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Metaphysical Separation in Thomas Aquinas

Metaphysical Separation in Thomas Aquinas

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Published by Paul Horrigan
Metaphysical Separation in Thomas Aquinas
Metaphysical Separation in Thomas Aquinas

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Published by: Paul Horrigan on Aug 13, 2013
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 Metaphysics Operates at the Third Degree of Abstraction (Properly Called Separation).
 The level of abstraction that metaphysics operates at is not the first level (which concerns the physical sciences, or physics and the natural sciences), nor at the second level (which concernsmathematics in the traditional sense of that particular science), but at the third level (properlycalled
, proper to the science of being as being, [
ens qua ens
], which is metaphysics).
 The three levels of abstraction are described as “degrees of abstraction” in the sense of a progressive elevation above matter. St. Thomas writes about the three levels in his
Commentaryon the Physics of Aristotle
, stating: “There are some things whose being depends on matter, andwhich cannot even be defined without matter. Other things, while not being able to exist exceptin sensible matter, do not include sensible matter in their definition… Lastly, there are thingswhich do not depend on matter, whether in their being or in our manner of understanding them – either because they are never found in matter (like God and the other spiritual substances) or  because they are not found in matter always (like substance, act and potency, and being itself).These realities constitute the subject matter of metaphysics. Mathematics deals with thoserealities that depend on matter as to their being but not as regards our manner of understandingthem. Physics deals with realities that depend on matter both as regards their being and asregards our manner of understanding them.”
The First Degree of Abstraction
. As regards the first degree of abstraction (pertaining tothe physical sciences, or physics and the natural sciences) the intellect abstracts from matter so
Studies on the degrees of abstraction and metaphysical separation (
) in Aristotle: M. D. PHILIPPE,
 Abstraction, addition, séparation dans la philosophie d’Aristote
, “Revue Thomiste,” 32 (1948), pp. 461-479.Studies on the degrees of abstraction and metaphysical separation (
) in Aquinas: L. B. GEIGER,
 Abstraction et séparation d’après s. Thomas
In de Trinitate, q. 5, a. 3, “Revue des sciences philosophiques ettheologiques,” 31 (1947), pp. 3-40 ; M. V. LEROY,
 Abstractio et separatio d’après un texte controversé de S.Thomas
, “Revue Thomiste,” (1948), pp. 51-53 ; G. VAN RIET,
 La théorie thomiste de l’abstraction
, “Revue philosophique de Louvain,” 50 (1952), pp. 353-393 ; P. MERLAN,
 Abstraction and Metaphysics in St. Thomas’ 
 Summa, “Journal of the History of Ideas,” 14 (1953), pp. 284-291 ; F. G. CONNOLLY,
 Abstraction and Moderate Realism
, “The New Scholasticism,” 27 (1953), pp. 72-90 ; W. H. KANE,
 Abstraction and the Distinction of Sciences
, “The Thomist,” 17 (1954), pp. 43-68 ; E. D. SIMMONS,
 In Defense of Total and Formal Abstraction
,“The New Scholasticism,” 29 (1955), pp. 427-440 ; H. RENARD,
What is St. Thomas’ Approach to Metaphysics?
,“The New Scholasticism,” 30 (1956), pp. 67-80 ; E. D. SIMMONS,
The Three Degrees of Formal Abstraction
, “TheThomist,” 22 (1959), pp. 37-67 ; R. W. SCHMIDT,
 L’emploi de la séparation en metaphysique
, “RevuePhilosophique de Louvain,” 58 (1960), pp. 376-393 ; L. VICENTE,
 De modis abstractionis iuxta sanctum Thomam
,“Divus Thomas (Piac.),” 1964, pp. 278-299 ; J. L. ESLICK,
The Negative Judgment of Separation
, “The ModernSchoolman,” 44 (1966), pp. 35-46 ; J. OWENS,
 Metaphysical Separation in Aquinas
, “Mediaeval Studies,” 34(1972), pp. 287-306 ; J. F. WIPPEL,
 Metaphysics and 
in Thomas Aquinas
, in J. F. Wippel,
 Metaphysical Themes in Thomas Aquinas
, Catholic University of America Press, Washington, D.C., 1984, pp. 69-104.
 In I Physic
., lect. 1. “Many authors affirm that the three degrees of immateriality represent different
degrees of abstraction
. However, in
 In Boeth de Trin
., q. 5, a. 3, St. Thomas says that only the physical and mathematicaldegrees of immateriality correspond to different types of abstraction (taking abstraction to mean a
 separation); metaphysical concepts involve a
separation, in the sense that they are the result of separating frommatter what is
separable or separated from it. At any rate, there is no objection to regarding the third degree of immateriality as the result of abstraction, provided we do not take
to mean grasping partial aspects of reality (as is the case with the particular sciences), but rather transcending materiality”(J. J. SANGUINETI,
,Sinag-Tala, Manila, 1992, p. 199).
2far as it is the principle of individuation, therefore, from individual matter (also called signatematter or 
materia signata
). However, matter is still retained in so far as it is the basis of sensiblequalities. It thus retains sensible or common matter (
materia sensibilis vel communis
). Regardingthe first level of scientific knowledge which employs the first degree of abstraction, Korenwrites: “On the
 first level 
, scientific knowledge ‘terminates in the senses,’ for ‘the properties andaccidents of the thing which are shown by the senses sufficiently express the nature of the thing.In this case, the judgment of the intellect concerning the truth of the thing must be conformed tothat which the senses reveal about the thing.’
The science which is concerned with this level of knowledge is called
natural science
, i.e., we judge of natural things according asthey are revealed by sense experience…and whoever disregards sense experience with respect tothe realm of nature falls into error.’
Hence the conclusions of physical sciences must always beopen to verification by sense experience. From this it follows that physical sciences must retainsomething which is subject to sense experience; for otherwise no verification by means of thesenses would be possible.“It is clear, therefore, that scientific knowledge on this level may make abstraction onlyfrom so-called ‘
individual matter 
,’ i.e., from the differences which distinguish this man from thatman, this sample of sodium from that sample of sodium, etc.
But it must retain the common
 sensible matter 
’ which enters into the definition of the things it considers. By sensible matter ismeant matter ‘insofar as it is subject to sensible qualities, such as being hot or cold, hard or soft,and such like.’
sensible matter refers to those sensible qualities which are found inindividuals insofar as they belong to a certain group or class. That common sensible matter isretained in physical science should be clear. For questions referring to such matter aremeaningful in physical science. For instance, it makes sense to ask questions about thetemperature, hardness, density, etc. of a physical object.“Knowledge on this level is said to be on the
 first degree of abstraction
. The intellectconsiders such things as water in general, man in general, plants in general, or a certain type of water, man or plant, etc., without being particularly interested in the individual as such. Theobject is always something which can
neither exist nor be understood without sensible matter 
 Experimental sciences, such as physics, chemistry, biology, experimental psychology, etc., belong to this level of scientific knowledge.”
The Second Degree of Abstraction
. The second degree of abstraction proper tomathematics in the traditional sense of that particular science abstracts from common sensiblematter, but keeps under consideration the material substance as quantified, which is calledintelligible matter (
materia intelligibilis
“Intelligible” in this context refers not so much to the
 In Boethium de Trinitate
, q. 7, a. 2. Attention is drawn to the fact that according to St. Thomas scientificknowledge on this level reaches the
of the sensible object.
All scientific knowledge must make some kind of abstraction, because all scientific knowledge is intellectualknowledge, and all intellectual knowledge is obtained by means of abstraction.
Summa Theologiae
, I, q. 85, a. 1, ad. 2.
 In Boethium de Trinitate
, q. 5, a. 1.
 An Introduction to the Science of Metaphysics
, B. Herder, St. Louis, 1960, pp. 2-4.
For a detailed study of mathematical abstraction, see: Y. R. SIMON,
 Nature and Process of Mathematical  Abstraction
, “The Thomist,” 29 (1965), pp. 117-139.
3intellect as to the imagination, so much so that one could speak here of “imaginable matter,”which is matter as terminating in and known by the imagination, an internal sense faculty, incontrast to matter as terminating in and known by the external sense.
Koren writes: “On the
 second level 
, scientific knowledge ‘terminates in the imagination,’ for ‘when abstraction is madefrom the sensible conditions of a thing, there still remains something imaginable; so that withrespect to such objects judgment must be made according to what the imagination shows.’
This‘something imaginable’ is quantity, i.e., extension and number, which are abstracted from allsensible qualities. A simple consideration will make this clear. If a man inquires about thetemperature of a triangle or the softness of number ten, the listener will conclude, no doubt, thatthe fellow must have escaped from an asylum, because such questions do not make sense. Thereason why they are meaningless is precisely that quantity abstracts from all sensible qualities.The study of mathematics belongs to this level of scientific knowledge. ‘In mathematics the judgment of knowledge must be terminated in the imagination and not in sense experience because a mathematical judgment exceeds the apprehension of the senses.’
The lines, figures,numbers, etc. considered in mathematics are not objects of sense experience but exist only in our imagination, although it is true that sense-perceptible representations of them on paper or a blackboard may be used to aid our imagination. Hence verification by sense experience is not possible with respect to mathematical objects.“Scientific knowledge on this level is said to be on the
 second degree of abstraction
frommatter. It abstracts not only from individual matter, but also from common sensible matter, andretains only quantity, which ‘can be understood in a substance before there is understanding of the sensible qualities by which matter is called sensible; hence according to its proper nature,quantity does not depend upon sensible matter, but only upon intelligible matter.’
intelligibile matter 
’ is meant ‘substance insofar as it is subject to quantity.’
Intelligible matter has to be retained because numbers, dimensions and figures ‘cannot be considered unless thesubstance which is their subject is considered.’
The object of scientific knowledge on this level
depends upon
matter for its existence, but can be understood without it 
becausesensible matter does not enter into its definition.’
All mathematical sciences belong to this levelof scientific knowledge.
The Third Degree of Abstraction (Properly Called Separation)
. Separation is the proper level of abstraction in which metaphysics operates, wherein metaphysical notions correspond tocertain aspects of things understood without sensible matter, and which are also encountered in beings without matter. Such metaphysical notions (i.e., act, potency, substance, accidents,essence, act of being) are intelligible aspects of beings that sometimes are in matter (for example,
 Abstraction from Matter (II)
, “Laval Théologique et Philosophique,” 16 (1960), pp. 63-69.
 In Boethium de Trinitate
, q. 6, a. 2.
 In Boethium de Trinitate
, q. 5, a. 3.
Summa Theologiae
, I, q. 85, a. 1, ad. 2.
The intelligible matter retained on this level is not individual but common, i.e., not this or that materialsubject, but a material subject, as St. Thomas explains,
 In Boethium de Trinitate
, q. 5, a. 1.
Regarding the position of modern mathematics, cf. A. VAN MELSEN,
The Philosophy of Nature
, DuquesneUniversity Press, Pittsburgh, 1954, p. 97.
op. cit 
., pp. 4-5.

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