Dialectical Method in Peripatetic Philosophy of Nature and the Predicability of Physical Reality


The following essay has been submitted for consideration to an upcoming conference in Milan. Hopes for its acceptance do not outweigh the wish to share it now. Comments, criticisms, and any replies are welcome.

* * *

“Aristotle’s physics too often sound like mere terms of dialectic, which he rehashed under a more solemn name in his metaphysics.” – Francis Bacon⁠1

“… but the Greeks honored the pure word, and the pure treatment of a proposition as well as the matter. And if word and matter are opposed to each other, the word is the higher one, for the unspoken matter really is an irrational thing. The rational exists only as speech.” – G. W. F. Hegel⁠2

1. Introduction

Max Jammer, in a brief aside, contrasts “Galileo’s . . . geometrico-mathematical language” with “the Aristotelian logico-verbal method of investigation.”⁠3 By this he intends to highlight the greater rigor and precision of Galilean mathematical “language”⁠4 with the dialectical terms of Aristotelian physics. Modern experimental physics speaks more eloquently and expansively of nature with its artful and cultivated mathematical tongue. The ancient physics of Aristotle originates from the more instinctive logic of spoken language, which seems to inquire about the world head-on without due methodological care and thus stutters about nature with a parochial vocabulary and in an embarrassing accent. Does it deserve this reputation? Or is it a mean between the two extremes portrayed by Bacon and Hegel?

The Peripatetic “logico-verbal” or dialectical method is one way among several options and deserves to be examined on its own terms, prior to considerations of Aristotelian interpretations of modern mathematical physics. This essay outlines what this method is and how it develops a particular ontology when used as a logical tool. I pay particular attention to how aspects of the “mode of predication” affect this method. I do not aim at a review of the complete capacity of dialectic, a historical survery, or extended engagement with the recent revival of perennial elements of method and content in metaphysics and the philosophy of nature.⁠5 However, I do aim to exhibit the “predicamental space” available to this method. The method does not bias our metaphysics but rather—for more than etymological reasons—the path via speech about being is the natural way to an adequate ontology. To accomplish this end, I will address the following two questions. First, what in general is this dialectical method? Second, why choose this method over its competitors? I will conclude by sketching how this method might be used and to what ontological commitments it might lead.

2. What is the dialectical method in general?

Generally, this dialectical method is a part of classical Aristotelian logic. Specifically, it is the part that provides the mind with tools for probable reasoning. Classical logic encompasses a diverse family of doctrines but generally they concern the discovery of definitions, the types of statements and their various relationships and modalities, the requirements for necessary demonstrations, probable arguments, and the possibilities of sophistical failure in reasoning.⁠6 Its nature is historically vast and any systematic engagement with modern sentential, predicate, or modal logic, much less the nature of modern scientific method, is beyond the scope of this essay.⁠7 For our purposes, we should begin by noting that this method places its emphasis on an inspection of the order and structure of our speech. By speech, I have in mind Aristotle’s definition from On Interpretation, namely, spoken sounds significant by convention.⁠8 Logic is a dia-logical tool (a tool through speech) that considers speech signifying things through our thoughts.

That logic arranges its consideration in this order is indicated by Thomas Aquinas:

There is an order that reason does not make but only considers, and such is the order of natural things. There is, moreover, another order that reason by its consideration makes in its own act, namely when it orders its concepts to each other, and signs of concepts, namely, significant vocal sounds. […] The order which reason by its consideration makes in its own act belongs to rational philosophy, to which belongs the consideration of the order of the parts of speech to each other and the order of principles to conclusions.⁠9

Here both concepts and parts of speech are mentioned. While it is clear that logic (rational philosophy) must consider concepts, we can ask in what way it ought to do so. Significant speech receives a unique place:

Because logic is ordered to knowledge taken from things, the signification of vocal sounds, which is immediate to the very conceptions of the intellect, pertains to its principal consideration.⁠10

Aquinas also draws attention to this emphasis on speech in his Summa Theologiae:

Just as in exterior acts there is a consideration of the operation and the work, as in the act of building and the edifice itself, so also in the work of reason there is a consideration of the very act of reason, which is understanding and reasoning, and also something constituted by this act. In speculative reason, there is first of all definition, second, statement, and third, syllogism or argument.⁠11

The definition, statement, and syllogism or argument (corresponding to the three acts of reason) are themselves products of reason. Reason makes its own tools for thought. These tools are the verbal structures within which the acts of reasoning live as we seek the truth. Consequently, it should be the concern of the logican to known how to construct these tools. Indeed, the “viam praedicationis” of the logician’s inquiry differs from the “viam motus” of the natural scientist. The logician considers the “mode of predication, and not the existence of the thing.”⁠12 We shall return to this “mode of predication” shortly.

This does not mean, first of all, that logic has no truck with things. Logic as the ratiocinative art aims at finding out the truth of things. But the logician does this by way of making tools in speech. Nor, secondly, does this mean that logic has nothing to do with thoughts. Rather, the logician uses significant vocal sounds because as the signs of thoughts they are clearer to us than the nature of thoughts as first or second intentions. Logic does concern itself with logical intentions, but, for reasons to be given in the next section, it does not take its point of departure from such concepts even though its height must include them. Logic as an art is learned from speech and seeks its end in speakable truth. Logical intentions provide the form for this art.⁠13 Finally, when we say that the logican considers “the mode of predication,” this is not to conflate logic with grammar. The consideration of speech in grammar is ordered to the consideration of structure in language itself for the sake of correct signification. By contrast, the consideration of speech in logic is ordered to the consideration of structure in thought for the sake of right reasoning. We will give some reasons for the importance of this order in the next section.

For now, let us consider a few examples of how logic is about words insofar as they signifying things through our thoughts about them for the sake of reasoning well. Both Porphyry’s Isagoge and Aristotle’s Categories show a priority of words in the consideration of logic.⁠14 The predicables of “species” and “genus” are answers to the question “What is it?” Properties and accidents generally answer questions along the lines of “How is it?” or “Of what manner is it?” Similarly, the Categories begin with distinctions about the names of things, and the various predicaments are assigned as answers to questions such as “What kind is it?” or “How much is it?” or “Where is it?”. Questions about “Why is X such as to be Y?” require arguments of various modal strengths (probable, necessary), whose conditions are, among other things, the ways in which terms are defined. Thus, logical structures or the intentions of our thought not only naturally show up in our speech but are also more manifest to us in that medium.

This returns us to what the “mode of predication” is. To give a nominal definition, a mode of predication is the way in which a predicate relates to its subject in the act of judgment, or a particular determination of the act of predication.⁠15 For example, one mode of predication relates a defining element in a definition to the thing defined: A triangle is a linear figure. Aristotle enumerates two other such modes of per se predication.⁠16 However, this is not to say that there are only three modes of predication. Another such mode is accidental predication: Socrates is wise. More formally, because predication arises from our analysis of “what exists” in reality, the modes of predication are therefore features of subject-predicate relations arising from the being of things insofar as something is conceived so as to be predicated. Thus, the way in which being shows up in our acts of predication implies what we could call a “modalist” position. The modes of being are reflected in the modes of our thinking, which in turn show up in our modes of predication. It bears emphasizing that this is an assumption that can be made at first by a learner—perhaps naïvely at first—but this same position can be made more defensible by further refinement.⁠17

Hence, this modalist assumption bears some qualification. It is not a claim that there is a strict identity or mirroring between these modes. That is, the modes of being mediately cause the modes of understanding and hence modes of predication. Hence, the modes of predication are proportionate to the modes of being but not identical to them.⁠18 Nonetheless, the assumption does make a significant claim about reality and implicates the Aristotelian doctrine of signification from On Interpretation, I.1. Indeed, it requires that “being” not be a genus:

Whence it is necessary that being is contracted to diverse genera according to a diverse mode of predication, which follows upon a diverse mode of being. For, in however many ways being is said, that is, in however many ways something is predicated, in so many ways being is signified, that is, in that many ways something is signified to be. Because of this, those into which being is first divided are called predicaments, because they are distinguished by a diverse mode of predication.⁠19

Yet, the modes of predication do not follow immediately upon the modes of being:

To be sure, the mode of signifying of significant vocal sounds does not follow immediately upon the mode of being of things, but mediately upon the mode of understanding, because acts of understanding are similitudes of things, and significant vocal sounds are similitudes of understandings, as is said in On Interpretation, Book I.⁠20

Both of these texts place clear emphasis on how we track down distinct modes of being (or “contract” being) through a consideration of modes of predication. Note the order in consideration: diverse modes of predication obtain because there are diverse modes of being, but we can defend the diverse modes of being due to the presence of diverse modes of predication.⁠21 An example of how this can be done is the solution to a paradox derived from Antisthenes.⁠22 Let “Socrates is wise” be formally represented as “A is B.” However, the notion of A is not the same as the notion of B, for the notion of ‘Socrates’ is not that of ‘wise’. So, A is not B. Thus, “A is B” is saying “A is not-A”. The reply to this paradox is as follows: The “is” of “A is B” or “Socrates is wise” is intended in a different mode than ‘is’ in “A is not-A”, namely, the mode or manner of an accident or feature, and not a mode of identity one might naïvely assume to be present in the principle of non-contradiction. In order to save predication, “is” must be analogous. This motivates the insight that there are predicates of being in different modes because being exists in different modes, or in distinct categories. The Thomistic derivation of the categories of being shows how this method of contracting being based upon the modes of predication could be employed.⁠23 What this requires is that physical reality is predicable, or apt and ready to be brought forth in speech, in a way that medieval philosophy took seriously but modern and contemporary philosophy—in particular due to the development of experimental science and its mathematical methods—did not and does not. Might not this medieval assumption bias an ontological theory?⁠24 Modern metaphysical realism, which takes metaphysics to be posterior to the sciences in a strong sense, maintains that the great metaphysicians were just responding to the science of their own day; a fortiori, a method using logic or language cannot lead us to metaphysical insight.⁠25 Let us consider, then, reasons for taking this Aristotelian method as a philosophical guide for ontology.

3. Why choose this Aristotelian method over its competitors?

We begin at first in ignorance of truth. Things become known to us in a composite context of sensation, thought, and speech. When we first seek out the truth, should we primarily proceed by way of sensation of things, a way of ideas, or by indications in our speech? I offer here a general series of arguments why a method which places an order of emphasis on speech is to be preferred. I will consider, first, a putative method that takes its cue primarily from things themselves, second, a “way of ideas,” and finally return to Aristotelian dialectic.

If we place emphasis on things themselves (the “way of things”), this requires that we take sensation as a guide to the what and why of things. We first encounter a “Socratic” problem. The very being of things appears contradictory and this stymies the further development of our accurate speech and thought about things. We can take as examples here the paradoxes about relations and change which Socrates gives us in the Phaedo.⁠26 The being of things is difficult to figure out head on. Second, we encounter an “Empirical” problem. We can take as our example here the putative dialogue between senses and reason portrayed by Democritus.⁠27 The atomists aimed to find a permanent reality beneath the every-varying array of sense perception to avoid subjectivism. They concluded that truth is really in the depth of things.⁠28 The result, however, is that we are paradoxically cut off from the truth because our senses are not accurate enough and thus we must somehow supplement sensation with empirically unaided reasoning. Thus, the tack of taking on things in themselves through sensation leads us to seek logical methods that can both guide and go beyond immediate experience. We are forced to seek a method to sort out our contradictory thoughts about things. Perhaps, then, we should turn to a “way of ideas.”

If we place emphasis on thoughts (a “way of ideas”), then we encounter the “Introspection” problem. The nature of our thoughts or ideas and their distinct types is less clear than it might seem.⁠29 We could take here as examples either the rationalists or the empiricists, yet for the sake of reference let us bear in mind a system such as Locke’s. Here, I offer a critique based upon the Aristotelian grounds for differentiating between the imagination and the intellect. The “way of ideas” denies a robust difference in kind between intellection and sense-level cognitive powers (those whose objects are individuals). Such a method thus leaves us with a world cut to the measure of aistheta or phantasmata and not noeta. An indication of this arises in Locke’s system because he maintains that the notion of a “substratum” is meaningless. The Aristotelian argument on this point is as follows.⁠30 Predication and the presence therein of truth and falsity show that there is a difference between what we can inspect in our imagination and what we can inspect with our thoughts. There is a completeness of an imagined thing (even apart from its truth or falsity or even possibility) and its presence to our mind is entirely within our power. However, an opinion or judgment requires something that is not within our power as far as its making it is concerned, namely a reason. This must arise at least from a claim about things themselves. The truth or falsity of our reasons for our opinions are outside of our control. The presence and absence of truth and falsity in the constitution of these two activities signals their difference. Furthermore, geometric diagrams can be deceptive to the eye or imagination and this is only found out through reasoning. There are concepts, such as those of the genus of “triangle,” that have a clear sense but no corresponding image or diagram that adequates to them. You cannot draw or imagine “triangle as such” even thought you can think about it. However, this level of predicamental, ratiocinative complexity and conceptual abstractness that the mind finds in things is still captured in speech and we are guided by speech through the truth and falsity expressed by those very “ideas” that pick out aspects of reality. Speech is ample enough to trace the borders of the things we think about while mere sensation or imagination falls short or misleads.

If we place an emphasis on speech, then, we can safely include both things themselves (because of the modalist assumption that predication relates mediately to things) as well as thoughts (because we can understand that our predications are true or false and include more abstract or more concrete references to things). We can also say that the Aristotelian dialectical method is to be preferred because logical implications are clearer to us at first in speech than inside the structure of thoughts or things. For, first, it is clear that the structure of things is indeed unclear to us at first. This is Aristotle’s guiding thought in the first chapter of his Physics. Further, logical intentions such as definition and argument show up first in our speech (e.g., in the questions: “What is that? How do you know that?”). Now, this might be characterized as a type of “linguistic foundationalism” but it does not tell a myth of the given to defend the ideals of its founding.⁠31 Indeed, the Aristotelian method need only endorse, at first, the given which cannot be a myth, that given which is subject to a test of self-reference.⁠32

What is this test of self-reference? It is a concrete coherence condition for theoretical activity. Is the theory in question, proposed by its theorizers, such that it threatens the theoretical existence of theorizers (either by making them impossible or a mere appearance)? A theory cannot eliminate the being, thoughts, or desires of the theorizing self, because the self proposes the theory as a way to satisfy a desire for true knowledge about reality. A theory in any given domain must, at the very least, be neutral to and not eliminativist about such things. At best, the theory contributes in some positive way to the overall account of how theorizers co-exist with the object of the given theory. This test does not resolve to a logical contradiction in terms. Rather, it operates at the level of a performative self-contradiction. Nor does the test result in a detailed claim about the being or nature of the speaker-theoretician or the objects of the theory. However, when a given account fails the test important theoretical hints or lessons can be learned.

Usually the test produces negative results and tells most immediately against the eliminativist (theory-making-beings are impossible). Example abound. Plausible readings of Heraclitus and Parmenides are eliminativist. Certain arguments against symbolic logic’s interpretation of existence show it to be in danger of being eliminativist about existence.⁠33 However, this test also presses hard against the reductionist (theory-making-beings are in some way a mere appearance to themselves). This has been pointed out by many and in substantive treatments.⁠34 Now, in these negative cases, all that results is that we are thrown back to the process of thought. We realize that our theory must be reformulated and our conclusions redrawn.

The Aristotelian method passes the test of self-reference. That is, the speaker is included in the syntax and semantics of the method. This is clear both from the categorematic and syncategorematic structure within predication as well as the syntax of speech itself. This conclusion flows, of course, from the modalist assumption, which in turn assumes a generally Aristotelian account of signification. Contrast this with the “anonymous observer” found in modern mathematical science.⁠35 This observer is an abstraction. It is a conceptual peg upon which to hang the measurements that are the formal objects of mathematical-physical theory. Such is the fundamental contrast between a “logico-verbal” method and a mathematical method for theorizing about the world. The Aristotelian method hylomorphically contextualizes the theorizing mind in the familiar world by taking as its point of departure natural language, that composite of material word and formal meaning. Modern scientific method temporarily abstracts the mind from the world because its mathematical symbolism is a product of a modeled world within the mind that is then compared to the familiar world as other.

To be sure, the scientist can himself be an object within the configuration space of his theory, but not as a speaker or a thinker. The beings of reason or logical intentions that shape the capacity of Aristotelian dialectic are fundamentally different because they embrace all being. For this reason, logical intentions were called intentiones communes.⁠36 The “predicamental space” of Aristotelian logic is more ample because it supposes that the mind is receptive of being as such: the soul is in a way all things.⁠37 The phase space, for example, of position and momentum capturing the behavior of a harmonic oscillator, or the state of a quantum particle, is a logical resource (or “space”) that is limited. Similarly, “fitness” or “adaptive landscapes” in evolutionary biology are restricted by the preestablished harmony between the needs of the theory and its object of investigation. Predicamental space, by contrast, is the array of possible predicates with highly adaptive semantics, syntax, and a logical mereology that includes predicable and definable wholes. Its mode uses various degrees of abstraction expressible in speech, and its scope includes analogical predication that reaches across categories and transcendentally to their principles. This “predicamental space” I intend merely as an expression for the logic of Aristotelian-Thomistic categorical realism so as to contrast it with other logical “spaces”. The term also captures the predicability of physical—and, given argument, even transphysical—reality. However, how does a theory fill this space with beings? Our investigation of things through the dialectics of Aristotelian logic requires further (plausible) assumptions, to which I now turn in brief conclusion.

4. Conclusion: How is this Aristotelian dialectical method used?

I do not have the space for a complete treatment but aim to be somewhat helpful.⁠38 The word “dialectic” arises from the Greek word for conversation. Hence the name is applied to the method of discussion found in Plato and systematized by Aristotle in the Topics.⁠39 Consequently, “dialectic” and “dialectical” is also used to refer to both the power, habit, and process of reasoning that is not definitive, between stymied ignorance and settled knowledge.⁠40 This lack of resolution arises from the resources one takes up to resolve a question (which can thus denominatively be called dialectical).⁠41 Lacking the substance or essence of the matter under consideration that would resolve the question definitively, something extrinsic must substitute for it. Thus, reasoning is dialectical if it proceeds from premises that are probable, such as an incomplete induction, a commonly accepted opinion, or the views of “the wise” or those who know. Reasoning is also dialectical if it proceeds from something that is known but is too general for a given question. That is, a general piece of knowledge could provide a probable basis to guess about a more specific case, but matters may be different. What is materially common to all the examples given is that dialectical reasoning uses substitute evidence when definitive evidence is not ready to hand. Dialectic has therefore been called the way to principles for a demonstration.⁠42 What characterizes this process most formally is the idea that dialectic uses the same logical intentions (e.g., definitions of essence or properties, universal statements, valid argumentation) but the evidence of its terms is ut nunc, a substite for the real thing. The evidence provided using logical intentions as structure is proxy for proper evidence because this dialectical replacement is both common enough (for the logical intentions are extrinsic to the proper nature of the matter at hand without being alien to it) and probable (as opposed to certain, for the evidence is not of the proper principles).⁠43 To be sure, dialectic cannot take the place of scientific insight or the proper procedure of a particular science. The only place where logic can be used in this “dialectical” way to attain insight is metaphysics.⁠44

Thus, what dialectic does is to use as tools the logical structure of our speech (subject, predicate) and the connections to be found therein (accidental, necessary, various types of property or defining parts of an essence), and form placeholders that must be filled through a clearer grasp of reality. The logical structure that we find in speech causes us to anticipate a similar structure in being.⁠45 Clearly, a danger is that our tools for thinking will anticipate and bias the nature of realities that we will accept as true. However, it is also unclear that we can claim that reality is structured in some wholly different way than shows up (even indirectly and remotely) in our speech—that is, in predicamental space. There are only nails from a hammer’s point of view, but tools fashioned in predicamental space are more versatile than hammers. This is to be expected given the modalist assumption that I made earlier.

The lesson is that “filling in” the dialectical terms must be done carefully and in accord with the nature of the subject under study. The “beables” of each theory must be appropriately characterized and this can only by done by that theory in its own proper matter.⁠46 Philosophical debates in biology (over the nature of “species”), quantum physics (over the reality of particles as “objects” or “things”), and cosmology (over the reality of space and time as “parts” of the universe) indicate how seriously this step is taken. The universe via a logical intention of subject of predication can be construed as a single object, but this does not warrant a conclusion to its unity as an object even if it spurs us on (as a dialectical method should) to investigate the status and character of its real unity. Consequently, one must consider exactly how dialectics writes the checks that metaphysics or a particular science later tries to cash, for there is no isomorphism between predicates and beings, but neither is there a complete disjunction.⁠47 Yet this consideration of “regulative axioms” that could guide our activity of theorizing, which axioms are worthy of being accepted on their own grounds, would require a further investigation.

1 Francis Bacon, The New Organon, ed. by L. Jardine, trans. by M. Silverthorne (Cambridge University Press, 2000) 51–52 (Book I, Aphorism 153).

2 Hegel, Vorlesungen über die Geschichte der Philosophie, Werke in zwanzig Bänden, B. 18, ed. E. Moldenhauer and K. M. Michel (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1979) 378–79: “Die Griechen achteten das reine Wort und die reine Behandlung eines Satzes ebenso als die Sache. Und wenn Wort und Sache einander entgegengesetzt wird, ist das wort das Höhere; den die nicht ausgesprochene Sache ist eigentlich ein unvernünftiges Ding, das Vernünftige existiert nur als Sprache.” (Translation modified from that of E. S. Haldane.) This is the first epigraph to Wolfgang Wieland’s Die aristotelische Physik: Untersuchungen über die Grundlegung der Naturwissenschaft und die sprachlichen Bedingungen der Prinzipienforschung bei Aristoteles (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1992), whose views will be mentioned below.

3 Max Jammer, Concepts of Space: The History of Theories of Space in Physics, 3rd ed. (New York: Dover Publications, 1993) 217.

4 Galileo Galilei, The Assayer, in The Essential Galileo, ed. and trans. by M. A. Finocchiaro (Indianapolis/Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Company, 2008) 183.

5 Consider, for instance, G. E. L. Owen, (ed.), Aristotle on Dialectic: The Topics (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1968), Jean Marie Le Blond, Logique et méthode chez Aristote: Étude sur la recherche des principes dans la physique aristotélicienne, 2nd ed. (Paris: J. Vrin, 1970), John David Gemmill Evans, Aristotle’s Concept of Dialectic (Cambridge University Press, 1977), Terence Irwin, Aristotle’s First Principles (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989), Lambertus Marie De Rijk, Aristotle: Semantics and Ontology (Leiden: BRILL, 2002), Jan Aertsen, Nature and Creature: Thomas Aquinas’s Way of Thought, Studien Und Texte Zur Geistesgeschichte Des Mittelalters, Bd. 21. (Leiden: BRILL, 1987). For a historical treatment or dialectic as a method in the Middle Ages see the essay of Eleanor Stump in Boethius, Boethius’s De Topicis Differentiis, trans. by E. Stump. (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2004); see also the references in Eileen C. Sweeney, “Three Notions of Resolutio and the Structure of Reasoning in Aquinas”, The Thomist 58.2 (1994): 197–243.

6 That is, it includes the parts of logic corresponding to the three acts of the intellect (understanding, judging, and reasoning). See Thomas Aquinas, Expositio libri Posteriorum Analyticorum (hereafter Exp. Po. An.), lib. 1, lect. 1, n. 5. All citations from Aquinas follow the Opera omnia. Corpus Thomisticum, rec. ac inst. E. Alarcón (Pompaelone ad Universitatis Studiorum Navarrensis, MMXVII) online url = http:// www.corpusthomisticum.org/iopera.html. Tranlations are my own unless otherwise noted.

7 Two recent works, concerning modern logic’s interpretation of existence and modality, respectively, merit recognition: the first chapter of David S. Oderberg’s Real Essentialism (London/New York: Routledge, 2009), and William Vallicella’s “Existence: Two Dogmas of Analysis”, in Daniel D. Novotný and Lukáš Novák, eds., Neo-Aristotelian Perspectives in Metaphysics (London/New York: Routledge, 2014) 45–75.

8 See Aristotle, De Interpretatione, I.1–3. This implies a set of assumptions about the nature of signification, which will be mentioned below. All citations from Aristotle (excepting only the Physics) are from The Complete Works of Aristotle: The Revised Oxford Translation, One-Volume Digital Edition, ed. by J. Barnes (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2014). For the Physics I cite Aristotle, Physics, or Natural Hearing, trans. by G. Coughlin (South Bend, IN: St. Augustine’s Press, 2004).

9 Aquinas, Sent. Ethic., lib. 1, lect. 1, nn. 1–2.

10 Aquinas, Expositio Peryermeneias (hereafter Exp. Per.), lib. 1, l. 2, n. 3.

11 Aquinas, ST, I-II, q. 90, a. 1, ad 2.

12 Aquinas, Sententia Metaphysicae (hereafter Sent. Meta.), VII, l. 17, n. 11.

13 Logic is properly speaking a “speculative art” and hence neither pure art nor pure theory; it is considered as part of the speculative sciences only by reduction: Aquinas, Super Boetium de Trinitate (hereafter SBdT), q. 5, a. 1, ad 2: “And thus logic is not contained under the speculative sciences as a principal part but as by a type of reduction to speculative philosophy, insofar as it ministers to speculation by its instruments, namely syllogisms and definitions and the like, which we need in the speculative sciences.” See also Robert William Schmidt, The Domain of Logic According to Saint Thomas Aquinas (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1966) 23–36, and 51–58.

14 Thomas de Vio Cajetan, Scripta philosophica: commentaria in Praedicamenta Aristotelis, ed. M. H. Laurent (Romae: Angelicum, 1939) 5: “If one is to ask whether it is words or things which are principally treated of here, we have to say that it is things, though not absolutely, but insofar as they are conceived in an incomplex manner, and, by consequent necessity, insofar as signified by words.” Cited in and translation by Gyula Klima, “Substance, Accident and Modes”, in Encyclopedia of Medieval Philosophy: Philosophy Between 500 and 1500, ed. H. Lagerlund (Springer Science & Business Media, 2010) 1220.

15 See Schmidt, Domain of Logic, 94. One should note that “modus praedicandi” also means “method of predication” in certain texts, and as such can be a tool used not only in logic but in metaphysics. See Gaston G. LeNotre, “Thomas Aquinas and the Method of Predication in Metaphysics,” Ph.D. Diss., The Catholic University of America, 2017, 92–104.

16 Aristotle, Posterior Analytics, I.4, 73a34–b15.

17 This defense would have to be of the sort which Aristotle offers for the principle of non-contradiction in the Metaphysics. That is, it would not be a demonstration but a clarification through careful distinctions that show the consequences of what denying what one cannot deny. For instance, the nature of the modalist position may require an account of signification that can be found in John Poinsot, although this cannot be developed here. Consider John N. Deely, “The Two Approaches to Language: Philosophical and Historical Reflections on the Point of Departure of Jean Poinsot’s Semiotic”, The Thomist 38.4 (1974): 856–907, and his Four Ages of Understanding: The First Postmodern Survey of Philosophy from Ancient Times to the Turn of the Twenty-First Century (University of Toronto Press, 2001).

18 Aquinas, In libros Physicorum (hereafter In Phys.), III, l. 5, n. 15: “However, the modes of being are proportional to the modes of predicating.” “Modi autem essendi proportionales sunt modis praedicandi.” In this respect, Aquinas’s view is not unlike some of the medieval speculative grammarians or modistae, but shows some key differences, according to LeNotre, “Thomas Aquinas and the Method of Predication in Metaphysics,” 86: “[The Modists] view the mode of understanding as mediating the other two modes (like Thomas), but they do not view this mediation as necessarily constricting the parallel correspondence (unlike Thomas). The mode of understanding for Modists impartially reflects the mode of being.”

19 Aquinas, Sent. Meta., V, lect. 9, n. 6. See also ibid., l. 8, n. 13.

20 Aquinas, Sent. Meta., VII, l. 1, n. 9.

21 Aquinas, I Sent., d. 22, q. 1, a. 3, ad 2: “Whence, since being is predicated analogically of the ten categories it is divided into them according to diverse modes. Whence to each category belongs its own mode of predicating.” “Unde cum ens praedicetur analogice de decem generibus, dividitur in ea secundum diversos modos. Unde unicuique generi debetur proprius modus praedicandi.”

22 See Aristotle, Metaphysics, V.29, 1024b32–35: “Hence Antisthenes foolishly claimed that nothing could be described except by its own formula, – one formula to one thing; from which it followed that there could be no contradiction, and almost that there could be no error.”

23 See Aquinas, Sent. Meta., V, l. 9, nn. 6–8, and In Phys., III, l. 5, n. 15. See also John F. Wippel, “Thomas Aquinas’s Derivation of the Aristotelian Categories (Predicaments)”, Journal of the History of Philosophy 25 (1987): 13–34 and William McMahon, “The Medieval Sufficientiae: Attempts at a Definitive Division of the Categories”, Proceedings of the Society of Medieval Logic and Metaphysics 2 (2011) 19–35. Category theory is making something of a comback: see the essays by Rosenkrantz, Bird, Heil, Simons, and Hoffman in Contemporary Aristotelian Metaphysics, ed. Tuomas E. Tahko (Cambridge/New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013).

24 See Morris Lazerowitz, The Structure of Metaphysics (London/New York: Routledge, 2000) 149: “The substance ‘theory’ is only the verbal imitation of a theory and entirely different from what we are inclined to think it is. […] The theory may be compared to a dream; indeed, in this case, the metaphysician may be said to dream with words.”

25 See the introduction written by Alexander Bird, Brian Ellis, and Howard Sankey, eds., in Properties, Powers and Structures: Issues in the Metaphysics of Realism (New York: Routledge, 2013) 1: “For the general view now is that neither logic nor language has much to tell us about what there is. Logic is seen as being independent of it, and if science makes extensive use of modal languages, then this establishes a prima facie cause for seeking ways of identifying the truthmakers for the propositions of such languages. The general attitude is that to find out about reality, and hence to construct an adequate theory of it, we have to start by considering what our best science has to tell us. And, in the spirit of scientific realism, we should take this seriously, and not try to mould it to squeeze reality into any pre-existing framework of logic or language.”

26 Plato, Phaedo, 96a–100a.

27 Democritus, DK B 125: “Colour exists by convention (usage), sweet by convention, bitter by convention. (Reply of the senses to Intellect): ‘Miserable Mind, you get your evidence from us, and do you try to overthrow us? The overthrow will be your downfall’.” In Ancilla to Pre-Socratic Philosophers: A Complete Translation of the Fragments in Diels, Fragmente Der Vorsokratiker, ed. and trans. by K. Freeman (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1983) 104.

28 Democritus, DK B 117: “We know nothing in reality; for truth lies in an abyss.” (Freeman, ibid.)

29 One might think that given John Locke’s intentions in his “Epistle to the Reader,” the founding father of the modern “way of ideas” (along with René Descartes) might be styled a Socratic in spirit. See John Locke, Essay concerning Human Understanding, in The Works of John Locke in Nine Volumes, ed. Sir G. Knaller and T. A. Dean, 12th ed. (London: Rivington, 1824) vol. 1, xlvii–xlix. Yet this reading of Locke’s proto-critique of reason cannot stand. The Socratic suggestion to clarify ambiguities in speech is not to find a complete genetic account of all our thoughts and from thence the limits of reason, but to find an art about reasoning, which is still primarily based upon speech as an entry-point. As Deely, “Two Approaches to Language”, 879, emphasizes, Locke is forced to concern himself with words as signs near the end of his Essay, but his empirical assumptions about the nature of thought prevent him from a satisfactory resolution to the problem of how words signify things.

30 Compare Aristotle, On the Soul, III.8, 432a10-11 and also III.3, 427b16-21.

31 See Ernan McMullin, “Is Philosophy Relevant to Cosmology?” American Philosophical Quarterly 18.3 (1981): 187.

32 While the main ideas of the “test of self-reference” arise from Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, the term and examples of application to contemporary science I learned from courses given by Richard F. Hassing. He describes this test in his Cartesian Psychophysics and the Whole Nature of Man: On Descartes’s Passions of the Soul (Lanham: Lexington Books, 2015) 130, n. 8: “Reductionist materialism will always want to claim a place in these disputes [about the mind-body problem], but I think it, unlike the philosophical accounts, fails the test of self-reference (how can a mere aggregate of particles want to claim a truth?).” Consider also Hassing’s introduction to and contributed essay “Modern Natural Science and the Intelligibility of Human Experience”, in Final Causality in Nature and Human Affairs, Studies in Philosophy and the History of Philosophy, ed. by Richard F. Hassing, v. 30, 211–56 (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1997).

33 Vallicella, “Two Dogmas of Analysis”, who outlines a tetralemma for the account of existence as instantiation given by modern predicate logic, 56: “If the account avoids circularity by eliminating singular existence, then it is objectionable for this very reason.”

34 Consider Robert Sokolowski, Phenomenology of the Human Person (Cambridge University Press, 2008) 223, on the materialism of Francis Crick; ch. 10 of Alvin Plantinga, Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), in particular 316ff, on Darwin’s “horrid doubt” and the epistemic argument against evolutionary naturalism; Thomas Nagel, Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False (Oxford University Press, 2012) in general; and George F. R. Ellis, How Can Physics Underlie the Mind? Top-Down Causation in the Human Context (Berlin/Heidelberg: Springer, 2016) 29–30, on the need for a true account of top-down causality (if his should turn out to be false) so as to explain the possibility of theoretical physicists.

35 Kurt Riezler, Physics and Reality: Lectures of Aristotle on Modern Physics at an International Congress of Science, 679 Olymp. Cambridge, 1940 A.D. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1940) 14: “This world, however, is merely the world of your anonymous observer: a world of pointer readings. Its laws link possible pointer readings. […] You relate the pointer readings of your anonymous observer to the perceptions of your own senses. Your naïve view of the world steals into the world of the anyonymous observer and his figures. Now the numbers seem to take on life.”

36 Aquinas, Exp. Po. An., I, l. 20, n. 5: “Therefore, dialectic concerns commonalities not only because it treats of the common intentions of reason, which is common to the whole of logic, but also because it argues about the commonalities of things.” “Est ergo dialectica de communibus non solum quia pertractat intentiones communes rationis, quod est commune toti logicae, sed etiam quia circa communia rerum argumentatur.” Because logic treats of common intentions of all things, it can be used by the metaphysician as a proper tool in his own studies: Sent. Meta., VII, l. 3, n. 3: “And therefore the method of logic is proper to this science and fittingly starts off with it. [Aristotle] says that the quiddity of essence is to be investigated in by way of logic from the mode of predication. For this belongs properly to logic.” “Et ideo modus logicus huic scientiae proprius est, et ab eo convenienter incipit. Magis autem logice dicit se de eo quod quid est dicturum, inquantum investigat quid sit quod quid erat esse ex modo praedicandi. Hoc enim ad logicum proprie pertinet.”

37 Aristotle, On the Soul, III.8, 431b21.

38 For more complete treatments of Aristotelian dialectic, see Yvan Pelletier, La dialectique aristotélicienne: Les principes clés des Topiques, 2nd ed., Monographies Philosophia Perennis 2 (Québec: Société d’Études Aristotéliciennes, 2007), and his “L’articulation de La Dialectique Aristotelicienne”, Angelicum 66.4 (1989): 603–20. Consider also Sheila O’Flynn, “The First Two Meanings of ‘Rational Process’ According to the Expositio in Boethium De Trinitate”, Ph.D. Diss., Université Laval, 1954. Also consider the references in fn. 5.

39 See Irwin, Aristotle’s First Principles, 7–8.

40 See Evans, Aristotle’s Concept of Dialectic, 6. The reason that dialectic embraces both forms is its defining note of using logical intentions to structure substitute evidence.

41 See the passage where logica utens is described: Aquinas, SBdT, q. 6, a. 1, c. 1a: “Another way a process is called rational is from the terminus in which, by proceeding, it comes to a rest. For the ultimate terminus to which the inquiry of reason ought to lead is the understanding of principles, resolving to which, we make a judgement. When this occurs the process or proof is not called rational, but demonstrative. However, sometimes the inquiry of reason is not able to lead all the way to the aforesaid terminus but rests in the inquiry itself, namely, when inquiring up to a point, the way remains open to either side. This happens when one proceeds by probable reasons which are apt to produce opinion or belief, not science. Thus [in this sense] the rational process is divided against the demonstrative [process]. This mode of proceeding rationally can be in any of the sciences, so that, from probable things, the way is prepared to necessary proofs.”

42 Aristotle, Topics, I.2, 101b4: “[…] for dialectic is a process of criticism wherein lies the path to the principles of all inquiries.”

43 The logical intentions are not alien to the proper subject matter under investigation because logical intentions are such as to be applicable to all beings. This is the strength of the modalist assumption made by Aristotelian dialectic.

44 This is logica docens, explained in this passage by Aquinas, SBdT, q. 6, a. 1. Concerning the use that both logic and meta- physics make of this first mode of proceeding, see James B. Reichmann, “Logic and the Method of Metaphysics”, The Thomist 29 (1965): 341–95.

45 See Le Blond, Logique et méthode chez aristote, 324–26, where Le Blond argues that Aristotle’s derivation of the principles of change is guided by a “grammatical scheme” (even if it is not determined by such a scheme). He mentions harsher interpretations of this methodology, including Brunschvicg, Rougier, and L. Susan Stebbing, “Concerning Substance”, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 30 (1929): 285–308. A similar list (without Stebbing but adding Aubenque, Benveniste, Serrus, Bergson, and Cassirer) is provided by Jacques Derrida, “Le supplément de copule: La philosophie devant la linguistique”, Langages 6, no. 24 (1971): 23. This critique of Aristotelian metaphysics as merely a spontaneous metaphysics arising from the Greek language is also worked out as an interpretation of Aristotle’s Physics by Wieland, who maintains it to be a conceptual analysis of the everyday language used to describe the natural world; see his “Aristotle’s Physics and the Problem of Inquiry Into Principles”, in Articles on Aristotle, ed. J. Barnes, M. Schofield, and R. Sorabji (Duckworth, 1975), 140 and Die aristotelische Physik, 132–33, 280. Concepts such as time are quasi-Kantian “concepts of reflection”, concepts which are not directed at objects but at the conditions by which we can have concepts of objects.

46 To turn a phrase from John S. Bell, “The Theory of Local Beables”, in Speakable and Unspeakable in Quantum Mechanics: Collected Papers on Quantum Philosophy, 2nd ed. (Cambridge University Press, 2004) 52: “The beables must include the settings of switches and knobs on experimental equipment, the currents in coils, and the readings of instruments. ‘Observables’ must be made, somehow, out of beables. The theory of local beables should contain, and give precise physical meaning to, the algebra of local observables.” This particularity of method is brought out by Aquinas in the text cited in fn. 46, below.

47 See George Molnar, Powers: A Study in Metaphysics, ed. by S. Mumford (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2007) 27–28.


This essay was produced as part of my postdoctoral research project.




One thought on “Dialectical Method in Peripatetic Philosophy of Nature and the Predicability of Physical Reality

"Sed contra" or "Distinguo" or "Amplius" below ...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s