It seems that Aquinas (and the first scholastics) founded objectivity of knowledge in the unity of intellect and the thing known. Namely, the intellect receives the form of the thing and literally becomes (it possesses) that form (but that form does not exist in a physical way but in a cognitive way). That seems to be the reason for the often used axiom "intellect is all things in potentiality" (because the intellect is apt to become anything, ie. to become any form) and it seems to be the foundation of realism.

However, it seems that Suarez admitted the similarity between the thing known and the knowledge, however he denied the real identity between the thing known and our knowledge (ie. he seems to say that our intellect does not become the form when we know the thing, but only that there is some similarity between the thing we know and our knowledge).

Question: But how then does he (and his followers) defend (if he even does) the thesis that we can really know reality and the objects outside of ourselves? How does he (and his followers) defend the objectivity of human knowledge? How do they explain (if they do) how we come to know the thing and what does it even precisely mean to know the thing?

1 Answer 1


Footnote #2 by John Deely (✝2017) in his translation of the Tractatus de Signis pp. 44-45 by John of St. Thomas (✝1644) quotes the relevant passages of the 1597 Disputationes Metaphysicæ by Francisco Suárez, S.J. (✝1617)—a treatise in which Suárez sides with St. Thomas half the time and with Scotus the rest of the time.

Disputationes Metaphysicæ, disp. 47, sect. 3, par. 3:

diximus, objectum adæquatum et directum metaphysicæ non esse ens commune ad reale et rationis, sed ad reale tantum

[Deely's transl. p. 44:] We categorically assert that the adequate and direct object of metaphysics is not being common to the mind-independent and mind-dependent orders, but being restricted to the mind-independent order entirely.

[Doyle's transl. p. 81:] we say the object of metaphysics is not being as common to real being and being of reason, but to real being only

Deely notes that Suárez "construes this thesis in a sense so strong as to be inimical to—indeed, entirely destructive of—the possibility of a foundational doctrine of signifying" and thus of a bridge between mind-independent being (ens reale) and mind-dependent being (ens rationis).

Suárez ibid.:

Ostendimus enim ens non solum non esse univocum ad ens reale et rationis, verum etiam non habere unum conceptum communem illis, etiam analogum, sed vel esse æquivocum, vel ad summum, analogum analogia proportionalitatis.

[Deely's transl. p. 44:] For we will show not only that being is not univocal to the mind-independent and mind-dependent orders, but also that there is no concept common to the two, not even an analogous one; rather, any allegedly common concept is either equivocal, or, at the most, analogous by an analogy of proportionality.

[Doyle's transl. p. 81:] For we have shown that being not only is not univocal between real being and being of reason, but it also does not have one concept even analogously common to these, but that it is equivocal or at best analogous with an analogy of proportionality.

Pace Suárez, John of St. Thomas argues for "the essential univocity of relation in the two orders".

Suárez ibid.:

Cum ergo relationes rationis non sint entia realia, et consequenter nec vera entia, […] Addo præterea, non posse habere univocam convenientiam cum relationibus realibus, si supponamus illas esse vera entia realia. […] Ratio autem est, quia cum ens rationis nihil sit, non potest habere veram similitudinem ac convenientiam cum ente reali, in qua convenientia fundari solet univocatio et unitas conceptus; ergo non potest aliquis verus conceptus et essentialis esse communis enti reali et rationis. Et ideo merito Soncin., 4 Metaph., q. 5 et 6, approbat dictum Hervæi (quamquam errore typographi tribuatur Henrico), Quodl. 3, q. 1, articulo primo, in fine, non magis posse ens esse univocum ad ens reale et rationis, quam sit homo ad hominem vivum et mortuum. Habet autem hoc dictum eamdem rationem veritatis in ente in communi, et in tali ente, scilicet, relatione, quia sicut ens rationis non est verum ens, sed fictum, sic relatio rationis non est vera relatio, sed ficta […]

[Deely's transl. p. 45:] Since therefore mind-dependent relations are not beings independently of being known, and consequently not true beings, … I state further that they cannot coincide univocally with mind-independent relations, if we suppose these latter to be true mind-independent beings. … The reason for this is that, since mind-dependent being is nothing, it cannot have a true similitude and coincidence with mind-independent being, on which coincidence the univocity and unity of a concept is customarily founded; therefore there can be no true and essential concept common to mind-independent and mind-dependent being. Thus Soncinus, in his Metaphysical Questions, qq. 5 and 6, rightly approves the saying of Hervaeus (although the saying is attributed to Henricus because of a printer's error) in the third of his Questions at Random, toward the end of Article 1, that being can no more be univocal to mind-independent and mind-dependent being, than man can be univocal to a living man and a dead man. Yet this dictum has the same ground of truth in the case of common being [ens commune: being as such] and in this particular case or kind of being, namely, relation, because, just as mind-dependent being is not true but constructed or fictive being, so a mind-dependent relation is not a true but a fictive relation …

[Doyle's transl. pp. 81-82:] Since, therefore, relations of reason are not real beings, and consequently not true beings, […] I add, further: they cannot have a univocal agreement with real relations, if we suppose these to be true real beings, […]. But the reason is that since a being of reason is nothing, it cannot have a true likeness or agreement with real being, on which agreement the univocity and the unity of a concept is ordinarily based. Therefore, there cannot be any true and essential concept common to real being and being of reason. Hence, Soncinas, in Metaphysics IV, questions 5 and 6, rightly approves the dictum of Hervaeus (although by a typographer’s error it is attributed to Henry [of Ghent]) in Quodlibet 3, q. 1, article one—at the end: “Being” cannot be univocal between real being and being of reason, any more than “man” can be univocal between a living and a dead man. But this dictum has the same measure of truth with respect to being in common and with respect to the particular kind of being that is relation. For just as a being of reason is not a true, but rather a fictitious being, so a relation of reason is not a true relation but one that is fictitious […]

In a nutshell, Suárez "forecloses the possibility of a doctrine of signs" (semiotics), setting up an unbreachable divide between mind-independent and mind-dependent orders—reminiscent of the mind-body "problem" of Jesuit-educated Descartes (✝1650), who was familiar with the Disputationes Metaphysicæ at La Flèche (cf. ch. 2 of Ariew's Descartes Among the Scholastics).

See also Deely's Purely Objective Reality and his only PhD student Brian Kemple's 15 min. talk On the Meaning of "Objective".

  • @Thom Is Hijacint Bošković, O.P., related to Rudjer Josip Bošković, S.J.?
    – Geremia
    Commented Aug 29, 2019 at 3:07
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    @Thom See also "The Boethius of Modernity: Francisco Suárez (1548-1617)," pp. 500-502 of Deely's Four Ages of Understanding.
    – Geremia
    Commented Aug 29, 2019 at 3:28
  • @Thom Yes, Rudjer Bošković, S.J., is the father of modern atomism.
    – Geremia
    Commented Aug 29, 2019 at 17:03
  • 1
    @Thom Also, another peculiarity of Suárez is that he thought the principle of non-contradiction doesn't apply to the Trinity (cf. Fr. G.-L.'s Sense of Mystery p. 152).
    – Geremia
    Commented Aug 29, 2019 at 17:04

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