Tuesday, April 7, 2009

What's Wrong With This Picture?

As conceptualized, existence manifests itself as absolutely necessary for the constitution of the thing. As originally grasped through judgment, it shows itself to be accidental to the thing. Existence is that way. It has both aspects, and allows itself to be known under both. If either aspect is neglected or excluded, a one-sided picture arises. If the specific role of judgment is not understood, the contingent side of existence is disregarded as irrelevant to philosophy, for instance in Aristotle and Duns Scotus. If the universalizing and necessitating function of conceptualization is set aside in the case of existence, the extreme individualism and antinomian vagaries of recent existentialist movements result. Existence, as actually found in things, is both highly individual and necessarily specified by a universalizing nature that it actuates. For a balanced estimate, neither viewpoint, neither cognitional approach, can afford to be neglected.

--Joseph Owens, An Interpretation of Existence, 62.


Scott Williams said...

Weird stuff. I am not sure why judgment is supposed to be the *key* to thinking about existence. After all, I can think about existents without making judgments about them, can't I? I can think about contingent beings without having judgments about them? Unless Owens thinks that judgment somehow adds cognitive content? In one sense, this is a Cartesian move to focus on the performance of an utterance (a judgment in this case) as the basis to have a true thought.

Lee Faber said...

Apparently Owens never read Vos

Michael Sullivan said...


yes, that's where I was going with this.


Owens is careful to distinguish between the "metaphysical" judgment in Aquinas and the merely logical judgment that later scholastics recognize, to their eternal shame and failure. This metaphysical judgment is not just a "rubber stamp" on the conception of a thing--his words--but this "synthesis" he talks about here. As a matter of fact what I rather suspect is that the experience Thomas points to with his "judgment" is pretty much the same experience the later guys called intuitive cognition, and they restricted "judgment" to logical and propositional operations because, well, it's less confusing that way.

Michael Sullivan said...

" After all, I can think about existents without making judgments about them, can't I? I can think about contingent beings without having judgments about them?"

Yes, but according to Owens you can't have knowledge of their existence in any conceptualization as such. He strongly endorses Kant's story about existence not being a predicate. No amount of conceptualization can give you the real existence of a thing, which can only be grasped in some extra-conceptual operation of the intellect. You can think about contingent things without making judgments about them, but such thinking can only be conceptualization, which abstracts or "separates" from their real existence. If we try to conceptualize the existence itself we end up trying to make into an essence, which always fails.

"Unless Owens thinks that judgment somehow adds cognitive content?"

So this is just what he doesn't think, if by cognitive content you mean the conceptualization of formal structures. What he's talking about is the "intuition of being" that was such a big issue in Gilson and Maritain and which received so much criticism because Thomas never talks that way. Anyway the idea is that so long as we're talking about conceptual content we can never reach actual existence, which is known in some other way.

The Owens book is odd in some other respects. He makes a number of concessions to Kant, Hume, and other modern philosophers--it's funny, he'll discuss Quine, Russell, and Heidegger practically in the same breath--which I don't think Aquinas would have made. And of course as an ex-Thomists I've got all sorts of issues with the content. What's especially irksome is when he says things like "The Scholastic view of this problem is . . ." or "For the Scholastics . . ." when he's just talking about Thomas and not any of the multitude that would disagree with the formulation.

Anonymous said...


What concessions to Kant and Hume does Owens make that Thomas would not have? Thanks,

Michael Sullivan said...

For instance, as noted here, he accepts Kant's characterization of existence as not a predicate, and approves of his "synthetic judgment" talk. He appears to fully accept Hume's arguments on the impossibility of knowing physical efficient causes, which I think is rather nuts.