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Monday, February 2, 2015

0391: Commentary on Actus Essendi – Text no. 7



Entry 0391: Commentary on 

De veritatequestion 1, article 1, ad sed contra 3 



In De veritate, question 1, article 1, Aquinas explicitly uses the expression actus essendi five times: once in the corpus, once in the response to the first objection, and three times in the response to the third argument in the sed contra. In this post I shall comment on the context surrounding the text presented in the response to the third argument in the sed contra.


The third argument in the sed contra intends to show that the primary notion of ens is not equivalent to the notion of verum. The argument reasons that by combining the signification of the term verumverum significat esse rei—and the axiom from Boethius that diversum est esse et quod est there follows that diversum est verum et quod est. And because quod est is equivalent to ens, there also follows that diversum est verum et ens.

Aquinas answers by saying that the argument does not follow and limits himself to explaining what he takes to be the meaning of the axiom diversum est esse et quod est. According to Aquinas, what the axiom states is a distinction between the actus essendi and that which is in possession of the actus essendi. In other words, what the axiom really means is that diversum est actum essendi et quod est. Then Aquinas adds that because the word ens is taken from the actus essendi (and not from that which is in possession of the actus essendi), the argument of the sed contra is not a valid argument.

Aquinas had already indicated in the body of the article that what is essential to the notion of verum is the adaequatio rei et intellectus. Therefore, there is no room for doubt that for Aquinas the meaning of the term esse in the definition of verum is to be distinguished from the meaning of the term esse in his interpretation of the axiom from Boethius. But it is this latter point that is important in the present text for, on the one hand, Aquinas relies heavily on this axiom for explaining his own thought about the meaning of the term esse and, on the other hand, it is generally recognized that the real Boethius did not have the notion of actus essendi.

To be noted also is the appearance in this text of the three terms esse, ens, and actus essendi. The text makes clear that the term esse has more than one meaning. It seems clear also that the term actus essendi has only one meaning. And there is no doubt that Aquinas is indicating what he understands to be the focal meaning of the term ens.

Now, the res significata of the term actus essendi was identified in the body of the article as one of the two inseparable metaphysical principles of which a subsisting thing is composed. The other principle is the quidditas. Actus essendi refers to the activity of being real as the most fundamental activity exercised by a subsisting thing. Thus, actus essendi is inseparable from the thing itself and inseparable also from the instantiated substantial quidditas that defines any existing (and subsisting) thing.

In the context of the response, the res significata of the term ens and the res significata of the term esse is one and the same, namely, the metaphysical principle of actus essendi. In other places Aquinas explains his understanding of these modes of signifying of the terms ens, esse, and actus essendi by using the example of the modes of signifying of the terms currens, currere, and actus currendi. (See, for example, Quodlibet 9, question 4, article 1, corpus; In I Sententiarum, distinction 8, question 5, article 2, corpus; and In De hebdomadibus, lecture 2.)

Just as currens signifies in the concrete what the human intellect conceives of the activity of running (the actus currendi of the runner), so does ens signify in the concrete what the human intellect conceives of the activity of being real of a subsisting thing (its actus essendi). And similarly, just as currere signifies in the abstract what the human intellect conceives of the same activity of running (the  actus currendi of the runner), so does esse signify in the abstract what the human intellect conceives of the same activity of being real of a subsisting thing (its actus essendi).

In other words, the terms currens and currere have one and the same res significata and differ only in their modus significandi. The term currens signifies actus currendi in concreto; the term currere signifies actus currendi in abstracto. Similarly, ens signifies actus essendi in concreto, and esse signifies actus essendi in abstracto. For Aquinas the focal meaning of the terms ens and esse is one and the same, namely, the metaphysical principle of actus essendi of extramental subsisting things.

Here is how Aquinas expressed himself in the third argument of the sed contra and in the response to this argument:

Third argument in the sed contra:

“Praeterea, secundum Boetium in libro De hebdomadibus  in omnibus creaturis ‘diversum est esse et quod est;’ sed verum significat esse rei; ergo verum est diversum a quod est in creatis. Sed quod est  est idem quod ens; ergo verum in creaturis est diversum ab ente” (De veritate, question 1, article 1, s.c. 3, Rome: Leonine edition, 1970, vol. 22, p. 4, column B, lines 69-74).


Response to the argument in the sed contra:

“Ad tertium [quod contra obiicitur] dicendum quod cum dicitur ‘diversum est esse et quod est’ distinguitur actus essendi ab eo cui ille actus convenit; nomen autem entis ab actu essendi sumitur, non ab eo cui convenit actus essendi, et ideo ratio non sequitur” (De veritate, question 1, article 1, ad s.c. 3, Rome: Leonine edition, 1970, vol. 22, p. 7, column B, lines 281-286).

Aquinas explicitly connects his understanding of the doctrine of actus essendi with the axiom from Boethius diversum est esse et quod est.