On the Borders of Being and Knowing

On the Borders of Being and Knowing: Late Scholastic Theory of Supertranscendental Being

JOHN P. DOYLE
Edited by VICTOR M. SALAS
Volume: 44
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Leuven University Press
Pages: 350
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt9qdxs5
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    On the Borders of Being and Knowing
    Book Description:

    Sylvester Mauro, S.J. (1619-1687) noted that human intellects can grasp what is,what is not, what can be, and what cannot be. The first principle, ‘it is not possible that the same thing simultaneously be and not be,' involves them all. The present volume begins with Greeks distinguishing ‘being' from ‘something' and proceeds to the late Scholastic doctrine of ‘supertranscendental being,' which embraces both. On the way is Aristotle's distinction between ‘being as being' and ‘being as true' and his extension of the latter to include impossible objects. The Stoics will see ‘something' as the widest object of human cognition and will affirm that, as signifiable, impossible objects are something, more than mere nonsense. In the sixteenth century, Francisco Suárez will identify mind-dependent beings most of all with impossible objects and will also regard them as signifiable. By this point, two conceptions will stand in opposition. One, adumbrated by Averroes, will explicitly accept the reality and knowability of impossible objects. The other, going back to Alexander of Aphrodisias, will see impossibles as accidental and false conjunctions of possible objects. Seventeenth-century Scholastics will divide on this line, but in one way or another will anticipate the Kantian notion of ‘der Gegenstand überhaupt.' Going farther, Scholastics will see the two-sided upper border of being and knowing at God and the negative theology, and will fix the equally double lower border at ‘supertranscendental being' and ‘supertranscendental nonbeing,' which non-being, remaining intelligible, will negate the actual, the possible, and even the impossible.

    eISBN: 978-94-6166-068-8
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. EDITOR’S FOREWORD
    (pp. VII-XII)

    In hisBeing and Some Philosophers(1952), before a discussion of modern accounts of ‘being,’ Étienne Gilson writes, “[N]ow that Scholastic philosophy has been dead for nearly five centuries, philosophers don’t even care to remember how it died.”¹ Here, one wonders whether Gilson’s report of Scholasticism’s death, like Mark Twain’s, may have been at least a little “exaggerated.” There can be little doubt that today mention of “modern philosophy” – commonly accepted as having begun with the seventeenth-century work of René Descartes – brings to mind a “break” with the “mental shackles”² that Scholasticism supposedly imposed and also conjures up...

  3. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. XIII-XVI)

    Beginning with Antisthenes (d. ca. 365 bc) and Plato (d. 348 bc), the essays comprising this volume trace a passage that begins with a distinction between “being” and “something” and ends with the late Scholastic doctrine of supertranscendental being that will offer a bridge over this distinction. In the first essay, I begin with Aristotle (d. 322 bc) and note, first, his distinguishing between “being as being” and “being as true” and, then, his exclusion of the latter from the subject matter of metaphysics. I then mark the Stoic reprise of “something” as the widest object of human cognition, especially...

  4. Table of Contents
    (pp. XVII-XVIII)
  5. CHAPTER 1 SPROUTS FROM GREEK GARDENS: ANTISTHENES, PLATO, ARISTOTLE, AND THE STOICS
    (pp. 1-18)

    Looking to treat a doctrine that has roots in Greek antiquity and then grows to the main trunk of Kantian philosophy, I begin with a passage in Plato’sRepublicwhere Socrates is talking to Glaucon.

    To my knowledge, Plato (ca. 428-348bc) has not told uscompletelywhat this bilateral “something between” (μεταξύτι) is or whether it exists. Here in theRepublicand in other places in various dialogues he tells us that, on the side of the knower, it is “opinion” (δόξα) which, in contrast to “[scientific] knowledge” (ἐπιστήμη), confronts, on the side of the known, the changeable things of...

  6. CHAPTER 2 SUÁREZ ON BEINGS OF REASON AND TRUTH
    (pp. 19-66)

    From Parmenides on, it has been a commonplace in the Western philosophical tradition that truth is a function of being. One need only remember the general Platonic doctrine of Forms, which are at once “really real” (ὄντως ὄν) and the locus of intelligibility and truth. More specifically, Plato in theTheatetusand again in theSophisthas raised the problem of truth and falsity with respect to non-existing things. In theTheatetus, Socrates, considering the difference between true and false belief, rejects the view that false belief is directed toward that which is not, on the ground that to think...

  7. CHAPTER 3 EXTRINSIC COGNOSCIBILITY
    (pp. 67-94)

    Following its first publication at Salamanca in 1597, theDisputationes metaphysicaeof Francisco Suárez (1548-1617) had almost incredible influence. Comprising twoquartovolumes, each approximately a thousand pages long, in the thirty-nine years immediately after its debut it was reprinted at least seventeen times in Italy, France, Switzerland and Germany.¹ In various ways, it was adopted and adapted for metaphysical instruction for at least fifty years in both Protestant and Catholic universities.² Long after that, it was still at the root of Christian Wolff’s understanding of metaphysics,³ an understanding which became normative in the schools and which was the very...

  8. CHAPTER 4 IMPOSSIBLE OBJECTS
    (pp. 95-126)

    As is well known, Aristotle in hisMetaphysicsdistinguished being as found in the categories from ‘accidental being’ (τὸ ὂν κατὰ συμβεβηκός) and from ‘being as true’ (τὸ ὂν ὡς ἀληθές).¹ The latter two ‘beings’ he then excluded from ‘being as being’ (τὸ ὂν ᾗ ὄν), the subject of metaphysics.²

    Prima facieit seems easy to understand what he had in mind when he spoke of ‘accidental being’ and of ‘being as true.’ Accidental or incidental being, what the Latins would later callens per accidens, was in fact a juxtaposition of two or more categorical beings.³ As such, it...

  9. CHAPTER 5 THE TELEOLOGY OF IMPOSSIBLE OBJECTS
    (pp. 127-150)

    With his own intention of instructing novices, Luis de Lossada, S.J. (1681-1748), has summarized the new, yet old, terminology of the disputed Scholastic doctrine of intellectual intentionality.¹ Although the Scholastics have ambiguously used the term ‘intention’ – first in relation to will and then to understanding,² in executing his intention Lossada has employed it simply to designate an act of the human intellect.³ Such an act may be either first or second, depending upon whether it directly represents the physical reality of its object or reflexly represents an object as already known or insofar as it has some being derived...

  10. CHAPTER 6 BEINGS OF REASON AND IMAGINATION
    (pp. 151-166)

    Think of “real” being as that which can exist independent of the human mind, and beings of reason will be “unreal.” They will not be actual or even possible existents. Best examples would be self-contradictory things, which, although they are somehow in our minds, are nevertheless divided against themselves and thus unable to exist apart from being thought. Concrete cases might include centaurs, chimerae, and goatstags. All of these may be imagined but equally all can be thought unable to exist outside the mind, for the reason that their parts seem essentially incompatible with one another.

    In Plato’sPhaedrus, Socrates...

  11. CHAPTER 7 FOUR DEGREES OF ABSTRACTION
    (pp. 167-184)

    The doctrine of three degrees of abstraction is a venerable Scholastic commonplace. Related to Aristotle’s division of theoretical sciences,¹ briefly it states that physics, mathematics, and metaphysics are distinguished one from another on the basis of the abstraction of their objects from matter. Physics has as its object mobile being, which abstracts from individual matter. The object of mathematics is quantified being, which abstracts from common sensible matter but not from intelligible matter. And metaphysics has as its object common being, or being insofar as it is being, which abstracts from all matter.²

    Mutatis mutandis, many modern Scholastic authors have...

  12. CHAPTER 8 FROM TRANSCENDENTAL TO TRANSCENDENTAL
    (pp. 185-214)

    In the second edition (1787) of hisKritik der reinen Vernunft, in the Transcendental Analytic, just after the Table of Categories and just before his Deduction of the Pure Concepts of Understanding, Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) added a section (Abschnitt§ 12, B 113-14) that marked at once the deficiency of an older Scholastic doctrine of transcendentals and yet in it arguably an adumbration of his own doctrine.¹ He expressed his core thought thus:

    In the transcendental philosophy of the ancients there is included yet another chapter containing pure concepts of the understanding which, though not enumerated among the categories, must,...

  13. CHAPTER 9 SUPERTRANSCENDENTAL NOTHING
    (pp. 215-242)

    For those innocent of geography, let me first explain that Finisterre is a cape in northern Spain at the westernmost point of the Spanish mainland. It marks an end of Europe; beyond Finisterre there is only the ocean. As readers of this essay may see, “supertranscendental nothing” is arguably a philosophical Finisterre which was a farthest point of speculation reached by European philosophers in the seventeenth century. But what readers also may see is that this apparently ultimate item of seventeenth-century European philosophy was possibly pushed even farther out, at what might then to some have seemed beyond Spain and...

  14. CHAPTER 10 WRESTLING WITH A WRAITH
    (pp. 243-272)

    Philosophers have traditionally been concerned with thinking and its boundaries in relation to things. Of course, any such concern immediately provokes a further query aboutwhat is a thing? Theprima facieanswer might be that a thing is whatever is or can be, which is to say, whatever is actual or possible. In this way, the notion of “thing” seems convertible with that of “being.” By medieval philosophers, thing was thus counted as one of the so-called “transcendentals” and both thing and being were further thought to be convertible with “true,” which was being as related to intellect,¹ or,...

  15. CHAPTER 11 THE BORDERS OF KNOWABILITY
    (pp. 273-292)

    This essay concerns the upper and the lower borders between what is and what is not knowable for human beings, particularly as these borders were variously considered by some seventeenth-century Jesuit thinkers. Expanding, let me say that the boundary above is reached when one confronts the reality of God, who while He may be evidently knowable in Himself is not so, at least in this life, for us. In contrast, the lower boundary seems to run between that which is in itself knowable and that which is totally unknowable either for us or for God. This lower boundary is reached...

  16. CHAPTER 12 CONCLUSION
    (pp. 293-300)

    While our basic journey from the Greeks to Kant should lie open, the entries in this volume are not always arranged along its exact timeline. All but the first such entry, as they developed several interests, were previously published over years, in different venues with different style sheets to follow. Because of diverse readerships and the general unavailability of primary source materials, there was necessarily much repetition among the essays, their footnotes, and endnotes. To have reduced this with countless cross references and constant required thumbing back and forth, would not have made the present reader’s task any easier. Suffice...

  17. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 301-318)
  18. Indices
    (pp. 319-326)
  19. Back Matter
    (pp. 327-332)