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Compiled by Anthony Harrison-Barbet


SUAREZ

(1548 — 1617)

 

 

'SUAREZANISM' (MODIFIED THOMISM)

Francisco Suarez was born at Granada, Spain, the son of a lawyer. He was admitted to the Jesuit Order in 1564 and studied philosophy. He later studied canon law at the University of Salamanca. From 1571 until his retirement in 1616 he taught philosophy and theology at a number of Jesuit colleges and universities, finally becoming a professor at CoImbra (1597-1616). He was a prolific writer and was the central figure in the sixteenth century revival of scholasticism in Spain. He was known as Doctor Eximius ('distinguished teacher').

 

METAPHYSICS / PSYCHOLOGY

[1] [Metaphysical Disputations 1 and 2.] Metaphysics is the science that studies being qua being. By 'being' Suarez means that which does or can exist; being is 'real essence' — that which does not involve a contradiction and which is not constructed by the mind. And being is divided into necessary being (being in itself — ens a se) and contingent being (ens ab alio) [a] — which is dependent on or participating in being in itself, that is, God. Existent things include 'transcendental attributes' [ibid. 3-11] [b]: unity, truth, goodness [3], material and immaterial things, and substances and accidents. The metaphysician is concerned primarily with immaterial things but arrives at general categories of being through a consideration of material things. He also deals with the concept of being, but again not as an abstraction but as it is realized in existent things. This concept refers to what all actually existent beings have in common, that is, their likeness to each other. And he says that all creatures are in being by virtue of their relation to God in so far as they participate in or imitate His being. But being is not a universal concept. Suarez held that the relationship between finite beings in general and God's infinite being is not univocal but one of analogical attribution [De Legibus 2 & 28] [c]. He distinguishes further between being as real essence and being as the act of existing, but he places more emphasis on the former. In God they are one and the same [30] [d]. God possesses all perfections. He is the one being, uncreated, infinite, all-wise, pure act, without 'composition'. However, according to Suarez, there are different ways of possessing perfections. Perfections (for example, wisdom) exist formally and can be predicated formally of God if they do not of themselves contain any imperfection or limitation. But considered as the source of (limited) wisdom in finite things God possesses this perfection 'eminently' [e]; and it is then predicable of Him formally only by analogy. Suarez accepts the Aristotelian/ Thomist account of the four causes (material, efficient, formal, and final) [13-27] [f] and also the causal argument for God's existence [29]. While everything that is made or produced (as against being moved) is so by another, either there can be no infinite regress or an external cause would be required to ground the infinite series. Such a 'cause' or unproduced product is God — though Suarez argues that to show that this is God one must first establish that there is only one uncreated necessarily self-existing being. And this must be so, for if many beings have the same nature what makes them individuals would have to lie outside their essence; whereas in the case of the unique God his individuality belongs to His very existence [g].

[2] As for finite beings [30 and 31], Suarez allows that there is in them a distinction between 'existing' essence and 'actual' essence, but this is only a logical or mental distinction, not a real one [a], although it is objectively grounded in that creatures do not exist necessarily. It is "a distinction of the reason as fundamental in the thing" (distinctio rationis cum fundamento in re) [31]. Existence is in fact just the actual essence itself; it is not received in and therefore not limited by a potentiality. Actual existent essences created by God are thus contingent in their very nature. Because this distinction is not real the metaphysical union of existence and essence of all created beings to form an ens per se unum can be called a 'composite' only in an analogical sense [31]; whereas it is a genuine (and physical) composition such as the union of matter and form, for example, which constitutes bodies or individual (primary) substance [b], that is, immediately existing things comprising species and differentia, not dependent attributes. Rejecting Aquinas's postulation of matter and Ockham's haecceitas as the principle of individuation, Suarez regards both form and matter as individuating factors [c], form being the primary one as sufficient to determine the numerical uniqueness of the individual thing, while matter is relevant to the distinction between individuals in respect of, say, quantity [5]. However, he also allows that individuality itself adds to the common essence of a thing something real which is mentally distinct from the essence and which with it constitutes the individual metaphysically. Primary substances as actual essences are existents. But he also says a primary substance is a suppositum, that is, it has subsistence, is not supported by anything else [34]. This subsistence is a special mode of existing, namely as a substance, added to the actual essence. Accidents subsist in a different mode — as dependent attributes. Form and matter have their own special modes as well as a mode in union [d]. Secondary substances are universals [ibid. 6], but while these are grounded in real things, they themselves have no real existence. However, he rejects the idea that they are either merely mental contructions or words [e].

[3] The soul too may be said to have different modes of subsistence [a] according as to whether it is joined to the body or separated after death. To account for knowledge, Suarez distinguishes an active intellect and a passive intellect. The active intellect can know individual material objects directly. The passive intellect, assisted by the active intellect, conforms to the representations or 'likenesses' of the 'phantasms' it receives through sense-experience [b] and thence attains to knowledge of universals by abstraction [6]. Despite Suarez's abstractionism and his view that all individual beings are individual essences, he rejects both conceptualist and nominalist theories [c].

[4] Relations [47, 54. Suarez distinguishes between real and mental relations. Mental relations, which include logical relations such as subject-predicate and genus and species, as well as negations, privations, and purely mental relations, are entia rationis, which have being objectively in the mind. They are called entia by way of analogy with being. As for real relations, only those which cannot be separated from the essences of their subjects belong to the category of relations proper. For example, it is an intrinsic characteristic of the essence of an existent creature that it belongs to the Creator. Matter and form are similarly related. These are called 'transcendental relations' [a]. Relations such as that which obtains between, for example, two white things no longer exist when one of the things ceases to exist. Such relations, although real, do not therefore belong to the category of relations.

[5] Man's participatory dependence on God [31] raises a problem in relation to choice. Suarez. was concerned to avoid the difficulty that God's omniscience might seem incompatible with human freedom, human actions being predetermined. He therefore utilized the theory of congruism [a]. God has 'intermediate knowledge' (scientia media) of what an individual will do if he is given grace to enable him to act freely. But Suarez introduces a distinction between 'congruous' grace, appropriate to the circumstances of actions and which will therefore gain the consent of the individual will, and 'incongruous' grace, which, although sufficient to enable the will to act, is yet unsuitable and does not get the individual's consent. God, however, knows what graces would be congruous.

 

POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY/ PHILOSOPHY OF LAW

[6] [See On Laws.] Suarez distinguished four kinds or levels of law. Eternal law is God's freely willed decree and is revealed to man in divine law, which he is obliged to obey. Natural law comprises general, primary, and immutable moral principles, such as to do good, or to worship God, and secondary moral principles derived from them. Man perceives natural law through the natural light of reason, but it originates from God's will: He has through his reason ordained that certain kinds of acts should be prescribed in so far as they are intrinsically good, that is, harmonize with rational natures and lead to the common good. He is not, however, the direct volitional cause of good and evil actions. Human law [a], on which political philosophy is based, has to be grounded in divine law or natural law. The state for Suarez is 'natural', not an artificial social contract. But it is the community which gives power to the legislature, and although this is underpinned by God the people remain free to choose their actual form of government. While approving of monarchy, Suarez says the people have the right to depose their ruler — even a legitimate one if he is unjust [b].

 

CRITICAL SUMMARY

Suarez's philosophy may be characterized as a development and modification of the central tenets of Thomism, and the criticisms which might be made of his system are similar to those which apply to that of Aquinas. But he is important for his revival of scholasticism in the early Renaissance period, and especially for his legal and political philosophy. Noteworthy is his rejection of the view that theology can be sundered from metaphysics; indeed he argues that theology requires a systematic metaphysics if it is to be articulated. But perhaps the most controversial issue, concerns his views about the relationship between essence and existence. Most of the later philosophers who may be supposed to have been influenced by him, such as Vico, Descartes, and Leibniz, have interpreted him as an 'essentialist' (and indeed Aquinas came to be similarly interpreted by association, as it were). However, some scholars (for example, Copleston) have argued that this view of Suarez is misleading if not false; and moreover that the differences between Aquinas and Suarez are less marked than has been supposed. If existence and essence are identified respectively with actuality (being) and potentiality (non-being), then clearly Aquinas was correct in making a real distinction between them in finite things (although they remain inseparable). But Suarez says that actual existence and actual essence are only mental distinctions, albeit objectively founded in creation and contingency. Existence is limited by essence not because it is a potentiality (Aquinas's view) but because existence is nothing but enacted essence; it is limited by its being what it is — a finite, contingent being dependent on and participating in God. Copleston also points to this dependency (reinforced by Suarez's emphasis on production rather than motion) as characterizing an existential aspect in his thought.

 

READING

Suarez: Commentary on Aristotle's Metaphysics; Disputationes metaphysicae (a number of sections from both texts have been translated into English — see the Bibliography); De Legibus (On Laws), in Selections with introduction by J. B. Scott. Copleston's essay on Suarez in his History of Phiosophy, vol. 3 is also an excellent resource.

Studies

R. L. Arrington (ed.), A Companion to the Philosophers.

T. U. Mullaney, Suarez on Human Freedom.

 

 

CONNECTIONS

Suarez

 

Note: Any influences of Aristotle on Suarez may be taken to have been mediated through the philosophical works of Aquinas.

 

[1a; cf. 1d] Metaphysics as study of being ('real essence'); being as contingent and necessary (God)    Aquinas [1b 3a]

 

[1b] Transcendental attributes; categories of being    Aquinas [1g]

 

[1c] Relation between finite and infinite being (God) analogical (attribution) not univocal

   Aquinas

   Duns Scotus

Berkeley

[3c]

[1c]

[3b]

 

[1d] Being: real essence and act of existing — identical in God; 'essentialism'

   Avicenna

   Aquinas

   Duns Scotus

[1a c]

[3a]

[2b]

 

[1e] Perfections in God 'formally' or 'eminently' Descartes [3b]

 

[1f] The four causes    Aquinas [2f]

 

[1g] God's unicity and existence: causal arguments (metaphysical — from production not motion); individuality belongs to essence of unique God

   Aquinas

   Duns Scotus

Descartes

   Spinoza

[3e]

[3b]

[3b]

[2c]

 

[2a] Finite beings — distinction between essence and existence logical/ mental

   Aquinas

   Duns Scotus

   Ockham

[1d]

[2b]

[3a]

 

[2b; cf. 1c] 'Composite' union of existence and essence in created beings analogical; genuine composition in individual bodies/ substances

   Aquinas

   Duns Scotus

[1d 2a]

[2b c]

 

[2c] Individuation through both matter and form

   Aquinas

   Duns Scotus

[2b]

[2g]

 

[2d 3a] Modes of existence: primary substance, accidents, form & matter; the soul (life & post-death)

   Avicenna

   Aquinas

   Spinoza

[1b]

[1c]

[2d]

 

[2e] Secondary substance/ universals: no real existence (but grounded in reality)

   Aquinas

   Ockham

[6e]

[2d]

 

[3b] Knowledge: active intellect assists passive; active knows directly, passive can abstract and conforms to representations

   Aquinas

[6d]

 

[3c] Direct knowledge only of individual things and essences/ universals (by abstraction)

   Aquinas

   Duns Scotus

   Ockham

[6e]

[5d]

[3e]

 

[4a; cf. 2a] Relations: 'real' and 'mental'; matter and form: transcendental relations

   Aquinas

   Ockham

   Leibniz

[1c]

[3e]

[1a 3b]

 

[5a]

Human choice/ freedom and God's omniscience — 'congruism'*; no pre-determinism

*[concept introduced by the Spanish Jesuit philosopher Luis de Molina]

   Aquinas

Leibniz

[4a]

[5h]

 

[6a] Law (four kinds) and God's will/ free decrees; God not cause of evil

   Aquinas

   Ockham

[8c 10b]

[6a]

 

[6b] Man as social animal; social contract natural; monarchy; legislature empowered by people but derives from God    Aquinas [10a c]