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The transcendentals (Latin: transcendentalia, from transcendere "to exceed") are "properties of being", nowadays commonly considered to be truth, unity, beauty, and goodness.[citation needed] The concept arose from medieval scholasticism, but originated with Plato, Augustine, and Aristotle. Viewed ontologically, the transcendentals are understood to be what is common to all beings. From a cognitive point of view, they are the "first" concepts, since they cannot be logically traced back to something preceding them.

From the time of Albertus Magnus in the High Middle Ages, the transcendentals have been the subject of metaphysics. Although there was disagreement about their number, there was consensus that, in addition to the basic concept of being itself (ens), unity (unum), truth (verum) and goodness (bonum) were part of the transcendental family.[1] Since then, essence (res), otherness (aliquid) and, more recently, beauty (pulchrum) have been added. Today, they are found in theology, particularly in Catholic thought, as unity, truth, goodness and beauty.


Parmenides first inquired of the properties co-extensive with being.[2] Socrates, spoken through Plato, then followed (see Form of the Good).

Aristotle's substance theory (being a substance belongs to being qua being) has been interpreted as a theory of transcendentals.[3] Aristotle discusses only unity ("One") explicitly because it is the only transcendental intrinsically related to being, whereas truth and goodness relate to rational creatures.[4]

In the Middle Ages, Catholic philosophers elaborated the thought that there exist transcendentals (transcendentalia) and that they transcended each of the ten Aristotelian categories.[5] A doctrine of the transcendentality of the good was formulated by Albert the Great.[6] His pupil, Saint Thomas Aquinas, posited six transcendentals: ens, res, unum, aliquid, bonum, verum; or “being,” "thing", "one", "something", "good", and "true".[7] Saint Thomas derives the six explicitly as transcendentals,[8] though in some cases he follows the typical list of the transcendentals consisting of the One, the Good, and the True. The transcendentals are ontologically one and thus they are convertible: e.g., where there is truth, there is being and goodness also.

In Christian theology the transcendentals are treated in relation to theology proper, the doctrine of God. The transcendentals, according to Christian doctrine, can be described as the ultimate desires of man. Man ultimately strives for perfection, which takes form through the desire for perfect attainment of the transcendentals. The Catholic Church teaches that God is Truth, Goodness, and Beauty, as indicated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.[9] Each transcends the limitations of place and time, and is rooted in being. The transcendentals are not contingent upon cultural diversity, religious doctrine, or personal ideologies, but are the objective properties of all that exists.[citation needed]

Modern integral philosophy seeks to integrate these values, Will, Intellect, and Emotion within the individual at the microcosmic level.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Albertus Magnus named exactly these four values. See Aertsen, Jan A. (2001). "Die Frage nach dem Ersten und dem Grundlegenden. Albert der Große und die Lehre von den Transzendentalien" Albertus Magnus. Zum Gedenken nach 800 Jahren. Neue Zugänge, Aspekte und Perspektiven." ed. by Walter Senner and Henryk Anzulewicz. Berlin: Akademie1, pp. 91–112.
  2. ^ DK fragment B 8
  3. ^ Aristotle, Metaphysics 1028b4; Allan Bäck, Aristotle's Theory of Abstraction, Springer, 2014, p. 210: "Since all that is, in any category is in virtue of having some relation to substance..., being a substance belongs to being qua being. Because of the centrality of substance for something to be, Aristotle says, "what is being is just the question what is substance." [Metaph. 1028b4] Given Aristotle’s account of focal meaning, it has turned out that x is a being only if x is a substance. Items in non-substantial categories are beings, secondarily, only given their being in substance. ... [Ι]n Metaphysics IV, Aristotle offers both transcendental and categorical items as proper subjects for first philosophy."
  4. ^ Aristotle, Metaphysics X.1–2; Benedict Ashley, The Way toward Wisdom: An Interdisciplinary and Intercultural Introduction to Metaphysics (University of Notre Dame Press, 2006), p. 175.
  5. ^ Scott MacDonald (ed.), Being and Goodness: The Concept of the Good in Metaphysics and Philosophical Theology, Cornell University Press, 1991, p. 56.
  6. ^ Medieval Theories of Transcendentals (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
  7. ^ Disputed Questions on Truth, Q. 1 A. 1.
  8. ^ De Veritate, Q. 1 A.1
  9. ^ Catechism of the Catholic Church references these three at Section 41.


  • Jan A. Aertsen, Medieval Philosophy and the Transcendentals: the Case of Thomas Aquinas, Leiden: Brill, 1996.
  • Jan A. Aertsen, Medieval Philosophy as Transcendental Thought. From Philip the Chancellor (ca. 1225) to Francisco Suárez, Leiden: Brill, 2012.
  • John P. Doyle, On the Borders of Being and Knowing. Late Scholastic Theory of Supertranscendental Being, Leuven: Leuven University Press, 2012.
  • Graziella Federici Vescovini (éd.), Le problème des Transcendantaux du XIVe au XVIIe siècle, Paris: Vrin, « Bibliothèque d’Histoire de la Philosophie », 2001.
  • Bruno Pinchard (éd.), Fine folie ou la catastrophe humaniste, études sur les transcendantaux à la Renaissance, Paris, Champion, 1995.
  • Piero di Vona, Spinoza e i trascendentali, Napoli: Morano, 1977.

External links[edit]

  • Wouter, Goris; Aertsen, Jan. "Medieval Theories of Transcendentals". In Zalta, Edward N. (ed.). Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
  • Jan Aertsen on the History of Transcendentals. An Annotated Bibliography