Francis Suarez on the ontological status of individual unity vis-a-vis the Aristotelian doctrine of primary substance

John W Simmons, Marquette University


The present dissertation consists of a developmental account of the problem of the ontological status of individuality as manifested initially in the metaphysical thought of Aristotle and subsequently developed by Thomas Aquinas, Duns Scotus, and Francis Suárez. The philosophical context for the problem of individuality's ontological status is set by the theme, prominent in Greek philosophy, of unity as a mark of what is most real and most perfect. The historical precedent for viewing individuality as fitting under this theme, and thus as having ontological importance, is provided by Aristotle's doctrine of primary substance, which characterizes individuality as a type of unity that pertains to the most fundamental aspects of reality such as this man or this horse. Though this doctrine highlights the ontological primacy of individual entities, the specific issues of where individuality fits on the ontological map, and what role it plays in constituting substances, are discussed only indirectly by Aristotle. These matters remain mostly unaddressed until the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, in which individuality becomes a focal point of philosophical discussion due to the integration of Aristotelian metaphysical thought into Christian doctrine and the accompanying recognition of individuality as a topic of critical importance. The problem of individuality's ontological status can be summarized in terms of two questions. First, what kind of thing is individuality, i.e., where does it fit on the ontological map? Second, how is individuality related to the other metaphysical aspects of a thing, such as their form, common nature, etc.? Aquinas's treatment of this problem reveals strong roots in the Aristotelian doctrines of substance and of unity as a transcendental attribute of being. Scotus's account likewise is developed in the context of the aforementioned Aristotelian notions, but is more extensive than Aquinas's and more suggestive of individuality's importance given Scotus's identification of metaphysics as the science of the transcendentals and of individuality as a transcendental. Suárez's treatment of the ontological status of individuality builds upon these notions, synthesizing the insights of his predecessors to formulate an account that is more explicit, more precise, and in many ways more rigorous than his predecessors' accounts.

Recommended Citation

Simmons, John W, "Francis Suarez on the ontological status of individual unity vis-a-vis the Aristotelian doctrine of primary substance" (2004). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI3144771.