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Paul Gerard Horrigan, Ph.D., 2009.

Relation as Such
Even though normally, when we refer to relation in philosophy, we are talking about the
predicament or category relation (which is one of the nine accidents enumerated by the
Stagirite), relation, as such, does not imply anything real, nor does relation, as such, imply any
imperfection. Relation, as such, does not imply anything real (there are what are called logical
relations), for as Aquinas writes, relation differs from the other genera in this that the latter by
their very nature imply that they are something [real1] as for instance, quantity implies something
real. But relation does not imply anything real in its very nature; hence there are relations which
do not exist in the order of reality but only in the logical order, which does not happen in the
other genera.2
Relation, as such, does not imply any imperfection, since the essence of a relation merely
implies a reference to another; it does not imply that this reference is something accidental.
Therefore, there are not just predicamental or categorical relations, which are accidents and
therefore imply imperfection, but we learn in supernatural theologys study of the Divine Trinity
that there are subsistent relations. The concept of relation abstracts from imperfection: The
concept of relation in itself, by which we mean relation as abstracted from predicamental or
categorical, in no way designates an accident, for the to other is not indicative of inherence. In
itself, therefore, the concept of relation abstracts from all imperfection, and that is why we are
able to speak, in supernatural theology, of divine relations, which are not accidents but subsisting
relations.3 Aquinas states: But if we consider the essential elements of whatsoever genus, each
and every other genus except to another (relation) connotes imperfectionAnd consequently
there remain only two modes of predicating of God; that of substance and that of relation.4
Division of Relations
Logical Relations and Real Relations. Relations can either be real relations or relations of
reason (logical relations). A relation is real if it exists independently of the mind, as, for example,
the relation of father to son. A relation is logical if it depends upon the consideration of the mind,
as, for example, is the case in the logical relation between the subject and predicate of a
proposition. The predicamental or categorical relations studied in metaphysics are real relations.5

Quodlibet., 1, a. 2.
Quodlibet., 9, a. 4. Cf. Summa Theologiae, I, q. 28, a. 1.
H. RENARD, The Philosophy of Being, Bruce, Milwaukee, 1950, p. 252.
In I Sent., d. 8, q. 4, a. 3.
Joseph Owens writes: For St. Thomas, a real relation in creatures is confined to the one category of relation:
every real relation is in a determined genus; but non-real relations can make the circuit of all being(De Veritate,
q. 21, a. 1, ad 3. For him, something relative secundum esse is a relation, either real or merely conceptual; while
something relative secundum dici is not a relation, but is something absolute that is related to something else either
by a superadded real distinction or by a relation of reason. See In I Sent., d. 30, q. 1, a. 3, ad 4 (ed. Mandonnet, I,
709); De Potentia, q. 7, a. 10, ad 11(J. OWENS, An Elementary Christian Metaphysics, Bruce, Milwaukee, 1963,

Mutual Relations and Non-Mutual Relations. Relations are also divided into mutual
relations and non-mutual relations. Shallo writes: A real relation is called mutual, if both
subject and term are really referred to each other, on account of a real foundation in both, e.g., A
and B may be mutually referred to each other on account of a similarity of features, character,
etc., in both; teacher and pupil are mutually related on account of a continuous new exercise and
activity on both sides in communicating and receiving knowledge.
A real relation is non-mutual, if the basis or the foundation of the reference is found in
one of the extremes. Such is the relation between the Creator and the creature. The creature has a
real relation to God, founded in its complete dependence on Him for all that it has. God, on the
contrary, is not really referred to the creature, for the creatures existence implies no new reality
in God which could be the basis of a real relation on His part.6
H. D. Gardeil explains: The accidental division is that of mutual and non-mutual. A
mutual relation is bilateral, that is, bilaterally real: to the real relation of subject to term
corresponds a real relation of term to subject, as father to son and inversely. The non-mutual
relation is unilateral, real from one side, logical from the other. In knowledge, for example, there
is a real relation of intellect to thing known, for the intellect depends upon the thing for its
knowledge; but the relation of thing to the speculative intellect is only a relation of reason (or

p. 189). In their critique of transcendental relations Tomas Alvira, Luis Clavell, and Tomas Melendo state: Since
the 15th century, the term transcendental relation has been appearing in some philosophical works. It is supposed to
be an order towards another, which is included in the very essence of something, e.g., the order of potency towards
act, of matter towards form, of the will towards the good, and of the intelligence towards being. What is supposed to
be involved here is not an accidental relation but one which is identical with the very essence of some reality. Some
authors even go as far as asserting that the relation of creatures to God ought to be included within this type of
relation and not among the accidents at all. St. Thomas Aquinas himself, however, maintains that it is an accident
creatures have as a consequence of receiving the act of being from God.
The use of the term transcendental relation gives rise to a serious difficulty. It is tantamount to acknowledging
the reality of a relation identical with the absolute content of things, which is only possible in the intratrinitarian
relations identical with the divine essence. Besides, in the examples mentioned (potency, matter, will and
intelligence), it would be quite improper to speak of relations, (i.e., of real relations), since none of the realities
mentioned is a being properly speaking, but only a constitutive principle, and cannot therefore be an apt subject of a
relation.(T. ALVIRA, L. CLAVELL, T. MELENDO, Metaphysics, Sinag-Tala, Manila, 1991, p. 70).
The position against transcendental relation, advocated by Owens, Alvira, Clavell, Melendo, and also by
Carlos Cardona in his La relazione della creatura a Dio, in C. Cardona, Metafisica del bene e del male, Ares, Milan,
1991, pp. 39-61), works upon the monumental study on relation by A. Krempel (A. KREMPEL, La doctrine de la
relation chez St. Thomas dAquin, Vrin, Paris, 1952). Joseph Owens gives a pro-Krempel critique of transcendental
relations in his An Elementary Christian Metaphysics, explaining: Matter, essence, faculties, for instance, though
absolute, can be understood only as principles, and so only in relation to substance, to being, to operation. The
intellect cannot conceive these principles except as related by reason to their corresponding actualities. It does not as
it were devise the relations and then attribute them to their subjects, as it attributes the relation of species to an
already known man, but has to conceive the subjects as related in its very first notion of them as subjects. In later
Scholasticism this situation gave rise to the mistaken concept of a transcendental relation, that is, of a real relation
really identical with an absolute reality. It was called transcendental because it was regarded as really present in
various categories. It became solidified in the Thomistic tradition through John of St. Thomas (1589-1644). It makes
the impossible identity of absolute reality and relative reality in creatures. On its history, see Krempel, pp. 645-670;
cf. pp. 4, 170-179, and 361-366(J. OWENS, op. cit., p. 189).
M. SHALLO, Lessons in Scholastic Philosophy, Peter Reilly, Philadelphia, 1916, p. 156.

logical), because the thing is in no way affected simply by being known. Again, the relation is
real from creature to Creator, but no real in reverse order, from Creator to creature.7
Categorical or Predicamental Relation
Categorical or predicamental relation8 is that accident whose nature is a reference or
order of one substance towards another. It is that reference of one being towards another being,
the order that a being has with respect to other beings distinct from it. Examples of relations
include paternity, sonship and filiation. Paternity, for example, is the accident that links father to
son. Although it is based on the fact that the father gave life to his son, paternity is itself no more
than a mere relation or reference which does not intrinsically add a new characteristic or property
to the fathers substance.
Subject, Term, and Foundation
In a real predicamental relation we distinguish between the following: 1. the subject,
(which is the person or thing in which the relation resides; it is that which is related); 2. the term
(to which the subject is related); and 3. the foundation for the relation (or the basis of the order
between the subject and the term; it is that because of which the subject is related to the term). In
the case of relation of sonship, for example, the subject is the son, the terminus will be the father
and mother (parents), and the foundation or basis would be generation (what causes the son to be
related to his parents is their having begotten him).
Conditions for a Real Relation
Five Conditions for a Real Relation. There are five conditions for a relation to be real,
namely, a real subject, a real foundation or basis, a real term, a real distinction between subject
and term, and lastly, things related as subject and term must be in the same order or else the
relation will not be real in the subject and term: (1) On the part of the subject related, the subject
is real. Paternity is a real relation because the father is a real subject. (2) The foundation of the
relation is real. Thus the father generating is the real foundation for paternity. (3) The term of the
relation is real. The offspring as the term of the relation of paternity is real. (4) The term must be
really distinct from the subject of the relation. When the subject is related to itself, the relation is
logical such as the relation between Peter and the man called Peter. (5) The things related as
subject and term must be in the same order, otherwise the relation is not real in subject and term.

H. D. GARDEIL, Introduction to the Philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas, vol. 4 (Metaphysics), B. Herder, St. Louis
1967, p. 180.
Studies on relation: N. D. GINSBURG, Metaphysical Relations and St. Thomas Aquinas, The New
Scholasticism, 1941, pp. 238-254 ; C. G. KOSSEL, Principles of St. Thomas Distinction Between the Esse and
Ratio of Relation, The Modern Schoolman, 1945-46, pp. 19-36, 93-107 ; C. G. KOSSEL, St. Thomas Theory of
the Causes of Relation, The Modern Schoolman, 1945-1946, pp. 151-172 ; C. G. KOSSEL, The Problem of
Relation in Some Non-Scholastic Philosophies, The Modern Schoolman, 23 (1946), pp. 68-81 ; S. BRETON,
Lesse in et lesse ad dans la mtaphisique de la relation, Angelicum, Rome, 1951 ; A. KREMPEL, La
doctrine de la relation chez St. Thomas dAquin, Vrin, Paris, 1952 ; C. CARDONA, La relazione della creatura a
Dio, in C. Cardona, Metafisica del bene e del male, Ares, Milan, 1991, pp. 39-61 ; F. WILHELMSEN, Creation as a
Relation in St. Thomas Aquinas, in F. Wilhelmsen, Being and Knowing, Preserving Christian Publications, Albany,
NY, 1995, pp. 135-168.

For example, the relation of hearing is not in the same order in respect to subject and term. For
the subject hears the sound but the sound does not hear the subject. This relation of hearing is
real on the part of the subject hearing. So too creatures and the Creator are really related on the
part of creatures. Creatures depend on the Creator to be and to act. But the relation of Creator
and creature is not real because God cannot be the real recipient of the categorical relation
because He does not stand in potency to anything as Pure Act.9
Types of Real Relations
Types of Real Relations. There are as many types of relations as there are distinct classes
of bases on which they depend: (a) Relations according to dependence in being arise whenever
the very existence of one reality depends upon another. The most proper case is the relation of
the creature to the Creator. Creatures receive being from God, and this gives rise to their real
relation to God. A similar relation exists between human knowledge and the objects known,
since our knowledge is measured by external reality and adjusts itself to it. In both examples, the
relation is not mutual. Only the relations of the creature to the Crator, and of knowledge to the
known reality, are real. The inverse relations are only relations of reason: God does not depend
on creatures, and things are independent of mans knowing them.
(b) Mutual relations based on action and passion, such as that of a son to his parents
(sonship) and of the parents to the son (paternity), that of the ruler to the citizens (government),
and of the subjects to the authority (submission to authority). These relations are mutual since
they are rooted in the same basis (transient causality) which entails a modification of both
extremes: action in the one and passion in the other. This is the root of the distinction between
these relations and those arising from dependence in being. The latter are not mutual, since in
their case, there is no real modification in one of the extremes.
(c) Relations according to fittingness based on quantity, quality, and on the substance.
Relations based on quantity arise because certain quantities are used as measurement for others.
Relations of quantitative equality or disequality, relations of distance, and the like, are examples
of this type. One country, for instance, is twice the size of another. These dimensive relations are
mutual relations, since either of the extremes has a quantity capable of being measured by that of
the other.
Analogously, relations based on quality are relations of qualitative similarity or
dissimilarity. For instance, two things can be similar or dissimilar in terms of whiteness,
hardness, and any other quality.
Relations based on substance are the relations of identity and of diversity. For example:
two drops of water are identical substances, and so are two birds, two men, and so forth.10

K. DOUGHERTY, Metaphysics, Graymoor Press, Peekskill, New York, 1965, p. 192.

T. ALVIRA, L. CLAVELL, T. MELENDO, op. cit., pp. 69-70.


Real Distinction of Predicamental or Categorical Relations from Their Subject,

Term and Foundation
Predicamental or categorical relations, which are accidents, are really distinct from their
subject, term and foundation: Predicamental relations are really distinct from their subject
because the subject and the relation are related to one another as real potency and act. Moreover,
things which can be separated are really distinct. Now predicamental relations can be separated
from their subject; for instance, a man will acquire a relation of paternity by an act of
reproduction and lose it by the death of his offspring.11
Predicamental relations are really distinct from their term. For the subject and the term
of a predicamental relation are really distinct; the relation is a determination of the subject; hence
it follows that the relation is really distinct from the term.
Predicamental relations are really distinct from their foundation. For otherwise there
could be no question of a real relation, because the foundation of a relation is always something
absolute,12 whereas the relation itself is totally relative. Hence, either there are no real relations
or they are really distinct from their foundation.13 Moreover, sometimes it is possible to separate
the relation from its foundation. For example, between identical twins there is a real relation of
similarity based upon their physiognomy. The death of one will destroy this similarity, but its
foundation, this particular physiognomy, will remain in the survivor.14
Kants Denial of Real Relations and Merciers Refutation of Kant
True to his transcendental idealism, Immanuel Kant maintained that relation was but an a
priori subjective category of the mind, not an extra-subjective really existing accidental category
or predicament. Contrary to this position Mercier defends the existence of real relations and
critiques the Kantian position: The proof that real relations exist lies in the fact that, whether we
think or not, two real things which each measure a yard in length are equal, that a relation of
equality exists between them; that two twin-brothers are really alike, apart from what anybody
thinks. Hence in nature itself there do exist real relations. The universe is made up of individual
beings that are not entirely absolute but which are interconnected with one another, long before
we have any knowledge of them, by a number of relations that constitute the order of the
Opposed to this theory of relation stands Kants idealistic conception of relation as a
subjective category of the mind which appertains to phenomena only as the mind introduces it
into them. The argument he uses to support this view is that without a subjective operation of the
understanding we can never perceive a relation, there can be no relation for us; or, in other
words, because we are never aware of a relation except by a mental action, therefore it must be

Cf. In I Sent., d. 21, q. 1, a. 2.

One real relation cannot be the foundation of another real relation because a relation needs to be supported by
something more perfect in being than itself. Moreover, if a relation could give rise to another real relation, this
relation again could give rise to a third, and so on to infinity.
Cf. De Potentia Dei, q. 7, a. 9.
H. J. KOREN, Introduction to the Science of Metaphysics, B. Herder, St. Louis, 1965, pp. 221-222.

that the mind introduces into phenomena the relations and laws which govern them. This
argument, however, sins through being ambiguous and is besides erroneous. In the first place,
whilst it may be true that a relation does not exist for us, that we do not know it as long as we
fail to apprehend its two terms and to perceive its foundation, nevertheless there are relations the
terms and foundation of which are anterior to any thought and in consequence are not due to the
mind. In the second place, besides all the arguments that militate against idealism in general, we
may urge against this idealistic theory of relation a special difficulty. Every relation considered a
priori, without application to anything real, is capable of being either affirmative or negative.
How then does it happen that in certain particular cases we adhere to one of such alternatives
instead of to the other? What, for instance, makes us judge that two particular phenomena are
alike rather than not alike? Even if the faculty of judging likeness and difference is an internal
law of the mind, the particular applications of such a generic faculty can only come from
external things themselves. And if this is so, it must be allowed that some relations have a real,
objective foundation that is independent of our minds and of its modes of knowing.15
Logical Relations or Relations of Reason
Logical Relations or Relations of Reason. We shall briefly consider relations of
reason, that is, relations that do not exist outside the mind. The study of this type of relations
will shed more light on the existence of real relations.
Every relation of reason lacks one or more of the elements required for a real relation.
One of the extremes (or both) may not be real, or one may not really be distinct from the other,
of the relation may not have a real basis in the subject. Some examples of this type of relations
are: (a) Relations among concepts, studied by Logic, such as the relation of species to genus, or
that of species to the individual.
(b) Then there are relations of identity, as when we say that something is identical to
itself. In this case, we consider the same reality as though it were two. Anything is certainly
identical to itself, but this is not a real relation, since only only one extreme exists.
(c) There are relations with unreal extremes. We occasionally relate two things, one of
which, at least, is not real, as when we compare the present with the future, or two future events
with one another, or being with nothingness.
(d) There are relations of reason which arise when there is no real reciprocal relation
between two things. For example, the external world does not undergo any change when it is
known by man, since the act of knowing is confined to mans interior being. Consequently, the
object known is not altered by any relation towards the knowing subject; in contrast, there arises
a real relation of the subject with respect to the object.
The relations which the intellect attributes to God with respect to creatures are also
relations of reason. Evidently, all creatures have a real relation of dependence on God for He is
their Creator. However, the inverse relation is not a real one because God cannot be a subject of

D. MERCIER, Manual of Modern Scholastic Philosophy, vol. 1, Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner and Co., London,
1938, pp. 502-503.

a relation, for the simple reason that He has no accidents. Besides, the presumed basis of the
latter relation (God to creatures) Gods creative activity is not an accident distinct from the
Divine Essence.
The fact that there is no real relation towards creatures in God, does not mean that He is
a distant being who is not concerned about the universe. It simply implies that His being does not
depend on the world, and that no accident exists in Him by which He could be ordered towards
creatures. God is, however, intimately present in all creatures, conferring the act of being on
them. His nearness is much greater and closer than that which could be established through an
accidental relation.16


T. ALVIRA, L. CLAVELL, T. MELENDO, op. cit., pp. 71-72.