Monday, March 30, 2015

Commentary on actus essendi

Text no. 13

Commentary on 

Expositio in librum Boetii De hebdomadibuslecture 2

(Quotations from the writings of J. A. AertsenPart I)  

In his commentary on Boethius’s De hebdomadibus Aquinas uses the expression actus essendi twice, in lecture 2: “Sicut possumus dicere de eo quod currit sive de currente quod currat inquantum subiicitur cursui et participat ipsum, ita possumus dicere quod ens sive id quod est sit inquantum participat actum essendi. (…) Sed id quod est, accepta essendi forma, scilicet suscipiendo ipsum actum essendi, est, atque consistit, idest in seipso subsistit; non enim ens dicitur proprie et per se nisi de substantia cuius est subsistere.

Since the publication of Cornelio Fabro’s works on participation (in 1939 and 1960), the In librum Boetii De hebdomadibus expositio has received considerable attention. Thus, before offering my own commentary on the context surrounding the text where Aquinas explicitly employs the expression actus essendi in his In De hebdomadibus, I shall first review some of the comments that have been offered by other authors in the relatively recent period since Fabro’s books.

C.1. Jan A. Aertsen

From the passages from Jan A. Aertsen’s “Thomas Aquinas: A First Model” reported below we take the following points:

(a) Aertsen argues that original to Aquinas is the foundational aspect with which he characterizes the transcendental notions in the commentary on Boethius’s De hebdomadibus. According to Aertsen, Aquinas endorses Aristotle’s reduction of the scientia to principles per se nota and Avicenna’s reduction of our concepts to primary notions, but goes one step further. For Aquinas that which is first in the order of concepts founds that which is first in the order of propositions.

(b) With reference to the two kinds of “common conceptions of the soul” that Boethius distinguishes in his De hebdomadibus, Aquinas introduces a distinction that is based on the reduction of these common principles to the terms of which they are composed. Some axioms are universally self-evident, because the terms of these propositions are known to all (omnibus). Other propositions are self-evident only to the learned, who understand the meaning of the terms of such propositions. Aquinas reduces Boethius’s first kind of ‘common conceptions’ to the transcendental terms ens, unum and bonum.

(c) According to Aertsen, Aquinas identifies the Boethian communis conceptio animi with the Aristotelian principium per se notum. Thus, the highlighted originality proves that Aquinas understands the axiom diversum est esse et id quod est as a self-evident principle of the kind that is self-evident to all.

In what follows I report passages form J. A. Aertsen’s “Thomas Aquinas: A First Model,” chapter VI in his Medieval Philosophy as Transcendental Thought: From Philip the Chancellor (ca. 1225) to Francisco Suárez (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 2012).

“Thomas wrote commentaries on two works of Boethius, which was quite unusual in the century after the aetas Boetiana. He composed a commentary on De trinitate, which is a significant source for his epistemological and methodological views, and a commentary on De hebdomadibus, the most important metaphysical treatise of the Boethian age. Aquinas interprets the axiomatic structure of this treatise from the perspective of the transcendentals. The nine axioms put forward by Boethius can be reduced to ‘the most common conceptions’ (maxime communia) ‘being’ (axioms 2-6), ‘one’ (axioms 7-8) and ‘good’ (axiom 9). Through these three notions Aquinas is able to give an order and depth structure to Boethius’s axioms, which remain altogether implicit in De hebdomadibus itself” (Medieval Philosophy as Transcendental Thought, 209).

Footnote: Thomas Aquinas, Expositio libri De ebdomadibus, lect. 2 (ed. Commissio Leonina, in: Opera Omnia, Vol. L, Rome 1992, p. 270): “et ideo primo ponit hic Boetius quasdam conceptiones pertinentes ad ens, secundo quasdam pertinentes ad unum ex quo sumitur ratio simplicis et compositi (…); tercio ponit quasdam conceptiones pertinentes ad bonum.” For this commentary, cf. R. te Velde, Participation and Substantiality in Thomas Aquinas, LeidenNew York – Köln 1995 (Studien und Texte zur Geistesgeschichte des Mittelalters, 46), pp. 8-44.

“In his account of the transcendentals in De veritate q. 1, a. 1, Aquinas adopts Avicenna’s argument for the necessity of primary notions. The argument rests on an analogy between the order of demonstration and the conceptual order. Just as propositions, so the conceptions of the human intellect must be reduced to principles known per se. But in later writings, Aquinas goes a step further in comparison with both Avicenna and his own account in De veritate q. 1, a. 1.” There is not only an analogy between both orders, but also a relation of foundation: that which is first in the order of concepts founds that which is first in the order of propositions. This ‘foundational’ aspect of the transcendentals, an original element of Aquinas’s doctrine, will be analyzed in the present section” (Medieval Philosophy as Transcendental Thought, 239-240).

“The central moment in the search for foundation is the idea of a continuing reduction in addition to Aristotle’s reduction of the scientia to principles per se nota and Avicenna’s reduction of our concepts to primary notions: self-evident principles must be reduced to the terms of which they are composed. This idea was inspired by Boethius’s work De hebdomadibus, on which Aquinas wrote a commentary. He was not only interested in the metaphysical problem of this treatise, the relation between being and goodness, but also in its methodology” (Medieval Philosophy as Transcendental Thought, 240).

“In De hebdomadibus, Boethius puts forward nine axioms, of which the first one provides a general description of the cognitive status of these axioms: ‘a common conception of the soul (communis animi conceptio) is a statement that anyone approves as he hears it.’ Boethius adds that these conceptions are of two kinds. One is common in that all men possess it, as, for instance, the proposition ‘If you take equals from two equals, the remainders are equal’ (= the third axiom in Euclid’s Elements). The other kind of common conception is known only to the learned, as ‘Things which are incorporeal are not in space’” (Medieval Philosophy as Transcendental Thought, 240).

Footnote: Boethius, De hebdomadibus (ed. Moreschini, in: De Consolatione Philosophiae—Opuscula Theologica, Leipzig 2000 (Bibliotheca Teubneriana), p. 187): “Ut igitur in mathematica fieri solet ceterisque etiam disciplinis, praeposui terminus regulasque quibus cuncta quae sequuntur efficiam. (I) Communis animi conception est enuntiatio, quam quisque probat auditam. Harum duplex modus est. Nam una ita communis est, ut omnium sit hominum (…) Alia vero est doctorum tantum, quae tamen ex talibus communis animi conceptionibus venit.”

“In his commentary, Aquinas identifies the Boethian communis conceptio animi with the Aristotelian principium per se notum” (Medieval Philosophy as Transcendental Thought, 240).

Footnote: Cf. L. F. Tuninetti, ‘Per se notum.’ Die logische Beschaffenheit des Selbsverstāndlichen im Denken des Thomas von Aquin, LeidenNew York – Köln 1996 (Studien und Texte zur Geistesgeschichte des Mittelalters, 47), p. 19.

“What is also noteworthy is the way in which he interprets Boethius’s distinction between the two kinds of ‘common conceptions.’ The distinction can be explained by the terms of which such propositions are composed. A principle per se notum is a proposition whose predicate is included in the essence of the subject. Universally self-evident are therefore propositions that use terms understood by all human beings. That which falls in every intellect is what is most general (maxime communia), as ‘being,’ ‘one’ and ‘good’” (Medieval Philosophy as Transcendental Thought, 240-241).

Footnote: Thomas Aquinas, Expositio libri De hebdomadibus, lect. 2 (ed. Commissio Leonina, Vol. L, p. 270): “ille propositiones sunt maxime notae quae utuntur terminis quos omnes intelligent; ea autem quae in omni intellectu cadunt sunt maxime communia, quae sunt ens, unum et bonum.”

“Aquinas reduces Boethius’s first kind of ‘common conceptions’ to the transcendental terms, which are the first conceptions, because they are communissima. He names ‘being,’ ‘one’ and ‘good,’ since through these three notions he is able to give a depth structure to Boethius’s axioms” (Medieval Philosophy as Transcendental Thought, 241).

“A similar idea underlies Aquinas’s reflections in his Metaphysics commentary on the foundation of theoretical knowledge in general. In the fourth book of the Metaphysics, Aristotle states three conditions of the first and firmest principle of demonstration that ‘everyone, who wants to know something of that which is, must possess:’ No one can be mistaken or be in error regarding this principle; it must not presuppose anything—Aristotle employs the phrase anhypotheton that Plato attribute to the Idea of the Good—, but must be self-evident; and, finally, it is not acquired by demonstration. These conditions are met by the principle of contradiction: ‘the same thing cannot at the same time belong and not belong to the same thing in the same respect’” (Medieval Philosophy as Transcendental Thought, 241).

Footnote: Aristotle, Metaphysics, IV, c. 3, 1005b 14-20. Cf. K. H. Volkmann-Schluck, “Der Satz vom Widerspruch als Anfang der Philosophie,” in: G. Neske (ed.), Durchblicke (Festschrift zum 70 Geburtstag M. Heidegger), Pfullingen 1959, pp. 134-150.

“The fact that those making demonstrations reduce all their arguments to this axiom as the ultimate one in the analysis (resolvendo) shows that this principle does not presuppose anything” (Medieval Philosophy as Transcendental Thought, 241).

Footnote: Thomas Aquinas, In IV Metaphysicorum, lect. 6, nn. 603-604 (ed. Cathala, p. 167): “Et propter hoc omnes demonstrationes reducunt suas propositiones in hanc propositionem, sicut in ultimam opinionem omnibus communem: ipsa enim est naturaliter principium et dignitas omnium dignitatum (…) inquantum in hanc reducunt demonstrantes omnia, sicut in ultimum resolvendo.”

“This axiom Aquinas had in mind, when in De veritate q. 1, a. 1, he stated that in demonstrable matters a reduction must be made to self-evident principles” (Medieval Philosophy as Transcendental Thought, 241).

“In his commentary on the Metaphysics, Aquinas goes far beyond the littera of the text and gives Aristotle’s anhypotheton a philosophical foundation. His argument is a different version of the reduction of propositions to the knowledge of concepts. Aquinas’s point of departure is the Aristotelian view (De anima III, c. 6) that the intellect has two operations. The first is the operation by which the intellect knows ‘what something is,’ the other the operation by which it composes and divides, that is, by which it forms affirmative and negative propositions. In both operations there is something first. In the first operation the first that the intellect conceives is ‘being’—nothing can be conceived by the mind unless ‘being’ is understood. The principle ‘it is impossible for a thing to be and not to be at the same time’ depends (dependet) on the understanding of ‘being’ and is therefore by nature the first in the second operation of the intellect” (Medieval Philosophy as Transcendental Thought, 241-242).

Footnote: Ibid., n. 605 (pp. 167-168): “Ad huius autem evidentiam sciendum est, quod, cum duplex sit operatio intellectus: una, qua cognoscit quod quid est (…); alia, qua componit et dividit: in utroque est aliquod primum: in prima quidem operatione est aliquod primum, quod cadit in conceptione intellectus, scilicet hoc quod dico ens; nec aliquid hac operatione potest mente concipi, nisi intelligatur ens. Et quia hoc principium, impossibile est esse et non esse simul, dependet ex intellectu entis, (…) ideo hoc etiam principium est naturaliter primum in secunda operatione intellectus, scilicet componentis et dividentis.” Cf. R. Imbach, “Primum Principium. Anmerkungen zum Wandel in der Auslegung der Bedeutung und Funktion des Satzes vom zu vermeidenden Widerspruch bei Thomas von Aquin, Nikolaus von Autrecourt, Heymericus de Campo und Nikolaus von Kues,” in: M. Pickave (ed.), Die Logik des Transzendentalen. Festschrift für Jan A. Aertsen, Berlin – New York 2003 (Miscellanea Mediaevalia, 30), pp. 600-616.

“Aquinas gives what we might call a ‘transcendental’ foundation to the first principle of demonstration as the beginning of theoretical science—he himself uses the term fundatur in Summa theologiae I-II, q. 94, a. 2. He grounds the Aristotelian anhypotheton on ‘being’ as the first conception of the intellect. Its implication is that the consideration of this principle belongs to metaphysics, since it is the office of this science to consider being as such and its properties” (Medieval Philosophy as Transcendental Thought, 242).

Footnote: Thomas Aquinas, In I Posteriora Analytica, lect. 5 (ed. Commissio Leonina, in: Opera Omnia, Vol. I*/2, Rome 1989, p. 25): “sciendum est quod quelibet propositio cuius predicatum est in ratione subiecti est inmediata et per se nota, quantum est in se. Sed quarundam propositionum termini sunt tales quod sunt in notitia omnium, sicut ens et unum et alia quae sunt entis in quantum ens: nam ens est prima conceptio intellectus (…) Unde et huiusmodi principia omnes sciencie accipiunt a metaphisica, cuius est considerare ens simpliciter et ea quae sunt entis.”

“Aquinas gives a ‘transcendental’ foundation not only to theoretical knowledge, but also to practical knowledge. (…) Aquinas develops a structure for practical science that is analogous to that of theoretical science. (…) His argument proves to be a synthesis of the different moments that played a role in his foundation of theoretical thought” (Medieval Philosophy as Transcendental Thought, 242-243).

“The starting point of Thomas’s exposition is an analogy of proportionality between theoretical and practical reason that concerns their relation to first principles. (…) The analogy is indicative both of the structural agreement between theoretical and practical reason and of their difference. Practical and theoretical science have the same formal structure of rationality, insofar as scientific knowledge in both domains has to be reduced to self-evident principles. At the same time, the analogy is an indication of the autonomy of ethics, insofar as practical reason has its own first principles distinct from those of theoretical reason. Just as man possesses a natural habitus, the intellectus principiorum, through which he knows the theoretical principles, so he possesses a natural habitus of the first practical principles that is called synderesis” (Medieval Philosophy as Transcendental Thought, 243-244).

Footnote: Thomas Aquinas, De veritate, q. 16, a. 1 (ed. Commissio Leonina, Vol. XXII/2, p. 504): Sicut autem animae humanae est quidam habitus naturalis quo principia speculativarum scientiarum cognoscit, quem vocamus ‘intellectum principiorum’; ita in ipsa est quidam habitus naturalis primorum principiorum operabilium, quae sunt universalia principia iuris naturalis; qui quidem habitus ad ‘synderesim’ pertinent”. Cf. Summa theologiae I, q. 79, a. 12. The origin of the curious term synderesis rests on a corrupted transliteration of the Greek word syneidesis (“conscience”). For the complex history of the concept, cf. O. D. Lottin, “Syndérèse et conscience aux XIIe et XIIIe siècles”, in: id., Psychologie et morale aux XIIe et XIIIe siècles, Vol. II/1: Problèmes de morale, Louvain-Gembloux 1948, pp. 101–349. C. Trottmann, Vers la contemplation. Etudes sur la syndérèsis et les modalités de la contemplation de l’Antiquité à la Renaissance, Paris 2007 (Le savoir de Mantice, 13).

“Aquinas goes on to discuss the nature of the principia per se nota, from which theoretical and practical reason start. With an explicit reference to Boethius’s work De hebdomadibus, which had distinguished two kinds of ‘common conceptions of the soul,” he introduces a distinction with respect to these principles that is based on their reduction to the terms of which they are composed. Some propositions are self-evident only to the learned, who understand the meaning of the terms of such propositions. Other axioms are universally self-evident, because the terms of these propositions are known to all (omnibus)” (Medieval Philosophy as Transcendental Thought, 244).

Footnote: Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, I–II, q. 94, a. 2 (ed. Commissio Leonina, Vol. VII, p. 169): “sicut dicit Boetius, in libro De hebdomad., quaedam sunt dignitates vel propositiones per se notae communiter omnibus: et huiusmodi sunt illae propositiones quarum termini sunt omnibus noti (. . .). Quaedam vero propositiones sunt per se notae solis sapientibus, qui terminos propositionum intelligunt quid significent.”

Thus, Thomas enters the domain of the transcendentals by reducing the universally self-evident principles to the first conceptions of the intellect” (Medieval Philosophy as Transcendental Thought, 244).

The next part of the argument draws a conclusion from the so far purely formal exposition. Among the most common notions there exists a conceptual order, in which ‘being’ has primacy. That which the intellect first conceives is ‘being,’ for its understanding is included in all things whatsoever a human being apprehends. Aquinas establishes a relation of foundation between ‘being’ and the first principle of theoretical reason, which we already know from his commentary on the Metaphysics. ‘Therefore, the first indemonstrable principle, the proposition “the same thing cannot be affirmed and denied at the same time,” is founded (fundatur) on the notions of “being” and “not-being;” all other propositions are founded on this principle,’ the anhypotheton of human thought” (Medieval Philosophy as Transcendental Thought, 244-245).

Footnote: Ibid. (pp. 169–170): “In his autem quae in apprehensione omnium cadunt, quidam ordo invenitur. Nam illud quod primo cadit in apprehensione, est ens, cuius intellectus includitur in omnibus quaecumque quis apprehendit. Et ideo primum principium indemonstrabile est quod non est simul affirmare et negare, quod fundatur supra rationem entis et non entis: et super hoc principio omnia alia fundantur, ut dicitur in IV Metaphys.”

Similar remarks can also be found in two other works by Aertsen: Medieval Philosophy and the Transcendentals: The Case of Thomas Aquinas (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1996), 146-151 and 326-330; and “What is First and Most Fundamental? The Beginnings of Transcendental Philosophy,” a contribution to Was ist Philosophie im Mittelalter? ed. Jan A. Aertsen and Andreas Speer (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co., 1998), 177-192.