By Fr. Raymond Taouk,

I. historical introduction (Elders)[1]


1)   Being for Aristotle


A) Ar. says that in all things, what constitutes their reality is what is most fundamental in as much as they are one thing or another, because at least they exist. Mphscs studies things in so far as they are real and have their reality in common, ens commune. to. o;n, Greek means to be real (to exist) and to be present. The ancients touched on being by the question of the one and many which at bottom is the same fundamental question :

a) Parmenides, under the changes and the multiplicity of things, discovers the permanent being which is one with itself and unchanging. This being is true and eternal. He was the first thinker to have had a metaphysical notion of being. This was the position of the Hindus : “Brahma is the One without second, because he is not divided in himself and not distinct from anything else of another nature.”[2]

b) Heraclitus on the contrary considered becoming as the first form of being.

c) Plato seeks a solution, and distinguishes 2 sorts of sciences with a particular level of reality : the world of ideas, the intermediary things and the physical bodies. He stresses more the content of being (essence) and the idea than its real or concrete existence.

B) Aristotle united the world of being with that of becoming as he recognized the material things as substances, i.e. as real and as being. Substances are the centre of reality and the foundation of the accidental aspects of things. However Ar. did not study the substances as individual  beings nor discover esse itself because he did not conceive the esse of things as a participation in the Self-Substistent Esse (44,2). He did not conceive ‘is’ as a real being as such without expressing the reality of a determined essence : this would be explicited only by St. Thomas Aquinas .


2)   Modern Crisis


1.    It is due to the fact that philosophers refuse to acknowledge that the concept can grasp what is really common to things.

A) For Ockham, being is pulverised because it is identified with the individual.

B) Descartes rejects the “universals of the dialecticians” bec. he does not see that one may know the species by looking at an individual, nor the genus in the species. For him, the idea of being is clear, simple and innate which does not allow us to reach an existing reality. It still needs an indubitable experience to have an outlet to reality :

1º a thinking substance: ‘I think, therefore I am’; and from that first experience, other atoms of evidence are necessarily connected.

2º a divine substance in which being is inseparable from the essence;

3º an extended subst. bec. the divine guarantee assures me that it exists. Desc. does not take being seriously and refuses to make it the object of a given science. Being is polarised into zones of two (thought-matter) or three (God-I-world).

C) For Hegel, being is only a generic tag (empty and vague pure being), and in this, being is only an object of logic, totally unreal.


3)   Response : the intuition of being.


A) Kierkegaard shows that being is something most intimate to things. Against the abstract being of Hegel and the ‘I am’ of Descartes, he places the ‘I exist’ which is unthinkable : “Existence like movement are difficult to deal with. If I think of them, I abolish them, and I do not think of them. It seems correct to say that something does not let itself be thought : existence. Yet existence is posited at the same time as thought... All knowledge regarding reality is possibility : that it exists and that this reality constitutes its absolute interest. Each particular man is alone.”[3]

B) Bergson seeks the experience which allows man to coincide with the heart of things, and finds the intuition of duration : “to exist is to change, to change is to create oneself.”

C) Marcel seeks also the communication with the existing world, made precisely by the confused and global experience that the world exists : we become conscious of participating in existence by means of sensation.

D) Heidegger underlines the fieri of being : being shows itself only to better hide again. “Since being ‘physis’ consists in its appearing, where it presents distinct aspects every time, it is essentially and always the possibility of an appearance which runs the risk of covering itself and of hiding  what being really is, i.e. the truth”. This supposes that being depends on man and is subject to history vs thomism. Heidegger’s views do not grasp what is most intimate in being.

E) Can all these experiences dispense us from the idea of being? No. What renders them possible is the natural abstraction of being. There is the intuition, ie. the clear and direct perception, of something. In the realism of ST, the int. sees and experiments things under the aspect of their ‘esse’, their reality, ie. being is object of such intuition. Mphsc starts from the integral whole, the global reality (the Universe of Marcel, the World of Heidegger), known confusedly in a global idea. Then it reflects on all the experiences which it contains. This reflection, far from abandoning the whole being of which it is a part, reveals its infinite riches comprised in the prodigious diversity of the concrete, apt to be said of all things. The proper object of Mphcs is a “Totum universale, in quo partes continentur in actu.”



ii. the metaphysical notion of being


1)   The starting point of Mphcs must be stg first and unconditioned, not reduced to anything else, while everything reduces to it. Unless properly identified, the entire system will be thwarted.

A) It is being for ST: “What the intellect first conceives, on the ground that it is the most known object (notissimum) is being (ens); and to being it reduces all its conceptions.”[4]

B) being is first bec. it is the most universal notion (everything, in re vel mente, is being).

C) this notion, most known in itself, is never fully understood.

D) The unique character of the notion of being appears when we analyze the content of everything the mind conceives (desk, paper, pleasure in reading Mphcs notes) : all these things and experiences are some kind of being. If it was  not being, I would have no thought of it.[5]

E) In judgment, being is the key factor. Judgment binds two terms (one which qualifies the subject), united by the copula : ‘the weather is pleasant’, or even ‘the sun shines’. Even in its implicit form, any judgt implies the reference to being, to what ‘is’.


2)   the process of abstraction of being as being

A) Logical and total abstraction:

There are two types of abstraction :

1º the logical abstraction abstracts a form from the whole subject and signifies the formality itself with an abstract concept (sanctity). Such is the series of the Tree of Porphyry (man, animal, living body, body, substance); 

2º the total abstraction abstracts the universal nature but refers to the entire concrete subject (Here is the saint, meaning Peter).

being as formal o. of Mphcs cannot be obtained by logical abstraction which brings the objects of simple experience into notions more and more universal to end up with stg more universal than substance, being. Thus the universal concept of being must be obtained by ‘total’ abstraction. But this notion contains its differences only implicitely.[6]

B) The formal object of Mphcs is obtained by a complex analysis from confused to distinct :

1º every normal man thinks being as he sees colours and hears sounds (being is naturally abstracted since wo it, there is no possible int. life and we fall into nominalism or sensualism). We firstly get hold of it from the simple experience of sensible things. Such being is pre-philosophical; it is only the material object of philosophy, known by experience and practical knowledge, object of sciences and arts.[7] 

2º by reflexive knowl. on the concept of being, man can grasp ‘that by which things are.’ Thus, one considers being (as everybody else); the diverse types of being (secondary division of beings, studied by scientists);

3º finally, one considers all beings precisely as being (as only a metaphysician can).[8]


3)   Nominal definition of being

A) The name. Ens, to. o;n, being or be-ing,[9] ‘the something which is’-id quod est. As being is the most common and first notion, it is impossible to define it properly (since the definition uses more universal notions).

B) Various definitions :

id quod exercet actum essendi;

id cuius actus est esse;

id quod habet esse.


4)   the structure of the concrete being (see Text XII in Gard. p.277):


A) St Thomas Aquinas goes beyond Ar (Subst/ 9 accidents) since :

a) Revelation tells us that the First Being is God.

b) the Aristotelian notions of act/pot applied to existence/essence, show that esse is infinite, total, perfect and one, and first compared to those things which have a finite, participated and imperfect esse. Hence he gathers the texts of Ar. and concludes ‘ex quibus concludi potest ulterius esse aliquid quod est maxime ens, et hoc dicimus Deum’[10]. He refers to the text of St. Damascene who justifies philosophically the name of God : “principalius omnibus quae de Deo dicuntur nominibus est qui est : totum enim in seipso comprehendens, habet ipsum esse, velut quoddam pelagus substantiae infinitum et indeterminatum”.[11]


B) the intimate structure of being: ‘the something which is’ indicates the 2 aspects of every being, a subject ‘the something’, and the actuation of the subject ‘which is’. The first is the essence, the second, existence or esse. It is possible to give more attention to one than to the other, as  being serves as noun and as verbal (participial noun).

a) Used as noun, it refers firstly  to the essence (res) as what is and only 2rly to the esse. 

b) As a verbal, being stresses existence, what is, and 2rly the essence.

c) Whereas the other disciplines study properly being under a particular aspect of the essence, Mphcs cannot have for object the essence since it is subject to esse.


C) Being as being, object of Mphcs cannot be :

a) essence alone, Rationalists : Scotus, Suarez, Kant ‘100 real $ add nothing to100 possible.’

b) existence alone, nor more than life or the fact of existing of the modern existentialists, bec. as Cajetan explains : “Existentia non existit”.

c) So, it must be the composite of the two ‘that which is’ : a necessary actual synthesis of an essence actuated by its ultimate perfection, its proportionate esse.


III. concerning the structure of the notion of being


1)   Terms can be

A) univocal. It designates things which have the same meaning (ratio) in every case (animal said of man and of the ass).

B) equivocal. It applies to things according to a meaning which is totally different (the bark is peeling, and the bark awoke me).

C) analogous. It is said of things according to a meaning partly identical and partly different (intellectual vision and bodily vision are neither univocal nor equivocal, but analogous)[12].

Although it is a universal notion, being differs yet from all others : 1º It labours under an inner tension coming from its very structure; 2º it is the most universal notion, and the most comprehensive since it includes all real things (actual or potential). How can things so varied be united under one concept?


2)   The logical universal (univocal concept).

A) In logic, a genus is reducible to a species and vice versa. (the genus animal is contracted to its various species by the addition of various specific differences, vertebrate and invertebrate).

B) It is possible to reduce a genus into species bec. the differences are not actually contained in the genus (animal as such does not include the property of vertebrate).

C) the genus is the pple of identity as it unites all species under one concept, and the sp. difference is the principle of diversification.

3)   being as a universal


A) all things are being, and are embraced by the one concept, ‘is’ or being which applies to all of them. ‘Is’ occurs proportionately in the table, in the colour, and in everything that is.

B) Things are yet very diverse, since ‘is’ has a different mode in ‘table’ than in ‘colour’, let alone God who also ‘is’. If God cannot be measured by lesser realities, what will differentiate Him from other beings, and these from each other? 

C) The question is : what type of unity must be given to the notion of being as being so as to bring to the concept distinctions which are already there somehow? We must avoid stressing the unity and making being a univocal term which leads to the monism of Parmenides. We must avoid stressing the diversity and render being equivocal which would destroy thought altogether. We escape the dilemma only through analogy (pro.j ``,en).


4)   Solution

A) Parmenides denied the diversity of being. He thought that the concept itself (ratio) of being was to be one whereas, in fact, being is said differently of things. ST argues that it is false to say that ‘ens est unum.’[13]  

B) Plato says that being is a genus. Yet outside the genus being, there are others genera which are not being. Plato is refuted by :

a) Parmenides’ strong principle : “everything is being”, “extra ente, nihil”! And nothing can diversify nothing. Hence the differences of being must also be some kind of being. But, can being differentiate being?

b) Logic : no specific difference belongs to the genus, but what differentiates being is being.

c) Metaphysics : the categories are not reducible to one and being is said of them diversely and it does not have one same nature as the genus or the species.


C) Aristotle says that there are different categories of being. Among all types of beings, there is a first. What is this pro.j e`vn--‘towards the one’? It is the substance since it means ‘being in itself’. All other beings are being in and by the substance. The weakness of this reply is double:

a) accidents have in themselves an accidental being, distinct both from the substance and from the mere relation to it.

b) the first being to which all beings converge is not substance but esse (or pure act).

D) The thomistic solution is that :


a) to think of being is to think of any being, not the first being (God is not firstly known); to think of being is to think of the perfection ‘being’ in its relation to a given subject. This leads to say that being is an analogy of proportionality added to that of attribution.

b) ST gives new light on the structure of the real beings, composed not only of subst and accidents (in breadth), but of essence and existence (in depth). What follows from this in the structure of the notion of being?  ST seeks in Ar. another way of giving unity to notions which are diverse. And besides that of the anal. of attribution (Ar. in his Metaph. for being as centred on substance), he finds (Ethic I,ch.6, #1096a) another analogy referred to ‘good’ (things are more or less good), and another one referring to act (Meta IX ch.6).




Iv. the doctrine of analogy


            1) history


1)   ST has never given a full account of the doctrine of analogy, but mentions it at random often.[14] We need to reconstruct his thought with a systematic interpretation. Cajetan’s de Nominum Analogia was held in great reputation by many followers, esp. John of ST. Other Thomists, fewer in number, prefer Sylvester of Ferrata. Whatever the minor distinctions, they name their common adversary, Duns Scotus, who defends the unicity of being.[15]

2)   Being is an analogous concept.

A) Errors :

a) Avicenna seems to have accepted that being be conceived as univocal, bec. he attributes a certain reality to the essences without existence, which are univocal.

b) Duns Scotus conceives being as an essence with a univocal content, although it is diversified in things but then not object of science. Scotus extends this univocity of being to the concept we attribute to God. Wo univocity, we could not apply w. a definite sense this term to God.

B) Agst Scotus,

a) S.T. says that they are manners of being entirely different (pot/act, subst/accdt) using the same concept of being which seems adapted to designate so distinct modes of being real. It is analogous : since it designates things different (with a ratio propria) yet with a common conceptual content (ratio communis) i.e. the fact of being real.[16]

b) S.T. speaks of a proportionality in the use of the concept of being :[17]  “sicut se habet subst. ad esse sibi debitum, ita et qualitas ad esse sui generi conveniens.” This analogy doesn’t express adequately the analogy of the concept of being. It is said in first place and fully of the substance which alone as such exists.

c) Later, when we understand that God is the self-subsistent Being, we must readjust the concept: being must be said of God in a unique way which surpasses all other modes of being. Yet, by the 2d analogy, being retains the intrinsic relation with all the different analogates (which per se the anal. of attribution doesn’t maintain : medicine is not healthy per se, but only by efficient causality).

d) ST considers the anal. of being, not so much as anal. of attribution w. a relation of inherence of accidents to the substance, but w. relation of dependence on the Creator by whom it is.

            2) division of analogy


1)   Analogy of attribution.


A) The unity of the analogous concept comes from the relation all analogates have to the same term (principal analogate). E.g. healthy is said of food, medecine and complexion in reference to the animal.

B) Only the first analogate has the formality (ratio) signified by the analogous term intrinsically realized.  The secondary analogates have this formality by extrinsic relation (healthy is said of food and medecine only as their efficient cause, of complexion as its sign).


C) Here are the characteristics of the analogy of attribution:

a) the formality (ratio) is one and occurs intrinsically in one analogate only.

b) the first analogate must figure in the definition of the other analogates.

c) the secondary analogates cannot be represented by a single concept.

d) there is a possible gradation among the 2ry analogates accdg to proximity to 1st analogate.


2)   Analogy of proportionality.


A) The unity of the analogous concept does not come from the relation to the first analogate as in attribution, but from the proportion they have to each other. E.g. knowledge is analogously found in bodily vision and understanding, which gives us:  seeing : eye = understanding : soul.[18]

B) in such analogy, the formality (ratio) of the analogous term occurs intrinsically in each of the analogates. Thus, the ontological basis of the analogy lies deeper : it is the inner community among things which are different really and nominally. E.g. seeing and understanding are distinct but yet truly and formally acts of knowledge.

C) the definition of one analogate does not enter that of the others.


3)   Division of the analogy of proportionality

A) proper: the formality (ratio) signified by the analogous term is truly realized in each analogate.

B) metaphorical: the formality (ratio) exists properly (literally) in one analogate only, and improperly (figuratively) only in the others. E.g. the smiling cow, a smiling child.


3) unity and abstraction of the analogous concept


1)   S.Q.

A) Whereas the univocal concept has a perfect unity of meaning, the analogous concept does not. It is predicated sec. rationem simpliciter diversam sec. quid eamdem. The problem is to reconcile the unity of the analogous cpt when the concept must retain the diversity it tries to unite.

B) This problem :

a) does not occur in metaphorical anal. nor in anal. of attribution. In these, one univocal concept (healthy animal, smiling man) corresponds to the first analogate and renders perfect account of the unity, & the diversity is made by the derivative analogates related to it.

b) occurs only in the anal. of proportionality bec. the ratio exists intrinsically in all analogates so diverse (substance, qtty, qlty are all beings). How can the unity of a concept be maintained if it must at the same time express a diversity?


2)   The origin of the diversity:


A) in univocity, the diversity does not come from the univocal concept, but from elsewhere. E.g., the transition from the genus animal to the species comes by adding sp. differences which are not actually included in the genus. The univocal concept is formally one and potentially divisible and many.

B) in the anal. of proportionality,

a) it comes from the analogous concept itself, as is best seen in the anal. of being, since what is not being is nothing. Thus the analogates are intrinsically and actually included and represented by the one analogous concept, but only implicitly. This occurs when e.g. I see a multitude of men without looking at any one in particular, which is obtained by an abstraction ‘of confusion’.

b) The notion of being contains implicitly yet actually all the diversities of being, which have the same proportion of essence to existence. Being in the diverse analogates is not totally identical, but only proportionately one.

c) Metaphysics takes all its basic concepts from such analogous concepts. In this, it differs clearly from all other sciences which deal w. univocal concepts, and therefore its scientific status and methodology will be different.


            4) order and principle in analogy


1)   Does every analogy require a first analogate?  The anal. of attribution requires one which is the pple and sets other anal. in order behind it, but not the anal. of proportionality per se.


2)   There can be no anal. of proportionality wo anal. of attribution, since the proportions require order, prior and posterior. Even in the anal. of proportionality, there is gradation and order, and therefore a first, as in being.

A) Can we conceive the analogy wo explicit reference to the first being?  A/ Yes.

B) Will this analogy give us the final concept of being?  A/ No!  The ultimate structure of the analogical order of being is only obtained when we know the first term in reality. The metaphysics of being is not complete until created being is seen in dependence of the Self-subsistent Being.


3)   Diversity of first analogates. When it is question of remounting to the first analogate or first cause, ST usually points out 3 possible causes : material, efficient and final cause (+/- exemplary cause). Thus :

A) in the realm of intrinsic causes, the anal. of proportionality dominates, since it deals w. proportionate internal elements. For the case of being, according to material causality as seen by Ar., the order is based on substance considered the first.

B) in the realm of extrinsic causes (the final cause, as good and perfect, has the ratio causalitatis of the efficient cause), the anal. of attribution dominates, since it deals with the transcendental order where the final cause is first. Final cause or perfection is also the efficient cause as Pure Act for being.


v. the analogy of being


1)   It is analogical

A) It is not an equivocal concept (no true concept ever is), it does not have a ttly diverse meaning.

B) It is not a univocal concept bec. it cannot be diversified as a genus.

C) It is thus analogical, embracing all the differences and identities of things. It is a concept at once differentiated and undifferentiated (one) from another point of view.


2)   What type of analogy?

A) Being is an anal. of proportionality since all the modes of being are being, formally and intrinsically (this page, its colour, its size are all being).

B) Being is also an anal. of attribution :

a) for Ar. it is the attribution of accidents to the substance, first analogate in mat. intrsc cslty.

b) for ST, it is (also) the attribution of creatures to the uncreated being, God, first analogate who is self subsistent Esse (in the line of extrinsic causality).

C) Being—and the same is true of all other transcendental notions—is a mixed analogy of proportionality & attribution. Being is analogous by proportionality which includes an anal. attr.


3)   recapitulation

A) being as being is obtained by a special abstraction from matter, called separatio made at the level of judgment rather than simple apprehension. Being as such is removed by the mind, not from existence and reality, but from all material conditions of existence.

B) being contains 2 aspects, an essence and an esse which is proportionate to it : being is what is.

C) this notion is an analogical concept which abstracts only imperfectly from its inferiors retained actually although implicitly and confusedly.

D) it is an analogy of proportionality since all the analogates of being are truly beings. It is also an analogy of attribution bec. there is a definite order by relation to a first being.

E) It is a transcendental notion as it transcends all the genera, extends to all modes & differences.


4)   the method of metaphysics


A) Metaphysics is eminently real, begins and ends in reality.

a) It abstracts from material conditions of ex., but is not cut off from esse as such and from concrete things actually implicitly included in the obj. of Mphcs, real being. Proper Mphcs is a waste if it is not in constant contact with the complexity of reality itself and its pbs.

b) It differs greatly from the Mphcs of Plato, or from the Scotist and Suarezian scholastics, or from the modern philosophy from Descartes to Hegel. They all conceived being as a nature or essence, severed from esse and treated as an abstract entity. Ontology is reduced to a mental construction cut off from reality.

B) Metaphysics compared to other scientific concepts.

a) its object is inferior in as much as the analogical concept is ‘confused’ as it contains its inferiors indistinctly. Thus what the mind knows it knows inadequately and imperfectly, esp. re. God. Natural sciences deal w. univocal concepts (genera, sp. diff.) precise and distinct.

b) its object is superior in depth and dimension. It cuts deeper and wider and allows us to discover areas of reality unknowable to part. sciences, e.g. of the angels & God. It gives the possibility of an authentic science of theology.

C) Method of study : 1º the essentialist Mphcs naturally tends to be a rigid deductive system (Plato, Desc., Spinoza, Hegel). 2º ST’s thought and universal order is tempered by the exigencies of reality in its diversity. There is order, yes; pure construction, no.




[1] La Métaphysique de ST dans une perspective historique (Vrin, Paris 1994).

[2] In Grenet, Ontologie (Beauchesne, Paris 1959), p. 136.

[3] Grenet p. 133.

[4] De Ver. 1 1.

[5] Even negations and privations are conceived in reference to being.

[6] Grenet, Metaph. p. 130 : “Baby grabs the iron bar of its bed as white, hard and cold. It does not distinguish the white, the hard, the cold from the bar which contains all of these properties. It produces a total abstraction : he grasps as a whole the thing which is white, hard and cold. When he gets older, and has compared the sugar, the milk and snow, the child will search again in the idea of the bed bar and will distinguish between the diverse comprehensions : the white is not the cold... He produces a formal abstraction because not only does he know white (the whole thing which is white), but he knows whiteness (that by which the thing is white).

[7] The material object of Mphcs is all beings according to their diverse modes of existence : subst/accdts, bodily and spiritual substances, finite and infinite subst; cause and effect, etc. This indefinite concept of being does not show man the extension of the realization of being, so much so that some people spend their life thinking only of mat. beings, and will never reach the metaphysical abstraction.

[8] The concept of esse is obtained by a new abstration from the affirmation about reality, considering esse independently from the subject. Further on, esse becomes known as a perfection, and finally God as the Ipsum esse per se subsistens. See ST “ratio entis ab actu essendi sumitur, non ab eo cui convenit actus essendi”; “ens autem non dicit quidditatem sed solum actum essendi” (VI Metaph 2,n.553).

[9] ens would be present participle of esse, translated being, but stressing the active function of existing, be-ing.

[10] C.G. I 13. Cf. Aristotle’s text of Metaph II ch.1; IV,4 # 1009.

[11] I 13, 11c.

[12] XI Metaph l.3 §2197, ‘idem nomen de diversis praedicatur sec. rationem partim eamdem, partim diversam. Diversam quidem quantum ad diversos modos relationis. Eamdem vero quantum ad id ad quod fit relatio’.

[13] in Metaph I less. 9; C.G. I 25.

[14] I 13,5.

[15] See Garrigou, ‘God’ II p.203-224; 246-267; 453-455. Ramirez has 4 volumes on analogy alone!

[16] Metaph.IV, l.1, n.535

[17] III Sent d.1, q.1,a.1

[18] the anal. of proportionality is an equation of fractions, eg. 5:10 = 10:20, etc. is a proportion of half. But, in real anal. terms which are metaphysical, there is only a proportional, non an arithmetical, equality. For Being, there is a proportional likeness between the div. analogates. Which is it?  Being is ‘that whose act is esse’id cuius actus est esse—, hence the common element is the relation or proportion of essence to existence. Such concept is analogous bec. the relation is not identically the same in all analogates, but only proportionately the same, as between subst. and accident.