The Nominalistic Critique

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Besides objections (coming) from Natural Science to a Substance-Accident interpretation of Reality [ (objections) pointing to a possible totally dynamic world, without "things", or, to the possibility of (there being) one "thing" only, namely the whole Universe as one dynamical system, resulting in a world, reminiscent of the conception of Spinoza ],   there is also some critique from Philosophy itself, namely from Nominalism.
As has been laid down in the Essay on the Historical Individuum versus Here-and-now Individuum, Nominalism does not recognize : It ascribes these distinctions and differences exclusively to our way of thinking and verbal expression (predication), implying that they have at most a logical status, and certainly not an ontological one.

The Nominalistic critique could persuade us to replace the Substance-Accident Structure (of every genuine being), by (just) a bundle structure -- a bundle of qualia (= determinations) inhering in a "bare-particular", i.e. every being is a (further and finally) determined (i.e. concrete) individual, but it is a being consisting solely of determinations (qualia), without these qualia being received by a carrier, a subject, or a substrate.
But, in fact (as will be shown) this critique leads to a replacement of the Substance-Accident Structure (of every genuine being) by an Essence - Accident Structure, equivalent to a Dynamical Law - System State Structure.

First Substance and Second Substance

Let us start with a result by Aristotle, followed by St Thomas in In VII Met., lectio 13, nr. 1572 and 1573, that a 'universal' cannot be a Substance. As such this is, with respect to a universal, a nominalistic position. We are curious whether this position is held everywhere within the field of Thomistic metaphysics (See for "universals" the Essay The Universal (Non-classical Series) and the Essay Essence and Universal in the Thomistic View(Classical Series).
In In VII Met., lectio 13, nr. 1575--1578, St Thomas -- following Aristotle -- shows that also the 'second substances' are not Substances. Only within a logical context they are substances (See for "First Substance" and "Second Substance" the relevant Section in the Essay What determines something to be a Substance? (Classical series)).
In the First Philosophy ( = the philosophy of real Being) the predicability of a second substance of something else (for instance in "Socrates is a human", where "human" is a second substance, and "Socrates" is a first Substance) is ontologically interpreted, which means that the second substance is viewed as existing in an actually existing subject. But, because a genuine Substance by definition cannot be in an actually existing subject, such a second substance is not a genuine Substance (nr. 1576).
In 1577 and 1578 he shows (again following Aristotle), that also a genus (for instance "animal") cannot be a Substance (just like a species -- for instance "human" -- cannot be a Substance, according to nr. 1573).
So second substance, in the form of a species, or in the form of a genus -- and as such it is a universal -- is 'substance' in a logical context only (which is the context of the way of knowing and the way of being known).
In nr. 1579 and nr. 1580 St Thomas says that a Substance cannot be constituted by qualitative parts, because then they would, as qualities (Accidents) be prior to Substance.
Hence if universals would be things, separately existing from singular things [as is, in a sense, the case with Accidents, namely in that sense that they differ from their subject -- this is the analogia entis (= the analogy of Being)], then they cannot constitute a singular thing, i.e. a singular thing cannot be composed of universals, if such a singular thing is considered to be a (first) substance.
In nr. 1581 however, he says that second substances are, to be sure, 'quales', but not in the same way as Accidents (belonging to the category of Quality) are, they are substantial quales (versus accidental quales). And if we -- nr. 1583 -- assume that genera and species are not things or natures different from the singular things (as are, ina way, accidents), it follows that those second substances are not (signifying) Accidents, but substantial quales. He indicates for example that human being is this human being, and that it is not the case that human being is something apart from this human being, in the sense of an Accident.

Regarding all this I would like to remark the following :
The "to be apart" of an Accident with respect to its subject, is -- within the analogia entis (See for this the Essay The Analogy of Being) -- not a "to be apart" just like that, it is a very weakened "to be apart", for we can after all perform IS-pronouncements also with Accidents :  for instance "that human being IS white", just as we also can say that Socrates IS a human being, or that a human being IS an organism.
So the connection between Substance and Accident is fairly strong. However with it we can note that "white" is only accidentally connected with Socrates, or with human being, because it can be replaced by another Accident, while "organism" is per se (= necessarily) connected with human being. Seen in this light, "white" is relatively apart from human being, in contrast to "organism". In this way the argument of St Thomas holds fine (if indeed the per accidens is taken into account).
But it becomes more problematic when we consider a genuine property (proprium), which, in Classical Metaphysics, is still interpreted as a predicamental Accident. Is then such a property, when it is a specific proprium, for instance "the ability to laugh" in man, also 'apart' (from the subject) like "white" is? This is a problem, because now we cannot use the interchangeability criterion (for recognizing an Accident) anymore : A proprium, by definition, constantly accompanies its subject. According to that criterion such a property would not be an Accident.
The fact that such a proprium (a specific proprium) is always present in every representative of the species, could point to its status as being not apart from the subject (i.e. from the Substance, here taken to be the composite of prime matter and substantial form). And if we consider it to be apart nevertheless, then, in the same way, we are justified to consider "(being an) organism" as being apart from the subject, because of the fact that "(being an) organism" has the same status as a proprium :   it is always present in every individual of a certain genus of things, implying that it is also so present in a certain species. And then "(being an) organism" would also be a quale, albeit more general, and so also, "sensitive organism", "human being", and the like. This would finally boil down to (something like) a 'Bare Particular View' from the modern literature (mentioned, among others, by GRACIA, 1988, Individuality), or to a 'Bundle Theory', also from the modern literature, because then everything (i.e. every determination whatsoever) would be a quale. A quale of what? Of nothing. A thing is just a bundle of quales (i.e. everything is apart from the subject, so there is no subject anymore).
Let us summarize all this, in the light of the nominalistic critique :
Thomism interprets replaceable determinations (accidents) as being, in a sense, apart from their subject, i.e. they are some sort of beings, differing from their subject.
But Thomism considers genuine properties (propria) also as being apart from their subject. But then it is in fact forced to admit that also those quales, which it considers to be substantial quales, are apart from their subject, and consequently that every content, every determination whatsoever, is apart from the subject, implying the latter to be fully deprived of any content. A thing (a being) would then only be an incoherent bundle of quales. It is no unity anymore and does not have a nature, an essence. These quales would not admit of any distinction between essential ('substantial') and non-essential ('accidental') quales, because we could not distinguish between those quales that derive directly from the nature of the thing and those that do not. In short, things would not admit of them having a substance-accident structure.
Nominalism can blame Thomism for being caught up in this dilemma (i.e. that Thomism has to deny itself), because of the fact that it starts with a position that replaceable determinations as well as genuine properties are beings existing in some way apart from their subject, a position denied by Nominalism. For Nominalism such determinations and properties are descriptions of (a given) substance, and only of (that given) substance. They do not enjoy any real existence all by themselves.

Also from the requirement that one Substance possesses only one substantial form follows (See nr. 1588) that universals are not Substances. If a certain individual Substance is one, then it is not composed of several actual Substances (it does consist of potential ones). And hence if such an individual Substance would be composed of universals, then these universals are not Substances. The 'Substances' of which a certain Substance consists are consequently only potentially present. Nominalism agrees that universals are not Substances (i.e. that universals are not real), but disagrees that something can be (just) potentially present.

In nr. 1589 St Thomas says that Democritus was in this sense right in asserting that it is impossible that one thing is created from two things, and from one thing two. But he did not distinguish between potential and actual, resulting in their being only actual units from which everything is constituted (hence from atoms). But then the composites are just aggregates of atoms and consequently not (new) Totalities. Thus from a pair of actual things, A and B, no unitary (new) actual thing C can be created, and vice versa. But from the potency-to-become-C (residing) in A and B, it is indeed possible to generate C (i.e. actual C), and vice versa.
In nr. 1591 St Thomas again states clearly that a Substance which is composed, is not composed of actual Substances, but of potential ones (and these can become actual).
So according to this view a Substance is a continuum, and, with respect to whatever Substance composed of different elements [ Not meant here is the matter-form composition ], it is a heterogeneous continuum (See HOENEN, 1947, Philosophie der Anorganische Natuur) (NOTE 1 ).
To be just potentially (versus to be actually) of whatever-something is denied by Nominalism. Potential and actual are just modal categories relating to certain types of propositions. All this means that Nominalism holds that the distinction between potential and actual is not an ontological distinction, but (only) a logical distinction. Every being whatsoever is actual. So the elements that have made up a mixtum perfectum do not create a new Substance, because there is no potentially existing Substance present in the collection of elements. Thus, for example, a human being -- which is assessed to be a Substance (also) by Nominalism -- is not truly generated from such a collection. Indeed, at the time when Nominalism was first proposed, one did not think in terms of the generation of a human being, or whatever Substance, from existing elements. Substances were supposed to be directly created by God, also in the case of human reproduction. In Thomism one speaks, it is true, of the possibility of substantial change, but this meant nothing else than the substitution of one substantial form by another. And although this substitution was supposed to take place in a substrate (that itself remains constant), causing the process to be a genuine change, that substrate itself had to be devoid of any content (it is 'prime matter') implying that the process is some sort of creation after all. In Thomism therefore, one prefers to speak about the constitution (instead of the actual generation) of, say, a human being. And this constitution was seen as a (heterogeneous) continuum consisting of virtual parts.
The dilemma of having to accept virtual parts in (say) a human being can be circumvented by Nominalism in the following way :
When speaking of parts (and determinations) of a human being we in fact directly speak of that human being itself and nothing else. And that human being exists actually. Only individual Substances really exist, and they are the sole subjects of investigation. The fact that we speak of parts, properties and determinations is just a consequence of our way of thinking, reasoning and conceptualizing.
In this way Nominalism gets rid of all the problems related to the alleged real existence of parts, properties and determinations. Parts are only present in aggregates, (namely) the artefacts created by humans as well as natural aggregates. And there they are actually present, because an aggregate is a multitude of individual Substances.

The Species-Individuum Structure

According to Nominalism it is only individuals that exist in Reality, and these individuals are different from each other in every respect. However some of them look like each other and are placed in a class by us. So here it is out of the question that there could be any Essence, which repeats itself in an exact way, by being distributed over the individuals of that class, and becoming thereby in each separate case itself individuated. Expressed differently : The Species-Individuum Structure only holds approximately, but, by the way, enough to form the basis for scientific induction (See the Essay on The Species-Individuum Structure). Hence there would be no genuine Substance-Accident Structure, because this structure also presupposes such a possibility of exact repetition.

But perhaps a theory of Structural Levels provides a way out :
According to such a theory the exactly repeatable Essence of a thing is : The whatness of the thing (seen) at the highest level, while, (seen) at a lower level, all the individuals differ from each other in every respect. At this (lower) level they do not show a common nature. So such an Essence is only present (and as such visible) at a high structural level (See however NOTE 2 ). In this way a Substance is, insofar as its whatness is concerned, a homogenous continuum, while with respect to (certain) properties it is a heterogenous continuum. Expressed differently : A Substance is a homogenous continuum in substantial respect. It is a heterogenous continuum in accidental respect. So the thing possesses a whatness (situated) at a high level (of the thing), and this whatness -- which we could call Essence -- could remain the same in different cases, which -- at a low level -- differ from each other. Such a whatness accordingly shows a certain degree of medium-independency.
One should -- by investigating the stucture of natural things, and, as the case may be, by the study of computer simulations -- see whether such a medium-independency is at all possible (See the Essay on Medium-independency).
A relevant Thomistic text relating to the Species-Individuum Structure is : In VII Met. lectio 11, nr. 1535.

The solution of the problem, concerning the status of the Essence, discussed briefly above -- which was after all only a preliminary one -- will be further discussed in the next Essays.

Ontological Status of the Accidents

In the above we discussed Substance, namely the ontological status of Second Substance, concluding that only First Substance is Substance, while Second Substance is not (a) Substance, but the Essence of such a (First) Substance. However the essential quales could not be unequivocally distinguished from those qualia relating to the specific proprium. And this puts pressure on the distinction between Substance and Accident (Accidents, here in the sense of all types of non-substantial qualia, including propria, i.e. in the sense of auxiliary beings, that are more or less apart from their subject), because, in order to identify something as an Accident, we cannot apply the mutual exchangeability of quales against a constant subject anymore. Indeed, a strict Nominalism does not attribute to Accidents any ontological status of their own. They do not refer to themselves (they do not have an '(it)self' -- in whatever weakened way), but directly to the Substance involved. They are ways of being of Substance -- this is also asserted by St Thomas ( NOTE 3 ), but this still doesn't make them beings. In this way Quantity is in fact Substance-being-quantitative (quantitative Substance), Quality is Substance-being-qualitative, etc. Reason in this way isolates in each case a certain aspect of Substance, but this does not imply something that could be ontologically isolated, i.e. something that could be ontologically isolated from its Substance, and surely not something which is actually isolated from its Substance.
If we limit ourselves to the Real World (in contrast to the Ideal, immaterial World, if such a world exists), then we can, along  n o m i n a l i s t i c  lines, say :
Every being is quantitative (by its nature), every being is (moreover) qualitative, every being is (moreover) related (to other beings), etc.
Which in fact means :
Every Substance is quantitative (by its nature), every Substance is (moreover) qualitative, etc. And nominalism only recognizes substances as genuine objectively existing beings.
In the previous Essay we spoke about transcendentals. A term is a transcendental if it can be applied to all categorical beings. We found out that the terms  QUANTITY,  QUALITY, etc. are not equivalent to the terms already admitted as to be transcendentals :   UNITY,  GOOD,  BEING, etc. So, against Nominalism we can say that these terms (QUANTITY,  QUALITY, etc.) are not transcendentals. Reasoning the other way around we can say that something is a being if and only if (at least) all the admitted transcendental terms can be simultaneously applied to that something. We can say for instance that Socrates is simultaneously a unity, good, a being, etc., so Socrates is a being. The same applies to Plato, Peter, the dog Dena, etc. So, generally we can say that a Substance is simultaneously a unity, good, a being, etc., and thus a Substance is a being.
But does this also apply to Accidents? Is 1.50 length simultaneously a unity, good, a being, etc., and thus a (genuine) being? And, generally, is an Accident a being?
Let us quote VENNIX, A., 1998, Wat is waarheid? (What is truth?), page 147 :
"'Aliquid' [( = 'Something' ), this is one of the transcendental notions, along with Unity, Goodness, etc. ] according to St Thomas means as much as 'aliud quid', i.e. another something. For every being is with respect to all other beings another something. Just like ens [ = being ] and res [ = thing ],  unum and aliquid are two sides of the same coin : in-itself-undivided (indivisum in se) every being is divided-from-the-others (divisum ab aliis)."
Seen in this way every being is indivisum in se and divisum ab aliis. And hence every being is in Thomism an individual (an individuum, according to the classical definition of "an individual"). But in Thomism "every being" not only refers to Substances, but also to Accidents (These are, within this view, to be sure, beings in a weaker degree, but nevertheless still beings). But Accidents are (also according to the view mentioned) not individuals, they just are individual. They are individual in virtue of First Substance of which they are determinations.
From this it seems to follows that the unum (indivisum in se) and the aliquid (divisum ab aliis) cannot refer (both at the same time) to Accidents, and hence Accidents are not beings. So, while we disagree with Nominalism that the terms QUANTITY, QUALITY, etc. are transcendentals, we seem to be forced to agree that Accidents are not beings.

Let us summarize all this, and investigate it further :
If accidents  ( per se  and  per accidens  determinations) are considered in some way to be  b e i n g s  -- as Thomism assumes --, then we can say that the terms ONE (abstract term :  unity or oneness), GOOD (abstract term :  goodness), etc., can be predicated of every being whatsoever, which here means that they can be predicated of any given substance as well as of any given accident. Indeed, in the same way that we can say that whatever given substance is always  ONE,  GOOD, etc., we can say that whatever given quantity is always  ONE,  GOOD, etc., or that whatever given quality is always  ONE,  GOOD, etc., and so on. These terms thus transcend the classification of categories, and are therefore called  transcendentals (transcendental terms).
What about the terms  QUANTITATIVE,  QUALITATIVE,  RELATIONAL, etc. (figuring in, say, "This is quantitative, etc.) and their corresponding abstract terms  QUANTITY,  QUALITY,  RELATION, etc. (figuring in "this is a quantity, etc.)? Is every being (not only ONE, GOOD, etc., but also) quantitative? Is every being (not only ONE, GOOD, etc., but also) qualitative? Is every being (not only ONE, GOOD, etc., but also) relational? According to Thomism this is not so :  a quality is not quantitative (it does have -- it is true -- an intrinsic quantitative aspect, namely its dimension of intensity, but it is not a quantity). By the same token a quantity is not a quality (every quantity involves -- it is true -- quality [in order to be observable and measurable], but it is not a quality), and so on. So according to Thomism the terms  QUANTITATIVE,  QUALITATIVE,  RELATIONAL, etc. (together with their abstract counterparts) are not transcendental.
However, if we would adhere to nominalism, then only individual substances exist. The different 'accidents' are just different ways of expressing substance. When we say that Socrates is a quantity (or, equivalently, Socrates is quantitative [that is, he is quantitatively determined] ),  we still mean Socrates, which is an individual substance. From this individual substance we have  mentally  isolated some aspect (which is physically and ontologically inseparabe from that substance). Socrates is (among other things) quantitative. So within this view every being not only is ONE, GOOD, etc., but also  QUANTITATIVE,  QUALITATIVE, etc. (because the only beings that are admitted by nominalism are [individual] substances). And so  QUANTITATIVE,  QUALITATIVE, etc. (together with their abstract counterparts) are, for nominalism, transcendental terms (which is trivial, because for nominalism the 'scheme of Categories' consists of the category of Substance only, so this 'scheme' is always transcended).
Let us work out further.
An individual (that is, an individuum) is separated from other individuals not only often with respect to intelligible content, but also spatially. Even when the intelligible contents are identical, they are spatially separated from each other (a given NaCl crystal is spatially separated from another such NaCl crystal). So the 'divisum ab aliis' (separated from others) -- as it is a part of the definition of 'individuum' -- can refer to intelligible content and must in all cases refer, at the same time, to the spatial dimension. And only something that is divisum ab aliis in both senses or at least in the spatial sense, and, in addition to this, is 'indivisum in se' (undivided in itself, unity), is a true individuum.
For something to be just  i n d i v i d u a l  (and thus not necessarily an individuum), however, these features (indivisum in se and divisum ab aliis) are not necessary :  Something is already individual if it derives its being from a genuine individuum. It then is individual in virtue of some individuum in which it inheres :  Because the Totality (substance s.str. + accidents) is an individuum, and therefore individual, any accident inhering in it is also individual.
The accident, all by itself, is no more than an intelligible content. And such an intelligible content is only separate from other intelligible contents by being different qua content. It cannot be separate from the same intelligible content (red cannot be separate from red), which means that it is not spatially separate from any other identical or different content (which can only be achieved by means of it inhering in a substrate). This in turn means that such an intelligible content is not an individuum, although it is individual. So while a Totality is both an individuum and individual, an accident is only individual.
In order for aliquid (aliud quid, something else) to be predicable of something (of which the other transcendental terms are already supposed to be so predicable), it is sufficient that it (i.e. aliquid) means 'something else with respect to content' (it does not need to involve spatial separation).
If this is correct, then aliquid in the sense of aliud quid ( = something else) can legitimately be predicated not only of substance, but also of any given accident. And then we can conclude that an accident (as viewed within a Thomistic framework) is a being, because all transcendental terms (including aliquid) can -- like it is the case for substance -- be predicated of it.
As has been said, an accident derives its  i n d i v i d u a l i t y  from the Totality (prime matter + substantial form + accidents), that is from the Totality's individuality.
An accident derives its  i n t e l l i g i b l e  c o n t e n t  at least partially from the  E s s e n c e  of theTotality, that is either from the forma totius or from the substantial form alone.
Accidents depend on their subject, which ultimately is the matter-form composite. So when we consider the complete collection of accidents of a given Totality (substance s.l.), the matter-form composite (substance s.str.), or at least the substantial form, is already presupposed. It is also presupposed when considering a single accident.
So  o n t o l o g i c a l l y  the Totality and a single accident have the same status.

This means that we must not  o n t o l o g i c a l l y  contrast an accident with the Totality (substance s.l.) of which it is an accident, but with the matter-form composite (substance s.str.). And this composite is, when considered in itself, the  f o r m a  t o t i u s,  or, equivalently, the  E s s e n c e  of the Totality.
And so we must think, not in terms of a  Substance (s.l.) -- Accident Structure,  but in terms of an  Essence -- Accident Structure,  and this latter structure is equivalent to a  Dynamical law -- System state Structure.

The dynamical law is a particular configuration of certain (actually existing) properties of the (actually existing) elements of the corresponding dynamical system (a configuration out of other possible configurations [that manifest themselves in other thermodynamic conditions] ).  So the dynamical law is an  o b j e c t i v e  feature, that is, an actually existing feature (while in the praxis of natural science it is only a way of describing and explaining observed facts, that is, a model that is hoped to come close to the real state of affairs). The dynamical law is a genuine  n e x u s  c a t e g o r y  (see Fourth Part of Website :  Part I, and and the documents on Categorical Laws [ (Part XXIX Sequel-24) Part XXIX Sequel-25, Sequel-26 and Sequel-27] ),  that is a (special) ontological principle governing the succession of a particular series of particular states. And it is indeed the status of (ontological)  p r i n c i p l e  that distinguishes the dynamical law (which we can now call forma totius or Essence) from accidents (which are not principles but properties or states).
And because the dynamical law is thus an objective feature of a dynamical system, it becomes an  o b j e c t i v e  E s s e n c e  as soon as the Totality is generated by the dynamical system.
In this way nominalism is refuted, because nominalism does not acknowledge any objective status of Essence. Thus we have found a real distinction between essential quales ( = intelligible contents of the dynamical law, that is, quales of the Essence) and accidental quales ( = intelligible contents of determinations [not directly of the Essence] ).
So indeed it is wise to replace the  Substance (s.l.) ( = Totality) -- Accident Structure  by the  Substance (s.str.) ( = forma totius) -- Accident Structure,  which latter is -- as has been said -- equivalent to the  Dynamical law -- System state Structure.

While the Accidents (together making up the Substance s.l.) are, as is Substance s.l., (only) representing (that is, manifesting) the specific identity (whatness) of a being (its Essence), this Essence itself resides at another ontological level than the Accidents do. Accidents in the broadest sense are determinations, and belong to the phenotypic domain of a being. Within this group of determinations there are some that are directly caused by (i.e. are expressions of) the Dynamical law. Other determinations have a partially or wholly extrinsic origin, extrinsic with respect to the Dynamical Law (Essence).

And now also the problem concerning the distinction between  p r o p r i a  (permanent determinations, genuine properties) and  a c c i d e n t s  s. str. (replaceable determinations, states )  is solved :
Both are determinations, belonging to the phenotypical domain of a being.
Some derive directly from the Essence of that thing  ( This Essence resides at the genotypical domain of that being) and are essential determinations, better expressed :  per se  determinations  ( not to be confused with the essential quales, which directly constitute the dynamical law itself, that is, the Essence itself ).  They include, in addition to determinations like the ability to laugh (in man), also determinations like the ability to think (in man).
Others are extrinsic determinations, caused by extrinsic agents.
There is, consequently no fundamental (i.e. ontological) difference between the ability to laugh (in man) and the ability to think (in man).

Figure 1.
Left image :   Thomistic conception of Substance and Accident.
Right image :   Conception of 'Substance' and Accident proposed on this website.

In our conception (right image of the Figure) the essential determinations are placed in the domain of the Accidents, because they are  d e t e r m i n a t i o n s  (All determinations belong in the phenotypical domain of the thing). Ontologically all determinations are as determinations contrasted with the Essence ( = dynamical law).

This conclusion was reached during the process of following Nominalism. However we did not end up with (accepting) a nominalistic position, because we recognize in each individual real being an "Essence", seen as an ontological 'part' of such a being. The objective existence and status of such an "Essence" is revealed by a dynamical systems approach.

But let us first consider a preliminary solution concerning the status of Essence (already hinted at on several occasions), which, although not a final solution is nevertheless worth pursuing : Structural Levels. We'll do this in the next two Essays.

Internal and external LINKS :

The discussion between Classical Revised Substance-Accident Metaphysics (as defended on this website) and Nominalism is continued in Fifth Part of Website ,  especially in the documents on the " VIA PRAEDICATIONIS ".

Nominalism is concerned with analysing Language when critically evaluating ontological claims. There is an interesting triple site (Author Jud Evans) dealing with Language in this respect. To see it click on the following LINKS : Jud Evans - ANALYTICAL INDICANT THEORY.

Heidegger Cartoons: ----

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