The Rise of Modern Philosophy

By Anthony Kenny | Go to book overview
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6
Metaphysics

The Metaphysics of Suarez

It was through the Disputationes Metaphysicae of Francisco Suarez, directly or indirectly, that the metaphysics of the medieval scholastics became known to the philosophers of the early modern age. Suarez was well acquainted with the works of his medieval predecessors, and he summarized their views, codified their positions, and built up his own system by choosing options from the menu that they offer. A summary of the main positions of the Disputationes accordingly provides a good starting point for a consideration of the metaphysics of our period.

Suarez starts from Aristotle's definition of the subject as the discipline that studies being qua being. He expands on this by offering a classification of different types of being, proceeding by a series of dichotomies. First there is the division between infinite being and finite being, or, as he often says, between ens a se (that which has being of itself) and ens ab alio (that which has being from elsewhere). The creaturely world of finite being is then divided first of all into substance and accident. Substances are things like stars and dogs and pebbles which subsist on their own; accidents are entities like brightness, fierceness, and hardness which exist only by inhering in substances and have no independent history. We can proceed further if we wish by subdividing substances into living and non-living, and living substances into animal and vegetable and so on; we can also identify at least nine different kinds of accidents corresponding to Aristotle's categories. But such further division will take us outside the scope of general metaphysics, which operates at the most abstract level. All these items are beings, but metaphysics is interested in studying them only qua beings. The

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