|Suarez on lndividuation, Metaphysical Disputation
V: Individual Unity and its Principle. Translation, Introduction, and
Glossary by JORGE J. E. GRACIA. Milwaukee: Marquette
University Press, 1982. Pp. 229.
ALFRED J. FREDDOSO
As is his wont, Suarez treats us to a rigorous, insightful, and often convincing critique of his predecessors' views before charting his own via media. This by itself renders Metaphysical Disputation V worthy of careful scrutiny. Still, I must confess that, Gracia's protestations to the contrary notwithstanding, Suarez's own positive contribution strikes me as an unduly circuitous and at times baffling restatement of Ockham's position, viz., that there really is no problem of individuation or, more accurately, that the fact that a thing, x, is an individual is metaphysically basic and hence requires no explanation. More on this below.
Suarez correctly insists from the beginning that x's being an individual (or: being numerically one) is different from x's being (numerically) distinct from other things of the same species. For being an individual is non-relational and thus intrinsic to x, whereas being distinct from a given y is relational and thus extrinsic to x in the sense that it depends on the existence of y. Suarez goes on to affirm with many others that for x to be an individual is for x to be a thing that is not divisible into things of x's species or natural kind. It follows that the question (a) "What makes x indivisible into things of x's species?" is different from the question (b) "What makes x distinct from other members of x's species?".
In his introduction Gracia contends (pp. 5-6) that "many medievals often failed" to make this distinction between individuality and distinctness, as evidenced by the fact that they asked question (b) rather than question (a) when inquiring about the principle (intrinsic cause) of individuality. They were thereby easily led, he continues, to identify that principle with accidental features that vary from one to another member of the same species-- an egregious error, since a thing's individuality is presupposed by, and hence cannot be explained by, its posession of accidents.
There may be some truth to this contention, but Gracia has not been very careful here. First, he accuses Aquinas of falling into the trap just described-- a charge he quickly qualifies with a 19-line footnote (p.25) -- but that is nonetheless misguided, though I do not have the space to argue the point here. Second, and more poignantly, Suarez himself begins his discussion of the individuator by asking, '"What does the individual add to the common specific nature?'-- a question that looks suspiciously like (b} and not at all like (a). But so what? Even if (a) is metaphysically more basic than (b), it may still be that a plausible /420/ answer to (b) will yield a plausible answer to (a). Perhaps they even have the same answer. Suarez, if not Gracia, would seem to agree.
Unfortunately, Suarez's own response to question (b) is a floundering attempt to find a middle ground between the positions of Scotus and Ockham. According to Scotus, the common nature human being is a real constitutent of every individual human being. But it cannot be the individuator, since in itself it is communicable to and hence "divisible into" many numerically distinct entities of which it is truly predicable. Thus, Scotus reasons, what the individual adds to the specific nature human being is a real (as opposed to conceptual) entity, an individual difference, which "contracts" the nature to produce this particular human being, say Socrates. So Socrates, a real individual, is the product of a real composition of the specific nature human being, which is real, and the individual difference of Socrates, which is also real.
Ockham, by contrast, denies that Socrates has such "metaphysical" constituents in addition to his "physical" constituents, i.e., his body (matter) and intellective soul (form). Accordingly, human being is a conceptual (and not a real) entity, specifically a term in the mental language. Hence, even though "Socrates is a human being" is a true statement, Socrates does not have human being as a real constituent that has to be "contracted" in order to produce a real individual. (We could perhaps talk about what the concept Socrates adds conceptually to the concept human being, but that of course is another matter.) The conclusion Ockham draws is that we have no need to explain Socrates' individuality. Socrates is an individual "by himself." That is, the fact that Socrates is an individual is metaphysically primitive and hence requires no explanation.
Suarez's compromise is a mystifying amalgam of these two perfectly intelligible, though contrary, positions. With Ockham he affirms that human being is a conceptual rather than a real entity. Nonetheless, he concurs with Scotus (i) that Socrates can correctly be said to be composed "metaphysically" of human being plus something else, and (ii) that this something else is real rather than conceptual. He then claims (p. 52) in the spirit of Ockham that the composition is itself conceptual and not real. So Socrates, a real individual, is composed metaphysically though only conceptually of something real (the individuator) and something conceptual (human being)! The coup de grace comes when Suarez, again in the spirit of Ockham, identifies the individuator with Socrates himself, though more principally because of his form than because of his matter.
At worst, this position is simply incoherent. At best, it can charitably be construed to be Ockham's position stated misleadingly. Gracia argues (p.21) to the contrary that the two positions are different, since Suarez, but not Ockham, "explains" the individuality of Socrates in terms of the prior individuality of his matter and form. But this difference has nothing to do with individuality as such. Suarez and Ockham agree that the metaphysically basic entities are individuals "by themselves." They differ, at most, on Aristotle's age old question of whether individual substances are metaphysically more basic or less basic than their "physical" constituents.
I found Gracia's translation to be almost always reliable, though a bit too literal and hence not as readable as it might have been. But this criticism reflects my personal preference more than anything else. There were, however, a few errors. For instance, the argument translated by the second paragraph on p. 32 has as its conclusion "Every actual being is an individual" rather than, as /421/ Gracia would have it, "Whatever exists has a fixed and determinate entity." (The latter is in fact the major premise.) Gracia should have realized that his interpretation of the argument was dubious when he found himself forced to translate 'quia' as 'that' instead of 'since' or 'because'. But neither this mistake nor any of the others I found seriously distorted any crucial philosophical point.
The glossary is an impressive (104 pages) and useful philosophical guide to technical Scholastic terminology. Though I have a few quibbles with it (e.g., the entry on 'aevum' fails to mention the important use of this term to designate the analogue of temporal duration for angels), this compendium is a splendid achievement for which Gracia deserves high praise.
I have a final comment about the introduction, which is generally lucid and illuminating. Apparently in an effort to make Suarez palatable to those who do not share his religious beliefs, Gracia emphasizes "the completely philosophical character of Suarez's analysis. Although some theological considerations creep in, the discussion is guided wholly by philosophical principles .... In this sense Suarez is no less modern than Descartes or Leibniz" (p. 23 ). I do not know exactly what Gracia means here by "modern," but I take it that he wants to contrast Suarez's attitude toward philosophy with that of a zealot who might say something like the following:
In this work I am doing philosophy in such a way as to keep always in mind that our philosophy should be Christian and a servant to divine Theology. I have kept this goal in view, not only in discussing the questions but also in choosing my views or opinions, inclining toward those which seem to comport better with piety and revealed doctrine.
The source of this quotation (you have probably guessed) is Suarez's Metaphysical Disputations (Preface). Perhaps Suarez is not so "modern" as Gracia would have us believe. But, then again, perhaps Suarez would not regard being modern in that sense a virtue.