Thinking of vs. naming God (pt. 1)

A: So we agree that St. Thomas thinks God is ipsum esse subsistens?

B: Yes.

A: This doesn’t seem to be one idea to me, but two. Ipsum esse is an abstract term, that is, it is opposed to “this” or “that” esse or existence; and “esse” is an abstract term anyway. But to say something is “subsistent” requires that we see it as concrete. But we have no category that transcends the abstract and concrete. Every name we use is either abstract or concrete.

B: I’ll allow your first two claims, but the last seem too fast and loose to me: Let’s label them:

1.)  Every name we use is either abstract or concrete, therefore

2.) We have no thought that transcends the abstract and concrete

But the first is a statement about names, and the second is a statement about categories. There are two errors here: the first is that the first claim doesn’t allow you to say anything about categories except so far as they are principles of names; and the second is that, even if one concedes that we can conclude from 1 to 2, we still have thoughts that are neither abstract nor concrete. Abstract and concrete are categories of names, and not all of our thought is categorical.

A: What are these thoughts that are neither abstract nor concrete?

B: Our thought of reality, thing, existence, whole, perfect, actual, and many others. Even “cause” is neither abstract nor concrete, it seems to me. I know what I mean when I say that I was moved by the desire for justice, but in this sense an abstract thing is motivating me and therefore is a cause.

A: I’ll have to pass over that last claim about causes – though pretty much every contemporary philosopher disagrees with it. There is a more basic problem: reality is just an abstract term.

B: But this a feature of language and not of thought. Categories are just tools for organizing things you already know, not limitations placed on what you can know. Categories presuppose non-categorical thoughts. Consider it this way: a category is like a limited sphere of discourse or of some nature. We can visualize it like a branch on a Porphyrian tree. But your idea of being or reality or whole (or a hundred other things) is not a category.

A: So you are saying that ipsum esse subsistens admits of no unity in the mode of signification, but it can still have some sort of unity in thought?

B: I think so, though the connctions between thought and naming is very intimate, and so we’ll need to say more about this.

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1 Comment

  1. October 27, 2012 at 1:04 pm

    This relates to something I think is often a problem in discussions of analogy, namely, that people have long had a bad habit of conflating knowing and naming in discussions of analogy. But while there are obviously links, they are in themselves very different acts.


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