Metaphysics as an irreducible science

It is relatively easy to recognize that geometry and arithmetic are different kinds of science than biology and physics. There are plenty of people who think that a complete physics would explain everything in chemistry and biology and psychology; there are far fewer (none?) who think it will explain all the difficulties in mathematics. The one body of knowledge cannot be reduced to the other. For Aristotle and St. Thomas, there is a third body of knowledge that is just as irreducible as mathematics and physical science: metaphysics. “Irreducible” does not mean “unrelated”- just as there have always been important, unavoidable, and essential points of intersection between mathematics and physical science, there has always been intersections between metaphysics and other doctrines. But the irreducible and autonomous character of each of these sciences limits what we could assume could be given by a complete science.

The distinctive note of metaphysics is that it deals with what is not limited to material or mobile existence, where “motion” is understood as any imperfect state between two contraries (irrespective of whether there is rest at one of the contraries) and “material” is understood in relation to the activity of sensation (that whose existence and activity is proportionate to a corporeal organ). We do not know the things of metaphysics simultaneously or before we know the physical world, but we do know them in such a simultaneous fashion hypothetically. By “hypothetically” I mean by an “if..then” consequence.  We know, simultaneous with our experience of the mobile and material world, that if a metaphysical entity exists, then it could be described positively by certain notions we gather from experience. Chief among these notions is the notion of “being”. It is not that we look at being and see its division into the physical and the trans-physical, rather we look at being and see that it is intrinsically incapable of being limited either to any kind of existence, even if the only kind of existence we happen to know is corporeal.  Our notion of being is not such that it allows us to rule out the possibility of the trans physical. Such a judgment would require that being be a genus, which it is not.

Even after we set forth a proof that divides being into the corporeal and the incorporeal (and the reason why we call these two different “beings” is not made immediately clear at the moment) it is not the case that we can say “X percentage of the group ‘being’ is corporeal, 100-x percentage is incorporeal”. Being is not a collective whole like this. Collective wholes require homogeneity, and one of the first things that we can know about being is that it is not the name of a genus. “Being” not a logical whole like “animal” which contains vertebrates or invertebrates, or like “number” that contains both the even and the odd. There is no existent animal or number that is not some species of animal or number; but every existent being is not some species of being, since there are no species of being. Being could only have species if it was itself a genus, but it is not.

This character of being as non-generic requires as much expertise to understand as any other science. Who would expect a mathematician or physical scientist to have cultivated the sort of experience that helps him deal with being? How many people recognize that being is not a genus? After getting this, do they see its significance? What is there in physical or mathematical science that illuminates you to speak properly of the transcendence of being? Can anyone actually believe that a complete physics will solve the problem of the transcendence of being? Can anyone even believe that a complete physics would even raise the question? After you figure out these basic problems in metaphysics, you can move on to some really hard ones.


  1. Peter said,

    December 26, 2009 at 3:29 pm

    —“Can anyone actually believe that a complete physics will solve the problem of the transcendence of being? Can anyone even believe that a complete physics would even raise the question?”

    In the most recent recording of Dr. B on logic (part 5?), he speaks off the cuff toward the end about how it always belongs to the higher science to distinguish itself from its inferiors. Seems apropos.

    • December 26, 2009 at 4:20 pm

      Keep ’em coming- what a goldmine that guy is. I’m working on some Dionne translations that should be substantially done in a few months. I really need to get up to Laval to make copies of the dissertations he directed (Scribd has all of CDK’s, and some of his best thought is in them)

  2. Rickson said,

    December 27, 2009 at 1:14 am

    Thanks. For newbies like us, if you sometimes keep it simple and explanatory like this blog post, introducing us to a ‘concept’, it will be wonderful. But of course Man has to advance and you are a part of the genus 😉

  3. December 27, 2009 at 7:45 am

    “Being is not a genus….
    ” So, then, what is it? Substances are beings; and substance is a genus. Quantities and qualities are beings that subsist in some substance; and quantity and quality are genera. Are you simply saying that “being” is an equivocal term? Are you making a distinction between essence and existence?

  4. December 27, 2009 at 12:41 pm

    “Being” enjoys unity of one kind or another, but it is not the unity of a genus. To understand the nature of its unity it’s best to look at that which suffices to divide it.

    The unified concepts we understand best are univocal concepts, and every univocal concept is in some genus (by “genus” I mean a potential whole that approaches actuality by the addition of differences). All univocal wholes are so divided, but since differences are themselves beings, differences cannot divide “being”.

    Equivocal terms are divided by their signification. This can’t really describe being well either, since, even if being has a diversity of significations, this diversity is based on some order in the signification and the thing signified. When we call a Chinese ship, and a pile of refuse “junk” it suffices to divide them by signification, since the divided signification accounts for all one needs to know about “junk” so construed.

    Being has a unity that “junk” does not have, but it does not have the sort of unity that “man” or “animal” have. It is a whole that is divided not by differences, nor by signification, but by diverse modes.

  5. Holopupenko said,

    December 27, 2009 at 2:40 pm

    If being were a genus, substance and accident would only have to differ in something other than being, but only non-being (no-thing) is different from being, so for them to differ in non-being (in nothing) would be no difference at all–which is trivial nonsense: being cannot be predicated univocally of substance and accident. Neither can being be predicated equivocally: such is the nonsense of reductionism (to one kind of beingness–usually the material only). Being must be predicated analogically of substance and accident: the meaning of being as said of accident includes its meaning as said of substance, but not the other way around (I have a copper penny in my pocket, but I can’t have a penny[-like] copper [color]…)

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