Francisco Suárez: Metaphysical Themes

Course Information:


Francisco Suárez (1548-1617) was a shining star of the Second Scholastic, the flowering of philosophy conducted in an Aristotelian idiom centered on the Iberian peninsula in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.  His Metaphysical Disputations (1597) is a massive compendium of medieval learning met wit sharp, original analytic philosophy.  Its 54 disputations cover a staggering range of topics over some 2,000 pages, each disputation effectively a mini-treatise unto itself.  Because he understands metaphysics as 'the study of being insofar as it is real being' (DM I 1.26), Suárez focusses squarely on issues in ontology.  In his hands, however, this focus insinuates itself into a wealth of topics: the theory of categories; terms or properties which transcend the categories, including unity, truth, and goodness; causation; substantial unity; universals and particulars; the distinctive characters of infinite and finite being; and even, most engagingly, a topic properly outside the scope of metaphysics, beings of reason (entia rationis), which—while not studied by metaphysics proper due to their failure to exist—intrude in intriguing ways on the mind of metaphysician, thus commanding her attention.

Of this great wealth, after a brief introduction to the nature of the discipline of metaphysics as Suárez conceives it (DM I), we will focus on three topics primarily: (i) universals; (ii) substantial unity; and (iii) beings of reason.  In addressing (ii), we will have occasion to move outside of the Metaphysical Disputations, into Suárez’s De Anima.

Office Hours and Contact Information

  • Office: Malloy Hall 327
  • Office hours: W 8.30-10.30 and by appt.
  • e-mail: 
    • N.b. I prefer e-mail to telephone as a manner of student contact.  I make an effort to answer student e-mails promptly, but please be aware that I measure promptness in this domain in days rather than hours or minutes. 

Required Texts

  • Suárez, On Formal and Universal Unity (Disputation VI), trans.. James F. Ross,  (Marquette: 1965).
  • Suárez,  On the Formal Cause of Substance (Disputation XV),  trans. John Kronen and Jeremiah Reedy (Marquette:  2000) 
  • Suárez, Selections from De Anima, trans. John Kronen and Jeremiah Reedy (Munich, Philosophia: 2012)
  • Suárez, On Beings of Reason  (Disputation LIV), trans. John P. Doyle (Marquette: 1995)

Optional Texts

  • Suárez, On Efficient Causality ( Disputations XVII-XIX), trans. A. J. Freddoso ( Yale: 1994) 
  • Suárez, On Creation, Conservation, and Concurrence (Disputations XX-XXII), trans. A. J. Freddoso (South Bend, St. Augustine’s Press: 2002)
  • Suárez,  On Individuation (Disputation V), trans. Jorge Gracia (Marquette: 1982)
  •  Suárez, On the Essence of Finite Being as Such, on the Existence of at Essence and their Distinction (Disputation XXXI), trans. Norman J. Wells (Marquette: 1983)

Requirements and Protocol:

Students write two essays, the first at mid-term, of about 3,000 words, and the second, at the term’s end, in the neighbourhood of 5,000 words.  In addition, graduates will offer a seminar presentation in conjunction with their mid-term essay. 

The due dates are:   

  • Essay One: 13 October
  • Essay Two: 11 December

These papers are to be submitted electronically in a main-stream word-processing format or (if you use something non-standard) as .pdf documents to:  Papers will be accepted until 17.00 on their due dates.

Attendance is expected at all seminar meetings.

Topics and Reading Schedule:

  • Weeks One-Two:  The Scope of Metaphysics
    • An Outline of DM
    • DM I  (Shane Duarte has kindly made his excellent draft translation of DM I available to us.  Hard copies are available from me  N.b. that this draft may not be circulated or reproduced in any format.  If you accept a hard copy, you thereby accept these terms.)
  • Weeks Three-Six: Formal Unity and Universals
    • DM VI
  • Weeks Seven-Ten: Substance and Substantial Unity
    • DM XV
      • Week Seven: guest presentation by Sydney Penner (Asbury College)
      • Week Nine: Autumn Break
      • Week Ten: guest presentation by Tad Schmaltz (University of Michigan)
  • Weeks Eleven-Thirteen: Substance and Substantial Unity
    • Suárez, Selections from De Anima
      • N.b. No seminar meeting on 9 November
  • Week Fourteen: Thanksgiving Holiday
  • Week Fifteen: Entia Rationis
    • DM LIV
  • Week Sixteen: Quodlibetal

Some General Resources for the Study of Suárez:

  • Those altogether unfamiliar with Suárez might like to begin by reviewing the entries on him in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (here) and the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy (here).
  • Easily the best general resource is the Suárez site established and maintained by the estimable Sydney Penner.  Penner provides links to Suarez’s works, both in Latin and in translation; he has also assembled a very useful bibliography.
  • Freddoso offers a lively and philosophically alert orientation to Suárez’s thought in his expansive introduction to On Creation, Conservation, and Concurrence (Disputations XX-XXII)
  • Three general anthologies have appeared of late:
    • The Philosophy of Suárez, edd. H. Lagerlund and B. Hill (Oxford University Press: 2012)
    • Interpreting Suárez: Critical Readings, ed. D. Schwartz (Cambridge University Press: 2012)
    • A Companion to Suárez, edd. V. Sallas and R. Fastiggi (Brill: 2015)

Course Lecture Slides: 

© Christopher Shields 2014