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On Analogy

A Brief Primer on the Doctrine’s Confusion

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Few topics have brought as much consternation to Thomists than that of analogy; not only those living and writing in the contemporary period (subsequent, that is, to the Leonine revival initiated in 1879), but stretching back to the first fluorescence of Thomism begun in the late fourteenth century, the question of analogy has wrought the wringing of hands.  In this earlier Thomism, two names stand out with particular importance: namely, Thomas Cajetan and Sylvester of Ferrara, authors notable not only for their independent contributions, but as those whose commentaries were included in the Leonine editions of the Summa Theologiae (Cajetan) and the Summa contra Gentiles (Sylvester).  Cajetan shifted the discourse on analogy, however, through an independent work of his own (De Nominum Analogia), often thought to be an indirect elaboration and commentary on Thomas Aquinas’ own doctrine of analogy, but well-demonstrated in recent years to be his own relatively original teaching.[1]

Largely because of Cajetan’s interjection (and the mistaken interpretations of its intent), the twentieth century saw an explosion of treatments concerning analogy.  Not only did monographs on the topic proliferate, but nearly every book of Thomistic philosophy, it seems, at least adverted to the integral importance of analogy—while few did little to clarify precisely what it was, even those monographs dedicated to the question.  Indeed, it seems that these works not only failed to bring clarity, but instead stirred up even worse yet the mud.

But what, we must ask, makes this doctrine so contentious?

Origin of Controversy

To provide the briefest summary possible: Aristotle twice in his Metaphysics (a name not chosen by his own volition) makes the assertion that “being is said in many ways.”  More literally translated into Latin, this would be rendered multiplicter dicitur, and such is a formulation we find Aquinas using often.  However, by a conflation of translations, the term analogia—despite in Aristotle’s Greek being reserved to the proportion of mathematical relations—was transferred into Latin as synonymous with the multiplicter dicitur, and thus rendered by Aquinas occasionally with the phrases analogia or analogice dictum (“analogically said”).[2]

When Aquinas refers to analogy, we see he does so as a way of naming through a kind of relation to something understood according to the perfection which we are able to grasp.  Thus, when we say that exercise is “healthy”, this is because we know the perfection of a healthy body, and that exercise is healthy because it has a relation to making bodies healthy.  Somewhat similarly, when we say that God is “good”, we do this not by knowing the goodness of God directly, but because we know the goodness of things God has created and can therefore infer logically that the goodness belonging to finite perfections has an infinite (and therefore incomprehensible) existence in the Divine Creator.  Unlike the predication of “healthy”, we do not in the case of “goodness” know the greater perfection, but only the lesser and the derivative.  Nevertheless, though our knowledge of the greater perfection remains incomplete, we can nevertheless hold it as true, albeit necessarily mediated through the lesser perfections which we do comprehend (as, indeed, we would not know the healthiness of exercise if not for knowing the health of bodies).

The diverse kinds of analogy presented in Aquinas, however, gives rise to the question: what exactly is it that differentiates the kind of analogy employed in speaking of “health” as opposed to speaking of “good”?  It does not seem unfair to claim that, even though Cajetan was not intending to provide an expository commentary on Aquinas’ teaching, he does take this question as his point of departure.

Cajetan’s Confusion

For the sake of brevity, I will not here elaborate on these distinctions (which provide an interesting cognitive exercise but which, I think, will ultimately dissipate through disuse).  Instead, we should attend to one of the principal terms, central to discussions of analogy, upon which Cajetan attempted to shine a light: namely, being.  Here, Cajetan seems to re-center the discussion on the idea of proportionality, drawing upon the original meaning of the Greek term analogia.  Certain terms, and most especially that of being—ens, in Latin—were proposed by Cajetan to be significative of concepts which were themselves analogical, in contrast to those which are univocally predicated (that is, said with one meaning in every instance).  I have criticized this view at some length elsewhere.[3]  Summarily, it is a strange shift to take a property of linguistic signifiers, namely their univocal or analogical mode of predication, and attribute this to the concept.  There are many problems this causes for knowledge.[4]

To leap ahead more than five hundred years, we find the Thomists of the twentieth century, whose concerns were shaped by the need to respond against the faults of modern idealistic philosophy, themselves deeply dissatisfied with Cajetan’s doctrine (most especially when mistaking it to be an interpretation of St. Thomas).  In part, it seems, their dissatisfaction was spurred by the failure of Cajetan’s doctrine to answer the objection, propagated largely by Immanuel Kant, that “being” (and all forms of the verb to be) constitute naught but an empty predicate: that saying “there are” of “a hundred dollars” adds nothing conceptually (let alone to our bank accounts).  Thomists were—rightly, but undoubtedly excessively—concerned to defend the reality of esse (the infinitive of “to be” and used often by Aquinas to designate the act of existence itself as a real principle distinct from the essences of being), and especially to demonstrate how this reality overcomes the “epistemological gap” introduced by Descartes in asking how we can know that our ideas represent the extramental world as it really is.

Analogy of Being

Thus, it was thought, an answer might be found in not merely having an analogical concept of being, but in holding that being itself is analogically.  To illustrate this point, John Deely, in his 2002 article, “The Absence of Analogy”, cites a 1940 publication by Edward T. Foote:

It is because things really are analogous that the universe presents itself, a unity, attractive to intellect, and penetrable by knowledge which excels science.  It is because things are analogous that mind can course up and down the grades (the “steps’” of perfections—where univocal unities would be futile—can freely range transversely from category to category.  By analogies man can go from himself, the being he knows best, far down to the truth, the goodness, the beauty of all inferior creation, which is ordered to him; he can rise to know something of what it means to be a creature without matter.  Finally, since beings are analogous to Being, from the existence and perfections of finite things, man can have knowledge of the transcendence excellences, the very subsistence of God.

Foote 1940: “Anatomy of Analogy”, The Modern Schoolman 18: 12–16.  Cited in Deely 2002: “The Absence of Analogy”, The Review of Metaphysics, 55.3: 547n32.  As Deely comments, “Pure Neoplatonism unconscious of itself.”

What would it mean for things to be analogous?  The suggestion of Foote, that there exists within all diverse things a commonality of being that allows our minds to “freely range transversely from category to category” seems in no way distinct from any generic and supposedly “univocal concept” (or “univocal essence”—which would be univocal, by contrast, to analogical “being”, one must presume)—as, indeed, the concept of “deer” being grasped allows me freely to consider the eight different ruminants picking through the snow in my neighbor’s yard at this very moment; as, indeed, by “ruminant” I am free to consider not only the deer, but the giraffe, the elk, even the bison.

I am not here proposing a solution to the question of analogy; a question legitimate and not easily resolved.  Nor can the thoughts of Neoplatonists or those under their sway be cavalierly dismissed.  But we would do well to stop and reconsider what reality we are signifying by the term “analogy” before we say that something is or is not analogical.

If you would like to participate in the weekly Lyceum Institute Philosophical Happy Hour this Wednesday, 1 February 2023 from 5:45–7:15pm ET, request an invite here! Just write “Happy Hour” in the form!


[1] Cf. Hochschild 2010: The Semantics of Analogy.

[2] Note, however, that “multipliciter dicitur” is, by far, his preferred term.

[3] And criticized it rather harshly, as some would hold.  See Kemple 2017: Ens Primum Cognitum, 40–51.

[4] The biggest of which would be the converse implication concerning “univocal” concepts: as though a concept not in and of itself analogical must signify precise the same cognition-independent reality—as though there exists a quantum entanglement between the concept and every instance in which the concept is precisely realized independently of the mind.

[2023 Winter] Aquinas’ Cosmological Vision

All of us, it seems, today bear a heavy burden of being. Increasingly, we may find it difficult to rise from our beds and confront the day: indeed, even for those who persevere, it is a perseverance, it is a confrontation. The world challenges our fortitude. But why?

We might assign, and justly, many different causes for the increased burden: politics, news, the increased saturation of our lives by notes of strife and conflict; the ubiquitous screens which threaten our hold on reality. But behind these many immediate causes of fragmentation lies a deeper darkness. For our burden is caused not by the what of our lives, but by the why. More truly, it is the absence of a why. Put in other words, even those who have a strong sense of purpose as individuals suffer from the broader cultural nihilism. We are not pure individuals, after all. We cannot but be affected by our friends, family, even our casual acquaintances.

Thus, our burden comes from what we might call a nihilistic background cosmological image: the widespread belief that the universe is inherently meaningless, and that any meaning assigned to things, relationships, or events, is the product of human invention. The universe looms dark and empty. The earth is small and fragile, and we human beings even more so.

In stark contrast to such nihilistic presuppositions—which have leached into the fabric of our late-modern culture—shines the cosmological vision of St. Thomas Aquinas. Many might disregard, out of hand, the cosmology of someone living still under belief in a geocentric model. Indeed, the particulars of St. Thomas’ background image were inaccurate. But, despite the particular shortcomings, we can, by examining how he arrived at his understanding of the universe, that the vision still today applies to our own cosmology. Rather than a dark, empty void, bereft of meaning and purpose, we can discover the cosmos yet retains a meaningful structure: and in this, I believe, we discover hope—and a lightening of our burden.

This is an introductory seminar. View the syllabus here and learn more about Lyceum Institute seminars here. Participants will be challenged but need no prior experience. Digital copies of all readings will be provided.

Schedule

Discussion Sessions
1:15pm ET
(World times)
Study Topics &
Readings

January
14
Week 1: Governance of the Universe
Lecture: Humility in the Pursuit of Wisdom
Readings:
» Aquinas – Expositio in Symbolorum Apostolorum, preface & c.1.
January
21
Week 2: Vision of Creation
Lecture: Aquinas contra Nihilism
Reading:
» Aquinas – Summa contra Gentiles Book II (SCG.II), c.15-24.
January
28
Week 3: Necessity in Creation
Lecture: The Proportionality of Creation
Reading:
» Aquinas – SCG.II, c.25-31.
February
4
Week 4: Limits of Reason
Lecture: The Eternal and the Temporal
Reading:
» Aquinas – SCG.II, c.32-38.
February
11

BREAK
February
18
Week 5: Distinction of Being
Lecture: Diversity of Beings
Reading:
» Aquinas – SCG.II, c.39-45.
February
 25
Week 6: Intellect in the Cosmos
Lecture: The Audience of Creation
Reading:
» Aquinas – SCG.II, c.46-55.
March
4
Week 7: Goodness and Perfection
Lecture: The Constitution of Goodness
Readings:
» Aquinas – Summa Theologiae (ST) Ia, q.4-5.
March
11
Week 8: Perfection and its Relations
Lecture: Threefold Relationality of Perfection
Readings
» Aquinas – ST Ia, q.6, a.3-4 and q.45, a.7-8.

Registration

Lyceum Institute seminar costs are structured on a principle of financial subsidiarity. There are three payment levels, priced according to likely levels of income. If you wish to take a seminar but cannot afford the suggested rate, it is acceptable to sign up at a less-expensive level. The idea is: pay what you can. Those who can pay more, should, so that those who cannot pay as much, need not. Lyceum Institute members receive a further discount (see here for details).

Aquinas Cosmological Vision

[2023W] Aquinas’ Cosmological Vision – Benefactor

Recommended for those with fulltime employment in well-paying professions and sufficient resources to provide a little more.

$200.00

Aquinas Cosmological Vision

[2023W] Aquinas’ Cosmological Vision – Patron

Recommended for those in professions that do not pay as well as they ought and for whom continued education is especially important (including professors and clergy).

$135.00

Aquinas Cosmological Vision

[2023W] Aquinas’ Cosmological Vision – Participant

Recommended for those who are currently students or with part-time employment.

$60.00

[Fall 2022] Metaphysics: The Depths of Act & Potency

“In long Indian file, as when herons take wing, the white birds were now all flying towards Ahab’s boat; and when within a few yards began fluttering over the water there, wheeling round and round, with joyous, expectant cries.  Their vision was keener than man’s; Ahab could perceive no sign in the sea.  But suddenly as he peered down and down into the depths, he profoundly saw a white living spot no bigger than a white weasel, with wonderful celerity uprising, and magnifying as it rose, till it turned, and then there were plainly revealed two long crooked rows of white, glistening teeth, floating up from the undiscoverable bottom.”

-Melville, Moby Dick
Chapter 133: The Chase—First Day.
Download the Syllabus
View the Syllabus

While preparing a lecture on the contribution made by Thomas Aquinas to the historical development of semiotics—particularly as it helped move understanding past the initial contributions to a Latin theory of signs constituted by Augustine of Hippo—I found that nothing was more central to the advance of this narrative than the Aristotelian doctrine of act and potency.  To understand the efficacy of a sign, that is, we need to understand relations, and to understand relations, we need to understand act and potency.

As I took one brief dive after another into the relevant texts of Aquinas—most especially his Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle—I fleetingly glimpsed what seemed an endless series of wonderous observations, each more than the last deserving of a thorough investigation.  This seminar provides an opportunity for all interested to join collaboratively in making such an inquiry.

Act and potency, I must admit, have together always seemed a doctrine that—despite long familiarity with the teaching—has escaped me for its depths.  The two interrelated concepts are indefinable, but not for lack of intelligibility; indeed, they are so rich that all description leaves us infinitely short of having exhausted their meaning or their pertinence to our lives.  To think of potency is to think of what is intelligible only in the light of act, but not as itself an act; to distinguish passive and active potency is to get a foothold on the nature of change, but through something itself unchanging.  It is through the change from potency to act that we come to know what anything is; and, indeed, such a change is how knowledge itself is realized within us.

If we are to explain being—to know being—we must know and be able to explain the distinction between those elements which divide it all. We must peer beyond what eyes can see.

Ten minute lecture preview
Discussion Sessions
3:30pm ET

(World times)
Study Topics &
Readings

September
24
Week 1: Form as Cause of Being & Knowing
Lecture: Principle of Substance, End of Knowledge
Readings:
» Aristotle’s Metaphysics, Book VII, c.17.
» Aquinas’ Commentary on the Metaphysics, lib.7, lec.17 (§1648–1680).
» Owens’ Doctrine of Being in the Aristotelian Metaphysics, c.12 (375-77).
October
1
Week 2: Form as Principle of Composite Being
Lecture: Intelligible Relations of Form and Matter
Reading:
» Aristotle’s Metaphysics, Book VIII, c.1-2.
» Aristotle’s Physics, Book II, c.1.
» Aquinas’ Commentary, lib.8, lec.1-2 (§1681–1702).
October
8
Week 3: The One and the Many
Lecture: Infinite Material Plurality
Reading:
» Aristotle’s Metaphysics, Book VIII, c.3-6.
» Aquinas’ Commentary, lib.8, lec.3-5 (§1703–1767).
» Owens’ Doctrine, c.13 (379-99).
October
15
Week 4: Definition and Distinction of Potency
Lecture: Discerning the Meaning of Potency
Reading:
» Aristotle’s Metaphysics, Book IX, 1-2.
» Aquinas’ Commentary, lib.9, lec.1-2 (§1768–1794).
» Owens’ Doctrine, c.14, parts I-II (403-06).
October
22

BREAK
October
29
Week 5: The Grounds of Potency
Lecture: Potency and Possibility
Reading:
» Aristotle’s Metaphysics, Book IX, 3-5.
» Aquinas’ Commentary, lib.9, lec.3-4 (§1795–1822).
November
 5
Week 6: Analogical Primacy of Act
Lecture: The Speaking of What Is
Reading:
» Aristotle’s Metaphysics, Book IX, 6-7.
» Aquinas’ Commentary, lib.9, lec.5-6 (§1823–1843).
November
12
Week 7: Explanatory Primacy of Act
Lecture: The Existing of What Is
Readings:
» Aristotle’s Metaphysics, Book IX, 8-9.
» Aquinas’ Commentary, lib.9, lec.7-10 (§1844–1894).
» Owens’ Doctrine, c.14, part III (406-409).
November
19
Week 8: The Divisions of Being
Lecture: The Governance of Truth and Falsity
Readings
» Aristotle’s Metaphysics, Book IX, 10.
» Aquinas’ Commentary, lib.9, lec.11 (§1895–1919).
» Owens’ Doctrine, c.15 (411-41).

This is an advanced seminar. View the syllabus here and learn more about Lyceum Institute seminars here. Participants should have at least basic familiarity with Aristotelian physics and Thomistic psychology before enrolling.

Lyceum Institute seminar costs are structured on a principle of financial subsidiarity. There are three payment levels, priced according to likely levels of income. If you wish to take a seminar but cannot afford the suggested rate, it is acceptable to sign up at a less-expensive level. The idea is: pay what you can. Those who can pay more, should, so that those who cannot pay as much, need not. Lyceum Institute members receive a further discount (see here for details).

Registration is closed.

[Summer 2022] Philosophical Thought of Garrigou-Lagrange

Philosophizing in Faith: The Philosophical Thought of Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange

Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, styled by certain parties as the “Sacred Monster of Thomism,” taught at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas (the “Angelicum”) in Rome for a long career of over fifty years.  Although he is normally understood to be a conservative Roman theologian of his period, an honest assessment of his work shows that, while being integrated deeply into the Dominican schola Thomae, he was an active thinker, synthesizing, with a particular strength in pedagogy, Thomistic thought on many topics in theology and philosophy. This seminar will primarily consider his philosophical thought, tracing his treatment of topics pertaining to the philosophy of knowledge, metaphysics, moral philosophy, politics, with a bit of logic as well; it will end with a consideration of Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange’s presentation of the boundaries between faith and reason.   Throughout the seminar, emphasis will be placed on his organic connection with the Thomistic tradition as well as with the ongoing development of Thomistic thought in the many figures he influenced over the course of years of teaching and writing.

Listen to a preview here

What is final causality?

To our day, the greatest philosophers, in agreement with natural reason, have said, “Becoming is not self-explanatory. It cannot exist by itself. It is not related to reality or to being as A is to A, as white is to white, as light is to light, and as spirit is to spirit.” First of all, it requires a subject. Movement is always the movement of something—of water, air, or the ether. Movement in general does not exist as such. Only this movement exists. It is only this movement or this becoming because it is the movement of this subject, of this mobile thing. No dream without a dreamer, no flight without that which flies, no outflow without a liquid, no flow without a fluid (no matter how subtle and small it might be). No thought without a mind, and if a mind is not, like God, Thought Itself and Truth Itself Ever Actually Known ab aeterno, it is distinct from its thinking and from its thoughts, which vary and are concerned with various objects while it remains one and the same (i.e., the same substantial being under the multiple and changing phenomena). And this imperfect mind cannot know without the concurrence of Him who is Thought Itself, Truth Itself, and Life Itself, He who is more intimately present to us than we ourselves are to ourselves, all the while being really and essentially distinct from us.

Garrigou-Lagrange, The Order of Things: The Realism of the Principle of Finality, 72.

Lyceum Institute seminar costs are structured on a principle of financial subsidiarity. There are three payment levels, priced according to likely levels of income. If you wish to take a seminar but cannot afford the suggested rate, it is acceptable to sign up at a less-expensive level. The idea is: pay what you can. Those who can pay more, should, so that those who cannot pay as much, need not. Lyceum Institute members receive a further discount (see here for details).

DISCUSSIONS:
July 2—27 August
Saturdays, 9:00-10:00am ET /
1:00-2:00pm UTC

WHERE:
Lyceum Institute digital platform run on Microsoft Teams

In this seminar, lasting 8 weeks (with a break at the halfway point—see here for more information on all Lyceum Institute seminars), we will discover the profound insights of Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, a thinker of great subtly and wisdom. The instructor for this seminar is Dr. Matthew Minerd, Professor of Philosophy and Moral theology at the Byzantine Catholic Seminary of Ss. Cyril and Methodius in Pittsburgh, PA and Faculty Fellow of the Lyceum Institute. You can read more about Dr. Minerd here.

[2022Su-B] Philosophizing in Faith – Participant

Recommended for those who are currently students or with part-time employment.

$80.00

[2022Su-B] Philosophizing in Faith – Patron

Recommended for those in professions that do not pay as well as they ought and for whom continued education is especially important (including professors and clergy).

$135.00

[2022Su-B] Philosophizing in Faith – Benefactor

Recommended for those with fulltime employment in well-paying professions and sufficient resources to provide a little more in support of the Lyceum Institute and its mission.

$200.00