Scholastic Realism and Predication
This post continues our explorations in the philosophy of The School.
What is a scholastic realist?
S is a scholastic realist =df i) S is a moderate realist and ii) S believes that universals exist in some transcendent mind, i.e., the mind of God.
A moderate realist is defined like this:
S is a moderate realist =df i) S denies that universals exist transcendently and ii) S affirms that universals exist immanently both in matter and minds.
A universal exists transcendently just in case it exists “independently of matter and mind.”
One who holds that universals exist independently of matter and mind is a Platonic or extreme realist.
A moderate realist who is not a scholastic realist Peterson describes as an Aristotelian realist.
Such a philosopher is a moderate realist who “denies that universals exist in some transcendent mind.” […]
In sum, and interpreting a bit:
Platonic or extreme realist: maintains that there are universals and that they can exist transcendently, i.e., unexemplified (uninstantiatied) and so apart from matter and mind.
Moderate realist: denies that there are any transcendent universals and maintains that universals exist only immanently in minds and in matter.
Scholastic realist: moderate realist who believes that there is a transcendent mind in which universals exist.
Aristotelian realist: moderate realist who denies that there is a transcendent mind in which universals exist.
So much for terminology.
What I would like to understand is moderate realism as Peterson defines it, which is essentially the moderate realism of Thomas Aquinas.
(To anticipate my conclusion, the Thomistic position is exceedingly obscure and perhaps unintelligible.)
In particular, what I want to understand is the second clause of Peterson’s definition.
I want to understand what it would be for universals to exist both in matter and in minds.
Now in order to understand a philosophical position, one must understand the positions it excludes and the arguments it adduces to exclude them.
So let’s look at a position Peterson calls extreme realism, and one of the arguments he gives to refute it.
For extreme realists, as Peterson describes their position, the relation between particulars and universals is one of exemplification or instantiation. (95)
Thus a’s being F is understood as a’s exemplification of F-ness, where exemplification is external.
“By this is meant that no universal or property is a constituent of a particular or vice versa.” (96)
Thus a particular’s having of a property is not to be understood as the particular’s containing it, or having it as a constituent, but as the particular’s standing in an external relation to it.
On this way of thinking, ‘This is white’ would be analyzed as follows. ‘This’ refers to a (bare) particular; ‘White’ refers to a universal; and ‘is’ expresses the relation (or Bergmannian nexus) of exemplification.
(We cannot now get into the difference between an external relation and a Bergmannian nexus except to say that Bergmann thinks his nexus does not ignite Bradley’s regress.)
The ontology of Gustav Bergmann counts as extreme realism in Peterson’s jargon.
For Bergmann, bare particulars cannot exist except as exemplifying universals, and universals cannot exist unless they are exemplified.
So Bergmann’s position is not as extreme as it would have been had he maintained that universals can exist unexemplified.
Peterson’s terminology therefore leaves something to be desired.
We ought to distinguish the following positions:
Transcendent Realism: There are universals; they can exist unexemplified; when exemplified, they are not constituents of their exemplifiers but stand in an external relation to them.
Immanent Realism: There are universals; they cannot exist unexemplified; when exemplified, they are not constituents of their exemplifiers but stand in an external relation to them.
But Peterson is right that particulars and universals for Bergmann are external to each other.
As I interpret it, this means that there is nothing in the nature of any bare particular that ‘dictates’ (logically or metaphysically requires) that it be tied to any particular universal, and nothing in the nature of any universal that ‘dictates’ that it be tied to any particular particular.
Thus particulars a, b, c, … , and universals F-ness, G-ness, H-ness, … , can combine promiscuously to give rise to the combinations Fa, Fb, Fc, Ga, Gb, Gc, Ha, Hb, Hc, … .
Bare particulars are bare in that there is nothing in their nature to necessitate their exemplification of this or that universal.
And universals are similarly not tied to any particular particular, though each immanent universal must be exemplified by some particular or other.
Peterson’s main objection to this so-called extreme-realist scheme is that it cannot accommodate “the fact of predication by species.” (97)
It cannot accommodate an essential (as opposed to accidental) predication as in the example, ‘Socrates is human.’
On extreme realism, the relation between Socrates and humanity is external: there is nothing in the nature of Socrates to require that he be human.
This is puzzling, though: surely Socrates could not have been a jelly fish or a valve-lifter in a ‘57 Chevy.
But if Socrates is specifically human, then being human is bound up with his very identity: he cannot exist except as human.
The connection between Socrates and his humanity appears to be too intimate to be understood in terms of the external relation of exemplification.
I don’t think it can be denied that there is merit to this Thomist criticism of what Peterson is calling extreme realism.
But is the Thomist alternative any better?
As Peterson explains it, on the Thomist approach ‘human’ in ‘Socrates is human’ does not refer to a universal or to a particularized property; it “refers to the very same individual substance to which ‘Socrates’ refers.” (105)
Predicates and subjects in essential predications refer to the same things, namely, “ordinary individual things.”
Thus in ‘Socrates is human,’ ‘Socrates’ and ‘human’ both refer to the same individual, the human being, Socrates.
Of course, in ‘Plato is human’ both terms refer to Plato.
But isn’t humanity in some sense common to Socrates and Plato?
Peterson brings up Frege’s sense-reference distinction.
‘Human’ in different essential predications may refer to different individuals, but its sense remains the same.
It cannot be bound up with the sense of ‘human’ that humanity be found only in Socrates, for that would leave Plato and the rest of us out in the cold.
On the other hand, it cannot belong to the sense of ‘human’ that humanity have only a universal and abstract existence in minds, for then humanity would not be found in particular concrete persons.
Somehow, humanity must exist both in matter and in minds:
In and of itself, therefore, humanity is neutral as between particularity and universality. And it is this same human essence taken as existentially neutral which, as the objective sense of ‘human’ in ‘Socrates is human,’ makes predication by species possible. (106)
The idea is that one and the same item — humanity in our example — can exist in two ways.
It can exist in particular concrete things outside the mind, and it can exist in an abstract and universal form in minds.
But in and of itself it is neutral as between these two modes of existence.
Taken by itself, therefore, it does not exist, and is neither particular nor universal.
In itself, it is neither many in the way human beings are many, nor is it one, in the way in which the universal humanity in the mind is one.
So this Thomist essence is an item that is some definite item, though in itself it does not exist, is neither one nor many, and is neither universal nor particular. I hope I will be forgiven for finding this unintelligible.
The Thomist view implies that in reality, outside the mind, there is nothing that Socrates and Plato have in common.
For in reality, there are no universals. In reality, there are no ones-in-many or ones-over-many.
Humanity is common to the two philosophers only relative to a mind in which humanity exists as a universal.
Outside the mind, however, there is no humanity, but only individual human beings.
This being so, in what sense is moderate realism realism?
Glance back at Peterson’s definition of ‘moderate realism.’
Peterson says that the moderate realist holds that universals exist immanently in both matter and minds.
But it is not universals that exist in matter and in minds on the Thomist view.
What exists in both is an item neutral as between universality and particularity.
So in what sense in Thomist moderate realism realism?
I cannot see that the Thomist option is a viable option.
I am not saying that the other options are viable.
They have their own difficulties.
I take this as a bit more evidence for my metaphilosophical thesis that the problems of philosophy, though genuine, are insoluble.