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
1st. In plurimum, equivalent to the
ὡς ἐπὶ τό πολύ.
2ndly. When the thing happens
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
(2) THOMSON'S Outline of the Laws of Thought, second edition, p. 302.
(3) Cajetan, quoted in notes to HAMILTON'S Reid, p. 980.