suppositum circle or is one or the other of these 'supposit' terms primitive?

For example Lukas said that according to Scotus's theory:
Suppositality "is a mere negation of actual and aptitudinal inherence in a supposit; no positive entity but mere lack of certain capability"
I would translate it like this: 'Suppositality' is a not-universal property-instance of the negative universal property 'not being actually and aptitudinally predicable of or inherent in a supposit'.
'Suppositality' must be a 'property-instance' because it constitutes or inheres in the suppositum and it's neither universal (multi-exemplifiable) nor multi-inhereable (one suppositality inheres in one and only one suppositum).
'Suppositality' must also concern a 'no positive entity', so 'a negative entity', that is a negative universal property (because 'a negative property-instance' sounds non-sense, unless you understand it as saying 'a property-instance of a negative property').

I wanted to submit to your attention the case of 'transubstantiation' which is also interesting to see how Lukas' conceptual machinery work (but if I'm off topic just ignore it):
"'transubstantiation' means the change of the substance of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist, while all that is accessible to the senses (accidents) remains as before" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transubstantiation)


Once again the above accounts either go in circle or offer us a negative characterization of what suppositality is not or both. In the former case, we have a vicious circle, in the later the information is far from sufficient in order to assess whether an account involving these notions solves the problem or not.

Don't get me wrong, I find the supposita doctrine very puzzling for some reasons. And I also see your point here.
But I don't think it's so problematic. If I'm always interpreting Lukas's stance correctly, let's take inherence and exemplification as primitive concepts which are 2-term predicates logically asimmetric.
And then let's limit ourselves to consider the following statements (to semplifiy, take 'property' as a short for 'monadic-property'):
1) a universal-property is a term that can be exemplified by one or more 2nd term
2) a property-instance is a term that can be exemplified by no 2nd term
3) a property-instance is a term that can inhere in one 2nd term (and can be called 'constituent' of the second term)
4) a suppositum is a term in which a property-instance can inhere
5) a suppositum is a term that can inhere in no 2nd term
6) a necessary constituent of a suppositum is an instance-property of a given suppositum which obtains across all possible worlds
7) suppositality, haecceitas (scotist sense), individual nature are necessary constituents of a suppositum
8) a suppositality (scotist sense) is a property-instance exemplifying the universal-property 'not being inherent in anything'
Now you could notice that 'not being inherent in anything' is equivalent to 'can inhere in no 2nd term' occuring in definition (5), and that looks circular at first glance. But is it really circular and vicious?
In sentence (5) we are difining 'suppositum' in 'terms of inherence', while in sentence (8) we are difining suppositality in terms of 'exemplification'. In (8) 'can inhere in no 2nd term' actually defines a notion by attributing to it its syntactic features,
in (5) 'not being inherent in anything' is used as an expression denoting a universal property exemplified by a suppositality as an ontological constituent of a suppositum.
In short: 'can inhere in no 2nd term' is used in predicative or attributive mode (for a synctactical definition) while 'not being inherent in anything' is used in denotative mode (for an ontological definition).
For example take the sentence:
"'red' is a property-instance which makes the apple look red"
Of course it looks circular if we consider the stament as formally defining the notion of 'red', but it isn't circular if we consider the statement as defining the role of its denotatum in the ontological constitution of 'this red apple' to explain the perceptive appearance of that apple. Similarly the statemenet "'suppositality' is a property-instance which makes the suppositum be inherent in nothing" is defining the role of suppositality in the ontological constitution of a suppositum to explain the synctactic features of that suppositum.
This clarification make sense to me to some extent.
My doubts on scotus's notion of 'suppositality' are more focused on the concept of 'negative property' and the idea that we need a suppositum ontological constituent to explain the synctatic behavior of a suppositum.


I did not mean to imply that suppositality or subsistence is a "mode of being of the supposita". This is precisely the reason why I have been avoiding "subsistence". Suppositality is to be understood to play a role on the level of the essence, not on the level of the existence.

Now Gredt's claim that the real distinction between essence and esse implies real distinction between essence and subsistence suggests that subsistence = esse of a suppositum. But it is not so, Gredt rejects the minority thomist view that subsistence is just the esse itself and claims that it is a substantial mode on the level of essence. His main argument is that the essence needs to be perfect in order to be able to receive esse; but without the suppositality, it is not perfect, it is not capable of becoming a subject of anything really distinct from it, neither the accidents not the esse. Therefore subsistence or suppositality must come before the esse.

So the reason why real distinction between essence and esse, according to Gredt, implies distinction between essence and subsistence is more subtle: since esse is realy distinct from the essence, it requires the essence to be already complete. And since the essence as such (say, Sortes' humanity) cannot receive esse while the suppositum (say, Sortes) can, Gredt concludes that there must be real distinction between essence and that which makes it so capable, the subsistence. I am not quite so sure, however, his argument in the text is quite obscure. Perhaps we should have a look into Poinsot, his probable source.

Nevertheless: these are just fine philosophical details. I think that dogmatically speaking there is no problem at all to identify subsistence with the esse of a substance. But then you would have to claim that the essence as such is only made complete and absolutely incommunicable by some external factor - the esse. It woudl be in line with the more existentialist, Gilson-like interpretation of thomism, though. To me however it appears as a bit inconsequential, for it assigns an "essential" or "so-sein" job to esse and so it blurs the distinction between essence (so-sein) and esse (da-sein). On the other hand, the minority thomists argue that it is the task of the esse to unify and to integrate, to make the being ultimately one; therefore it is fitting to ascribe to it the role of suppositality.

Note that the different opinions concerning the queston what plays the role of the subsistence are not different opinions on the question of how subsistence is defined. It is possible to abstract from these differences and to keep the common meaning of "subsistence", which is what is used in the theological dogmatic definitions.


I think that most of your characterisations of "my theory of supposita" (hey, it is not mine, so far I have not presented a singe original thought here, I'm afraid :-)) is admirably correct. I agree that it is probably impossible to express the developed scholastic ontology in carnapian terms.

Hmm. Interesting discussion here. A few thoughts.

1. There are two notions of 'supposita' being thrown around here: (a) the 'ultimate subject of properties', or (b) a hypostasis. The first of these is more precise, but not necessarily more helpful.

After all, on some medieval views, a lump of matter can be the subject for a particular quantity, and in the case of the Eucharist, Aquinas would say that the bread's quantity becomes the subject of the bready qualities. It's hard to see how that wouldn't make our lump of matter or free-floating quantity the ultimate subject of properties, but I doubt Aquinas would say they are supposita.

Besides, any categorical entity would be the ultimate subject of certain properties: my paleness is a color (but I am not); my similarity-to-you is a particular kind of relation (but I am not); etc., and none of these are traditionally thought of as supposita.

So it may be more helpful to think of a suppositum as a hypostasis, or maybe even a primary substance, even though I have no idea how to define a 'hypostasis' or primary substance.

2. Some of the comments here generally distinguish an individual nature from a suppositum, but I'm not sure that's right (to be precise: there are cases where they are distinct, like in the Incarnate Son, but there are other cases where they are not, like in Socrates).

First of all, an individual human nature is not identical to humanity, for one is common to more than one individual, while the other is not.

Second, Aquinas holds that Socrates' individual essence/nature includes both the individual matter and form that constitute Socrates. But if that's the case, then how could we distinguish Socrates' individual essence from Socrates? To be the individual human Socrates is to be the individual constituted by this matter and this form, so the two look to be indiscernible to me.

3. I can't speak about Aquinas on the following point, but Scotus and Ockham believe that Aristotle thinks an individual nature is necessarily identical to the suppositum in question. So, for instance, Socrates' individual human nature just is Socrates. But because of the Incarnation, Scotus and Ockham go against Aristotle and insist that an individual nature will be identical to the suppositum in question, unless it is assumed by another suppositum. So they switch the modality: individual natures are only possibly (though in most cases, are) identical to their supposita. Jesus' individual nature would have been identical to the suppositum Jesus, had it not been assumed by the Word.

But like I said, I can't speak about Aquinas on this, though I would have assumed that he held a similar view, for as I mentioned a moment ago, it's hard to see how an individual nature and the relevant suppositum could be discernible, and surely Aquinas would have seen such a point. (So if he denies this, I would expect him to provide some arguments for it.)

JT Paasch,

Good comments. I hope to respond tomorrow.

I think that by 'ultimate subject' they mean what CAN'T be predicable of anything else so paleness isn't an 'ultimate subject', because you can predicate 'paleness' (as referring to the same entity as 'to be pale') of other subjects. what do you think?

JT Paash,

Concerning quantity in the Eucharist: it is a "subject" of the qualities but not the ultimate subject. It still requires "sustentation", that is, some material causality; only it is not provided by the bread any more but miracuously supplied by God. But it cannot be said that the quantity is "in se". It is still "in alio", where the role of the receiving "aliud" is supplied by God.

Concerning matter: Matter is not a suppositum because it is not in all ways incommunicable. For it is communicated to the composite whole as its part. Therefore it is not, precisely speaking, the subject of the form. The subject of the form is the entire composite which is constituted by the form (and the matter).

So I think that the notion of "suppositum" is well defined and unambiguous.

Concernign individual nature: it is not identical to humanity in general, but it is identical to this humanity (e.g. my humanity, your humanity etc.) - that is, to individual instances of humanity.

What distinguishes the suppositum from individual nature is the suppositality or subsistence. In Christ, there is both the matter and the form, and yet they do not make up a human suppositum but only a nature assumed by the Person of the Son. Therefore, the individual matter and form are not all that is there to a material suppositum.

You are right concerning Scotus and Ockham; according to them suppositality or subsistence, i.e. that which distinguishes a suppositum from a mere nature, is something merely negative. Thus according to them, were the human nature not assumed by the Son, it would be a suppositum - and that of itself, without addition of any other positive principle.

Aquinas is not clear on that point, which is reflected in the fact that the Thomists are divided: a minority equates subsistence with the very esse of the suppositum, the majority assumes a separate positive principle characterized as "substantial mode" (in somewhat suarezian manner of thought).

I take it that you're thinking of the old Categories doctrine of an ultimate subject? The problem is that it's hard to define that idea in a way that doesn't admit of counter examples.

For instance, it's true that I am the ultimate subject of paleness, but still, paleness (rather than me) is the ultimate subject for 'being a color'. Paleness is a color, but I am not, for I am a man, not a color. (Or, if you want it in scholastic-speak: paleness belongs to the genus of color, which in turn belongs to the genus of quality, while I belong to none of those genera.) The point is, medieval philosophers recognize more kinds than substance-kinds. There are quality-kinds, relation-kinds, etc.

JT Pesh,

you are not a colour but you are coloured. Colour and paleness are predicated of something else in concreto, although not in abstracto. This alone is sufficient disqualify accidents as ultimate subjects.


I suggest we distinguish between LOGICAL and ONTOLOGICAL subjects of predication. You are right in #1. As I would put it, anything we can talk about, no matter what its ontological category, is a logical subject of predication. Thus we can say of Socrates' whiteness, an accident, that is an accident, that it inheres in Socrates, that it cannot exist on its own, that it cannot migrate to Plato, etc. We can talk about mathematical sets, mereological sums, uninstantiated universals, instantiated universals, tropes, ontological operators, quantifiers, and whatever else one chooses to countenance as having ontological status. According to Alexius von Meinong, we can even speak of items that have no Being whatsoever, e.g., the round square and the golden mountain. They stand "jenseits von Sein und Nichtsein."

But not everything can be an ultimate ontological subject of properties. An accident, for example, cannot enjoy independent existence. I suggest the same holds for math. sets. The set consisting of Larry, Moe, and Curly Joe depends for its existence of them. It exists if and only if they do; still, the set depends on the members and not vice versa.

Hi all,

Good comments. I haven't thought about this stuff in a while, so it's fun to chew it over. Anyway, I hope to respond soon.



Somehow, I missed your comment above about the Eucharist and matter, so here we go. First of all, thanks for the comments about later Thomists being divided. That's very interesting. Maybe you could share some of your work on this? Sounds great.

Secondly, I just have a couple of minor nit-picky points about your comment.

1. You say that for Aquinas, God is the material cause for the Eucharistic host's quantity. Does Aquinas really say that? I haven't looked at the texts for some time now, but I seem to remember in ST 3.77.1 Aquinas saying that God simply causes the host's quantity to remain, and that would be efficient causality, not material causality. After all, God is not material in any way, so he simply couldn't be the 'material cause' of anything. The host's quantity is just a free-floating accident that doesn't inhere in anything, even though God causes it to remain there in that spot, floating free of any subject.

2. You also mention that the composite substance, not the matter, is the proper subject of a substantial form, even though a material substance is constituted by a lump of matter and a substantial form. Well, if you're right about that, then I must admit that here I find Aquinas's account of material constitution unintelligible. Surely constituents are prior (in some sense) to the things they constitute, so how could a substantial form be both a constituent of a substance and inhere in that substance? Doesn't that put the cart before the horse?

But I suppose these are points you and I could debate forever, as one medievalist to another. Maybe we should discuss this over a drink someday. =) Perhaps you could help me understand Aquinas's theory of material substances.


You make an interesting comment about logical vs. ontological predication. I thought of that too when I was first composing #1 above, at which point I actually had to go back and change some of my examples to avoid logical predications. In the end, I tried to use examples that a scholastic would think have ontological traction.

So, for instance, to harp on about paleness, someone like Aquinas would think that there really is something about paleness that makes it a color, and whatever that is, I haven't got it. I mean, surely there's something at the ontological level that makes paleness a color and me not, right? Surely that's why medieval Aristotelians classify paleness under the category of 'quality' and me under the category of 'substance'?

However, I am assuming that this point holds irrespective of an accident's dependence. That is, whether paleness can or cannot exist on its own, Aquinas would still think it's a color, while I am not. So now I wonder: in what sense would I be the 'ultimate subject' of 'being a color'? I can see how I would be the ultimate subject of 'being colored', as Lukas pointed out, but I don't think I see how I would be the subject of 'being a color'.

Well, I don't know. Maybe I read too much Scotus and Ockham and so tend to think that every real thing -- even an accident -- has at least certain real properties that make it what it is (to be honest, I don't know what it would mean for something to be without properties). But if that's right, then wouldn't every real thing be the 'ultimate subject' (proper subject) of at least those properties? But maybe Aquinas thinks accidents are not discrete 'things' or constituents of accidental unities at all, but rather just particular (contingent) ways of being. And in that case, maybe 'being a color' would, in fact, just be a particular (contingent) way of being a substance.

I guess I'm just making a general point: unless we're careful, lots of things might seem to be the 'ultimate subjects of properties', so characterizing a suppositum as 'the ultimate subject of properties' can be misleading.

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