Modes of predication in categorical and non-categorical things.

For a few months my daughter developed the annoying habit of responding to one of her younger siblings saying “I’m hungry” by extending her hand for a handshake and saying “Nice to meet you, Mr. Hungry!”

Kids with philosophers for fathers are at risk of having Dad explain to them that to be verbs in all languages have a lot of meanings, and that using them to predicate a substance (like one’s own proper name) is not the same use as predicating an accident (like the quality “hungry”). This ambiguity makes it possible to use words other than “be” to express some accidental predicates (like the having hunger of German) or even by dropping the copula and just putting the subject and predicate next to each other. You can sometimes even drop the subject and get an identical expression, like when you look at a child crying and banging on the fridge and ask him “hungry?” For all that, human language differs from mere communication or signaling by arising from an awareness of the nexus between a logical noun and a verb, and the diversity of verb predicates demands different modes of predication, especially for any way of indicating “to be”.

Substances and accidents are categorical but not every predicate is. This gives yet another sense of “be” when we say some non-categorical thing of something categorical. All this requires that “be” is itself non-categorical as it is said of things in diverse categories. Saying that being is non-categorical can mean either: (a) it is said of any category but never outside of a category or (b) it is said of any category and sometimes outside of a category. The resolution between the two is a metaphysical problem admitting of different solutions depending on how own defines terms, but STA argues that categorical things are limited to what can be arranged on Porphyrian trees, that no immaterial being can be put on one, and that immaterial things exist (for the details, read On being and essence). This leaves him as solidly in the (b) camp, and as defining everyone in the (a) camp as a Naturalist.

This gives STA a set of predicates that refer to both categorical and non-categorical substances, though, of course, this requires a new meaning of “substance” that has to be understood relative to the first meaning we can understand (a relationship he calls “analogy”).* One thing we can say about these non-categorical substances is that some non-categorical predicates are more appropriately said of them than of categorical things, for the same reason that predicates of human beings are more appropriately said of humans than of things we anthropomorphize. So if we have a non-categorical word like “real” or “desirable” it will be more appropriately said of an immaterial substance like “mind” or “angel” or “god” than of a categorical being like “candy” or “red”. What we say about privations is a bit more complicated, but when privations exist in immaterial things they seem to be a lot worse than when they are among material ones. corruptio optimi pessima.  

STA places God at the limit of immateriality and so at the limit of non-categorical existence. It follows that positive transcendental predicates would be most appropriate to him, and the most appropriate sort of subject-predicate nexus is between commensurately** universal beings. When we say “God is being” this is shorthand for saying that God is the only subject who, in virtue of being maximally non-categorical, is entirely proportionate to the full extension of “being” considered as a non-categorical predicate. Saying God is being is a way of setting him apart from all others precisely by making him commensurate to something that is said of anything that is. Correctly understood, saying “God is being” is the same as saying “being is God” (which is exactly what Meister Eckhart would argue), but this has nothing to do with the sense of “being” as applying to the totality or to each of the things of which it might be said but as a term which, in its full amplitude as a non-categorical term, is only commensurate to God.

This is one way of putting the classical idea of divine simplicity. The Simplicity is the convertibility or commensuration between God, positive transcendental predicates, and all kind-names for God (like “divinity” or “divine person”).


*This is why I object to any description of immaterial beings as involving “substance dualism”. Analogical extensions of terms do not give us duality except in term-meanings. Arabians and Shire horses are two kinds of horses, each of which is spoken of independently and without reference to the other, but living and dead horses are not like this, and one speaks of the dead ones analogously to the living ones. We speak of immaterial, non-categorical substances only with reference to material ones and in light of a kind of likeness that is compatible with an essential difference, and to think of this as giving us two different kinds of substance is like thinking that the living and dead horse are two kinds of horses.

**Commensuration is the same as the first mode of perseity, but a rough approximation to it is in any convertible predicate like a definition, e.g. any time we can say both S is P and P is S.

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