JMC : On Universals / by Matteo Liberatore, S.J.

On Universals.

Opusculum I.

Chapter I.


It may be truly said that Universals have been the continual torment of philosophers. Ever since the days of Plato and Aristotle this question has occupied the minds of the most acute and indefatigable thinkers. The search is not merely an arduous one, but also dangerous. I could show, if this were the place for doing so, that all philosophical errors are traceable, more or less nearly, to that. Above all, pantheism is an inevitable consequence of happening to fall into a mistake about it. The speculations of the exaggerated Realists in the middle ages, and of the modern Transcendentalists in Germany, are sufficient proofs of this.

2. ST. THOMAS' SOLUTION OF IT. The angelic Doctor defined the question with admirable lucidity when he wrote as follows: -- "Aristotle's opinion is true i.e. that a Universal is in the many, and is a One outside of the many. In these words he points out the two-fold Being of a Universal, viz: its Being in things and its Being in the mind. As being in the mind, it is a predicable. As being in things, it is a determinate nature, that is not universal actually, but potentially, for it has in itself the power of becoming universal through the action of the intellect. Hence Boetius says that an object is universal as understood, and singular as perceived by sense, because one and the same nature which is singular and individualized by matter in each individual man is afterwards made universal by the action of the intellect, which purifies it from the conditions of space and time."{1} Truly these are touches of a master hand. A Universal is nothing else than an essence, expressed abstractly by the word of the mind [verbum mentis], and afterwards, being referred to individuals, is predicated of the same. St. Thomas here says of it that actually [actu], i.e. as an essence abstracted and attributable to individuals, it exists in the intellect only -- in anima. Outside of the intellect it only exists potentially, (in potentia), exists potentially inasmuch as one and the same nature, which we find singularized in individuals, can become universal by virtue of the intellect, which in considering the same frees it from the individualizing conditions proper to space and time.{2}

From this it follows that the thing apprehended in the Universal idea is indeed in singulars, while the manner of apprehending it, viz: in the abstract and without the characteristics proper to it as singular, proceeds from the intellect.

The Holy Doctor explains this with limpid clearness thus: "The actually understood [intellectum in actu] has, he says, two meanings, i.e. the thing understood and the fact of its being understood; and likewise, when we speak of an abstract universal, we mean two things, i.e. the nature of the object and the abstraction, or universality. Therefore the nature which happens to be understood, abstracted, considered in the universal, is in singulars only. But its being understood, its being abstracted, its being considered as universal, is on the part of the intellect. The same is observable in sense. By sight we see the colour of an apple without the smell of it; and if we were asked where the colour is, which we see without the smell, we could only say that it evidently is in the apple. But the fact of our perceiving it without perceiving the smell, is owing to our sight; in which there is a representation of the colour and not of the smell. In like manner humanity, as understood, is only in this and that human being; but its being apprehended without its individual conditions -- which its being abstracted is, and which is followed by the consideration of its universality -- this happens, inasmuch as humanity is perceived by the intellect, wherein is found the representation of the specific nature, and not of the individual principles.{3}

Were it not so, we could not truly predicate of individuals the thing apprehended with a universal idea -- as for instance when we say that Peter is a man, that Paul is a man -- for the copula "is" expresses identity between the two terms which it conjoins.

3. MONSIGNOR F*** REJECTS THIS. The doctrine thus plainly and lucidly propounded by St. Thomas is displeasing to Monsignor F*** as being so to Rosmini. "Any interpretation," he says, "by which we suppose the Angelic Doctor to have identified the Universal with the Real, is inexcusably false, as being against the evident principles of reason."{4} Yet St. Thomas' words are unmistakable. He says expressly that the thing contained in the universal idea (not the universality which comes to it by the operation of the intellect) is in singulars only. "Ipsa natura," he says, "cui accidit vel intelligi, vel abstrahi, vel intentio universalitatis, non est nisi in singularibus."{5} Monsignor F***'s decision is peremptory. He will not allow any excuse at all. "Such an interpretation," he says, "is inexcusably false." His argument seems to be this: -- Any interpretation of St. Thomas that is contrary to the evident principles of reason ought to be rejected. But the before-mentioned interpretation is contrary to the principles of reason because it is contrary to the principles of Rosminianism, and therefore ought to be rejected. What can we say to so clear a syllogism as this?

4. THIS RESTS ON SOPHISTICAL REASONING. It will be objected perhaps that I have not put the case fairly. Monsignor F***, it will be said, not only affirms here, but elsewhere proves the fact of its being against the principles of reason to suppose that a Universal can, in any way, exist in singulars; and this is his demonstration "There is no middle course," he says. "An essence" (which we admit a Universal to be,) "is either an individual, or nothing, or a universal which has not a real subsistence. But an essence is not an individual; for it excludes by its own nature all individualizing conditions. Neither is it nothing; for it is an essence inasmuch as it is Being, and Being is the opposite of nothing. Therefore it is a Universal that has not a real subsistence:"{6} which means that it does not exist in singulars.

Anyone who has mastered the meaning of St. Thomas' words, already quoted, will have perceived at once that at the touch of a simple distinction this specious syllogism falls to the ground. Let us apply it to each proposition. The major says that an essence is either an individual, or nothing, or a universal that has not a real subsistence. Now to avoid unnecessary distinctions, we answer, "Let it pass" (in Latin transeat,) while we go on to the minor. But the essence, says the minor, is not an individual, &c. The answer to this is Distinguo. Not an individual, i.e., by positive exclusion, Nego. Not an individual, i.e., by pure non-inclusion, by prescinding therefrom, Concedo. Hence I distinguish the consequens, viz: that the Essence is a Universal which has not a real subsistence. If this means that it has not a real subsistence as to the form of Universality, Concedo, If it means that the thing contained under this form has not a real subsistence, nego; and therefore I deny the Consequentia.

We need only repeat St. Thomas' words: -- Cum dicitur universale abstractum, duo intelliguntur, scilicet ipsa natura rei et abstractio seu universalitas. Ipsa igitur natura, cui accidit vel intelligi vel abstrahi, vel intentio universalitatis, non est nisi in singularibus sed hoc ipsum quod est intelligi, vel abstrahi, vel intentio universalitatis est in intellectu.{7} The essence then which is understood is in the individual, is singular; but it is not restricted to the individual, because it prescinds from those characteristics of singularity which it has in the same. And therefore we said, when distinguishing the minor, that not by positive exclusion is it not individual, but only by pure non-inclusion.

5. ELUCIDATION OF THE ANSWER GIVEN. St. Thomas, in that admirable opusculum De Ente et Essentia, in which he lays down the principles of true ontology, treats of universals, and says, that if it be asked whether the essence, considered absolutely in a Universal idea, is one or many, we cannot grant either proposition, because both are outside our conception of it, and it may happen to be either one or the other. Si quaeratur utrum ista natura (apprehended absolutely) possit dici una vel plures, neutrum concedendum est; quia utrumque est extra intellectum (the conception) humanitatis, (in this example he was speaking of the essence of man), et utrumque potest sibi accidere. And a little further on he explains this more fully, in the following words "Essence," he says, "has a twofold existence, the one in singulars, the other in the mind; and according to these two ways of existence, it is subject to different attributes. Thus its Being [esse] is multiple in singulars, aocording to the diversity of singulars; yet none of those attributes befit the essence itself considered properly, i.e., absolutely. For it is false to say that the nature (of man, for instance) as such, has the property of being found in a determinate singular, because, if so, it would never be found anywhere else. In like manner, if it were proper to the essence of man, as such, not to be in this and that singular, the essence of man, as such, would never be found in him; but we can truly say that it belongs not to the nature of man as man, to be in this and that singular. It is evident therefore that the nature of man, considered absolutely, abstracts from all determined existence, but so as not to exclude it; and this nature, thus considered, is what we predicate of individuals."{8} Therefore what Monsignor F*** affirms in his syllogism, i.e. that the essence excludes by its nature the individualizing characteristics, is false. The essence, as we have said, can have a twofold existence, the one real, the other ideal. In its real existence it not only does not exclude the individualizing characteristics, but, on the contrary, composes with them and constitutes the individual; for in the real order individuals alone exist. In the ideal order the essence does not indeed include nor exclude the individualizing characteristics, but only abstracts from them. Hence, though it is the expression of a determined form, it is nevertheless predicable of all individuals existing and possible. Let us again turn to St. Thomas. "The Essence," he says, "has an abstract being in the intellect, and has a uniform ratio{9} with respect to the individuals that are outside the mind, inasmuch as it is the image of them all, as regards their essence; and leads to the knowledge of them all as men; and from the fact of having such a relation to all individuals, the intellect forms the notion of species, and attributes it to them. Hence the Commentator says in 1. De anima, that the intellect makes the universality in things; and Avicenna in 8. Metaphys: says the same. And although this understood nature has the ratio of a universal, as being compared to things outside the mind, because it has a likeness to all, nevertheless as being in this or that intellect, it is a particular ideal representation, as if we were to suppose a statue representing many men. Clearly the statuesque image or likeness would have a singular and proper being as existing in that individual marble; but as representing many men, it would be common to many."{10}

Monsignor F***, Rosmini and Ontologists in general fall into Plato's error, viz. that of supposing essence to exist really just as it does ideally. Patet diligenter consideranti rationes Platonis, quod ex hoc in sua positione erravit quia credidit quod modus rei intellectae in suo esse sit sicut modus intelligendi rem ipsam.{11} Hence, perceiving that our intellect apprehends an essence by abstracting from tbe individual characteristics, they suppose that it so exists in itself, not considering that the difference between its manner of being and our manner of understanding it depends on the quality of the subject, inasmuch as the intellect, being immaterial, cannot receive the representative species of anything, the formal principle of the word which has to express the same ideally, unless it be free from the material conditions proper to an individual existing in nature. Thus apprehended, the essence constitutes the Universale directum, which by another consideration of the mind is referred to divers individuals, existing or possible, and thus constitutes the Universale reflexum -- Unum alia, Unum actum inesse multis. Monsignor F***, deceived by this Universality which Essence has the mind, thinks of it as having the same in itself, and says: -- "Non-individualized Beings entia are essences, which, precisely because they exist outside of every singular, are universal." He fails to see the hideous conclusion to which this leads, viz: Pantheism.

6. HIS MISUSE OF THE TEXT OF ST. THOMAS. From the very weak argument that we have quoted, Monsignor F*** turns again to St. Thomas, whose doctrine he would have us believe to be in conformity with Rosminianism. Thus he brings up some passages in which the holy Doctor says that intellectus noster non est cognoscitivus nisi universalium; that its object is the quod quid est, or the essence; that cognoscere aliquid in universali est cognoscere naturam universalem cogniti. But any one can see that these quotations have nothing to do with the case, for Monsignor F*** is not determining what the object of the intellect is, but endeavouring to prove that this object exists in the same way outside the mind as in the mind. This he cannot prove from the passages above quoted; nor does he try to do so, but is satisfied with quoting them, no one knows why. He supposes himself, however, to have found his cheval de bataille in the passage where St. Thomas affirms that in creaturis esse essentiae et esse actualis existentiae differunt realiter, sicut duce diversae res.{12} His reasoning thereon, though very involved, seems reducible to this: -- That, according to St. Thomas, the essence is the Universal, the existence is the particular. That the one is distinct from the other, as thing from thing. And therefore that, according to St. Thomas, the Universal is not formed by abstraction from the particular, but is, of itself, abstract and really distinct from it. "In creatures," says Monsignor F***, "the Being of the Essence (Universal), and the Being of the actual existence (individual) differ really as two things."{13} By virtue of the remarks in parenthesis he believes himself to have found such powerful support in this passage that he is never weary of recurring to it. He says, for instance "In the Opusculum, De Decem Praedicamentis, he (St. Thomas) teaches us to observe that a creature the (ideal) Being of the essence and the (real) Being of the existence differ really as two different things."{14} And again: -- " St. Thomas distinguishes the Being of essence from the Being of actual existence, i.e., the Universal from the Real."{15} But his mistake is evident; for St. Thomas, when he distinguishes in the creature take the Being of essence from the Being of existence, does not take the one to be ideal and the other real, nor the one to be universal and the other individual, but each to be real and individual, inasmuch as they concur, the one potentially, the other actually, to form the thing that is produced. Any one who is conversant with St. Thomas' doctrine will certainly know that; and to settle the question, it will be sufficient that the holy Doctor, in the following passage, declares both the essence and the existence to be created. "Ex hoc ipso," he says, "quod quidditati esse attribuitur, non solum ESSE sed ipsa QUIDDITAS creari dicitur".{16} Now the universal is not created, nor the ideal, but the real and singular. God alone is the subsisting Being. The creature is a Being per participationem, and though spiritual, is, according to St. Thomas, composed of Being, or existence, and of quiddity, or essence. But a real compositum must consist of real elements, and every real thing is singular.

Lastly we have to remark that by taking essence to mean Universal, and existence to mean singular, Monsignor F*** reverses the Rosminian doctrine; for according to that doctrine existence is not singular, but universal, owing to its being identified with initial Being, which he affirms to be common [communissimo]. "The word existence says Rosmini, " according to us, expresses initial Being precisely."{17} And elsewhere he says, " To initial Being belongs the denomination of most common because, precisely as so considered, we find it to be common to all objects of thought.{18} Now if existence is to be confused with common Being, how can it, in contradistinction to essence, express the singular? It would be less unreasonable to say that the essence, according to the pretended interpretation, expresses the singular; for it expresses the subject that receives existence as its actus, and the actus is singularized in virtue of the subject, not e converso. But then, how would the other Rosminian principle stand, i.e., that essences are always universal and ideal?

{1} Sententia Aristotelis vera est, scilicet guod universale est in multis, et unum praeter multa. Et tangitur in hoc duplex esse universalis: Unum, secundum quod est in rebus; aliud, secundum quod est in anima. Et quantum ad istud esse quod est rationis, habet rationem praedicabilis; quantum vero ad aliud esse, est quaedam natura, et non est universale actu, sed potentia, quia potentia habet ut talis natura fiat universalis per actionem intellectus. Et ideo dicit Boetius: " Universale dum intelligitur, singulare dum sentitur;" quia una et eadem natura, quae singularis erat et individuatur per materiam in singularibus hominibus, efficitur postea universalis per actionem intellectus, depurantis ipsam a conditionibus, quae sunt hic et nunc. Opusc. De Universalibus, Tract. 1.

{2} Elsewhere he says Id quod cognoscit sensus materialiter et concrete, quod est cognoscere singulare directe, hoc cognoscit intellectus immaterialiter et abstracte, quod est cognoscere universale. Summa, Th. p. 1, Q. lxxxvi. a. 1 ad 4.

{3} Cum dicitur intellectum in actu, duo importantur, scilicet quae et hoc quod est ipsum intelligi. Et similiter, cum dicitur universale abstractum, duo intelliguntur, scilicet ipsa natura rei, et abstractio seu universalitas. Ipsa igitur natura cui accidit, vel intelligi, vel abstrahi, vel intentio universalitatis non est nisi in singularibus; sed hoc ipsum quod est intelligi, vel abstrahi, vel intentio universalitatis, est in intellectu. Et hoc possumus videre per simile in sensu. Visus enim videt colorem pomi, sine ejus odore. Si erqo quaeratur, ubi sit color, qui videtur, sine odore, manifestum est quod color, qui videtur, non est nisi in pomo. Sed quod sit sine odore perceptus, hoc accidit ei ex parte visus, in quantum in visa est similitudo coloris, et non odoris. Similiter humanitas, quae intelligitur, non est nisi in hoc vel in illo homine sed quod humanitas apprehendatur sine individualibus conditionibus, quod est ipsam abstrahi, ad quod sequitur intentio universalitatis, accidit humanitati, secundum quod percipitur ab intellectu in quo est similitudo naturae speciei et non individualium principiorum. Summa, p. 1, Q. lxxxv. a. 2 ad 2.

{4} Vol. 1, p. 373.

{5} Summa, p. 1, Q. lxxxv. a. 2 ad 2.

{6} Vol. 1, p. 53.

{7} Summa, p .1, Q. lxxxv. a. 2 ad 2.

{8} Haec natura habet duplex esse; Unum in singularibus, aliud in anima; et secundum utrumque consequuntur accidentia dictam naturam. Et sic in singularibus habet multiplex esse, secundum diversitatem singularium. Et tamen ipsi naturae secundum propriam considerationem, scilicet absolutam, nullum istorum esse debet. Falsum enim est dicere, quod natura hominis, in quantum hujusmodi, habeat esse in hoc singulari; si enim esse in hoc singulari conveniret homini in quantum est homo, non esset unquam extra hoc singulare. Similiter, si conveniret homini, in quantum est homo, non esse in hoc singulari, nunquam esset in eo. Sed verum est dicere quod homo, in quantum est homo, . . . abstrahit a quolibet esse, ita quod non fiat praecisio alicujus eorum. Et haec natura, sic considerata, est quae praedicatur de omnibus individuis. Opusc. De Ente et Essentia. C. 4.

{9} Here, and in other places, instead of translating into English the Italian word Ragione, which has philosophically all the meanings of the scholastic term Ratio, I have thought it my duty to use the Latin word, as being, all things considered, safer and more exact, than any other word. It is true that ratio can be translated by various English words expressive of its various meanings but these, though they do very well in explanation of these meanings, are not always quite identical with the one word that includes much, and which has no English equivalent. If that word did not express more accurately than any others all that we understand it to mean, surely St. Thomas, whose exactness in the use of words is unequalled, would have used various words to express the various meanings of that one word, instead of using that one word to express them all. -- Translator.

{10} Natura habet esse in intellectu abstractum ab omnibus individuantibus, et habet rationem uniformem ad omnia individua, quae sunt extra animam, prout essentialiter est imago omnium et inducens in cognitionem omnium, in quantum sunt homines; et ex hoc, quod talem relationem habet ad omnia individua, intellectus adinvenit rationem speciei et attribuit sibi; unde dicit Commentator, 1. DE ANIMA, quod intellectus est qui facit universalitatem in rebus; hoc etiam Avicenna dicit in 8. Metaphysicorum. Et quamvis haec natura intellecta habeat rationem universalis, secundum quod comparatur ad res quae sunt extra animam, quia est una similitudo omnium; tamen, secundum quod habet esse in hoc intellectu vel in illo, est species quaedam intellecta particularis. . . . Sicut si esset una statua corporea, repraesentans multos homines, constat quod illa imago vel species stauae haberet esse singulare et proprium secundum quod esset in hac materia, sed haberet rationem communitatis secundum quod esset commune repraesentativum plurium. Opusc. De Ente at Essentia. C. 4.

{11} In 1. Metaphys. lect. x.

{12} Opusc. Logicae Summa. De Decem Praedicamentis, Tract. ii., c. 2.

{13} Vol. 1, p. 54.

{14} Vol. 1, p. 109.

{15} Vol. 1, p. 312.

{16} Qq. Disp. Q. iii. De Potentia, a. 5 ad 2.

{17} Teosofia, p. 230.

{18} Teosofia, vol. 1, p. 175.

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