Via Resolutionis

In the prooemium to his commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle, St. Thomas explains the necessity for a master science, wisdom, which will order all the others to the one end of human happiness.[1] This ruling science will be the most intellectual, he argues, just as in political matters the men strongest in intellect are the most fit to rule. Furthermore, that science is the most intellectual which treats of the most intelligible things (maxime intelligibilia).[2]

St. Thomas then gives three different accounts of what makes a thing to be most intelligible. First, from the point of view of order of understanding (intelligendi), since understanding causes is the source of scientific certainty, the knowledge of causes is more intellectual than knowledge of effects. The most intellectual of all sciences, therefore, and the one most worthy of the name wisdom, is the one which studies the highest causes.[3]

Second, because the intellect differs from sensation by grasping universal objects rather than particular, the most intellectual objects are the most universal. Therefore, wisdom will treat of the most universal principles, such as being, one and many, act and potency.[4]

Third, from the point of view of the kind of knowledge had by the intellect, which is an immaterial power, those things are most intelligible - most suited to be known by an intellect - which are most separate from matter. God and separate substances are free, not only from signate matter like the objects of physics,[5] but from all sensible matter. Furthermore, they are not only free from sensible matter in thought, like the objects of mathematics,[6] but in reality (secundum esse). Therefore, the science that studies God and separate substances will be the most intellectual and will be regulative of the other sciences.[7]

But these are not three different sciences, each competing for the title of wisdom; rather, they are three different considerations of the same science, from which considerations it receives three different names. Because it studies God and separate substance, it is called theology;[8] because it studies the common notions of being and its consequents, it is called metaphysics;[9] because it studies the first causes of things, it is called first philosophy.[10]

Of interest to this paper is the account for the second name given to the science of wisdom, metaphysics. This name is appropriate, says St. Thomas, because the universal objects studied by wisdom are found after the study of physics by way of resolution (via resolutionis) to what is more common.[11] At first glance, specifying the path toward objects beyond physics as resolutory may seem like an interesting detail, but unrelated to the main argument that metaphysics is wisdom; however, a precise understanding of the sense of resolution employed here,[12] filled out by comparison to other texts of St. Thomas, reveals that his mention of resolution actually reinforces his notion of the sapiential character of metaphysics.


We begin by taking a closer look at the description of resolution given in the text of the prooemium itself. First, as we have seen, St. Thomas gives three accounts for what makes an object intelligible, corresponding to three names given to the science of wisdom. Only the second name is attributed to the science on account of its proper subject. In this text, wisdom is called both “theology” and “first philosophy” in virtue of its treatment of God and separate substances, which are both first among causes and the most immaterial of beings. But these are treated in the science only insofar as they are the causes of its subject. On the other hand, it is called “metaphysics” in virtue of the most universal principles, being and what follows being. These most universal principles are the proper subject of wisdom.[13]

The second point we can see in the text of the prooemium is that resolution leads us to more universal knowledge. The subject of metaphysics, being and its consequents, “are discovered by way of resolution, as the more common after the less common.”[14] Ens commune, which has the broadest reach of predicability, is the terminus of the via resolutionis.

Resolution for the Sake of Judgment

There is a rich discussion of resolution and its function within science in St. Thomas’ Commentary on the De Trinitate of Boethius. In q. 6, a. 1, St. Thomas sets out to defend Boethius' claim that natural science proceeds rationabiliter, mathematics proceeds disciplinabiliter, and metaphysics proceeds intellectualiter. He divides this article into three parts corresponding to each element of Boethius' assertion.

St. Thomas first defends calling the mode of natural science rationabiliter. In doing so, he lists three ways in which a scientific process can be called "reasonable": from the principles of the process, from the end of the process, or from the power of the soul which undergoes the process.

First, a mental process can be called reasonable if it proceeds from principles taken from works of reason, or logical intentions, such as genus, species, and opposite. This sense of "reasonable" applies when the principles of an argument are "beings of reason" as opposed to "real beings".[15] Second, a mental process can be called reasonable if it has not yet terminated in its ultimate goal of understanding principles. He contrasts the process of reasoning which is still moving, still seeking out middle terms, to the demonstration which has reached first principles. Only the former is called "reasonable", while the latter is more properly called "demonstrative".[16] Third, a mental process can be called reasonable insofar as it follows a mode proper to human way of knowing. This happens by following a course of reasoning from what is more known to us to what is more known by nature, as well as by moving discursively from one thing to another. It is this last sense of reasonable that St. Thomas says is proper to natural science, since both aspects of human reasoning are most properly displayed in physics.

The second reason St. Thomas gives for calling a mental process reasonable is the first mention in this text of resolution. St. Thomas says that we judge by resolving into first principles.[17] He is pointing out that the conclusions of reason are judged to be true only by seeing in them the power of the first principles, which are known immediately to be true.[18] This resolution is what gives solidity to the final conclusion, rendering the knowledge scientifically certain rather than probable.

This account of reasonable which distinguishes a process from demonstrative is rejected as an interpretation of Boethius’ description of physics as rationabiliter. Since any science requires the completion of this process of reason such that its conclusions are firmly tied down to self-evident truths, this account cannot be proper to natural science. Neither, then, can it be identical to the via resolutionis which leads to metaphysics. For St. Thomas, physics and mathematics possess a scientific independence, since they each can resolve their conclusions to their proper first principles. If the via resolutionis were identical to the sense of resolution which links conclusions to principles, only a metaphysical consideration would render mathematics and physics demonstratively certain. Nevertheless, we will see later that resolution leading to judgment bears a certain similarity to the resolution leading to metaphysics. For now, it is enough to note that St. Thomas assigns the process of resolving to discursive reason, while the principles to which reason resolves are understood by the intellect.[19]

Metaphysics’ Relation to Other Sciences

After arguing for mathematics’ status as disciplinabiliter, St. Thomas turns to defending Boethius' claim that divine science proceeds intellectualiter. He first describes the difference between reason and intellect. Reason stands to intellect as multitude to unity. He posits this analogy as the basis for two others given by Boethius: reason is to intellect as time is to eternity and as a circle is to its center.[20] To explain this relationship further, he says that it is proper to reason to be diffused over many things, and from the many things to collect one simple apprehension. Intellect, however, considers first one simple truth in which it grasps a multitude of things.[21]

St. Thomas then draws the conclusion that rational activity finds its completion in intellectual activity according to the path of resolution (secundum viam resolutionis). This is due to what he said above, namely that reason draws one simple truth, the apprehension of which is the proper domain of the intellect, from many. On the other hand, intellectual understanding is the starting point of reasoning according to the path of composition or discovery (secundum viam compositionis vel inventionis). Intellect, then, stands to reason as principle and terminus. Therefore, drawing out the analogy, St. Thomas will argue that whichever science stands to the other sciences as principle by way of composition and terminus by way of resolution most deserves to be described as "intellectual."[22]

He then makes another distinction in the way reason proceeds. All rational activity is discursive, but this movement can be from one thing to another, according to extrinsic cause and effect, or from one intelligibility to another, according to intrinsic cause and effect.[23] There are, therefore, two modes of composition, and two mode of resolution.[24] Resolution secundum rem terminates in the separate substances,[25] while resolution secundum rationem terminates in being and its proper passions considered universally.[26] Since wisdom considers those things that are at the ultimate end of rational resolution, it stands to the other sciences as intellectual to rational.

According to the thought of St. Thomas, then, not only is wisdom the most intellectual of sciences,[27] but it relates to the other sciences as intellectual to rational. It is true that St. Thomas is careful to avoid identifying metaphysics with the act of the intellect: he does not claim that intellect operates exclusively in the domain of metaphysics, nor that metaphysics operates exclusively intellectually.[28] Nevertheless, St. Thomas has defended Boethius’ description of metaphysics as proceeding intellectualiter, and has argued for this appellation on the basis of its relation to other sciences. This analogy will enter into our solution of a difficulty, which will ultimately shed light on the via resolutionis and the ordering function of wisdom.

A Difficulty

The difficulty concerns what appears to be at the heart of the meaning of resolution: a movement toward what is more simple. We have seen that in q. 6, a. 1 of his commentary on Boethius’ De Trinitate, St. Thomas explicitly connects resolution with proceeding toward what is more simple, both in the case of resolution secundum rem and secundum rationem.[29] In both cases, in fact, simplicity of the terminus is the reason why St. Thomas calls the movement resolution. This argument is evidence that St. Thomas sees resolution generally as a movement to the more simple.[30] The simplicity of universals provides a terminus for a particular kind of resolution.

But in what way are universals simple? In other texts, St. Thomas speaks of more universal concepts as complex and confused compared to more particular concepts. For instance, in q.1, a.3 of the same commentary on Boethius’ De Trinitate, St. Thomas, in discussing the order in which things are abstracted by the intellect, speaks of universal concepts as composed wholes which are known before their simpler parts.[31]

Again, in the first lecture of his commentary on Aristotle’s Physics, St. Thomas not only describes the movement from universal to particular as a movement from confused wholes to simpler distinct elements, but even calls such a movement resolution. Aristotle had concluded that for a natural scientist “it is necessary to go from the universal to the particulars.”[32] St. Thomas explains the argument this way: it is natural for us to proceed from knowing those things that are more known to us, to those things that are more knowable in themselves. But since what is more known to us is more confused, and knowledge of universals is more confused than knowledge of particulars, therefore Aristotle’s conclusion follows and we must proceed from confused universals to distinct particulars.[33]

St. Thomas then argues for the second claim, namely that what is more known to us is more confused. What he means by confused knowledge is indistinct knowledge, which has some admixture of potency, as opposed to distinct knowledge which is the intellect fully in act. But our intellects proceed from potency to act; therefore, we must pass through confused and indistinct knowledge before arriving at distinct knowledge. He describes this process as a resolution (resolutionem), noting that by it we come to a perfectly actualized science when we have distinct knowledge of principles and elements.[34]

He then defends his previous assertion that universals are one kind of confused object of knowledge, since what is known through a universal is known indistinctly. The thing known universally is known in its species only potentially; for example, if someone knows what an animal is, he does not by this fact actually know what it is to be rational, even if some animals are rational. The rational sort of animal is contained under the notion of animal only potentially: if rational were known actually by knowing animal, there couldn’t be any non-rational animals; and if rational were in no way known by knowing animal, there couldn’t be any rational animals. Therefore, in this text, St. Thomas is clear that we must proceed from confused universal knowledge to distinct particular knowledge by way of resolution.[35]

In his commentary on Aristotle’s Metaphysics, he references the same text from the Physics, again associating it with “resolution.” Here, he is explaining in what sense it is difficult to know the truth. The difficulty stems from our inability to grasp a whole and its parts at the same time.[36] He lays out two processes by which the mind progresses. Starting with some truth that is known to all, one searching for truth may proceed by way of resolution (per modum resolutionis), which he describes as a movement from composite to simple, and from whole to part. He then connects this process of resolution to that mentioned in the text from the Physics which we have already discussed. The end and perfection of this path to the truth is reached with the distinct knowledge of the parts of what was first known confusedly. The way of composition (via compositionis), by contrast, proceeds from the simple to the composed, and is perfected when the whole is grasped.[37]

Universals as Causes

We can perhaps discern in what way St. Thomas views universals as more simple than the particulars contained under them from his response to q. 7, a. 8 of the De Potentia.[38] St. Thomas is asking whether there are any relations between creatures and God. It seems that the main objection to affirming such relations is that they would do violence to God’s simplicity. On the contrary, St. Thomas declares that the simpler something is, the more relations it will have due to its less limited power.[39] He resolves the same problem in a similar way in chapter 13 of the second book of his Summa Contra Gentiles.[40] Although both this text and the previous one are discussing God as the cause who extends His power over all, it seems to be a general principle that more common causality is a sign of simplicity. St. Thomas applies the principle to mathematics, remarking that a point, the simplest mathematical, is a principle of more things than a line.[41] In fact, it is a commonly repeated principle of St. Thomas, that causal extension toward many things is a sign of simplicity.[42]

At this point we should recall the relation of wisdom to other sciences as intellect to reason. Reason draws one from many in the process of resolution according to intrinsic and extrinsic causes.[43] Ens commune, therefore, which is the completion of resolution secundum rationem, is not considered as a confused whole which stands to its distinct parts as complex to simple, as it is in the passages where St. Thomas speaks of a resolution from the universal to particular. It is, rather, considered as an intrinsic formal principle, relating as a principle to more things than less universal principles. It is in this way that universals are simple.[44]

Nevertheless, although each can be said to be simple and extend their causality over all things, we must insist that St. Thomas emphatically denies the position that ens commune is God.[45] There is a great gap between resolution secundum rationem and secundum rem.[46] For, as we have seen, the terminus of resolution secundum rationem forms the proper subject of metaphysics; God and separate substances, however are studied as the causes of ens commune at the culmination of wisdom.


St. Thomas has drawn an analogy between the parts of an individual science and the sciences themselves. The role that the intellectual understanding of principles and the terminus of resolution play in any particular science, metaphysics plays with respect to the lower sciences. Furthermore, the via resolutionis is a movement according to intrinsic causes, which movement finally achieves the most universal, simple, and expansive formal causes: being, one and many, act and potency, and the like. It is not out of place, therefore, to speak of the role of resolution as it pertains to judgment in the context of this analogy. Just as the ultimate grounding of any particular science is a product of resolution to first principles, so the whole course of human knowledge is completed and grounded in the science of metaphysics. Without doing violence to the scientific certainty obtainable in mathematics and physics prior to a metaphysical grasp of being, St. Thomas is able to say that without knowledge of these ultimate formal principles, the knowledge of any particular kind of thing is not complete.[47] The resolution to self-evident principles in any particular field of study provides the basis for judging and ordering the conclusions of that science; similarly, the via resolutionis which obtains the most universal principles allows metaphysics to take its privileged place among the sciences, ordering and judging its inferiors as wisdom.


Aertsen, Jan A. "Method and Metaphysics: The via resolutionis in Thomas Aquinas." Modern Schoolmen 63, no. 4 (1989): 405-418.

Aquinas, St. Thomas. Expositio Super Librum Boethii De Trinitate. 2nd ed. Edited by B. Decker. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1965.

—. In Duodecim Libros Metaphysicorum Aristotelis Expositio. Edited by M. R. Cathala and R. M. Spiazzi. Turin-Rome: Marietti, 1950.

—. In octo libros Physicorum Aristotelis expositio. Edited by M. Maggiòlo. Taurin: Marietti, 1954.

—. Liber de veritate catholicae Fidei contra errores infidelium seu Summa contra Gentiles. Edited by C. Pera, P. Caramello P. Marc. Taurini-Romae: Marietti, 1961.

—. Opera omnia iussu impensaque Leonis XIII P. M. edita, t. 4-5: Pars prima Summae theologiae. Romae: Ex Typographia Polyglotta S. C. de Propaganda Fide, 1888-89.

—. Opera omnia iussu Leonis XIII P. M. edita, t. 1*/2: Expositio libri Posteriorum. 2nd ed. Roma-Paris: Commissio Leonina-J. Vrin, 1989.

—. Quaestiones disputatae, t. 2: Quaestiones disputatae de potentia. 10th ed. Edited by P.M. Pession. Taurini-Romae: Marietti, 1965.

—. Scriptum super libros Sententiarum magistri Petri Lombardi episcopi Parisiensis, t. 2. Edited by P. Mandonnet. Parisiis: P. Lethielleux, 1929.

Aristotle. Physics. Translated by Glen Coughlin. South Bend, Indiana: St. Augustine's Press, 2005.

Boethius. The Consolation of Philosophy. Translated by Richard Green. New York: Macmillan, 1962.

Oeing-Hanhoff, L. "Die Methoden der Metaphysik im Mittelalter." In Die Metaphysik im Mittelalter, Ihr Ursprung und ihre Bedeutung, edited by P. Wilpert, 71-91. Berlin, 1963.

Régis, L. M. "Analyse et synthèse dans l'œuvre de Saint Thomas." In Studia Mediaevalia in honorem admodum Reverendi Patris Raymundi Josephi Martin, 303-330. Brugge, 1940.

Sweeney, Eileen C. "Three Notions of Resolutio and the Structure of Reasoning in Aquinas." The Thomist 58 (1994): 197-243.

Wippel, John F. "Aquinas and Participation." In Studies in Medieval Philosophy, edited by John F. Wippel, 117-158. Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1987.

—. "'First Philosophy' According to Thomas Aquinas." In Metaphysical Themes in Thomas Aquinas, by John F. Wippel, 55-67. Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1984.

[1] In Duodecim Libros Metaphysicorum Aristotelis Expositio, ed. M. R. Cathala and R. M. Spiazzi (Turin-Rome: Marietti, 1950), proem., 1: “Omnes autem scientiae et artes ordinantur in unum, scilicet ad hominis perfectionem, quae est eius beatitudo. Unde necesse est, quod una earum sit aliarum omnium rectrix, quae nomen sapientiae recte vindicat. Nam sapientis est alios ordinare.”

[2] Ibid.: “Sicut enim, ut in libro praedicto Philosophus dicit, homines intellectu vigentes, naturaliter aliorum rectores et domini sunt: . . . ita scientia debet esse naturaliter aliarum regulatrix, quae maxime intellectualis est. Haec autem est, quae circa maxime intelligibilia versatur.”

[3] Ibid.: “Unde, cum certitudinem scientiae per intellectum acquiratur ex causis, causarum cognitio maxime intellectualis esse videtur. Unde et illa scientia, quae primas causas considerat, videtur esse maxime aliarum regulatrix.”

[4] Ibid.: “Unde et illa scientia maxime est intellectualis, quae circa principia maxime universalia versatur. Quae quidem sunt ens, et ea quae consequuntur ens, ut unum et multa, potentia et actus.”

[5] See Aquinas’ Expositio Super Librum Boethii De Trinitate, 2nd ed., ed. B. Decker (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1965), q. 5, a. 3.

[6] Ibid.

[7] In Meta., proem., 1: “Nam cum unaquaeque res ex hoc ipso vim intellectivam habeat, quod est a materia immunis, oportet illa esse maxime intelligibilia, quae qunt [sic] maxime a materia separata.”

[8] Ibid., 2: “Dicitur enim scientia divina sive theologia, inquantum praedictas substantias considerat.”

[9] Ibid.: “Metaphysica, inquantum considerat ens et ea quae consequuntur ipsum.”

[10] Ibid.: “Dicitur autem prima philosophia, inquantum primas rerum causas considerat.” But St. Thomas gives a different account of the name “first philosophy” in q.5, a.1 of his Commentary on the De Trinitate of Boethius. For a discussion of these different accounts, see John F. Wippel, "’First Philosophy’ According to Thomas Aquinas," in Metaphysical Themes in Thomas Aquinas, by John F. Wippel, (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1984), 55-67.

[11] Ibid.: “Haec enim transphysica inveniuntur in via resolutionis, sicut magis communia post minus communia.”

[12] There have been several attempts to collect and categorize the various uses of resolutio in St. Thomas’ works: L. M. Régis, "Analyse et synthèse dans l'œuvre de Saint Thomas," in Studia Mediaevalia in honorem admodum Reverendi Patris Raymundi Josephi Martin (Brugge, 1940), 303-330; Jan A. Aertsen, "Method and Metaphysics: The via resolutionis in Thomas Aquinas," Modern Schoolmen 63, no. 4 (1989): 405-418; Sweeney, Eileen C. "Three Notions of Resolutio and the Structure of Reasoning in Aquinas," The Thomist 58 (1994): 197-243. Régis, after examining the senses of resolution (or analysis) and composition (or synthesis) in various writers prior to St. Thomas, divides his discussion of St. Thomas’ use of resolution and composition according to the three acts of reason (simple apprehension, judgment, and reasoning). He also has a distinct section on their role in practical knowledge. Aertsen, unlike Régis, is not so much trying to make a complete treatment of St. Thomas’ use of resolution as argue against L. Oeing-Hanhoff, "Die Methoden der Metaphysik im Mittelalter," In Die Metaphysik im Mittelalter, Ihr Ursprung und ihre Bedeutung, edited by P. Wilpert (Berlin, 1963), 71-91. To that end, he distinguishes resolution secundum rem and secundum rationem. Sweeney attempts to trace three different senses of resolution in St. Thomas’ works to three different sources in ancient writers. She also argues that each sense is particularly associated with a different science.

[13] In Meta., proem., p.2: “Ex quo apparet, quod quamvis ista scientia praedicta tria consideret, non tamen considerat quodlibet eorum ut subiectum, sed ipsum solum ens commune. Hoc enim est subiectum in scientia, cuius causas et passiones quaerimus, non autem ipsae causae alicuius generis quaesiti. Nam cognitio causarum alicuius generis, est finis ad quem consideratio scientiae pertingit.” See Sweeney, p.239, where she associates the sense of resolution drawn from Neoplatonic thinkers to the light under which metaphysics studies its subject.

[14] In Meta., proem., p.2: “Haec enim transphysica inveniuntur in via resolutionis, sicut magis communia post minus communia.” Translation mine.

[15] Ex. De Trin., p. 205, 6-17.

[16] Ibid., p. 205, 18–p. 206, 6.

[17] Ibid., p.205, 19-22: “Ultimus enim terminus, ad quem rationis inquisitio perducere debet, est intellectus principiorum, in quae resolvendo iudicamus; quod quidem quando fit non dicitur processus vel probatio rationabilis, sed demonstrative.”

[18] See, for instance: In II Sent., d.9, q.1, a.8, ad 1; De Verit., q.12, a.1, co.

[19] “Ultimus enim terminus, ad quem rationis inquisition perducere debet, est intellectus principiorum, in quae resolvendo iudicamus . . .” Ex. De Trin., p.205, 19-20 (emphasis mine).

[20] “Therefore, the changing course of Fate is to the simple stability of Providence as reasoning is to the intellect, as that which is generated is to that which is, as time is to eternity, as a circle to its center.” The Consolation of Philosophy, trans. Richard Green (New York: Macmillan), Bk. IV, prose 6, p.92.

[21] Ex. De Trin., p.210, 29–p.211, 14.

[22] Ibid., p.211, 15-20.

[23] Ibid., p.212, 3-5 and 10-11: “Ratio enim, ut prius dictum est, procedit quandoque de uno in alius secundum rem, ut quando est demonstratio per causas vel effectus extrinsecos…quandoque vero procedit de uno in aliud secundum rationem, ut quando est processus secundum causas intrinsecas.”

[24] For discussion on these various modes of discursive reasoning, especially as they provide two different accounts of the name “first philosophy”, as well an account for the name of “metaphysics”, see the article by John F. Wippel cited in note 8.

[25] Ex. De Trin., p.212, 8-10: “Ultimus ergo terminus resolutionis in hac via est, cum pervenitur ad causas supremas maxime simplices, quae sunt substantiae separatae.”

[26] Ibid., p.212, 15-16: “Et ideo terminus resolutionis in hac via ultimus est consideratio entis et eorum quae sunt entis in quantum huiusmodi.”

[27] See note 2 above.

[28] Wisdom is a science, and like every human science, moves discursively through reason. See Ex. De Trin., p.207, 18-22.

[29] Ex. De Trin., p.212 6-7 and 13-14: “. . . resolvendo, cum proceditur ab effectibus simpliciores ad causas, eo quod causae sunt effectibus simpliciores . . . resolvendo autem quando e converso, eo quod universalius est simplicius.”

[30] See Edmund Dolan quoted by Sweeney in the work cited in note 10 above, p.203. See also Sweeney, p.217, where she attributes a movement toward simplicity to the first two senses of resolution she has discerned in St. Thomas’ writings: "It is in one sense like the first type of resolution in that it moves from complex to simple; however, the metaphysical character of that simplicity is different in each case; one is the simplicity of parts, the other the simplicity of seamless unities."

[31] Ex. De Trin., p.72, 11-14: “Haec autem sunt quae plura comprehendunt vel per modum totius universalis vel per modum totius integralis, et ideo magis universalia sunt primo nota intellectui et composita componentibus, ut diffinitum partibus diffinitionis.”

[32] Physics, trans. Glen Coughlin (South Bend, Indiana: St. Augustine's Press, 2005), Bk. I, Ch. 1 (184a 24).

[33] In octo libros Physicorum Aristotelis expositio, ed. M. Maggiòlo (Taurin: Marietti, 1954), Bk. I, lect. 1, n.6: “Innatum est nobis ut procedamus cognoscendo ab iis quae sunt nobis magis nota, in ea quae sunt magis nota naturae; sed ea quae sunt nobis magis nota, sunt confusa, qualia sunt universalia; ergo oportet nos ab universalibus ad singularia procedere.”

[34] Ibid., n.7: “Ad intellectum autem secundae propositionis, sciendum est quod confusa hic dicuntur quae continent in se aliqua in potentia et indistincte. Et quia cognoscere aliquid indistincte, medium est inter puram potentiam et actum perfectum, ideo, dum intellectus noster procedit de potentia in actum, primo occurrit sibi confusum quam distinctum; sed tunc est scientia completa in actu, quando pervenitur per resolutionem ad distinctam cognitionem principiorum et elementorum. Et haec est ratio quare confusa sunt primo nobis nota quam distincta.”

[35] Ibid.: “Quod autem universalia sint confusa manifestum est, quia universalia continent in se suas species in potentia, et qui scit aliquid in universali scit illud indistincte; tunc autem distinguitur eius cognitio, quando unumquodque eorum quae continentur potentia in universali, actu cognoscitur: qui enim scit animal, non scit rationale nisi in potentia. Prius autem est scire aliquid in potentia quam in actu: secundum igitur hunc ordinem addiscendi quo procedimus de potentia in actum, prius quoad nos est scire animal quam hominem.”

[36] In Meta. II, lect.1, n.6.: “. . . hoc ostendit difficultatem quae est in consideratione veritatis, quia non possumus habere circa veritatem totum et partem.”

[37] Ibid.: “Est autem duplex via procedendi ad cognitionem veritatis. Una quidem per modum resolutionis, secundum quam procedimus a compositis ad simplicia, et a toto ad partem, sicut dicitur in primo physicorum, quod confusa sunt prius nobis nota. Et in hac via perficitur cognitio veritatis, quando pervenitur ad singulas partes distincte cognoscendas. Alia est via compositionis, per quam procedimus a simplicibus ad composita, qua perficitur cognitio veritatis cum pervenitur ad totum. Sic igitur hoc ipsum, quod homo non potest in rebus perfecte totum et partem cognoscere, ostendit difficultatem considerandae veritatis secundum utramque viam.”

[38] Quaestiones disputatae, t. 2: Quaestiones disputatae de potentia, 10th ed., ed. P.M. Pession (Taurini-Romae: Marietti, 1965).

[39] Ibid.: “Ex hoc autem apparet quod non est contra rationem simplicitatis alicuius multitudo relationum quae est inter ipsum et alia; immo quanto simplicius est tanto concomitantur ipsum plures relationes. Quanto enim aliquid est simplicius, tanto virtus (eius) est minus limitata, unde ad plura se extendit sua causalitas.”

[40] Liber de veritate catholicae Fidei contra errores infidelium seu Summa contra Gentiles, ed. C. Pera, P. Caramello, and P. Marc (Taurini-Romae: Marietti, 1961).

[41] Ibid., Bk. II, ch.13, n.5: “Et quanto aliquid est magis simplex, tanto est maioris virtutis et plurium principium, ac per hoc multiplicius relatum intelligitur: sicut punctum plurium est principium quam linea, et linea quam superficies.”

[42] See, for instance, De veritate, q. 8, a. 14, ad s. c. 6; De veritate, q. 5, a. 2, ad 2.

[43] See note 22 above.

[44] St. Thomas argues elsewhere that universals may be considered as parts of an intelligible structure: “Ad secundum dicendum quod universale magis commune comparatur ad minus commune ut totum et ut pars. . . . Ut pars autem, secundum quod minus commune continet in sui ratione non solum magis commune, sed etiam alia; ut homo non solum animal, sed etiam rationale.” Opera omnia iussu impensaque Leonis XIII P. M. edita, t. 4-5: Pars prima Summae theologiae (Romae: Ex Typographia Polyglotta S. C. de Propaganda Fide, 1888-89), q. 85, a. 3, ad 2, p. 337. Since parts are simpler than the wholes composed of them, this seems to another way in which universals are simple. However, the terminus of the via resolutionis is the most universal concept, being in general. Since being is not a genus, and does not receive a difference from outside itself, it cannot be said that the less universal contains more than being. Therefore, I have chosen to focus on the universal as simple in virtue of its broader extent of formal causality.

[45] See John F. Wippel, "Aquinas and Participation," in Studies in Medieval Philosophy, ed. John F. Wippel (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1987), 117-158.

[46] Aertsen, arguing against Oeing-Hanhoff, insists that St. Thomas does not mean to reduce resolution secundum rationem to logic, or the analysis of concepts; rather, the distinction between resolving secundum rationem or secundum rem is the different ontological “direction” of each movement (Aertsen, p.414). Sweeney disagrees, claiming that resolution secundum rationem and secundum rem are both to be found in two different senses of resolution she has perceived which move in different directions (Sweeney, p.228). In any event, it is agreed that, for St. Thomas, there is a distinction between resolution according to intrinsic and extrinsic causes and the ens commune is not God.

[47] In Meta., proem., 1: ”Huiusmodi autem non debent omnino indeterminata remanere, cum sine his completa cognition de his, quae sunt propria alicui generi vel specie, haberi non possit.”


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