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Monday, August 18, 2008

0032: Ens and Actus Essendi

Entry 0032:

It is because of the way we have to express our knowledge that we are forced to apply the term ens to accidents and privations, and even to that which is not real. Aquinas remarks that our minds conceive everything sub ratione entis, as if every thing we conceive was actually exercising the action of being: Quidquid cadit in intellectu, oportet quod cadat sub ratione entis, he says in De Virtutibus 1, 2, ad 8, “Whatever is grasped by the intellect must fall under the notion of being.”

To shed some light on this, it is instructive to turn our attention to an important point of Latin grammar. Just as laudans/laudantis is the present active participle for the Latin verb laudare (laudo, laudare, laudavi, laudatus), ens/entis is the present active participle of the Latin verb esse (sum, esse, fui, futurus.)

Laudans/laudantis is translated into English as ‘praising,’ a verbal adjective used to modify the noun that refer to ‘someone who is now exercising the action of praising.’ But ens/entis is more than just a verbal adjective. In the context of the 'philosophy of being,' ens/entis is most of the time translated into English as a noun, ‘being,’ to signify ‘that which, in any way whatsoever, is.’

Now, as mentioned above, Aquinas is aware of the fact that the terms ens/entis and esse signify in more than one way. He is explicit on this in De Potentia 7, 2, ad 1, when he says:

Ens et esse dicitur dupliciter: quandoque enim significat essentiam rei, sive actum essendi; quandoque vero significat veritatem propositionis, etiam in his quae esse non habent: sicut dicimus quod caecitas est, quia verum est hominem esse caecum.

Ens and esse may be taken in two ways (Metaph. x, 13, 14). Sometimes they signify the essence of a thing and the act of being, and sometimes they denote the truth of a proposition even in things that have no being: thus we say that blindness is because it is true that a man is blind.
More specifically, with regard to the issue of the actus essendi, we must say that the use of the expression actus essendi in Aquinas is more technical, it has a more restricted meaning, than that of ens and esse.

The actus essendi is the act of a subsinting ‘essence,’ which amounts to say that the ‘exercise of the action of being’ belongs properly to what falls under the Aristotelian category of substance. Actus essendi is one of the two inseparable metaphysical principles of an existing subsistent extramental thing.

When Aquinas uses the terms ens and esse to signify actus essendi, he is referring to a metaphysical principle, the metaphysical principle that goes ‘side by side’ with the metaphysical principle ‘essence’ in every existing hypostasis, to the metaphysical principle that does not multiply with the accidents.