St. Thomas on the premise “what exists is particular”

Ockham says that existence as such is particular as opposed to universal. St. Thomas implicitly denies this when he omits “particular” as a transcendental. If “particular” belonged to being or existence as such, it would be convertible with it. St. Thomas also says in his discussion of “person” that “individual” or “particular” is an intentional term- that is, it is proper to logic and not to the science of being as such.

On St. Thomas’s account, Ockham errs by confusing logic and metaphysics. Contraries must be in the same genus, and everyone agrees that “universal” belongs only to the order of logical existence. How is it, then that we can say that existence is particular? In St. Thomas’s account, so long as one is speaking about the particular as opposed to the universal, the existent is neither particular nor universal. However, there is no necessity that one must use the terms “particular” or “individual” only in the logical order- St. Thomas himself uses the term “individual” in the definition of a person, and he could have just as easily used particular. St. Thomas even explains why he had to borrow a term from the logical order to speak about things outside the logical order, and his explanation makes it clear why we would assume that “particular” or individual belong to the existent order. First the objection to give context:

an intentional term must not be included in the definition of a thing. For to define a man as “a species of animal” would not be a correct definition; since man is the name of a thing, and “species” is a name of an intention. Therefore, since person is the name of a thing (for it signifies a substance of a rational nature the word “individual” which is an intentional name comes improperly into the definition.

and his response:

Substantial differences being unknown to us, or at least unnamed by us, it is sometimes necessary to use accidental differences in the place of substantial; as, for example, we may say that fire is a simple, hot, and dry body: for proper accidents are the effects of substantial forms, and make them known. Likewise, terms expressive of intention can be used in defining realities if used to signify things which are unnamed. And so the term “individual” is placed in the definition of person to signify the mode of subsistence which belongs to particular substances

Notice that the reason we need to borrow from the logical order is our failure to know the existent order. Since we can only name as we know, it follows that we must use the word “particular” in the existent order, because we don’t know the very thing we would name particular as existent. We don’t know, as it were, the “true name” of the individual existent, and so we borrow a term that belongs to it properly as known. Such a need to borrow makes it all but inevitable that even very wise men would confuse “particular” as belonging to the logical order, and as belonging to the existent order.

If Ockham’s argument about universals is grounded in saying that what exists is particular as opposed to universal then St. Thomas would say that Ockham is commiting the same error as Plato, but he draws the only other possible conclusion. For St. Thomas, Plato says that logical things existed simply, but he says that the real is the universal as opposed to particular; while Ockham also says that logical things exist simply, but the real is the particular as opposed to the universal. Thomists take the only option left- logical things do not exist simply, and so the real is neither universal nor particular as opposed to universal.



  1. Niggardly Phil said,

    August 19, 2008 at 9:10 am

    It must get really confusing if second intention is first intention.

    “In fact, the notion of ens rationis consists formally in its opposition to ens reale, that is in its incapacity to exist.”

    QDV 21, 1, c:
    Id autem quod est rationis tantum, non potest esse nisi duplex.
    Omnis enim positio absoluta aliquid in rerum natura existens significat.
    Sic ergo supra ens, quod est prima conceptio intellectus, unum addit id quod est rationis tantum, scilicet negationem:
    dicitur enim unum quasi ens indivisum.
    Sed verum et bonum positive dicuntur;
    unde non possunt addere nisi relationem quæ sit rationis tantum

  2. a thomist said,

    August 19, 2008 at 9:13 am

    say more.

  3. a thomist said,

    August 19, 2008 at 9:59 am

    There is a great deal of implicit error on thinking that the particular as opposed to universal is the fundamentally real. On the one hand, one’s metaphysics becomes defined by the negation of universality or abstract ideas (a common ground for all modern empiricists) but on the other hand, what is fundamentally real is seen as an instantiation or concretion of a universal, and so the most real vanishes into universal- for it “adds nothing to the concept” as Kant would say.

    In general, metaphysics of the particular as opposed to the universal becomes a hybrid blend of the real and the unreal: particular things (now seen as the ground of reality) are grouped in “classes” or “by terms” which are defined by their unreality. What most exists is only the concretion of what does not exist at all. We are left with a Venn diagram where the parts are all real but the whole is not.

  4. Niggardly Phil said,

    August 19, 2008 at 4:52 pm

    It makes the doctrine of intentionality rather problematic, to put it mildly. Though I suppose that just gets excised as medieval mumbo-jumbo (a snear whose meaning seems to be, I don’t really understand intentionality).

    I’ll try to expand a bit more on what I mean tomorrow, and you tell me if I’m on the right track or not.

  5. Niggardly Phil said,

    August 20, 2008 at 5:43 am

    This is a long post about intellectual intention, from Fr Contat’s book on Logic. Translation is my own:

    a) The notion of intentio

    The term intentio comes from in-tendere, which means to tend towards (something) (cf I-II,12,2,c: intentio, sicut ipsum nomen sonat, significat in aliquid tendere). In the psychology of the will, intention designates the act which bears upon the goal, and on which depends the choice of means. In the noetic field, intentionality refers to the tension of the knowing subject towards the object known. In St Thomas, the intentio does not signify the intellective act, but rather the fruit that is yielded at the end of expressing itself and the thing which it knows is rendered present:

    Dico autem intentionem intellectam id quod intellectus in seipso conipit de intellecta.

    (CG 4,11,n3466 – the text continues: Quæ quidem in nobis neque est ipsa res quæ intelligitur; neque est ipsa substantia intellectus; sed est quædam similitudo concepta in intellectu de re intellecta, quam voces exteriores significant; unde et ipsa intentio verbum interius nominatur, quod est exteriori verbo significatum)

    Therefore, the intellective intentio is on the one hand (ex parte subiecti), the product (concept, proposition, argument) by means of which the mind reaches the being of the thing; on the other hand (ex parte obiecti), intentio designates the object which is so known by the mind. The relation established by the intentio between the knowing subject and the known object constitutes intentionality.

  6. Niggardly Phil said,

    August 20, 2008 at 6:04 am

    b) Division

    Intentio can take for its object something real – and such is normally the case -, or something consecutive to the act itself of grasping what is real; in the first case, the foundation of intentionality in reality is immediate, while in the second case, it is mediated:

    intellectui respondet aliquid in re dupliciter.
    Uno modo immediate, quando videlicet intellectus concipit formam rei alicuius extra animam existentis, ut hominis vel lapidis.
    Alio modo mediate, quando videlicet aliquid sequitur actum intelligendi, et intellectus reflexus supra ipsum considerat illud. Unde res respondet illi considerationi intellectus mediate, id est mediante intelligentia rei: verbi gratia, intellectus intelligit naturam animalis in homine, in equo, et multis aliis speciebus: ex hoc sequitur quod intelligit eam ut genus. Huic intellectui quo intellectus intelligit genus, non respondet aliqua res extra immediate quæ sit genus; sed intelligentiæ, ex qua consequitur ista intentio respondet aliqua res (QDP 1,1,10m)

    To this twofold connection between intellect in act and the thing corresponds the distinction between first intention and second intention. First intention is therefore that which considers things in their being real (and therefore called ‘first’ or prime); whereas second intention is what considers on reflection that which depends on being known of the thing (and therefore called ‘second’). So second intention can be defined objectively as the relation of logical reason inhering in the being known of the thing (insofar as such being is different from the being in se of the thing itself); subjectively, on the other hand, second intentions signify the concepts by which such relations of reason are known.

    (S. Thomas distinguishes, in these lines, between nomen primæ intentionis and nomen secundæ intentionis, vg. SN 1, 23, 1, 3, c. Here is how John of St Thomas defines the two types of intentions, objectively considered, in his Ars logica II, q. 2, art. 2, 291 a 40 – 44: “Illæ ergo affectiones seu formalitates, quæ conveniunt rei prout in se, vocantur primæ intentiones, quæ conveniunt rei prout cognita, vocatur secundæ”)

    The following paragraph summarizes well what is necessary to retain about beings of logical reason or second intention:

    ens est duplex: ens scilicet rationis et ens naturæ. Ens autem rationis dicitur proprie de illis intentionibus, quas ratio adinvenit in rebus consideratis; sicut intentio generis, speciei et similium, quæ quidem non inveniuntur in rerum natura, sed considerationem rationis consequuntur. Et huiusmodi, scilicet ens rationis, est proprie subiectum logicæ (SM 4,lect.4,n574)

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