Suarez, Francisco. On The Various Kinds of Distinctions. Trans. Cyril Vollert, SJ. Milwaukee, WI: Marquette University Press, 2013.
Real distinction: this is the most basic distinction between thing and thing.
Mental distinction: it doesn’t formally intervene between the things designated. It is a distinction that exists in our minds (Suarez 18). We can divide the distinction in two
A distinction of reasoning reason: it arises in our intellect as we reflect on things
A distinction of reasoned reason: this has a stronger foundation in reality. This distinction pre-exists in reality prior to our reflecting on it. The whole reality of the object is not fully represented in our minds (19). This is sort of how we would reflect on God’s essence and attributes.
Scotus on formal distinctions: there is an actual distinction in things that is neither a mental nor a real distinction (24). Scotus is saying something like there are aspects that are distinct from the actual thing by reason of the definition, yet also precede the mental reflection on it (26). Suarez likes what this view is trying to say, but he doesn’t like the name “formal distinction.” For example, in the Trinity “paternity” and “filiation” are not essentially distinct, yet they are formally distinct “in the objective notions of their relations” (27).
Suarez now introduces his “modal distinction.” These modes are positive and modify the entitites (28).Suarez defines mode as “something affecting quantity and, as it were, ultimately determining its state and manner of existing, without adding to it a new proper entity, but merely modifying a pre-existing entity” (28). It obtains between quantity and inherence of quantity in a substance. There is a distinction between six inches and the inherence of six inches in a pen.
When a mode inheres in an entity, it doesn’t add a new entity. Modes are “thinner” distinctions and they are always conjoined to the entity (32).
This is all very technical, but there is a big theological payoff. In the Trinity the divine essence is not separable from the property of “paternity,” yet at the same time they aren’t the same thing nor are they two different things. Further, they aren’t mental distinctions, since they already have a reality prior to my mental reflecting on it.
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