Analogy as a logical problem

Thomists have been debating for years whether analogy is a metaphysical problem of a logical one. The debate usually seems to operate under a vague and unspoken assumption that if it were logical it would be somehow less dignified or less sublime. The sense is that it would be “merely” logical if it were logical at all. Not so. In saying that analogy is a logical problem (and I say it is at least this), we are saying that every branch of learning there is a need to understand the analogy of names, and a failure to grasp the analogy of names will inevitably cause a failure to understand the science. Failure to grasp when we are speaking analogously, metaphorically, or univocally will be just as much of a problem as confusing correlation with causality, arguing from the denial of the antecedent, or arguing from a syllogism with four terms.


  1. Phil said,

    June 30, 2008 at 3:27 am

    God spoke equivocally when he created the world, and univocally when he begot His Son, but he spoke analogically when he created us, created in his image and likeness. For which reason our path to knowing him in this life lies through analogy.

    Seems like most moderns – scientists and our separated brethren – seek to reduce predication to univocity or equivocity, probably through the failure to recoginize quantity as a categorical accident, and ultimately the act/potency distinction (failure to recognize passive potency, as you said in an earlier post). Hence, “if it can’t be measured it doesn’t count“, or the whole “we are dung covered in snow” or however that goes.

  2. Phil said,

    June 30, 2008 at 4:15 am

    The concept of intellective intentio is another stumbling block which is fundamental to analogy. It relates to the discussion on knowing from a few days ago:

    Summa Contra Gentiles, 4,11,n.6: Dico autem intentionem intellectam id quod intellectus in seipso concipit de re intellecta. Quae quidem in nobis neque est ipsa res quae intelligitur; neque est ipsa substantia intellectus; sed est quaedam similitudo concepta in intellectu de re intellecta, quam voces exteriores significant;
    emphasis added

  3. a thomist said,

    June 30, 2008 at 4:29 am

    The tension between thomists and modern scientists (even for those of us who try to do both) is almost a difference of personality. As a scientist, I couldn’t care less about the initial defintions of things. “Energy is the ability to do work”. So what? Don’t focus on the word “ability”, it isn’t really important. What’s work? “Moving an object in a line parallel to the force” There we go! equations, units, Graphable lines! Again, sometimes the energy definition is modified by specifying that it is “in a physical system”. What are those? dunno. Something we want to look at.

    The Thomist isn’t interested so much in these later things as in the initial ones. It’s a big deal that you would call energy an “ability” and it makes a tremendous amount of difference if you specify it is “in a physical system” or not. A thomist is very interested in a distinctions and relations between “physical” and “body” and “sensible” and “natural” and “metrical”, which are best articulated in words.

    Sometimes these differences flare up, especially within the minds of thomists who are trying to figure out how to map various arguments.

    Boith the scientist and the thomist are trying to understand the same nautre, but they have different standards and criteria for knowledge. The scientist is looing for metrical relationships that can be isolated and related to each other. The thomist looks to the the very first things in our knowing so far as they reveal nature. The thomist looks at the scientist and complains that he can’t give the basis of his knowledge; the scientist looks at the thomist and complains that his knowledge of nature is just a bunch of “truisms” that never gets any precise, concrete knowledge. There’s truth in both complaints.

  4. Phil said,

    June 30, 2008 at 4:58 am

    and by “precise, concrete knowledge”, he means numbers, right?

    Grown-ups like numbers. When you tell them about a new friend, they never ask questions about what really matters. They never ask: “What does his voice sound like?” “What games does he like best?” “Does he collect butterflies?” They ask: “How old is he?” “How many brothers does he have?” “How much does he weigh?” “How much money does his father make?” Only then do they know him. If you tell grown-ups, “I saw a beautiful red brick house, with geraniums at the windows and doves on the roof…,” they won’t be able to imagine such a house. You have to tell them, “I saw a house worth a hundred thousand francs.” Then they exclaim, “What a pretty house!”

  5. Phil said,

    June 30, 2008 at 5:02 am

    and the other interesting descriptions of the businessman, geographer and others, a critique of specialization in Saint-Exupery’s Little Prince.

    I’m impressed with my mad italics skilz!

  6. Phil said,

    June 30, 2008 at 5:23 am

    and hey, I object to your Thomist slur 🙂

    It’s like (to make an analogy) the one about the doctor and the black guy, as if a black guy can’t be a doctor and this is just commonly known. Or you might have said philosopher and scientist, but then you would betray a position that philosophy is not science, and of course a philosopher is not only not very interested in getting the numbers, but not interested at all quatenus ipsum. Or maybe “theoretical guy” and “lab-coat wearing scientist”, but then that says something about theory and science. The muddle has entered our idiom!

%d bloggers like this: