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Monday, August 16, 2010

0135: The Self-Evident Connotation of the Actus Essendi (II)

Entry 0135: The Self-Evident Connotation of the Actus Essendi (II)

Concerning the real distinction between the metaphysical principle of ‘essence’ and the metaphysical principle of ‘actus essendi,’ Norman Kretzmann says that this distinction “is one we can readily recognize in connection with contingent entities.”

Here is Kretzmann’s explanation.

[This distinction] is so pervasive that we wouldn’t ordinarily notice it.

For instance, if I want to know whether there is such a thing as a marsupial bat, I want to know whether or not anything with that essential nature exists, to know whether or not that nature is instantiated, or has being. I know roughly, what nature a marsupial bat must have, but I don’t know whether it has being.

And the same distinction characterizes every contingent thing: if and when it actually exists, it instantiates some essential nature that could also be uninstantiated or that could be, and very often is, instantiated also by the existing of some other individual.

We couldn’t know that unicorns don’t exist if we didn’t know, roughly, their essential nature; but the essential nature of unicorns doesn’t entail their non-existence. We need to know a lot more than what sort of thing a unicorn must be in order to know that there aren’t any. In short, a contingent thing’s being is other than its essential nature.

The real distinction of ‘essence’ and ‘actus essendi’ is as self-evident as the distinction between ‘matter’ and ‘form.’ Just as there is a basic observation that leads to the recognition of the principles of ‘primary matter’ and ‘substantial form,’ namely, the observation of substantial changes, there is also a basic observation of ‘something’ in the things of nature that leads to knowledge of the principles of ‘essence’ and ‘actus essendi.’

There is no question, however, that Aquinas’ philosophical work has a sense of direction dictated by revelation.

The philosophical understanding of the ‘causation of being’ of the world, for example, is directed by the revelation of the truth about the creation of the world in time.

Thus when thinking with the mind of God, the activity of creation is a ‘causation of being’ which carries with it the real distinction between ‘essence’ and ‘actus essendi.’

This constraint is in fact a trait in St. Thomas way of philosophizing. According to Aquinas, before an essence is instantiated in an individual thing, that essence -- antequam esse habeat -- is present in God’s mind without the ‘actus essendi.’ Without act of being, a possible essence or quiddity is identified by Aquinas with the mind of God.

“Ex hoc ipso quod quidditati esse attribuitur, non solum esse, sed ipsa quidditas creari dicitur: quia antequam esse habeat, nihil est, nisi forte in intellectu creantis, ubi non est creatura, sed creatrix essentia;” De Pot.3.5.ad 2. (From the very fact that being is ascribed to a quiddity, not only is the quiddity said to be but also to be created: since before it had being it was nothing, except in the intellect of the creator, where it is not a creature but the creating essence.)

Inscribed in the subsisting things of nature (in the causatum,) there is the ‘essence’ of the thing caused, and the thing’s participation in ‘actus essendi.’ These are the two reference points needed to answer the two basic questions about a thing, quid est and an sit.