The subject of metaphysics is not the result of an abstraction. One cannot abstract the act of being. It is not given, like a nature or a mathematical entity. It is defined in opposition to what is sensible and imaginable. One cannot make a clearing in which being will reveal itself. Anything that appeared in such a clearing would be a nature or a mathematical entity. There is no getting a look at the subject of metaphysics.

So far as the “object of our knowledge” is said without qualification, there is no metaphysical object, but the negation of an object resulting in the thing that metaphysics is concerned with.

But isn’t substance a metaphysical subject, and isn’t it sensible at least per accidens? Yes, but substance is constituted as properly metaphysical only when we judge that it is not limited to the sensible realm. We must explicitly negate the plenitude and sufficiency of sensible and imaginable reality.

But if metaphysics has no objects, how is this different from there being no metaphysical objects at all? Because the very condition of objectivity demands a reality exceeding the object. Our judgment of substance, for example, is possible only on an analogy form our own substantial existence, but it is not given in sensation. Sensation is in fact inadequate to account for an object freely judged to be an object.


  1. John Farrell said,

    September 23, 2008 at 10:08 am

    JT, this is tangential to your post, but I was wondering whether you’ve ever posted on Kan’t position (that existence is not a predicate). Brian Davies has a nice couple of pages on this in his Problem of Evil and the Reality of God…but would be interested in your thoughts.

    (Or link–if you’ve already posted on this…)

  2. a thomist said,

    September 23, 2008 at 11:20 pm

    Kant wrote that in the process of refuting the what came to be known as the “ontological argument”. The argument asserts that if we simply recognize what the “God” means, we can discern that he must exist. For example, just as when one understands what “ambulance siren” means he can immediately discern that is must be loud, so too when he understands what God means (sc. that than which nothing greater can be thought) he can immediately discern that such a being must exist- or so goes the claim. Kant denies the claim by saying, in effect, that “loud” and “startling” can be real predicates, but “exists” or “is” cannot be.

    Kant’s refutation is clearly grounded on his account of predication, which (as far as I can see it) involves the startling claim that in a proposition, the subject has no intelligibility in itself, but all intelligibility is from the predicate. The subject term, for Kant, is a sheer “x”. If we say “Ceasar is a man” what we are really doing, says Kant, is setting down some “x” as the subject, and predicating “Ceasarness” and “manness” of it. On this account, it seems very true to say that “exists” is not a predicate, for all “exists” would involve saying is that there is some unnamed and unintelligible subject. If one says that all particular predicates are existential, Kant’s case becomes even stronger, for saying “x exists” is simply to say “there is some x such that there is some x”.

    Though I have explained Kant in a way close to modern logic, this is only because Kant is the real father of such logic. It is his thought that makes the proposition the irreducible logical unit (the “p” and the “q” with “truth values”) This is, I think, more the heritage of Kant’s claim that “existence is not a predicate”- as opposed to being any refutation of the ontological argument. There were many such refutations before Kant, and so one more would not have been of much value, but the refutation in Kant’s hands becomes a vehicle to advance a new theory of predication which stands as the cornerstone of modern logic- with a strong anti-metaphysical bias.

    On the Aristotle’s logic- which Kant rightly praised, and perhaps even thought he was advancing- The subject term in a proposition is not an “x”. The subject, as subject, has an essentially distinct existence from the predicate so far as it does not signify with time. Aristotle also divided scientific questions- questions whose resolution demans a middle term- into questions of “whether something is” and “what something is”. The first seek existence. But this is perhaps off point.

    Kant’s idea of “existence is not a predicate” is inseparable- natch- from his idea of predicates. But His idea of predicates is a part of a larger idea of logic as sheer formalism. Kant is at the ground of purely formal accounts of logic. This sort of logic is seen as wholly cut off from the real and in no way subordinate to it. Isn’t this Kant’s very idea of knowledge as such? HIs “Copernican turn”? Taken in this light, Kant’s theory of predicates is simply a further elaboration of the “via moderna”, which began with Ockham- the primary tenet of which seems to be that thought and words are not doors or gates to the real, but substitutes for it.

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