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In medieval scholasticism , transcendentalia ( Latin : transcendentalia, from transcendere “to exceed”) are the basic concepts that apply to all beings as a mode. Because of their generality, they transcend the particular modes of being which Aristotle called the categories (substance, quantity, quality, etc.). The transcendentalities, however, are not beyond the categories, but are included in all categories.

Viewed ontologically, the transcendentalies are understood as what is common to all beings, since they can be predicated of everything. From a cognitive point of view, they are the “first” terms, since they cannot be traced back to the logically preceding.

In the High Middle Ages since Albertus Magnus , the transcendental are the real subject of metaphysics . Although there was disagreement about their number, there was consensus that in addition to the basic concept of beings themselves ( ens ), unity ( unum ), truth ( verum ) and goodness ( bonum ) belong to the transcendentalities. Furthermore, the essence ( res ), the otherness ( aliquid ) and, more recently, the beauty ( pulchrum ) were counted as transcendental. Approaches to the scholastic doctrine of transcendentality can already be found in Plato and his highest idea of ​​the good and in Aristotle , for whom the terms “being” and “one” are interchangeable, since the concept of the one can be applied to everything, including the predicate “Being” applies.

Systematic presentation

The transcendental expressions express ways of being that do not appear through the word “being” without being mere synonyma. They differ from one another, depending on whether they are seen in terms of being itself ( res , unum ) or in terms of other beings ( aliquid ) or the human spirit ( verum , bonum ).


The question of unity or the one ( unum ) has been discussed again and again in Western philosophy since Parmenides . For Aristotle, “ the one ” was identical with being as its first and most fundamental quality. The Neoplatonists regarded "the One" as the very last principle of all that even precedes being.

In scholasticism, this Aristotelian position is taken up and “the one” is initially understood as that which is undivided in itself ( indivisum in se ). This is called the “inner unity” of a being; it is not a positive quality of beings that is added to being, but only posits the negation of dividedness. In addition to this aspect of inner unity, there is also the aspect in scholasticism that unity also includes diversity. This is referred to as the “outer unit” and expressed in the formula “ divisum a quolibet alio ”. This demarcation aspect of unity is sometimes listed as its own transcendentality, the "otherness" ( aliquid ).

According to the scholastic point of view, the degree and type of being determine the degree and type of unity; with the stages of being there are stages of unity - "from the inorganic through plant and animal life to human beings".

The question of how the unity of beings is to be understood in more detail is answered in the scholastic tradition by two different concepts: the essence philosophy and the analogy of beings . While essence philosophy assumes that the principle of unity is to be found in the common essence of beings (e.g. “being human”), the doctrine of the analogy of beings dispenses with fixing unity to a certain principle. For them, the unity - and difference - of beings lies in being itself: “All beings are one with one another and are different under the same 'consideration' due to their being, whereby being does not mean any special consideration, but the entire respective content of beings means. "

The problem of the ontological status of unity became known in the history of philosophy in a different context than the so-called universal dispute. This discussion is about the nature of the unity posited in language. While for extreme nominalism the general is just a name, a "word" ( flatus vocis ), for the conceptualist the general terms exist at least in the mind. For the realist, on the other hand, these terms also exist in reality, within or, in the “ultra-realistic” variant, also outside of the individual things.


In scholastic thinking, the truth ( verum ) of a being is understood to be its fundamental recognizability by the human spirit. It is the enabling reason that we can have knowledge at all. Truth, too, is present to a greater or lesser extent in the measure of a being's participation in being. Greater "power of being" also means greater spirituality or recognizability.

The background of this understanding is the scholastic equation theory of truth, according to which truth is basically to be understood as the correspondence between thinking and being ( adaequatio intellectus ad rem ). A distinction is made between three aspects of truth: the logical, the ontic and the ontological truth. The logical truth refers to the agreement of the knowledge formulated in a statement with reality ( adaequatio intellectus ad rem ), while conversely the agreement of reality with knowledge ( adaequatio rei ad intellectum ) is called "ontic truth". Ontological truth expresses the fundamental identity of the “being of the thing” with knowledge ( identitas inter esse et intellectionem ).

The ontic truth is identical with the transcendental "truth". It is initially understood as a mere possibility of being recognized. Through the realization of knowledge the ontic truth is activated to the logical truth and thus “the being itself is spiritually realized in its possibility”. Conversely, the understanding, which only potentially relates to every being, is only realized through the concrete knowledge of a being.


The German word “Wert” comes closest to the meaning of Gutheit ( bonum , bonitas ). It should be expressed that every being can be striven for in principle, i.e. has a relationship to the spirit as will. Aristotle had already pointed out in his Nicomachean Ethics that the good is what everything strives for. This approach is taken up by scholasticism and the striving and the good are related to one another: the good is the goal of the striving, what the striving is directed at is good. Every being is viewed as something that, through its intrinsic value, offers striving a possible goal. Not every being is of value to every other, but only if it corresponds to the nature of the striving - you are "convened" ( bonum conveniens ), ie. H. is conducive to its essential self-development. So not all things are “good” in the same way as food for every living being, i.e. H. conducive to life. The norm for what something "good" or value represents for another being lies in the limited nature of the person who strives for this good.

With regard to striving, scholasticism distinguishes between a permanent latent "natural striving" ( appetitus naturalis ) and "striving in execution" ( appetitus exercitus ). With the appetitus exercitus is meant the momentary striving, which disappears again with its satisfaction, while the appetitus naturalis describes the need in latent form, which is always present.

The value problem

The conception of the good or value as a separate “transcendental” property of all beings was contested in the history of philosophy according to the neo-Homist interpretation by value rationalism and value irationalism. In value rationalism (e.g. Baruch Spinoza , GWF Hegel ), the true and the good are identified with one another. Spinoza wants to derive all ethics, including human affects, purely rationally ( more geometrico ). In contrast to this, value irrationalism (e.g. Hermann Lotze , Rickert , Franz Brentano , Alexius Meinong , Max Scheler , Nicolai Hartmann ) regards being as completely value-free, while value is a quality different from being, an ideal of its own Way of existence. The scholastic tradition, on the other hand, takes a mediating view. Against value rationalism, it sticks to the fact that value belongs to being and rejects a duality of being and value against value rationalism.

The problem of evil

The conception of the “goodness” and “worthiness” of all beings is opposed to the problem of evil ( malum ). A distinction is made between physical ( malum physicum ) and moral evil ( malum morale ). The cause of the physical evil lies in the real nature of things and natural occurrences, the moral evil in the free decision of man.

The scholastic interpretation of the evil is directed against optimistic, pessimistic and dualistic conceptions in the history of philosophy. A representative of radical optimism is Spinoza, for whom there is actually no evil; everything we consider evil is actually just a delusion. Arthur Schopenhauer advocates an equally radical pessimism; for him the world is the worst possible. A dualistic approach that recognized both the reality of good and evil was advocated by the Gnostics , Manichaeans and, more recently, by Jakob Böhme .

Scholastic philosophy, on the other hand - like Augustine - sees both physical and moral evil as a negative element - a lack of being ( privatio ). Something that is supposed to be by its nature is negated. According to this view, the evil cannot have its own positive existence, as this would result in a dualistic worldview.

Single items

middle Ages

Thomas Aquinas

Thomas Aquinas distinguishes in his classical presentation in De veritate ( De Veritate , 1.1 c) the following transcendentalies:

  • res (the thing): expresses the essence of being,
  • unum (the one): stands for the wholeness and inner unity of beings,
  • aliquid (otherness): characterizes the demarcation from other beings,
  • verum (the true): denotes the agreement of the known with the being
  • bonum (the good): denotes the agreement of the will with beings.
  • ens (beings) itself ( opusculum de natura generis 2 )

For Thomas, the term “being” ( ens ) has priority among the transcendental . The being refers to the being, which Thomas understands as actuality and therefore as perfection. It is the condition for the reality of any further perfection.

The other transcendentalities either concern every being in itself or in its relation to another. The first group includes “thing” (res), which expresses the wasness or essence of a being, and “one” ( unum ), which denotes the undividedness. With regard to the relational transcendentalities, Thomas differentiates between the separation ( divisio ) of one being from another, which is expressed in the word "aliquid", and its agreement ( convenientia ).

For Thomas, the transcendentalities initially have an ontological meaning. They denote what is common to every thing and are therefore called the communissima . They are the subject of the "First Philosophy", which Thomas understands as a general science ( scientia communis ) of beings and their most general properties. The transcendental terms are also characterized by the fact that they are interchangeable ( convertibilis ): For example, Thomas has the thesis that “beings and good are convertible”, i.e. H. what is being is good, and what is good is being.

In the order of knowledge, the transcendental in Thomas are that which is implicitly included in everything known. They are the first concepts of the human mind that form the basis of all scientific knowledge.

In addition, the transcendentalies also represent the names of God. The relationship between God and other beings is interpreted by Thomas in the Platonic sense as a relationship of participation: God is subsisting being itself, the rest participates in being. This relationship of participation is the reason for the analogous predictability of the transcendental names. Their analysis is therefore an essential condition for the philosophical knowledge of the transcendent.

John Duns Scotus

Johannes Duns Scotus expands the doctrine of transcendentalism by distinguishing between univocal transcendental and disjunctive transcendental. As with Thomas, beings are the starting point for his consideration. Univok are concepts that are interchangeable with the concept of being. These are the one (unum), the good (bonum) and the true (verum). According to Scotus, however, the identity of these expressions for beings is imperfect; for it does not grasp the various modes of being, which are presented in disjoint form. Such modal forms are finiteness and infinity, possibility and necessity, or unity and multiplicity. Only with the help of the disjunctive transcendental can a relationship between the univocal concepts of being and reality be established.


Analytical ontology

The scholastic question of the transcendental is taken up again by some representatives of the analytical ontology.

Uwe Meixner understands transcendentality in the classical sense as “ontological terms across all categories”. In contrast to the classical view, however, these “do not have to apply to everything at all”; rather, it suffices that they apply to “an entity in every category that is not empty”. Its purpose is not the classification of beings, but their “most general characterization”.

Meixner fundamentally differentiates between universal, characteristic and relational transcendentalities.

With the universal transcendentalities are meant those of the medieval tradition. They apply to all entities of all categories. The concepts of beings themselves and of unity are unproblematic for Meixner . Both apply to all entities of all categories. The most fundamental category for him is the entity or being, under which he counts facts, individuals and properties. Meixner excludes the classic transcendental truth and goodness from his considerations. In particular, goodness is problematic for him, because for him the "medieval optimism of being" has become problematic and he wants to develop a value-free ontology.

The other two groups, trait transcendental and relational transcendental, do not apply to every entity, but to at least one element of each non-empty category.

With property transcendentals ontological properties are described of entities. In contrast to the categories, they have no classification function. Meixner includes the terms reality (actuality) and possibility .

The third group is the relational transcendental . This includes part ( constituents ), identity , difference and similarity .


Medieval tradition

  • Jan A. Aertsen: Medieval Philosophy as Transcendental Thought. From Philip the Chancellor (c. 1225) to Francisco Suárez. Brill, Leiden 2012.
  • Emerich Coreth : Metaphysics: A methodical-systematic foundation. 3. Edition. Tyrolia, Innsbruck / Vienna / Munich 1980, ISBN 3-7022-1406-2 .
  • Jorge JE Gracia: The Transcendentals in the Middle Ages: An Introduction. In: Topoi. 11 (2), pp. 113-120.
  • Johann Baptist Lotz : The basic determinations of being. Innsbruck 1988, ISBN 3-7022-1669-3 .

Modern approaches

  • Christopher JF Williams: What is Existence? Clarendon Press, Oxford 1981. (On Existence)
  • Wolfgang Künne: Abstract Objects. Semantics and ontology. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1983. (On the abstract)
  • Harold Noonan (Ed.): Identity. Dartmouth Publishing, Aldershot / Brookfield USA 1993. (On identity)
  • Michael J. Loux (Ed.): The Possible and the Actual. 4th edition. Cornell University Press, Ithaca / London 1994. (On the concept of topicality and possibility)

Web links

Wiktionary: Transcendentalie  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations


  1. Albertus Magnus named exactly these four values, quoted by Jan A. Aertsen: The question of the first and the fundamental. Albert the Great and the Doctrine of the Transcendental. In: Walter Senner, Henryk Anzulewicz (Ed.): Albertus Magnus. In memory after 800 years. New approaches, aspects and perspectives. Akademie, Berlin 2001, pp. 91–112.
  2. Cf. Emerich Coreth: Grundriss der Metaphysik. Tyrolia, Innsbruck / Vienna 1994, ISBN 3-7022-1951-X , p. 136.
  3. E.g. in Thomas Aquinas in De Veritate
  4. Johannes B. Lotz, Unity. In: Walter Brugger (Hrsg.): Philosophical dictionary . 14th edition. 1975.
  5. See Béla Weissmahr : Ontology. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart / Berlin / Cologne / Mainz 1985, ISBN 3-17-008460-7 , p. 93.
  6. See Béla Weissmahr: Ontology. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart / Berlin / Cologne / Mainz 1985, ISBN 3-17-008460-7 , pp. 73ff.
  7. Martin Heidegger's later term “ Aletheia ” (unconcealment) goes in the same direction .
  8. Emerich Coreth: Metaphysics: A methodical-systematic foundation. 3. Edition. Tyrolia, Innsbruck / Vienna / Munich 1980, p. 350.
  9. On “goodness” cf. Johannes B. Lotz: General Metaphysics. After lectures by JB Lotz, revised and supplemented by W. Brugger. 3. Edition. Berchmanskolleg publishing house, Pullach near Munich 1967, p. 142ff.
  10. Aristotle: Nicomachean Ethics 1094a.
  11. Emerich Coreth: Metaphysics: A methodical-systematic foundation. 3. Edition. Tyrolia, Innsbruck / Vienna / Munich 1980, pp. 372–376.
  12. Cf. Emerich Coreth: Grundriss der Metaphysik. Tyrolia, Innsbruck / Vienna 1994, ISBN 3-7022-1951-X , pp. 162f.
  13. Arthur Schopenhauer: The world as will and idea. In: Arthur Hübscher (Ed.): Arthur Schopenhauer. Zurich edition. Works in ten volumes. Volume 4, Diogenes, Zurich 1977, p. 683.
  14. Ludwig Schütz: Thomas Lexicon , May 5, 2010.
  15. Cf. Jan A. Aertsen: The speech of God: the questions "whether he is" and "what he is". Science teaching and transcendental teaching. In: Andreas Speer (ed.): Thomas von Aquin: The "Summa theologiae": work interpretations. Berlin 2005, p. 44.
  16. Ludger Honnefelder : Scientia transcendens. The formal determination of being and reality in the metaphysics of the Middle Ages and modern times (Duns Scotus - Suárez - Wolff - Kant - Peirce). Meiner, Hamburg 1990, pp. XVIIff.
  17. Uwe Meixner: Introduction to ontology . Scientific Buchges., Darmstadt 2004, ISBN 3-534-15458-4 , p. 22.
  18. Uwe Meixner: Introduction to ontology . Scientific Buchges., Darmstadt 2004, p. 29.
  19. Uwe Meixner: Introduction to ontology . Scientific Buchges., Darmstadt 2004, p. 23.