Is analogy a lot simpler than the controverises over it?

I’m starting to wonder whether the reason St. Thomas never wrote a separate question on analogy is because he saw it as much more simple and unobjectionable than we do, and that our confusions are based on a convoluted and over-dramatic notion of what analogy is. Why not say that analogy is a second imposition, and that’s it? As second, it is known only in relation to a first. So taken, when we say “being is said analogously of God and creatures” what we mean is “The meaning of the word ‘being’, when it includes God, can only be a secondary imposition of the word, and the first imposition of the word is not said of him” or  “when we consider what the word being first means, it cannot include God, though a second meaning can”. St. Thomas gives various reasons why this is so (God is a cause while we first know effects, etc, see ScG I 32-34) We might even, for all I know, have a meaning of the word being that can be said of God and creatures- but all St. Thomas insists on is that the first meaning can’t include God.

Why this order in impositions or meanings? Because there is an order in our knowing. That is all. Contemporary English speakers figure that a word can mean whatever we want it to, whenever we want it to, and so we find it odd when St. Thomas insists there must be an order in meanings. In fact, our tone-deafness about order in meaning is probably founded on our general tone-deafness about any order of knowing- or maybe even of hierarchies altogether.


  1. Peter said,

    January 28, 2010 at 4:53 pm

    That is what I have been thinking lately.

    If this is right, though, what is the difference between the second-imposition of an analogous word and a regular old univocal word? It would be enlightening to do a close comparison.

    For instance, you said, “As second, it is known only in relation to a first…” Isn’t this said of any univocal word that is known through other words? Or does an analogous word take only part of the meaning of a word it is known from? Or a modification of its meaning? Or…..

  2. January 28, 2010 at 6:26 pm

    Both univocal and analogous are comparisons: when I say John is a being and Joe is a being, then “being” is said univocally. The difference is this: if I consider all the meanings of the univocal, I do not find a first and second order of meanings understood, but when I consider all the meanings of the analogous, I do. It is true that when we limit ourselves to just the first or the just the second order in the analogous, then it is not said with any order of knowing. But I don’t think it follows that if we just consider, say, the second order of the analogous term that we can call this term is “univocal”, since as far as I can tell “univocal” is a way of talking about all given meanings. Why so? Because I think everyone agrees that even though “being” is said univocally of John and Socrates, it does not follow from this fact alone that being is a univocal term. Univocal (and analogous) must be said of all meanings.

    Second paragraph: Well, there’s more than simply needing to know one thing through another: since if this were what the analogous were than anything that was not self-evident would be analogous. There also needs to be the same spoken sound. There’s an order to the meanings of at least some spoken sounds: if you wanted to explain to someone learning English what “light” meant you probably wouldn’t start with “that in virtue of which we see the truth of a theorem”- even though that is a proper use of the term.

  3. Peter said,

    January 28, 2010 at 7:49 pm

    I don’t think I expressed my mind earlier. The question I was interested in probing is this: what is the difference between the order of knowing in the analogous use of a word and two different words that have related meanings (to know one you must first know the other)? With the vocal sound aside, they seem functionally identical. Do you maintain this?

  4. January 28, 2010 at 8:40 pm

    I’m not sure the the cases of two different words with related meanings would all be the same in the relevant respects. If “related meaning” means that you have to know one to know the other, that might happen like so: say my French is OK but by Greek is terrible. So while trying to read Aristotle in Quebec, I look up a Greek term in a French edition of a Greek dictionary. Problem: I don’t know some French word in the definition. In order to know the Greek term, I have to know the French one. This is one case of needing to know what one term means to know what the other one means. There is no necessity that there be an order between the terms. That would be a pretty strong functional difference.

    I’m also trying to be careful not to mix up the order of knowing and the order of signs- though this is pretty easy to do. You can’t know what “trump” means if you don’t know what a card game is. There is a real order here between a sign and something else. I suppose you can also say that you also can’t know what “trump” means if you don’t know what “card game” means, but there is something funny about the this case that I can’t put my finger on. I’m not sure that this is an order between the signs as signs, which is the case from an analogous term.

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