Disputation 5, Section 2:

Is it the case that in all natures the individual and singular thing as such adds something over and beyond the common, i.e., specific, nature?

  • I. The nature of the question (nn. 1 & 7)
    • "In order to clarify what this [individual and singular unity] is, we cannot do better than to explain what it adds over and above the common nature, i.e., the nature that is conceived by us abstractly and universally."
    • "None of the authors doubts that the individual adds, over and beyond the common nature, a certain negation that formally completes or constitutes the unity of the individual. This is evident ... from what we said above concerning the notion or nominal definition of an individual. Indeed, if we are speaking formally about the individual insofar as it is one in the relevant sense, it adds a negation in its formal concept not only over and beyond the common nature conceived of abstractly and universally, but even over and beyond the whole singular entitas conceived of merely under a positive concept; for this whole entitas is not conceived of as one in a singular and individual way until it is conceived of as incapable of being divided into many things that have the same notion."
    • "Therefore, the present problem is not about whether or not such a negation formally pertains to the notion of this sort of unity ... Rather, it is a problem about the ground for this negation. For since it does not seem able to be grounded in the common nature (given that the common nature is of itself indifferent and does not require such a lack of divisibility into many similar things, but is indeed divided into them), we are asking what it is within the singular and individual thing by reason of which this negation belongs to it."
    • So the question is: does individual unity add to the individual some positive entity over and above the common nature, a positive entity that grounds the indivisibility that defines individuality?

  • II. Three popular positions on this question (nn. 2-6)
    • A. Affirmative: "The first position affirms in general that at least in the case of created things the individual adds to the common nature some real mode which (i) is in reality distinct from the nature itself and which (ii) composes, along with that nature, the individual itself."
      • Main protagonist: Scotus with his individual differences. The main arguments stem from (i) the object of scientific knowledge (viz., the common nature) and its distinction from individuals that have that nature, and from (ii) reflection on the idea that the common nature, which constitutes the essence of the individual, is common to many individuals and so cannot itself account for individuality, which must consequently be traced to some other reality.
    • B. Negative: "The second position is the exact opposite, viz., that the individual adds to the common nature nothing that is positive and real and nothing that is distinct, either really or conceptually, from that nature; rather, each thing or nature is per se an individual in an unmediated and primary way."
      • Main protagonists: Ockham, Biel, and the other nominalists. The main argument is that there is no conceivable thing that is not singular and so it is absurd that an [already existent] thing should become individual by the addition of some real thing over and beyond the common nature. Also, this addition would be either essential to the thing or accidental to it--and both answers lead to absurdities.
    • C. Affirmative for material things and negative for spiritual things: "The third position is able to make use of the distinction between spiritual and material things. For in the case of immaterial things the singular thing adds nothing over and beyond the common nature, whereas in material things it does add something ... The foundation for this position is the claim that since immaterial substances neither have matter nor bespeak a relation to matter, it is impossible to imagine anything in them which they add over and beyond the essence, and so they are individuals by their very selves; by contrast, in composite things designated matter is added, and from this matter one can infer something that the individual adds over and beyond the species."
      • Main protagonists: Various Thomists (including St. Thomas?), following Aristotle's dictum that in material things there is a distinction between the essence (quod quid est) of a thing and that which has the essence (id cuius est), whereas there is no such distinction in immaterial things. The background idea is that in the case of material things matter is in some way a source of individuality.

  • III. Suarez's resolution of the question (nn. 8-30)

    In resolving this question Suarez asserts and defends four theses which, taken together, define a position distinct from the three just noted. I will state these theses and give the barest indication of how he supports them.

    • A. The Theses
      • Thesis 1 (n. 8): The individual adds, over and beyond the common nature, something real by reason of which (i) it is an individual of the sort in question, and by reason of which (ii) the negation of divisibility into many similar things belongs to it.
      • Thesis 2 (n. 9): The individual, as such, does not add anything that is distinct in reality from the specific nature--that is, distinct in such a way that in this individual, say Peter, humanity as such and this humanity (or better: that which is added to humanity in order for it to become this humanity, something that is usually called a haecceity or individual difference) are distinct in reality and thus bring about a true composition within the thing itself.
      • Thesis 3 (n. 16): The individual adds, over and beyond the common nature, something which (i) is conceptually (ratione) distinct from the nature, which (ii) belongs to the same category (i.e., the reality grounding the individual difference is not an accident), and which (iii), as an individual difference that contracts the species and constitutes the individual, metaphysically composes the individual .
      • Thesis 4 (n. 21): The individual, not only in material things and in accidents but also in created and finite immaterial substances, adds something conceptually distinct over and beyond the species.
    • B. The Main Arguments:
      • For Thesis 1 (n. 8): "The common nature does not of itself require such a negation, and yet such a negation belongs per se and intrinsically to that nature insofar as it exists in reality and has been made a this. Therefore, it adds to the nature something by virtue of which the negation is adjoined to it. For every negation that intrinsically and necessarily belongs to a thing is grounded in something positive, something that cannot be a concept but is instead real, since the unity and negation in question belong to the thing itself truly and of itself." So on this point Suarez agrees with Scotus. His contention, I believe, is best seen as a confirmation that there is something real in an individual in addition to whatever objective grounding there is for its being a member of a given species. This is a very general claim that leaves open the question of whether there is a distinct reality or entitas that grounds individuality. So Thesis 1 says something like: "Yes, there is an objective ground for individuality, just as there is an objective ground for membership in a natural kind, and we can at least make a conceptual distinction between the two and think of the former as adding something to the latter."
      • For Thesis 2 (nn. 9-15): Here Suarez first points out that anyone who denies that natures exist in reality as universals ought to accept this thesis, since a denial of Thesis 2 involves the claim that the common nature is itself a thing (res) or at least a mode with its own per se unity. From here the dialectic becomes complicated, mainly because Suarez attempts to meet head-on the Scotistic claim that there is an objective distinction, viz., a formal distinction, between the common nature and the individual difference. The best way to think of Scotus's formal distinction is this: In the case of the human being Socrates, corresponding to the terms or concepts human nature and Socrates there are two 'formalities' or 'realities', the common nature and the individual difference, which in themselves have the sort of individuality appropriate to them but which unite inseparably in the individual Socrates to constitute that individual with its numerical or singular unity. So in itself the nature has a "formal unity" that is "less than numerical unity," though as it exists in Socrates it is 'contracted' to this individual and is 'really' identical with Socrates and his individual difference. So within Socrates himself the common nature and individual difference are "formally distinct from one another but really identical with one another," where the formal distinction is not just a conceptual distinction, but a distinction 'in reality', to use Suarez's term. Suarez, like most other scholastics, finds this notion of a 'formal distinction' baffling and full of contradictions: "Even though within the nature [considered in abstraction from its individuation] this formal unity can be conceptually distinguished from individual unity, nonetheless it is inconceivable that it should, as abstracted, exist in reality with its own entitas and be distinct in reality from individual unity, and that it should as such also lack universal unity." His own contention is that within the individual there is an objective ground for the distinction between the concepts of the common nature and the individual, but that there is no neat fit between these concepts and the actually existing individual. An argument that illustrates this is found in n. 14: "The individual differences of Peter and Paul are distinct in reality from one another as two things (res) that are incomplete but singular and individual in the way in which they exist. And yet these individual differences have a similarity to and agreement with one another. For they are in fact more similar to each other than they are to the individual difference of a horse or a lion. And [yet] it is not necessary to distinguish in reality, within them, a thing in which they are similar from a thing in which they are distinct. Otherwise, there would be an infinite regress--which is absurd among things or modes that are distinct in reality."
      • For Thesis 3 (nn. 16-20): This thesis follows rather straightforwardly from the first two, since if the individual adds something to the nature in the way explained above but is not a distinctive real entity, then the distinction between what grounds the attribution of the common nature and what grounds the attribution of individuality must be a well-grounded distinction among concepts, where the composition alluded to in part (iii) of Thesis 3 is a composition of concepts or a 'formal' composition.
      • For Thesis 4 (nn. 21-30): It is only in the case of an infinite being that a metaphysical (i.e., conceptual) composition of the sort in question cannot even be imagined. And given the explanation of the first three theses there is no reason why even immaterial substances should not fall under those theses: "For in any immaterial substance that is individual and finite, e.g., the archangel Gabriel, the mind conceives both (i) this individual (since it conceives numerically this individual) and (ii) its essential and specific notion, which does not essentially include either (i) numerically this entitas or (ii) any positive repugnance toward its being able to be communicated to another individual. Therefore, in such a case the mind conceives something common and something which is conceptually added to the latter in order that it be determined to this individual. Therefore, in precisely this respect there is no difference between immaterial substances and other things." Suarez then goes on to counter the arguments of Thomists by accusing them of begging the question by presupposing that matter is the ground or principle of individuation. But this will be disproved in the next section. Also, he points out that even if matter were the principle of individuation for material things, it would not follow that individuality does not have some other principle in angels. We have to look at each case separately.

  • IV. Replies to the three positions laid out at the beginning (nn. 31-39)
    • A. Reply to First Position (IIA above and nn. 31-33): The arguments for this position "establish only that the specific nature expresses an objective concept that is abstracted by reason from the individuals and that, conversely, the individual adds something conceptually distinct over and beyond the common nature. For human science has to do with things as conceived universally, to which definitions and demonstrations pertain immediately. And for this it is sufficient that they be able to be abstracted conceptually, even though they are not separate in reality. This is clear from what was said above about the concept being, about which (i) there is scientific knowledge and about which (ii) demonstrations can be made, even though it is obvious that it does not in fact exist as abstracted from the proper notions of beings, but instead is abstracted only conceptually. Hence, this sort of distinction is also sufficient for causal locutions such as 'Because man is risible, Peter is risible'. For in these locutions there is no real and physical cause that mediates between Peter and risible, but instead what is being explicated is the adequate reason and origin of the property in question." What's more, in the other arguments for this position there is a fallacy committed when one "argues from our mode of conceiving, or from the use of the words by which we signify things as conceived by us, to the things as they exist in themselves, thus inferring a distinction among things from a conceptual distinction." This latter sort of fallacy was labeled by Ockham as one of the two worst mistakes in philosophy. (The other was the postulation of universals as separately existing entities.)
    • B. Reply to Second Position (IIB above and nn. 34-37): In the end Suarez's own position has a marked similarity to this second position and so it is interesting to see his reply to it. "As for the first argument for the second position, one may reply that the argument correctly proves that a thing is not made singular through the addition of a reality or mode that is distinct in reality from the nature which is said to become singular ... . However, that argument does not prove that it is impossible for a thing to be made singular through the addition of something that is conceptually distinct, since this sort of distinction does not presuppose an actual entitas and hence does not presuppose singularity in both of the terms. For since this distinction exists by means of concepts, it can be readily understood to be a distinction between a thing conceived universally and its mode." Notice that in replying to Cajetan Suarez is careful to separate the act/potency distinction as applied to real entities from the act/potency distinction as applied analogously to concepts. After denying that the reality which grounds individual unity can be accidental to the individual, Suarez gives the following, rather illuminating summary:

        "Thus it follows that our mind conceives that in which the individuals agree with one another as some one thing and as that which is 'formal' in them and which contributes per se to scientific knowledge. For a distinction merely in entitas is thought of as being, as it were, accidental and so is called 'material'. And for the same reason there is no scientific definition except of the common and specific concept; and it is in this sense that the lowest-level species is called the whole essence of the individuals, viz., the essence as formally and precisely taken and conceived, and the essence insofar as the cognition of it merits human scientific knowledge. For scientific knowledge does not descend to particulars according to their proper and individual notions, since it is unable to grasp them as they exist in themselves and does not deal with the accidents proper to individuals. For either these accidents belong to them contingently and accidentally; or else, if some are perchance altogether proper, then they are as hidden as individual differences are. And, finally, it would be a difficult and almost infinite task to descend to each particular. Yet there is no doubt that individuals, even if they differ solely in number, have distinct essences in reality--essences which, if they were conceived of and explicated as they exist in themselves, would have to be explained through diverse concepts and definitions. And they would also have distinct properties, at least in reality or in accord with some proper mode, and under this notion they are subject to angelic and divine knowledge."

    • C. Reply to Third Position (IIC above and nn. 38-39): Suarez finds in Aristotle no good argument for the claim that there is a deep difference between immaterial and material substances on the issue of individuation and individuality. In reply to the argument he says the following:

        "Even though this principle of individuation [viz., matter] does not exist in immaterial things, there must nonetheless be some analogous principle. For even these substances are individuals not by dint of their specific notion but by dint of their singular notion. Hence, when a spiritual substance is said to be an individual by its very self, if 'by its very self' is taken to mean 'by dint of its specific notion,' then the question is begged and something false is assumed, as has been shown. On the other hand, if 'by its very self' is taken to mean 'through its own entitas,' then this is indeed true, but it does not at all prevent it from being the case that within that very entitas the specific notion and the individual difference are conceptually distinct, and that the same entitas can in different respects be the principle and ground for both of them. For on this point the argument is almost the same as in the case of material substances. For regardless of whether it is designated matter or some other thing that is called the principle of individuation for material substances, this principle cannot be anything that is not the essential entitas itself of the thing--whether its whole entitas or part of it. Hence, within that entitas one has to distinguish both (i) the specific notion, by reason of which [the entitas] is said to be the essence or a part of the essence, and (ii) another notion that is conceptually but not really distinct, by reason of which [the entitas] is said to be the principle of individuation."