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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.

Monday, August 11, 2008

0031: Pope Benedict XVI on Aquinas (II)

Entry 0031:

Following the indications of Fides et Ratio, the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI has underscored the Church’s teaching concerning the authority of Saint Thomas Aquinas. On Sunday, 28 January 2007, in St Peter’s Square, Rome, the Pope began his Reflection before the Recitation of the Angelus with the following observation,

Today the liturgical calendar commemorates St Thomas Aquinas, the great Doctor of the Church. With his charism as a philosopher and theologian, he offered an effective model of harmony between reason and faith, dimensions of the human spirit that are completely fulfilled in the encounter and dialogue with one another. According to St Thomas’ thought, human reason, as it were, ‘breathes:’ it moves within a vast open horizon in which it can express the best of itself. When, instead, man reduces himself to thinking only of material objects or those that can be proven, he closes himself to the great questions about life, himself and God and is impoverished.
Without making explicit reference to the doctrine of the actus essendi, Benedict XVI emphasizes that the philosophy of being as developed by Aquinas stands to reason, because of its full and comprehensive openness to reality.

Monday, August 4, 2008

0030: Esse and Actus Essendi

Entry 0030:

In the context of the philosophy of being as developed by Aquinas, the Latin esse is considered to be the cognate word for both the English term ‘existence’ and the English phrase ‘act of being.’ Reading the works of Aquinas one certainly finds that he used the Latin verb esse to signify in more than one way. In his Summa Theologiae (I, 3, 4, ad 2,) he is clear on this point.
It must be said that esse applies to a thing in two ways. In one way, it means the act of being, actus essendi. In another way, it means the composition of a proposition effected by the mind in joining a predicate to a subject. Taking esse in the first sense, we cannot understand God’s esse nor His essence; but only in the second sense we can understand the esse of God. For we know that this proposition which we form about God when we say ‘God is,’ is true; and this we know from His effects.
In the first sense God’s esse is His actus essendi; in the second sense, esse applied to God means ‘God exists.’ Here is the Latin text as it appears in the Summa Theologiae (I, 3, 4, ad 2):
Ad secundum dicendum quod esse dupliciter dicitur, uno modo, significat actum essendi; alio modo, significat compositionem propositionis, quam anima adinvenit coniungens praedicatum subiecto. Primo igitur modo accipiendo esse, non possumus scire esse Dei, sicut nec eius essentiam, sed solum secundo modo. Scimus enim quod haec propositio quam formamus de Deo, cum dicimus Deus est, vera est. Et hoc scimus ex eius effectibus, ut supra dictum est.
By means of demonstration and reasoning one can prove the ‘existence’ of a thing without having to have recourse to the sense experience of an existing exemplifying individual. The grasping of the ‘act of being’ of a particular thing is indeed the strongest evidence that the thing exists, but the knowledge of the ‘existence’ of a particular thing and the grasping of its ‘act of being’ are entirely different issues. The grasping of the ‘act of being’ requires direct and immediate contact with individual, real sensible things. On the other hand, to answer the question of whether or not a thing exists, one does not have to interact directly with existing sensible things.