By Fr. Raymond Taouk,

I. history


1)   The term.


A) Transcendere`uperbaivnein = to go beyond or to be beyond.         

B) It can be said of terms which are not contained under one part. genus or class of things, but go beyond them. It can be used also in another sense to signify the total transcendence of God and certain classes of things (multitude is a transcdtl as well as motion).

C) The new philosophy since Kant uses it to designate the reference not to the real but to the subject and says that the intellect is beyond things : man gives things a signification by a priori forms of sensation and intellection, proper to him & determines the content of the known object.


2)   The Ancients


A) Heraclitus had viewed the real as having unity  `hvn pa,nta which is constituted by a Logos, and intelligibility which allows all men to have access to the only Wisdom.

B) Parmenides (530-450 B.C.) affirms that being and thought are identical. Being is identical to self, one and immutable.

C) Plato (350 BC) shows that being has properties :

in his ‘Parmenides’ he shows that unity is the most profound property of being; ‘one’ is  the most undetermined concept and thus having the nature of a principle.

In the ‘Banquet’ he introduces the ‘Beautiful’ as the highest reality implicitly affirms that  being=beautiful

In the ‘Republic’, the ‘Good’ is called the most luminous being.

In the ‘Sophist’, he speaks of “the greatest genera”, predicates common to all things, to which belong the identity and the difference, motion and rest (probably this indicates the aptitude of being to be known = the truth of being).

Although he associates being and truth, yet he doesn’t affirm that all beings are one & good.


D) Aristotle :

denies that being and one are particular classes of things : they are transcendentals.

In the Metaphysics IV 1004 b5, he calls the  One a property per se of being.

he follows Plato in associating true and being : “in as much as a thing has being, in that much it has truth” (Mphcs II, 1 993b 27).


E) Plotinus gives a theory of the transcendentals, hierarchically ordered : One, Truth, Being.


3)   In the Middle Ages


A) Avicenna speaks of the attributes of the Necessary Being : unique, truth and pure goodness, added to being from the outset, in the same way as the forms which the platonists add to the pre-existing form. But he denies that every thing can be one, good, true in itself. He placed ‘thing’ (res) and ‘something’ among the properties  of being.

B) Averroes rejects this theory of adding stg else to being. He argues that one signifies the same thing as being but in another way. He doesn’t mention truth and goodness.

C) Roland of Cremona lists the following : being, one, something, thing.

D) Philippe le Chancelier of the Univ. of Paris (1230) gives a systematic treatise on the Transcdtls : 3 ‘conditions’ are associated to being according to 3 causes (he excepts the mat. cs), efficient, formal and final : each being receives its unity from the First Cause, its truth from God as exemplary cause, and its goodness from God as final cause. Identical to being, they differ by their conceptual content (eg. good adds to being the non separation from the end). Verum naturaliter prius est quam bonum.

E) Alex. of Hales says that the transcendentals determine being in its relation to God and to the soul, image of God :

one is being as undivided in itself and divided from others. When distinguished from others, it is true because true is that by which the things can be discerned and known. In so far as it is fitting for the soul, it is good.

They interpenetrate each other : the unity and the truth are desired because they are good, the unity and goodness are desired because they are true.

The order of absoluteness is : being, one, true, good (which adds to true the cpt of useful).



truth adds to being the fact that one part. thing is of such nature. Truth is in the intellect bec. the int. knows the truth, but also in the things bec. their essence is known by their truth.

Good adds to being the fact of being perfect and desirable. He sees it accdg to the 3 causes : final (what is desired by all), efficient (good is what is communicated), formal (it is the indivisibility of act and potency).

F) S. Albert the Great made a major progression in the study of the transcendentals.

they are predicates which transcend the genera (predicaments):thing, unity, something.

He gives 3 definitions of good : what every thing desires (Aristotle), ie. the inclination of what is in potency to its perfection; the indivisibility of act and potency (Avicenna); the act whose apprehension brings pleasure (Algazel). Being and good are convertible : nothing exists which is not good at least imperfectly.

G) S. Thomas gives the masterly exposition in De Verit q.1,1, is metaphysical, without reference to theology (see below). Being itself expresses the fact that a thing is real or exists. Aliquid expresses that one being is separated from others, not by the h. mind but really, and this is expressed by the principle of contradiction. In all its simplicity, this derivation has all the convincing force of the evidence : it refers to the unconscious part of our intellectual activity.

H) Duns Scotus studies them in a theological setting.

a) in general :

He extends the signification of transcendental to whatever is predicable of being before its division into 10 predicaments : eg. anterior and posterior, act and potency belong to the transcdtls. Thus, the transcdtls are not distinguished from being only by a dist. of reason, they are first intentions which express formal essences.

The transcdtls are distinct from being by their real formal content (ratione reali) which ends up substantifying the transcdtls & depriving being from its unity, truth and goodness

Like being, he considers them as univocal concepts.

b) one : he doesn’t admit the real distinction betw. the numerical one and the transcdtl one. The numerical one is proper to the divine nature whereas in creatures we distinguish always 2 forms, the nature common to many (which thus seems to exist universally in the reality) and the haecceitas proper to the individual (another entity added to being).

c) truth : is what is known by the intellect, but he does not follow ST in saying that beings are true by their conformity to the divine model.

d) good : for Scotus means perfect : every being is good when it has reached its perfection.


4)   Modern Crisis. Refusal of :

A) One by marxism : contradiction is at the heart of being (as well as of thought-C/f Hegel) : nothing is fixed or stable, bec. nothing is itself.

B) True by the absurdism of Sartre, Camus... ‘The ‘in itself’ is absurd, the world is alien to us; things are opaque, foreign, wo guarantee.’ What we pretend to understand is only our projection in things. When we realise that ‘this is’, then we are condemned to ask why?, and we cannot answer it. “There is no Eternal Father to think of things before they exist.”

C) Good by the philosophy of values. Good is not in being. Good is the value, ie. an inaccessible project. Axiology (what we must do) is opposed to ontology (what is). From the moment an ideal is realised, it is a thing, and has lost its value.



ii. the transcendentals in general


            1) distinction


1.    After the notion of being,  we need to consider those properties or aspects of being which are inseparable and convertible with being. This must be done before treating the categories, particular modes of being. These properties are not drawn from being in abstracto, since it would give us only being!  They come from the reality of the being we experience, since the mind becomes aware of the properties of being and thus acquires a more integral conception of reality.


2.    The question remains of how ‘anything’ can be added to being. Being can only be differentiated by modes intrinsic to it, which can be in two ways : a) they are particular modes of being (predicaments or categories of being, its ultimate genera); b) they are universal and necessary modes of being.[1]


being  in se

positively seen:identity of essence= res



 negatively seen, no division =   unum

being rela-


 negatively :aliud quid=            aliquid

ted to  

conformed to

 knowing fac. of the soul :         verum



 appetitive fac. of the soul :      bonum


“the 2d division is based on the correspondence one being has with another. This is possible only if there is something which is such that it agrees with every being. Such a being is the soul, which ‘in some way is all things’ as is said in the treatise On the Soul (III 8,431). The soul, however has both knowing and appetitive power...”

Unum, verum, bonum (pulchrum) are the fundamental transcdtls since they apply even to God.

Res, aliquid do not apply properly to God:

res deals with the essence as distinct from the esse and limiting it : in God, essence = esse.

aliquid is proper to things which can be multiplied. Although God is infinitely distinct from creatures, His relation to them is not real but only of reason.

            2) nature


1)   they are really identical to being

A) they do not add anything real to being. “Ens et unum (verum, bonum) convertuntur”[2].

B) thus they do not constitute separate realities. They are properties of being inasmuch as they emanate from being although they are the subject itself. They are not properties like accidents which emanate from the substance and are distinct from it.


2)   they are distinct from and add stg to being conceptually, ‘ratione’.

A) they are not simple tautologies, since ‘to be one’ or ‘to be good’ add stg to ‘to be’. Hence, there is a distinction which is of reason ie. only in the mind. The transcdtls express aspects of being not signified by the notion of being. The reason for this is the weakness of our h. intellect which cannot grasp in one notion the riches of the concept of being which includes all the properties implicitly. Thus, the concept of God, summe simplex, needs to be expressed in diverse notions.

B) What do they add  distinct‘ratione’?

a) a negation : unum denies the interior division; aliquid denies the identity with another.

b) a relation of reason: verum, bonum (pulchrum) are being itself in so far as it is related to the human soul by a relation of being knowable or lovable.[3] Yet this relation of ‘being knowable’ or ‘being lovable’ by a human soul adds nothing to the being itself, of reason.

c) an identity: res signifies the essence, constitutive principle of all created being.



and separable


Peter - Paul


and inseparable

- Int. & will in Pe

- soul & body in Pe





- coloured-white in sheet

- genus & sp. diff in Pe




fundamento in re)



- spirtlty & immortality

- coloured & visible (co-extensive)


reasoning (sine fdmto in re)

- Peter is my friend, Peter(implicit in expl.)


3)   they are analogous terms

A) As being is an analogous term, since it is said of things very diverse : God is (by essence), creatures are (by participation), substance is (in itself), accidents are (in another). The foundation of the analogy is esse, since a being is inasmuch as it participates in esse. The participation of esse is the metaphysical foundation of analogy.

B) The transcendentals, since they are identical with being and have for basis the same act of being.

C) share in the same analogy of being. God is one, true, good (by essence), creatures are one, true and good (by participation and according to the degree of participation in esse).


iii. one


            1) history


1)   From the beginning the first philosophers of Miletus were preoccupied with the one, speaking of a sole avrch, , a first material principle (water, air or other) out of which all things came. The first Pythagoricians accepted a certain dualism, but the One (the limit) has a privileged position since it gives things their determination, order and structure. Parmenides of the same school teaches the absolute unity of being ei;j evsti,n . One for him is an attribute of being.


2)   ‘One’ in Plato’s time meant both the principle of number and the totality of reality. Plato saw in it the principle and essence of things. In so far as it determines the essence of things, following Pythagoras, One is also the principle of their intelligibility. All definitions thus depend on the One.


3)   Aristotle. One can be said of the continuous, the whole, things which have a definition, the individual. It is not a separate being since it is a universal and thus not a substance. It is to be identified with the essence of any being = it is a transcendental property of being.


4)   Plotinus follows the platonician tradition and places One above being : it is the principle of the essence ouvsi,a(and of being. Nothing exists which is not one. The priority of One over being may come from the mystical character of the One above any determination. But it may simply come from the monist philosophy as being in this view has only an imperfect unity since it is multiple.


5)   Avicenna

A) considers One and the being of things as an accidental predicate of their essences, which Averroes criticises severely.   He divides the senses of one :

  - of composed beings     - per se (mat/form)

                                      - per accds       

                                                  - by combination like a machine

                                                - by causality (diffrt causes coordinated in one action)

                                                  - by determination of accdtl form to a being

  - of an individual being 

                                      - of reason (unity of genus or species)

                                      - really existing (formal unity of things of the same essence)

                                      - accidental unity of accdt and substance

                                      - unity in quantity

B) He is criticised by ST. in that Avicenna doesn’t distinguish between the unity as attribute of being and unity, principle of number. He doesn’t accept the correct definition of one as undivided being. He sustains that all multiplicity comes from a quantitative division.


Errors of Pythagoras and of Avicenna:


M. transcendental One = accidental one (principle of number)



m. transcendental one is the essence of things

m. accidental one (number) adds to being

C. number is the essence of things

C. the transcdtl one adds stg accidental to being

            2) transcendental unity


1)   One, as any transcendental, adds nothing real to being. The only distinction between the 2 notions is logical, of reason, which adds the idea of internal indivision. Unum est ens indivisum.

2)   formation of one

“First understood is being, and then non being, and then division, and then the kind of unity which is the privation of division, and then plurality, whose concept includes the notion of division, just as the concept of unity includes the notion of non-division.”[4]

A) Division can be intrinsic or extrinsic. The extrinsic division of one being from another gives the transcdtl aliquid. The intrinsic non-division gives unum.

B) the mind conceives of being as undivided by a twofold negation : of being (non-being) and of division (one). Being is first before one as positive is prior to negative.


3)        real identity : one and being are convertible ‘convertuntur’. Thus, unity like being is founded on esse. Wherever there is greater perfection (esse), there is greater being and unity : God is supreme Perfection and is supreme Unity; the angel is more perfect than man, and more simple (one); a work is so much the more perfect as it is ordered to a unified end.


            3) modes of unity.


1)   One is analogous, and its analogy parallels that of being. Thus, there will be as many modes of one-ness as there are modes of being.


2)   division


A) Unity of esse :

a) substantial unity  (of things actu undivided and having one esse) refers firstly to the substantial being (man is one) wo which there can be no esse :

i and indivisible, ie. wo composition : God.

ii and divisible, ie. w. composition which is 

· one, of essence/ex. in Angels;

· double, of ess/ex and matter/f. in corp. bgs.

b) accidental unity refers to diverse elements united under one esse, which however doesn’t depend on them to subsist. It comes from the union of diverse accidents with the substance : musician-mathematician-man is an unum per accidens.

B) Non unity of esse, but of order (of things actu divided and having diverse esse)

a) is founded on the accidental relation. It has no substantial form nor esse. The form which unites the parts is the order to the same end : a choir, a nation, a soccer team (extrsc fi. cs).

b) other unities are assimilated to this unity : unity of aggregation, cause & effect, agent & instrument.


            4) notions related to one


1)   Derived notions

A) identity indicates the unity of substance : strictly with oneself, broadly of the substantial form.

B) equality indicates the unity of quantity : strictly with things measurable, broadly with virtue or perfection

C) similitude indicates the unity of quality.


2)   Opposite notions

A) diversity is the multitude found in the essence (God and creature).

B) difference is a type of diversity. It implies :

a) the agreement with a univocal predicate, ie. a common genus;

b) the separation by formal differences. God and creatures are diverse but not ‘different’ (man and dog).

C) distinction is broader than diversity : ‘carentia identitatis inter plura’. It is either real (plurality of things), or of reason (plurality of concepts)[5], e.g. Peter and Paul.



any beings (incl. same species)


Distinction between

beings w. no common genus



beings w. a common genus



5) measure : property of the unit


1)   undividedness. As transcdtl unity is opposed to division, so also the numerical unit is defined by undividedness.

2)   measure of number

A) The numerical one has the special property of being the measure of number, i.e. that by which the number is known ‘unum est principium alicuius numeri, est ideo principium mensurandi et cognoscendi, sed non idem in omnibus generibus’[6]. E.g. 10 is known by comparison with 1.

B) measure is found in other modes of ‘one’. This happens in any accident which involves continuous quantity : length, motion, time, vocal tone. Analogically, it is said of other predicaments, like knowl: science measures reality, but more so reality measures science as Obj.

            6) many, opposed to one[7]


1)   Many is divided being. One and many are opposed as undivided is opposed to divided. They are opposed, not as contradictories, but by opposition of privation : one = privation of division; many = privation of undivision.


2)   The division of many follows the division of the diverse modes of one : there is numerical multiplicity said of qtty or a quantified accident (10 kgs, 10 litres), and transcendental multiplicity said of the being/form (three horses, three persons in God : 3 adds nothing to God). [8]


3)   Difficulty : since one is the privation of division (multiplicity), then multiplicity seems to be prior to one. How could one be the measure and principle of many?  Answer:

A) In the order of human knowledge, quoad nos, things composed and confused are known prior to things simple and clear. Thus, many is known prior to one, since we draw the concept of unity from the division of multiplicity.

B) one = privation of division (of being from non-being?) but not the express privation of multitude as such. In the order of nature (per se), one is prior to many since many is the aggregation of ‘ones’.

C) the order is the following : 1º ens, 2º divisio, 3º unum (privatio divisionis); 4º multitudo (divisio ex unis). “For even though things which are divided are many, they do not have the formal note of many until the fact of being one is attributed to each of the particular things concerned”.[9]


See q. 11 a.2; q. 30 art. 3.



iv. the true


            1) history


1)   The Greeks


A) avlh,qeia for the Greeks means the real. Accordg to its original sense, it means a lhtw (what is not forgotten or hidden) : the real manifested and known.

B) In Plato, True and Being are the attributes of a same thing. He uses the term also in the sense of logical truth placed within the soul and defines it the conformity to the real.

C) Aristotle has it signify being, but also the truth of judgments and speech (Mph 1051 b 3-8) : the truth of our thought and words depends on their correspondence with the real : the real is the basis of truth. He affirms that the immediate sensible perception is always true (De An. 427 b 11); likewise for the int. in its 1st operation: the cpt has always a formal content which expresses stg of the real (Mph 1051 b 17).


2)   The Christians


A) S. Augustine bases his consideration about truth on the S. Scriptures and says that God is Truth. Things are also true in so far as they resemble God who is the 1st Truth. Because things are true in so far as they are, and they are in so far as they resemble a main form. But this form resembles God/Principle who is truth bec. He is wo dissimilitude. St. Aug. defines thus the ontological truth : “is true that which exists in such a way that it appears to the knower. Objection : Then what nobody knows is not true?   R/ for this reason... I affirm then that is true what is.”

B) S. Anselm says about the ont. truth : since all things are in the highest truth of God, they cannot be other than what they are. Thus, all that exists is truly existing in so far as it is what is real. But all things are what they must be, thus every thing which exists ‘recte est’.

C) S. Albert The Great gives 4 def :

- it is what is (S. Aug.)

- declarativum, manifestativum esse (S. Hilary)

- rectitudo sola mente perceptibilis (S. Anselm)

- the non-separation of being and of what is (perhaps from Avicenna who gave the following one : Veritas cujuslibet rei est proprietas sui esse quod stabilitum est rei)


    St. Albert distinguishes betw the truth of :

- the things     - uncreated

                      - created (being of a thing, works of the will, works of nature, things possible)

- the signs       (in words, in speech, truth of faith, truth of promises fulfilled).

D) Suarez is not clear on the question of the ontological truth, the relation of being to the intellect : does he refer it to the divine intellect or to any int?


3)   The Idealists


A) The modern period with its focus on the human subject makes the moderns indifferent to the ontological truth. Hobbes is interested only in the truth of speech (Leviathan, ch.v). Spinoza denies that true can be a property of being. Thomasius says that truth doesn’t belong to being but is a property of the mind. Thus, Kant only expresses a common frame of mind as he writes that true is a transcendental concept devoid of sense.

B) Hegel gives  a new start : truth is not something ready set for ever, it grows and develops. He supposes a dialectical relation between h. mind and reality : the real is the rational, but as one thinks, the mind evolves since it becomes alienated. The continuous dialectical process is the truth. The truth is the uninterrupted process of the world which progressively develops and unfolds into human reason which terminates in and becomes the Absolute, i.e. the conscious God. Truth has neither beginning nor end.

C) Engels, interpreting Hegel (who had accepted some regularity in the dialectical process), affirms that no philosopher will ever find the absolute truth, and that practice is worth more than theory. To his opponents who affirmed the existence of eternal truths as 2+2=4, he said these truths are irrelevant. His theory rejects all objective truth. The official Russian communism refused to accept this disastrous theory and sustained that there was an absolute truth, communism, attainable through praxis and technique.


4)   The Existentialists


A) Predecessors :

a) Nietzsche doesn’t want to know the truth : “We do not believe anymore that the truth remains the truth once the veil has been torn”.

b) W. James thinks that our thoughts and words are true in as much as they have a practical use.

B) Heidegger draws the attention to the original sense of truth, what is not hidden. Truth is the revelation of things to man, it is what comes to meet man, who is unique in so far as he trespasses his own limits to meet things. He criticises Plato for admitting an absolute and universal truth and he denies that things can be entirely revealed to us. Our meeting with reality is determined by a moment in time and space. He introduces a direct intuition of the thing revealed so as to surpass the duality between the representative thought and the thing.

C) Sartre denies that there be such a thing as a human nature, since there is no God to conceive it. Man is only what he does for himself. The essence is not in things, it is the sense man gives them.

D) Merleau-Ponty says the truth is the truth for me. There are always opinions, never a true doctrine. The ontological truth is reduced to what things signify for us at a given moment of life.

E) ST’s position : Against all these authors, the thomistic epistemology against the broadly spread conceptualism/phenomenalism (opposing objective concept and real) never speaks of a fracture between thought and the real : the things are knowable and are present in the thought.



            2) being and true


1)   Truth always implies a relation between being and intellect. But it can be considered from either of its terms, in the int. or in the thing.

2)   Truth belongs to the int. when it conforms with reality, and this defines the logical truth adaequatio intellectus ad rem. Cf. Aristotle ‘to say of what is that it is, and of what is not that it is not, is true’[10].

3)   Truth belongs to things when conformed with intellect, adaequatio rei ad intellectum.[11]

4)   Truth is firstly in the intellect and 2drly in the thing bec. knowledge is according as the thing known is in the knower, whereas appetite is accdg as the desirer tends towards the thing desired (i.e. good is 1stly in the thing, 2rly in the lover).[12]


5)   True means :

A) intelligibility. A being is intelligible inasmuch as it has esse. This is bec. the potency is known only by its act—its esse— so that the greater the perfection, the greater the intelligibility (per se, yet not always quoad nos).

B) measure. Since it is ‘conformity’ or ‘adaequatio’, it supposes always the idea of measure : one term measures the other.



            3) logical truth


1)   The conformity of the faculty with the thing exists on 2 levels :

A) In simple intellectual apprehension and sensation, although neither faculty knows its conformity. The thing known is in the knower (material truth) but not as known (formal truth).

B) in judgment (which is reflexive stmes explicitly, but always implicitly at least), the int. knows its conformity as such. An intellect is formally true when it knows the adaequatio, i.e. in the jgt.


2)   This conformity is based on the two extreme terms of the relation :

A) Things, by the fact that they are, are true (ontologically true), i.e. are intelligible. This is the superior extreme of the relation bec. it does not depend on the other extreme.

B) the intellect, which is in conformity with the true thing by an operation (accident—potency[13]). This is the inferior extreme since it depends on the other to exist.

C) Consequently,

a) the capacity of the intellect to know being is not stg a priori but is real founded on being itself

i The int. can have that adaequatio to the thing only bec. the thing is.

ii Truth does not consist in the sole appearing of things to the consciousness, and Ar. had already refuted the Sophists of his time (and the future sophists, Heidegger etc.) ‘It is not because we think that you are white that you are really white; no, rather it  is bec. you are white that we can affirm it, and we are in the truth.”[14]

b) This conformity consist :

i not in a simple similarity of things of the same level (2 horses)

ii but of a similarity between things belonging to distinct orders, one superior (the thing) and the other inferior (the representation of the thing), like between the being and its image in the mirror, between the seal and its imprint in the wax.


            4) ontological truth


It is defined as adaequatio rei ad intellectum, the conformity of the thing with an intellect :


1)   on which it depends to be (essential relation):

A) The entire creation depends on God’s mind. Ontological truth is :

a) firstly the relation tgs have w. the div. intellect,

b) secondarily the relation artificial things have with the artisan.

Things are more true as they receive a greater entity. Their ‘transparency’ or ability to be known comes from having a greater participation in esse at creation.[15]

B) The thing in this case is measured  by the mind : the art work (all artificial tgs) is measured by the artist’s mind. Crafts depend on the artisan for their esse tale (limited effect can be caused by a proportionate limited cause).


2)   on which it depends only to be known (accdtl rlt):

A) being (esse) is the foundation and measure of the created intellect, which is always measured by things in the act of knowledge.

B) there is a relation of reason. It is our int. which really depends on the ontological being because it measures our intellect. Berkeley thought otherwise, saying that a thing is measured by the mind : ‘esse est percipi’, and so the mind was the source of transcendental truth.


3)   Summary of ST (De Ver. 1,2) :

The div. Int. is mensurans non mensuratus.

Natural things are mensurantia et mensurata.

Our int. is mensuratus non mensurans.


            5) Contradictory : falsity[16].


1)   logical falsity (strict sense[17]) : is found in the h. intellect as a defect, per accidens. Like truth, falsity is formally in judgment, when it says of what is that it is not... Sensation and direct int. apprehension are always true re. their proper object (see Criteriology).


2)   ontological falsity (broad sense) :

A) absolutely speaking, there can be no transcendental or ontological falsity (God would have missed and messed up his Creation), bec. ‘God is the measure of all things’ (Plato). Things natural depend on the Author of nature (God) as artificial tgs depend on the h. int., which are said false if they do not correspond to the h. mind.

B) In reference to the created int., it is the aptitude of an object to induce into error. This aptitude to deceive is not founded on the nature of sign (the actor is a false Hector). The cause of deception is based on the similarity to stg else(we call false things which are deceivingly similar).


NB. definition of truth for Modernists and Neo-Mod.

It is impious to say that if a thing is true, it is true for philosophy and for theology (Luther). The supernatural birth of Christ, His miracles remain eternal truths, whatever we may think of the reality of the historical facts (Strauss). Are there eternal and necessary truths? One may doubt it. Axioms and categories, forms of the mind or of sensibility, all this evolves. The human spirit is plastic and can change its most intimate desires. We believe that truth is life, hence motion, increase rather than term (Le Roy). Truth evolves with man, in him and by him, and this does not prevent it from being the truth for him. In fact it is so only with this condition. True and false are not absolute and well defined categories (Loisy). It is always and necessarily we ourselves who speaks to ourselves, who (helped no doubt by the immanent God) elaborate the truth for ourselves (Tyrrell). Truth is the correspondence between thought and life (Blondel). When the mind evolves, an immutable truth can only be maintained by the simultaneous and correlative evolution of all notions, preserving between themselves a same relation. A theology which would not be up to date would be a false theology (Bouillard).



v. good


            1) history


1)   The Greeks.

A) Plato and Aristotle define it as what all things desire. Everything  which is good receives its goodness by participation to its principle, the Idea of Goodness (Timeus 30,3) : “God wanted all things to be good”

B) Ar. purifies the concept and says that :

a) good is said of all categories. But it is posterior to what is per se, that is being. It is not a univocal concept said in the same way of all that is good.

b) He doesn’t affirm explicitly that every being is good,[18] and therefore that good  :

= being and perfect

= that out of which we cannot find anything of it, not even one of its parts

= that which is not surpassed in its own genus

= that which has reached its end in so far as it is a good end.

c) Goodness is divided into 3 things which determine our choice : the good (honestum), the useful, the agreeable. This applies to human activities but also to the ontological good, whereby ST signifies that the moral order depends on the ontological order.

d) Absolute verum = i.e. there is a First Being, essential good, God. Ar. holds this says ST.

C) Plotinus : things are doubly good : by being similar to Goodness seen as the efficient cause, and by tending to Goodness seen as the final cause of their actions. But he restrains the universal connotation of good : only a life oriented towards the First Principle is good. Evil which proceeds from matter is dispelled by the presence of the form : the union of form and matter is cause of goodness. Moreover Goodness is active. It is cause re. principle : bonum est diffusivum sui.

D) Proclus. The 2d hypostasis, the Nous or being is good by participation, which interpretation leads to the theory of good as a form added (c/f. position of Boethius)


2)   The christian authors.

A) S. Augustine affirms that all is good, so much so that even what is perishable is good : if there was nothing good in it, it wouldn’t be apt to perish, thus “quamdiu sunt, bona sunt”. The ‘modus, species, ordo’, which determine the goodness of things, come from God. Divine revelation was decisive in the formation of the doctrine of the goodness of things bec. it teaches that things are good because God made them.

B) Boetius says that “things existing are good... everything which exists tends towards good”. However they are not good by their essence but by their dependence on divine Goodness, ie. because they tend towards God. ST. criticizes his position since Boetius conceives participation as the composition of the substantial form of the subject with the accidental form of the thing participated. No!  All things are per se good, per se meaning not always the part of the essence but stmes as here the essential property. Thus we must maintain that things are good absolutely by the fact that they exist and act.


3)   The  Medievals

A) Avicenna sees good as a perfection, i.e. a being completely actuated. Evil consists in ex. in pot.

B) Averroes sees good as a perfection, i.e. that to which nothing can be added. God’s goodness is the ultimate and highest perfection.

C) St. Albert : good is the object of desire. Good comes after being as a concept. Yet in God, the goodness is anterior to creation. In the order of things existing which are and are good, “Bonum et ens convertuntur”. Good adds nothing real to being, except a new mode of signification. Goodness means the essence under a distinct concept, a step in the right direction to solve the problem of ontological goodness.

D) S. Thomas. Good is what all things desire. It acts on things and wills as a magnet, since all things seek their goodness which is their perfection and their end. A being is desirable if it is perfect, ie. in act, ie. in the measure in which it is. Thus good and being are identical.  S. Thomas integrates the sober analysis of Ar. in his Mphscs of creation and participation, and superimposes to them elements from Plato’s theory of goodness.


            2) nature of the good


1)   Notion of good.

A) empirical. We call good those things which are useful for a certain end, or perfect in themselves. Thus, we always refer to being (the perfect thing) or to what preserves & perfects it (useful).

B) Ar. defines it as quod omnia appetunt, what all things desire.[19] Good stirs the appetite. Good denotes a relation of being to the appetite.


2)   Division of Good, as an analogical trscdtl term:

A) as end :

a) object and term of the movement: perfective good (bonum honestum)

b) subjective possession of the object : pleasing good (bonum delectabile)

B) as means to a further end : useful good (bonum utile)


3)   Identity of good with being


A) convertibility : Ens et bonum convertuntur. Stg is a potential good if it is a potential being, a participated good if it is a participated being, Sovereign Good if it is the Sovereign Being. God is essential Goodness bec. He is essential Esse.

B) ST (I 5 1): Goodness is what all desire. But a thing  is desirable only if it is perfect. But a thing is perfect in so far as it is actual. But a thing is actual in so far as it is being.


4)   Distinction of reason


A) good (capacity to stir desire and love) is founded on being and not on the human will.

B) as a transcdtl, good adds to being the relation with the will, the appetite of what is formal goodness. Goodness expresses the aspect of desirableness (appetibilitas) which being does not express.[20] It has a double relation, to the will of :

a) God (real relation) the will of God is foundation of goodness: I am good bec He loves me.

b) the creature (relation of reason): a thing is not good bec. loved, it is loved bec. good.[21]

C) N.B. Although divine Love precedes created being, it is being which precedes love as such (on the same level). Thus God is Love bec. He is firstly Being.


            3) good and perfection


1)   Notion of perfection

A) perfection, per-facio : to do completely, to consume, to lead to its term/end, to perfect : perfect is what is finished and integral in its own essence; what is consummated (a consummated artist), what has reached its end; what is the best in itself. Something is perfect if it is in act, imperfect if in pot. It has the nature of efficient cause.

B) division into 2 senses:

a) Being, in so far as it is in act, is perfect. God, being pure Act, is sovereign Perfection.

b) This is simpliciter perfect which has all the actuality due to its nature : stg complete and finished. This completeness regards : 1º the dimensions (quantitas continua); 2º its operative capacity (quantitas virtutis); 3º the obtention of the end (consecutio finis).


2)   Perfection in relation to being


A) idem sec. rem: Stg in so far as it is act, perfect and desirable = it is good.

B) diversa sec. rationem:

a) re. the substantial act (first act): a being as soon as it has its substance is ens simpliciter (bg in act), but this doesn’t suffice to make it good simpliciter since good means perfect and desirable, and implies the notion of ultimate (complete). Thus a mere substance devoid of its accidents is good only sec. quid.

b) re. the accidental being (2d act): accidental being is an ens sec. quid. But since something is good per se which gives final perfection, then accidental perfections will be called good simpliciter.

            4) GOOD AS FINAL CAUSE.


1)   final cause. “Since the good is what all things desire, and since this has the aspect of an end, it is clear that goodness implies the aspect of an end (final cause)”.[22]


2)   But final cause implies ncssly the efficient cause, less directly the formal and mat. cause. Yet, as such, good is in the line of the final causality (what excites desire) : bonum est diffusivum sui. ST refuses to apply this principle (good is necessarily self diffusive) to efficient causality, let alone to a natural cause from which all things would emanate according to the pantheistic theories of the neo-platonists.

A) good moves the eff. cause to activity either necessarily (if the good fulfils ttly the appetite) or freely (if it does not).

B) the greater the goodness the more diffusive and more attractive it is.

a) For animals, Ar. says that their greatest perfection (and assimilation to God) consists in perpetuating their species through generation[23].

b) The greatest perfection of man consists in the most perfect representation of God’s image, which makes man more attractive and more diffusive of his spiritual goodness.[24]


            5) evil


1)   History

A) Aristotle speaks of privation ste,rhsij , without developing the theory of evil as a privation. “Blindness is a privation, but we don’t say that a being is blind any time, but only when he doesn’t have sight at the age in which he should normally possess it” (Mphs v,22). For Ar. privation is always in a subject; in platonician tradition it is self subsisting and identified with matter.

B) For Plato, the question was whether evil had its ultimate cause in the soul or in the matter.

C) Plotinus. This somewhat dualist position is reflected again in Plotinus. Since bodies are material, they are marked by a form of evil caused by matter. This evil also enters the soul which doesn’t tend forcibly towards good. It is characterised by a lack of discipline and of right measure. In fact, Plotinus unites 2 opposite visions of matter : on the one hand, matter is the absolute evil, yet not a self existing principle, but the extreme limit of the emanation, a “sterility or an absolute poverty which communicates its deficiency to the bodies which it composes, origin of all the imperfections of the sensible world and of the perversity of individual souls”; on the other hand, matter is not as such the actual evil, which exists only in souls united to matter.

D) Proclus says that if good has only one cause, evil has several causes and it is a privation. The world needs matter for the perfection of the universe, which therefore is not bad as such. He sees matter as a direct product of the emanation. In this, he is more monist than Plotinus.

E) The Christian faith teaches that God made the world ex nihilo, and created all things good. There is no evil agent who would exist from all eternity. No being as such is evil. Thus evil is stg negative. Origen says that evil is opposed to good as the non-being to being. Thus the perverse and evil are non-beings. God doesn’t suppress all evil: some good will come out of it.


2)   Nature

A) Every being is good. But evil is the opposite of good. Thus evil is the absence of being.[25]

B) Not every absence of being is evil, but that which is natural to a given being : privatio boni debiti in subjecto apto.

C) division  according to the subjects in which evil inheres : nature (malum naturale), human works (malum artificiale), human actions (malum morale).

D) Corollaries : evil is found always in a subject which is good as such. Evil cannot be desired for its own sake.


3)   Cause of evil

A) As such,  it is the privation of a form in a subject, thus it doesn’t have a formal cause. It must have a material cause, the subject of evil (rotten apple, sinful man, evil government). it must have an effct cause (49,1).

B) Natural evil has a deficient, rather than an efficient, cause.

a) It is caused per accidens by a deficiency in its organisation (in the genetic realm e.g.) or in its activity. This activity is understood, not so much as an acting as a de-acting ‘de-agendo’, e.g. the lion kills the antelope. This is the case of a bad human action, a bad sculpture, a bad test. In a world made of things limited and perishable (vs. spiritual world), avoiding all errors is impossible : errare humanum est; delere juvenis est.

b) God is the cause per accds (by hypothetical necessity) of the evil in nature since the presence of evil is connatural to creatures (produced ex nihilo) marked with several limitations, subject to change, and entering in composition with prime matter. Thus change, corruption and evil, exists in the substantial as well as in the accidental level of the universe.

c) Yet these processes belong to a world characterised by finality and thus the evil of nature has some end. This is proved also presupposing God’s existence : God is all-powerful and good, yet allows evil to exist. But if He didn’t draw good out of evil, He would contradict His own nature. Ergo (I 2,3 ad 2).

C) Moral evil (sin).

a) Theory :

i effct.cs:The moral evil is a more profound form of evil, where man consciously wants stg evil. Its effct cause is the free will, the ontological act of which is caused by God as ultimate cause. This moral act is caused by God neither per se nor per accds.

ii gravity : The human choice is distinct from the divine choice and is opposed to man’s finality : it hurts man as much as God. The moral evil is the worse bec.

· it prevents man from reaching his end, which is the most important thing for him.

· it deprives man of his perfection as man, ie. as a rational being, having a sense of duty. It is the cause of most sufferings on earth.

iii Reason for man’s sin : Man is the one who doesn’t consider the rule of reason while acting : and this lack of consideration has no cause, it just comes from the liberty which can act or not act. Evil in the int. is due to error (errare humanum, perseverare diabolicum), incoherence (illogism or absurdity), ignorance (nescientia), prejudice (judgt on a thing ignored).

b) Practically , how can man deal with evil in this world : 

Prior to demonstrating God’s existence, malum vitandum.

after demonstrating His existence, man is consoled bec. God draws good out of evil. As to the irreducible evils of the happiness of the wicked and sorrows of the just, he must know that justice will be done hereafter, making all things right.


vi. every being is beautiful


            1) history


1)   Greeks. kalo,j (beautiful) meant originally good health, strength, virtue and beautiful appearance. It implied order and symmetry. Democritus says that the beautiful must be balanced. Plato identifies it to Good, higher than being. For him, the desire of physical beauty, as much as for artistic beauty and the beauty of virtuous acts was essential in education and culture.


2)   Aristotle associates the beautiful with the divine, ie. the most perfect. Beautiful is what is agreeable and desirable per se (aesthetic and moral beauty). Its attributes are : order, symmetry and delimitation, size (large enough).


3)   The christian tradition. As Plotinus affirms the ontological beauty of things, St. Augustine mentions it too. To be beautiful, a thing must be one, ie. resemble its ideal form : “every beauty is unity”. He wonders whether things are beautiful bec. pleasant to us, or are pleasing us bec. they are beautiful. Why are they beautiful?  Because of the similitude and harmony of their parts. But this leads him to ask where to find the real unity. Following the Platonic doctrine of participation, he says that the pure unity is not in the perception of the extended bodies in space. Beauty is the splendour of the unity of things and of the order of their parts. St. Albert considers the proportion of the parts as the material element and the splendour as the formal one. He attributes 3 conditions essential to beauty : splendor formae over the well proportioned parts; the awakening of the desire; the reunion of all things by the form :congregat omnia ex parte formae cujus resplendentia facit pulchrum.


4)   S. Thomas. Id quod visum (cognitum) placet. The beautiful consists in a just proportion bec. our senses find pleasure in things well proportioned as in things which are similar. Because the senses as well as all our cognitive faculties share in something of reason. The beautiful belongs to the formal cause bec. knowl acts by assimilation and because the similitude relates to the form (I 5,4, ad 1). He thus speaks of the harmony of the parts, the due proportion and order, which presupposes the integrity of the thing. Moreover the beautiful being is shown to man in a bright clarity. The form is a luminous reality which comes from the first clarity and brightness, ie. from God.


5)   Modern philosophers who do not place truth and good in reality deny also the objective beauty of things. The judgement of taste is not a judgt of  knowledge since it is founded on a subjective factor. It is common to think that others may not find beautiful what we see as beautiful, as if there were no exterior objective beauty. Ever since Kant, the philosophers pretend that there is no beauty in things, and that things are ugly. Beauty is only a value which we give to things : opposition between facts and values (the subjective emotion). Such theories are contradicted by experience which sees beauty in a thing objectively beautiful : a sunset, a chain of mountains... ST affirms the objective character of beauty wo denying the subjective pleasure accompanying the objective perception of the beautiful. Mphscs as such studies things natural and not artificial where the human art as such can be evaluated with difficulty especially if the artist wanted to express an idea remote from its representation.

            2) nature of beautiful[26]


1)   In general. A being can be related to the soul as to its appetitive power (foundation of desirability, good), or as to its intellective power (foundation of conformity, true). It can also relate so as to cause pleasure to the contemplative soul (foundation of pleasure, beautiful). Beauty does not consist in the pleasure or rest of the int., but in the properties of things which renders their contemplation enjoyable. “I shall ask whether things are beautiful bec. they bring pleasure or rather they bring pleasure bec. they are beautiful. And doubtlessly, they will answer that they bring pleasure bec. they are beautiful”.[27]

2)   Diversity. pulchrum est id quod visum placet. Beautiful is a quality transcendental to all beings, of diverse levels like being.

A) Thus beauty can be sensible (esp. sight and hearing which can reach out) or intelligible. If intelligible it relates ncssly to the moral truth and goodness. Thus ugliness (lack of beauty) is proper to error, ignorance, vice and sin.

B) There is also a natural beauty (from the nature of things), and an artificial beauty man made. (the fine arts aim at giving beauty to things artificial).

3)   Beauty and knowledge

A) The beauty of things is perceived by the cognitive potencies, sensitive (sight and hearing part.) and intellective, or the union of both. It is splendor veri, since it is realised by the brightness of the form, which gives the ratio objectiva pulchri.

B) But besides its relation to knowledge, beauty adds pleasure or taste which results from plain knowledge.[28] It is known only by the int. which alone can perceive the components of beauty (splendour and order). Other senses perceive it too, sight and hearing, in as much as they are serving reason.

4)   Beauty and goodness. Thus beauty is a certain type of goodness, since it corresponds to an appetite which it satisfies. It is a specific type of good, since every good thing gives joy when it is obtained, but only a beautiful thing gives joy when it is known.



            3) beauty and perfection


Stg is beautiful simpliciter when it possesses all the perfection required by its nature. As a special type of goodness, it is founded on the special perfection which is the harmonica partium consonantia. Hence, the greater the multiplicity and the more perfect the unity, the greater shall be the beauty. Beauty supposes 3 elements :


1)   a certain harmony or proportion of the object in itself and in relation to its surrounding ground. This proportion does not exclude variety, and is certainly contrary to monotony. Eg. the disposition of the universe, rhythm and melody of classical music, the harmonious integration of a living organism. It takes a mind to coordinate and unite the diverse parts into one apprehension.


2)   the integrity of the parts, in relation to the perfections required for the substantial form and accidtl forms. A being is beautiful if it is complete, and esp. if it has the final touch which makes it exquisite.

3)   Clarity is required both regarding matter and spirit.[29]

A) For the mind, clarity means intelligibility, truth, being.

B) For the eye, it means not only light and colour (clearly distinguished) but also neatness and cleanliness (distinct lines).

C) For the ear, it means the disposition of sounds enjoyable to the ear.

D) On the contrary, what is confused, inordinate, disconnected is not intelligible to the mind and is grasped by the senses only w. difficulty. Order is clear, transparent, lucid, ie. beautiful, ‘lucidus ordo’ says Horatius.

4) the degrees of beauty


1)   The divine Beauty, unique and utterly simple, is reflected in creatures in various ways. As they participate in being, they participate also in beauty in a limited way which corresponds to their determinate and limited form.


2)   The spiritual substances

A) re. their immanent perfection, since their subst. form is not limited by matter, possess all the beauty which corresponds to their degree and mode of being. As an angel is, so he is good and beautiful. Pure spirits are ordered in the scale of beauty according to the scale of being.


B) But, re. their supernatural finality, their beauty depends on free acts which are ordered to the end, which give beauty simpliciter to their being. An angel can lose his beauty simpliciter by departing from his end through sin.


3)   for material beings


A) re. their immanent beauty.  Beauty is fragmented and dispersed, since no individual may exhaust all the perfections of its species. Like sp. subst., the material beings have a whole gamut of beauty sec. quid according their degree of entity, and the most perfect species will be the most beautiful. Wherever there is more complexity and more unity, there we have more harmony and more beauty. But re. the pulchrum simpliciter, it is not ncssy, since the individual of a lesser species can be more beaut. than that of a superior species : pretty rose vs difformed cat.

B) But as such, the climax of beauty is measured in relation to the obtention of the transcendental end. Man can and must reach his ult. transcdtl end, God. The ultimate degree of beauty of man depends on his free ordination to God, and compared to it, physical beauty is of little value.


            5) the human perception of beauty


1)   Are all things beautiful ?

A) O/: All tgs are good, yet some are harmful to man, like venom. What about beauty?

A/ : in order to please man, this beauty must exist in proportion with the cognitive powers of man. There must be such a proportion and conformity with the object, to make it easily knowable and to enjoy it. Our faculties, created by God to know bg, enjoy the contemplation of what is perfect. Such a proportion is necessary bec. of our corporal nature and our sensitive knowl.     

B) Some aspects of beauty exceed certain men,

a) Likewise, some truths are opaque to certain intelligences. Acquired habits make things more appetible to some than to others.

b) Thus, there is the need for an aesthetic education, wo which it is difficult to perceive the beauty of certain artistic manifestations. That is why someone can destroy his artistic taste, which is an acquired habit, and his capacity to appreciate and compose stg beautiful. One can be misled to embrace an erroneous doctrine through a clear, rich and imaginary presentation.


2)   Thus, beauty is proper to things. Because some say that “beauty is in the eyes of the beholder”, “to each his liking”,  the h. subjectivity seems to dominate the arts, yet, the beauty of an object does not depend on each taste. If that was the case, there would be no point speaking of beauty or ugliness. Ordinary experience as well as artistic experience prove that both natural and artistic beauty transcend man, and are based on the nature of things. Subjectivism leads to the absurd modern art which is the cult of ugliness (C/f wish of Chinese communists), a clever way of wiping out Christian civilisation, which is naturally so appealing by its order, beauty and harmony.


vii. conclusion


1)   A system? Do the transcendentals of Thomist philo. constitute a system bound together by their inner logic?  Historically, the exposition of the transcdtls did not proceed deductively. Yet there emerges a coherent and well-ordered system. The mind brought them about by discovering some oppositions between the concepts, diverse opposition ranging from pure contradiction to mere relation. Hegel too would set a relation of opposition for the growth of his philo. Yet, in a realist philo., the opposition always relates to reality, and only reflects the diversity of things.

2)   Its most notable characteristics:

A) it is a realist system, bec.

a) it is founded on the primacy of the notion of being;

b) the reality of experience, our world, is truly being;

c) it is integrating the different aspects of the universe. Thought and action, respectively regarding true and good, come together in being, ultimately the first being, where truth and goodness attain absolute identity with being itself.

B) there is a certain intellectualism, where true precedes good, in activity or in object because :  true is closer to being than good, since true relates to being absolutely whereas good relates to being as perfect; nihil volitum nisi praecognitum.


[1] De Veritate q1, a1. transcendentale est universalis modus entis inquantum entis.

[2] e.g. I 5,1. Said otherwise, ‘unum autem et ens non diversas naturas sed unam significant’.

[3] the relation of knowledge is not the transcendental, although it is implied in the transcendental ‘true’, meaning the being known, one of the term of the relation of knowledge between knower and being known.

[4] In IV Metaph. l.3, # 566.

[5] The Persons of the Holy Trinity are really distinct, but neither diverse nor different.

[6] In Metaph. V lect. 8

[7] In Metaph. X, lec. 4; I 11,2.

[8] I 30, 3.

[9] In Metaph. ibid.; cf Ia 11, 2 ad 4. Persona est una ie. cum indivisa substantia; personae sunt multae ie. sunt illae personae cum indivisio circa unaquaque earum.

[10] Metaph III 7, 1011 b 27.

[11] Gardeil, Text X, p.272.

[12] See Text X, p.272, Ia pars 16,1 c.

[13] see immanent action in ch.6 on causality; .

[14] Metaph. IX c.10, 11051 b.

[15] All things hang on God as their first and last cause bec. they all share being, which is a universal effect and as such can be caused only by a universal cause. (cf. q. 104)

[16] I 17,1

[17] True and false is properly in the mind, says Ar.

[18] Mphs 1021 b.

[19] Ethica Nic I 1,1094.

[20] See Text XI : Whether Good adds anything to being, p.274 Gardeil.

[21] In ST, goodness is a transcendental bec. it adds to being the desirableness by a created will, hence the created will is the basis of goodness.

[22] I 5,4

[23] De Anima II c.4, # 415.

[24] See Alvarez p. 185 re. good as opposed to value.

[25] ST establishes that evil is not a thing ‘non est aliquid’. A thing is evil because it is opposed to the good thing in as much as it is the privation of it. But all that is participates of God’s goodness, thus cannot be evil. Thus evil is not something. I 48,1.

[26] See Gredt, Elementa philosophiae II, pp.35-38.

[27] De Vera religione c.32, SA.

[28] To be notified of an event by a common witness brings simple knowledge, different from being told by a good novelist or actor, who brings life and enjoyment to the news.

[29] Omnis autem forma, per quam res habet esse, est participatio quaedam Dei claritatis. » De Div. nom. c. 3. lect.5