Saturday, June 7, 2014

Mode, Species, and Order


1.  Having established various basic logical features of the notion of goodness in the preceding articles (its distinction from being, its logical posteriority to being, its universality, and its proper specification among the four causes), Thomas asks about the measure (ratio) of being in created things: whether we can define a thing’s goodness by its mode, species and order.

2.  At first sight this article may seem to be an arbitrary scholastic logic-chopping exercise with little broader relevance.  In fact, the considerations presented here will be essential when we come to later discussions of evil in creatures.  Without an adequate way of specifying the extent of a thing’s goodness, it becomes impossible to specify the extent of its defects.

3.  Against the division of goodness into mode, species, and order, he proposes five objections.  In the first objection, he cites Augustine’s Literal Commentary on Genesis, in which he identifies the “number, weight and measure” mentioned in Wisdom 11:21 with mode, species and order.  The objection, then, is that since the verse says that being is ordered thus, if the rationes of being and goodness differ, what defines the one cannot also define the other, and thus mode, species, and order cannot define the extent of goodness.

4.  The second objection finds a problem in the fact that mode, species, and order are all called good in themselves, so that if they are the defining modes of goodness, we end up with an infinite regress, where the priority of one to the other is lost, and it no longer makes sense to call mode, species, and order the determinants of the ratio of goodness.

5.  The third objection is that evil deprives a thing of mode, species and order, but evil cannot eliminate the goodness of a thing completely, so that goodness must consist in something else.  Evil deprives a thing of mode by deformity, of species by decomposition or corruption, and of order by removing it from its proper end.

6.  The fourth objection is from the fact that the ratio of evil consists in mode, species, and order.  But since good and evil are contraries, they ought not to have the same ratio.

7.  The fifth sets Augustine against Ambrose.  Augustine equates order with “weight”, but Ambrose says in his commentary on the Hexaemeron that light has no weight or number, so that some good things must elude the supposed ratio of goodness.

8.  For the Sed Contra he cites Augustine’s treatise on the Nature of the Good.

9.  In the Corpus he elaborates on the meaning of “mode”, “species”, and “order”.  Everything is called good insofar as it is perfect, and perfect insofar as it lacks nothing according to the mode of its perfection.  But things exist in their own forms, which presuppose certain things and from which certain things follow.  The “mode” or “measure” of a thing is the extent to which its material and efficient principles are in order.  Is it well made? From properly disposed matter?  Is its own act effective in bringing about those things due to its nature?  “Species” refers to the species of a thing, i.e. the form that sets it apart from other kinds, determines its distinctive characteristics, its unity and end.  “Order” refers to the end in particular, the dignity of a thing’s intended perfection and the extent to which it achieves it.  Thus the three constitutive aspects of goodness can be summarized as “principles”, “act”, “end”, or to put them into questions we might say: What is it made of/by? What is it? What is it for?  And under each of these three aspects we can identify the goodness of a thing.

10.  To the first objection he replies briefly by observing that being has mode, species, and order only insofar as it is perfect ,and therefore good.  He answers the second by pointing out that mode, species and order are generic categories and not substances in themselves, so that they do not require a subsequent account of their constituent goodness, but are rather modes under which the goodness of substances is identified.

11.  He answers the third by observing that evil deprives a thing of mode, species, and order only to an extent, or under some specific aspect.  Each aspect of a thing (e.g. its whiteness or bounciness or courage) has its own mode, species, and order, and thus evil deprives the individual of those only under some particular aspect or according to a particular attribute, and not of the whole substance.  Likewise, he answers the fourth by saying that the mode, species, and order of evil are always with respect to a particular defect.

12.  He answers the fifth objection by clarifying the way Ambrose speaks of light: the objector treats Ambrose’s contrast between light and ordinary physical bodies as if it were proportionate to the metaphorical “weight” of the passage in the book of Wisdom, which it is not.  This variety of misreading is the source of many errors.


– Mode, species, and order constitute the ratio of being, which differs in ratio from goodness.
– To use things which are themselves good to define the goodness of things would entail a logical loop.
– Evil cannot deprive things of their entire good, but it can deprive them of mode, species, and order.
– Evil cannot have the same ratio as goodness, but we define evil by mode, species, and order.
– Not all good things have weight and number (e.g. light).

– Mode signifies a thing’s material and efficient principles and their perfection.
– Species signifies a thing’s form or act.
– Order signifies a thing’s end or ultimate perfection.

– Yes, but they are also (and more fittingly) the ratio of the good.
– Mode, etc. are not spoken of as substances but as aspects of substances.
– Evil only removes them under a specific aspect or attribute.
– Evil has this ratio only with respect to particular defects.
– The objector has failed to respect the (divergent) senses of the two authors.

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