Aquinas Day by Day: Transcendental Concepts


Aquinas’ Topic: Transcendental Concepts

Scripture: Matthew 6:7

“In praying, do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words.”

Aquinas’ text: De principiis naturae  n. 47, written 1252-6

There are some concepts even more universal than the ten categories. Aquinas called them “transcendent” because they “go across” or “beyond” the categories. Centuries later, through a scribal error they came to be called the “transcendentals.” Though his list of transcendentals varies, Aquinas always includes the following notions: being, one, true and good. Here he explains why it would be a confusion to think of being and the other transcendentals, though they more universal than the categories, as genera of the categories; for they are not genera.

Sometimes those things which agree according to analogy, proportion and comparison are attributed to one end, as is plain in the preceding example of health. Sometimes they are attributed to one agent, as medical is said of one who acts with art, of one who acts without art, as a midwife, and even of the instruments. But it is said of all by attribution to the genus which is medicine. Sometimes it is said by attribution to one subject, as being is said of substance, quantity, quality and the other predicaments, because it is not entirely for the same reason that substance is being, and quality is being and the others are beings. Rather, all are called being insofar as they are attributed to substance which is the subject of the others. Therefore, being is said primarily of substance and secondarily of the others.

Consequently, being is not a genus of substance and the other predicaments, because no genus is predicated of its species according to prior and posterior. Rather, being is predicated analogically. This is what we mean when we say that substance and quantity differ generically but are the same analogically.

[Introductions and translations © R.E. Houser]