Entry 0250: Actus Essendi and the Second Operation of the Intellect (II)
There is no question that according to Aquinas the notion of being possesses a duality. The notion of ens (quod est) signifies a “thing” by the expression quod and “existence” (esse) by the expression est.
On this issue, Jan A. Aertsen puts Etienne Gilson and Cornelio Fabro in the same category: “An important element in the interpretation of Fabro and Gilson is that ‘being’ possesses a certain duality. Ens means ‘what is’ (quod est). It cannot, therefore, be attained by simple apprehension, which abstracts only the essence or quiddity of something.” At this point Aertsen adds, “Yet Thomas’ conclusion seems to be a different one” (J. A. Aertsen, Medieval Philosophy and the Transcendentals: The Case of Thomas Aquinas [Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1996], 179-180).
Aertsen seems to be aware that Fabro does not place the apprehension of ens and esse in the second operation of the intellect. Thus Aertsen writes: “If the notion of being, Fabro argues, includes in itself two elements, namely essence or content and the act of being, this notion cannot be the effect of ‘ordinary’ abstraction, which abstracts only essence. The origin of the notion of being requires a form of ‘conjoint apprehension’ of content on the part of the mind and of act on the part of experience” (Ibid. 175). But this explanation, according to Aertsen, is not a satisfactory one.
Aertsen argues more forcefully against the thesis of ‘Existential Thomism’ that ‘being’ is attained only in judgment, the second operation of the intellect.
Aertsen examines carefully Aquinas’ understanding of the two operations of the intellect: “Thomas claims that what is first in the first operation of the intellect, being, is the foundation of what is first in its second operation: the principle ‘it is impossible for a thing to be and not to be at the same time’ is dependent on the understanding of being. Here he clearly affirms that the concept of being belongs to simple apprehension.” Aertsen then stresses that “This statement contradicts the contention of ‘Existential Thomism’ that the concept of being is a judgment or proposition” (Ibid. 179).
“Ens names a thing from the formality of its act of being: it primarily signifies ‘what is.’ Thus,” Aertsen continues, “the concept of being does not signify the judgment ‘something exists,’ the kind of composition which is susceptible of truth or falsity” (Ibid. 180).
“Our conclusion is that the thesis of ‘Existential Thomism,’ that ‘being’ is attained only in judgment, the second operation of the intellect, is incorrect. ‘Being’ is attained in simple apprehension. The concept principally signifies ‘what has being,’ ‘what is,’ a phrase that does not entail a judgment” (Ibid.).
Aertsen stresses that the name “being” signifies “what is” but does not signify a mode of being (an essence or a quiddity) determined by the genera. “This generalness and indeterminateness,” Aertsen affirms, “is one of the reasons Thomas advances for his view that ‘being’ (Qui est) is the most proper name of God. Summa Theologiae, part I, question 13, article 11: Quolibet enim alio nomine determinatur aliquis modus substantiae rei, sed hoc nomen Qui est nullum modum essendi determinat, sed se habet indeterminate ad omnes” (Ibid. 180, n. 55).
Aertsen explains that in Aquinas’ De veritate, in question 1, article 1, ad sed contra 3, “in answer to an objection that cites an axiom from Boethius’ De hebdomadibus, ‘to be (esse) and what is (quod est) are diverse,’ the ratio of being is explicitly formulated. Thomas’ explanation of the axiom is that the act of being (esse) is distinguished from that which that act belongs. ‘The ratio entis, however, is derived from the act of being, not from that to which the act of being belongs’” (Ibid. 185).
Aertsen shows clearly that ens and esse are the object of simple apprehension.
Among others, Antonio Millan Puelles endorses Jan A. Aertsen’s assessment of Existential Thomism. See A. Millan Puelles, La Logica de los Conceptos Metafísicos: Tomo I - La Logica de los Conceptos Trascendentales (
Ediciones Rialp, 2002), 154. Madrid