Tinkering with a theory of penance and mortification

All blogposts are in the workshop, but this one is more so than others.

1.) God desires friendship with created persons. The ordinary means of this friendship are sacraments, though the choice to accept or reject the friendship is the first properly moral act of any created person, whether human or angelic.

2.) Friendship is love of another self, i.e. to experience the success or failure, joy or sorrow of another as one’s own,

3.) Justice is the totality of persons other than ourselves possessing what is due, i.e. their right. Any destruction of this order introduces an imbalance that must be put right.

4.) Since one friend loves another as himself friendship does not fall formally under justice. Nevertheless, friends give each other what is due (or fail to do so) in an analogous sense of due or right. In fact, the due or right of friends relates to the due of justice as a transcendent whole to a less perfect part.

5.) When an inferior good conflicts with a superior good, by natural law (i.e. right reason) we must will the superior good.

6.) The divine will is a good superior to all others, and so the created will defers to it not just by natural law but by justice and by friendship.

7.) Created persons frequently sin, that is, will goods incompatible with the divine will. This sin creates an imbalance in right reason, the order of justice, and in the order of friendship.

8.) Key principle: As the imbalance consists in indulging one’s will for an inferior good too much, it is put right by the loss of an inferior good contrary to one’s will, and all such loss involves pain.

The idea is that there is a sort of economy of wills that can be visualized as though, by one trespassing into another by overindulgence, things need to be set right by underindulgence, i.e. by the loss of an inferior good contrary to will and thus painful.

9.) This pain is experienced in different ways in the order of justice and of friendship. In the order of friendship, the pain, though contrary to one’s will is nevertheless willed by the friend seeking to make amends. Though no one wills pain, when considered in abstraction from all circumstances, one who offends against friendship does will pain so far as it is material to righting what was done wrong. As the overindulgence in inferior goods was an offence, the pain of losing them is the material that can set things right.

10.) In friendship, pain is essential materially. What formally re-establishes the friendship is the reassertion of the love itself. If your friend experienced no pain at all after offending you he couldn’t make amends, but even if he experienced extreme pain it could not make amends except in union with a re-assertion of charity. Pain and charity are both essential, but the pain is material and therefore less essential.

11.) Because the friend is another self, we can in certain ways make amends for others. If I am not friends with A but B loves A in a way that is not depraved, then part of loving B is loving A. In this sense B can “make amends” for A or even “take on the punishment of A.” By “taking on the punishment” we don’t mean he suffers what is due to A, even if he is willing to do so. Scapegoating has nothing to do with this. We mean that, though friendship, the pain one person is due can be taken on by another so far as the bonds of friendship are being extended by it. This sort of thing is happening in human relationships all the time: two persons are reconciled by the mediation of one who is a common friend to both and who is pained by the rift between them.

12.) When we leave the order of friendship we fall to the order of justice. Since it is proper to friendship to love the good of another, then in the face of a rift, where there is no friendship we cannot love the pain owed to the one who is offended. We can only suffer this pain. Thus, absent the order of friendship between God and man, man merely suffers punishment but cannot do what was described in (9). The pain is not material to charity – if it were then one would have friendship ipso facto.

13.) In the absence of friendship, sin demands merely suffering pain in the order of justice. This suffering lasts as long as the sin that brings it about, not according to the duration of the work but the duration of the stain that arises from the work, a “stain” which consists precisely in the loss of the friendship (the metaphor of the stain – Latin macula – consists in an effect of an act lasting after the cause itself is over, like a blot remaining after the spill happened). Because of this, any sin committed outside the friendship of God, or which brings this about, is intrinsically eternal. This is not because eternity is proportionate to the offence, but simply because the only means of ending the macula is friendship. As Gregory puts it, if you jump in a pit you can’t get out of, then you’re stuck there forever, but not because this is a sentence proportionate to your stupidity or short sightedness or whatever.

14.) Our relationship with God differs from our relationship with other persons in that the pains of things contrary to the will can themselves play more of a role in the relationship. God experiences the human will immediately and so is immediately offended by acts of will irrationally preferring the divine will to what is inferior, and so for one in friendship with God the voluntary acceptance of the pain of losing an inferior good can be immediately pleasing to him. This pain, willed in charity, makes immediate amends in the same way that the contrary of anything offensive can be the material cause of removing the offence. So while the voluntary acceptance of pain has some role to play in re-establishing all friendships, the pain caused by renouncing inferior goods has an immediate connection to appeasing a divine friend.



Seculative agnosticism and practical belief

Start with Voltaire’s line that “if God did not exist…”, etc. the idea can be taken in more than one way, but at its most believable it involves bracketing the question of God’s existence or knowability, but noticing we still need him as a postulate of the moral life (Kant), or as an irreducible element of human experience (James) or as an evolved brain structure selected for group cohesion and contributing in various ways to reproductive fitness.

At some point, of course, we need some kind of answer to the bracketed question, and I doubt the speculative agnosticism and the practical belief can be lived out, which is to say I doubt whether this state of affairs can have either speculative or practical truth. At some point you’ll have to lie or consent to the lies of others, demanding someone believe without question what you don’t believe and/or do question. You’ll consent to the idea that some group (the kids, the peasants, etc) be told princess Alice stories about God to keep them in line, but lying gives something which, given to you, is an offense against who you are, and so by lying you are either (a) treating another person as subhuman or (b) treating him as human, and therefore hating him.

No one wants to be deceived. To argue that someone might want it ends up proving the opposite, since we only “want to be deceived” in the sense that we want to believe that something is true without knowing that it isn’t. But then what we want is something precisely like truth, and if we try to make an argument for “good deceptions” out of this we get…

Things like truth are good

Some lies are like truth

Some lies are good.

…which isn’t good for anything except as an example of the fallacy of the accident, since the way in which things like truth are good excludes whatever is like truth but in fact is not. This is why no one never wills to-be-deceived-and-not-know-it as such, even if such a state can be like knowing truth.

Thomas on Fallacies (3)

(N.B. Translator exercised a heavy editorial hand)

Chapter 14

Ignoratio Elenchi

The fallacy of ignoratio elenchi. “Elenchus” is a contradictory syllogism that is in one way unified and in another way divided. It is one when it concludes the contradictory of another proposition given previously, as if one were to grant an animal is incorruptible and then proceed thus:

Every composite from contraries is corruptible
Every animal is such
So every animal is corruptible

The conclusion contradicts the proposition that was granted. Two syllogisms constitute an elenchus by having contradictory conclusions, as when we add another syllogism like this:

No blessed thing is corruptible
Some animals are blessed
So some animal is not corruptible.

Because contradictory syllogism is the definition of elenchus, whatever is contrary to the definition of a contradictory syllogism excludes elenchus. So when any defect in a syllogism happens because it omits something of the definition of a syllogism and of contradiction it is, as a general principle, reduced to ignoratio elenchi.

But since contradiction is in the definition of elenchus as a difference constituting a species, it is specifically the omission of things required for contradiction that constitute ignoratio elenchi. Because a fallacy cannot happen if it fails to appear true, it is necessary… that the contradiction be apparent though lacking something necessary for a true contradiction.

A true contradiction cannot arise except with respect to one and the same thing, if not, it seems to not be a contradiction, as here:

Man runs
A donkey does not run.

Real contradictions cannot arise except from one and the same thing, while fallacy arises from the failure of someone to notice what is required for contradiction. Contradiction is the opposition of not just one and the same thing, but of the thing and the name being the same at the same time, and ignoratio elenchi is a defect arising from not noticing [this]… what causes the fallacy to appear genuine is the similitude of a deficient and perfect contradiction, and the cause of its not being so is the diversity of the same. This fallacy has four modes:

1.) A mistake taking the same thing relative to the same. As here:

Two is the double of one,
But Two is not the double of three
Therefore two is both double and not double.

This doesn’t follow since it omits that what is not made with respect to the same thing is not a contradiction.

2.) Not taking this particular in the same sense, as here

This is double in length
And this same this is also double in breadth
So one and the same thing is double and not double.

This does not follow because it fails to notice that contradiction requires that this particular be taken in the same sense.

3.) Not taking the thing “in the same way”. As here

The heavens move circularly
The heavens do not move up and down
Therefore, the heavens both move and do not move.

This does not follow because of the omission of the qualification “in the same way” which takes away the contradiction.

4.) Not taking the particular in one and the same time, as here:

The house is closed at night
The house is not closed during the day,
Therefore it is closed and not closed.

This doesn’t follow since contradiction is blocked by the diversity of time.

Notice that this fallacy beings with the fallacy of secundum quid and simpliciter since both proceed from what is said with some qualification to what is said simpliciter. There is nevertheless a difference since in secundum quid and simpliciter the qualification diminishes the ratio of what exists simpliciter, though this does not necessarily happen in this fallacy – rather the added qualifications remove the ratio of contradiction – for it would certainly follow:

This thing is double X in breadth
Therefore it is double X.

And it would not follow that there was a contradiction when referred to both things. It is also clear that that ignoratio elenchi arises from the contradiction of beings in general, which is an opposition, and the source of contradiction.

Hylemorphic ontology

1.) Things around me allow for different instances of what they are. This is a sheetrocked, painted wall but some walls are wooden and varnished, unfinished cinderblocks, etc. This fact is in play in every word we speak other than proper nouns. In this sense, no particular is equal to what it is since what it is – essence – is realizible in different ways.

2.) On the other hand essence is wholly realized in its instance. My sheetrocked painted wall needs nothing added to it to be a wall.

3.) This gives different senses of the whole essence. From (1) the whole essence is richer and broader than any instance while (2) requires the whole essence be present in each instance. This requires introducing into essence itself diverse principles that can account for the diverse ways in which essence is whole. Matter makes it whole in sense (2), hence the talk about sheetrock vs cinderblock walls. Form makes a whole in sense (1), which is why we spontaneously call forms ideas, though in fact form is a principle of the idea, just as the reality.

4.) So far as both are principles, they stand to the composite as parts to whole, and both are completed in it. The relation of the principles to each other is different. Then this form is fuller and richer than material due to having more possibilities. Matter is more ontologically impoverished, e.g.  sheetrock-for-a-wall is a lot more restricted than wall. This also shows the derivative and secondary character of matter since as sheetrock-for-a-wall exists only after wall is given as a principles (even if no principle exists as its composite does.)

5.) Form and matter are principles of some whole, but the thing-that-is-matter need not be understood as matter. Cinderblocks-for-a-wall are also things in themselves in addition to being principles of another.

6.)  Matter is a lot easier to understand when it is also a thing since, under that condition, it has a form that allows us to understand what it is in sense (1) and we have a form to understand it relative to as explained in (4). Matter is more difficult to understand when it is only a principle and not also a thing. That said, when matter is also a thing it causes accidental changes so if some change is not accidental its matter is not a thing, which from (3) lacks a principle giving rise to an idea of itself.

7.) Form is opposite to matter and is easier to understand when it is only a principle and not a thing. We have always spontaneously understood forms as ideas just as we understand matter as stuff. But just as matter is most material when it is a principle and not a thing, forms are most fully forms when both a principle and a thing. This is the mode of existence unique to the human soul as intellectual.

8.) Seen from this angle the intractable debates between “dualists” and “Naturalists” are easy to understand, as dualism consists in seeing the life of human beings as a thing and not a principle and naturalism consists in seeing it as a principle and not a thing. Both arise from the inability or unwillingness to posit things outside the material order, and the simplest part of the material order at that (since neither side accounts for matter as such.) In this simplified ontology, matter is uniformly existent real stuff, making either nothing alive (mechanism/ reductionism/ ghosts in the machine) or everything alive in exactly the same way (panpsychism.) When one’s basic options are between so many reductiones ad absurdum, he might as well pick his philosophy at random or, better yet, with an eye to whatever will pass peer review.


Thomas on Fallacies (2)


Chapter 13

The Fallacy of Secundum Quid and Simpliciter

Secundum quid and simplicter. “Simpliciter” here means what is said in no way with an addition, as when it is said Socrates is white and Socrates runs. Secundum quid is said with some addition like “he runs well” or “Socrates is white with respect to his teeth.” What is added stands to what it is added in two ways: (1) Sometimes it does not do away with the ratio of the thing to which it is added and in these cases one can proceed from the secundum quid to the simpliciter, as “he runs quickly, therefore he runs” for speed does not take away the ratio of running (2) Sometimes what is added does away something in the ratio of what it is added to, as when it is said that the African is white with respect to his teeth, for specifying “teeth” does away with something of the ratio of what is called white, since a things can’t be called white unless the whole is white, or when most of its parts are, or the principal parts. If one concludes “the African is white with respect to his teeth, therefore he is white” it is sophistical, being the fallacy of secundum quid and simplicter. The cause of the apparent truth in this fallacy is the agreement of what is secundum quid and what is simpliciter, the cause of it not actually being true is the diversity of the same.

There are five modes of this fallacy.

1.) When a qualification adds an opposite to another. As in this argument

Caesar is a dead man
Therefore, he is a man.

This does not follow, since being a dead man is opposed to being a man since living is of the ratio of a man, a man being an animal and an animal being an animate, sentient substance. So clearly the qualification dead destroys the ratio of man.


He is a good thief
Therefore, he is good.

For good supposed per se is opposed to theft. Likewise this:

A liar speaks the truth by saying he speaks falsehood.
Therefore, he speaks the truth.

This does not follow since speaking the truth is opposed to speaking falsehood, and vice versa.

2.) When a qualification is added that pertains to the act of the soul.

An act of of the soul can concern both the existent and non-existent, as here

Chimera is an animal about whose existence one can have an opinion (opinabile)
Therefore, Chimera is an animal.

This does not follow since to be something “about whose existence one can have an opinion” adds to “animal” by taking away something of its ratio. Likewise this:

Caesar exists in the memory of men
Therefore, Caesar exists.

Or this:

You have happiness as an object of your will (in tua voluntate)
Therefore, you have happiness.

3.) When a qualification added signifies something existing in potency.

Like this:

An egg is potentially an animal
Therefore, it is an animal

This does not follow since being in potency takes away the ratio of what has being simpliciter.

4.) When an added qualification signifies a part.

Like this:

The African is white-toothed
Therefore, he is white.

This does not follow because existing in a part takes away the ratio of that which has being simpliciter.

Note that if some part by nature can denominate the whole this fallacy will not arise, as here:

That man has curly hair

Therefore, he is curly.

This follows fine, because the person is called a blonde by his hair. This can be extended to other parts, like those of place, time, or of other wholes. If something is added to a whole existing in a place, and the part by nature does not denominate the whole, a fallacy will arise, as in

This diet is good for the sick
Therefore, it is good

Likewise for what is a part in time, as in

Drinking wine is bad for the sick,
Therefore it is bad.

5.) When a qualification restricts the term to which it is added, which stands to it as a subject. As here

The wise man wants evil done away with
Therefore, he wants evil.

And this is for the same reason as others like it.

So clearly this fallacy arises because of the perfect and the imperfect, for that qualification takes away the ratio of something in that it signifies some imperfect being.


Sexual ethics as marital

The Sixth Commandment condemns all sexual immorality through a condemnation of adultery. Why do this? Why not just condemn sexual deviance? Why not pick some act other than adultery to stand in for the others?

There is probably a historical reason for this but I have no idea what it is. In my own reading of scripture  women married relatively young and never lived independently, so perhaps sexual deviance usually was adultery. This explains things up to a point, but it doesn’t take long to hit that point. Even if women married young, what would it matter to masturbation or same-sex attraction?

Thesis: The sense of condemning all sexual perversion as adultery arises because sexual activity is defined as a marital act, making all sexual perversions marital perversions in one way or another. On this account the evil of pornography is a violation of something due to a spouse – say, an undivided sexual desire for single person in a physically shared act that establishes or strengthens family bonds. Note that something can still be properly spousal violation even if one has no spouse. If some fund is set up for the relief of sick family members and you take money from it even though you have no family, then your offense is still properly against sick family members. We probably have to go further than this, since taking from such a fund wouldn’t require that one should (in the normative sense) have sick family members, but if sex is marital then then to make use of it requires just this normative should.

It would be worth meditating on what a sexual ethic like this would look like. Masturbation, for example, seems to violate the right that others have to please us by being causes of sexual ecstasy, or the right of another that our sexual ecstasy should be in that other, and not just through some idea or intention of something or someone generated out of ourselves. Perhaps same-sex attraction provides poor dispositions for marriage, as sexual relationships without women are ill-suited to fidelity and are ill-suited to initiating sexual activity without men. That said, the sort of information the contemporary world values in making this sort of evaluation of same-sex attraction requires a careful and objective look by social science, but it is very difficult to trust most of what one reads on the topic.

Ontology of the self

There is some sense in which Socrates is only one self, but this needs to be brought into harmony with Biblical, Medieval, and even common sense accounts of self which, in addition to allowing for a unitary self somehow homogeneous with all others, also divide the self into spiritual/carnal, inner man/outer man, virtuous/non-virtuous, open to the common good/closed to the common good. These were not just moral descriptions of one and the same self but each member of the pair could be called “a self.” This is why Thomas gives three answers to the question do sinners love themselves, since

(1) On the one hand everyone seeks his own happiness, feeds himself, seeks pleasure and avoids pain etc. Taken in this general sense the self belongs just as much to good men or evil ones. But this is not the only sense of self, even in ordinary speech, since

(2) When Christ commands love your neighbor as yourself, or when we demand that people show some self-respect or practice better self-care, this presupposes a “love of self” that is morally good and deserves to be extended. On the other hand,

(3) When Paul says mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves (2 Tm 3 :1) or when we tell someone to “stop thinking about yourself” we presuppose a love of self that is morally evil – even the source of all moral evils.

All this points at an ontology of the self that can be complete along different axes: a morally indifferent self, a self-to-be-suppressed; a self-to-be-cultivated. Being a self occurs in the diverse ways in which we dwell within or comport ourselves to these possible selves, though talking about “comporting oneself to a self” gives two ‘selves’ only in the mode of signification and not of reality. In fact, to “dwell within” the self-to-be-suppressed is simply to be an evil self, even if this evil does not annihilate the true self or self-to-be-cultivated. Again, to me moral or holy is to dwell within the true self, even if, for now, one needs to suppress a self that is in danger of flaring up.

I mentioned above Thomas’s three-fold answer to whether sinners love themselves. Cajetan’s comment on this is short, but he makes it with a startlingly uncharacteristic urgency and emphasis. Anyone familiar with Cajetan’s commentary will immediately hear the shift in tone:

Fix the conclusion of this article in your heart about how the evil do not love themselves, and the five signs of the love which belongs to good men alone:

(1) Willing from the interior man, that is, living from the rational part;

(2) To will the goods of a virtuous person;

(3) To act to achieve these;

(4) To abide within oneself with joy;

(5) To live in harmony with any man or woman.

Examine yourself by this list to see whether you are good and whether you truly love yourself or whether you are an enemy to yourself. Meditate on this frequently, in fact, daily.  

[F]ige in corde tuo conclusiones huius articuli; et qualiter mali, ut sic, non amant seipsos; et quinque signa veri amoris proprii, qui solis bonis convenit : scilicet velle interiorem hominem, hoc est partem rationalem vivere; velle illi bona virtutum; operari ad haec; conversari secum intus delectabiliter ; concordare cum illo, seu illa. Et per signa examina teipsum an vere sis bonus an vere ames teipsum ; an sis tu tibi inimicus. Et haec frequenter, immo quotidie, meditare.

Thomas on Fallacies


Among other things it does, logic describes what we are doing when we reason well or poorly, and even when we agree that some conclusion wrong the differences over why it is wrong can be all-important. Such a difference becomes very difficult to miss in Thomas’s On fallacies. We can all recognize Thomas’s examples of erroneous reasoning as erroneous, but the account he is giving of them will be unfamiliar to a modern logician, and certainly unfamiliar to those given a Logic 101 course on “Aristotelian” or “predicate” logic.

Thomas simply has a a very different way of looking at “predicate logic”. Take the familiar Barbara syllogism

All M is A

All B is M

All B is A

Thomas’s notion of fallacy doesn’t track easily on ours since he thinks one could fill in non-equivocal terms, each giving rise to a true proposition, though the reasoning would still be properly fallacious. This is because he insists on the possibilities for deception in the word “is” -whether explicitly used or only implied by predication – since the very act of predication in Thomas has diverse modalities that must be kept straight under pain of fallacious reasoning.

The diverse modalities of predication in logic are the analogy of being, which usually rings enough of a bell for students of Thomas’s metaphysics or theology to register it as important. The importance is hard to overstate: Thomas’s logic is one where words play an important role in understanding the world, and where there is nothing corresponding to our division between “logical” arguments and “empirical” arguments, notwithstanding a bright yellow line between ens rationis and ens reale. Thomas has nothing to do with the Nominalist belief, motivated perhaps by puzzles over privations and negations, that words as such have no connection to the real. For him “is” is not a uniform, syncategorematic term expressing identity but being in act – it is a verb indicating an action or state as real as “running” or “following”, and it is just these different modalities of being in act that his “predicate” logic takes so many pains to tease out.

The first of seven different modes of predication is the per se and the per accidens, which Thomas treats in c. 12 of De fallicis. 


By THOMAS de Aquino

Chapter 12

The Fallacy of the Accident

The fallacy of the accident. Note first that we take accident as opposed to what is per se. The per se is said to exist in something when it exists in it by its proper definition, and outside of this whatever is said to inhere in it is said to inhere per accidens.

What inheres per se or per accidens can happen in three ways:

  • What are wholly the same in the definition of the substance, like “a coat” and “a jacket.” In this sense there is only the per se and in no way the per accidens.
  • What are wholly outside the definition of the substance, like “white” and “man”. In these there is only the per accidens and not the per se.
  • When one thing pertains to the definition of the substance in some way, though not wholly the same, like “man” and “animal” since the more universal is put in the definition of the less universal, since the definition of the less universal adds something to the more universal. The same is true of the property and the species, since the species is in the definition of a property even though the species and property are not wholly the same in definition. These are in a certain way per se and in a certain way per accidens inasmuch as they partly agree in definition and partly differ.

Things taken in the first sense are such that it is necessary that whatever is true about the one is also true about the other, since they are wholly the same thing and differ only in name, and so the fallacy of the accident cannot arise with respect to these. In the others it is not necessary that whatever is true of the one is true of the other, so if from the fact that something is true of one it is concluded that it is true of the other, we have the fallacy of the accident.

Sometimes the inference that what is true of the one Is true of the other happens when something is attributed to a thing so far as it is the same as the other so that what inheres to one will inhere in the other. If in fact it is attributed to the one insofar as it is divided from the other it will not inhere in it, but if not divided from the other it will belong to it, just as if white were attributed to an animal insofar as it is the same as a man is necessary that it belong to the man, but if so far as it is different from the man, it need not belong to him – and were it concluded that it belonged to him we would have the fallacy of the accident. As if it were said:

Animals are four-footed[1]

Man is an animal

Therefore, man is four-footed

Four-footed is not said about an animal so far as the animal is a man but so far as it is different from man. So it is clear that in the argument the middle term is taken in different ways, in the first so far as is it is diverse from man and in the second so far as it is the same as man. Whenever there is a fallacy of the accident there is diverse acceptations of the middle term, when the middle, insofar as it agrees with one extreme is divided from the other.

The fallacy of the accident is really a deception arising from something signified as being like two things that are in some way one per accidens, and so it is clear that the fallacy of the accident is always found among three terms, as in a syllogism, of which two are joined in some way per accidens and stand as the middle and minor terms, and a third is said to inhere in both as a major term. The cause of the apparent truth in this fallacy is the unity and identity of the things conjoined in some way per accidens and the cause of its not being so is the diversity of those same things- for just as the Philosopher says in Sophistical Refutations the fallacy of the accident arises from someone who cannot judge the same and different, the one and the many.

There are three modes of this fallacy:

  • The first arises from the fact that one goes from accident to subject or the reverse, e.g.

I know Corsicus

Coriscus is coming

Therefore I know Coriscus is coming.

This does not follow, since “to be the one coming” and to be Coriscus are one per accidens, so it does not follow that whatever is true of one is true of the other. This fails when something is true of the one insofar as it is diverse from the other, as in “I know Coriscus” since Coriscus is not a subject of knowledge so far as he is the same as the one who is coming. So it is clear that the diversity of the middle term is the fallacy of the accident. Likewise in this example:

This dog is yours

This dog is a father

Therefore this dog is your father.[2]

For the dog and the father are one per accidens and so it doesn’t follow that whatever is true of one is true of the other. Insofar as a dog is a father, it does not follow that he is your own.

  • The second mode is when something belongs to the more universal that is concluded about the less universal or vice-versa.

For example:

 Man is an animal

Animal is a genus

Therefore, man is a genus.

This does not follow because the more universal and the less universal are one per accidens, although they are in one way per se.

It is clear from what is said that if the same thing is true of one thing so far as it is the same as another, necessarily it is the same as the other, from which we get dialectical arguments from genus and species or from the more and less universal. But if they are true of one things so far as it differs from the other it is not necessary that it be true of that other. Then the difference between the middle terms is the fallacy of the accident, just as in the above argument: for being a genus is not predicated about an animal so far as it is the same as man, but so far as it differs as more and less universal.

Likewise in this argument:

A triangle is a figure

Having three angles is a property of a triangle

Therefore, having three angles is a property of a figure.

This does not follow since the triangle and the figure are not wholly the same. So it is not necessary that what is true about one is true about the other.

Likewise in this argument:

Socrates is different from a man

But he also is a man

Therefore, Socrates is different from himself.

  • A third mode arises when one goes from species to property or vice-versa, as here:


Man is able to laugh

But being able to laugh is a property

Therefore, man is a property.

Or here:

Man is a species

Whatever can laugh is a man

So whatever can laugh is a species.

This doesn’t follow since being able to laugh and man are not wholly the same in definition, so in a way one stands to the other as an accident and extraneous, and because of this it is not necessary that whatever is true of the one is true of the other. Note that it is not impossible that in some of these paralogisms just mentioned commit two fallacies, like the figure of diction and of the accident, since so far as deception arises from likeness in diction there is the fallacy of the figure of diction, and so far as it arises from the connection between things it is the fallacy of the accident.

For man and Socrates are the same in reality and similar in name. Note also that just as the paralogism of the accident can be taken from categorical propositions, so also can it arise from hypothetical ones when the middle is taken in different ways, namely when it stands to one extreme as diverse from the other, as here

If there is no time there is no day

If there is no day then it is night

Therefore, if it is night there is no time.


Still, if it is night there is time,

So if there is no time, there is some time.

It’s clear that the middle term, “it is not day” is diverse from what is is for night to be, so far as it would follow from this that there is no time. For from the fact that it is not day it does not follow it is night except on the supposition of time so far as it would follow that there is “no time” just as from “not seeing” follows “being blind”, namely, under the supposition that the animal by nature can see.


[1] This can, in fact, be said: if one asks “what sort of thing is four footed?” one can truthfully answer “Animals are four footed.” This sort of perseity is what Aristotle describes as materially per se.

[2] This would seem to be necessary by a claim like this: if numerically one subject is A and B, then an A is B: if one tree is large and leafy, then some large thing is leafy. We seem to use a version of this idea all the time when looking for examples or counter-examples.

But even if we used the argument to conclude that some father is yours, the argument still would obviously not follow. Put formally as a DARAPTI syllogism:

This dog is your own

This dog is one of these three fathers (point to two others barking next to him).

Therefore, some one of these three fathers is your own.

Matter vs. initial conditions

On any account of natural laws they are purely formal accounts of actions here and now. You can’t explain this falling rock here and now by a totality of laws since no law can be framed that places an object at a particular location but every action here and now has a particular location.

This is an old aporia

Things are intelligible

The intelligible is not here and now.

Things are here and now.

The required source of the difference between things-as-intelligible things-as-hereandnow is the screen-of-forms for Plato, Aristotle’s matter (or ‘signatured’ matter) or the initial conditions or historical accidents that correspond to scientific laws. Leave aside Plato for the moment: how does matter compare to initial conditions as an account of the unintelligible in things?

Both are first in the temporal order but they explain this priority in different ways. Matter sees time among potential being or proper to it whereas initial conditions seem to take time as a formal cause imposed on things as the ticks of a clock cutting actualizations or numbers.

Both are acted upon from without, but matter is preserved throughout the action while initial conditions obviously disappear and are preserved only in the explanation of the phenomenon.


We can’t understand the pre-modern beliefs about soul before understanding that they saw the term as uncontroversial from being obvious. A soul was whatever a living thing had that its corpse did not, or what pigs had that pork didn’t. Speaking about “proving the existence of soul” would have been the same thing as proving that some things are alive. It was not something that would divide the nowadays dualist and materialist; and no one was compelled by soul-talk into imagining ecoplasm or gaseous vertebrates pushing bodies around.

Aristotle defined soul as form, and what was just said about soul extends to form. Form is initially the totality of the characteristics that make a thing be, or whatever makes a thing be by belonging to it.* Speaking about a proof for forms in this sense would be proving that things had characteristics; denying the existence of forms is denying there are any characteristics. Again, no one is compelled by form-talk into imagining ghostly line drawings that float about and slam themselves into pinkish goo (prime matter!) in order to make sparrows and spam. Form was a placemarker word for a larger research project of speaking about how various things are intrinsically made to be, and what characteristics they shared with others.

We refine the account of form by refining what it means to be, which happens not by dividing a genus by differences but by dividing the diverse ways of being. Thomas gives us a list of these ways in c. 11 of his Fallacies:** 

For being is per se or per accidens, by which we get the fallacy of the accident; it is perfect or imperfect by which we get the fallacy of secundum quid and simpliciter. By being opposed and non-opposed we get the fallacy of ignorantio elenchi; by it being the same or different we get the fallacy of begging the question; by it being prior and posterior we get the fallacy of the consequent; by it being a cause or caused we get not-cause-as-cause; by it being one and many we get the fallacy of many-questions-as-one.

[N]am ens aliud est per se, et aliud per accidens: et secundum hoc accipitur fallacia accidentis. Item secundum perfectum et imperfectum accipitur fallacia secundum quid et simpliciter. Secundum autem oppositum et non oppositum est fallacia secundum ignorantiam elenchi. Secundum vero idem et diversum est fallacia petitionis principii. Secundum vero prius et posterius est fallacia consequentis. Secundum causam et causatum est fallacia secundum non causam ut causam. Secundum autem unum et multa est fallacia secundum plures interrogationes ut unum.

All of these divide up the different modalities or measures of being, and their clarification and order is what the Aristotelian tradition calls the analogy of being. 

Being per se is substance and accidentally is accident, which is the first division of form. As perfect or imperfect form is either actual or potential, which in turn will lead us to divide matter from form as a subject of change. The most well-known dispute about forms was how to understand the relation between forms-in-minds and forms-in-things. Both uncontroversially are forms since both things and ideas have characteristics (like “being physical” or “being correct”) but the dispute between Platonists and Aristotelians was over how the two were the same or different, with Platonism claiming they were the same object and Aristotle claiming they were the same logos or ratio. Nominalism seems to be the denial that there is any unity among the two at all, and that ideas (of themselves?) correspond to nothing at all.***

Thomas does prove that soul is not a body but the form of a body, but a close look at his proof show that he proves that soul is a substantial form ≠ the substantial form making something a body, or that a thing is made living by a substantial form that cannot be identical to another substantial form making something a body, since, were it so, then obviously every body would be alive.

*We’ll have to divide form from matter at some point, but this helps to explain why Aristotle so often would identify the form and the thing. Under the initial account of form, form is the thing.

**The text, yet untranslated, was proven authentic by Busa, in spite of now being listed as one of the dubia at corpusthomisticum.org

***We can get get to the heart of the differences if – leaving aside divine ideas and divine being – we see platonism as saying that forms in things and forms as known are the same in essence and mode of existence; Aristotelianism as saying that forms have one essence in different modes of existence, and Nominalism saying that the two forms are diverse both in essence and existence; or share no common essence or existence (though nominalism has more than one way of denying common essences.)

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