JMC : Christian Philosophy / by Louis de Poissy

Chapter III. Substance and Accident.


93. Substance is being existing in itself; accident is being existing in another as its subject. -- Being is known either as something which subsists in itself without needing to be sustained by another, or as something which needs a subject in which and by which it may exist. In the former case, being is called substance; in the latter, it is called accident. Thus "Peter" is a substance, because he exists in himself; "white" is an accident, because it does not exist without a substance in which it inheres. Substance is also defined negatively as that which is not in another as its subject; or descriptively as that which sustains accidents. But from the fact that a substance exists in itself, we are not to infer that it excludes the idea of a cause which produces it, but only that of a subject in which it inheres. To define substance, with Descartes, as "that which exists in such a way as to need nothing else for its existence," is to open the door to pantheism.

94. The idea of substance is formed from a sensible concrete object by abstraction, by which the intellect perceives in the object that which exists in itself and not in another as its subject. -- When the intellect contemplates a sensible concrete object as existing, it has the power of abstracting from it existence in itself and not in another as its subject. But this perception of existence in itself includes that of substance, viz., of that which is in itself, without requiring any thing else as its subject; and it is obtained by abstracting from all the characteristics which accompany the substance and cannot exist by themselves in the order of reality. For when the intellect has formed the idea of substance by abstraction from a sensible concrete object, it contemplates this idea as it is in itself, and perceives that it is applicable not only to corporeal beings, but also to spiritual beings that exist in themselves and not in another as their subject.

95. When the intellect has the idea of substance and of accident, it immediately perceives the truth of the proposition: Every accident supposes a substance. -- With the idea of accident, the intellect possesses implicitly that of substance. The comparison of these two ideas results in the immediate perception that accident cannot naturally exist without substance, since that which does not exist in itself can exist only in another being which has existence in itself. Hence the proposition given above expresses an analytical judgment.

96. The Phenomenalism of Hume, who denies the reality of substance, is absurd, because by denying substance he makes accident impossible. -- Locke, by admitting no other source of ideas than the senses, was led to deny the reality of substance and to hold that what is so called is in reality only a number of qualities held together by a common bond. But this is an absurd hypothesis; for, if the bond is not substance, it must be accident, and hence, in its turns requires a substance to support it. The principle of Locke led Berkeley (1684-1753) to deny all corporeal substance, and Hume to deny all substance, corporeal and spiritual, and to assert that only qualities exist and are known to us. The Phenomenalism of Hume, which rejects the very idea of substance, is absurd. For an accident exists either in itself, or in something else; it cannot exist in itself, for it would then be no longer an accident; therefore it exists in something else. But this latter cannot be itself an accident, for we should then have to proceed from one accident to another ad infinitum, thus postulating an infinite series of accidents, resting on nothing, which is absurd. Therefore every accident must be supported by something which is not accident, that is, by substance.

97. Accidents are absolute or modal. Some absolute accidents can by divine power exist apart from their connatural substance. -- Absolute accidents are those that directly affect substance; modal accidents are the various ways in which the absolute accidents affect substance. The quantity or mass of matter of a bullet moving through the air is an absolute accident; the velocity of its motion is a modal accident. Actual inhesion in their connatural subject is essential to modal accidents, whereas most absolute accidents demand only aptitudinal inherence. Vital actions are an exception, however, not because of their generic nature as absolute accidents, but because of their specific nature requiring the actual influx of the life principle.{1}

Some absolute accidents of corporeal substance can by divine power exist apart from their substance; for an effect depends more on the first cause than on its second cause. God, who is the first cause of both substance and accident, can by His infinite power preserve the accidents after He has withdrawn the substance by which, as by their proper cause, they were sustained. Even then the accidents do not cease to be accidents, since they retain their natural aptitude to inhere in substance.


98. Substance is complete or incomplete, first or second. -- A complete substance is one that is not destined to be united to another to form a substantial composite; as a "man," a "tree." An incomplete substance is one that must be united to another to form a substantial whole or specific nature; as the "body of man." First substance is individual; as "John," "James." It is so called because it is that which first and by itself sustains the accidents, and because it is the first thing perceived by the intellect. Second substance comprises genera and species; as "man," "animal." It is so called because it subsists only in the individual with which it is identified, and because it is known by the intellect subsequently to the individual.


99. Subsistence is a perfection by which a nature is master of itself and incommunicable to another. -- Complete substance differs from accident and incomplete substance, because it belongs to itself, while accident and incomplete substance belong to another. Now, subsistence is that perfection which makes the substance complete, and by which the substance so belongs to itself as not to require union with another in order to be and to act.

100. Supposit is the concrete entity that answers to the abstract subsistence. Person adds the character of intelligent nature to the supposit. -- When considered as having concrete existence in a complete substance, subsistence is called supposit, just as life considered in the concrete in a living thing is called a living being. Therefore supposit is subsistence itself considered as existing concretely in a particular individual. When the supposit is endowed with reason it is called person, which Boethius defines as "an individual substance of a rational intelligent nature." A "stone" and a "horse" are supposits; "George" and "Joseph" are persons.{2}{3}

101. Subsistence is a positive entity really distinct from nature. -- It is a great perfection for a nature to have no need of another as subject in which to inhere. Since subsistence means this perfection, it is something positive. The distinction of subsistence from nature is proved by the mystery of the Incarnation, in which the subsistence of the human nature is wanting to this nature.{4} Subsistence may also be said to differ from existence, since subsistence belongs to complete substance only, while existence is common to both accident and substance.


102. The first accident of material substance or body is quantity, which consists in extension of parts beyond parts. -- When we perceive extension of parts in a substance, we perceive clearly that it has quantity, which is defined an accident extensive of substance. Occupation of a determinate place, divisibility into parts, and mensurability, are properties that belong to substance by reason of its quantity; but they do not constitute the essence of quantity, for a body mnst have parts before these parts occupy place, and are divisible and mensurable.

103. Quantity is really distinct from substance. -- Extension no more implies existence in itself than does heat or color. For just as we conceive a body as existing in itself before being hot or white, so also do we conceive that it should have existence in itself before having extension. And just as a body is not changed essentially when it is more or less heated, more or less white, so there is no essential change when by expansion it acquires a greater extension than it had before. Since, then, corporeal substance is shown by experience to be indifferent in its essence to that determinate quantity which it actually has at any given moment of its existence, quantity must be really distinct from substance. Descartes held the essence of material substance to consist in extension; but this is a great error. For that to which corporeal substance is manifestly indifferent is not really of the essence of such substance; but physicists establish the fact that the dimensions may and do vary with changing external influences, and chemists prove that the substantial nature of bodies perseveres under these changes. Therefore the essence of material substance does not consist in extension.

104. Quantity is permanent or successive; permanent quantity is either continuous or discrete. -- Permanent quantity is that whose parts can exist simultaneously, as a "line." Successive quantity is that whose parts do not exist simultaneously, but follow one another in a continuous series; as "motion." This kind of quantity is improperly so called; motion and time have no extension in themselves, but time has extension by reason of motion; and motion, by reason of the medium between the term whence (terminus a quo) and the term whither (terminus ad quem). Continuous quantity is that whose parts are contained within a common limit; as a "line," a "surface," a "solid." Discrete quantity is that whose parts are not naturally united; as "numerical quantity, or number."

105. In the hypothesis that God preserves the accidents of a body after withdrawing the substance, the divine power will be the principle of individuation of the accidents; directly, of the mensurable quantity or extension, and through this, of all the other accidents. -- The substance is the principle of individuation for the accidents; when the substance is withdrawn, the divine power supports the accidents, and is therefore their individuating principle. It directly sustains the mensurable quantity which now just as when the substance is present, is the principle of individuation of the other accidents, because they are individuated only inasmuch as they are in a subject divided off from any other, and because division is referred to quantity.


106. Relation in general is the respect that one entity has to another. Relation is real or logical. Real relation is created or uncreated. Created relation is either a relation of being or a relation of indication. -- Real relation is the respect or order which exists among things themselves; thus "effect is referred to cause," "a part to the whole." Logical relation is the respect established between entities by our intellect; thus "an attribute is referred to its subject." Uncreated relation is the respect which one divine Person has to another. There are four uncreated relations: paternity, filiation, active spiration, and passive spiration. Created relation is the respect which one created entity has to another created entity or to the Creator.{5} It is a relation of being when it is a pure respect to a term; as "paternity," which indicates a pure order of one thing to another. Created relation is said to be of indication when it is something not merely relative, but absolutely containing a respect; as "the army" which indicates a respect to the whole body.

107. Relation considered as an accident or predicamental relation is a real created relation, which consists in a pure respect. -- By this definition logical relations, uncreated relations, and relations of indication are excluded from relation considered as an accident.

108. Predicamental relation requires a real subject, a real foundation, a real term, and a real distinction between the foundation and the term. -- The subject of a relation is the thing in which the relation is; the foundation is that which causes the relation; the term is that to which there is reference. Thus, in the relation of "possession," the "man who possesses" is the subject, the "object possessed" is the term, and the "purchase that gives possession" is the foundation. Predicamental relation requires a real subject, else there would be no real accident, and a real foundation; a cause, namely, that produces the relation, because a real effect requires a real cause. There must be a real term, because relation consists in respect to a term, and it would not be real if the term were not real. Finally, there must be a real distinction between the foundation and the term, because there cannot be a relation of a thing to itself.

109. The relation is really distinct from the foundation and from all that is absolutely in the thing. -- Two things are really distinct when their entities are not identical. But the entity of the foundation is not really identical with the entity of the relation, since the former is absolutely in the thing, while the latter is a mere respect; moreover, the entity of the foundation remains when the relation perishes. Relation, therefore, is really distinct from its foundation. It is also distinct from all that is absolutely in the thing.

110. Relation is of three kinds, for it may be founded, (1) on measure and the measurable; (2) on action and passion; (3) on agreement and disagreement. -- Since the relation is caused by the foundation, there are as many kinds of relation as there are kinds of foundation. Now, there are as many foundations of relation as there are modes of referring one thing to another. These are three: (1) As to being, when one entity is considered the measure of another's perfection; thus "a copy is referred to the model;" (2) As to operation, when one is cause or effect of the other; thus "a father bears relation to his child;" (3) As to agreement or disagreement; and thus "one white surface is referred to another white surface." Hence there are three kinds of relation. And as the agreement or disagreement is especially remarked in three things, viz., substance, quantity, and quality, this kind of relation is subdivided into relations of identity or diversity, if the entities be substance; into relations of equality or inequality, if they be quantity; and into relations of resemblance or difference, if they be quality. Relation is also classified as mutual or non-mutual according as it implies reciprocity or not. Thus there is mutual relation between "father and son," and a non-mutual relation between "creature and Creator."{6} These various kinds of relation are further subdivided into several species. That which constitutes two relations in the same species is unity of foundation and of term; that which makes them of different species is diversity of foundation or of term.{7}

111. It is impossible to know one correlative without the other. -- The knowledge of two correlatives is necessarily simultaneous; it is impossible, for instance, to know a servant as servant without knowing also his master as master.


112. Quality is that accident which tells of what kind a substance is. -- Quality may be more exactly defined with St. Thomas as That accident which modifies or determines a substance in itself. The other accidents effect no modification of the substance in itself; even quantity extends the substance in parts, but does not modify them; quality, on the contrary, does modify them, and gives them this or that manner of being, this or that figure.

113. There are four species of quality: 1. habit and disposition; 2. power and impotence; 3. passion and the passible quality; 4. form and figure. -- There are four species of quality, because the substance can be modified or disposed in four ways. The substance can be disposed: (1) As to its state so as to be well or ill;{8} hence we have the species of habit and disposition; (2) As to its operation, hence the species of power and impotence; (3) As to the sensible alteration that constitutes it in a new mode; hence the species of passion and passible quality; (4) As to its quantitative parts, and hence the species of form and figure.

114. Habit is a quality inhering intimately in the subject and determining it to a good or evil state either in itself or its operation. When this quality inheres slightly in the subject, or is easily removed, it is called disposition. -- Ordinarily a substance is indifferent to a good or bad state either in itself or in its operation. Thus the body is indifferent to health or sickness, the hand to painting or not painting, the will to doing good or evil. Now, it is "health" that determines the body to a good state, and "sickness" to a bad state. It is the "ability to paint" that puts the hand in a good disposition with regard to the work, and the "inability" that maintains it in a bad state. It is "virtue" that disposes the will to do good, and " vice" that disposes it to do evil.{9}

115. Power{10} is a quality that disposes the substance to action or resistance. When this quality is feeble, it is called powerlessness or impotence. -- While habit determines a faculty to a good or bad state, the faculty gives the substance that has it a power. Thus the "faculty of intellect" gives the soul the power of comprehending, and "science" disposes it toward truth.

116. Passion is a quality which causes or follows a sensible alteration.{11} When permanent it receives the name of passible quality. -- Passion, taken in this sense, comprises the whole series of sensible qualities. Thus "heat," "taste," and "smell" are passions.

117. Form or figure is a quality which results from diverse dispositions of the parts of a quantity. -- It is that quality by which the parts of a quantity are disposed and determined in this or that way, for instance, as a "pyramid" or a "triangle." Form is applied more particularly to artificial products; figure to natural objects.


118. Action is an accident by which a cause is constituted in the act of producing its effect. Passion is an accident by which a thing is constituted in the act of receiving an effect. -- In the production of an effect three things are to be noted: (1) its proceeding from the efficient canse; (2) its reception into a subject; (3) its production or its passage from the state of pure potentiality to that of act. The proceeding of an effect from its cause is the accident that is called action. The reception of the effect into a subject is the accident that is called passion, which must not be confounded with the quality that causes or follows a sensible alteration; the production of the effect is called motion, which, however, is not an accident, but is classified with that in which it terminates. Thus the "motion productive of heat" is reduced to the accident of heat.{12}

119. Action is transient or immanent; immanent action is cognitive or appetitive; transient action is artificial or natural. Passion is divided according to the various divisions of action. -- Transient action produces something outside the agent; as "burning:" immanent action produces an effect which remains wholly within the agent; as, "understanding," "imagining." Immanent action is either cognitive, and then it is divided into sensitive and intellective, or appetitive, the subdivisions of which are volition and sensitive appetition. Artificial action is the result of art, and natural action the work of nature. For every action there is a conesponding passion.{13}

120. When (quando) is an accident supervening on bodies, inasmuch as they are in a certain period of time.{14} -- A body is of itself indifferent to time; to be in one time rather than in another, it requires an accidental determination which is called quando, or the when of it. This accident in bodies results from the fact that they are dependent on time or are measured by time; as, to be "present," "past," or "future."

121. Ubication, or ubiety (ubi), is that accident of body by which it is determined to be in one place rather than in another.{15} -- A body is of itself indifferent to place; to be in one place rather than in another, it needs an accidental determination called ubication; as, to be "above" or "below," to be "in Washington."

Place is defined by Aristotle as "the superficies of the containing body considered as immovable and immediately contiguous to the body located." The place, for instance, of a man standing in a stream is partly the river-bed on which he stands, partly the watery surface in immediate contact with his body. and the atmosphere about his head. This bounding surface is considered immovable, for though the contiguous particles of air and water are successively displaced, the circumscribed limits remain the same. The universe has no extrinsic place, since there is no body outside it; its intrinsic place is determined by its own superficies. The category where is said to be circumscriptive, because it so determines a thing that it is whole and entire in the whole place, and each of its parts is measured by a corresponding part of place. Hence this category is an accident of bodies only. A substance is in place definitively when it is whole and entire in the whole place and in each part of that place. This is proper to created spiritual beings, like human souls and the angels, but not to God, who is whole and entire in each and every place simultaneously.

122. Posture, or situation (situs), is that accident of body resulting from the disposition of its parts in a place. -- The same body is susceptible of various dispositions in the same place; the accident that determines it to one disposition rather than another is called posture; as, "standing up," "sitting down," "kneeling."

123. Habiliment is that accident of bodies resulting from the manner in which they are covered. -- This accident is not the covering itself, but the disposition supervening on the body from the manner in which it is covered by the garment; as, "to have on a mitre stole," "to wear slippers."

{1} See Metaphysics of the School, vol. ii., pp. 243, 584.

{2} An infinite being is necessarily personal becanse it has all perfections.

{3} Personality is not consciousness, as Locke asserted. For then personality would cease with the interruption of consciousness. But consciousness supposes personality.

{4} In the Incarnation Christ's human nature, being perfected by its hypostatic or substantial union with the divine nature has no personality of its own. The divine nature of Christ, being infinite, must, according to the preceding note, be infinite, and therefore incapable of losing its personality. Hence in our Lord there are two natures, one human and the other divine, but there is only one person, and that is divine. Hence the purely human actions of Christ have an infinite merit as proceeding from an infinite person.

{5} Created relation is also called transcendental, and relation of being is known as predicamental. "A Predicamental relation exercises no other office than that of simply looking to its term while Transcendental relation besides and primarily exercises some other office in respect of its term; for instance, of producing, of depending, etc. Thus there is a relation between knowledge and the truth known because of the cognoscibility of the latter. As all finite being is in some such way dependent on some other, such relation runs through all the categories and beyond. Hence it is called Transcendental" -Metaphysics of the School, voL i., p. 587.

{6} "A mutual relation is that wherein there is a real foundation for the relation in each of the two terms; as, for instance, in the relation between 'father and son,' or between 'king and subject.' A non-mutual relation is that wherein the foundation is real in one term only, while it is purely logical in the other. Such is the relation between 'science, subjectively understood, and its object;' or, again, between the 'creator (as God) and His creature.' " Metaphysics of the School, vol. ii., pp. 157, 158.

{7} The properties of relations are, says Zigliara (Art. 40): 1, to have no contrary, but only to exclude identity of subject as subject and of term as term ; 2, not to be susceptible of more or less ; 3, to be mutually convertible, i.e., one correlative is explained only by reference to the other correlative; 4, to be simultaneous in nature; 5, to be simultaneous in cognition.

{8} That is, "well or ill," relatively to the end which by its nature it is destined to attain; thus man is well disposed by nature to attain everlasting happiness.

{9} See Psychology, 77.

{10} Harper Metaphysics of the School, vol. iii., p. 200,) renders the potentia of the Schoolmen by natural power or faculty; p passio by affection, and qualitas patibilis by affective quality. He is calling attention to the fact that all the species of quality but the last may be efficient causes.

{11} "Material entities are subject to two intrinsic changes; in one of which all that is universally recognized as substantial remains, but certain accideutal modifications, such as size, colour, shape, and the like are changed, -- that is to say, these are not the same as they were before, In the other, every thing is seen to change, -- substance, nature, properties, as well as Accident; as in the instance of sugar, when submitted to the chemical action of sulphuric acid. The former species of change goes by the name of alteration; the latter is known as generation." -- Metaphysics of the School, vol. ii., p. 275.

{12} "That reality which is called action is included under three Categories. According to its formal signification, by which the effect in the subject denotes the Efficient Cause, by an extrinsic denomination, as that on which it depends; it is in its own Category ot Action. Considered as connoting a consequent relation between cause and effect, or Subject and effect; it is included under the Category of Relation. Considered as an accidental perfection really inherent in agent as well as in Subject, it belongs to the Category of Quality. 'Action, according to its formal meaning says St. Thomas, does not express its being in the agent, but from the agent.' . . . Though action materially denotes motion, and passion materially denotes motion ; yet action formally connotes the Efficient Cause, while passion formally connotes the Subject. . . . But motion formally denotes the effect in fieri only; materially, however, it connotes its two terms. . . . Motion, therefore, is an intermediate between agent and Subject, but formally including neither. By the medium of the motion, agent and Subject are united together; because they meet in one and the same motion. The motion is truly affirmed to be in the agent as an accident, no less than from the agent as the terminus a quo; because the accidental form, from which the action proceeds and by which it is initiated, is inherent in the agent. The terminus a quo of the transient action, as transient, is the body which is the Efficient Cause; and the terminus ad quem, under the same respect, is the body that is Subject of the causal action. The terminus a quo of the transient action, as action, is the accidental form in the agent, as proximately disposed for producing the effect; the terminus ad quem is the completed effect. The motion is the effect in fieri. In bodily motion there are two principal conditions, or rather, elements, -- to wit, continuity and succession. The former is measured by place ; the latter, by time." -- Metaphysics of the School, vol. iii., pp. 277-279.

{13} See Psychology, 3, 6, 42, 70.

{14} See Cosmology, 36-39.

{15} Ibid., § 33-35.

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