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.