[4.7.1] Philip the Chancellor on Transcendentals

Philip the Chancellor (1160?-1236 AD) in the work Summa de bono introduces a theory of transcendentals, according to which:

  • transcendentals are properties to be found in all and every thing: being, unity, good, truth
  • they are convertible to each other, are coextensional meaning that “
  • whatever has being also has unity, truth, and goodness”,
  • the division of the transcendentals exists only in the human mind.

The following OntoUML diagram presents Philip the Chancellor’s model of the transcendentals:

Philip the Chancellor on transcendentals
PropertyPropertycharacterizes Category
CategoryAristotelian categories, like Genus, Species (see [1.3.2])
ThingA thing is an individual creature (otherwise particular).inherits from Category
Transcendental“Certain properties fall into none of Aristotle’s categories; rather they are properties of all of the things to which the categories are applicable. For this reason, these properties are said to “transcend” the categories [transcendentals]. inherits form Property
Being“The concept of being is fundamental in that the concepts of the other transcendentals presuppose it.”subkind of Transcendental; characterizes (each and every) Thing
Unity, Good, Truth“Although there is some variation in what is counted as a transcendental, the list generally included being, unity, truth, and goodness. Thus, everything that falls into any of Aristotle’s categories is a being, has a certain sort of unity, and is true and good to a certain extent.
Not only do these properties transcend the categories and as a result, apply to everything classified by the categories, but they are held to be convertible with each other as well. This could mean one of two things. The transcendentals could be coextensional, so that whatever has being also has unity, truth, and goodness. This leaves open the possibility that the transcendentals are separate and distinct from one another. The second option of the convertibility thesis involves a stronger claim, namely, the idea that the transcendentals differ from one another only in concept, not in reality. Unity, truth, and goodness add nothing to a particular being over and above what is already there; everything that is a being is also one, true, and good in virtue of the very same characteristics. […] The various transcendentals do not differ in reality, only in concept. The concept of being is fundamental in that the concepts of the other transcendentals presuppose it. However, the concepts of all of the other transcendentals add a certain basic notion to the notion of being in order to differentiate them from being (see Aertsen 2012, MacDonald 1992). This basic notion is the notion of being that is undivided. Because this is a purely negative notion, it picks out no additional property in reality. The addition of indivision alone yields the concept of unity. To derive the concepts of the true and the good, one adds further the notion of the appropriate cause. The concept of truth involves the idea of the formal cause, that is, the cause in virtue of which matter is enformed, and a thing becomes what it is. Things are true, that is, genuine instances of the kind of thing they are to the extent that they instantiate the form of things of that kind. Thus, the concept of truth is the concept of being that is undivided from a formal cause. Goodness, on the other hand, has to do with being that is undivided from a final cause, that is, a cause that has to do with goals or ends, especially those goals that have been brought to fulfillment. Everything has a particular nature, that is, properties that make that thing a thing of that type. But things can exemplify those properties to a greater or lesser extent. Philip claims that everything has as its goal its own perfection, which means that things move toward exemplifying their specifying characteristics to the greatest extent possible. To the extent that a thing does so, that thing will be good. But that thing will also have being to the same extent. Thus, goodness and being in a given thing coincide in reality, and a thing’s goodness adds nothing over and above the thing’s being. But of course, goodness and being involve two different concepts. Thus, being and goodness have the same extension while differing intensionally. […]
Philip adopts the second notion of convertibility. The various transcendentals do not differ in reality, only in concept. The concept of being is fundamental in that the concepts of the other transcendentals presuppose it.
subkind of Transcendental; characterizes Being


  • All citations from: McCluskey, Colleen, “Philip the Chancellor”The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2019 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)

First published: 23/7/2020
Updated: 29/3/2021
Updated: 30/1/2022

5 thoughts on “[4.7.1] Philip the Chancellor on Transcendentals

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