Two ways the per accidens reduces to the per se

STA appealed often and throughout is career to the axiom that what is per accidens reduces to the per se. The claim is true in two different ways, (a) the perseity can be either what we’ll describe as (1) and (2) below or (b) it can be katholou or not.

A truth is per se when either the subject explains the predicate or the predicate explains the subject. Take the claims:

1.) Barbie is blonde

2.) Hair is blonde.

In the first, the subject explains the predicate: one can explain why a doll is blonde by noting it is a Barbie but not vice-versa. In the second the predicate explains the subject,* since one can explain that a subject has to be hair because it is blonde. Though I’m using the language of explanation what is really in play is the causal powers of the natures in question, indicated by identifying the cause by quaQua Barbie, some doll is blonde; qua blonde, something is hair.

All this suggests a sort of “super per se” where the subject and predicate are proportioned to each other. Aristotle called this sort of perseity katholou, and the Latin tradition called it per se et primo. The value of identifying this sort of perseity is fundamentally that to which the per accidens reduces. The per accidens claim that “Bob is blonde” reduces in one sense to the perseity of (2) given above (if Bob is blonde, Bob has hair) but the perseity of (2) reduces to the katholou.  Fundamentally Bob is blonde in virtue of being that which is blonde katholou. 

Such perseity applied all times when  a definition is said of the word it defines, as in “a surface that reflects all wavelengths of color is white”. It will also be true of of all accidental predicates proven from definitions, i.e. “a figure with interior angles equal to two rights is a triangle”.

The equivalent to this sort of katholou perseity is also true of all first agent causes. i.e. “Truman dropped the atomic bomb” as opposed to “Tibbets dropped the atomic bomb”. It’s also true of any final cause that is not taken as a means to some other final cause, i.e. “We’re making a pizza” as opposed to “We’re rolling out dough”.**

So the axiom of the per accidens reducing to the per se is one instance of the more general axiom that everything not katholou is explained by what is. The not katholou includes both the accidental, the contingent, and even degrees of perseity that is lower than the kathalou. 

*Leaving aside blonde beers or hair dyes, though the first is equivocal and the second analogous.

**Note we gave examples from formal, efficient, and final causality. This sort of thing is true in material causality too, though what is first in this sense is purely potential and so cannot be an object of sensation.

Male and female in physics

Principiation : continuance :: male : female. The joke that men are only involved in generation for five minutes is five minutes too generous. We more or less instantaneously initiate a process that women continue through pregnancy, birth, nursing. As my wife points out all the time, the whole story is a feminine story.

Nature does this in any inertial motion. Most of the flight of the arrow/baseball/bullet is inertia – it’s only initiated or principiated by the archer/pitcher/marksman (or ended by the target/catcher). Accelleration : inertia :: male : female.

So any inertial motion can be distinguished into the masculine moment and the feminine infinity. Since the masculine moment is often vanishingly small it can be essentially disregarded or attributed to “chance”, i.e. something in which the model is not interested and is therefore not designed to account for. A Laplacian demon, for example, takes for granted (i.e. ignores) the masculine initiation of all the motions at any moment, and predicts everything on the basis of the laws governing the continuance, i.e. the feminine. This is the fundamental sense of the femininity of nature.

Female : male extends to the conserved quantities qua conserved : conserved quantities changing states. Here again the male component is largely something to be disregarded, though it expresses itself in the different ways in which, say, one kind of energy can be exchanged for another, i.e. the rules of thermodynamics.

In one sense eternity : times :: male : female, where “times” are all modes of created duration, whether of the infinite angelic species (each of which is its own cosmos) or the limit case of cosmos-humanity. What all these universes have in common is that they cannot have all possible goods of their being, which gives rise to different modes of time. As a consequence, the measure of their being is always some sort of continuance, whether this is a created intelligence shifting from thought to thought in the manner of passing numbers or a material thing passing from one moment to another on a continuous timeline. In comparison to this eternity is a discrete moment of activity, even if it is the same discrete moment at any moment in time.

In a more proper sense, eternity is not the masculine in comparison to the feminine creation but the overcoming and transcendence of the opposition. Masculine and feminine are ultimately modes of co-dependance. This is clear from our need to define eternity using both male language of instants and female language of continuance: The wholly simultaneous and perfect possession of life without termination. To repeat the same thing in miniature : Eternity is simple and uniform. The simplicity of eternity speaks to its having all that it is, in opposition to created things that cannot possess all that they are but alternately have, say, the beauty and energy of youth or the authority and experience of age. But for this very reason it is just as important to stress the totality of eternity, which we can only understand through feminine notions of continuance. The simplicity of eternity is comprised of the fullness of all things, including the fullness of all perfections of created duration: the fixity of the past, the full being of the present, the possibility of action opened by the future. This overcoming of the opposition between created simplicity and continuance is the natural analogue to the overcoming of one and many in the mystery of the Trinity.

Individual action and prediction

Continuance is not initiation/ being the principle of. If we reduce motions to conserved quantities we explain continuance as such, with any “initiation” being an arbitrary moment in the causal history.

-Take physicalism as the claim that the causal history given through conserved quantities is the whole history.* This requires that there be something in the motion even now that is inexplicable even in principle. Whatever corresponds to principiation and not conservation has to be attributed to sheer chance.

-Things count as chancy relative to what a model leads us to expect. My causal model of lotteries, for example, leads be to be unsurprised when someone wins but still leaves me very surprised when win. My casual model of coin flips leaves me surprised by a run of a 100 heads after 100 flips, but surprised by not having a 100-head run after 10100 flips.

-Sheerly chancy therefore means unpredictable by any possible physical model. This unpredictability is compatible with either denying or affirming causes not grasped by the model.

-Predictive models are constructed by abstracting from the individuating differences of the things and so they can predict individual actions only as instances of a type.

-If any action arose from an individual as such, it would be outside the predictive model. For physical substances, there does not seem to be any relevant or ontologically significant difference between the individual and the instance of the type. This steel can count as just steel or some hunk of steel or another, and whatever one does might just as well be done by another. But a particular moral action can’t be viewed in this same way: attribution to the correct individual as such is a crucial element in their description.

*This would make Determinism the strongest form of Physicalism, though not its only form.

The mode of predication in “God exists”

STA teaches that God exists per essentiam and creatures per participtionem, but he also divides the latter class into the contingent and the necessary. The order seems to be like it is for “white” in the following:

1. ) The wall is white.

2.) Snow is white

3.) A surface that reflects all wavelengths of light is white.

The first has the predicate contingently, the second has it necessarily, the third has it necessarily and sufficiently (or what Aristotle called having it “first”). (1) and (2) are modes of having per participationem and the last is per essentiam. Seen from another angle, in (1) we can have S without P and P without S, in (2) we can have P without S but not S without P, and in (3) we can’t have P without S nor S without P.

While the second test just given suggests that convertibility would be a good test for the per essentiam, convertibility is only a sorta-good guide.* 35 minus 34 is 1 is a convertible claim whose truth does not appear to change whether we write 1 as the subject or predicate, but STA would consider it the same sort of truth as “snow is white”. This is clear when we flesh out what the claim means: while the result of 35 -34 is in fact 1, we can have 1 without it being a result of that operation. Further, even though the result of the operation is 1, to be the number one is not the same thing as to be the result of that operation or any other operation.**

What STA calls being per participationem is what exists in either the first or second way, and for God to be ipsum esse subsistens means that the claim “God exists” is said in the third mode of predication said above.

The third mode can be said in more than one way. We gave a definition when sepaking of “white”, but not all said in way (3) is a definition. Necessary accidents, like accidents that can be demonstrated from the definition and follow formally from it are also (3)’s and saying “God exists” is another mode of (3). We certainly don’t have to say that “God exists” is a defintion (though Meister Eckhart took it in this way, insisting that the claim esse est Deus is true).

In speaking of the relation between 1-3 STA would frequently appeal to the axiom that what exists per participationem reduces to what is caused per essentiamHopefully it should be clear by now that this is self-evident, but it also serves as a basic axiom in every science. One of the main goals of science is to figure out per essentiam predicates, which is exactly what one looks for when asking what malaria is or cancer is or why things fly or float or orbit or heat up or how they replicate or breed or are trisected.***  It’s clear that STA is appealing to this axiom in the Fourth Way, and that the “more and less” he speaks of is more or less not in quantity, but in what might be called  the inherence that clearly increases as one goes from level 1-3 above.


*This is because convertibility does not reduce to the terms but to the logical character of the propositions. Things convert because they are, say, universal negations, particular affirmations, or definitions and not because of the nature of the things in the terms. Talking about “S can’t be without P…etc” was meant to be taken ontologically and not logically from the structure of the proposition. This was the point of talking about “to be the number one” or, in the next footnote, “To breed in the Barents Sea”

**So what about a claim like (35-34) = (27-26)? This is a fourth sort of truth with no analogue to the “white” examples given above. Aristotle calls it “true of all”, i.e. it’s true in the sense that all tropical fish don’t breed in the Barents Sea. Both claims are necessarily true, and are even convertibly true (whatever breeds in the Barents Sea isn’t a tropical fish, and vice versa) but it doesn’t follow that “to be a tropical fish” is a way of not breeding in the Arctic Ocean any more than “to breed in the waters north of Norway” is a way of failing to be a tropical fish.

***Consider claims like

1.) Insects fly

2.) Falcons fly

3.) Substances capable of producing lift though differential air pressures fly.

The first is sometimes true and sometimes not (mosquitoes fly and grubs don’t) the second is necessarily true, the last is true necessarily and first/sufficiently.

Fear and trembling

Paul’s command to “work out your salvation in fear and trembling” is usually taken to mean that we should… what, exactly? Seek salvation under the conviction that failure is likely? This can’t be right, since Paul would be counseling us to reject the virtue of hope, which consists precisely in the confidence that God wills good things for the very person possessing the virtue. So what is it?

Paul puts the fear and trembling clause as the conclusion kenosis hymn of Philippians 2:

5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,
[T]hough he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,
7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.
8 And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.
9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
One account is that the “fear and trembling” arises from the prospect that the disciple is called to the same self-emptying, life of service, and obedience-unto-death as Christ. In this sense the lesson of Christ’s life is that God’s work of sanctification is a frightful and demanding thing.
Another dimension of interpretation is that Paul is quoting Psalm 55:

My heart is in anguish within me;
the terrors of death have fallen on me.
Fear and trembling have beset me;
horror has overwhelmed me.
I said, “Oh, that I had the wings of a dove!
I would fly away and be at rest.
I would flee far away
and stay in the desert;
I would hurry to my place of shelter,
far from the tempest and storm.”

In this sense it’s not that fear and trembling characterize salvation but that they are givens to the one who seeks it. On this account, it’s not that salvation as such is frightening but that even the frightening has a role to play in salvation, i.e. given that you are fearful and trembling at the enemies that terrify you, do not think that these enemies threaten salvation.

Both are true in their own ways, and seem to arise from the paradoxical role that evils play in providence.

Proclus’ Elements, prop. 1

Proclus claims that if every multitude did not participate in The One then it would either resolve into nothing or into infinities infinitely resolving into infinities. We can safely rule out the idea that it resolves into nothing, but Proclus’ argument against the second horn is:

[T]here is no being constituted of infinites without limit, since there is nothing greater than the infinite itself; and that which consists of all is greater than each particular thing.

Objection: the rational numbers are infinite both in extent and density.

In one sense the objection belies the point since if the rational numbers didn’t have one definition we couldn’t offer them as a counterexample. Still, they problematize Proclus’ claim that there is a conceptual impossibility in the infinite itself resolving into the infinite. It won’t help to limit ourselves to concrete or physical things since “The One” mentioned in the thesis is not limited to this any more than mathematical things are.

A mathematical thing can be infinite in extent and density in a way that physical things can’t since it prescinds from time and so from the difference between the actual and the possible: in math knowing something is constructible is the same as to construct it, but this is obviously not the case in the physical world, say, with houses.

This suggests a different proof for Proclus’ first proposition:

Every actual multitude participates in The One. 

For if not, the multitude must resolve infinitely into infinities, since otherwise it would  resolve either into The One or into sheer non-being.

Every multitude is either in time or not. If in time, it is infinite either in possibility or in measure. All measures, however, are relative to something one, whether that which is the least part or the greatest instance. The possible as such is not an actual multitude.

If an infinite thing is not in time, it is either resolvable into infinities or not. If irresolvable, then a fortiori it cannot be resolved into infinities, but if it can be resolved it must be so according to some one formula or definition, e.g. the rational numbers.


A believer working through questions on faith

Why do you say “I have faith in the trinity”?

Because I hold that the statement “God is triune” (GT) is true.

Why do you believe GT? 

Because it is known to be true by God.

But how did you come to know that GT is known by God to be true? 

Because it was revealed.

How can you confirm that the statement GT was revealed? 

If you’re asking “Is my intelligence equal to God’s, so I can confirm it by the evidence available to him”, then the answer is no.

Okay, so that would be too much to ask. But aren’t you bothered that your beliefs aren’t proportioned to evidence? You could just as easily believe GT as “Allah is one and Muhammed is his prophet”. I could have reproduced this whole dialogue with that and not GT. Isn’t that a problem? 

No learner of complex system can proportion his beliefs to his evidence. Learners take the system as true, but can’t do so from a knowledge of the system’s own evidence. Knowing that requires being largely though a system, i.e. being a master and not a learner.

What’s a complex system?

All that’s logically connected or implied by some domain of axioms, definitions, assumptions. Newtonianism is everything logically connected to the laws of motion, definitions of space, time, inertia, calculus, etc.

Isn’t that too broad? Newtonianism was clearly tied up with assumptions that led to Relativity, i.e. to the end of the system. 

That’s the whole point. If a system wasn’t committed to all it logically implied it would not be falsified by those discoveries on which it comes to grief. Even Newton wasn’t ultimately Newtonian, or, if he was, then “Newtonianism” turned out to be a way of learning another system. The evidence of Newtonianism – as a presaging something else – was clear in its death.

One account of religions or their absence is a set of axioms, definitions and assumptions with logical connections to an eschatology. Religion or its absence is a set of claims with eschatological implications.

Why bother to pretend to know something about these things that we can’t? 

To live a human life at all is to be logically committed to eschatological implications: the existence or non-existence of future lives, a structure or chaos of history, the possibility of escaping from a state of sheer learning or not. The problems here are basic and unavoidable.

No, I mean that the world doesn’t look like the sort of place where anyone is interested in giving us clear and unambiguous answers about “eschatological implications”, so we shouldn’t pretend that we have them. 

But that’s what I said earlier! We agree that we lack the evidence available to the gods about eschatological destiny. We disagree about what this means and what an appropriate response to it is.

I’m not asking for the evidence of the gods, just evidence that would be decisive to me. 

But you can’t deny that billions of people have gotten that.  They believed, didn’t they?

They were fooling themselves. 

God says you are (cf. Ps. 15, 53). So now what?







Action, form, matter

-An action as motion is incomplete until finished so is from matter. An immanent action as such is perfect at every moment of the action and so is from form.

-All immanent actions are thus immaterial, being from form as opposed to matter.

-Matter in motion must be moved by another, and so as motion is an infinite system. Form within the material world cuts into this infinity making something whole. This happens clearly in the organism.

-Aristotle: infinity is a sort of part (it is the opposite of holism of form).

-Matter in motion reduces to the action of conserved quantities and so is an infinite system. Physics is one development of omne quod movetur, etc.

-The motion from living to sentient to intelligent is a greater intensification of the organism. The organism becomes a self to itself.

-Having qualia requires knowledge, but they are outside of what knowledge is. Knowledge isn’t what chocolate tastes like, it’s one of the two modes in which chocolate exists.

-The human soul could not be more mortal than the cosmos.



JOST: Cursus Philosophicus III a. 2

How the rational soul is entitatively spiritual and the form of the body

The difficulty arises from the fact that two things are conjoined in the rational soul that don’t seem to cohere in themselves (1) to be truly and substantially the form of a body and (2) to be spiritual in itself; and so for its esse to be co-natural to granting form to a body and to likewise be co-natural that might it exist outside of a body when separate from it.

For all that, it is absolutely certain that both belong to the rational soul, although its granting form to the body is co-natural to it while its being separate is not co-natural in the same way, though this state of separation is not contrary to its nature (violentus) but preternatural.

The first part follows from what was said above in q. 1 and 1 Physics q. 4. It has been so defined by the Council of Vienna… “We condemn as erroneous and contrary to the truth of the catholic faith any doctrine, proposition, or attempt to call into doubt that the substance of the rational or intellective soul be not truly and per se the form of a human body.”

The reason for this is clear, why man is composed of soul and body. If he were only a simple substance then soul and body could not at some point separate, i.e. death could not occur. The composite that we call human is intrinsically and essentially rational since it belongs to him by definition to be rational, and it is manifest in his operation of reasoning. It’s necessary that he be intrinsically constituted by a rational form, and rationality itself or the degree of its rationality and operation cannot arise from a material source or matter itself since he has matter in common with irrational things, as is clear from the body which remains when the soul is separate. So it arises from a form, meaning the soul itself is the form of a body, and it is necessary that it be a form exceeding all the conditions of matter, as is clear from the preceding article.

If you object by saying that the soul itself is a whole and complete human being and that the body is only moved by the soul but not given form by it, we respond that if this were the case then a human being would not be an animal or have vital operations… It is contrary to the definition of man that he be just soul and not an animal, since he is not called “soul” but “rational animal”, and it would follow that a human being would not be mortal and corruptible since he would be only a soul  which, being simple and non-composite, could not be corrupted by the loss of a form.

Though the soul is spiritual and gives form to matter it remains the case that it is not material nor dependent on matter, as was shown in the previous article from its operation of understanding. It exceeds all physical objects both from the object it attains and its manner of operation, which is supported by both Scripture and the Councils of the Church: Sirach 12: “The spirit returns to he who made it” and Ps. 30 and Luke 23 “into your hands I commend my spirit”… and the Lateran Council: “God made both angelic and terrestrial creatures ex nihilo, constituting the human as from both spirit and body.”

The second part of the thesis, sc. that the the state of separation is not co-natural to the soul though it is also not contrary to its nature but preternatural, follows from the soul naturally being the form of a body, making its co-natural act ro grant form and to be shared in the manner of a form, so it does not seek separation in the manner of something co-natural to it but rather the state of conjunction. The way in which the soul was created, in its ordinary manner of being in keeping with the nature of things, is co-natural to it, but souls were not created by God separate but as infused into bodies: “He breathed into his face the spirit of life”. So it is appropriate to the soul to be a part of a man…

But that the state of separation is not entirely contrary to the nature of the soul but only preternatural is clear from the fact that something is contrary to nature which arises from an exterior principle conferring a force that is not able to be withstood (non conferente vim passo) but the soul has, in itself, a principle of subsisting and continuing to exist outside of the body, and so that the separated soul might continue in its existence does not arise from a force other than itself but from its own intrinsic principles that sustain it. The state is called preternatural because it does not arise per se and co-naturally from the soul itself or from the manner in which it is created by God, but as an extraneous accident arising in it under the supposition of an action destroying the body.

(It can be gathered from what is said that rational souls are multiplied by the multiplication of bodies, because the soul is the form of the body… substantial forms are multiplied individually because two individual substances differ inter real substantial being and so also in form, which is the principle granting being – if they had one form they would have one being. This is the reason DT gives in 1. 76. a. 2)

…The following consequence seems weak: the soul has an operation not shared with the body, therefore the soul is independent of the body. Scotus denies this in IV, dist. 43 q.2 because “to have an operation without the body” means two things: without the body as an organ, and without a body as the subject (supposito) of the operation. Taken in the first way it is true, but the consequence is false; and taken in the second way the antecedent is false because it is man that understands, not the soul.

Likewise, the union of the soul is not spiritual because it is corruptible, but it is nevertheless in the soul itself, because it is unified to the body and changed with it. The soul formally confers a degree of corporeality and corporeal properties are conferred on the soul from this, and because, as it was said, there is only one form in man… the soul itself does not exceed [physical being]

Response: Subsistence means two things: (1) esse per se, which is opposed to inherence (2) existentia per se, which is opposed to being shared with another. While the soul is in the body it as subsistence in the first way actually and in the second way by aptitude, because even though it is, in fact, shared with the body, it can be separate and will subsist without being shared when in that state of separation, even though, taken broadly, it will be capable of being shared. Nevertheless it always has esse independent of the body, whether it is in the body or outside of it and even when it is actually shared with the body. In this it is different from other substantial forms, which, even though they do not inhere in another (since this is proper to accidents) nevertheless do not have existentia in themselves that they share with a body, but are only principles of existing though existence is not had by the form as such, but in the composite as in something received, with the form being the reason for or principle by which existence is had, just as whiteness is not of itself an existent white thing. The rational soul not only has substantial esse which is opposed to inherence, as a principle from which something exists, but also as a thing existing formally in itself, although it is capable of being shared with a body, as though whiteness were of itself a white thing… So the consequence is valid: if the soul has an operation independent from the body or the organs in which it inheres, it is necessary that the esse of the soul be independent of the body, although both its operation and esse is shared with a composite that itself subsists as its supposit. We did not prove the soul to subsist as a supposit from the independence of its operation, but that it subsists without the body even though it shares its substance with it, and so with the removal of the body it could operate by an operation that is not dependent on an organ to exist.


Being is said in many ways

Being is said in many ways is itself something said in many ways.

1.) On the one hand, it can mean that that copulas do not always link subjects and predicates in the same way. My daughter went through a phase where, whenever her sibs said “I’m hungry” she’d offer her hand and say “Nice to meet you, Mr. Hungry!” In doing so, children with philosophers for fathers expose themselves to the danger of a boring lecture about how qualitative predicates are said differently from substantive ones.

More simply, one can be either a substance or a predicate, but substances and predicates are different, so being is also. The same sort of argument divides different intentions:

Man is a species

John is a man

John is a species

2.) Being is also said in different ways of what is on a Porphyrian tree.

a.) If “being” is just the least designated description of Barack Obama (i.e. if it is the upward limit of Obama —> man—> animal—> living entity—> being), then “being” in this sense is contingent, since Obama is also. If “being” is taken not just as the least designated description of some individual but in its state of universality, then it is a second intention and not a first intention, like “man” above.

b.) If we take “being” as meaning “what exists” then the bottom level of the Porpyrian tree is a being, while all the levels above it are not beings unless (as said in [a]) we take them as just less-designated descriptions of the individual at the bottom.

c.) If I ask “are my father and I the same being” the answer is pretty clear that if “being” is taken as a nature, the answer is yes, if it is taken as an individual or person, the answer is no. So being also divides into nature and individual.

3.) We can also consider second intentions as things with existence in some entity. Asking whether your idea is the same thing as mine does not give the same answer as asking whether my father is the same thing as me. An idea (or any sort of knowledge) differs from other sorts of existence in that its being common does not preclude its existence in a concrete subject. And so when we take knowledge as an action or modification of a subject it cannot be taken in the way that some accidents are actions or modifications of subjects, since an accident cannot be both particular and shared except per accidens, the way you and I might share the same steak by eating different parts of it or be warmed by the same fire by standing around different parts of it.

In sentience, this commonality of the idea is ontologically inseparable from a physical modification of the subject, and because this physical modification is not able to be shared by many subjects the sense idea is always bound up with something not objective. Intellection consists in overcoming one sense of this failure of objectivity, so that even while what’s cold to you might not be cold for me what is two or pi or man or sociology or constitutional monarchy etc. for you can be just the same as it is for me.*

And so (a) the accident of action/quality (b) the action of sensing and (c) the action of intellection are said to be in different ways too, from which it follows that the substance of all three must also be different.

*In finite intellection, i.e. in all intellection that falls short of the Trinity, there is some failure of objectivity in the idea as well, so far as there is always something in the individual that is not also wholly present in what is common. The difference between finite and infinite intellection is also a case of being that is said in many ways.

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