JMC : Logic and Mental Philosophy / by Charles Coppens, S.J.

Book I.
General Metaphysics; or Ontology.

5. Ontology is the science of 'being.' It examines: 1. The nature of being. 2. The transcendental attributes of being. 3. The Categories, or highest genera of beings. 4. The most important link that unites all classes of beings, viz., the relation of cause and effect. 5. The most important perfections of beings.

Chapter I
The Nature of Being.

6. We shall consider: 1. The meaning of the term 'being.' 2. Possible being in particular. 3. The essence and the existence of beings. 4. The primary philosophical principles derived from the study of being.


7. The term being, when used as a participle, is a synonyme of 'existing'; as a substantive it expresses the one mark or note common to all that can become the object of thought. It is not, then, confined to actual being, but it includes also possible being; for we can think, e.g., of golden stars, and other things only possible. It is not confined to substances, but is also applicable to accidents and relations; e.g., we can think, not only of a tree, but also of its vitality, its color, its age, etc. Even a mere negation, e.g., darkness, may be called being, because we can think of it. Yet, because we cannot think of it except by way of negation of something else -- darkness denoting the absence of light -- such an object of thought is not called a real being. But we call a real being whatever may be known or thought of positively and by itself, whether it is actually existing or only possible, -- i.e., capable of existing. That which is not a real being, but the absence of a real being, is a mere figment of reason, or ens rationis, as it is called by the Schoolmen. This same term is applied to whatever is intrinsically impossible, e.g., a square circle.

8. Real being, viewed as such, is the formal object of Metaphysics. In English, the word 'thing' is used as an exact synonyme for real being, except when it is taken in a special sense as opposed to persons, as when we say 'persons and things.' Thus, we say a tree is a thing, its size is something, its fertility is something; blindness is not a real thing, but the absence of something real, etc.

9. Being is called a transcendental, i.e., a note common to all things, and thus transcending any genus or species.{1} Still, it must be noticed that when we say 'a tree is a being,' 'its color is a being,' 'its age is a being,' etc., we evidently take the word 'being' in senses somewhat different from one another; the term being is not taken univocally but analogously.

10. The analogy in this case is not that of mere proportion or resemblance; for there is more than resemblance between the meanings of being; there is identity to a certain extent; it is the analogy of attribution. It is called intrinsic, because the note expressed by 'being' is contained in every being, and not merely attributed to one owing to some extrinsic relation with another being. But the mere ens rationis is called being by an analogy of proportion only, not of intrinsic attribution.

11. We must also distinguish between a physical and a logical being. Both may be real beings, but analogously. Logical being is being viewed as a mere object of knowledge, and therefore it can exist in the mind only, e.g., all universals, all abstract ideas. Physical being can exist out of the mind, e.g., this house, two houses, the Angel Gabriel, etc. Still the mind itself has also physical being, and so have its acts, viewed as modifications of the mind; but the terms of its acts, mental terms, have only logical being. All physical being is real being; a logical being is real when it is not an ens rationis.

Logical, as distinct from physical being, is the object of Logic.

12. A third distinction lies between actual and possible being; actual here means 'existing.' and possible means ' capable of existing.' Both actual being and possible being are real being, provided they be not negative.

13. Thesis I. The term being does not express a genus of which the different classes of beings are the species.

Proof 1. A genus is univocally predicable of all its species; but being is not univocally predicable of all classes of beings, as we have explained (No. 9); therefore being is not a genus of which the different classes of beings are the species.

Proof 2. If we examine with care how individuals are classified into species, and these into a genus, we shall perceive that the note which constitutes the difference between the species is a something added to the genus, and not included in the notes which constitute that genus, e.g., 'rational,' which marks the difference between rational and irrational animals, is not contained in the genus animal, but added to it in man and not added in the brute. Therefore, if 'being' were a genus, the difference that would be added to it in order to make a species would be something distinct from it, something not being. But there is nothing which is not being. Therefore no such difference can be added. Therefore being is not a genus; it may at most be called a quasi-genus, as bearing some resemblance to a genus.

14. Since being is not a genus, different classes of beings, e.g., substance and accident, finite and infinite being, etc., are not species of beings; but they are called determinations of being, -- i.e., when I think of a substance, I do not think of a being with something else added to it, but of a being more clearly or less vaguely understood. As when a man looks through a telescope and vaguely discerns something, he knows not what; then, after focussing his instrument and looking again, he sees the same thing, recognizing it to be a ship, and such an individual ship; so when we see being as substance, we see no more than being, but we see it more distinctly; in short, being has not received an addition but a determination. (See this matter fully explained in the excellent work of Rev. Thomas Harper, S.J., The Metaphysics of the Schools, vol. i., Props. IV., V.)

15. Thesis II. The idea of being in general is not the idea of the infinite Being.

Explanation. This thesis is a most important application of the abstract truths so far considered. It strikes at the root of a philosophic system advocated by the Ontologists, whom we shall refute more directly in our treatise on Psychology (Nos. 187, 188).

Proof 1. The Idea of being in general is very indefinite, that of the Infinite Being, or God, is very definite; for the former denotes any being, no matter how imperfect, the latter the union of all perfection in one Being.

Proof 2. Being in general is an abstraction, having only a logical entity; for no being can have physical existence except as a singular concrete being. Now, the Infinite Being has physical and concrete existence, existing not in general, but in an individual nature.

Proof 3. Being is not even predicated univocally of God and of any creature, but only analogically; because the being of all other things is distinct from their actual existence, for other beings may be actual or possible; whereas in God it is not distinct from existence, for a possible God would be no God at all.

True, the scholastic term ens simpliciter, 'simply being,' is predicated of God and of being in general, but in different significations; God is simply being, i.e., being without any non-being; being in general is simply being, i.e., being without specification.

How, then, do we get the idea of infinity? We perceive beings which have a certain amount of perfection and no more; we distinguish between perfection and limit, or the absence of further perfection; next, by our power of abstracting, we mentally remove all limit, and thus conceive abstractedly perfection without limit, i.e., infinity.

16. Objections:

1. The idea of God is the first idea, but the idea of being in general is the first idea which our mind conceives; therefore, the idea of God and that of being in general are the same. Answer. Our idea of God is our idea of the first being, but it is not our first idea: God is first in the order of being or ontologically, but He is not first revealed to our knowledge, not first logically.

2. God is the first truth. Answer. In Himself, yes; the first truth known to us, no.

3. From the finite we could never form the idea of the infinite: therefore we see the infinite directly. Answer. From the finite we could not form the intuitive perception of the infinite; but we can, by mentally removing all limits, form the abstract concept or idea of the infinite.

4. We could not understand what finite means unless we first understood the meaning of infinite; for the finite is only the negation of the infinite. Answer. The finite is not the negation of the infinite: it is the complex notion of 'being with limits'; now we see both 'being' and 'limits' all about us, we have only to conceive and unite those two notes in order to conceive the idea of finite.

5. If God is not admitted to be our first idea, we cannot prove the objective reality of our knowledge. Answer. In Critical Logic, the objective reality of our knowledge is proved without such admission.


17. A being is possible if it can exist. Possibility is twofold: intrinsic and extrinsic. A thing is intrinsically or internally possible if the notes of which it consists do not exclude one another; thus a mountain of jewels is possible, but a square triangle is impossible.

A thing is externally or extrinsically possible when there exists a power that can produce it; now, because the power of God is infinite, everything that is intrinsically possible is also extrinsically possible to God.

18. That which can be produced by no created power is said to be physically impossible. We call an act morally impossible when it might, indeed, be done by man, but, considering the uncommon difficulty of the act and the weakness of man, it would scarcely ever be done. Thus, it is morally impossible for a man to be always so careful as never to make any mistakes.

19. We get our knowledge of what is possible from the consideration of what is actual. Our imagination can combine various phantasms of material things perceived into new phantasms of things imaginable. Our intellect can combine notes of actual things which have become known to us, and form from them new concepts of merely possible things; but neither the imagination nor the intellect can combine elements that contradict each other; thus, we can neither imagine nor conceive a triangular circle.

20. God's knowledge of possible creatures is not derived from the consideration of actual creatures; but, understanding His own essence adequately, He saw from eternity how it could be imitated, or represented, by an endless variety of creatures. His infinite wisdom thus formed in itself the exemplars of all possible things, in a manner analogous to that in which an architect conceives the plans of various structures which he can erect. Thus, all things have not only their existence from God when they are created, but even their intelligible nature before creation; for God's intellect plans them.

21. We do not intuitively behold the exemplars as they are in the mind of God; but, when we conceive possible things, our concepts are conformable to those exemplars, except, of course, when our concepts imply a false judgment. The reason is that both God's concepts and ours are founded upon the same truth, viz.: that the notes which make up a possible being can exist together. Various false views have been taken of these possibles by various philosophers, whom we shall now refute.

22. Thesis III. The internal possibility of things does not formally depend on the power nor on the will of God.

Proof. To say that the internal possibilityof things depends formally on the power or on the will of God would mean that God's power as such, or His will as such, determined the difference between what is possible and what is impossible. But this cannot be.

1. God's power cannot determine the difference between possible and impossible; else certain things would be impossible simply and formally because the power of God did not extend to them, and thus the power of God would be limited.

2. God's will cannot determine this difference, else He could will the impossible to be possible; He could will that notes which contradict each other should nevertheless.exist together, e.g., that a circle should be square, that a truth should be false, that a thing could 'be and not be' at the same time; thus all certainty would vanish and universal scepticism would result.

23. Objections:

1. If God cannot make the impossible possible, He cannot do all things. Answer. This we deny; an absurdity is not a thing, a real being; e g., a triangular square would be a square that is not a square, but this is not thinkable, not intelligible, not a real being (No. 7).

2. Then God in creating would not be independent, He would depend on the possibles. Answer. The possibles themselves depend on His wisdom, and thus His dependence would not be on any existing being except Himself, for the possibles have no existence.

3. Then God would not create things out of nothing, but out of their possibility. Answer. He creates things out of nothing, actual or pre-existing; for the possibility is nothing actual, nothing existing.

4. If possibles have no existence, how can God know them? Answer. From eternity He knows His existing essence as capable of being imitated by beings which do not exist from eternity.

5. If it were not for the power and will of God, nothing were possible; therefore the possibles depend on His power and will. Answer. Nothing would then be externally possible; we grant that the external possibility of things depends on God's power and will.

24. Thesis IV. The internal possibility of things depends on the intellect of God.

Proof. The internal possibility of a thing consists in the agreement between its notes; not an actual agreement between actual or existing notes, but a merely logical agreement between notes considered as possible. Now, whatever is merely logical being depends on an intellect which conceives the notes and the agreement between them; therefore the internal possibility of a thing depends on an intellect; and since all things internally possible were so from eternity, their possibility depends on an eternal intellect, i.e., on the intellect of God.

25. Objections:

1. Even if we supposed that God did not exist, a round circle would still be internally possible. Answer. (a) From an absurd supposition it is no wonder if we get any consequence. (b) Nothing would be internally possible if there were no mind to conceive notes and associate them.

2. We can think of possibles without thinking of God; therefore they do not depend on God. Answer. We cannot fully understand them without referring them to the intellect of God. From the fact that we do not always think of them as dependent on God, it does not follow that they are not dependent on Him, but simply that we view them imperfectly.

26. Thesis V. The internal possibility of things depends on the essence of God.

Proof. God, being infinitely perfect, cannot be dependent for the knowledge of His intellect, except on Himself on His own essence; but He knows all possible things; therefore, He must know them in His essence; but He does not know them as existing in His essence; therefore, He can only know them as having their source in His essence, as dependent on His essence; therefore, they depend on it.

Are, then, the possibles the Divine essence? No; the possibles, as such, or formally considered, have no actual entity, and therefore they cannot be the Divine essence, which has actual entity. But whatever foundation there was from eternity for the formation of these logical concepts, that foundation must have been something actual, and, therefore, identical with the essence of God.

27. Objections:

1. God must then have an infinite number of these concepts; but an infinite number of existing things is absurd. Answer. God understands all things by one concept, which embraces all that is knowable. Even we, in one concept of a line, embrace any number of parts into which it may be divided. The possibles are numberless (see No. 38); and they are not existing things, as the objection supposes them to be.

2. This explanation makes all things part of God's essence, and thus leads to Pantheism. Answer. It makes all things finite imitations of God's infinite essence.

3. Knowledge supposes its objects and does not make them; hence the Divine intellect supposes the possibles and does not form them. Answer. The knowledge of the architect supposes his knowledge of the materials which he is to combine in his plans; thus, also, the intellect of God sees all perfections in His own essence, and understands how imitations of those perfections can be variously combined in finite beings.


28. The essence of a being is that collection of notes which must be conceived to understand that being, because they make it what it is and distinguish it from every being of another species: the essence (from esse, to be ) answers the question, 'What is it?' 'Quid est?' and is also called the 'quiddity.' For instance, the essence of a syllogism is "an argument consisting of three propositions so connected that from two of them the third follows." If any one of these notes is wanting, we have no syllogism, and if any of them is not apprehended, we do not apprehend the syllogism.

29. In its widest sense, the term essence is applied to anything, be it substance, property, or accident; for everything has notes which make it what it is, and about everything we can ask, 'What is it?' e.g., What is color? what is figure? what is time? etc. But in a stricter sense, essence is said of substance only, and expresses the species to which that substance belongs; e.g., the essence of man is rational animal, or a being composed of body and soul.

30. The essence of a substance may be viewed in two ways: 1. The real or physical essence is the essence as it exists in the substance independently of our way of conceiving it. We conceive the physical essence when we conceive a being as composed of those elements which are really distinct in that being; and we express that physical essence by mentioning the parts really distinct, as body and soul in man. 2. The notional or metaphysical essence is the essence conceived as made up of parts which are not really, but only logically distinct. It is expressed by mentioning qualities which do not correspond to distinct parts; as when we call a man a rational animal. For we must not suppose that the animal and the rational are two distinct parts that make up man, as body and soul do, but the animal itself is rational; and if the rational part of man be taken away, there remains not an animal but an inanimate body.

31. Are essences eternal and immutable? In their physical existence, essences are not eternal, but created in time; but they may be called immutable, inasmuch as they remain while the substance lasts, for the accidents alone are changed. In their logical entity or intelligibility, essences are eternal and immutable, inasmuch as it ever is and ever was true, e.g., that an intellect supposes a simple substance, that a part is less than the whole, etc.

32. It is clear that we know the essences of the things which we make or invent ourselves, as of a watch, a table, etc. We also know the essences of many things in nature, as of a fruit, a tree, an animal, the intellect, etc.; else, we could have no science about such things, since science treats not of singular things but of the essences of things. Still there are many natural agents of which we do not know the specific essences, e.g., heat, electricity, magnetism, etc.; we know what they do, but not what they are. We define such things by mentioning a genus to which they are known to belong, and, as the difference, we mention the effects which are peculiar to them; thus, we know that electricity has the power to produce certain effects, but we do not know whether it is a distinct substance or a modification of a substance; if it is a distinct substance, we do not know whether it is simple or compound.

33. Existence is a simple and primary concept, which, therefore, cannot be defined; the word is said to come from ex-sistentia, a standing forth out of its causes. By receiving existence, a possible being becomes actual; e.g., Plato was possible and became actual. Are, then, existence and actual essence the same? This question is usually answered thus: "Between actual essence and its existence there is no real distinction, but only a logical distinction founded on reality." (See Harper's Metaphysics of the Schools, vol. i., Prop. XVI.)

34. The essence considered as the principle of actions is called the nature of a being. If, therefore, the actions of a being are sufficiently known, and are found to be uniform and constant, we can safely infer attributes belonging to the nature and essence of that being; thus, from the intellectual acts of man we infer the simplicity of his soul. The knowledge thus acquired is true and certain, for it rests on the evident principle that there must be a proportion between an effect and its cause. Therefore Locke and the positive philosophers are entirely mistaken when they teach that we know nothing but phenomena or sensible facts; we know that those facts can only proceed from proportionate causes, and thus from their effects we know something of the natures and essences of these causes.


35. From the very concept of being we derive analytically three primary judgments or first principles of reason, viz.

1. The principle of identity: 'That which is, is,' or 'the being is.'

2. The principle of contradiction: 'A thing cannot be and yet not be,' or 'Being is not non-being.'

3. The principle of the excluded middle: 'A thing either is or is not.'

It is a disputed question whether the principle of identity or that of contradiction should be called the first principle. The two are inseparable, and, when properly understood, imply each other; for when we say, 'That which is, is,' we imply that it cannot not be, and when we say that being is not non-being we imply that it is being. There is no judgment prior in nature to these two, for every possible judgment contains these, and these imply no other judgments.

{1} Kant attached a new meaning to the term 'transcendental,' viz.: Whatever is beyond the reach of experience. He has thus created a confusion of ideas in many minds.

<< ======= >>