Scotus’s argument (pt. 3, the dispute)

We’ve known for a while that Scotus’s “univocity of being” was a purely logical univocity that did not mean to assert a single genus for God and creatures or substance and accident. But St. Thomas seems to insist that even such a logical account of being is impossible, since he thinks all logical abstractions are at least attempts to articulate some real nature; and so wherever there is no real nature common among things there is no logical abstraction unifying them either.

The question St. Thomas never quite addressed was how we could get the sense that God and creatures or substance and accident formed a real totality. Analogous naming doesn’t do this: the light of the intellect does not form a real whole with the colors of the rainbow, only a whole of things called “light”. Said another way, what am I thinking of when I tell you “I am thinking of something that exists, guess!” and you can answer either God or some substance or some accident? Sure, we could play a game that started by saying that I was thinking of something called existent, and then you could run through various analogical names. But this just changes the rules. What makes the original rules possible?

Some responses open to St. Thomas:

1.) He could say that the concept of being just confuses a linguistic whole with an ontological one. We think we have an idea of all existents when in fact all we have is an idea of all things called existent.

2.) He could say that “all existent things” is an idealization or a counter-factual idea. Just as science has point-particles, black boxes, ideal gasses, cannonball calculations that treat the earth as flat, etc. so too metaphysics might imagine an idea of being that is useful for some application or another but which has no reality corresponding to it.

3.) He could say that the idea of all existent things is an anticipation of knowledge to come. On this account, or idea of being is might become eschatological or at least historical. It is a fundamentally restless knowledge that anticipates completion in some other state and/or with some other object.


  1. socraticum said,

    May 11, 2015 at 8:52 pm

    I haven’t thought it through yet, but it occurs to me that Aquinas’s commitment to the similitude of an effect to its cause tends towards the possibility of univocity in Scotus’s sense.

    I suppose that the principle of similitude should lead us to ask whether equivocal causality or equivocal naming is prior with respect to what the term “equivocal” signifies.

    • socraticum said,

      May 11, 2015 at 8:54 pm

      (note that I’m referring to the imponitur ad significandum not the a quo imponitur)

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