Trichotomy (philosophy)  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

A trichotomy is a three-way classificatory division, and some philosophers pursued trichotomies. Important trichotomies discussed by Aquinas include the causal principles (agent, patient, act) and the acts of the intellect (concept, judgment, reasoning), both rooted in Aristotle; the transcendentals of being (unity, truth, goodness); and the requisites of the beautiful (wholeness, harmony, radiance).

Hegel held that a thing's or idea's internal contradiction leads in a dialectical process to a new synthesis that makes better sense of the contradiction. The process is sometimes described as thesis, antithesis, synthesis. It is instanced across a pattern of trichotomies (e.g. being-nothingness-becoming, immediate-mediate-concrete, abstract-negative-concrete); such trichotomies are not just three-way classificatory divisions; they involve trios of elements functionally interrelated in a process. They are often called triads (but 'triad' does not have that as a fixed sense in philosophy generally).

Charles Sanders Peirce built his philosophy on trichotomies and triadic relations and processes, and framed the "Reduction Thesis" that every predicate is essentially either monadic (quality), dyadic (relation of reaction or resistance), or triadic (representational relation), and never genuinely and irreducibly tetradic or larger.

In theology, and in philosophy related to it, trichotomy is the belief that man consists of three parts; a body, soul, and spirit. This stands in stark contrast to dichotomy.


3-way Philosophical Distinctions
Plato's Tripartite soul: Rational. Libidinous. Spirited (various animal qualities).
St. Augustine's 3 Laws: Memory. Understanding. Will.
Aquinas's 3 causal principles (based in Aristotle): Agent. Patient. Act.
Aquinas's 3 acts of intellect (based in Aristotle): Conception. Judgment. Reasoning.
Aquinas's 3 transcendentals of being: Unity. Truth. Goodness.
Aquinas's 3 requisites for the beautiful: Wholeness or perfection. Harmony or due proportion. Radiance.
Albertus Magnus's 3 Universals: Ante rem (Idea in God's mind). In re (potential or actual in things). Post rem (mentally abstracted).
Sir Francis Bacon's 3 Tables: Presence. Absence. Degree.
Thomas Hobbes's 3 Fields: Physics. Moral Philosophy. Civil Philosophy.
Johannes Nikolaus Tetens's 3 powers of mind: Feeling. Understanding. Will.
Hegel's 3 dialectical moments: Thesis. Antithesis. Synthesis.
Hegel's 3 Spirits: Subjective Spirit. Objective Spirit. Absolute Spirit.
Charles Sanders Peirce's 3 categories: Quality of feeling. Reaction, resistance. Representation, mediation.
C. S. Peirce's 3 universes of experience: Ideas. Brute fact. Habit (habit-taking).
C. S. Peirce's 3 orders of philosophy: Phenomenology. Normative sciences. Metaphysics.
C. S. Peirce's 3 normatives: The good (esthetic). The right (ethical). The true (logical).
C. S. Peirce's 3 grades of conceptual clearness: By familiarity. Of definition's parts. Of conceivable practical implications.
C. S. Peirce's 3 active principles in the cosmos: Spontaneity, absolute chance. Mechanical necessity. Creative love.
C. S. Peirce's 3 semiotic elements: Sign (representamen). Object. Interpretant.
James Joyce's 3 aesthetic stages: Arrest (by wholeness). Fascination (by harmony). Enchantment (by radiance).
Louis Zukofsky's 3 aesthetic elements: Shape. Rhythm. Style.
Søren Kierkegaard's 3 Stages: Aesthetic. Ethical. Religious.
Edmund Husserl's 3 Reductions: Phenomenological. Eidetic. Religious.
Maurice Merleau-Ponty's 3 fields: Physical. Vital. Human.
Maurice Merleau-Ponty's 3 categories: Quantity. Order. Meaning.
Alan Watts's 3 world views: Life as machine (Western). Life as organism (Chinese). Life as drama (Indian).

See also

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