Quantities can be added to one another, but the qualities possessed by a thing are more than the sum of its quantitative combinations. A quality is manifested by a certain unity that can be ‘attained’ by a thing but which is not inherent in any of the parts. It is an acquisition from outside, as if by an ascent. To say it another way, there is continuity between the addition of quantities and the coming into existence of the quality, but it is a discontinuous continuity that cannot be accounted for by the quantities alone.
To illustrate what is meant by this, we can observe the process of development that occurs in the lifetime of a single organism. The organism develops through certain stages, or ‘states,’ and acquires qualities that cannot be attributed to the acquisition of matter. Taking for example a bird, we can say that there is genetic continuity between the egg and the bird that emerges from the egg, but the bird is not an egg with some extra matter added to it: the bird possesses qualities that the egg does not.
What this demonstrates is that a being in its development ascends through various states and obtains qualities thereby, and that these qualities cannot be explained in any meaningful way only through an examination of matter. The idea of ‘ascent’ introduces a vertical dimension into the development of a being, in addition to the horizontal dimension–the acquisition of new matter–which is the only one admitted by empirical science. The horizontal dimension is the dimension of quantity, matter, and outward expansion: a being may ‘develop’ horizontally and ‘materially’ but will be incapable of rising above itself and obtaining new qualities without the intervention of some superior principle.