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  • Response to Michał Paluch’s “Analogical Synthesis:An Impossible Project?”
  • Matthew Levering

Michał Paluch’s erudite and irenic treatment of the Thomistic doctrine of analogy helps us to understand why Aquinas himself employed both the analogy of attribution and the analogy of proportionality. Paluch argues that “each of these doctrines is in some way incomplete and … they need each other.”1 He states that the analogy of attribution, used by Aquinas in his Summa theologiae, serves to highlight the likeness between creatures and God, namely, the likeness (however distinct) of an effect to its cause. The analogy of proportionality, used by Aquinas in his De veritate, serves to highlight God’s transcendence by arguing that God’s being is to God as created being is to creatures. In addition to their strengths, both forms of analogy also have their weaknesses. According to Paluch, the analogy of attribution does not tell us much about God except that God is a cause, since God’s causality is utterly dissimilar from the finite effects that he causes. Likewise, the analogy of proportionality has difficulty both with respect to its terms (since divine “being” is beyond finite comprehension) and with respect to the relation between God and the creature, since the analogy of proportionality does not, in itself, explain how God’s being is related to created being. Paluch therefore urges us to employ both of these two forms of analogy.

At the same time, Paluch is well aware that some Thomists would disagree with his proposal for holding in critical balance the two [End Page 609] approaches to analogy. Over the past fifty years, not least due to the influence of Bernard Montagnes’s 1963 study The Doctrine of the Analogy of Being according to Thomas Aquinas, as well as to the general atmosphere of turning away from the Thomism of Cardinal Cajetan and Réginald Garrigou-Lagrange,2 the analogy of proportionality has not been popular. Paluch summarizes the perspective of Montagnes when he observes that, for many of those who reject the analogy of proportionality, “only the analogy of attribution that is described in terms of causality, or participation understood as communication of act, may be the proper means to articulate the foundational bond between God and creatures.”3 More recently, the analogy of proportionality has gained in defenders, among whom the most prominent is Steven A. Long. As Paluch says, advocates of the analogy of proportionality point out that it “allows us to establish in the center of our metaphysical analysis the Aristotelian distinction between act and potency.”4 In encountering actual beings, we perceive that being is not non-being and that act is not self-limiting. In reflecting upon this, we recognize (in Paluch’s words) that “unlimited esse is the absolute perfection,” and we come to appreciate the “priority of the analysis of being before the reflection on being created,” thereby grounding a natural knowledge of God “that excludes any form of fideism.”5

How, then, do advocates of the analogy of proportionality understand and account for the analogy of attribution? For his part, Steven Long argues that the analogy of attribution necessarily presupposes the analogy of proportionality, since the analogy from effect to cause [End Page 610] presupposes the real being of the effect, which we discern through our contact with actual beings. Long explains, “As nonexistent beings are not attributable as real effects, the analogy of being is prior to the analogy of attribution and is in fact its necessary condition.”6 Here the “analogy of being” arises from the recognition that being (ens commune) [End Page 611] is intrinsically analogous. We discover this by encountering actual beings, “diverse rationes of act” that are like each other insofar as they are actual, but that differ from each other insofar as they are limited by potency in diverse ways.7 In Long’s view, if one does not recognize the analogy of being that is found in the principle of non-contradiction and the distinction between act and potency, one can never proceed to the analogy of attribution from effect to cause, since actual beings that exhibit diverse rationes of act are needed for...


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pp. 609-617
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