CHAPTER 8

LEVELS OF FINITENESS

[The material of this chapter is treated in Modes of the Finite, Part 2, Section 1.]

8.1. The single finite act

The Infinite is just plain old existence; so when you've said "is" of the Infinite, you've said all there really is to say. But once existence is limited, there are all sorts of complicated ways in which existence can fall short of what "existence as such" is; and it's now our job to explore some of these.

I want first to focus on the single finite activity, and then in the next chapter to discuss those complex units or "bundles" of many acts which we call "bodies."

In this chapter, then, we will be dealing with the question, "How can one something be many?" The answer, of course, is if it's finite. Existence (the "one something") is this existence and that existence and the other existence because each one of them is a limited case of existence. We are going to find out in this chapter that there are two different levels on which something can be limited: form and quantity.

Then, in the next chapter, we will deal with the reverse question: "How can many somethings be one?" We will note that the actual objects of our experience are not single acts, but many acts that act as a unit, in some sense; and so we will deal first with how many existences are united by a unifying energy (parts and wholes), and then how this multiple unit acts as a unit in many different ways (bodies and properties or behaviors). These two different focuses are actually merged together in historical tradition as what is called "substance and accident." The issue is quite mysterious, but I think we will be able to get a handle on it.

But in these two chapters, I want to do this without adding the complications that deal with the fact that bodies change and in one sense are the same and in another sense become something else. We will see this in the last chapter. There, the question to be answered will be, "How can one and the same thing become something else (while still being in some sense the same thing)?" This is even more mysterious.

What we are doing, to borrow some terminology from physics, is in these first two chapters what might be called "metaphysical statics," and in the last one, "metaphysical kinetics" or perhaps "metaphysical dynamics."

But in all of this we still have to be careful; we can't make leaps into discussing finite being as if we had it in our consciousness, the way our consciousness itself is present to us; we have to get at it as the cause of the finiteness of our consciousness, and so we have to continue with our phenomenological analysis, and only say of being what must be true in order for our appearances to make sense. This is perhaps a more tedious way of proceeding, but it's a lot safer than the alternative.

8.2. The form of existence

To begin, then, I noted that we have many different appearances, each of which is similar (as appearance) to every other one. This was how we got at finite existence, you will remember.

But if we analyze these appearances a bit further, we note that we can classify our appearances into various types of appearance. We have "seeing-type" appearances, "hearing-type" experiences, "feeling-type" experiences and so on.

Now in these various classes of appearance, we are saying that the appearances are similar among themselves and different from other classes of experience. That is, as appearances, all cases of seeing are like all other cases of seeing, and very different from all cases of hearing. No two cases of seeing are identical (unless we're seeing the same thing, of course); but they're not totally different from each other either.

It immediately follows from this that

EIGHTEENTH CONCLUSION: The existences which cause each type of appearance are analogous to each other and different from the beings which cause other types of appearance.

So there is a similarity of some sort among the existences (the acts) which cause us to have visual-type appearances that separates these acts out from the acts that cause us to hear, and so on. Colors (those acts) are really different from sounds.(1)

Well, surprise, surprise! But now you know, not only that this is so, but why it must be so, and also why your spontaneous knowledge that it's so is correct. You had this figured out by the time you were a year old; but this is not to say that it didn't take some intellectual work on the part of your infant self to do so.

DEFINITION: The form of the existence is the mode of its finiteness by which it is "in a class"; i.e. similar to all other existences of the same form.

The first thing to note about the form is that it is a way of referring to the essence, which, as we said is the existence, but the existence as less than "what it is to exist." That is, the form is not a "something" which the existence has; it is the fact that in this case, the existence is no more than this kind of existence.

Traditionally, this "identity-distinction" between existence and its form (or existence and its essence) was called a "transcendental relation" (another use of the term "transcendental," but with a different sense now). The idea of a "transcendental relation" is that the two terms are inseparable, even in thought; the concept of one necessarily contains the concept of the other (because in reality they are one and the same, looked at from different points of view). This kind of "relation" is not really a relation between two "somethings" at all, but more or less like the "relation" of identity "between" "me and myself." The "two" are one and the same, but they don't mean one and the same thing, exactly.

"Things" that are "transcendentally related" are traditionally called not beings, but "principles of being," to stress that they aren't really something in their own right, but ways of considering the real being.

I am, however, not happy with this notion of "principles of being" and the "transcendental relation" between "them," because it still gives the impression that form is "something or other [not quite a real being, but something] which limits existence" to being only a kind of existence.

But that's not it at all. Form doesn't limit existence; it's nothing at all; it's the result when the existence is limited by the cause of the limitation. And what is that cause? We saw it in the last chapter: the Infinite. That is, just as the appearance is not something that limits consciousness, but is the fact that consciousness is limited to being just this "version" of consciousness, and it is the consciousness (as not being fully equal to itself as your consciousness), and what limits the consciousness to being just this appearance is the finite existence, so it is here with the finite existence itself.

Be very, very clear on this, or you will not understand anything that follows from now on. All there is to any being is existence (activity). The form does not exist; it is simply a description of the fact that existence in this case is no more than this kind of existence.

Or perhaps it might be a bit clearer if I put it this way:

What limits existence is not form, but the Infinite. The form is the existence as limited by the Infinite.

What exists is the (finite) existence: the being. The form is in no sense "part" of it. So the "form" does not "have" existence. If anything, the existence can be said to "have" a form. But the form is not really something you can "have"; it's not "something" at all, but a lack of existence.

The form of existence is like the surface of a wooden ball. It's "there" only in the sense that, if you were a termite in the center of the ball eating your way out, when you "hit" the surface, the only thing that would happen is that you would suddenly not have wood in front of you. The surface doesn't limit the ball; it's the limitation of the ball (the way in which it's limited). What limits the ball is the carver who made a ball out of the block of wood.

So don't think of "these" as "principles of being" that "are" "transcendentally related." There is not a plurality here at all. Think of the form of existence as simply a way of describing a type of finiteness of the existence itself.

8.3. Quantity

I think that's the best I can do at getting across what I'm trying to convey. Think about it.

If it has confused you, it is perhaps because you are trying to make sense of finite being as I described it. But remember, finite being precisely does not make sense by itself. There is no way of describing it that does not get you into a contradiction. I spent the chapter on the appearance as finite consciousness stressing the fact that the finiteness of the appearance means that you can make opposite statements about it, both of which are true--which means that it is an effect, and therefore has a cause. Similarly here. When we are describing the modes of the finiteness of existence, then obviously, we are describing the particular ways in which it contradicts itself.

To tie it to the definitions of the finite, in the case of the form of existence, the existence "contains" the "form" which is nothing but the existence itself (that is what I was hammering at above); or it "leaves out" of itself anything more than just this way of existing; or it is existence as different from existence (since other forms of existence are nothing but existence also). Does that make sense? No. But what do you expect, if it's existence's finiteness?

And I am now going to complicate matters by saying that in some cases (actually in all cases of what we directly experience except our own consciousness), the form of existence is itself limited quantitatively. Take heat. Heat is a form of existence, but it never exists as "just plain old heat." Any case of heat is always some definite temperature, similar to all other temperatures as cases of heat, but different from all other temperatures of different degrees, and identical with all other temperatures of the same degree.

It follows from this that the appearance by which we experience things like heat are further classifiable into "the experience of this amount of this kind of thing" or "the experience of that amount of this kind of thing."

Therefore, we can say the following:

NINETEENTH CONCLUSION: the existences which cause the experiences of different amounts of a certain type of appearance are limited on two levels: in form (making them the kind of existence in question) and in quantity (making them the given amount of the kind of existence in question).

DEFINITION: Quantity is the fact that in a given case, a given form of existence is only this particular amount of the form of existence.

If you will, the form is the "kindness" of the existence (its "quality," if you will, while the quantity is the "muchness" of the kind of existence.

Note a couple of things. First of all, existence isn't directly, as it were, limited in quantity. You never have a certain "amount of existence" without its being a certain amount of some definite form of existence. Why is that? There's nothing mysterious about it; it's just that the "direct" limitation (the "first level") limitation is the one that's called "form" rather than "quantity." "Quantity" is just the name given to the limitation of a form of existence. Quantity is like form in that it's a limitation, a nothingness that "attaches" to an existence as its "lessness" than just plain old existence; but it's unlike form in that it's the "attachment" to a kind of existence (i.e. to an existence which is already describable in terms of a "lessness" than existence itself).

To keep your mind from boggling when talking about the form of existence, I gave you the analogy of a wooden ball, with the surface as the limitation. The surface is nothing but the wood, and yet it's not the wood. Here, in a kind of parallel analogy, consider a wooden cube, and look at the edge of the surface. Obviously, there's nothing really there but wood. But now the surface itself has a kind of "stopping-place," since if you keep going along it and you come to the edge, all of a sudden you're not on the ball any more. So don't tell me you can't deal with "limitations of limitations"; you not only deal with them every day, you even see them.

Think of this: In a sense, when you're looking at this wooden cube, what you see is the surface. But the surface is nothing at all. So you see, in a sense, the nothingness of the reality, which is the wood. In fact, all you can see of the wood is its surface; you can't see into it to see the wood beneath the surface. And yet you don't see the surface; you see the "surfaced wood." And when you look at the "surfaced wood," you actually see the edge of the surface, which is a nothingness of the nothingness of the wood in the wood "making" it a cube and not a ball. But of course, the surface doesn't "make" the cube anything; it's just the fact that this is just a cube; it's where the wood stops "wooding" (existence is activity, remember), not a "what" at all. Notice, of course, that the wood itself is just a form of existence.

Oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we try to describe finite being!

It turns out that quantity is the level of limitation that allows us to measure existence.

You can't measure kinds of existence; heat is just different from sound or color. You can only apply a measuring instrument when you've got the same kind of existence and you're comparing differences within this kind. That's what measurement is, actually: discovering what the quantity is in a given case. That's the meaning of "you can't compare apples and oranges." If they're different in form, they're just different; if they're different in degree, then they have the same form.

Be careful here, though. The fact that the form is "the same" in each case shouldn't fool you. Since quantity is a limitation, the quantity is precisely the difference within a form of existence.

Again, the quantity is not a "something" that gets "hitched on" to a given form of existence which in all the different degrees is "identical." Precisely no. Each instance of the form in question is different from the others, while still being similar to the others, and the quantity is precisely what the difference between them is.

This is easier to understand in the concrete. A temperature of 72o is different heat from heat of 45o; it isn't that the "heat" is identical in both cases, but they just "have" different degrees. The degree is precisely the difference in the heat.(2)

Again, heat is not a "something which" is limited by something else. What's there is existence, not an existence which "has" a heat which in turn "has" a degree. The existence in question is heat, and in fact is this temperature.

Note that quantities have special names, depending on the forms of existence they are the limitations of: the quantities of heat are called "temperatures," the quantities of light "brightnesses," the quantities of electrical activity "charge," those of motion, "speed," those of sound "loudness," and so on and so on.

The reason is that these quantities are only analogous to each other. One "unit" of heat does not correspond to one "unit" of motion, say, or one unit of electricity. In fact, what physics does is do a kind of "mathematics" of the forms of activity in addition to the quantities, applying the proper "conversion factors" to make the units of one form of energy correspond to those of the other one. If you don't your equations involving the quantities won't come out right.

At this point, we get into the overlap between philosophy and physics, and further discussion really belongs to the branch of philosophy called "Philosophy of Nature." So I will not pursue the topic into some of its weirder areas like fields (which are single forms of activity each of which has an infinity of different quantities limiting it in various ways).

8.3.1. Energy and spiritual activity

Nevertheless, having mentioned the word "energy," I think it belongs to this general treatment of reality to define it philosophically. Physicists define energy as "the capacity for doing work," and define "work" as "force exerted over a distance." They are interested in knowing what the quantity of energy is in a given instance, and so they define it in such a way that they'll be able to get at it. But what is "force exerted over a distance?" You perform a certain activity (pushing something), and measure how far you pushed it and how strongly you had to push on it at each moment to get it to move. This used up a certain amount of your "ability to push" things (your energy); and by convention, the amount of motion gained is taken to be the same as the amount of this "energy" you lost.

Well, to make a long story short (because, again, it's a story that really belongs in the Philosophy of Nature rather than back here in metaphysics), you were being active to a certain degree as you were pushing the object, and the object gained a certain amount of activity as you pushed it. The total amount of motion-activity it gained is equal to the total amount of muscle-activity you lost in doing the pushing.

So we're talking about existence here: specifically existence with a quantity. Now of course, as I said above, the existence can't have a quantity unless it's a definite form of existence; but we're not particularly interested in what form of existence it is, but in the fact that it's a form of existence with a quantity, because it turns out, interactions between objects often convert one form of existence (activity) into another form of existence. But the total quantity (once you take into account these "conversion factors" between quantities of different forms) remains the same. Hence, physics needed a term that talked about "activity of whatever form that has a quantity." So let us now give this as the metaphysical definition of energy, since we aren't interested in finding out what the quantity actually is, but merely that there is one.

DEFINITION: Energy is existence of whatever form, if the form of existence is quantified.

Note very carefully that energy is not the quantity. The term means "existence" or "activity"; but it only applies to the existences that have (form and) quantity. What makes energy "energetic" is the existence; what makes it energy and not just plain old existence or plain old activity is the fact that it's limited in degree.

To put it another way, energy is measurable existence (or measurable activity). That, of course, is why it is of such interest in science, because science likes to measure things.

But while we are at it, we can mention something that the physicists aren't interested in, precisely since they don't deal with what can't be measured.

DEFINITION: Spiritual activity is existence that is not quantified.

Spiritual activity, then, is either the Infinite (Who is just plain old, unqualified and unquantified existence), or some form of existence that doesn't have degrees.

Obviously, spiritual forms of existence (if there are any) differ from one another in kind, but there isn't more than one example of any given kind of spiritual existence, since by definition if there were more than one of the same kind, then they would have to differ from one another within the kind, and that would imply a limitation of the form of existence, which is by definition a quantity.

We know that there is at least one spiritual existence: the Infinite. We have not established whether there are spiritual forms of existence, or whether every other existence is limited both qualitatively (i.e. formally) and quantitatively.

It turns out, however, that your consciousness itself has to be a spiritual activity. I am not going to try to prove this here, but the fact that it "contains itself within itself" (i.e., it knows itself as well as knowing the object) means that (as we saw) in a real sense it "reacts to itself" as well as reacting to the object. If you were to try to assign a definite quantity to such an act, then no matter what the quantity was, it would have to be at least twice what it was (because of this "doubling" of the single act), which clearly violates what quantity is, since as a limitation it says that it's "this much and no more." Hence, it can be established that any "quantity" consciousness has would involve a contradiction in terms; and this is not an effect, it is a flat-out contradiction. So the "solution" to this problem is that consciousness is not limited on the quantitative level, or is spiritual.

St. Thomas talked about angels (since he was a Theologian, basically), and said that, as spirits, "each angel is its own species." That is, the angel exhausts what it is to be the kind of thing that he is. So Gabriel differs from Raphael, not in the fact that they are different degrees of "angelness" (the way 72o is different from 45o), but the way dogs are different from cats, or heat is different from sound. All this says is that spiritual acts are limited only in form, not quantity.

Similarly with your acts of consciousness. The idea that two and two are four is not half of the idea that four and four are eight; that is, one is not "twice as much of an idea" as the other, even if they deal with objects that have quantities. They're just different. There's no way you can compare them in degree.(3)

Well, that's enough for a basic treatment of the various limitations of a single act. In the next chapter, as I said, we'll put these acts together into the bundle called a "body."

SUMMARY OF CHAPTER 8

In dealing with a single finite act, we discover that it can be limited on two different levels. Our appearances are classifiable into various types of appearance, such as seeing and hearing, instances of which are different from instances of the other category, but similar among themselves. 18th conclusion: the existences which cause different kinds of appearances are analogous to each other and different from other kinds of existence. The form of existence is the fact that existence in a given case is limited to being only a given kind of existence. It is to be stressed that the form is not "something which limits" existence; it is not "something" at all, but the "lessness" of the existence itself: a mode of its finiteness. What limits existence is always the Infinite, not something within existence. So do not think of "existence" and "form" as "related" in any way; form is simply a term used to describe the fact that existence falls short of being any more than just this kind of existsence; it is a lack rather than a "something," like the surface of a wooden ball, which is nothing but the wood, but is where the wood stops "wooding." There is no way to describe formed (qualified) existence in such a way that it makes sense, since it is precisely existence as finite, or as not making sense by itself.

But we notice that even within a given type of appearance, there are differences: differences of degree. So, heat is heat, but a temperature of 72o is identical with any other temperature of 72o and different from a temperature of 45o. And this leads to the 19th conclusion: the existences which cause such experiences are limited on two levels: in form and in quantity. Quantity, the "muchness" of the particular kind of existence, is simply the fact that in this instance, the existence is no more than this particular amount of the kind of existence in question.

Existence is not directly quantified, simply because quantity is the name given to this second level of limitation. It is like the edge of the surface of a wooden cube; it has no reality beyond that of the surface itself (which has no reality beyond the wood); but it is a limitation of the surface: where the surface stops "surfacing." The only reality here is that of the wood (which itself, of course, is only a kind of existence).

Quantity is the level of limitation that allows us to measure existence; forms of existence are just different from each other. But note that quantity is not something that is "added" to the form of existence; it is precisely the difference in the form of existence, just as temperature (a quantity) is not "heat plus some degree," but the mere fact that there's no more heat than this. Again, the limitation is a lack, not a "something which limits." What limits is the Infinite.

Quantities of different forms of existence have different names (like "temperature," "loudness," "charge," and so on, because the numbers that describe them do not carry over one-for-one to the numbers of other forms of existence, since they are only analogous to them, and one must apply "conversion factors" to get from quantities of one type of act to quantities of another.

Energy is existence (activity) when the form of existence has a quantity; in other words, it is measurable existence. What makes it "energetic" is activity; what makes it "energy" and not just "activity" is that it has a quantity. Spiritual activity is existence that is not quantified. It is either the Infinite (Who "has" neither form nor quantity, and is absolute existence), or a form of existence that has no quantitative limitation. Our own conscious acts are in fact spiritual acts, since you get into a contradiction if you try to specify "how much" of an act they are. Spiritual acts exhaust the kind of activity which they are; there cannot be two instances of the same form of spiritual activity (because then one would have to lack what the other was, and thus be limited--and the name of such a limit is quantity, and so it would be by definition energy, not a spiritual act).

Next


Notes

1. Note that we can, in a specific case, be fooled here. Light appears to be a different kind of activity from (radiant) heat, not because it really differs in kind, but because we have different sets of receptors that respond to different degrees of the electromagnetic spectrum. There are ways of correcting these mistakes; but we are not interested here in one specific instance, but only in the general fact that the classification of our appearances into categories implies that the existences are different in kind. This is certain.

2. This is also true in the case of those complex units we call "bodies." You and I are both human (which fundamentally means that the activity uniting the parts is the human type of unifying energy); but you and I are different as human. This does not imply that we "have" some identical something called "humanity" in common; it means we are analogous as human; and in your case your humanity is precisely different from mine (though not utterly different) because your humanity is limited to being only a certain degree of humanity, and mine has a different "energy level." We will see this in the next chapter.

3. Interestingly, our appearances of quantity are not themselves quantified. That is, the appearance of a loud sound is a different kind of appearance from the appearance of a soft sound. What the two appearances report is different quantities of the air vibration (which is the act which sound in fact is); but the loud-sound-appearance itself is not "more" of an appearance than the soft-sound-appearance. There is a kind of analogous "quantity" to them insofar as they "talk about" different quantities; but really they are different forms of consciousness.