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Monday, January 5, 2015

0387: Commentary on Actus Essendi – Text no. 3



Entry 0387: Commentary on 

In I Sententiarum, distinction 8, question 5, article 2, corpus 


The article addresses the issue of the kind of composition that can be attributed to the human soul. Given that a human being is composed of soul and body, Aquinas first asks whether or not the human soul itself can be said to be composed of matter and form. The answer is given with the argument that forms need to be separated from matter to become intelligible in act. From this it follows that substances which are by nature intelligible in act are not material. And since the human soul is this kind of substance, the human soul is not composed of matter and form.


Secondly Aquinas examines the opinion of others who say that the human soul is composed of “quo est” and “quod est.” Here Aquinas first establishes that quod est does not refer to primary matter. Quod est refers to entities that possess esse properly, and these are only the subsisting supposita. As a quod est, a subsisting suppositum is said to be the possessor of esse, that is to say, a suppositum is an habens esse.

Now, in the material world a subsisting suppositum is composed of matter and form. Therefore, primary matter itself is not an habens esse; the composite is the habens esse. Thus, in all entities in which one finds the composition of primary matter and form, one also finds another composition, the composition of quo est and quod est. With this background, Aquinas then explains that in things composed of primary matter and form, the term quo est can take three different meanings.

It is within this context that Aquinas introduces the term actus essendi as the second meaning of the expression quo est:

(a) Potest enim dici quo est ipsa forma partis, quae dat esse materiae.

(b) Potest dici quo est ipse actus essendi, scilicet esse, sicut quo curritur, est actus currendi.

(c) Potest etiam dici quo est ipsa natura quae relinquitur ex conjunctione formae cum materia, ut humanitas; praecipue secundum ponentes quod forma, quae est totum, quae dicitur quidditas, non est forma partis, de quibus est Avicenna.

Here is the full text:

“Alii dicunt, quod anima est composita ex quo est et quod est. Differt autem quod est a materia; quia quod est, dicit ipsum suppositum habens esse; materia autem non habet esse, sed compositum ex materia et forma; unde materia non est quod est, sed compositum. Unde in omnibus illis in quibus est compositio ex materia et forma, est etiam compositio ex quo est et quod est. In compositis autem ex materia et forma quo est potest dici tripliciter. Potest enim dici quo est ipsa forma partis, quae dat esse materiae. Potest etiam dici quo est ipse actus essendi, scilicet esse, sicut quo curritur, est actus currendi. Potest etiam dici quo est ipsa natura quae relinquitur ex conjunctione formae cum materia, ut humanitas; praecipue secundum ponentes quod forma, quae est totum, quae dicitur quidditas, non est forma partis, de quibus est Avicenna. Cum autem de ratione quidditatis, vel essentiae, non sit quod sit composita vel compositum; consequens poterit inveniri et intelligi aliqua quidditas simplex, non consequens compositionem formae et materiae. Si autem inveniamus aliquam quidditatem quae non sit composita ex materia et forma, illa quidditas aut est esse suum, aut non. Si illa quidditas sit esse suum, sic erit essentia ipsius Dei, quae est suum esse, et erit omnino simplex. Si vero non sit ipsum esse, oportet quod habeat esse acquisitum ab alio, sicut est omnis quidditas creata. Et quia haec quidditas posita est non subsistere in materia, non acquireretur sibi esse in altero, sicut quidditatibus compositis, immo acquiretur sibi esse in se; et ita ipsa quidditas erit hoc quod est, et ipsum esse suum erit quo est. Et quia omne quod non habet aliquid a se, est possibile respectu illius; hujusmodi quidditas cum habeat esse ab alio, erit possibilis respectu illius esse, et respectu ejus a quo esse habet, in quo nulla cadit potentia; et ita in tali quidditate invenietur potentia et actus, secundum quod ipsa quidditas est possibilis, et esse suum est actus ejus. Et hoc modo intelligo in Angelis compositionem potentiae et actus, et de quo est et quod est, et similiter in anima. Unde Angelus vel anima potest dici quidditas vel natura vel forma simplex, inquantum eorum quidditas non componitur ex diversis; tamen advenit sibi compositio horum duorum, scilicet quidditatis et esse” (In I Sententiarum, distinction 8, question 5, article 2, corpus).

Aquinas thus explains in the present text that the term quidditas does not respond to a ratio that restricts its meaning to what is composed and, for this reason, it is possible to conceive intellectually, and to find in reality, a quiddity that is simple and devoid of the composition of matter and form. Such simple quiddity would either be its own esse as is the case of God who is simple absolutely, i.e., simple without qualification, or it would be a quiddity that is simple in the qualified sense of an habens esse ab alio. The latter is the case of angels and the human soul. In angels and souls there is no composition of matter and form but only the composition of actus essendi (quo est) and simple quiddity (quod est).

It is with reference to the other two meanings of quo est—the quo est as forma partis and the quo est as forma totius—that Cornelio Fabro highlights the uniqueness of Aquinas’s actus essendi. Thus Fabro writes, “esse in senso proprio è soltanto l’actus essendi, che dà il sussistere alla sostanza,” which is translated as follows: “that by which the substance subsists is the actus essendi, and the term esse properly speaking means actus essendi.” (1) Fabro affirms that the analysis of the expression quo est delivered in the present text shows how Aquinas transformed the Aristotelian terminology by introducing the notion of actus essendi.

Thus we have the following:

(a) The substantial form as quo est is that whereby the quod est possesses informed matter.

(b) The actus essendi as quo est is that whereby the quod est possesses a real subsisting quiddity.

(c) The quiddity as quo est is that whereby the quod est possesses a limited and determined participation in actus essendi.

A number of observations can be made concerning the meaning of the term actus essendi.

In the present text the term actus essendi appears with a well defined meaning. It is presented as the second meaning of the expression quo est and as one of the explicit meanings of the verb esse. As quo est the actus essendi signifies in abstracto the measure of reality that is instantiated in a quod est. And as one of the explicit meanings of the verb esse, Aquinas explains that actus essendi or esse is to quo est what actus currendi or currere is to quo curritur.

The res significata of currere is the action of running. Thus the expressions currere and actus currendi signify per modum actionis. Similarly the res significata of the verb esse in this context is the metaphysical principle of actus essendi, which the expressions esse and actus essendi signify per modum actionis. Regarding this Jan A. Aertsen has commented that verbs in general signify something after the manner of an action or passion, and that for this reason the verb esse—which he translates as “to be”—must also bring to expression some activity. “But Thomas sees a fundamental difference,” Aertsen continues, “between ‘to be’ and the other verbs. Other verbs, like ‘to run,’ signify accidental actions. Esse, however, is not a secondary act, but the primary” (J. A. Aertsen, Medieval Philosophy and the Transcendentals: The Case of Thomas Aquinas [Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1996], 190).

The present text also makes clear that the counterpart of the metaphysical principle of actus essendi is the substantial quidditas, not accidental quidditas.

Note

(1) Cornelio Fabro, Partecipazione e Causalita (Torino: Società Editrice Internazionale, 1960) 203, my translation. In explaining the other two meanings of the phrase quo est, Aquinas, however, explicitly attributes the doctrine to Avicenna. The forma totius relates to the forma partis as whole to part. The forma totius is the quiddity that results from the conjunction of substantial form and matter, understanding these as abstracted from the individual conditions. Thus, the terms homo and humanitas are two ways of designating the forma totius: homo signifies the quiddity per modum totius, and humanitas signifies the same quiddity per modum partis. The forma partis, on the other hand, is the human soul which is the substantial form or forma partis quae dat esse corpori. (For more on this see John F. Wippel, The Metaphysical Thought of Thomas Aquinas [Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2000] 201-202, and reference there in.)