Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

(Greek poistes -- Plato, Aristotle -- poion ; Latin qualitas, quale .)

Quality is used, first , in an extended sense, as whatever can be attributed to the subject of discourse; and second , in its exact signification, as that category which is distinguished from the nine others enumerated by Aristotle. In the present article the word is treated in its stricter sense. The eighth chapter of the "Categories" treats of quality, as distinct from substance and the other predicaments. It is described, however, in the opening words of the sixth chapter of the same book as that on account of which we say that anything is such or such -- poioteta de lego, kath en poioi tines [einai] legontai . It is thus the accidental form which determines the subject to a special mode of being. It is the reply to the question Qualis sit res? , as St. Thomas Aquinas remarks; and is the correlative to Talis (as Quantus to Tantus ), as is pointed out by James Mill in his "Analysis". As the notion is a simple one, it is not possible strictly to define it; for, to do this, it would be necessary to split it up into genus and differentia -- an impossibility where the simplest concepts are concerned. It is itself not a real genus, since many particular things, not generically identical can be subjects of the same predicate, analogically employed. Quality is the category according to which objects are said to be like or unlike; and, in view of the tendency introduced into modern science by the mechanist theories of Descartes, and fostered by the postulate of the transformation of energy, it is of importance that the qualitative should be distinguished from the quantitative differences of objects (cf. QUANTITY). Aristotle's classification of the heads of discourse in the "Categories" is a logical one, in which the attributes are considered as possible predicates of a subject. But they are further understood metaphysically; and, in this sense, quality is one or other of the four modes in which substance is determined to being talis or talis , i.e. such or such. Considered thus, it is an accidental determination (cf. FORM).

The four divisions of quality are:

  • Habit, or condition ( habitus ); a permanent and comparatively stable quality by which man, considered as to his nature or operation, is well or ill-adapted towards his natural end. Strictly speaking, only man can be the subject of habit. It is thus distinguished from disposition; which is used of other than human beings . Less stable conditions, as hot, cold, sick, well, are also mentioned here.
  • Natural powers or incapacities ( potentia activa et impotentia ). These are distinguished, as accidents, from the substance ; and are further distinguished among themselves as are the distinct acts from which they are inferred. The important Scholastic thesis of the real distinction of nature from its faculties arises in this connexion.
  • Power of causing sensations and results of the modification of sense; the one belonging, as quality, to the objects of sense; the other to the senses that are modified.
  • Figure, or circumscribing form of extended bodies. St. Thomas Aquinas insists upon the fact that this mode of quality (morphology) is the most certain index of the identity or diversity of species, especially in plants and animals.
  • Quality admits in the concrete, though not in the abstract, of more and less; and in some cases, though not in all, of contrariety. A figure cannot be more or less triangular than another, though one man may be more wise than another; and there is no contrary to red; though just is contrary to unjust. The category, in its predicamental sense, involves that of relation, as is noted by Aristotle. The answer to Qualis? asked of the concrete man, is talis -- such as so-and-so. Metaphysically considered, no relation of this kind need be involved. The substance, or nature, is talis because of the accidental form that determines it absolutely, without reference to any standard of comparison.

    More Encyclopedia

    The Catholic Encyclopedia is the most comprehensive resource on Catholic teaching, history, and information ever gathered in all of human history. This easy-to-search online version was originally printed between 1907 and 1912 in fifteen hard copy volumes.

    Catholic Encyclopedia

    Designed to present its readers with the full body of Catholic teaching, the Encyclopedia contains not only precise statements of what the Church has defined, but also an impartial record of different views of acknowledged authority on all disputed questions, national, political or factional. In the determination of the truth the most recent and acknowledged scientific methods are employed, and the results of the latest research in theology, philosophy, history, apologetics, archaeology, and other sciences are given careful consideration.

    No one who is interested in human history, past and present, can ignore the Catholic Church, either as an institution which has been the central figure in the civilized world for nearly two thousand years, decisively affecting its destinies, religious, literary, scientific, social and political, or as an existing power whose influence and activity extend to every part of the globe. In the past century the Church has grown both extensively and intensively among English-speaking peoples. Their living interests demand that they should have the means of informing themselves about this vast institution, which, whether they are Catholics or not, affects their fortunes and their destiny.

    Copyright © Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company New York, NY. Volume 1: 1907; Volume 2: 1907; Volume 3: 1908; Volume 4: 1908; Volume 5: 1909; Volume 6: 1909; Volume 7: 1910; Volume 8: 1910; Volume 9: 1910; Volume 10: 1911; Volume 11: - 1911; Volume 12: - 1911; Volume 13: - 1912; Volume 14: 1912; Volume 15: 1912

    Catholic Online Catholic Encyclopedia Digital version Compiled and Copyright © Catholic Online

    Newsletters

    Newsletter Sign Up icon

    Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

    Subscribe to Catholic OnlineYouTube Channel

    the FEED
    by Catholic Online

    • Take this thought provoking Stations of the Cross survey
    • St. Paschal: Saint of the Day for Thursday, February 11, 2016
    • Stations of the Cross - Fourth Station: Jesus meets his mother HD Video
    • Daily Readings for Thursday, February 11, 2016
    • Palm Sunday HD Video
    • Is Valentine's Day...? (Take the quick survey!)
    • Can you answer these four challenging questions about Lent?

    Daily Readings

    Reading 1, Joel 2:12-18
    12 'But now -- declares Yahweh- come back to me with all your heart, ... Read More

    Psalm, Psalms 51:3-4, 5-6, 12-13, 14, 17
    3 For I am well aware of my offences, my sin is constantly in ... Read More

    Gospel, Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18
    1 'Be careful not to parade your uprightness in public to attract ... Read More

    Reading 2, Second Corinthians 5:20--6:2
    20 So we are ambassadors for Christ; it is as though God were urging you ... Read More

    Saint of the Day

    Saint of the Day for February 10th, 2016 Image

    St. Scholastica
    February 10: St. Scholastica, sister of St. Benedict, ... Read More