Question Three: Ideas

Are there ideas in God?
Are there many ideas?
Do ideas belong to speculative or only to practical knowledge?
Is there in God an idea of evil?
Is there in God an idea of first matter?
Are there ideas in God of those things which do not exist, will not exist, and have not existed?
Are there in God ideas of accidents?
Are there in God ideas of singulars?


Ideas are the object of our inquiry,

and in the first article we ask:

Are there ideas in God?

[Parallel readings: S.T., I, 151 1; 44, 3; I Sent., 36, 2, 1; I Metaph., lect. 15, nn. 232-33.]


It seems that there are no ideas in Him, for

1. God’s knowledge is most perfect. Now, knowledge had from the essence of a thing is more perfect than knowledge had from its likeness. Consequently, God knows things, not by means of their likenesses, but by means of their essences. Hence, those likenesses of things which are called ideas do not exist in God.

2. But it was said that God knows things more perfectly by knowing them through His essence, which is a likeness of things, than He would if He knew them through their own essences.—On the contrary, knowledge is an assimilation to the thing known. Hence, the more the medium of knowing resembles and is united with the thing known, the more perfectly is the thing known by means of that medium. But the essence of created things is more united with things than the divine essence is. Consequently, God would know things more perfectly if He knew them by means of their essences than He does by knowing them through His own essence.

3. But it was said that the perfection of knowledge consists in the union of the medium of knowledge with the knower, not with the thing known.—On the contrary, the species of a thing, which is in the intellect, is rendered individual by the act of existence it has in the intellect; but in relation to the thing known it has the character of a universal, since it is a likeness of the thing according to its common nature and not according to its particular conditions. Yet the knowledge which is made possible by means of that species is not singular but universal. Hence, knowledge follows the relation of the species to the thing known rather than its relation to the knower.

4. The Philosopher criticizes Plato’s theory of ideas because the latter asserted that the forms of material things existed without matter. Now, these forms would exist without matter to a much greater extent were they in the divine intellect instead of being outside of it, because the divine intellect is the acme of immateriality. Therefore, it is much more inconsistent to say that ideas exist in the divine intellect.

5. The Philosopher criticizes Plato’s theory of ideas because the ideas he posited can neither generate nor be generated, and hence are useless. But, if the ideas are said to be in the divine mind, they also will not be generated—because whatever is generated is composite—nor will they generate, for, since whatever is generated is composite and whatever generates resembles what is generated, that which generates must also be composite. Hence, it would be inconsistent to say that there are ideas in the divine mind.

6. Dionysius says that God knows existing things by means of the non-existing, and that He does not know them by means of ideas. But the only reason for affirming the existence of ideas in God is so He can know things by their means. Hence, ideas do not exist in God’s mind.

7. Whatever has been modeled upon an. archetype is proportionate to it. But there is no proportion of a creature with God, just as there is no proportion between what is finite and what is infinite. Therefore, in God there cannot be any archetypes of creatures; consequently, since ideas are exemplary forms, it seems that ideas of things do not exist in God.

8. Ideas are the rule of knowledge and action. But that which cannot err in its knowledge or action does not need a rule for either; and, since God is this kind of being, it seems out of place to say that there are ideas in him.

9. We read in the Metaphysics that just as being one in quantity causes equality, so being one in quality causes resemblance. Now, because of the difference between God and a creature, a creature can in no way be said to be equal to God, nor can God be said to be equal to a crcature. Therefore, there is nothing in God that resembles a creature. Consequently, since idea means a likeness of a thing, it seems that there are no ideas of things in God.

10. If ideas are in God, they are there only for the production of creatures. But Anselm says: “It is sufficiently clear that in the Word, through which all things have been made, likenesses of things do not exist. Only the one simple essence is present.” Therefore, it seems that ideas, which are called the likenesses of things, do not exist in God.

11. God knows Himself in the same way in which He knows other things; otherwise, His knowledge would be multiple and divisible. Now, God does not know Himself by means of an idea. Therefore, He does not know other things by means of ideas.

To the Contrary

1. Augustine says: “Whoever denies that there are ideas is an infidel, since he denies the existence of the Son.” Therefore.

2. Every intellectual agent possesses within himself a plan of his work; otherwise, he would not know what he was doing. But God acts through His intellect, and He is not ignorant of what He is doing. Therefore, there exist within Him intelligible characters of things, and these are called ideas.

3. As is said in the Physics: “The three causes, namely, the efficient, final, and formal causes, are ultimately identical.”Now, God is the efficient and final cause of things. Hence, He is also their formal cause —but as an exemplary cause, since He cannot be a form that is part of a creature. We conclude as before.

4. A particular effect is not produced by a universal cause unless the universal cause is proper or appropriated. Now, all particular effects are from God, who is the universal cause of all things. Hence, they should come from Him in so far as He is the proper or appropriated cause of each and every one of them. But this would not be possible unless the intelligible characters of things existed in Him. Hence, the intelligible characters of things, that is, ideas, must exist in Him.

5. Augustine says: “I regret that I said that there are two worlds, one the object of sense, the other the object of intellect—not because this is not true, but because I said it as though it were an original idea, when in fact it had been previously pointed out by philosophers, and because this manner of speaking is not usual in Holy Scripture. Now, the intelligible world is nothing other than the idea of the world. Hence, it is true that there are ideas.

6. Speaking to God, Boethius says: “You have drawn all things from the highest pattern, having in your mind the glorious world—you, the most glorious of all.” Therefore, the pattern of the world, and of all that is in the world, is in God; and our conclusion is the same as before.

7. In the Gospel according to John (1:3-4), we read: “What was made in him was life...” This means, as Augustine says,”, that all creatures are in the divine mind as a piece of furniture is in the mind of a cabinetmaker. Now, a piece of furniture is in the mind of a cabinetmaker by means of its idea and likeness. Therefore, ideas of all things are in God.

8. A mirror does not lead us to the knowledge of things unless their likenesses are reflected in it. Now, the uncreated Word is a mirror that leads to the knowledge of all creatures, because by the Word the Father utters Himself and all other things. Therefore, likenesses of all things are in the Word.

9. Augustine says: “The Son is the Father’s art, containing the living forms of all things.” Now, those forms are nothing other than ideas. Therefore, ideas exist in God.

10. Augustine says that there are two ways of knowing things: through an essence and through a likeness. Now, God does not know things by means of their essence, because only those things which are present in the knower are known in this manner. Therefore, since He does know things, as is clear from what has been said previously, He must know them by means of their likenesses. Hence, our conclusion is the same as before.


As Augustine says: “We can literally translate ιδεαι as species or forms. Now, the form of a thing has three meanings. First, it can mean that from which a thing gets its form, as when we say that the informing of an effect proceeds from the form of the agent. Now, an action does not necessarily result in effects that attain the complete character of the form of the agent, for effects often fall short of this, especially in the case of equivocal causes. Consequently, the form from which something gets its form is not said to be its idea or form. Second, the form of a thing can mean that by which a thing is informed, as when we say that the soul is the form of man, and the shape of a statue is the form of the bronze. Now, although form, which is part of the composite, is truly said to be the form of a thing, we do not usually call it its idea, because it seems that the word idea signifies a form separate from that whose form it is. Third, the form of a thing can mean that according to which a thing is informed. This is the exemplary form in imitation of which a thing is made. It is in this meaning that idea is ordinarily used. Hence, the idea of a thing is the form which a thing imitates.

Note, however, that a thing can imitate a form in two ways. It can imitate it because of the agent’s intention, as an artist makes his painting imitate someone whose portrait he is making. It happens at times, however, that such an imitation is not intentional, but happens by chance or by accident. For example, painters frequently paint something resembling someone when they have not intended to do so. Now, what imitates a form by chance is not said to be formed according to that form, because according to seems to imply direction to an end. Hence, since the exemplary form or idea is that according to which a thing is formed, the exemplary form or idea should imitate something intentionally, not accidentally.

We see also that a thing acts because of an end in two ways. The agent himself may determine his end—and this is true of all intellectual agents—or the end of the agent may be determined by another principal agent. For example, the flight of an arrow is toward a definite end, but this end is determined by the archer. Similarly, an operation of a nature which is for a definite end presupposes an intellect that has pre-established the end of the nature and ordered it to that end. For this reason, every work of nature is said to be a work of intelligence. Consequently, if a thing imitating something else comes into existence through an agent which has not itself determined the end, the form imitated will not have the character of an exemplar or idea merely because of what has happened. For example, we do not say that the form of the man who generates is the idea or exemplar of the man who is generated; but we use these terms only when an agent acting for an end has determined the end himself—whether the form imitated be within him or outside of him. For we say that the form of art in the artist is the plan or idea of the artistic product, and we also say that a form outside the artist is a plan if he imitates it when he makes a thing. This, therefore, seems to constitute the character of an idea: It must be a form which something imitates because of the intention of an agent who antecedently determines the end himself.

Consequently, it is clear that those who say that all things happen by chance cannot admit the existence of ideas. This opinion, however, is criticized by philosophers, because things which happen by chance do not happen uniformly, but happen only in a few instances. We see, however, that the course of nature always, or at least in most cases, proceeds in an uniform manner.

Similarly, those who say that all things proceed from God by a necessity of nature and not by a decision of will cannot admit ideas, because those who act impelled by the necessity of nature do not determine the end for themselves. This cannot be the case here, however, because, if a thing acts for an end but does not determine that end itself, it has its end determined for it by something else superior to it; and thus there would be a cause superior to God. This, of course, is impossible, since all those who speak of God understand Him to be the first cause of beings.

For these reasons, Plato affirmed the existence of ideas, avoiding the opinion of the Epicureans, who asserted that everything happens by chance, and that of Empedocles and others who asserted that everything happens because of a natural necessity. This reason for affirming ideas, namely, on account of the previous planning of the works that are to be done, is suggested by Dionysius, who says: “We say that exemplars in God are the intelligible characters of things that come to be, the individually pre-existing causes of subsistent beings. These, theology calls ‘predefinitions.’ They predetermine and cause godly and good inclinations in creatures. It is according to these that the super-substance predefines and produces all things. However, because an exemplary form or idea has, in some sense, the nature of an end, and because an artist receives the form by which he acts—if it is outside of him—we cannot say that the divine ideas are outside of God. They can be only within the divine mind, for it is unreasonable to say that God acts on account of an end other than Himself or that He receives that which enables Him to act from a source other than Himself.

Answers to Difficulties

1. The perfection of knowledge can be considered either with reference to the knower or with reference to the thing known. When it is said, therefore, that knowledge by means of an essence is more perfect than that had by means of a likeness, this is to be understood as referring to what is known. For that which is knowable in itself is, in itself, known more than that which, not knowable in itself, is known only in so far as it is in a knower by means of its likeness. In this sense, it is not inconsistent to say that created things are less knowable than the divine essence, which is knowable by its very nature.

2. Two things are required for a species which is a medium of knowledge. First, it must represent the thing known. This belongs to a species in so far as it approaches the nature of what is known. Second, it must have a spiritual or immaterial act of existing. This belongs to a species in so far as it has its act of existing in the knower. For this reason, a thing is known better by means of an intellectual species than by means of the species in sense, since the former is more immaterial. Similarly, a thing is known better by means of the species in the divine mind than it could be known by means of its own essence—even granting that the essence of a thing could be the medium of knowledge despite its materiality.

3. Two elements of knowledge must be considered. First, we must consider its nature; and this is determined by the relation of the species to the intellect in which it exists. Second, we must consider the determinate character which the knowledge has with respect to its object; and this follows the relation that the species has to the thing itself. Hence, the more similar the species is as a representation to the thing known, the more determinate is the knowledge; and the more it approaches immateriality, which belongs to the nature of the knower in so far as he knows, the more efficacious it is in the production of knowledge.

4. It is contrary to the nature of natural forms that they should be immaterial in themselves; but it is not inconsistent for them to acquire immateriality from the one in whom they exist. Consequently, in our intellects, the forms of natural things are immaterial. Hence, while it would be incorrect to assert that ideas of natural things have a separate subsistence, it would be correct to say that they are in the divine mind.

5. Strictly speaking, the ideas existing in the divine mind neither generate nor are generated, but rather create or produce things. Hence, Augustine says: “Although they themselves neither begin nor cease to be, nevertheless, whatever can begin or cease to be is said to be informed according to them.” Nor is it necessary, when composite things are made, for the first efficient cause to resemble what is generated: this is true only of the proximate efficient cause. Since Plato asserted that the ideas are the proximate principle of generation, the argument mentioned in the difficulty is directed against him.

6. Dionysius wished to say merely that God does not know by means of an idea received from things or in such a manner that He would know a thing differently by means of an idea. For this reason, another translation of this passage reads: “Nor does He by His vision come into contact with individual things.” Hence, from this argument, it is not impossible for ideas to exist.

7. Although there can be no proportion between God and a creature, there can be a proportionality, as we have previously shown.

8. Just as God does not need an essence other than His act of existence, because He cannot not be, neither does He need a norm other than Himself, because He cannot know or act in a way that would be faulty. The reason for this perfection is that He is His own norm, just as the reason for the necessity of His existence is that His essence is His act of existence.

9. In God there is no dimensional quantity on whose basis an equality could be established. There is in Him, however, quantity after the manner of intensive quantity. For example, whiteness is said to be great when it attains the perfect fullness of its nature. The intensity of a form, moreover, refers to the manner in which that form is possessed. Now, although that which is divine may in some way be passed on to creatures, we can never grant that a creature possesses it in the same way in which God possesses it. Hence, although we grant that there exists a likeness between a creature and God in some way, we do not grant that they are equal in any way whatsoever.

10. As will be evident to one who carefully considers Anselm’s words, Anselm means to say merely that in the Word there exists no likeness drawn from things themselves, but, instead, all the forms of things are taken from the Word. Accordingly, he means that the Word is not a likeness of things, but things are imitations of the Word. Consequently, this argument does not dispense with the ideas, since an idea is a form which something imitates.

11. The statement that God knows Himself in the same way in which He knows other things is true if we are speaking about the way of knowing with reference to the knower. It is not true, however, if we are speaking about the way of knowing with reference to the thing known, because the creature which is known by God is not the same in the real order as the medium by which God knows. But He Himself is really the same as it. Consequently, it does not follow that there is multiplicity in His essence.



In the second article we ask:

Are there many ideas?

[Parallel readings: S.T., I, 15, 7; 44, 3; 47, 1, ad 2; I Sent., 36, 2, 2; III Sent., 14, 2, sol. 2; C.G., I, 54; De pot., 3, 16, ad 12-14; Quodl., IV, 1, 1.]


It seems not, for

1. The things which are predicated essentially of God are not less true of Him than those which are predicated personally of Him. Now, a plurality of personal properties involves a plurality of persons, and for this reason God is said to be triune. Consequently, since ideas are essential perfections because common to all three Persons, if the number of ideas is determined by the number of things that there are, it follows that there are not only three Persons but an infinite number of them.

2. It was said, however, that ideas are not essential properties, since they are the essence itself.—On the contrary, God’s goodness, wisdom, and power are His essence, yet they are said to be essential attributes. Therefore, even though they are His essence, ideas can be called His essential properties.

3. Whatever is attributed to God should be attributed to Him as existing in the most noble manner possible. Now, God is the principle of all things; hence, whatever pertains to the nobility of a principle should be said to exist in Him in the highest possible degree. However, unity is a perfection of this sort, because, as is said in The Causes: “Every power is more infinite when it has unity than when it is multiplied.” Hence, the highest unity is in God. He is, therefore, not only one in reality, but also one in concept, because that which is one in both respects is more one than that which is one merely in one respect. Consequently, many intelligible characters or ideas do not exist in God.

4. The Philosopher says: “What is entirely one cannot be separated either by intellect, time, place, or concept—especially with regard to its substance.” Consequently, if God is one in the highest degree because He is being in the highest degree, conceptual distinctions are not applicable to Him; so, our original position stands.

5. If there are many ideas, they must be unequal, because one idea will contain only the act of existence, another, both existence and life, a third, both of these and intellection besides—according as the thing, whose idea it is, resembles God in one or many respects. But, since it is inconsistent to say that there is any inequality in God, it seems that there cannot be many ideas in Him.

6. Material causes can be reduced to one first matter, and efficient and final causes can be reduced in a similar manner. Consequently, formal causes can also be reduced to one first form. The end-term of this reduction, however, will be ideas, because, as Augustine says: “these are the principal forms or intelligible characters of things.” Hence, there is only one idea in God.

7. But it was said that, although there is only one first form, ideas are nevertheless said to be many because of the different relations this form has.—On the contrary, it cannot be said that ideas are multiplied because of their relation to God in whom they exist, for He is one; nor can they be multiplied because of their relation to what is made according to them and as these creatures exist in the first cause, since, as Dionysius says, in the first cause creatures exist as one. Finally, ideas cannot be multiplied because of their relation to what is made according to them and as these things exist in their own natures, because creatures are temporal and ideas are eternal. Hence, there is no possible way of saying that the ideas are many because of their relation to the first form.

8. The relation between God and creature does not exist in God; it exists only in the creature. But an idea or exemplar implies a relation of God to a creature. Therefore, that relation is not in God but only in the creature. Now, since the idea is in God, ideas cannot be multiplied by relations of this sort.

9. An intellect that knows by means of many species is composite and moves from one to another. But this way of knowing is far from God’s way. Therefore, since ideas are the intelligible characters of things by which God understands, it seems that there are not many ideas in Him.

To the Contrary

1. The same thing under the same aspect can, of its very nature, produce only one and the same reality. But God produces many and different things. Hence, God causes things, not according to one concept, but according to many concepts. But the concepts by which God produces things are ideas. Therefore, there are many ideas in God.

2. Augustine says: “It remains, therefore, that all things are created by plan, but a man not by the same plan as a horse. So to think would be absurd.” Each thing is therefore created according to its own plan; hence, there are many ideas.

3. Augustine says” that it is just as wrong to say that the plan which God has of man in general is the same as that of this man in particular as it is to say that the idea of an angle is the same as that of a square. It seems, therefore, that there are many plans in God’s ideas.

4. The Epistle to the Hebrews (11:3) states: “By faith we understand that the world was framed by the word of God; that from invisible things visible things might be made.” Note that he refers to the ideal species as invisible things (plural). Hence, there are many ideas.

5. The saints call ideas art and the world, as is clear from the authorities cited. But art implies plurality, for art is a collection of precepts converging toward one end. World has a similar connotation, since it implies the collection of all creatures. Hence, we should affirm the existence of many ideas in God.


While admitting that God acts through His intellect and not under the compulsion of His nature, some have said that He intends only one thing, namely, creature in general, and the distinction between creatures is brought about by secondary causes. They declare that God first established one intelligence that produced three things: a soul, the world, and another intelligence; and by means of this procession a plurality of things issued forth from the one first principle. According to this position, there would, indeed, be an idea in God, but only one common to all creation. The proper idea of each individual thing would exist only in secondary causes. This opinion, Dionysius says, was held by a certain philosopher named Clement, who maintained that higher beings were the archetypes of lower.

This opinion, however, cannot stand, because if the intention of an agent is directed toward one thing only, whatever else that follows is apart from his intention and, as it were, a chance happening, which happens accidentally in conjunction with that which he principally intended. This would make the agent like someone who wants to produce something that is triangular, and whether it is small or large is a matter of indifference to him. Now, to whatever is general something special is indirectly connected. Hence, if an agent intends merely something general, in whatever way it is determined by something special it is entirely apart from his intention. For example, if nature intends to generate only an animal, it is apart from nature’s intention that what is generated be a man or a horse. Consequently, if God’s intention when He acts regards only creatures in general, then all distinction between creatures happens by chance. But it is hardly correct to say that this difference between creatures is related only accidentally to the first cause and essentially to second causes, since what is essential is previous to what is accidental, and the relation of a thing to the first cause is previous to its relation to a second cause, as is clear from The Causes. Consequently, it is impossible for the distinction between creatures to be related only accidentally to the first cause and essentially to a second cause. The opposite, however, can happen; for we see that those things that happen by chance as far as we are concerned are foreknown by God and ordained by Him. Hence, we must say that all the distinction between things is predefined by God. Consequently, we must affirm that intelligible characters proper to individual things exist in God and that for this reason there are in Him many ideas.

From this the plurality of ideas can be understood. A form can exist in the intellect in two ways. First, it can exist there so as to be a principle of the act of understanding, as is the form had by a knower in so far as he understands. This is the likeness of what is understood, existing in him. Second, the form can exist in the intellect so as to be the end-term of the act of understanding. For example, by understanding an architect thinks out the form of a house; and since that form has been thought out by means of an act of understanding and is, as it were, effected by that act, it cannot be a principle of the act of understanding and thus the first means by which the understanding takes place. It is, instead, the understood, by which the knower makes something. Nevertheless, it is the second means by which understanding takes place, because it is by means of the excogitated form that the architect understands what he is to make. Similarly, with respect to the speculative intellect, we see that the species by which the intellect is informed so that it can actually understand is the first means by which understanding takes place; and because the intellect is brought into act by means of this form, it can now operate and form quiddities of things, as well as compose and divide. Consequently, the quiddities formed in the intellect, or even the affirmative and negative propositions, are, in a sense, products of the intellect, but products of such a kind that through them the intellect arrives at the knowledge of an exterior thing. Hence, this product is, in a fashion, a second means by which understanding takes place. If, however, the intellect of an artist were to produce a work that resembled itself, then, indeed, the very intellect of the artist would be an idea, not in so far as it is an intellect, but in so far as it is understood.

Now, with respect to those things made in imitation of something else, we sometimes find that they imitate their archetype perfectly. In such a case, the operative intellect when preconceiving the form of what was made, possesses as an idea the very form of the thing imitated precisely as the form of the thing imitated. At other times, however, we find that that which is made in imitation of another is not a perfect imitation. In this case, the operative intellect would not take as its idea or archetype the form of the archetype itself, absolutely and exactly as it is, but it takes it with a definite proportion varying according to the degree of closeness with which the copy imitates the original.

I say, therefore, that God, who makes all things by means of His intellect, produces them all in the likeness of His own essence. Hence, His essence is the idea of things—not, indeed, His essence considered as an essence, but considered as it is known. Created things, however, do not perfectly imitate the divine essence. Consequently, His essence as the idea of things is not understood by the divine intellect unqualifiedly, but with the proportion to the divine essence had by the creature to be produced, that is, according as the creature falls short of, or imitates, the divine essence. Now, different things imitate the divine essence in different ways, each one according to its own proper manner, since each has its own act of existence, distinct from that of another. We can say, therefore, that the divine essence is the idea of each and every thing, understanding, of course, the different proportions that things have to it. Hence, since there are in things different proportions to- the divine essence, there must necessarily be many ideas. If we consider the essence alone, however, there is but one idea for all things; but if we consider the different proportions of creatures to the divine essence, then there can be said to be a plurality of ideas.

Answers to Difficulties

1. Personal properties introduce a distinction of persons in God because they are opposed to each other by relative opposition. But properties that are not opposed, such as common spiration and paternity, do not distinguish one person from another. Moreover, neither the ideas nor other essential attributes are opposed by relative opposition. Hence, there is no similarity.

2. The same thing is not true of ideas and essential attributes. In their principal meaning, the essential attributes do not signify anything more than the essence of the Creator. Hence, strictly speaking, they are not plural, although God is compared to creatures with reference to them. For example, with reference to His goodness, we say that creatures are good; with reference to His wisdom, we say that they are wise. An idea, however, in its principal meaning signifies something other than God’s essence, namely, the proportion a creature has to His essence; and this completes the formal notion of an idea. Because of this there are said to be many ideas. Nevertheless, the ideas may be called essential attributes inasmuch as they are related to the essence.

3. A plurality of concepts is sometimes reduced to a diversity in the thing. For example, there is a rational distinction between Socrates and Socrates sitting, and this is reduced to the difference that there is between substance and accident. Similarly, man and animal differ rationally; and this difference is reduced to the difference between form and matter, because genus is taken from matter but the specific difference from form. Consequently, such a conceptual difference is repugnant to the highest unity or simplicity. On the other hand, a conceptual difference sometimes is reduced not to any diversity in the thing, but to its truth, which can be understood in different ways. It is in this sense that we say that there is a plurality of intelligible characters in God. Hence, this plurality is not repugnant to His highest unity or simplicity.

4. In this passage, the Philosopher speaks of intelligible characters as definitions. But we cannot talk of there being many intelligible characters in God as though these were definitions, for none of these comprehends the divine essence. Hence, this passage is not to the point.

5. The form in the intellect has a double relationship. It is related not only to the thing whose form it is, but also to the intellect in which it exists. On the basis of its first relation, the form is not said to be of a certain kind but rather of a certain thing, for the intellectual form of material things is not a material form, nor is the intellectual form of sensible things sensible. It is on the basis of its second relationship that the intellectual form is said to be “of a certain kind,” because its kind is determined by that in which it exists. Hence, from the fact that some of the things of which ideas are had imitate the divine essence more perfectly than others, it does not follow that the ideas are unequal, but that they are ideas of unequal things.

6. The one first form to which all things are reduced is the divine essence, considered in itself. Reflecting upon this essence, the divine intellect devises—if I may use such an expression—different ways in which it can be imitated. The plurality of ideas comes from these different ways.

7. The ideas are multiplied according to the different relations they have to things existing in their own natures. It is not necessary that these relations be temporal even if the things are temporal, because the action of the intellect—even of the human intellect—can extend to something even when it does not exist, as, for example, when we know the past. Moreover, as is said in the Metaphysics, a relation follows upon action; hence, even relations to temporal things are eternal in the divine intellect.

8. The relation existing between God and creature is not a real relation in God. However, it is in God according to our manner of understanding Him; similarly, it can be in Him according to His own manner of understanding Himself, that is, in so far as He understands the relation things have to His essence. Thus, these relations exist in God as known by Him.

9. An idea does not have the character of that by which a thing is first understood, but, rather, of that which is understood and is existing in the intellect. Moreover, whether or not there is to be but one form in the understanding is determined by the unity of that by which a thing is first understood, just as the unity of an action is determined by the unity of the form of the agent which is its principle. Hence, although the relations understood by God are many (and it is in these relations that the plurality of ideas consists), nevertheless, because e understands all things by means of His essence, His understanding is not multiple but one.



In the third article we ask:

Do ideas belong to speculative or only to practical knowledge?

[Parallel readings: S.T., I, 14, 16; 15, 3; I Sent., 36, 2, 3; De div. nom., c. 5, lect. 3 (P. 15:352a seq.); De pot., 1, 5, ad 10-11; 3, 1, ad 13.]


It seems that they belong only to practical knowledge, for

1. According to Augustine: “Ideas are the principal forms of things, according to which everything is formed that has a beginning or an end.” But, since nothing is formed by reason of speculative knowledge, ideas do not belong to this type of knowledge.

2. It was said, however, that ideas are related not only to those things which have a beginning or an end, but also to those which can have a beginning or end, as Augustine says in the same passage. Consequently, ideas are related to those things which do not exist, will not exist, and never have existed, but nevertheless can exist. Of these, God has speculative knowledge.—On the contrary, practical knowledge is said to be that knowledge according to which one knows how a thing is done, even if he never intends to do it. This is why part of medical study is called practical. Now, God knows how the things which He can make are to be made, even though He does not intend to make them. Therefore, God has practical knowledge of them. Hence, in both ways, ideas pertain to practical knowledge.

3. An idea is nothing but the exemplary form. Now, one can speak of the exemplary form only in connection with practical knowledge, because an exemplar is that upon which a thing else is modeled. Therefore, ideas pertain only to practical knowledge.

4. According to the Philosopher, the practical intellect pertains to those things whose principles are within us. But the ideas existing in the divine intellect are principles of the things that are modeled on the ideas. Therefore, they belong to the practical intellect.

5. All the forms in the intellect either are from things or have a relation to things. The latter type of forms belongs to the practical intellect; the former, to the speculative. But no forms in the divine intellect are from things, since it receives nothing from things. Therefore, the forms in the divine intellect have a relation to things, and thus belong to the practical intellect.

6. If in God an idea of the practical intellect were other than an idea of the speculative intellect, this diversity could not be based on something absolute in Him; for everything of this kind in God is one and one only; nor could it be based on a relation of identity such as exists when a thing is said to be identical with itself, because such a relation involves no plurality. Finally, it could not be based on a relation of diversity, since a cause is not multiplied even when its effects are multiple. Therefore, there is no possible way of distinguishing an idea of speculative knowledge from an idea of practical knowledge.

7. But it was said that these ideas are distinguished because a practical idea is a principle of being, while a speculative idea is a principle of knowing.—On the contrary, principles of being and of knowing are the same. Therefore, a speculative idea cannot be distinguished from a practical idea on the basis suggested.

8. God’s speculative knowledge seems to be the same as His simple knowledge. God’s simple knowledge, however, is nothing other than bare knowledge. Now, since an idea adds a relation to things, it seems that an idea does not belong to His speculative knowledge but only to His practical knowledge.

9. The end of the practical intellect is the good. Now, the reference of an idea can be determined only to a good; for, if evil occurs, that is outside of God’s intention. Consequently, an idea pertains only to the practical intellect.

To the Contrary

1. Practical knowledge extends only to those things which are to be made. But by His ideas God knows not only what things are to be made, but also those things that are made and have been made. Therefore, ideas are not restricted merely to practical knowledge.

2. God knows creatures more perfectly than an artist knows the products of his craftsmanship. But by means of the forms through which he acts, an artist, who is merely a creature, has speculative knowledge of his handicraft. How much more must this be true of God!

3. Speculative knowledge is that which considers the principles and causes of things, as well as their properties. But by ideas God knows all that can be known of things. Therefore, the divine ideas pertain not only to practical, but also to speculative knowledge.


As is said in The Soul: “Practical knowledge differs from speculative knowledge in its end.” For the end of speculative knowledge is simply truth, but the end of practical knowledge, as we read in the Metaphysics, is action. Now, some knowledge is called practical because it is directed to a work. This happens in two ways. In the first way, it is directed in act—that is, when it is actually directed to a certain work, as the form is which an artist preconceives and intends to introduce into matter. This is called actual practical knowledge and is the form by which knowledge takes place. At other times, however, there is a type of knowledge that is capable of being ordered to an act, but this ordering is not actual. For example, an artist thinks out a form for his work, knows how it can be made, yet does not intend to make it. This is practical knowledge, not actual, but habitual or virtual. At still other times, knowledge is utterly incapable of being ordered to execution. Such knowledge is purely speculative. This also happens in two ways. First, the knowledge is about those things whose natures are such that they cannot be produced by the knowledge of the knower, as is true for example, when we think about natural things. Second, it may happen that the thing known is something that is producible through knowledge but is not considered as producible; for a thing is given existence through a productive operation, and there are certain realities that can be separated in understanding although they cannot exist separately. Therefore, when we consider a thing which is capable of production through the intellect and distinguish from each other realities that cannot exist separately, this knowledge is not practical knowledge, either actual or habitual, but only speculative. This is the kind of knowledge a craftsman has when he thinks about a house by reflecting only on its genus, differences, properties, and other things of this sort which have no separate existence in the thing itseif. But a thing is considered as something capable of execution when there are considered in its regard all the things that are simultaneously required for its existence.

God’s knowledge is related to things in these four ways. Since His knowledge causes things, He knows some things by ordaining by a decree of His will that they come into existence at a certain time. Of these things He has actual practical knowledge. Moreover, He knows other things which He never intends to make, for He knows those things which do not exist, have not existed, and never will exist, as we said in the preceding question. Of these things He has actual knowledge, not actually practical knowledge, however, but merely virtually practical. Again, since He knows the things which He makes or is able to make, not only as they exist in their own act of existence, but also according to all the notes which the human intellect can find in them by analysis, He knows things that He can make even under an aspect in which they are incapable of execution. Finally, He knows certain things of which His knowledge cannot be the cause—evils, for example. Therefore, it is very true to say that there is both practical and speculative knowledge in God.

Now we must see which of the preceding ways is proper to the ideas which must be attributed to God’s knowledge. As Augustine says if we consider the proper meaning of the word itself, an idea is a form; but if we consider what the thing itself is, then an idea is an intelligible character or likeness of a thing. We find, moreover, in certain forms, a double relation: one relation to that which is informed by these forms, and this is the kind of relation that knowledge has to the knower; another to that which is outside, and this is the kind of a relation that knowledge has to what is known. This latter relationship, however, is not common to all forms, as the first is. Therefore, the word form implies only the first relation. This is why a form always has the nature of a cause, for a form is, in a sense, the cause of that which it informs—whether this informing takes place by inherence, as it does in the case of intrinsic forms, or by imitation, as it does in the case of exemplary forms. But an intelligible character and a likeness also have the second relationship, which does not give them the nature of a cause. If we speak, therefore, of an idea, considering only the notion that is properly conveyed by that word, then an idea includes only that kind of knowledge according to which a thing can be made. This is knowledge that is actually practical, or merely virtually practical, which, in some way, is speculative. On the other hand, if we call an idea an intelligible character or likeness in a wide sense, then an idea can also pertain to purely speculative knowledge. Or, if we wish to speak more formally, we should say that an idea belongs to knowledge that is practical, either actually or virtually; but an intelligible character or likeness belongs to both practical and speculative knowledge.

Answers to Difficulties

1. Augustine is referring the formative action of ideas not only to those things which are made but also to those which can be made. For, even if these latter never exist, they are, in a certain sense, known, speculatively, as is clear from what has been said.

2. This argument refers only to knowledge which is practical virtually, not actually. Nothing prevents us from calling this speculative in some sense in so far as it falls short of actual execution.

3. Although an exemplar implies a relation to something outside, it is related as a cause to that extrinsic thing. Therefore, properly speaking, it belongs to knowledge that is practical, either habitually or virtually. But an exemplar is not necessarily restricted to that which is actually practical, because a thing can be called an exemplar merely if something else can be made in imitation of it—even though this other thing is never made. The same is true of ideas.

4. The practical intellect pertains to those things whose principles are within us not in any manner whatsoever, but as being capable of being executed by us, Hence, as is evident from what we have said, we can also have speculative knowledge of those things whose causes are within us.

5. The speculative intellect is not differentiated from the practical because one has its forms from things, and the other, forms related to things, because our practical intellect, at times, also receives its forms from things, as happens, for example, when an artist, having seen some work of art, conceives a form according to which he intends to make something. Therefore, it is not necessary, either, that all the forms which pertain to the speculative intellect be received from things.

6. God’s practical and speculative ideas should not be distinguished as though they were two kinds of ideas. They are distinguished because, according to our way of understanding, to the speculative idea the practical adds a relation to an operation. It is just as we say that man adds rational to animal, even though man and animal are not two things.

7. Principles of being and principles of knowing are said to be the same, because whatever is a principle of being is also a principle of knowing. The opposite, however, is not true, since effects are not infrequently principles of knowing causes. Consequently, there is no reason why the forms of the speculative intellect should not be merely principles of knowing, while the forms of the practical intellect are principles both of knowing and of being.

8. We speak of God’s simple knowledge, not to exclude the relation which His knowledge has to what He knows, for such a relation is inseparably joined to all knowledge, but to exclude from it things that are outside the genus of knowledge. Such things are the existence of things (which is added by His knowledge of vision) and the relation of His will to the things that He knows and will produce (which is added by His knowledge of approval). It is just as we call fire a simple body, not to deny that it has essential parts, but rather to exclude foreign elements from its definition.

9. The true and the good include each other, since the true is a good and every good is true. Therefore, the good can be considered speculatively when only its truth is considered. For example, we can define the good and show what its nature is. But the good can also be considered practically if it is considered as a good, that is, as an end of a motion or operation. Consequently, it clearly does not follow that the ideas or likenesses or intelligible characters in the divine intellect belong only to practical knowledge simply because they have a relation terminating in a good.

Answers to Contrary Difficulties

1. Time has no ebb or flow in God, because His eternity, which is entirely simultaneous, includes all time. Hence, He knows the past, present, and future in the same way. This is precisely what Sirach (2 3:2 9) says: “For all things were known to the Lord God, before they were created: so also after they were perfected he beholdeth all things.” Hence, it is not necessary that an idea properly so called should exceed the limits of practical knowledge merely because the past is known by means of it.

2. If the knowledge of his handicraft which an artist, who is a creature, has by means of forms referred to action is a knowledge of his work as it can be produced, although he does not intend to produce it, then that knowledge is not speculative in all respects but is habitually practical. But that knowledge by which the artist knows, works, not, however, as he can produce them, is purely speculative. It does not contain ideas corresponding to the work, although it might possibly contain likenesses or intelligible characters of it.

3. Both speculative and practical knowledge are had by means of principles and causes. Consequently, this argument cannot prove that a science is speculative or that it is practical.



In the fourth article we ask:

Is there in god an idea of evil?

[Parallel readings: De ver., 2, 15; S.T., I, 14, 10; 15, 3, ad 1; I Sent., 36, 1, 2; C.G., I, 7 1; Quodl., XI, 2, 2.]


It seems that there is, for

1. God knows evil things in His science of simple knowledge. But the ideas belong to His science of simple knowledge in some way if idea is taken in its broader meaning of a likeness or intelligible character. Therefore, there is an idea of evil in God.

2. There is no reason why evil cannot be in a good not opposed to it. Now, the likeness of evil is not opposed to the good, just as the likeness of black is not opposed to white, because the species of contraries in the soul are not contrary. Therefore, there is no reason why there cannot be an idea or likeness of evil in God, even though He is the highest good.

3. Wherever there is any community, there is likeness. Now, from the fact that a thing is a privation of being, being can be predicated of it; hence it is said in the Metaphysics that negations and privations are called beings. Therefore, from the fact that evil is the privation of good, some likeness of it exists in God, who is the highest good.

4. Whatever is known in itself has its idea in God. But the false, like the true, is known in itself; for, just as first principles are known in themselves in their truth, so also are the opposites of these principles known in themselves in their falsity. Hence, the false has its idea in God. Now, the false is a kind of evil, just as the true is the good of the intellect, as we read in the Ethics. Therefore, evil has an idea in God.

5. Whatever has a nature has an idea in God. Now, since vice is the contrary of virtue, it has a nature which belongs to the genus of quality. Therefore, it has an idea in God. But because it is vice, it is evil. Therefore, evil has an idea in God.

6. If evil has no idea, the only reason for this is that evil is non-being. But the forms by which one knows can have non-beings as their objects. There is nothing to prevent us, for example, from imagining golden mountains or chimeras. Therefore, there is no reason why evil cannot have an idea in God.

7. If a thing has no mark upon it and exists among other things that are marked, the very lack of a mark becomes its mark, as is clear in sheep which are marked. Now, an idea is, in a way, a sign of that of which it is an idea. Therefore, since all good things have an idea in God, and evil does not, evil itself should be said to be modeled upon or formed in the likeness of an idea.

8. Whatever comes from God has its idea in Him. But evil, that is, the evil of punishment, comes from God. Therefore, it has an idea in God.

To the Contrary

1. All effects of an idea have an act of existence determined by that idea. But evil does not have a determined act of existence, since it does not have any existence, and is, instead, a privation of being. Therefore, evil does not have an idea in God.

21. According to Dionysius,3 the divine exemplar or idea is a pre-definition of the divine will. But the divine will is related only to what is good. Therefore, evil has no exemplar in God.

3. “Evil,” according to Augustine, “is the privation of form, measure, and order.” Now, Plato says that ideas themselves are beautiful. Consequently, evil can have no idea.


As pointed out previously, an idea, according to its proper nature, implies a form that is the principle of informing a thing. Consequently, since there is nothing in God that can be a principle of evil, evil cannot have an idea in God if idea is taken in its proper sense. This is likewise true if it is taken in its broad sense as meaning a likeness or intelligible character, because, as Augustine says, evil gets its name from the fact that it lacks form. Hence, since a likeness is considered as a form that is in some way shared by others, evil can have no likeness in God, because a thing is called evil for the very reason that it falls short of any participation in divinity.

Answers to Difficulties

1. God’s science of simple knowledge has as its object, not only evil, but also certain good things that do not exist, will not exist, and never did exist. It is with respect to these non-existing things that there is an idea in God’s simple knowledge, but there is no idea in it of evil things.

2.We deny that evil has an exemplar in God, not just because of its opposition, but because evil has no nature through which it could in some way participate in something that is in God and which could, therefore, be called a likeness of it.

3. That community by which something is predicated both of being and of non-being is a community merely of reason, because negations and privations are merely beings of reason. Such a community is not enough for the likeness of which we are now speaking.

4. That this principle, “No whole is greater than its part,” is false is a truth. Therefore, to know that it is false is to know something true. However, the falsity of this principle is known only by its privation of truth, just as blindness is known by its being a privation of sight.

5. Just as evil actions are good in so far as they have existence and come from God, so also in this sense are the habits good which are the principles or effects of these actions. Therefore, the fact that they are bad does not posit any nature but only a privation.

6. A thing is called a non-being for two reasons. First, because nonexistence is included in its definition; and this is why blindness is called a non-being. It is impossible to conceive, either in our imagination or in our intellect, any form for such non-beings; and evil is a non-being of this type. Second, because the non-being is not found in the realm of nature, even though the privation of existence is not included in its definition. Here, however, there is no reason why we cannot imagine such non-beings and conceive their forms.

7. Because evil has no idea in God, God knows it by means of the idea of the good opposed to it. In this way, evil is related to His knowledge as though it had an idea-not that the privation of an idea stands in the place of an idea, however, because there can be no privation in God.

8. The evil of punishment proceeds from God as part of His order of justice. Hence, it is good and has an idea in Him.



In the fifth article we ask:

Is there in God an idea of first matter?

[Parallel readings: S.T., I, 15, 3, ad 3; I Sent., 36, 1, 1.]


It seems not, for

1. According to Augustine: “An idea is a form.”’ But matter has no form. Therefore, in God there is no idea corresponding to matter.

2. Matter is merely a being in potency. Now, if an idea has to correspond to its effect, if matter has an idea, the idea of matter will be merely in potency. There is, however, no potentiality in God. Therefore, first matter has no idea in Him.

3. As they exist in God, the ideas are of those things which are or can be. But first matter does not exist separately, that is, by itself, nor can it so exist. Therefore, it has no idea in God.

4. An idea is that according to which a thing is informed. But first matter can never be informed so that a form would belong to its essence. Therefore, if it did have an idea, that idea would be useless in God. This, however, is absurd.

To the Contrary

1. Whatever derives its act of existence from God has an idea in God. Matter belongs to this class of beings. Therefore, it has an idea in God.

2. Every essence is derived from the divine essence. Therefore whatever has an essence has an exemplar in God. Matter belongs to this class of beings. Therefore.


Plato, who was the first to speak about ideas, did not posit any idea for first matter, because he asserted that the ideas were the causes of the things modeled upon them, and first matter is not caused by an idea but, instead, is its co-cause. For he said that there are two principles to be found in matter, “the great” and “the small,” but only on principle to be found in form, namely, the idea. We, however, assert that matter is caused by God. Hence, it is necessary to affirm that it exemplar in some way exists in God, since He possesses a likeness o whatever He causes.

On the other hand, if we take idea in its strict sense, we cannot say that first matter of itself has an idea in God that is distinct from th idea of the form or of the composite. For an idea, properly speaking is related to a thing in so far as it can be brought into existence; an matter cannot come into existence without a form, nor can a form come into existence without matter. Hence, properly speaking, there is no idea corresponding merely to matter or merely to form; but one idea corresponds to the entire composite—an idea that causes th whole, both its form and its matter. On the other hand, if we take idea in its broader sense as meaning an intelligible character or like ness, then both matter and form of themselves can be said to have an idea by which they can be known distinctly, even though they cannot exist separately. In this sense, there is no reason why there cannot be an idea of first matter, even taken in itself.

Answers to Difficulties

1. Although first matter has no form, there is in it an imitation of the first form; for, even though its act of existence may be very feeble, it is an imitation of the first being. For this reason, its likeness can be in God.

2. The idea and its copy need not be similar according to a conformity in nature. It is enough that one represent the other. For this reason, the idea of even composite things is simple, and, similarly, the idea of a potential being is actual.

3, Even though matter cannot exist by itself, it can be considered in itself. Thus, it can, in itself, have a likeness.

4. That argument refers to the idea inasmuch as it is actually or virtually practical, and is related to a thing in so far as it can be brought into being. First matter does not have an idea of this kind.

Answers to Contrary Difficulties

1. Matter derives its act of existence from God only in so far as it is part of a composite. In this sense, it does not, properly speaking, have an idea in God.

2. Similarly, matter does not properly have an essence. It is, rather, part of the essence of the whole.



In the sixth article we ask:

Are there ideas in god of those things which do not exist, will not exist, and have not existed?

[Parallel readings: S.T., I, 15, 3, ad 2. See also readings given for q. 2, a. 8.]


It seems not, for

1. Nothing has an idea in God unless it has a determined act of existence. But that which does not exist, never has existed, and never will exist has no determinate act of existence at all. Therefore, neither does it have an idea in God.

2. But it was said that, even though it does not have a determinate act of existence in itself, it has, nevertheless, such a determinate act in God.—On the contrary, a thing is determinate in so far as it is distinguished from another. But all things as they exist in God are one and are not distinct from each other. Therefore, even in God it does not have a determinate act of existence.

3. According to Dionysius, exemplars are those good acts of the divine will which cause and predetermine things. But the things which are not, have not been, nor will be were never predetermined by the divine will. Therefore, they do not have an idea or exemplar in God.

4. An idea is ordained to the production of a thing. If there is, therefore, an idea of something which will never be given existence, it seems that such an idea is useless. But this would be absurd. Therefore.

To the Contrary

1. God knows things by means of ideas. But as we said above. He knows those things which are not, have not been, nor will be. Therefore, there is an idea in God of all that does not exist, has not existed and never will exist.

2. A cause does not depend on its effect. Now, an idea is a cause o the existence of things. Therefore, it does not depend in any way on their existence. Consequently, there can be ideas of those things which do not exist, have not existed, and never will exist.


Properly speaking, an idea belongs to practical knowledge that is not only actually but also habitually practical. Therefore, since God has virtually practical knowledge of those things which He could make, even though He never makes them or never will make them, there must be ideas of those things which are not, have not been, nor will be. But these ideas will not be the same as those of the things which are, have been, or will be, because the divine will determines to pro duce the things that are, have been, and will be, but not to produce those which neither are, have been, nor will be. The latter, therefore have, in a certain sense, indeterminate ideas.

Answers to Difficulties

1. Even though that which never existed, does not exist, and will no exist lacks a determined act of existence in itself, it exists determinately in God’s knowledge.

2. It is One thing to be in God, another to be in His knowledge. Evil is not in God; it is, however, contained in His knowledge. Now, a,, thing is said to be in God’s knowledge if God knows it; and because God knows all things distinctly, as we said in the previous question, things are distinct in His knowledge even though in Him they are one,

3. Even though God may never will to bring into existence things of this class, whose ideas He possesses, He wills that He be able to produce them and that He possess the knowledge necessary for producing them. Consequently, Dionysius is saying that the nature of an exemplar demands, not a will that is predefining and effecting, but merely a will that can define and effect.

4. Those ideas are not directed by God’s knowledge to the production of something in their likeness, but rather to this, that something can be produced in their likeness.



In the seventh article we ask:

Are there in God ideas of accidents?

[Parallel readings: S.T., I, 15, 3, ad 4; I Sent., 36, 1, 1.]


It seems not, for

1. An idea is for knowing and causing things. But an accident is known by means of its substance, and is caused by the principles of the substance. Hence, it need not have an idea in God.

2. But it was stated that the existence, not the essence, of an accident is known by means of its subject.—On the contrary, the definition of a thing signifies what it is, especially by giving its genus. But, in the definitions of accidents, as is said in the Metaphysics, are placed substance and the subject, in the sense in which subject is used instead of the genus, as the Commentator notes. For example, we say: “Snub means a curved nose.” Consequently, we know the essence of an accident by knowing the substance.

3. Whatever has an idea participates in it. But accidents do not participate in anything, because participation is proper only to substances since they alone can receive something. Accidents, therefore, do not have ideas.

4. In regard to those things that are predicated as prior and subsequent, in Plato’s opinion an idea should not be taken as common, e.g., as applied to numbers and geometrical figures. This is clear from the Metaphysics and Ethics. The reason for this is that the first is, as it were, the exemplar of the second. Now, being is predicated of substance and accident as prior and subsequent. Therefore, an accident does not have an idea, but has substance in the place of an idea.

To the Contrary

1. Whatever is caused by God has its idea in God. Now, God causes not only substances but accidents as well. Therefore, accidents have ;in idea in God.

2. Every inferior of a genus should be reduced to the first of that gentis, just as everything that is hot is reduced to the heat of fire. Now, as Augustine says: “Ideas are principal forms.” Consequently, since accidents are forms, it seems that they have ideas in God.


As the Philosopher says, Plato, who first introduced the notion of ideas, posited ideas, not for accidents, but only for substances. The reason for this was that Plato thought that the ideas were the proximate causes of things. Hence, when he found a proximate cause other than an idea for a thing, he held that the thing did not have an idea. This also is the reason why he said that there is no common idea for those things that are predicated as being prior and subsequent, but that the first is the idea of the second. Dionysius also mentions this opinion, attributing it to a certain Clement the Philosopher, who said that superior beings were the exemplars for inferior. Using this argument, namely, that accidents are caused directly by substances, Plato did not posit ideas of accidents.

On the other hand, since we affirm that God is the direct cause of each and every thing because He works in all secondary causes and since all secondary effects are results of His pre-definition, we posit ideas in Him not only of first beings but also of second beings, and, consequently, both of substances and of accidents, but of different accidents in different ways.

First, there are proper accidents, which are caused by the principles of their subjects and never have existence apart from their subjects. These accidents are brought into existence together with their subject by one operation. Consequently, since an idea, properly speaking, is a form of something that can be made, considered precisely under this aspect, there will not be distinct ideas of such accidents. There will be only one idea, that of the subject with all its accidents—just as an architect has one form of a house and of all the accidents that pertain to a house as such, and by means of this one form brings into being the house and all its accidents, such as its square shape and the like.

There are other accidents, however, that are not inseparable from their subject and do not depend on its principles. These are brought into existence by an operation other than that by which the subject is produced. For example, it does not follow from the fact that a man is made a man that he is a grammarian; this is the result of another operation. Now, the ideas in God of such accidents are distinct from the idea of the subject, just as the form of a picture of a house, which an artist conceives, is distinct from the form he conceives of the house itself.

If we take idea in its broader sense, however, as meaning a likeness, then we can say that both types of accidents have distinct ideas in God, because He can know each one in itself distinctly. This is why the Philosopher says that, with respect to their manner of being known, accidents should, like substances, have ideas; but with respect to the other reasons why Plato posited exemplars, namely, to be the causes of generation and of being, it seems that only substances have ideas.

Answers to Difficulties

1. As we said above, there is in God an idea not only of first effects but also of second effects. Hence, even though accidents have their act of existence by means of substances, this does not prevent their having ideas.

2. An accident can bg taken in two ways. First, it can be taken in the abstract. In this way, it is considered according to its proper nature, a genus and species are given it, and its subject is not placed in its definition as a genus but rather as a specific difference. In this sense we say: “Snubness is a curvature of the nose.” On the other hand, an accident can be taken in the concrete. In this way, it is considered according as it has an accidental unity with its subject. Hence, neither a genus nor a species is assigned to it. Here it is true that the subject is put in the place of the genus in the definition of an accident.

3. Although an accident is not that which participates, it is, however, a participation. Hence, it is clear that in God there is an idea or likeness corresponding to it.

4. The response to this difficulty is clear from what has been said.



In the eighth article we ask:

Are there in God ideas of singulars?

[Parallel readings: S.T., I, 15, 3, ad 4; De ver., 2, aa. 4-5.]


It seems not, for

1. Singulars are potentially infinite in number. Now, in God there is an idea, not merely of what exists, but also of what can exist. If, therefore, there were ideas of singulars in God, there would be an infinite number of ideas in Him. This seems absurd, since they could not be actually infinite.

2. If singulars have ideas in God, either there is one idea for the individual and the species, or there are distinct ideas for them. If there were distinct ideas, then there would be many ideas in God for one thing, because the idea of the species is also that of the individual. On the other hand, if there is but one and the same idea for the individual and the species, then, since all the individuals of the same species have the same idea, there would be only one idea for all, and, consequently, singulars would not have distinct ideas in God.

3. Many singulars happen by chance. Now, such beings are not predefined. Since, as is evident from what has been said previously, namely, that an idea postulates pre-definition, it seems that not all singulars have an idea in God.

4. Certain singulars are combinations of two species. For example, a mule is a combination of a horse and an ass. Now, if such things had ideas in God, it would seem that there would be two ideas for each one. This seems absurd, since it is unreasonable to affirm multiplicity in the cause and unity in the effect.

To the Contrary

1. Ideas are in God for the purpose of knowing and making. But God is one who knows and makes singulars. Therefore, there are in God ideas of singulars.

2. Ideas are directed to the existence of things. But singulars have acts of existence more truly than universals do, because the latter subsist only in singulars. Therefore, it is more necessary for singulars to have exemplars than it is for universals.


Plato did not posit ideas of singulars but only of species. There were two reasons for this. First, according to him, ideas did not cause the matter but only the forms of things here below. Now, the principle of individuation is matter, and it is because of the form that each singular is placed under a species. Consequently, his ideas did not correspond to a singular in so far as it is singular but only by reason of its species. His second reason may have been this: An idea is related only to those things that are intended directly, as is clear from what was said. But the intention of nature is principally to preserve the species. Consequently, even though generation terminates in this or in that man, the intention of nature is simply to generate man. For this reason, the Philosopher also says that final causes should be assigned for the accidents common to a species, but not for the accidents found in singulars. For the latter, only efficient and material causes can be assigned; consequently, an idea does not correspond to a singular but to a species. Using the same argument, moreover, Plato did not posit-‘ ideas for genera, alleging that nature does not intend to produce the form of a genus but only that of a species. We, however, assert that God is the cause of singulars, both of their form and of their matter. We also assert that all individual things are determined by His divine providence. Hence, we must also posit ideas for all singulars.

Answers to Difficulties

1. Ideas are multiplied only in so far as they have different relations to things. As Avicenna says, however, it is not contradictory to multiply conceptual relations infinitely.

2. If we speak of idea in the proper sense, namely, inasmuch as it is the idea of a thing in so far as that thing is capable of being produced, then there is but one idea for the singular, the species, the genus, and for whatever is individuated in that singular, because Socrates the man and Socrates the animal do not have separate acts of existence. If, however, we are speaking of idea in its broader sense of a likeness or intelligible character, then, since the considerations of Socrates as Socrates, as a man, and as an animal all differ, a number of ideas or likenesses will correspond to him in this respect.

3. Although some things may happen by chance with respect to their proximate agent, nothing happens by chance with respect to the agent who knows all things beforehand.

4. The mule has a separate species, halfway between that of a horse and that of an ass. Therefore, the mule is not in two species but in one. This fact is due to the mixture of seeds, because the generative powers of the male cannot bring the material provided by the female to the perfection of his own species, since the material is outside his own species; so, instead, the male brings it to a term that is close to his species. For this reason, a separate idea is assigned to the mule and to the horse.