Jacques Maritain Center : Studies in Analogy / by Ralph McInerny


The 'Ratio Communis' of the Analogous Name

Since the analogous name is one which signifies in a manner midway between that of pure equivocation and univocation,{1} it will participate something of the modes of these extremes. Things are said to be named equivocally which have a common name but the notions signified by the name are diverse; things are said to be named univocally which have a common name which signifies the same notion in each case. The affinity of the analogous name with the equivocal as well as with the univocal name is brought out by saying that the notions signified by the analogous name partim sunt diversae et partim non diversae,{2} This "in between" character of the analogous name has been responsible for difficulties which arise again and again in the minds of students of St Thomas. If there is something the same in the many notions signified by the analogous name, can't we extract that common note and say that, insofar as the term is taken to signify it, the term is univocal? Thus, while the ratio substantiae differs from the ratio accidentis, it is argued that there must be something common to both, a ratio communis and, if "being" is taken as signifying the latter, it is univocal; if taken to signify the diverse rationes of substance and accident, it is analogous. It is this thought that seems to have suggested the teaching of Duns Scotus that "being" is univocal insofar as it signifies a ratio communis.{3} He takes as a sign of our recognition of such a common notion of "being" the fact that we can know that a thing is without being sure that it is a substance or that it is an accident.

    A second difficulty concerning analogous names is based on the fact that such names signify many different notions. Because of this, it is argued, an analogous term cannot enter into a syllogism without entailing the fallacy of equivocation, for it may be understood according to different significations in each occurrence and we would then have a four term syllogism.

    Both of these difficulties are stressed by Scotus and it is hardly surprising that Cajetan attemps to defend the analogous name against a reduction to univocity and against the charge that, as analogous, it is the source of the fallacy of equivocation.{4} In the present study our purpose is not to examine the doctrine of Scotus or the rebuttal of Cajetan; rather we want to see whether there is cause in the writings of St. Thomas for the difficulties Scotus has and, if so, what in those same writings is the indicated solution. If our purpose is attained, we will have shed, perhaps, some more or less oblique light on the controversy between Scotus and Cajetan.

    It is the presence or absence of a ratio communis of the analogous name which must first be established. When one reads St. Thomas, he is sometimes confronted with texts which seem to assert that the analogous term has no ratio communis, while other texts seem to speak quite clearly of such a common notion. Since this is so, a fitting way for us to begin will be to set down representative texts some of which reject and others of which assume a ratio communis for the analogous name. In this way the difficulties are heightened, but as well we will see the manner of the resolution required. "Auditorem enim oportet indicare de auditis. Sicut autem in iudiciis nullus potest indicare nisi audiat rationes utriusque partis, ita necesse est eum, qui debet audire philosophiam, melius se habere in iudicando si audierit omnes rationes quasi adversariorum dubitantium."{5}


Of words which are said in many ways (πολλαχῶσ λεγόμενα), "being" is the most notable instance; Aristotle often points out the multiple signification of this word and in commenting on such texts St. Thomas provides us with statements relevant to our present interest. Thus, in the Metaphysics, Aristotle writes: "There are many senses in which a thing may be said to be, but all that is is related to one central point, one definite kind of thing, and is not said to be by mere ambiguity."{6} St. Thomas states the argument of this passage as follows. "Whatever things receive in common the predication of one name, even though it be predicated analogically and not univocally of them, fall to the consideration of one science; but 'being' is predicated in this way of all beings; therefore all beings fall to the consideration of one science which considers being as being, namely both substances and accidents."{7} To accept the argument, we must understand the premises, so St. Thomas goes on to discuss the minor and the major. "Being, or what is, is said in many ways."{8} To manifest what this statement means, we first look at what is predicated univocally and equivocally. Something said of many according to a ratio in every way the same, is said to be predicated univocally of them, e.g. animal of horse and cow. When something is predicated of many according to wholly diverse rationes, it is said to be predicated equivocally of them, e.g. dog of star and word; if we should understand the aliquid in any other way, say nature or concept, it would be impossible to make sense out of these definitions. It would have been better, therefore, to state the examples in this way: "animal" of horse and cow; "dog" of star and animal. Whether we begin our definition with things, as Aristotle does in the Categories, or with names as St. Thomas does here, there are always three elements in the discussion of these different types of signification: the word, the thing and the ratio substantiae (παθήματα τῆσ ψυχῆς), i.e. that which we know of the thing and what the name is imposed to signify immediately. And, whether we are concerned with univocals, equivocals or analogates, we have things which share a common name; it is not the signification which renders the word one, since, if this were so, there could be no purely equivocal names.{9} The analogical term is predicated according to notions which are partly diverse, partly not diverse. Their diversity arises from the fact that diverse relations are expressed; their similarity from the fact that there is some one thing to which these relations refer. Lest we think the unity involved here is one of notion, St. Thomas adds a warning.

Note that with respect to analogous terms the one to which the diverse relations refer is one in number and not only one in notion as is the case with the one designated by the univocal name. Therefore he (Aristotle) says that although being is said in many ways it is not said equivocally, but with respect to one - not to something one in notion alone, but to some one nature.{10}
There is, then, no ratio communis of the analogous term; rather there are many notions expressing different relations to some numerically one nature.

    The same point is stressed in the discussion of the major premiss of the argument. There can be one science not only of things which are named univocally, i.e. according to a notion in every way one, but also of things named analogically because of the one nature to which reference is made in the diverse relations.{11} It is just this which explains the primacy of substance in metaphysics: it is the point of reference of all other things which are said to be.{12} There is no generic notion, no ratio communis entis which  engages the metaphysician's attention first of all; rather the community of "being" indicates that his first and chief task will be an investigation of the principles and causes of substance.

    If "being" does not signify a ratio communis", it is not surprising to find that "good" does not. Aristotle points out that if this had been recognized by the platonists they would not have posited an Idea of the good, since they did not hold there was one idea of things related as prior and posterior.{13} But this is the case here "since 'good' has as many senses as 'being' (for it is predicated of substance, as of God and of reason, and of quality, i.e. of the virtues, and in quantity, i.e. of the useful, and in time, i.e. of the right opportunity, and in place, i.e. of the right locality and the like), clearly it cannot be something universally present in all cases and single, for then, it could not have been predicated in all the categories but in one only."{14} St. Thomas makes the point in the terminology which interests us now.

From which it follows that there cannot be one Idea of things of which there is no one common notion. But there is no one common notion of the diverse categories, for nothing is predicated of them univocally.{15}
The analogous name signifies many notions, one primarily, the others with reference to it, so what the name principally signifies is included in the secondary notions.{16} So it is that substance chiefly is and is first named by the term 'being'; whatever else is or is said to be is referred to substance.{17} In things named analogically, then, there is no notion common to the various analogates; rather there is some first and proper signification and other secondary significations which make reference to the primary signification. In the case of 'being' this would mean that we should look for no ratio communis thanks to which it would name something over and above substance and accidents. If the word is used without qualification, it must be taken to name substance.{18} Thus, if we take any of the expositiones nominis entis, (id quod habet esse, quod est, habens esse), the term names substance primarily.{19} Perhaps one of the most striking statements of this is to be found in the Contra Gentiles where St. Thomas argues that if "being" were said univocally of substance and accident, substance would enter into its own definition insofar as it is names being.{21} The force of this agument depends on the truth that what "being" names when used without qualification is substance.

    A further sign that the analogous term does not signify a common notion but rather many notions related as primary and secondary is had in the warning that when a term "said in many ways" is used in an argument, discourse can be vitiated if we don't make clear which meaning of the term we have in mind.{22} It is just this that make Parminides' argument so difficult to assess.{23} How fitting then that Aristotle in the Metaphysics, where words common to all things are used, devotes a whole book to distinguishing the various meanings of key common terms.{24}

    The only conclusion to be drawn from such texts as we have just examined is that the analogous name does not have a ratio communis. If it did, the implication is, it would be a univocal term and being, for instance, would be generically common to the categories. Doubtless this is why the analogous name is spoken of as a type of equivocal term,{25} one by design as opposed to mere chance,{26} since, though it signifies not one notion but many, the many notions signified are related per prius et posterius. When faced with such a term, our first task is to distinguish its several meanings and be quite explicit as to which meaning we have in mind, a counsel also applicable to the use of a purely equivocal term. If the analogous term involves a type of community which is midway between pure equivocation and univocation, the texts we have been looking at would suggest that it has greater iaffinity with the purely equivocal term. What would cause us to shift the balance towards the opposite pole would be the presence of a ratio communis, but this is what the analogous term is said not to possess.


{1} "Et iste modus communitatis medius est inter puram aequivocationem et simpliciter univocationem." - Ia, q. 13, a.5

{2} In IV Metaphysic., lect. 1, n. 535.

{3} Cf. Alan B. Wolter, O.F.M., The Transcendentals and their Function in the Metaphysics of Duns Scotus, Franciscan Institute, St. Bonaventure, N.Y., 1952; C. L. Shircel, O.F.M., the Univocity of the Concept of Being in the Philosophy of Duns Scotus, Washington, 1942; T. Barth, O.F.M., De fundamento univocationis apus Duns Scotum, Romae, 1939. Of these, Fr. Wolter's study is perhaps the best, not least because he undertakes the defence of Scotus' position against various Thomistic criticisms.

{4} Cf. De nominum analogia, (ed. P. N. Zammit, O.P. and P. H. Hering, O.P.), Romae, 1952, cap. X et XI.

{5} In III Metaphysic., lect. 1, n. 342. It has recently been argued that the difficulty we pose ourselves in this study is a fictitious one, since St. Thomas changed his mind on the matter. That is, while in early writings we find him speaking of una ratio analogice communis, in his more mature writings he speaks only of diverse notions signified by the analogous name. Cf. George P. Klubertanz, St Thomas Aquinas on Analogy, Chicago, 1960, pp. 23-4. It would seem to be a faulty interpretation of what is meant by one notion analogically common which prompts this view that St Thomas changed his mind. Our own view does not depend on any putative shift of attitude on the part of St. Thomas, since our problem is posed both in early and late writings of St Thomas. Nevertheless, as will become clear, if by one notion or common notion we think only of what is signified by the univocal name, we will find hopeless confusion throughout the writings of St Thomas.

{6} [sic] Metaphysics, IV, 2, 1003a33-4: τὀ δὲ ὁν λέγεται μὲν πολλαχῶς, ἀλλὰ πρὸς ἔν καὶ μίαν τινὰ φύσιν καὶ οὐχ ὁμωνύμως,

{7} In IV Metaphysics., lect. 1, n. 534. "Quaecumque communiter unius recipiunt praedicationem, licet non univoce, sed analogice de his praedicetur, pertinent ad unius scientiae considerationem: sed ens hoc modo praedicatur de omnibus entibus: ergo omnia entia pertinent ad considerationem unius scientiae, quae considerat ens inquantum est ens, scilicet tam substantias quam accidentia."

{8} Ibid., n. 535: "Dicit ergo primo, quod ens sive quod est, dicitur multipliciter. Sed sciendum quod aliquid praedicatur de diversis multipliciter: quandoque quidem secundum rationem omnino eamdem, et tunc dicitur de eis univoce praedicari, sicut animal de equo et bove. - Quandoque vero secundum rationes omnino diversas; et tunc dicitur de eis aequivoce praedicari, sicut canis de sidere et animali - Quandoque vero secundum rationes quae partim sunt diversae et partim non diversae: diversae quidem secundum quod diversas habitudines important, unae autem secundum quod ad unum, aliquid et idem istae diversae habitudines important, quae autem secundum quod ad unum aliquid et idem istae diversae hatibudines referuntur; et illud dicitur 'analogice praedicari,' idest proportionaliter, prout unumquodque secundum suam habitudinem ad illud unum refertur."

{9} "Manifestum est autem quod unitas vocis significativae vel diversitas non dependet ex unitate vel diversitate rei significatae; alioquin non esset aliquid nomen aequivocum: secundum hoc enim si sint diversae res, essent diversa nomina, et non idem nomen." - Quodl. IV, q. 9, a. 2.

{10} "Item sciendum quod illud unum ad quod diversae habitudines referuntur in analogicis, est unum numero, et non solum unum ratione, sicut est unum illud quod per nomen univocum designatur. Et ideo dicit quod ens etsi dicatur multipliciter, non tamen dicitur aequivoce, sed per respectum ad unum; non quidem ad unum quod sit solum ratione unum, sed quod est unum sicut una quaedam natura." - In IV Metaphysic., lect. 1, n. 536.

{11} Ibid., n. 544: "Hic ponit maiorem primae rationis; dicens, quod est unius scientiae speculari non solum illa quae dicuntur 'secundum unum,' idest secundum unam rationem omnino, sed etiam eorum quae dicuntur per respectum ad unam naturam secundum habitudines diversas. Et huius ratio est propter unitatem eius ad quod ista dicuntur; sicut patet quod de omnibus sanativis considerat una scientia, scilicet medicinalis, et similiter de aliis quae eodem modo dicuntur."

{12} Ibid., n. 546: "Hic ponit quod haec scientia principaliter considerat de substantiis, etsi de omnibus entibus consideret, tali ratione. Omnis scientia quae est de pluribus quae dicuntur ad unum primum, est proprie et principaliter ilius primi, ex quo alia dependent secundum esse, et propter quod dicuntur secundum nomen; et hoc ubique est verum. Sed substantia est hoc primum inter omia entia. Ergo philosophus qui considerat omnia entia, primo et principaliter debet habere in sua consideratione principia et causas substantiarum; ergo per consequens eius consideratio primo et principaliter de substantiis est."

{13} Cf. In III Metaphysic., lect. 8, nn. 437-8; Q. D. de ver., q. 21, a. 4.

{14} Nicomachean Ethics, I, 6, 1096a24 ff.

{15} "Ex quo sequitur quod eorum quorum non est una ratio communis, non possit esse una idea. Sed diversorum praedicamentorum non est una ratio communis. Nihil enim univoce de his praedicatur." - In I Ethic., lect. 6, n. 81.

{16} Ia, q. 13, a. 6: "Respondeo dicendum quod in omnibus nominibus, quae de pluribus analogice dicuntur, necesse est quod omnia dicantur per respectum ad unum: et ideo illud unum oportet quod ponatur in definitione omnium." - Ibid., a. 10: "...univocorum est omnino eadem ratio: aequivocorum est omnino ratio diversa: in analogicis vero, oportet quod nomen secundum unam significationem acceptum, ponatur in definitione eiusdem nominis secundum alias significationes accepti. Sicut ens de substantia dictum, ponitur in definitione entis secundum quod de accidente dicitur (...) Et sic manifestum est quod alia et alia est significatio nominis, sed una illarum significationum clauditur in significationibus aliis. Unde manifestum est quod analogice dicitur." - Ibid., a. 5: "Neque enim in his quae analogice dicuntur, est una ratio sicut est in univocis: nec totaliter diversa, sicut in aequivocis: sed nomen quod sic multipliciter dicitur significat diversas proportiones ad aliquid unum..."

{17} Cf. In IV Metaphysic, lect. 1, n. 539. "Manifestum est autem quod illud quod est ens per seipsum, scilicet substantia, est naturaliter prius omnibus his quae non habent esse nisi in comparatione ad substantiam, sicut est quantitas, quae est mensura substantiae, et qualitas, quae est dispositio substantiae, et ad aliquid, quid est habitudo substantiae. Et idem est in aliis generibus, quae omnia assimilantur propagini entis, idest substantiae, quae est principaliter ens, a qua propaginatur et derivantur omnia alia genera. Quae etiam in tantum dicuntur entia, inquantum accidunt substantiae. Et ex hoc concludit, quod non potest essequaedam communis idea boni." - In I Ethic., lect. 6, n. 80.

{18} In I Periherm., lect. 5, n. 19: "...ens non dicitur proprie aequivoce, sed secundum prius et posterius; unde simpliciter dictum intelligitur de eo, quod per prius dicitur." Cf. Q. D. de ver, q. 7, a. 5, ad 3.

{19} In XI Metaphysic., lect. 3, n. 2197: "Et similiter est de multiplicitate entis. Nam ens simpliciter dicitur id quod in se habet esse, scilicet substantia. Alia vero dicuntur entis, quia sunt huius quod per se est, vel passio, vel habitus, vel aliquid huiusmodi. Non enim qualitas dicitur ens, quia ipsa habeat esse, sed per eam substantia dicitur esse disposita. Et similiter est de aliis accidentibus. Et propter hoc dicit quod sunt entis. Et sic patet quod multiplicitas entis habet aliquid commune, ad quod fit reductio." "Nam ens dicitur quasi esse habens, hoc autem solum est substantia, quae subsisit. Accidentia autem dicuntur entia, non quia sunt, sed quia magis ipsis aliquid est; sicut albedo dicitur esse, quia ens subiectum est album. Ideo dicit, quod non dicuntur simpliciter entia, sed entis entia, sicut qualitas et motus." - In XII Metaphysic., lect. 1, n. 2419; Cf. IIIa, q. 11, a.5, ad 3.

{20} "Quod praedicatur de aliquibus secundum prius et posterius, certum est univoce non praedicari, nam prius in definitione posterioris includitur; sicut substantia in definitione accidentis secundum quod est ens. Si igitur diceretur univoce ens de substantia et accidente, oporteret quod substantia etiam poneretur in definitione entis secundum quod de substantia praedicatur." - I Contra Gentes, cap. 32.

{21} "Et dicit quod quando aliqua multipliciter dicuntur, contingit quandoque quod illa multiplicitas nullam differentiam inducat quantum ad rationem quae proponitur, quando scilicet in illa ratione sumitur nomen solum in una significatione: tunc enim multiplicitas differentiam facit in ratione, quando nomen sumitur in diversis significationibus. Sed tamen, licet nulla differentia fiat quantum ad rationem, tamen intellectus audientis confuse se habet, si aliquis utatur nomine quod multipliciter potest distingui, tanquam distingui non potest: quia quando aliquis utitur indistincte nomine multiplici, non est manifestum secundam quam significatam accidit conclusio." - In I De Coelo et mundo, lect. 24, n. 2. This is not to say that what the name primarily signifies would not come immediately to mind, but that, when one is aware that the name is used of other things due to their reference to what is primarily signified, he will want a clear statement as to which meaning is at issue.

{22} "Sed in hoc decipiebantur, quia utebantur ente quasi una ratione et una natura sicut est natura alicuius generis; hoc enim est impossible. Ens enim non est genus, sed multipliciter dicitur de diversis." - In I Metaphysic., lect. 9, n. 139.

{23} "Et quia ea quae in hac scientia considerantur, sunt omnibus communia, nec dicuntur univoce, sed secundum prius et posterius de diversis, ut in quarto libro est habitum, ideo prius distinguit intentiones nominum, quae in huius scientiae consideratione cadunt." - In V Metaphysic., lect 1, n. 749.

{24} Ia, q. 13, a. 10, ad 4.

{25} In I Ethic., lect. 7, n. 95.

{26} Cf. Q.D. de ver., q. 1, a. 1: "Illud autem quod primo intellectus concipit quasi nocissimum, est ens... Unde oportet quod omnes aliae conceptiones intellectus accipiantur ex additione ad ens. Sed enti non potest addi aliquid quasi extranea natura, per modum quo differentia additur generi, vel accidens subiecto, quia quaelibet naura essentialiter est ens; unde etiam probat Philosophus in III Metaphys. quod ens non potest esse genus, sed secundum hoc aliqua dicuntur addere supra ens, in quantum exprimunt ipsius modum, qui nomine ipsius entis non exprimitur. Quod dupliciter contingit: uno modo ut modus expressus sit aliquis specialis modus entis. Sunt enim diversi gradus entitatis, secundum quos accipiuntur diversi modi essendi, et iuxta hos modos accipiuntur diversa rerum genera. Substantia enim non addit supra ens aliquam differentiam, quae significet aliquam differentiam superadditam enti, sed nomine substantiae exprimitur quidam specialis modus essendi, scilicet per se ens; et ita est in aliis generibus. Alio modo ita quod modus expressus sit modus generaliter consequens omne ens..."

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