Author: Daniel Novotný
Part of: Suárez’s Metaphysics (coord. by Simone Guidi)
Peer-Reviewed: Yes
Published: December, 11th, 2019
DOI: 10.5281/zenodo.3571356

This entry integrates the text of Novotný (2015)

The latest version of this entry may be cited as follows: Novotný, Daniel, “Suárez on Beings of Reason”, Encyclopedia, Mário Santiago de Carvalho, Simone Guidi (eds.), doi = “10.5281/zenodo.3571356”, URL = “”, latest revision: December, 11th, 2019.


Medieval scholastics routinely contrasted real beings (entia realia, entia naturae), which actually or possibly exist independently of our minds, with beings of reason (entia rationis), for which it is impossible. Suárez devoted to the latter the last of his Disputationes metaphysicae LIV (Doyle 1987; Doyle 1988; Novotný 2006; Shields 2012; Novotný 2013; Novotný 2015).

How is it that a treatise on metaphysics contains a theory of beings of reason? Suárez extensively argues for the view that metaphysics is the “science” of beings insofar as they are real (ens in quantum ens reale) (DM, I, s.1, n. 26), which beings of reason are not. They are mere «shadows of beings» (umbrae entium) (DM, LIV, n. 1). Nevertheless, it is not possible to entirely avoid considering them in any discipline and there is no discipline besides metaphysics that is able to do so in general. (DM, LIV, n. 1–2). Hence metaphysicians, in spite of dealing primarily and adequately with real beings, need to come up with a general theory of beings of reason as well. A general theory of beings of reason should address their nature, “existence”, causes, and division. Let us deal with these in turn.

Nature and “Existence” of Beings of Reason

With respect to the question of the nature and “existence” of beings of reason there are two extreme views (sententiae extreme contrariae), Suárez says, although perhaps the whole disagreement in this matter might be ultimately just verbal (fortasse solum de vocibus contendunt) (DM, LIV, s. 1, n. 7). According to the first extreme view there are (dari) no beings of reason (let’s call this view eliminativism), while according to the second there are beings of reason in the same sense as real beings (ultrarealism). Suárez rejects both views as false: beings of reason “exist”, but not in the same sense as real beings; they are there in the sui generis (huiusmodi) sense of «objective being only in the intellect/reason» (objectualism) (DM, LIV, s. 1, n. 1–7). Schematically:

We may divide Suárez’s defense of objectualism into three steps.

In the first step Suárez clarifies what he means by the word (vox) «being of reason». The genitive «of reason» (rationis) indicates a relation (habitudo) to reason (ratio) or the intellect. Three kinds of relations come into question (DM, LIV, s. 1, n. 5):

  • A being is effectively related to the intellect just in case it is an effect of it. This happens when, for instance, an artifact is produced according to a plan. Such a being is real (an aggregate of substances).
  • A being is subjectively related to the intellect just in case it inheres in the intellect as an accident in its subject. This happens when, for instance, grammatical knowledge inheres in our intellect. Again, such a being is real (a quality).
  • A being is objectively related to the intellect when the intellect thinks of the given being. Such a being becomes an object of/for the intellect and hence it acquires objective being in it.

Now there are two further ways in which something can be objectively in the intellect. First, when the given being is real and hence it has both real being in itself and being as an object of the intellect. Second, when a given being is only an object of the intellect and it has no other being. (DM, LIV, s. 1, n. 6).

In the second step Suárez proceeds from this clarification of the term to provide the following definition(s) of «being of reason»:

[I]t is only in the latter sense [i.e. something is an object of reason without having in itself any other being] that we most appropriately speak of beings of reason. … Therefore, what is commonly and rightly defined as a being of reason is [D1] that which has objective being only in the intellect, or, it is [D2] that which is thought of by a reason as a being, even though it has no entity [being] in itself (DM, LIV, s. 1, n. 6)

Suárez does not consider any other definitions. He seems just to articulate a doctrine that became universally held at his time. Note that Suárez’s definition contains in fact two definitions, namely:

  • (D1) A being of reason is that which has objective being only in the intellect.
  • (D2) A being of reason is that which is thought of as a being, even though it has no being in itself.

Suárez assumes that these two definitions are equivalent/co-extensional, although it has been argued that they are not (Novotný 2013).

In the last step Suárez gives two arguments for the “existence” of beings of reason. The first is “from experience”. Suárez believes that once he has clarified the nature of beings of reason, their existence becomes obvious (manifestum) in the experience of our thinking about blindness, chimeras, etc. (DM, LIV, s. 1, n. 7) The second argument might be called “ontological”: beings of reason are by definition entities which exist as objects of our thought. Hence, their “essence” includes their being-thought-of or “existence-in-thought”. Suppose you claim that beings of reason do not exist. You either know what you are talking about or you do not. If you do not, then your claim is beside the point. If you do, then your claim is that the entities which you think about do not exist in the relevant sense, i.e., they do not exist-in-thought. This is a self-contradiction. Hence, beings of reason must exist. (DM, LIV, s. 1, n. 7).

Having defended objectualism, Suárez deals with the question why we need beings of reason. He gives three reasons on which we make them (DM LIV, s. 1, n. 2):

  • To “fill up” non-being: in reality there are no negations/privations, such as instances of blindness or malfunctions, they are simply nothing; but of course we need to take these into account; but since our intellect cannot take them as nothing, it needs to take them as something; and hence and hence we make up negative beings of reason (as a kind of “proxy-objects”, one could say). The emergence of such negative beings of reason is both necessary and useful. (Suárez, however, seems to run into difficulty on this point when he assumes in sections 3–5 that our intellect can also conceive non-beings in the manner of non-beings, see below)
  • To compare non-related beings: we sometimes do not know a thing as it is in itself but only as it is compared to other things; hence we make up relations of reason. The emergence of such relative beings of reason is also necessary and useful too.
  • To “contrive” impossible fictions: our intellect is capable of joining together what cannot be joined in reality, such as square-circle or lion-snake-goat; hence we make up self-contradictory beings of reason. The emergence of such beings of reason is not necessary, it stems from a certain “fruitfulness” (foecunditas) of our intellect. These are also called impossibilia or entia prohibita. (DM LIV, s. 1, n. 8).

In conclusion of the discussion of the nature and existence of beings of reason Suárez briefly addresses the sense in which beings of reason are said to be «beings» (DM LIV, s. 1, n. 9–10). For beings of reason and real beings are not called «beings» just by chance. Since, however, there is no univocal concept “covering” both beings of reason and real beings, how are they related? Suárez replies that they are related in the sense of analogy of proportionality. He explains this kind of analogy in Disputation XXVIII, s. 3, n. 4, taking up smiling meadow example there. Since green is to a meadow as a smiling is to a man (both green and smiling indicate a sort of well-being) we have a sufficient ground for the analogical sense with which we can predicate smiling of a meadow. Schematically:

Suarez Beings of Reason

Similarly, since is/exists is to a real being as is thought about is to an object of reason, we can predicate exists of an object of reason (and consequently call the latter «beings of reason»):

This solution assumes that for beings of reason to exist involves their being thought about. It is natural then to propose the view that to be a being of reason is nothing but an extrinsic denomination (“To be is just to be thought about”). The next section explores the causes of beings of reason and deals extensively with this suggestion.

Causes of Beings of Reason

With respect to the question of the causes of beings of reason Suárez first argues that beings of reason have an efficient cause only. Secondly, he argues that their efficient cause is the intellect. Thirdly, he specifies the kind of mental act that makes up beings of reason, and fourthly he excludes other mental faculties that could cause them (though he hesitates with respect to the imagination).

Suárez also takes up the question of whether and in which sense God and angels know or make up beings of reason, i.e. whether they cause them.

Beings of Reason Have an Efficient Cause Only

Suárez first briefly argues that there is no (proper) final, formal, and material cause of beings of reason (DM, LIV, s. 2, n. 1). Then he goes on to argue that beings of reason do have an efficient cause. His argument starts with a (re-)interpretation of Soncinas, an author who denied the need to postulate an efficient cause of beings of reason. In Suárez’s view Soncinas meant to deny the existence of an efficient cause of beings of reason only in the sense of “something giving them real existence.” (DM, LIV, s. 2, n. 2) Suárez agrees with the so-interpreted-denial – there is no efficient cause of the real being of beings of reason because they have no such being. However, this does not mean that there is no efficient cause of their sui generis (objective) being. (DM, LIV, s. 2, n. 2).

Suárez’s positive argument in favour of an efficient cause of beings of reason rests on the principle of sufficient reason. Since beings of reason have objective being in the intellect and they do not have it always but only, let us say, during the time interval t1 to t2, there must be a sufficient reason that would explain this fact. Hence, there is an efficient cause for beings of reason. But this cannot be an “ordinary” efficient cause, for beings of reason would then be real beings. It must be something that works only indirectly (DM, LIV, s. 2, n. 3)

An Efficient Cause of Beings of Reason is the Human Intellect

Given that beings of reason have an efficient cause, what is it? To Suárez it appears obvious that the best candidate for this role is the human intellect (DM, LIV, s. 2, n. 4). This conclusion is only challenged by the view that in order for something to be a being of reason it is sufficient for it to be an extrinsic denomination. (Extrinsic denominations are predicates that express properties something has in virtue of something else being related to it, today also called «Cambridge properties»). Suárez distinguishes two basic versions of this view. According to one (henceforth general extrinsic denomination view) any extrinsic denomination is sufficient; whereas according to another (henceforth restricted extrinsic denomination view) only extrinsic denominations from the intellect, such as «being thought about», will do. Suárez argues against both these views: for the emergence of beings of reason extrinsic denominations are necessary but insufficient.

Suárez’s argumentation against the general extrinsic denomination view is indirect. He draws three unacceptable consequences from it. If this view were true, then: First, God would make up beings of reason (DM, LIV, s. 2, n. 7). Secondly, not only the intellect, but also other mental faculties, such as the will, would be capable of causing beings of reason (hence we should have many more terms, besides «being of reason», such as «beings of will», «beings of sight», «beings of imagination», etc.) (DM, LIV, s. 2, n. 8). Thirdly, even predicates, such as being to the left or being clothed would be beings of reason (DM, LIV, s. 2, n. 9). Suárez takes these three consequences to constitute a clear refutation of the general extrinsic denomination view, for all these consequences flout universally held scholastic convictions (DM, LIV, s. 2, n. 10).

Someone might object, however, that the process of denomination involves an act of the intellect, and hence there must be some being of reason involved. Suárez’s reply involves a distinction between (a) the mental (linguistic) act of imposing the denominating name, and (b) the expressed form or thing taken in itself. If one wishes to argue that extrinsic denominations are beings of reason because they involve a mental act of denominating, then all denominations, even intrinsic ones, would have to be beings of reason. But this is absurd. Hence, the extrinsic things (forms) expressed by the terms of extrinsic denominations are real even though in order to express them we need thought and language (DM, LIV, s. 2, n. 10).

The general extrinsic denomination view may be revised in such a way as to avoid some of its undesirable consequences. With the resulting restricted extrinsic denomination view one could hold that only extrinsic denominations derived from acts of the intellect are sufficient for the emergence of beings of reason. Suárez rejects this restricted view as well, for in his view the acts of the intellect toward something are just as real as other relations. (Note, however, that from the fact that extrinsic denominations from the intellect are not sufficient conditions for the emergence of beings of reason one may not infer that they are not necessary). (DM, LIV, s. 2, n. 11).

The restricted extrinsic denomination view might be further defended by claiming that denominations from acts of the intellect differ from other denominations in that (a) things so denominated exist only objectively in the intellect; and (b) things-as-so-denominated are dependent on the actual operations of the intellect. Since, as we saw above, beings of reason are something objectively dependent on the intellect, it would seem that for the emergence of beings of reason extrinsic denominations from the intellect are sufficient (DM, LIV, s. 2, n. 12).

Suárez has two things to say in reply. First, he points out that the proponents of this line of defense of the restricted extrinsic denomination view would need to extend the normal meaning of «being of reason» to include other beings that are merely objectively in some mental faculty and dependent on its actual operation, such as beings of the external senses, of the internal senses, of the will, etc. But this move is unacceptable because it involves a too drastic revision of the traditional scholastic philosophical framework (DM, LIV, s. 2, n. 12) (Novotný 2016).

Second, Suárez argues in reply that the restricted extrinsic denomination view confuses two meanings of «being known» (DM, LIV, s. 2, n. 13). Suppose Peter is thinking of (= knows) Paul. Hence, Paul is the object of Peter’s thinking, i.e. he is objectively in Peter’s intellect. (That is, insofar as he is known by Peter. For Peter does not know everything about Paul and so only a partial aspect of Paul is known by Peter). This is the objective sense in which Paul is being known. There is, however, yet another meaning of ‘being known’, which refers not to Paul but to the whole fact of Paul’s-being-known-by-Peter. This is the formal sense in which Peter is being known. This fact is not the normal object of Peter’s thinking. Normally (in our direct cognition), Peter is thinking of Paul and not of Paul-as-I-Peter-am-thinking-of-him, although it is possible for Peter to change the object of his thinking from Paul to my-thinking-of-Paul (i.e. Peter’s-thinking-of-Paul), which is what happens in reflexive cognition. Nevertheless, regardless of whether we take «being known» in the former or the latter sense, being known is insufficient to account for the emergence of a being of reason. In both cases the object of Peter’s thinking has not just objective, but also real being and thus is not a being of reason (DM, LIV, s. 2, n. 13).

In sum, Suárez’s claim is that when the intellect simply knows a real object, there is nothing fictitious about the object being known by it: the object, the form of being known, and their extrinsic union are all real. Hence the extrinsic form is also real (DM, LIV, s. 2, n. 14). The intellect is left as the only candidate for the role of the creator of beings of reason, though it does not create them at all times when it gets down to work, only in special circumstances.

Only Some Special Acts of the Human Intellect Cause Beings of Reason

If extrinsic denominations from the intellect taken as such are not sufficient for the emergence of beings of reason, what needs to be added to the acts of the intellect to make them causes of beings of reason? Suárez’s first thesis is that we need such a kind of acts of the intellect which conceive something which has no being in the manner of a being. He offers three reasons for this claim: (1) it follows from the definition of beings of reason given above; (2) no other explanation is available if the extrinsic denomination view fails; (3) one and the same negative state of affairs (e.g. Homer’s not-having-sight) can be viewed in two ways, namely «in the manner of a non-being» or «in the manner of a being». It is only in the latter case that a being of reason emerges (DM, LIV, s. 2, n. 15).

It is possible to conceive the negative state of affairs in two ways. Similarly it is possible to conceive the situation of extrinsic denomination in two ways: either as believed to be intrinsic to the denominated thing, or as such, that is extrinsic to the denominated thing (DM, LIV, s. 2, n. 15). According to Suárez in the latter case we know the given extrinsic denomination directly, whereas in the former reflexively. Beings of reason emerge only in this former case (DM, LIV, s. 2, n. 16). This amounts to Suárez’s second thesis, namely that the act of the intellect needed for the emergence of beings of reason has to be reflexive. By «reflexive» Suárez means the following: if I want to conceive blindness, I first need to know what sight is. If I want to make up beings of reason, i.e. non-real entities, I first need to know real entities (DM, LIV, s. 2, n. 16).

The Human Intellect is the Only Efficient Cause of Beings of Reason

From what has been said above, namely that beings of reason are conceived as beings though they are non-beings, Suárez infers that neither the senses nor the will are capable of producing them (DM, LIV, s. 2, n. 17) (Novotný 2016). And if someone argues that the will is capable of tending toward an apparent good and hence it is capable of producing some non-real beings of the will, Suárez replies that a non-real good is an object contrived by the intellect, not the will. In other words, the will only “adds” apparent goodness to a pre-fabricated being of reason produced by the intellect (DM, LIV, s. 2, n. 17).

Moving from the will to the senses, Suárez hesitates on what to think of the imagination (one of the internal senses): It seems that the imagination is able, by joining together sensual appearances, to make up not only possible non-existing entities (e.g., a golden mountain), but also impossible entities (e.g., a chimera), i.e. beings of reason. Hence, is not only the intellect but also the imagination capable of making up beings of reason? Suárez first seems to say yes but then, immediately afterwards, he reasserts the claim that the imagination as such is not capable of producing beings of reason; it needs to work in tandem with the intellect (DM, LIV, s. 2, n. 18). (It seems that Suárez is undecided as to what to hold on this point or perhaps he is thinking of something like “physical premotion”, i.e. the intellect empowers the imagination to do things that are ordinarily beyond its capabilities.)

Beings of Reason and God 

Does God know beings of reason? On the one hand, it would seem that he does for he is omniscient (DM, LIV, s. 2, n. 19). On the other hand, this would seem to imply his imperfection, which is for theists such as Suárez quite unacceptable. One could defend the claim that God knows/makes up beings of reason by pointing out that the imperfection involved in knowing beings of reason lies on the side of the object (i.e. a given being of reason) and not on the side of the knower (i.e. God) (DM, LIV, s. 2, n. 19). But Suárez disagrees. It is not a mere imperfection of the object to think of an object in a manner which differs from the way it is: it is also an imperfection of the knower (DM, LIV, s. 2, n. 21). According to Suárez, (real) things never force the (perfect) intellect to make up beings of reason, i.e. to know something otherwise than it is in itself. This pertains both to relations of reason and to negations (DM, LIV, s. 2, n. 22). Hence God can know everything but without making up beings of reason. God knows each thing by knowing what it is and what it is not. He does not need to create “proxy” objects (i.e. beings of reason) in order to know something else (non-beings or beings that we know only comparatively) (DM, LIV, s. 2, n. 22).

There is one more interesting issue lurking behind the corner. Although God does not make up beings of reason “for his own sake,” he needs to know beings of reason as they are made up by us. Granted. (DM, LIV, s. 2, n. 23) But then, if these beings-made-up-by-us are known by God’s intellect, they also have to get some being from his intellect, right? (DM, LIV, s. 2, n. 23) Suárez accepts this inference and even makes the further point that in virtue of God’s intellect these human-made beings of reason receive (divine) actual being. (DM, LIV, s. 2, n. 24)

Having discussed beings of reason and God Suárez adds a brief discussion of angelic knowledge of beings of reason. In his view angels normally do not make up beings of reason, although they may do so, for instance, in the case of their imperfect knowledge of God (DM, LIV, s. 2, n. 25).

Division of Beings of Reason

The discussion of the division of beings of reason occupies the largest bulk of Disputation LIV. According to what was the common scholastic doctrine at the time they were divided into three highest genera, namely negations, privations, and relations (DM, LIV, s. 3, n. 1). Negations in the narrow sense are lacks in an inapt subject (carentia in subjecto inepto nato), whereas privations are lacks in an apt subject (carentia in subjecto apto nato). Both, however, as Suárez points out, may be subsumed under negations in the broad sense as lacks without qualification (carentia in subiecto absolute et simpliciter). (DM, LIV, s. 3, n. 8). Various doubts, however, arise concerning this standard division. Is it mutually exclusive (correct)? Is it exhaustive (sufficient)? Moreover, something needs to be said about the three genera taken in particular.

Is the Traditional Division of Beings of Reason Mutually Exclusive?

Suárez identifies four difficulties concerning the exclusivity of the traditional division (DM, LIV, s. 3, n. 2):

The first difficulty has to do with the fact that negations/privations do not seem to be beings of reason. Rather, they seem to be something really in things. Suárez replies that indeed negations and privations taken as such are non-beings, i.e. they are not beings of reason (DM, LIV, s. 3, n. 3). Then he points out that the intellect may attribute negations/privations to things not only in the proper negative way but also in an improper positive way and it is in the latter sense that negations/privations are beings of reason (DM, LIV, s. 3, n. 4).

The second and the fourth difficulty concerns the issue whether one can reduce all sorts of beings of reason to negations, namely negations of true and real existence, or to relations of reason. Suárez replies that relation (of reason) needs to be properly distinguished from negation/privation. That there is a distinction becomes clear when one considers the foundations of negation/privation on the one hand and of relation on the other (DM, LIV, s. 3, n. 5). Hence, even though every relation of reason involves a lack of something real, namely of a real relation, this feature itself is not sufficient to turn it into a negation/privation (DM, LIV, s. 3, n. 5). Hence, neither relation nor negation/privation is reducible to the other – in spite of some superficial similarities.

The third difficulty concerns the distinction between negations and privations (DM, LIV, s. 3, n. 8). At this point Suárez simply states his division of beings of reason, postponing the discussion of the proper distinction between negations and privations to section 5.

Suárez concludes the discussion by adding a brief paragraph about whether the traditional division of beings of reason is univocal or analogical. He seems to think that it is univocal since «there is no sufficient reason for an analogy». (DM, LIV, s. 3, n. 9)

Is the Traditional Division of Beings of Reason Jointly Exhaustive?

Suárez extensivelly discusses the question whether the standard division is exhaustive/sufficien by going in detal through particular species of beings of reason. He begins with the following objection: There are as many kinds of beings of reason as there are categories. For instance, chimeras are substances of reason, imaginary space is a quantity of reason, fame is a quality of reason, and so on. Hence the standard division is not exhaustive (DM, LIV, s. 4, n. 1). Suárez proposes two different strategies against this objection. The first strategy claims that the standard division intentionally leaves out beings of reason which have no foundation in reality. And if we stick to beings of reason with a foundation in reality, we can prove that they divide in just the three genera, namely negations, privations, and relations (DM, LIV, s. 4, n. 2-9). The second strategy argues that problematic beings of reason, such as chimeras, are special cases of negation (DM, LIV, s. 4, n. 10). Suárez eventually expresses his mild preference for the second strategy, although he does not decisively reject the first one (DM, LIV, s. 4, n. 2).

Negations and Privations

Suárez’s discussion of similarities and differences of negations and privations is profuse. Moreover, he approaches the comparison in an unprecedented way by doing it not once but twice. First he compares negations/privations as they are real lacks of some form. Then he offers a quite different comparison of negations/privations as they are non-real beings of reason (DM, LIV, s. 5, n. 1). See also (Novotný 2008) and (Novotný 2013).

Suárez first identifies five similarities between privations and negations as they are in things (DM, LIV, s. 5, n. 3–6)

  1. Both “remove” real forms.
  2. Both stand in a real opposition to some positive real being.
  3. Both have a foundation in reality.
  4. Both can be predicated of things without any fiction-making activity of the intellect.
  5. Indirect knowledge or representation of both real negations and real privations may happen in two ways, namely through negative or through affirmative statements.

Then he describes with considerable, almost phenomenological detail seven differences (DM, LIV, s. 5, n. 7–19)

  1. Privation is the absence of a form in a subject which is capable of having it, whereas negation is the absence of a form in a subject which is not capable of having it. «Negation» can be also used in a broader sense of the absence of a form in a subject regardless of the subject’s capacity to have it. Negation in this sense is a genus which includes privation and negation in the narrower sense as its species.
  2. Privation admits of degrees of more/less, whereas negation does not.
  3. Privation cannot be necessary for a subject, whereas negation can.
  4. There can be a “medium” between predicating privation and possession, but not between predicating negation and the opposite affirmation.
  5. Privations can be predicated only of real beings, whereas negations can be predicated both of real and of fictitious beings. Suárez also briefly discusses predicating negations of chimeras and accepts the view that they yield true propositions, even necessarily.
  6. Privation is a principle of change, whereas negation is not.
  7. Privation cannot be naturally restored, whereas negation can.

Suárez’s discussion of the similarities/differences between negations/privations considered as beings of reason is much shorter. There is just one thing they share, namely that they are absolute, i.e. non-relative (DM, LIV, s. 5, n. 20). And there are just two differences, namely (1) Privations are thought of in the manner of qualities (DM, LIV, s. 5, n. 23), whereas negations are also thought of in the manner of other categories (if we subsume self-contradictory beings under them). (2) Privations are always (thought to be) in a subject, whereas negations can be (thought to be) on their own. This happens, for instance, with nothing, which is not something ascribed to a subject (DM, LIV, s. 5, n. 24).

Suárez concludes his discussion of negations and privations with a sort of “footnote: Are there beings of reason corresponding to judgments, i.e., the second operation of the intellect? His answer is: probably yes. (DM, LIV, s. 5, n. 27).

Relations of Reason

Relations of reasons are those “which the intellect contrives in the manner of a form ordered or related to something … which in fact is not ordered or related … to this something”. (DM, LIV, s. 6, n. 1). Suárez deals with these only briefly in DM LIV (passim also in DM XLVII on real relation). Relations of reason are caused by the special acts of intellect described above. Unlike real relations they violate at least one of the following three conditions (DM, LIV, s. 6, n. 2):

  • Both the first and the second element (“extreme”) of the relation really exists (its subject and term).
  • These two elements are really distinct.
  • There is a (real) fundament of the relation in one or both of these elements. (DM, LIV, s. 6, n. 2)

Relations of reason may be divided according to their foundation. There are two basic genera. One contains relations of reason which do not have a foundation in reality. This group includes (1) relations between completely made up beings of reason, e.g. the similarity between two chimeras; (2) relations between beings of reason with some foundation in reality, e.g. between two “blindnesses,” and (3) relations between unactualized possible entities, e.g. the relation of temporal precedence of Adam and Antichrist (DM, LIV, s. 6, n. 3). (It is surprising that relations between possibilia, which are real, are counted by Suárez as relations of reason).

The second genus contains relations with a foundation in reality. It includes (1) relations of real entities toward non-existents, whether possible or of reason; (2) relations of real entities toward themselves (i.e. the two elements of the relation fail to be really distinct; this group is further subdivided according to the kind of non-real distinction between the two elements); (3) various semantic, social, economic, and other relations obtaining between really distinct existents but still not satisfying all the conditions for real relations; (4) various logical relations which also fail several conditions for real relations. Schematically, the classification of relations of reason looks as follows (DM, LIV, s. 6, n. 4–8):

Relations of Reason

Without a foundation

(1) completely made up (e.g. between chimeras);
(2) with some remote foundation (e.g. between privations);
(3) between non-existent possible entities;

With a foundation

(1) relations of real entities toward non-existents;
(2) relations of real entities toward themselves;
(3) relations which violate conditions other than existence or difference;
(4) logical intentions (relations based on extrinsic denomination from the intellect, with some foundation in reality).

Suárez concludes the discussion of relations of reason with a very brief discussion of second intentions, i.e. “higher-order predicates”. Unlike other late scholastic authors, Suárez has almost nothing to say about them (only three short paragraphs).


Suárez’s overall accomplishment in DM LIV is hard to overestimate. True, scholars have not systematically explored Suárez’s sources for DM LIV so far, neither the question how ens rationis entered medieval philosophy and how it was treated there in general. (Klima 1994). Nevertheless, it is clear already now that Suárez was able to put together many pre-Suárezian medieval scholastic ideas about ens rationis into a unified and detailed framework. DM LIV was a watershed treatise that pushed the debate to another level of systematicity. At the same time Suárez’s theory contains problematic elements and leaves many questions unanswered. It should come as no surprise that post-Suarezian scholastics presented not just theories similar to Suárez’s objectualism (Novotný 2008) (Novotný 2010), but also radically different (Novotný 2013a) (Novotný 2013b) (Andersen 2014) (Novotný 2016). Thanks to the boom of the the scholastic textbooks in Baroque era some remote echoes of the intensive and extensive scholastic debates surrounding beings of reason entered also into the writings of the early modern non-scholastic authors from Descartes to Kant.


Acknowledgments: James Franklin, Lukáš Novák, Victor Salas
The entry is a result of the research funded by the Czech Science Foundation (GAČR  14-37038G)



Essential Bibliography

  • Andersen (2014), C.A.. “Ens rationis ratiocinatae and ens rationis ratiocinantis: Reflections on a New Book on Beings of Reason in Baroque-Age Scholasticism”, Quaestio 14, 315-327.
  • Doyle (1988), J.P.. “Suárez on Beings of Reason and Truth (Second part)”, Vivarium 26, 51–72.
  • Doyle (1987), J.P.. “Suárez on Beings of Reason and Truth (First part)”, Vivarium 25, 47–75.
  • Klima (1994), G.. “The changing role of entia rationis in mediaeval semantics and ontology”, Synthese 98, 187–187.
  • Novotný (2016), D.D.. “Arriaga (and Hurtado) against the Baroque Mainstream: The Case of Ens rationis”, Filosoficky Casopis 64, 119–144.
  • Novotný (2015), D.D.. Suárez on Beings of Reason, in: A Companion to Francisco Suárez, Leiden (NL), 248–273.
  • Novotný (2013), D.D.. Ens Rationis From Suárez to Caramuel: A Study in Scholasticism of the Baroque Era, New York.
  • Novotný (2013), D.D. “Twenty Years after Suárez: Francisco de Araújo on the Nature, Existence, and Causes of Entia rationi”, in: Hircocervi & Other Metaphysical Wonders: Essays in Honor of John P. Doyle, Milwaukee (WI), 241–268.
  • Novotný (2010), D.D.. Rubio and Suárez: A Comparative Study on the Nature of Entia Rationis, in: Bohemia Jesuitica 1556-2006. Prague (CZ), 477–490.
  • Novotný (2008), D.D.. “Forty-Two Years after Suárez. Mastri and Belluto’s Development of the «Classical» Theory of Entia Rationis”, Quaestio 8, 473-498.
  • Novotný (2006), D.D.. “Prolegomena to a Study of Beings of Reason in Post-Suarezian Scholasticism, 1600–1650”, Studia Neoaristotelica: A Journal of Analytic Scholasticism 3, 117–141.
  • Shields (2012), C.. Shadows of being: Francisco Suarez’s Entia Rationis, in: The Philosophy of Francisco Suárez, Oxford (UK), 57–74.

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