Logics and Metaphysics 2

  • Even to this day, the greatest difficulties in abstract philosophy is to:
    • explain the nature of general ideas, and
    • account for the origin of general Ideas.
  • It is not easy to answer how the human mind:
    • conceives the idea of a triangle, which is not obtusangular, rectangular, nor acutangular, but is none and all of those together, when it reasons concerning the general nature of triangles, as imagined by Mr. Locke.
    • comprehends all infinite possible triangles of all possible forms and dimensions, as imagined by Malbranche
  • To solve it, the ingenious and sublime Malbranche gave an enthusiastic and unintelligible notion of the intimate union of the human mind with the divine.
    • Only the divine’s infinite essence could alone:
      • comprehend the immensity of such possibilities
      • have an opportunity of viewing all finite intelligences
  • If after more than 2,000 years reasoning about this subject, Malbranche was forced to such a strange fancy to explain it, can we wonder that Plato should adopt a similar hypothesis which is not more out of the way?


There is a natural notion that those things, out of which any object is composed, must exist antecedent to that object.

  • This notion seems to have misled those early philosophers.
  • But the things out of which all particular objects seem to be composed, are:
    • the stuff or matter of those objects, and
    • the form or specific Essence which determines them to be of this or that class of things
  • It was thought that these must have existed before the object which was made up between them.
  • Plato held that the sensible world is the world of individuals made in time.
    • He necessarily conceived that both the universal matter and the specific essence must have had a separate existence from all eternity.
      • The universal matter is the object of a spurious reason.
      • The specific essence is the object of proper reason and philosophy, made from the universal matter.
    • Plato’s intellectual world was very different from the intellectual world of Cudworth.
      • Plato’s intellectual world was always existent.
        • His sensible world owed its origin to its author’s free will and bounty.


This kind of notion passes easily enough, as long as it is:

  • expressed in very general language
  • not much rested on
  • not attempted to be very particularly and distinctly explained

It requires no great precision in the ideas and passes through the indolent imagination, accustomed to substitute words in the room of ideas.

  • Upon an attentive consideration, it:
    • vanishes
    • becomes altogether incomprehensible
    • eludes the imagination’s grasp
  • It requires, however, an attentive consideration.
    • Without examination, it might have continued to be the current philosophy for a century or two.
  • Aristotle, however, immediately discovered that it was impossible to conceive as actually existent that:
    • general matter, which was not determined by any particular species, or
    • those species which were not embodied in some particular portion of matter
  • He held:
    • the eternity of the sensible world
    • that all sensible objects were made up of two principles
      1. matter
      2. specific essence
        • He calls them both substances.
  • Like Plato, he did not hold that matter and the specific essence existed before those objects.
  • He said that they were prior in nature, but not in time, according to a distinction which was of use to him on some other occasions.
  • He also distinguished between actual and potential existence.
    • Actual existence to him was existence or reality.
    • Potential existence to him was the bare possibility of existence.
  • He seems to mean this, though he does not explain it precisely in this way.
  • According to him, the material Essence of body could not actually exist without being determined by some specific Essence into some particular class of things.
    • Any specific Essence could not exist without being embodied in some particular portion of matter.
  • However, each of these two principles could exist potentially in this separate state.
    1. Matter existed potentially and could be brought into actual existence when endowed with a particular form
    2. The form of a particular portion of matter could be called forth into the class of complete realities, in the same way
      • He sometimes talks like Plato about this potential existence of matter and form
        • This notion of separate Essence is very similar to Plato’s.


  • Aristotle seems original in many things.
    • He tried to be original in all things.
    • He added the principle of privation to those of matter and form, which he had derived from the ancient Pythagorean school.
  • When Water is changed into Air, the transmutation is brought about by the material principle of those two elements being deprived of the form of Water, and then assuming the form of Air.
  • Privation, therefore, was a third principle opposite to form, which entered into the generation of every Species, which was always from some other Species.
  • It was a principle of generation, but not of composition, as is obvious.


  • The Stoics thought nearly the same way as Aristotle and Plato, but in a very different language.
  • They held that all things, even the elements themselves, were compounded of two principles:
    1. On one principle depended all the active
      1. They called this the Cause
    2. On the other principle depended all the passive powers of these bodies
      1. They called this the Matter
      2. These two meant the very same thing as the specific Essences of Aristotle and Plato
  • According to the Stoics, matter could not exist separately from the cause or efficient principle which determined it to some particular class of things.
    • Neither could the efficient principle exist separately from the material, in which it was always necessarily embodied.
  • Therefore, their opinion coincided with that of the old Peripatetics.
  • The efficient principle, they said, was the Deity.
    • It was a detached portion of the etherial and divine nature, which penetrated all things.
    • It constituted what Plato would called the specific Essence of each individual object.
  • Their opinion coincides pretty nearly with that of the latter Platonists.
    • The Platonists held that the specific Essences of all things were detached portions of their created deity, the soul of the world;
    • and with that of some of the Arabian and Scholastic Commentators of Aristotle, who held, that the substantial forms of all things descended from those Divine Essences which animated the Celestial Spheres.
  • Such was the doctrine of the four principal Sects of the ancient Philosophers, concerning the specific Essences of things, of the old Pythagoreans, of the Academical, Peripatetic, and Stoical Sects.
  • This doctrine of specific Essences seems naturally to have arisen from that ancient system of Physics.
    • This Physics is not impossible.
    • Many of the doctrines of that system, even the most incomprehensible, necessarily flow from this metaphysical notion.
  • Such are those of generation, corruption, and alteration; of mixture, condensation, and rarefaction.
  • A body was generated or corrupted, when it changed its specific Essence, and passed from one denomination to another.
  • It was altered when it changed only some of its qualities, but still retained the same specific Essence, and the same denomination.
  • Thus, when a flower was withered, it was not corrupted.
    • Even if some of its qualities changed, it still retained the specific Essence.
    • It therefore justly passed as a flower.
  • But, when, in the further progress of its decay, it crumbled into earth, it was corrupted.
    • It lost the specific Essence, or substantial form of the flower.
    • It assumed that of the earth, and therefore justly changed its denomination.
  • The specific Essence, or universal nature that was lodged in each particular class of bodies, was not itself the object of any of our senses.
    • It could be perceived only by the understanding.
  • However, it was by the sensible qualities that we judged of the specific Essence of each object.
  • Therefore, some of these sensible qualities we regarded as essential, or such as showed, by their presence or absence, the presence or absence of that essential form from which they necessarily flowed:
  • Others were accidental, or such whose presence or absence had no such necessary consequences.
  • The first of these two sorts of qualities was called Properties; the second, Accidents.
  • In the Specific Essence of each object itself, they distinguished two parts; one of which was peculiar and characteristical of the class of things of which that particular object was an individual, the other was common to it with some other higher classes of things.
  • These two parts were, to the Specific Essence, pretty much what the Matter and the Specific Essence were to each
    individual body. The one, which was called the Genus, was modified and determined by the other, which was called the Specific Difference, pretty much in the same manner as the universal matter contained in each body was modified and determined by the Specific Essence of that particular class of bodies.
    These four, with the Specific Essence or Species itself, made up the number of the Five Universals, so well known in the schools by the names of Genus, Species, Differentia, Proprium, and Accidens.


Leave a Reply

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 )

Google photo

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

Twitter picture

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

Facebook photo

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

Connecting to %s