View Articles

Monday, April 30, 2012

0223: The Self-Evident Connotation of the
Actus Essendi (X)

Entry 0223: The Self-Evident Connotation of the
Actus Essendi

Ralph McInerny remarks:

The axiom diversum est esse et quod est is just that, an axiom, and indeed per se notum quoad omnes.” (1)


(1)  Ralph McInerny, Praeambula Fidei: Thomism and the God of the Philsophers, (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2006), 303.

Monday, April 23, 2012

0222: Aquinas' Five Ways and Aristotle (I)

Entry 0222: Aquinas’ Five Ways and Aristotle (I)

It is generally accepted that Aquinas' Five Ways of proving the existence of God have their ultimate source in Aristotle. Aquinas is not the originator of the arguments. See Leo J. Elders, The Philosophical Theology of St. Thomas Aquinas, (Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1990), 83-126.

Monday, April 16, 2012

0221: Antonio Millan Puelles on the Difference between Existence and "Actus Essendi"

Entry 0221: Actus Essendi and Existence (VII)

Antonio Millan Puelles on the Difference between Existence and "Actus Essendi"

According to Antonio Millan Puelles,

Fabro did maintain two theses, namely, that existence forms part of the act of being, and that the act of being cannot be reduced to existence, but he did not do so with equal emphasis or clarity.

He [Fabro] paid more—in fact, incomparably greater—attention to the distinction between existence and the act of being. Now, this is not without foundation.

In the very philosophical tradition that developed on the basis of the teachings of Saint Thomas, esse had come to be reduced to existence, the latter term having been taken precisely with the connotation of something that is “inessential” to an entity by virtue of the fact that the latter is identified with essence, in the sense of a possible quiddity.

Esse, understood as the actus essendi—which Saint Thomas has regarded as the primordial and innermost core of every entity—was, in the final analysis, reduced to the status of something incidental in the eyes of a significant and numerous group of people participating in that tradition.

One must agree with Fabro in rejecting the reductionistic interpretation of esse as existence, which is already operative at the level of the thesis of the real distinction between essentia and esse, and one must do so because of the overwhelming documentary evidence produced by Fabro himself in his taking recourse to Saint Thomas’s own texts, and not on the basis of mere lucubrations more or less conjectural in character.

Suffice it to say that it is impossible to translate esse as “existence” when one is considering the gradations of being, a realization that does not however imply that it would be valid to take them as if they were gradations of essence, since that which can be participated in secundum magis et minus (in terms of the more or less) is not essence, but being.

Existence is part of the act of being but the act of being cannot be reduced to existence.

Thanks to Fabro (and in opposition to a long line of eminent interpreters of Saint Thomas’s thought) we have come clearly to see that the reduction of esse to existence is inadmissible always, not just so far as the real distinction between essence and esse is concerned.

It is thus impermissible to translate the statement “non possumus scire esse Dei” (Summa Theologiae, part I, question 3, article 4, ad 2) by means of the sentence, “we cannot clearly know the existence of God.”

In the passage under scrutiny, what Saint Thomas contended is that we are unable to know not just the manner of existence proper (propria) to God, but also the essence proper (propria) to Him, as well as whatever is present in the corresponding act of being which is irreducible to the existential dimension thereof.

And yet, if we are able to know—as Saint Thomas affirmed it too—that God exists, then we are capable of conceiving existence, since it is not possible to understand a proposition containing something unintelligible.

To [Frabro’s] exceptional metaphysical insightfulness we are indebted for having reclaimed and refined the idea of the act of being.
Antonio Millan Puelles, The Theory of the Pure Object, trans. and ed. Jorge Garcia Gomez, (Heidelberg: Universitatsverlag C. Winter, 1996), pp. 319-326.

Monday, April 9, 2012

0220: The Sources that Led Aquinas to the Discovery of the Notion of Actus Essendi (II)

Entry 0220: The Sources that Led Aquinas to the Discovery of the Notion of Actus Essendi (II)

In his study of Marius Victorinus (b. ca. AD 280; d. ca. AD 370), David Bradshaw stresses that some “Neoplatonic reflections about being failed to reach the philosophers of the Middle Ages” and that “the concept of esse as act of being had to be reconstructed—in a very different way—by Aquinas.”

Bradshaw argues that Victorinus’s Trinitarian theology contributed to the developing of the idea of existence as a kind of activity and that “the most important channel for Victorinus’s influence was Boethius (480-525).”

According to Bradshaw, the distinction between esse and id quod est presented by Boethius in De Hebdomadibus has its source in Victorinus.

However, Bradshaw points out that important differences exist between Boethius and Victorinus. On the one hand, Victorinus is doing theology and trying to adapt previous Neoplatonic reflections about being to the doctrine of the Trinity. Boethius, on the other hand, is writing a tract on general ontology, thus incorporating Victorinus’s speculations into the metaphysical analysis of sensible substance. Boethius thus conceives the relationship between id quod est and esse on the static model of participation rather than the more dynamic model of Victorinus in which esse is conceived as a kind of activity.

Bradshaw concludes by saying that “It is remarkable that Aquinas, without any knowledge of these Neoplatonic antecedents, was able to find in the De Hebdomadibus an inspiration for his own conception of act of being.” [1]


[1] David Bradshaw, “Neoplatonic Origins of the Act of Being,” The Review of Metaphysics 53 (1999): 383-401.

Monday, April 2, 2012

0219: Fabro on the Difference between Existence and "Actus Essendi"

Entry 0219: Actus Essendi and Existence (VI)

Fabro on the Difference between Existence and "Actus Essendi"

Fabro explains that "the term ‘esse,’ understood as the ‘act of being,’ is not just the fact of existence. The fact of existence is the external effect of the ‘act of being.’ The ‘act of being,’ according to Saint Thomas, is of a deeper nature. The ‘act of being’ is that which indicates that a form is real, that which indicates that a form is distinct from any other reality. The ‘act of being’ indicates that the form is distinct not only conceptually but really, because when a form is actualized by the ‘act of being,’ that form exists as something separate in nature. The ‘act of being’ is the act of the ‘essence.’"

L’esse, come atto di essere, non è soltanto il fatto di esistere, o «id per quod aliquid constituitur extra suas causas»: ciò piuttosto è l’effetto esterno dell’atto di essere, ma secondo S. Tommaso l’atto di essere è di natura più profonda. Esso è anzitutto ciò per cui (quo) ogni formalità può essere indicata come reale, cioè distinta, non solo nozionalmente, da ogni altra, ma «separata» realmente in natura, è l’atto dell’essenza.

Cornelio Fabro, La Nozione Metafisica di Partecipazione, (Torino: Società Editrice Internazionale, 1963), p. 200.