QUESTION 17: CONCERNING FALSITY
We next consider falsity. About this four points of inquiry arise:
(1) Whether falsity exists in things?
(2) Whether it exists in the sense?
(3) Whether it exists in the intellect?
(4) Concerning the opposition of the true and the false.
Article 1: Whether falsity exists in things?
Objection 1: It appears that falsity does not exist in things. For Augustine
says (Soliloq. ii, 8), "If the true is that which is, it will be
concluded that the false exists nowhere; whatever reason may appear to
Objection 2: Further, false is derived from "fallere" [to deceive]. But things
do not deceive; for, as Augustine says (De Vera Relig. 33), they show
nothing but their own species. Therefore the false is not found in things.
Objection 3: Further, the true is said to exist in things by conformity to the
divine intellect, as stated above (Question ). But everything, in so far as
it exists, imitates God. Therefore everything is true without admixture
of falsity; and thus nothing is false.
On the contrary, Augustine says (De Vera Relig. 34): "Every body is a
true body and a false unity: for it imitates unity without being unity."
But everything imitates the divine unity yet falls short of it. Therefore
in all things falsity exists.
I answer that, Since true and false are opposed, and since opposites
stand in relation to the same thing, we must needs seek falsity, where
primarily we find truth; that is to say, in the intellect. Now, in
things, neither truth nor falsity exists, except in relation to the
intellect. And since every thing is denominated simply by what belongs to
it "per se," but is denominated relatively by what belongs to it
accidentally; a thing indeed may be called false simply when compared
with the intellect on which it depends, and to which it is compared "per
se" but may be called false relatively as directed to another intellect,
to which it is compared accidentally. Now natural things depend on the
divine intellect, as artificial things on the human. Wherefore artificial
things are said to be false simply and in themselves, in so far as they
fall short of the form of the art; whence a craftsman is said to produce
a false work, if it falls short of the proper operation of his art.
In things that depend on God, falseness cannot be found, in so far as
they are compared with the divine intellect; since whatever takes place
in things proceeds from the ordinance of that intellect, unless perhaps
in the case of voluntary agents only, who have it in their power to
withdraw themselves from what is so ordained; wherein consists the evil
of sin. Thus sins themselves are called untruths and lies in the
Scriptures, according to the words of the text, "Why do you love vanity,
and seek after lying?" (Ps. 4:3): as on the other hand virtuous deeds are
called the "truth of life" as being obedient to the order of the divine
intellect. Thus it is said, "He that doth truth, cometh to the light"
But in relation to our intellect, natural things which are compared
thereto accidentally, can be called false; not simply, but relatively;
and that in two ways. In one way according to the thing signified, and
thus a thing is said to be false as being signified or represented by
word or thought that is false. In this respect anything can be said to be
false as regards any quality not possessed by it; as if we should say
that a diameter is a false commensurable thing, as the Philosopher says
(Metaph. v, 34). So, too, Augustine says (Soliloq. ii, 10): "The true
tragedian is a false Hector": even as, on the contrary, anything can be
called true, in regard to that which is becoming to it. In another way a
thing can be called false, by way of cause---and thus a thing is said to
be false that naturally begets a false opinion. And whereas it is innate
in us to judge things by external appearances, since our knowledge takes
its rise from sense, which principally and naturally deals with external
accidents, therefore those external accidents, which resemble things
other than themselves, are said to be false with respect to those things;
thus gall is falsely honey; and tin, false gold. Regarding this,
Augustine says (Soliloq. ii, 6): "We call those things false that appear
to our apprehension like the true:" and the Philosopher says (Metaph. v,
34): "Things are called false that are naturally apt to appear such as
they are not, or what they are not." In this way a man is called false as
delighting in false opinions or words, and not because he can invent
them; for in this way many wise and learned persons might be called
false, as stated in Metaph. v, 34.
Reply to Objection 1: A thing compared with the intellect is said to be true in
respect to what it is; and false in respect to what it is not. Hence,
"The true tragedian is a false Hector," as stated in Soliloq. ii, 6. As,
therefore, in things that are is found a certain non-being, so in things
that are is found a degree of falseness.
Reply to Objection 2: Things do not deceive by their own nature, but by accident.
For they give occasion to falsity, by the likeness they bear to things
which they actually are not.
Reply to Objection 3: Things are said to be false, not as compared with the
divine intellect, in which case they would be false simply, but as
compared with our intellect; and thus they are false only relatively.
To the argument which is urged on the contrary, likeness or defective
representation does not involve the idea of falsity except in so far as
it gives occasion to false opinion. Hence a thing is not always said to
be false, because it resembles another thing; but only when the
resemblance is such as naturally to produce a false opinion, not in any
one case, but in the majority of instances.
Article 2: Whether there is falsity in the senses?
Objection 1: It seems that falsity is not in the senses. For Augustine says
(De Vera Relig. 33): "If all the bodily senses report as they are
affected, I do not know what more we can require from them." Thus it
seems that we are not deceived by the senses; and therefore that falsity
is not in them.
Objection 2: Further, the Philosopher says (Metaph. iv, 24) that falsity is
not proper to the senses, but to the imagination.
Objection 3: Further, in non-complex things there is neither true nor false,
but in complex things only. But affirmation and negation do not belong to
the senses. Therefore in the senses there is no falsity.
On the contrary, Augustine says (Soliloq. ii, 6), "It appears that the
senses entrap us into error by their deceptive similitudes."
I answer that, Falsity is not to be sought in the senses except as truth
is in them. Now truth is not in them in such a way as that the senses
know truth, but in so far as they apprehend sensible things truly, as
said above (Question , Article ), and this takes place through the senses
apprehending things as they are, and hence it happens that falsity exists
in the senses through their apprehending or judging things to be
otherwise than they really are.
The knowledge of things by the senses is in proportion to the existence
of their likeness in the senses; and the likeness of a thing can exist in
the senses in three ways. In the first way, primarily and of its own
nature, as in sight there is the likeness of colors, and of other
sensible objects proper to it. Secondly, of its own nature, though not
primarily; as in sight there is the likeness of shape, size, and of other
sensible objects common to more than one sense. Thirdly, neither
primarily nor of its own nature, but accidentally, as in sight, there is
the likeness of a man, not as man, but in so far as it is accidental to
the colored object to be a man.
Sense, then, has no false knowledge about its proper objects, except
accidentally and rarely, and then, because of the unsound organ it does
not receive the sensible form rightly; just as other passive subjects
because of their indisposition receive defectively the impressions of the
agent. Hence, for instance, it happens that on account of an unhealthy
tongue sweet seems bitter to a sick person. But as to common objects of
sense, and accidental objects, even a rightly disposed sense may have a
false judgment, because it is referred to them not directly, but
accidentally, or as a consequence of being directed to other things.
Reply to Objection 1: The affection of sense is its sensation itself. Hence, from
the fact that sense reports as it is affected, it follows that we are not
deceived in the judgment by which we judge that we experience sensation.
Since, however, sense is sometimes affected erroneously of that object,
it follows that it sometimes reports erroneously of that object; and thus
we are deceived by sense about the object, but not about the fact of
Reply to Objection 2: Falsity is said not to be proper to sense, since sense is
not deceived as to its proper object. Hence in another translation it is
said more plainly, "Sense, about its proper object, is never false."
Falsity is attributed to the imagination, as it represents the likeness
of something even in its absence. Hence, when anyone perceives the
likeness of a thing as if it were the thing itself, falsity results from
such an apprehension; and for this reason the Philosopher says (Metaph.
v, 34) that shadows, pictures, and dreams are said to be false inasmuch
as they convey the likeness of things that are not present in substance.
Reply to Objection 3: This argument proves that the false is not in the sense, as
in that which knows the true and the false.
Article 3: Whether falsity is in the intellect?
Objection 1: It seems that falsity is not in the intellect. For Augustine says
(Qq. lxxxiii, 32), "Everyone who is deceived, understands not that in
which he is deceived." But falsity is said to exist in any knowledge in
so far as we are deceived therein. Therefore falsity does not exist in
Objection 2: Further, the Philosopher says (De Anima iii, 51) that the
intellect is always right. Therefore there is no falsity in the intellect.
On the contrary, It is said in De Anima iii, 21, that "where there
is composition of objects understood, there is truth and falsehood." But
such composition is in the intellect. Therefore truth and falsehood exist
in the intellect.
I answer that, Just as a thing has being by its proper form, so the
knowing faculty has knowledge by the likeness of the thing known. Hence,
as natural things cannot fall short of the being that belongs to them by
their form, but may fall short of accidental or consequent qualities,
even as a man may fail to possess two feet, but not fail to be a man; so
the faculty of knowing cannot fail in knowledge of the thing with the
likeness of which it is informed; but may fail with regard to something
consequent upon that form, or accidental thereto. For it has been said
(Article ) that sight is not deceived in its proper sensible, but about
common sensibles that are consequent to that object; or about accidental
objects of sense. Now as the sense is directly informed by the likeness
of its proper object, so is the intellect by the likeness of the essence
of a thing. Hence the intellect is not deceived about the essence of a
thing, as neither the sense about its proper object. But in affirming and
denying, the intellect may be deceived, by attributing to the thing of
which it understands the essence, something which is not consequent upon
it, or is opposed to it. For the intellect is in the same position as
regards judging of such things, as sense is as to judging of common, or
accidental, sensible objects. There is, however, this difference, as
before mentioned regarding truth (Question , Article ), that falsity can exist in
the intellect not only because the intellect is conscious of that
knowledge, as it is conscious of truth; whereas in sense falsity does not
exist as known, as stated above (Article ).
But because falsity of the intellect is concerned essentially only with
the composition of the intellect, falsity occurs also accidentally in
that operation of the intellect whereby it knows the essence of a thing,
in so far as composition of the intellect is mixed up in it. This can
take place in two ways. In one way, by the intellect applying to one
thing the definition proper to another; as that of a circle to a man.
Wherefore the definition of one thing is false of another. In another
way, by composing a definition of parts which are mutually exclusive. For
thus the definition is not only false of the thing, but false in itself.
A definition such as " a reasonable four-footed animal" would be of this
kind, and the intellect false in making it; for such a statement as "some
reasonable animals are four-footed" is false in itself. For this reason
the intellect cannot be false in its knowledge of simple essences; but it
is either true, or it understands nothing at all.
Reply to Objection 1: Because the essence of a thing is the proper object of the
intellect, we are properly said to understand a thing when we reduce it
to its essence, and judge of it thereby; as takes place in
demonstrations, in which there is no falsity. In this sense Augustine's
words must be understood, "that he who is deceived, understands not that
wherein he is deceived;" and not in the sense that no one is ever
deceived in any operation of the intellect.
Reply to Objection 2: The intellect is always right as regards first principles;
since it is not deceived about them for the same reason that it is not
deceived about what a thing is. For self-known principles are such as are
known as soon as the terms are understood, from the fact that the
predicate is contained in the definition of the subject.
Article 4: Whether true and false are contraries?
Objection 1: It seems that true and false are not contraries. For true and
false are opposed, as that which is to that which is not; for "truth," as
Augustine says (Soliloq. ii, 5), "is that which is." But that which is
and that which is not are not opposed as contraries. Therefore true and
false are not contrary things.
Objection 2: Further, one of two contraries is not in the other. But falsity
is in truth, because, as Augustine says, (Soliloq. ii, 10), "A tragedian
would not be a false Hector, if he were not a true tragedian." Therefore
true and false are not contraries.
Objection 3: Further, in God there is no contrariety, for "nothing is contrary
to the Divine Substance," as Augustine says (De Civ. Dei xii, 2). But
falsity is opposed to God, for an idol is called in Scripture a lie,
"They have laid hold on lying" (Jer. 8:5), that is to say, "an idol," as
a gloss says. Therefore false and true are not contraries.
On the contrary, The Philosopher says (Peri Herm. ii), that a false
opinion is contrary to a true one.
I answer that, True and false are opposed as contraries, and not, as
some have said, as affirmation and negation. In proof of which it must be
considered that negation neither asserts anything nor determines any
subject, and can therefore be said of being as of not-being, for instance
not-seeing or not-sitting. But privation asserts nothing, whereas it
determines its subject, for it is "negation in a subject," as stated in
Metaph. iv, 4: v. 27; for blindness is not said except of one whose
nature it is to see. Contraries, however, both assert something and
determine the subject, for blackness is a species of color. Falsity
asserts something, for a thing is false, as the Philosopher says (Metaph.
iv, 27), inasmuch as something is said or seems to be something that it
is not, or not to be what it really is. For as truth implies an adequate
apprehension of a thing, so falsity implies the contrary. Hence it is
clear that true and false are contraries.
Reply to Objection 1: What is in things is the truth of the thing; but what is
apprehended, is the truth of the intellect, wherein truth primarily
resides. Hence the false is that which is not as apprehended. To
apprehend being, and not-being, implies contrariety; for, as the
Philosopher proves (Peri Herm. ii), the contrary of this statement "God
is good," is, "God is not good."
Reply to Objection 2: Falsity is not founded in the truth which is contrary to
it, just as evil is not founded in the good which is contrary to it, but
in that which is its proper subject. This happens in either, because true
and good are universals, and convertible with being. Hence, as every
privation is founded in a subject, that is a being, so every evil is
founded in some good, and every falsity in some truth.
Reply to Objection 3: Because contraries, and opposites by way of privation, are
by nature about one and the same thing, therefore there is nothing
contrary to God, considered in Himself, either with respect to His
goodness or His truth, for in His intellect there can be nothing false.
But in our apprehension of Him contraries exist, for the false opinion
concerning Him is contrary to the true. So idols are called lies, opposed
to the divine truth, inasmuch as the false opinion concerning them is
contrary to the true opinion of the divine unity.