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Francis Garden - 1878 - Table of contents

Diccionario filosófico
Complete edition

Diccionario de Filosofía
Brief definition of the most important concepts of philosophy.


A Dictionary of English Philosophical Terms Francis Garden

Vocabulary of Philosophy, Psychological, Ethical, Metaphysical
William Fleming

Biografías y semblanzas Biographical references and lives of philosophers

Brief introduction to the thought of Ortega y Gasset

History of Philosophy Summaries

Historia de la Filosofía
Explanation of the thought of the great philosophers; summaries, exercises...

Historia de la Filosofía
Digital edition of the History of Philosophy by Jaime Balmes

Historia de la Filosofía
Digital edition of the History of Philosophy by Zeferino González

Vidas, opiniones y sentencias de los filósofos más ilustres
Complete digital edition of the work of Diogenes Laertius

Compendio de las vidas de los filósofos antiguos

A brief history of Greek Philosophy
B. C. Burt


A Short History of Philosophy





Contingent. This is the Latin equivalent to the ἐνδεχόμενον of Aristotle. This term, by his own admission, is used in different senses. He himself adopts it to express whatever may be stated with truth but is not necessary. He divides it into two heads, the ἐνδεχόμενον when something is predicated ἀπὸ τύχης, and the ἐνδεχόμενον when something is predicated ὡς ἐπὶ τό πολύ.


In the first case no impossibility stands in the way of the thing being true, but no necessity makes it so; in the second the thing is true, but not necessarily so. In the one case, the thing may or not be; there may or may not be a sea-fight to-morrow; a man digging in a field may or may not chance upon a treasure; in the other, the thing is generally true, as that a man's hair turns grey, if he lives into latter life, but the man may not be forthcoming, or he may prove an exception to the rule.

The ἐνδεχόμενον of Aristotle is, as I have said, rendered in Latin by contingens, and from that by us contingent. A threefold division, but based on what Aristotle laid down, was subsequently made. The contingent was either
  1st. In plurimum, equivalent to the ὡς ἐπὶ τό πολύ.
  2ndly. When the thing happens ἀπὸ τύχης, a fortuna, as in the case of the man digging a field and finding a treasure. This is often the negative of the former, the rare as opposed to the usual, the exceptions from the general truth of the in plurimum.
  3rdly. The ad utrumlibet, when the thing supposed may or may not be, as there may or may not be a sea-fight to-morrow.

In Aristotle the contingent is regarded mainly in its logical aspect and bearing. He inquires into its effect upon propositions and syllogisms. It is plain that thus regarded the contingent proposition, the proposition which asserts contingency of probable matter, is always true, whichever of the three kinds of contingency be predicated.

In this logical relation contingency is one of the modals, and modality gave birth to the most arduous and intricate parts of logical exercise. It is now very generally discarded as alien to the pure science, belonging to the matter not to the form of thought, the latter the form remaining unaffected by the modal, whether the necessary, the impossible, the possible, or the contingent, of the judgments which come under its review.

The word contingent is, however, often used in a wider and more important sense, not wholly unconnected indeed with those which have just passed under review, but referring to the matter more than to the form of thought, belonging more to the sphere of metaphysics than of logic. In this case it is applied to anything or any fact, which, however convinced of it we may be, we can conceive as non-existent, or as other than what it really is, anything the denial of which implies no contradiction, anything which is true, not by necessity, but because it happens to be true, i. e. is only thought of as happening to be true. Trendelenburg defines it thus: "Das Wirkliche, das nicht nothwendig ist, oder richtiger, nicht as nothwendig angeschen wird" In this wide sense the contingent means the whole world of the concrete, all that makes itself known to us not purely by our own thought about it, but by experience from without. Thus the world itself has been called a contingency, and the existence of God inferred à contingentiâ mundi.(1)

In this perhaps now the predominant sense of the word, it is plain that it needs involve no element of uncertainty in that to which it is applied. The difference between necessity and contingency has been laid down as consisting in the degree of our conviction.(2) It would be better said to consist in the grounds of our conviction, our certainty of a necessary truth resulting from demonstration, and therefore such as could not be done away with or lessened without making thought contradict itself; our certainty (if the case be so) of a contingent truth being derived from considerations which, however cogent, could be questioned without such contradiction.

In this large sense of the word, contingency may be applied to a past event as well as a future. The past, indeed, is pronounced by Aristotle to be necessary, and so it is as opposed to some of his uses of the term ἐνδεχόμενον. But in the acceptation of the term contingent with which we are now engaged, it is plain that a past event is viewed as true only because it happened and could be supposed not to have happened.

Again, the contingent does not involve the fortuitous. Aquinas and Calvin both view contingent events as pre-ordained by God as much as necessary ones.

"Si sic est, cum jam ab æterno divina Providentia sit in actu determinata respectu omnium, et immutabilis et infallibilis, &c.—sequitur quod, de facto, omnia inevitabiliter eveniant, quamvis quædam contingenter, et quædam necessario... actus eveniens est simpliciter (id est, omnibus consideratis) inevitabilis, et secundum quid (id est, solitarie sumptus) evitabilis." (3)

The distinction here taken between an event viewed omnibus consideratis, and the same solitarie sumptus, is important. That which seen merely in itself is thought of as contingent, might well be found necessary, could we view it in connection with the great whole of which it forms a part.


(1) In the previous views of contingency, we speak of contingent judgments or propositions, in that with which we are now engaged of contingent truths.

(2) THOMSON'S Outline of the Laws of Thought, second edition, p. 302.

(3) Cajetan, quoted in notes to HAMILTON'S Reid, p. 980.



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