Monday, June 20, 2005

How Can "Being" Be Predicated of Many Individuals?

Posted in: Philosophy

The simple fact is that we only encounter individual beings or existents in our experience. In fact non-individuals cannot exist, as such, in themselves for this would result in a contradiction. If a non-individual were to actually exist in itself it would have to be both a singularity in itself and plurality in its existence in other things. However, an existent cannot be both a singularity and a plurality at the same time. The question then becomes if all beings we encounter are individual existents, how is it that we can predicate "being" as something that all of these existents have in common? How can there be a plurality of being? This was the chief question addressed by Parmenides, who reasoned that a plurality of being was impossible. Parmenides asserted that in order for there to be more than one being, beings would have to differ in some way. However, beings could not differ by being because that is what makes them same; moreover, beings could not differ by non-being because non-being is nothing, and to differ by nothing is not to differ at all. This conclusion however is contrary to experience and does not seem to fit reality in which we clearly encounter a multiplicity of individual existents.

There are two keys to solving this puzzle. The first is to make the distinction between being (esse) and a being (ens). "Being"(esse) is not a thing, but the act of existing. Parmenides phrased the question wrong when he said "Being is . . ." Being is the "is" it is not an object of the "is." Being as such is not something we experience but an act that we judge to be true of the beings or existents which we encounter. Each being (ens) which we encounter has its own unique act of existence (esse). Thus the being (esse) of each existent is unique to it.

But how do we explain how this is possible for a multitude of existents. No two existents can have the same act of existing for if they did then you would still have the problem of a single act of existence being a plurality of existential acts. So how is it that esse can be predicated of many beings?


When we predicate esse of some existent we must be careful how we are doing this. We cannot predicate esse of existents in a univocal (completely the same manner) way for this would mean all existents have the same existential act. At the same time, we cannot predicate esse of existents in an equivocal (completely unrelated) manner because the opposite of existence is non-existence. Esse, is properly predicated of existents in an analogous manner, that is, when being, as such, is predicated of existents there is something in the relationship of esse to the existents that is similar, and something in this relationship that is different.

What then is this analogous relationship in which esse can be predicated of many existents? Esse is predicted of multiple beings via a proportional predication. That is there is a similar relationship of proportionality between esse and its various analogates. For instance we can correctly predicate the word "good" of both a shoe and a steak, or the proportion ½ to the numbers (5 and10) and (3 and 6); however, the way in which (5 and 10) related to ½ is not the same as (3 and 6), nor does a shoe relate to the predicate good in the same way as a steak (at least lets hope not). In the same way, being can be predicated proportionally of different beings. For example, being can be predicated of a dog and a building or even a dog an another dog. Each proportionally relates to esse but in its own unique way. Thus the analogy of being is an analogy of individual communication. One existent relates to its esse in a similar and proportional way to the relationship of another existent to its esse. Being is therefore realized individually in each existent with each existent having its own esse.

4 Comments:

Blogger Franklin Mason said...

I have a certain view about non-individuals, i.e. universals. Take circularity. It is, of course, one thing. But it can be said of many things, i.e. the many circles. This does not make it a plural entity, for the relation denoted by 'said of' is a one-many relation. The one is circularity and the many are the circles.

I also do not think that 'being' denotes a genuine property of things. Rather, it seems to me, a thing must exist if it is to have any properties. Being is, as it were, a precondition of property-exemplification, not itself a property. This is mirrored in quantificational logic by the strict segregation of quantifier from predicate.

2:56 PM  
Blogger M. Hipsley said...

I agree that circularity or any universal for that matter, can be attributed of many things and that it does not make it a plural entity. What I was trying to get at was how this is possible. How can there be a "one-many" relationship? The answer is that the relationship must be analogous. All circles must relate to circularity in a similar manner to all other circles. It cannot be either a relationship that is exactly the same - otherwise there is no difference, nor can it be a relationship that is equivocal - for then there is no similarity and what are we talking about? My argument was really more for the metaphysical relationship of analogy as the only mean of explaining this. I was trying to account for how it is that we can predicate being of many things.

As for being not being a property well I try to stay away from that word because no one really defines what they mean when they say property. I completely agree with you that being preceeds all properties. We must exist in order to have any properties. Actually as a Thomist I hold that being is not a thing at all, but is an act - the act of existing. Nonetheless, being is still predicated of beings and must be explained. How is it that an act of existence can be predicated of more than one being. Once again it must be analogous in relationship. Beings cannot have the same act of existence nor can their relation to this act be equivocal. There must be an analogy of being. This is how we solve Parmenides problem. And I believe it is the only possible solution.

6:33 AM  
Blogger Franklin Mason said...

I see no reason why we cannot say that circularity is said of all the many circles in just the same sense. This will not imply that the many circles collapse into one; nor will it imply that all the many circles will be exactly similar, for to say that circularity is said of both x and y is simply to say that, in respect of shape, x and y are the same. It is not to say that they are the same simpliciter.

9:00 AM  
Blogger M. Hipsley said...

Before I begin, thanks for engaging with me on this it is really helping me to clarify my thinking. I really appreciate it.

I see a big reason why we cannot say that circularity is said of individual circles in exactly the same way. This results in a contradiction. It means that circularity, if it exists in anyway (as a Thomist I would say that it really exists but only in the mind of the knower not in external reality), would be both an individual and a plurality. The Law of Non-contradiction does not allow for this. Let us consider two hypothetical circles, circle x and circle y, and for the sake of argument say that they are the same in size, they are still not the same circles. the circularity of circle x is not exactly the same as the circularity of circle y. The circularity of each is at least different in that it is the circularity of a differnt individual. The circulairty of circle x is not the circulairty of circle y. Even though each circle may relate to its circularity in the same way as the other it is not the same circularity.

The only other option is nominalism but that ultimately winds up defeating itself for one cannot avoid real commonality which ultimately results in real universals.

7:57 PM  

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