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

Chapter III.
The Categories.

48. We have so far explained what is common to all being; we must next consider various classes of beings. Aristotle has pointed out ten highest classes under which all beings can find a place; these are known as the categories or predicaments (katêgorein, to predicate), be cause all that can be predicated of any being is found to belong to these ten categories. Such predicates are found in the answers to the following ten questions: What is the being? How great? What qualities has it? Whose is it? What does it do ? What is done to it? Where is it? In what posture? When? How equipped?

49. When we ask what a thing is, the answer will be, either it is a substance, i.e., something existing by or in itself, or it is something added to substance; it must be one or other. Substance is the first category. If a thing is not a substance, it is called an accident, i.e., something added to a substance. Here accident is not taken in the same meaning in which it occurs in Logic. The logical accident is distinguished from the genus, species, difference, and attribute; the metaphysical accident now spoken of is a mere negation of that special manner of existence which belongs to substance. Accident does not constitute a genus of which the nine classes of accidents, i.e., the nine remaining categories, would be the species; because the 'being' which is predicated of each accident is not taken univocally; -- e.g., qualities, relations, time, place, etc., are accidents of substance, but so different from one another that they have nothing strictly in common which is not identical with that which is peculiar to each; and the mere negation of substantiality cannot constitute a genus; still, accident may be called a quasi-genus.

50. An accident affects the substance intrinsically or extrinsically:

1. Intrinsically, it may affect the substance absolutely or respectively. (a) Absolutely, it may affect the substance by reason of the matter, viz., quantity; or it may affect it by reason of the form, viz., quality. (b) Respectively, it affects one thing as connoting another, viz., relation.

2. Extrinsically, it may denominate the substance by reason of something else which affects it, viz.: its action, passion, place, time, posture, and habiliment. Each of the categories requires further explanation.

We shall treat: 1. Of substance. 2. Of the intrinsic accidents. 3. Of the extrinsic accidents.


51. By our senses we perceive things in the concrete, substance and accidents united. By our intellectual power of abstraction we, from the first dawn of reason, distinguish the quantity, the qualities, etc.. of an object from the object itself, e.g., the size and the color of an apple from the stance of the apple. We conceive the object as existing or by itself but the quantity, etc., as existing in the object. Philosophy is only the systematic teaching of common sense. Speaking philosophically, we say that a substance (sub-stans, standing under) is that which exists in or by itself, and whatever does not thus exist we call an accident. An accident, therefore, is that which cannot exist in or by itself, but exists in some substratum; accidents are said to inhere in their subject.

52. When we say that substances exist in or by themselves (per se), we do not mean that they have no cause, that they exist by their own power (a se). This was a leading error of Spinoza, who, by making all substances thus self-existing, made them all necessary, and therefore identified all things with God.

53. Hume has fallen into another error, by teaching that we perceive nothing but qualities, and that what we call substance is only an unreal bond imagined as holding those qualities together; his theory contradicts the intuitions of all men, and leads directly to skepticism. Leibnitz makes substance a force or power; but a power is a quality of some being that has the power. Locke does not deny that qualities exist in something else, which he calls a substratum, but he adds: "Of this supposed something we have no clear, distinct idea at all" (Human Underst., b. ii. c. 23, § 37.) McCosh, on the other hand, appears to accept the Scholastic and common-sense doctrine when he says: "Now I give up the idea of an unknown substratum behind the qualities. I stand up only for what I know. In consciousness we know self, and in sense-perception we know the external objects as existing things exercising qualities. In this is involved what we reckon the true idea of substance. We can as little know the qualities apart from an object exercising them, as we can an object apart from qualities. We know both in one concrete act, and we have the same evidence of the one as of the other" (Agnosticism of Hume and Huxley).

54. Substances are distinguished 1. Into simple, i.e., such as have no parts, and compound, i.e., such as have parts. 2. Into complete and incomplete. The incomplete is destined by nature to constitute with some other being a substantial unit; thus, the human soul needs the body to constitute man. The complete is not destined to such union, e.g., an angel, a plant; it is therefore the complete principle of all its natural actions.

55. A complete substance is called a supposit; a supposit endowed with intellect is a person. As a human soul is not a complete substance, it is not a person. The Infinite Being, since it is complete and intelligent, is of course a personal being.

Since accidents exist in their substance, actions, which are accidents, belong to their supposit; the supposit it is which acts, actiones sunt suppositorum; the parts and powers of the supposit are not so properly said to act as to be the instruments by which the supposit acts. Thus we say 'A man walks,' not 'His feet walk'; 'I am thinking,' rather than 'My mind is thinking'; 'We see with our eyes, feel with our hands,' etc.

56. Since actions properly belong to the person, and the person who assumed human nature in the mystery of the Redemption is the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, all the acts which He performed in His assumed human nature are really the acts of a Divine person, of God; they are Divine, and therefore of infinite merit. In becoming man He took upon Himself a complete individual human nature, i.e., a soul and a body like ours, but not a human personality; He is not a human person, for person is the ultimate substratum of an intellectual nature. If, therefore, the ultimate substratum or person in Christ were human, then we could not say with truth what all Christians profess who recite the Apostles' Creed, viz., that the "only Son of God was born of the Virgin Mary, suffered, . . . was crucified; died, and was buried," etc., nor could St. John have written in his Gospel, "The Word was made flesh and dwelt amongst us."

57. Personal identity consists in the permanence of the intellectual supposit, not in the continuity of his consciousness; for even when we are totally unconscious we are still the same individual persons. Mankind has never believed that a man on losing consciousness ceases to be a person or becomes another person. On this point Locke, like many other philosophers, has written much that common sense does not support. He considers person to be merely a 'forensic term,' and personal identity to be nothing but consciousness. "It (person) is a forensic term appropriating actions and their merit. . . . This personality extends itself beyond the present existence to what is past only by consciousness, whereby it becomes concerned and accountable," etc. (Human Underst., b. ii. c. 28, § 27). This doctrine would make us no lunger accountable for acts which we have forgotten, of which we are no longer conscious.


58. We have defined an accident as a being which cannot exist in or by itself, but needs a substratum or substance to exist in. By saying that accidents cannot exist by themselves we mean that they cannot do so as nature is now, or according to the actual physical laws. It is not, however, impossible for the Creator to maintain certain accidents in existence without a substance. God can do all that involves no contradiction; therefore He can keep in existence without inhesion in a substance such accidents as only imply a tendency, an exigency to inhere, and do not, in the very concept of them, imply the act of inhering, or actual inhesion in a subject. As a matter of fact, the Church teaches that after the consecration of the bread and wine at Holy Mass the substances of the bread and wine cease to exist, and still their accidents of quantity, color, taste, etc., are preserved in existence by the supernatural action of the Divine will. In this doctrine there is nothing against reason. For the accidents have being or entity which is really distinct from the entity of the substance, since it may be changed while the substance remains the same. The substance supports that entity, but God can keep it in existence by His will directly without using the substance to produce that effect. For it is clear that whatever effects God can produce through second causes, i.e., through His creatures, He can produce the same directly by His mere will whenever the effect is not of such a nature as to imply a created cause. Now, although the accidents of bread and wine naturally inhere in those substances, still human reason cannot see that quantity, color, taste, etc., essentially imply a substance to exist in. A full treatment of this question does not belong to a brief compendium of philosophy.

59. There are two classes of accidents which in their very concept involve inherence in something else, viz.: 1. Vital acts, such as those of will and intellect; and 2, Modal accidents, i.e., accidents of accidents, e.g., figure, which is a mode of quantity; for every quantity, by the very fact that it has limits, has necessarily some shape or figure, i.e., some mode or manner of limitation. Those accidents which essentially imply only a tendency to inhere are often called absolute accidents, to distinguish them from modal accidents and vital acts. But, as explained above, the term 'absolute accident' is also used in contradistinction to the relative accident or relation.

60. The intrinsic accidents are three: quantity, quality, and relation.

I. Quantity, in its widest sense, is predicated of all that can be more or less. Thus taken, it is predicated:

1. Of degrees of perfection, as when we say that a man has a greater quantity of perfection than a plant. 2. Of degrees of energy or power, e.g., a man has more intellect than a child. In a stricter sense taken as one of the categories, quantity means the amount there is of a substance; it implies divisibility into parts of the same species as the whole, as of water into drops, not into gases. It is predicated: 1. Of multitude, which is called discrete quantity, because its parts are considered as separate from one another (discretus, viewed apart). 2. Of the extension of material substances, which is called continuous quantity, because its parts are considered as not separate (continere, to hold together), the end of one part being the beginning of another. The quantity of bodies has three dimensions: length, breadth, and depth; these, considered as existing in given bodies, are called concrete quantities, but when separately viewed, i.e., only in their properties, as they are in mathematics, they are abstract quantities.

61. II. The term quality cannot be strictly defined, since it is a category, containing no genus and difference. It is that which denominates a substance as such or such and not otherwise; not as such a substance, say iron or gold, but such iron or such gold. Quality is often described as "any note that completes or perfects a substance in itself or in its action." There are four species of qualities:

1. Those disposing the subject well or ill in itself or towards something else. Such qualities if transient are called dispositions, e.g., well, ill, ready, unready, etc.; if permanent, they are called habits, e.g., science, health, virtue, vice, etc.

2. Powers, i.e., qualities which enable a subject to do certain acts, whether such qualities belong to the very nature of the substance, e.g., intellect, will, etc., which belong to every man; or are accidental to it, e.g., talent to learn fast.

3. Sensible qualities, i.e., those which affect the senses, e.g., sweetness, sourness, warmth, cold, white, black, etc.

4. Figure, i.e., qualities regarding the arrangement of material parts, e.g., square, round, straight, etc.

A passim, when denoting a passing organic affection, such as anger, hunger, desire, etc., is not called a quality, but it is the accident or category called passion, for it means that a substance is acted upon; when denoting an abiding inclination to any affection, it is a quality of the first kind, e.g. irascibility, gluttony, etc.

62. III. Relation is the accident denominating one thing as referred to another which it connotes, e. g, parent, greater, double, like, etc.; for there can be no parent unless there be a child, etc. Every relation supposes three things: (a) A subject which is related. (b) A term to which it is related. (c) A foundation of the relation; e.g., when we say " virtue is more precious than gold," virtue is the subject of the relation, 'gold' is the term to which it is related, and 'precious' expresses the foundation of the relation, viz., price or value. A relation is real, logical, or mixed: (a) It is real when the foundation of the relation is in the things related, independently of our mind, e.g., between cause and effect; if that foundation is found in each term, the relation is called mutual. (b) It is logical when its only foundation is in our mind, as when I say that the essence of God is the reason of His existence; for there is only a mental distinction, and therefore only a mental relation between His existence and His essence. (c) It is mixed when the relation is real in one of the things related, and not real but only logical in the other; thus, a contingent being implies relation to the necessary being, but a necessary being can exist without a relation to a contingent being.

The category of relation is confined to the real relation; for all the categories express special manners in which things exist. It will be noticed that the mind cannot consider any relation without abstracting the foundation of that relation. Now, brutes have no power of abstracting, therefore they cannot apprehend relations, but only the things related.


63. The extrinsic accidents are six: action, passion, the where, the when, posture, and habiliment. They are extrinsic because in each of them we advert primarily to something distinct from the subject spoken of; e.g., an action is denominated according to its term or effect, as 'to eat,' 'to walk,' 'to read,' etc.

64. I. Action signifies that accident which denotes a thing as proceeding from something else; thus, 'to think' denotes thought as proceeding from a thinking principle.

65. II. Passion is the receiving of an action. Action and passion are the two terms of the same motion; as when one strikes and the other is struck, one loves and the other is loved, etc.

An action is said to be immanent (in-manere, to remain in) if its term remains within the same faculty whence it proceeds; thus, 'to feel,' 'to know,' 'to will,' etc , are immanent acts. If the term does not remain within the eliciting faculty, the action is transient (transire, to pass over) ; as 'to push,' 'to pull,' 'to cut,' etc. The term 'transient,' i.e., 'passing over,' should not lead us to imagine that a modification of the subject passes over to the object; but the subject by its action so affects the object as to make a new modification arise in it.

66. III. The where is the accident which determines material substances to a place. A place is the inner surface of the surrounding body considered as immovable; for bodies may move, but places remain. Thus, the place of a rock is the inner surface of the air or earth that surrounds it on all sides. Hence it is evident that the 'where' is an extrinsic accident. The distance between the surfaces of a body is called its intrinsic place. A body is naturally so related to place that each part of the body occupies a part of the place; this is meant by saying that a body is circumscribed by the place. A spirit, having no parts, cannot thus be circumscribed, but is whole and entire in the place and in every part of the place; it is said to be limited to the place to which its power is restricted. Spirits are not directly related to place by their own nature, but indirectly and accidentally, inasmuch as their power either is being exerted or may be exerted on certain bodies, and those bodies are in a place. Thus, a spirit is truly in a place; for where it is not, it cannot act; yet place does not belong to spirits in the same sense as to bodies.

67. Thesis VI. Limitless vacant space is not a real being existing independently of our minds.

Explanation. Space, as far as our observation goes, is not vacant, but filled with matter, at least with ether, i.e., with some imponderable substance, the vibrations of which transmit light even from the most remote points of the universe. Probably there is no perfect void anywhere in the world. But, outside of the material world, space is still imagined to extend; we also imagine that, before matter was created, there was a limitless vacant space. Now, we assert that this vacant space is nothing really existing out of the mind; we merely conceive a possible capacity, the absence of bodily substances.

Proof. If it were a real being existing out of the mind, it would have real quantity, for it has parts outside of parts; its quantity would be finite, or infinite, or indefinite. But it cannot be finite, else there would be other space around it; nor indefinite, for whatever exists really exists definitely, since indefinite means actually finite but capable of increase; nor infinite, for it will be proved hereafter that an infinite quantity actually existing is absurd (No. 93). Hence it is nothing real.

68. It may be asked: 1. Cannot space be the immensity of God? We answer, by no means; for space has parts outside of parts, and God's immensity has not; for it is God Himself, who is perfectly simple.

2. What is beyond the universe? Vacant space, i.e., nothing actual.

3. What existed before the creation? Nothing but God.

4. If all substances in a vessel were removed, would there be space in it? Yes, there would be vacant space; vacant inasmuch as it contains no substance, yet real space inasmuch as the sides of the vessel are really related to each other.

5. How, then, is space defined? All space is conceived in reference to extension and relation between extended things. Real or actual space is the relation of place between real bodies, e.g., between the sides of a vessel; possible or imaginary space is the imagined relation of place between possible bodies; mathematical space is extension considered in the abstract; vacant space is possible or imaginary space coupled with the negation of a substance being there. Other authors designate as physical space all that we mean by actual and possible space united, and they define it as capacity to contain extended substances.

69. Objections: 1. If there were no bodies, space would still have real quantity out of our mind; for it would be really extended, having the dimensions of length, breadth, and depth. Answer. It would be only abstract or logical quantity; for it would be imagined as the possible quantity of possible bodies, and thus have only logical entity.

2. If all bodies but one were annihilated, and that one were moving, owing to its inertia it would keep on moving. But it could not move unless real space actually existed. Answer. It is enough for motion that there be possible space; real space is a relation between real bodies, and it is clear that this is neither necessary nor actual when there is only one body.

3. But it would really move, and real motion requires real space. Answer. We grant it would really move; but motion may be taken in two meanings: (a) As extrinsic to the moving body, i.e., as a change of places, and such there could not be, since place supposes a surrounding body. (b) As intrinsic to that body, as a mode of its being, opposed to rest, and such motion has nothing to do with the relation which constitutes real space.

70. IV. The when is the accident which regards succession in time. To understand succession we must understand duration, i.e., permanence in being. Now, a being can be permanent in three ways: (a) If it remains perfectly immutable, its duration is called eternity. (b) If its nature is devoid of changes, but its accidents are susceptible of them, as is the case with the Angels, its duration is called aevum by the Schoolmen, for which term we have no English equivalent. (c) If its very nature is subject to changes, as is the nature of bodies, its duration is said to be in time. Such durations succeeding each other can be counted, and their number or measure constitutes time. In this kind of duration alone the 'when' of the categories finds its place.

71. Time, therefore, is the measure of succession in changeable beings; it is ever flowing, as the 'now,' or present moment, is ever moving onward, separating the past and the future. The 'now' is the indivisible limit between them. From this explanation of time it is clear:

1. That there was no time before the creation, as there were no changeable beings.

2. That some unit is needed in order to measure time; the apparent motion of the sun around the earth is a unit accepted by all nations.

3. Since time implies a relation between the measure and the measured, brutes cannot apprehend time as such (see No. 62); they apprehend the phenomena only, which happen in time.

4. Since the successions measured are objective realities, time exists outside of the mind; and it is absurd to maintain with Kant that time is merely a subjective concept, by which the mind puts order into the objects of its knowledge.

72. V. Posture is the manner in which the parts of a body are disposed with regard to an adjacent body; e.g., when a man is standing on, lying on, leaning against a material object. Posture may remain the same though every part of space occupied should change, as when a person travels a sitting or standing posture.

73. VI Habiliment is the accident by which one bodily substance is furnished with another, as its dress, protection, ornament, etc.

The last two categories, just explained, are of minor importance; but they are needed by the philosopher in order that there may be no manner of being which cannot find its place under one of the highest genera.

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