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Philosophical Methodology

Computer Linguistics and Philosophical Interpretation

John Tomarchio

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ABSTRACT: This paper reports a procedure which I employed with two computational research instruments, the Index Thomisticus and its companion St. Thomas CD-ROM, in order to research the Thomistic axiom, ‘whatever is received is received according to the mode of the receiver.’ My procedure extends to the lexicological methods developed by the pioneering creator of the Index, Roberto Busa, from single terms to a proposition. More importantly, the paper shows how the emerging results of the lexicological searches guided my formation of a philosophical thesis about the axiom’s import for Aquinas’s existential metaphysics.

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One day in 1949, when the computer was still in its infancy, a young Jesuit knocked at the door of an executive of I.B.M., and explained that he wanted to put the corpus of Thomas Aquinas’s writings on computer. He wanted, moreover, to number each word, as well as to identify and tag each as the form of its proper lemma. He wanted, in short, a complete graphico-syntatical systemization of all the words Aquinas ever wrote. As data was still being entered into computers by means of the long since forgotten punch-card, this I.B.M. executive was respectfully but decidedly sceptical about the tenability, if not the use, of such a project. Roberto Busa respectfully but decidedly reassured him that if I.B.M. would but supply the technology, Busa himself would see to the rest. And so he did. Over two decades and millions of punch-cards later, there began to emerge into the light of day the Index Thomisticus, the second largest publication of this century. The next step was to figure out what to do with it.

Busa’s pioneering Index has kept pace with the computer’s hypertrophic evolution even to the present day, its latest reincarnation being in the form of the St. Thomas CD-ROM. (1) In this talk, I want to describe how I went about utilizing the Index Thomisticus and its companion St. Thomas CD-ROM to conduct a systematic and comprehensive search of Thomas’s writings for a certain Scholastic axiom. I hope in this way to offer a model for a philosophical use of computational linguistics, and to show how the emerging results of my lexicological research guided my formation of a philosophical thesis about the axiom's import. Following Busa, I call the procedures I used ‘lexicological’ in that they delineate and clarify one part of the active lexicon of Aquinas through use of the Index Thomisticus as the complete graphico-syntactic systematization of all the words in his writings. Thomas’s writings are thus taken to constitute an expressive system proper to him.

My own work applies the principle’s of Busa’s computational lexicology to a proposition rather than to a term. This extension of Busa’s methodology was decisive for the philosophical import of my lexicological findings. By making the proposition rather than the term the unit of analysis, I in effect ordered my lexicological research to judgments rather than to concepts. The lexicological purview was thus narrowed philosophically by the writer’s own intentions. Such a determination of the lexicological ratio from the texts themselves allows, in my judgment, for a theoretical guidance from the higher science which does not compromise the postivistic integrity of the lower one.

1. Introduction to the Modus Principle

"It is evident," writes Aquinas, "that everything that is received in another is received in it according to the mode of the receiver." (2) Although he uses this principle throughout his career, in all his major works, and throughout his metaphysics, he nowhere else calls the principle evident. But neither does he anywhere offer a justification for it. Beginning with the Quaestiones de veritate, he employs it in a universal formulation: "Everything that is in another is in it according to the mode of that in which it is." (3)

The axiom is generally accepted among scholastics. (4) The editors of the Leonine’s newly published Quaestiones de quolibet even call it an adagium tritissimum—a hackneyed saying, as it were. (5) Yet the axiom has received little commentary or thematic study. (6) One might be inclined to regard it as a piece of philosophical common sense, a neat and useful formula for a rather simple and uncontroversial intuition. Yet one searches in vain in the writings of Aristotle and Plato for an express formulation of it. Nor does Thomas attribute any formulation to them, although he will use it in his own voice when commenting on their thought. (7) The principle is first explicitly formulated by Plotinus, in the sixth Ennead. (8) For authorities, Thomas invokes the Liber de causis and pseudo-Dionysius, the former a 9th century Islamic and the latter a 6th century Christian adaptation of Neoplatonic emanationism. However, Thomas’s citations notwithstanding, one also searches in vain in Dionysius for an express formulation, a fact not always acknowledged by Thomistic editors who cite Dionysius. (9) Of the authorities Thomas cites, the sole source for express formulations of the axiom is the Liber de causis, where both the principle and its metaphysics are expressly articulated, and the important term modus is prominent. (10)

The universal formulation of this principle prescinds from the notions of passivity and potentiality entailed by the common formulation's verb recipitur, but it does not prescind from the concept of a mode: "Everything that is in another is in it according to the mode of that in which it is." In the universal formulation, the clause Omne quod est in aliquo (‘Everything that is in a thing’) replaces the common formulation’s introductory clause, Omne quod recipitur (‘Everything that is received’). Aside from a concatenation of indefinite and relative pronouns, this universal formulation leaves us with only two phrases: est in and per modum. (11) Since the word modus emerges as the term common to the two most frequent formulations of the axiom, I call it the modus principle.

2. Modus Procedendi

In describing my procedures, I will focus on how two shfts in my lexicological research proved decisive for the development of my philosophical thesis: namely, a shift from the lemma recipio-ere (‘to receive’) to the lemma modus-i (‘mode’), and from the phrase modus recipientis (’mode of the receiver’) to the phrase modus essendi. (’mode of existing’).

I initially sought to limit my investigation by considering Thomas’s use of the modus principle only in the Prima pars of the Summa theologiae. At the beginning of my research with the Index, the only formulation of the principle I had noted was the common one: "Whatever is received is received according to the mode of the receiver." I sifted through the Index’s listings for the lemma recipio-ere, and was dismayed to find only 11 occurrences of the modus principle in the Prima pars. Feeling sure that there must be more, I shifted my attention to the term 'mode,' my only other alternatives being the indefinite pronoun quidquid (‘whatever’) and the preposition secundum (‘according to’). However, whereas for the lemma recipio-ere the Index provides 3-line extracts, only 3-word extracts are provided for the occurrences of the lemma modus-i. So, to be sure that I was not missing any variant formulations of the principle, I began to look up all the prepositional phrases in the Prima Pars that coupled modus with any metaphysically suggestive term: e.g., secundum modum essendi (‘according to the mode of existing’), per modum substantiae (‘according to the mode of the substance’), ad modum formae (‘to the mode of the form’), etc.

This shift from the lemma recipio-ere to the lemma modus-i led to new discoveries. In addition to encountering the universal formulation of the principle, "Everything that is in another is in it according to the mode of that in which it is," I discovered particular corollary applications such as, "Act or form is received in matter according to the capacity of matter." (12) I also found passages in which neither the principle nor a particular application of it were formulated, but where Thomas used the term modus in a way that seemed to presuppose the principle, or at least to evoke it. I also found such surprises as Thomas’s use of both the principle and the term ‘mode’ to reason about God.

By this time, the St. Thomas CD-ROM became available, making feasible an investigation of the entire corpus, which now seemed a mountain demanding to be climbed. The program provided me with over 11,460 3-line extracts for the lemma modus-i. (13) I copied these onto a diskette, and used word processing software to search this modus-file both for various forms of recipio-ere, and for such phrases as modum eius or modum ipsius (’its mode’) and in alio or in altero (’in another’). Then, in search of formulations not employing the term modus, I returned to the CD-ROM and conducted new searches: first for forms of recipio (to receive); then for phrases such as in aliquo, in altero, and in alio (in another); and finally for such phrases as secundum capacitatem, secundum conditionem, and secundum proportionem (’according to the capacity, condition, or proportion’). In short, I searched for every phrase I had encountered in the formulations of the principle previously located in my modus-file. The net result was a collection of 102 passages containing proper formulations, a comparable number containing corollary applications of the principle, and as many again in which the metaphysics of the principle seemed implicit, usually because of a metaphysical use of the term ‘mode.’

As I sifted through this vast and varied material, my principal concern was to determine what the term ‘mode’ meant—the term common to the two basic formulations of the principle. Three elements came to the fore.

First, the phrase modus essendi or ‘mode of existing’ emerged as the most frequent and metaphysically illuminating specification of the term ‘mode.’ Moreover, the phrase's most frequent term of contradistinction, significantly, was ratio. The notion of modes of existing, or of what Thomas in the Summa theologiae calls "the multiple mode of existing of things," ultimately proved to be the hermeneutical key to the modus principle. (14)

Second, the notion of determination showed itself to be integral to the concept of a mode. For example, Thomas argues that the form of the known is received according to the mode of the knower, i.e., is determined to the knower’s mode of existing—in the case of the intellection of material singulars, for example, to existing immaterially and thus intelligibly. (15) Form is received in matter according to the mode of matter, i.e. is determined by its reception in matter to existing ‘particularly.’ (16) Grace perfects nature according to the mode of nature, i.e., according to the creature’s natural capacity and disposition. (17) And perhaps most significantly, participated existence is limited to the capacity of what participates it, i.e., is determined to the mode of its substance. (18)

My third observation was that Thomas’s concern with modes of existing was nearly always at the service of articulating some identity in multiplicity, or unity in difference. He uses the term ‘mode,’ for example, to formulate the identity of ratio in a substantial form and in its intelligible species; to speak of the similitude between any agent and what it enacts in the patient; and to give account of the identity of nature in material singulars.

Two particular uses Thomas makes of the modus principle occasioned a still more decisive reflection, namely his application of it to human knowledge of material singulars, and his application of it to divine knowledge. In both cases, the determination of the form of the thing known to the mode of the knower’s existence did not entail a limitation or contraction of its perfection, but rather an elevation of its perfection. In the second case, moreover, the mode of divine existence at issue was clearly in no way finite. In light of these applications, I began to think of determinations of existence in terms of distinctions of existence rather than of limitations. In this sense, Aquinas extends the term 'mode' even to God: "To be his own subsisting existence is the proper mode of God alone." (19)

With this shift in my perspective, it became clearer and clearer philosophically that Thomas uses the term ‘mode’ to denote a transcendental concept of distinction in his existential division of being. He thus calls the Aristotelian categories modes of existing, and speaks in Platonic terms of the modes of participating existence. (20) However, whereas classical Greek metaphysics was confined to giving account of the formal contrariety evident among beings, Thomas’s creationist concern demanded a complementary account of the very existence or actuality of the forms themselves, and of what I call the entitative alterity among beings, i.e., the ‘otherness’ of complete beings to one another. The term ‘mode’ emerges with this new creationist discourse in metaphysics, and the modus principle with the need to integrate all other distinctions of being with the ultimate distinctions, namely the distinctions of diverse acts of existence.

3. Modus resolvendi.

Moving now to an analysis of the data collected, I will begin with lexicological divisions of the formulations I located, and corrolate these with chronological and theoretical ones. I acknowledge that the soundness of my analyses therefore depend in part on the soundness both of the chronology I have taken from Jean-Pierre Torrell (21) as well as on the soundness of my philosophical categories.

By means of the procedure described above, I located 102 formulations that I classify as proper formulations of the modus principle, and 89 which I classify as corollary applications of the principle. For the purposes of classification, I defined as proper formulations those with a protasis of indefinite extension: e.g., Quidquid recipitur (‘Whatever is received’), Quod recipitur (‘That which is received’), Omne quod est in aliquo (‘Everything that is in something’), etc. I counted as corollary applications those formulations that specify a definite subject: e.g., Omnis forma (‘Every form’), Omnis cognitio (‘All knowledge’), Esse participatum (‘Participated existence’), etc. (22)

Of these 102 propositions, 69 occur in the body or replies of Thomas’s treatments, and so are what I call formulations in voce sua. The remaining 33 propositions in voce aliena occur in objections and sed contra—26 in objections and 6 in sed contra—and they must be interpreted with more care, since Thomas may be formulating the positions of authorities or opponents in language that is not properly expressive of his own thought. I classify Thomas’s proper formulations of the modus principle according to three types:

1) Recipitur-formulations: those containing a form of the lemma recipio-ere; e.g., Omne quod est in altero est in eo secundum modum recipientis (‘Everything that is in another is in it according to the mode of the receiver.’)

2) Inest-formulations: those not containing any form of recipio-ere, and containing instead some form of the verb sum-esse and the preposition in; e.g., Quod est in aliquo est in eo per modum eius in quo est (‘What is in another is in it according to the mode of that in which it is.’)

3) Variant formulations: formulations that employ other verbs; e.g., Omne quod est participatum in aliquo, est in eo per modum participantis (‘Everything that is participated in another is in it according to the mode of what participates.)

Of the 102 proper formulations of the modus principle, 58% occur in the early works of Aquinas written before the Summa theologiae, and 42% occur from the Summa theologiae onward. There is thus a certain overall decrease in frequency over the course of Thomas’s career. (23) Of the total number of formulations, recipitur-formulations make up 69%; inest-formulations 27%, and variant formulations 4%. There is a notable trend in relative frequency among these three formulation types: up to the Summa theologiae, 22% of the formulations are inest-formulations, but from the Summa theologiae onward they constitute 35% of the occurrences. (24) The increasing trend in the relative frequency of inest-formulations is even more dramatically evidenced when Aquinas’s major works are considered in chronological order: the frequencies increase steadily from 14% in the Super libros Sententiarum to 47% in the Summa theologiae. (25)

Furthermore, the proportion of inest-formulations in voce sua is higher than that of recipitur-formulations in voce sua (79% vs. 66%). (26) In light of the above-mentioned increase in the relative frequency of inest-formulations over the course of Thomas’s career, this concentration of inest-formulations in voce sua suggests that they are more properly Thomistic than the better known recipitur-formulations. In this regard, it is significant that the inest-formulation is metaphysically universal because it abstracts from reception and passivity, thus highlighting the metaphysical crux of the principle, namely the mode of a thing’s existence.

Turning now from a chronological distribution of my data to a theoretical one, I group the formulations according to Thomas’s uses of them in the order of knowing, in the order of being, and in the order of grace. The majority fall under Knowledge, 38%; next is Being, 33%, and then Grace, 28%. (27) Although Thomas clearly appreciated the metaphysical character of the modus principle from the beginning of his career, there is evidence from the corollary formulae to suggest that there was a certain development in the precision of his appreciation. The early formulae are less succinct and more variable in terminology, while from the Summa theologiae onward the term ‘mode’ prevails, and one finds important metaphysical determinations of the term: ‘according to the mode of its existence;’ ‘according to the mode of its act;’ ‘according to the mode of its substance;’ ‘according to the mode of its nature;’ ‘according to the mode of its form.’

As for uses of the principle in the order of grace, besides the fact that there are fewer occurrences in this order than in the other two, 52% of the theological ones appear in objections and sed contra, whereas only 26% of the entitative and 21% of the cognitional ones do so. Furthermore, whereas corollary formulae abound in the order of being (66), and make a showing in the order of knowing (16), I found only seven in the order of grace. That in sacred theology Thomas so often formulates the modus principle in voce aliena suggests that it belongs more to his apologetics than to his positive doctrine.

The principal philosophical conclusion which I ultimately drew from my textual analysis is that the modus principle belongs among the first and most basic axioms of Thomas’s metaphysics because it pertains directly to the ultimate of his thought, namely existence. At the heart of the principle is the term ‘mode,’ a transcendental term of distinction that allows Thomas to relate all other distinctions of being to distinctions of existence. When Aquinas projects formal contrariety against the horizon of an actuality more ultimate than form, namely existence, a new sense of distinction becomes necessary to give a complete account of the entitative alterity evident among beings. ‘Mode’ is a metaphysical term of distinction that emerges when the intensiveness of existense is grasped and a real duality of essence and existence is seen as necessary to all finite being.

There was not for Aristotle, as there is for Thomas, a pefection more ultimate than form in which the hierarchy of forms participates. Such a metaphysical horizon first opens up when the contingency and finitude of the cosmos is thematized. The necessary and direct dependence of the cosmos upon a transcendent Cause which is neither part of the cosmos, nor admits of any complement to its perfection, is what turns the cosmos into an universum (what is turned toward the One). In turn, the necessary and direct dependence of each thing within the universe upon such a Creator reveals a new dimension of a thing’s being. The actuality of its act or form is no longer only a question of its generation or corruption in matter, but a matter of creation. The contrariety of possession and privation, or of being and non-being, which Aristotle and Plato saw to be necessary for a multiplicity of forms, Thomas Aquinas sees as no less necessary to the actuality of those forms. Likewise, if there is to be anything beyond the pure, infinite, and subsisting existence of God, there must be a determination and modification of existence through a duality of created essence and participated existence. It is to this existential multiplicity that the modus principle pertains. And it is because the phrases per modum recipientis and per modum eius in quo est refer ultimately to entities’ acts of existing that Aquinas can extend the modus principle to every being and to every sense of being, in short, to the manifold mode of existing of things.

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(1) Index Thomisticus: Sancti Thomae Aquinatis operum omnium indices et concordantiae (Stuttgart-Bad Canstatt: Friedrifch Fromann Verlag Günther Holzboog KG, 1974). Thomae Aquinatis opera omnia, cum hypertextibus in CD-ROM (Milano: Editoria Elettronica Editel, 1992).

(2) "Manifestum est enim quod omne quod recipitur in aliquo recipitur in eo per modum recipientis." Summa theologiae, in Sancti Thomae de Aquino opera omnia iussu Leonis XIII P.M. edita, Cura et studio Fratrum Praedicatorum (Roma: Editori di San Tommaso, 1881—), Ia, qu. 75, ar. 5, co. (tm. 5, p. 202). All citations of Thomas’s works will be to the Leonine editions, unless otherwise indicated. All English translations are my own. Note that I always translate ens as 'being' or 'entity,' using ‘entitative’ in my commentary as the corresponding adjective, and esse as 'existing' or 'existence,' using ‘existential’ for the adjective.

(3) "Omne quod est in aliquo est in eo per modum eius in quo est." Quaestiones de veritate, qu. 2, ar. 5, so. (ed. Leonina: tm. 22, vl. 1, pp. 62-3, ll. 277-79).

(4) See, e.g., Nuntio Signoriello, Lexicon peripateticum philosophico-theologicum (Naples: Bibliothecae Catholicae Scriptorum, 1906); and Bernard Wuellner, Summary of Scholastic Principles (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1956), s.v. ‘Material Causality.’

(5) Quaestiones de quolibet, ql. 7, qu. 1, ar. 1, co. (ed. Leonina: tm. 25, vl. 1, p. 8, fn. ll. 113-14).

(6) The only thematic study of the axiom that I have found is a Master’s thesis: John. F. Clarkson. "The Principle of Reception in the Disputed Questions of St. Thomas" (St. Louis University, 1951). John Henle sums up Clarkson’s conclusions when he asserts that the axiom applies widely, however flexibly and analogously, and expresses no single doctrine, but receives its doctrinal determination from more basic and general principles; see his Saint Thomas and Platonism (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1956), pp. 331-33; cf. Clarkson, pp. 102ff. John F. Wippel displayes the range of issues across which Thomas uses the modus principle in "Thomas Aquinas and the Axiom 'What is received is received according to the mode of the receiver,'" in A Straight Path, ed. Ruth Link-Salinger (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1988), pp. 279-89.

In Toward Understanding St. Thomas, the principle gets an honorable mention in Chenu’s description of the place of axioms generally in Thomas’s writings: "These propositions dressed up as atomic formulations, run the gamut between the peremptory theorem, which is at one with the internal coherence of a system of thought, and the commonplace statement, more closely knit in words than scientifically effective. Quidquid recipitur ad modum recipientis recipitur. In neo-Platonic thought, this axiom was a fundamental law in the theory of participation employed to explain cosmic coming-into-being.… This same axiom, however, can also be a vague common sense statement applicable to any kind of recipient. The handling of an axiom is a delicate thing, therefore; all the more delicate in that the precise meaning of it must be set forth, not as in the manner of a term being defined, but as in the case of a judgment." M.D. Chenu, Toward Understanding St. Thomas, tr. A.M. Landry and D. Hughes (Henry Regnery Company, 1964), pp. 186-87; cf. ibidem fn. 40.

(7) An objection of the Super libros Sententiarum attributes a corollary application of the principle to the De anima mundi, a collection of Latin fragments of the Timaeus available in Thomas’s day. See Scriptum super libros Sententiarum magistri Petri Lombardi episcopi parisiensis, ed. R.P. Mandonnet (Paris: Sumptibus P. Lethielleux, 1929), lb. 1, ds. 17, qu. 1, ar. 3, ag. 2 (tm. 1, p. 400). Nothing in the Timaeus readily answers to the formulation.

Thomas does in one place credit Plato with a certain insight into the principle: "Videbat enim Plato quod unumquodque recipitur in aliquo secundum mensuram recipientis. Unde diversae receptiones videntur provenire ex diversis mensuris recipientium." In Metaphysicam commentaria, ed. M.–R. Cathala, 3rd ed. (Turin—Rome: Marietti, 1935), lb. 1, lc. 10 (p. 48, n. 167). Although I acknowledge this to be a proper formulation of the modus principle, I do not regard it as a proper citation, in that Thomas attributes to Plato an implicit insight into the principle unarticulated in his reasoning. I maintain that a proper citation attributes to an authority either an express formulation of the principle or an explicit thematization of its metaphysics. An apt example of the principle or an implicit reliance on its metaphysics is noteworthy, but does not constitute an authoritative precedent. In fact, in this same context Thomas faults Plato for failing to bring the modus principle to bear on the question of human intellection: "Patet autem diligenter intuenti rationes Platonis, quod ex hoc in sua positione erravit, quia credidit, quod modus rei intellectae in suo esse sit sicut modus intelligendi rem ipsam." In Metaphysicam commentaria, lb. 1, lc. 10 (ed. Marietti: p. 47, n. 158).

As for Aristotle, even when Thomas makes use of the principle in his Aristotelian commentaries, he avoids attributing it to Aristotle, raising questions not raised by Aristotle and employing the principle to address them (e.g., Sentencia libri De anima, lb. 2, cp. 12, 24, & 27; and In Metaphysicam commentaria, lb. 1, cp. 10). While Thomas will credit Aristotle with exemplifying instances of the modus principle, he does not ascribe to him the principle itself or its metaphysics. That Aristotle should give an apt example of the principle or implicitly apply it in some argumentation does not suffice to say that he knows the modus principle as a universal metaphysical truth, indeed a necessity. I maintain that a defensible claim to the contrary must include a citation of an express formulation.

(8) See Jonathon Scott Lee, "The Doctrine of Reception According to the Capacity of the Recipient in Ennead VI.4-5," Dionysius 3 (December 1979), pp. 79-97. Thomas had no direct access to Plotinus’s writings, and did not know that the Enneads were a second subtext for the Liber de causis together with Proclus’s Elements of Theology; see St. Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Book of Causes, tr. Vincent A. Guagliardo, Charles R. Hess, and Richard C. Taylor (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1996), p. xii, n. 15.

(9) Thomas associates pseudo-Dionysius with the modus principle three times in the Super libros Sententiarum, but never thereafter (which fact is not so surprising when one fails to find any express formulation of the principle in Dionysius’s writings). First, as already stated, Dionysius is named in an objection of the Super libros Sententiarum together with the Liber de causis for a proper formulation of the modus principle (lb. 2, ds. 17, qu. 2, ar. 1, ag. 3). Second, to the question whether Christ should have proven his resurrection by arguments, Thomas distinguishes three grades of believing, which he introduces as follows: "Respondeo dicendum, quod, sicut dicit Dionysius, ‘lumen divinum non recipitur in nobis nisi secundum nostram proportionem’ {Calest. Hierar. 1} …." Scriptum super Sententiis magistri Petri Lombardi, ed. M.F. Moos, tm. 3 (Paris: Sumptibus P. Lethielleux, 1933), lb. 3, ds. 21, qu. 2, ar. 3, so. (ed. Lethielleux: tm. 3, p. 647). Cf. Quaestiones de veritate, qu. 13, ar. 1, ag. 4 (ed. Leonina: tm. 22, vl. 2, p. 415, ll. 27-35): "… Dionysius dicit VIII cp. De divinis nominibus quod ‘iustitia Dei in hoc attenditur quod omnibus rebus distribuit secundum suum modum et dignitatem’…." Third, in his reply to the question whether light is an accident, Thomas writes, "…sicut dicit Dionysius in IV cap. De divinis nominibus, col. 694, t. I, lumen solis recipitur in diversis corporibus diversimode secundum diversam capacitatem eorum …." Super libros Sententiarum, lb. 2, ds. 13, qu. 1, ar. 3, ad 10 (ed. Lethielleux: tm. 2, p. 337). This is one of the passages cited by editors to explain Thomas’s ascription of the modus principle to Dionysius; see e.g., the note to this same passage in the Indicis Thomistici Supplementum, Opera Omnia, ed. Roberto Busa (Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt: Frommann-Holzboog, 1980); and in the Leonine’s Sentencia libri De anima, lb. 2, cp. 12 (tm. 45, vl. 1, p. 155, fn. 74-76). How unsatisfactory this citation of Thomas’s is seems to go unacknowledged.

Much more significant for understanding Thomas’s use of the modus principle are passages in Dionysius’s writings which Thomas explicates using the modus principle. In these latter passages the metaphysics of the principle is discernible, as is its intimate connection with the Dionysian notion of intensively infinite existence. See In librum De divinis nominibus, cp. 7, lc. 3 (ed. Marietti: pp. 270-71, nn. 317, 724, & 726); cp. 13, lc. 2 (pp. 363-4, nn. 972-76); cp. 9, lc. 1 (p. 301, n. 808); cp. 5, lc. 1 (pp. 229-30, nn. 262-68; pp. 234-7, nn. 629, 640-41, & 644).

(10) Super librum De causis expositio, ed. H.D. Saffey (Fribourg--Louvain: Société Philosophique--Editions E. Nauwelaerts, 1954): pr. 8 (p. 54), "Et similiter omnis sciens non scit rem meliorem et rem inferiorem et deteriorem nisi secundum modum suae substantiae et sui esse, non secundum modum secundum quem res sunt;" pr. 10 (p. 66), "Et similiter aliqua ex rebus non recipit quod est supra eam nisi per modum secundum quem potest recipere ipsum, non per modum secundum quem est res recepta;" pr. 12 (p. 77), "Primorum omnium quaedam sunt in quibusdam per modum quo licet ut sit unum eorum in alio;" pr. 12 (p. 77), "Causatum ergo in causa est per modum causae et causa in causato per modum causati;" pr. 20 (p. 108), "Prima enim Bonitas influit bonitates supra res omnes influxione una; verumtamen unaquaeque rerum recipit ex illa influxione, secundum modum suae virtutis et sui esse;" pr. 20 (p. 108), "Et diversificantur bonitates et dona [quae prima Bonitas influit] ex concursu recipientis;" pr. 24 (p. 119), "Quod est quia quamvis causa prima existat in rebus omnibus tamen unaquaeque rerum recipit eam secundum modum suae potentiae;" pr. 24 (p. 119), "Et diversitas quidem receptionis non fit ex causa prima sed propter recipiens, quod est quia suscipiens diversificatur: propter illud ergo et susceptum est diversificatum;" pr. 24 (p. 120), "Ergo secundum modum propinquitatis causae primae et secundum modum quo res potest recipere causam primam, secundum quantitatem illius potest recipere ex ea et delectari per eam. Quod est quia non recipit res ex causa prima et delectatur in ea nisi per modum esse sui."

(11) I do not distinguish in translation between the prepositions per and secundum because in formulations of the modus principle the sense of per agrees with that of secundum, and does not designate any of the three senses of indirect agency which Thomas notes may be indicated by per in the first lecture of Super evangelium s. Ioannis lectura, ed. P. Raphaelis Cai, 5th ed. rev. (Turin--Rome: Marietti, 1952), pp. 16-17, n. 76. In his Expositio Libri Posteriorum, on the other hand, Thomas indicates four senses of per that relate to principles of entity: per se can refer to a thing’s form and essence, to its proper matter or subject, to its relation to a proper efficient cause, or to it as individual (lb. 1, lc. 10 [ed. Leonina: pp. 39-40, ll. 25-135]). In the phraseology of the modus principle, the preposition per indicates just such intrinsic determinations of being: 1) per modum formae, per modum essentiae, per modum substantiae, per modum naturae; 2) per modum materiae, per capacitatem materiae, per dispositionem materiae; 3) per modum recipientis, per modum patientis, per modum agentis; and 4) per modum rei, per proprium modum rei.

(12) "… actus et forma recipitur in materia secundum materiae capacitatem." Summa theologiae, IaIIae, qu. 5, ar. 4, ag. 1 (ed. Leonina: tm. 6, p. 49).

(13) However these contexts did not include occurrences of the singular dative and ablative forms, as the program classes them separately under the pseudo-lemma modo. The pseudo-lemma modo groups the occurrences of the adverb with the two homographic forms of the noun as though they were forms of a single lemma. The frequency given for the pseudo-lemma modo, namely 16,891, thus represents the occurrences of three forms from two lemmata. Likewise the frequency given for the lemma modus, namely 11,460, omits the occurrences of two of its forms. I note that I have never met with a formulation of the modus principle that employed the form modo.

(14) "Est autem multiplex modus essendi rerum." Summa theologiae, Ia, qu. 12, ar. 4, co., (ed. Leonina: tm. 4, p. 120).

(15) E.g.: "… scientia est secundum modum cognoscentis: scitum enim est in sciente secundum modum scientis." Summa theologiae, Ia, qu. 14, ar. 1, ad 3 (ed. Leonina: tm. 4, p. 167). "… modus cognoscendi rem aliquam est secundum condicionem cognoscentis in quo forma recipitur secundum modum eius." Quaestiones de veritate, qu. 10, ar. 4, so. (ed. Leonina: tm. 22, vl. 2, p. 306, ll. 68-70).

(16) E.g.: "… omnis forma unita materiae est in ea per modum materiae." Quaestiones de anima, ed. James H. Robb, Studies and Texts, n. 14 (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1968), qu. 2, ag. 19 (p. 67). "… forma recipitur in materia secundum conditionem ipsius materiae, cum omne quod est in altero sit in eo per modum recipientis …." Super libros Sententiarum, lb. 2, ds. 30, qu. 1, ar. 2, ad 5 (ed. Lethielleux: vl. 2, p. 773).

(17) "… gratia perfecit naturam secundum modum naturae: sicut et omnis perfectio recipitur in perfectibili secundum modum eius." Summa theologiae, Ia, qu. 62, ar. 5, co. (ed. Leonina: tm. 5, p. 115). "… quia charitas recipitur in anima hominis secundum modum ipsius …." Super I Epistolam ad Cor. XI-XVI, cp. 13, lc. 3 (ed. Marietti: p. 384, n. 787).

(18) E.g.: "Esse autem participatum finitur ad capacitatem participantis." Summa theologiae, Ia, qu. 75, ar. 5, ad 4 (ed. Leonina: tm. 5, p. 202). "… esse enim recipitur in aliquo secundum modum ipsius, et ideo terminatur, sicut et quaelibet alia forma, quae de se communis est, et secundum quod recipitur in aliquo, terminatur ad illud …." Super libros Sententiarum, lb. 1, ds. 8, qu. 2, ar. 1, so. (ed. Lethielleux: tm. 1, p. 292).

(19) "Solius autem Dei proprius modus essendi est ut sit suum esse subsistens." Summa theologiae, Ia, qu. 12, ar. 4, co. (ed. Leonina: tm. 4, p. 121). Cf. Super libros Sententiarum, lb. 1, ds. 37, qu. 2, ar. 3, ad 3 (ed. Lethielleux: tm. 1, p. 866): "Deus enim est in rebus temporaliter per modum rerum, sed res ab aeterno in Deo per modum Dei …;" and Summa theologiae, Ia, qu. 14, ar. 1, ad 3 (ed. Leonina: tm. 4, p. 167): "… cum modus divinae essentiae sit altior quam modus quo creaturae sunt …" Thomas will even use the phrase modus existendi to distinguish the persons of the Trinity (Quaestiones de potentia, qu. 3, ar. 15, ad 17 [ed. Marietti: tm. 2, p. 85]).

(20) "Sciendum tamen quod praedicti modi essendi ad quatuor possunt reduci … scilicet negatio et privatio …, generatio et corruptio …, qualitates, quantitates et substantiae proprietates …, [et] substantiae. Et ad hoc sicut ad primum et principale omnia alia refuruntur." In Metaphysicam Aristotelis commentaria, lb. 4, lc. 1, (ed. Marietti: p. 183, nn. 540-43).

"[S]ciendum est quod quod ens dividitur in decem praedicamenta non univoce, sicut genus in species, sed secundum diversum modum essendi. Modi autem essendi propoprtionales sunt modis praedicandi. Praedicando enim aliquid de aliquo altero, dicimus hoc esse illud: unde et decem genera entis dicuntur decem praedicamenta. Commentaria in octo libros Physicorum Aristotelis, lb. 3, cp. 3, lc. 5 (ed. Leonina: tm. 2, p. 114, n. 15).

"Sed considerandum est quod ea quae a primo ente esse participant, non participant esse secundum universalem modum essendi, secundum quod est in primo principio, sed particulariter secundum quemdam determinatum essendi modum quo convenit vel huic generi vel huic speciei. Unaquaeque autem res adaptatur ad unum determinatum modum essendi secundum modum suae substantiae. Modus autem uniuscujusque substantiae compositae ex materia et forma est secundum formam per quam pertinet ad determinatam speciem. Sic igitur res composita ex materia et forma per suam formam fit participativa ipsius esse a Deo secundum quemdam proprium modum." De substantiis separatis, cp. 8 (ed. Leonina: p. 34, n. 88).

"Propria enim natura uniuscuiusque constitit secundum quod per aliquem modum divinam perfectionem participat. Non autem Deus perfecte seipsum cognosceret, nisi cognosceret quomodocumque participabilis est ab aliis sua perfectio: nec etiam ipsam naturam essendi perfecte sciret, nisi cognosceret omnes modos essendi."Summa theologiae, Ia, qu. 14, ar. 6, co. (ed. Leonina: tm. 4, p. 176). Cf. Super libros Sententiarum, lb. 1, ds. 8, qu. 1, ar. 2, s.c. 2 (ed. Lethielleux: tm. 1, pp. 197-98).

(21) Jean-Pierre Torrell, Saint Thomas Aquinas: The Person And His Work, vl. 1 (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1996).

(22) Note that this division is linguistic rather than philosophical, in that it turns on the use of an indefinite pronoun or its equivalent rather than on the metaphysical extension of a formulation. Note also that the corollary applications admit of such variation in formulation that those located must be regarded as a sampling, the extent of which remains unknown. The 102 proper formulations, on the other hand, should represent an exhaustive list, though I readily grant the possibility of human error or of an undiscovered variation in formulation.

(23) Although there is a certain quantitative decrease in Thomas’s use of proper formulations over the course of his career, the trend among the corollary formulae is otherwise: the number of corollary principles of action doubles from the Summa theologiae onward; the number in the orders of knowing and of being remains constant; and all but one of the seven corollary applications in sacred theology occur from the Summa theologiae onwards.

The proper formulations occur with greatest frequency in five works: Scriptum super libros Sententiarum (21), Quaestiones disputatae de veritate (17); Summa contra gentiles (11); Summa theologiae (17); and Quaestiones disputatae de anima (9). The distribution within these five principal works of formulations in voce sua, formulations from objections, and formulations from sed contra are as follows:

In voce sua Objections Sed contra
Super libros Sententiarum 14/21 or 67% 4/21 or 19% 3/21 or 14%
Quaestiones de veritate 10/17 or 59% 5/17 or 29% 2/17 or 12%
Summa contra gentiles
Summa theologiae 11/17 or 65% 6/17 or 35% 0/17 or 0%
Quaestiones de anima 3/9 or 33% 6/9 or 67% 0/9 or 0%

(24) The works up to the Summa theologiae being defined as early, the distribution is as follows:

Recipitur-Formulations Inest-Formulations Variant Formulations
Early Works 43/59 or 73% 13/59 or 22% 3/59 or 5%
Late Works 27/43 or 63% 15/43 or 35% 1/43 or 2%

Jean-Pierre Torrell places the writing of the Quaestiones de anima in the same period as that of the Prima pars, following Bernardo Bazán, editor of the new Leonine edition (see Saint Thomas Aquinas, pp. 161-62). I thus count the Quaestiones de anima as a "late work," taking it to reflect a maturity of usage comparable to that of the Prima pars.


Recipitur-Formulations Inest-Formulations Variant Formulations
Super libros Sententiarum 17/21 or 81% 3/21 or 14% 1/21 or 5%
Quaestiones de veritate 14/17 or 82% 3/17 or 18% 0/17 or 0%
Summa contra gentiles 6/11 or 55% 4/11 or 36% 1/11 or 9%
Quaestiones de anima 7/9 or 78% 2/9 or 22% 0/9 or 0%
Summa theologiae 9/17 or 53% 8/17 or 47% 0/17 or 0%

As explained in the previous footnote, I class the Quaestiones de anima as a late work together with the Summa theologiae, but the Summa naturally follows it chronologically. A particular concern of the Quaestiones de anima, namely the reception of cognitive species, would make a concentration of recipitur-formulations natural enough.


In voce sua Objections Sed contra
Recipitur-formulations 46/70 or 66% 19/70 or 27% 5/70 or 7%
Inest-formulations 22/28 or 79% 6/28 or 21% 0/28 or 0%
Variant formulations 2/4 or 50% 1/4 or 25% 1/4 or 25%

(27) In the article cited in note 5 above, John F. Wippel suggests that Thomas may have regarded sense perception and human intellection as the most evident illustrations of the principle, and then generalized from these applications ("Thomas Aquinas and the Axiom" p. 279). Although there is a clear concentration of occurrences of the principle in Thomas’s treatments of human knowledge, his uses of the modus principle in the order of being occur with greater frequency in the works before the Summa theologiae than his uses of it in the order of knowing:

Knowledge Being Grace
Early Works 19/39 or 49% 23/34 or 68% 19/30 or 63%
Late Works 20/39 or 51% 11/34 or 32% 11/30 or 37%

Furthermore, I encountered three times as many corollary applications in the order of being as in the order of knowing, and again, with the formulations occurring as early in Thomas’s career: Principles of Knowledge, 16; of Action, 33; of Being, 33; of Grace, 7. One gets similar results from an analysis of the distribution of formulations according to type. On the one hand, the majority recipitur-formulations occur with nearly the same relative frequency in the order of knowing and in the order of being; on the other hand, in his early works Thomas uses inest formulations with greater frequency in the order of knowing than in the order of being. The overall theoretical distribution in the works written before the Summa theologiae is as follows:

Recipitur-Formulations Inest-Formulations Variant Formulations
Knowledge 27/39 or 69% 12/39 or 31% 0/39 or 0%
Being 22/34 or 65% 10/34 or 29% 2/34 or 6%
Grace 19/28 or 68% 7/28 or 25% 2/28 or 7%

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