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Monday, June 9, 2014

0356: The Self-Evident Connotation of the
Actus Essendi (XVIII)

Entry 0356: The Self-Evident Connotation of the
Actus Essendi

What exactly does the human intellect grasp as self-evident
in its interaction with the actus essendi
of subsisting extramental realities?

Important clues towards an answer to this question are provided by Leo Elders in his reflections on being in chapter 1 of his The Metaphysics of Being of St. Thomas Aquinas. Thus Elders writes:

“The being that presents itself immediately to human experience is created being; it is, however, known by means of an abstract concept which does not explicitly indicate that it is created being. [Footnote]: I, 44,1, ad 1: Being caused does not belong to the notion of being as such; nevertheless, it is consequent upon those things which belongs to its notion” (Leo J. Elders, The Metaphysics of Being of St. Thomas Aquinas in a Historical Perspective [Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1993], 38).

The complete answer to objection 1 of Summa Theologiae, part I, question 44, article 1, reads as follows: “Ad primum ergo dicendum quod, licet habitudo ad causam non intret definitionem entis quod est causatum, tamen sequitur ad ea qua sunt de eius ratione, quia ex hoc quod aliquid per participationem est ens, sequitur quod sit causatum ab alio. Unde huiusmodi ens non potest esse, quin sit causatum; sicut nec homo, quin sit risibile. Sed quia esse causatum non est de ratione entis simpliciter, propter hoc invenitur aliquod ens non causatum.”

Elders then continues:

St. Thomas confirms emphatically that being is the first concept that enters the human mind. He recalls that Avicenna taught this, but he finds it already in Proclus. [Footnote]: In I Metaph., lectio 2, n. 46; In Librum de causis, prop.6, n.174. Cf. Avicenna, Metaphysica I 6,f.72,r.2” (L. J. Elders, The Metaphysics of Being, 39).

“The insight that being is the first concept, also implies that things and the world are experienced by us directly, i.e. it is the basis of Thomist realism which excludes all doubt about what is immediately perceived and asserts that the position of critical realism is untenable. [Footnote]: Critical realism asserts that one must first investigate whether our knowledge  can really grasp reality. — However, if it is not immediately evident to us that we  do so right away, how can we ever be certain about it? See E. Gilson, Realisme thomiste et critique de la connaissance, Paris 1939, 77” (L. J. Elders, The Metaphysics of Being, 39).

“Thus the first concept we acquire is general and as yet indeterminate. But ‘indeterminate’ does not mean empty or bereft of meaning and reality, as was suggested by Nietzsche who called concepts like being ‘the last puff of smoke of evaporating reality.’ [Footnote]: Gotzen-Dammerung VIII 78.

On the contrary, being means all that is real and stores within itself the reality of everything that exists in one way or another. Given that ‘being’ is the first thought we have, we cannot clarify or define it by means of something else. We can only say that being means ‘that which is.’ Apparently there is a kind of duality in our concept of being which we explicitate by this expression. That which is most proper to and most profound in being is not [sic] ‘THAT which is’ but ‘BEING REAL.’ Aquinas states this repeatedly and emphatically: ‘The meaning and kernel of being lies in the act of being and not in that to which the act of being is attributed’ [Footnote]: veritate 1, 1 ad sed contra 3: ‘Ratio entis ab actu essendi sumitur, non ab eo cui convenit actus essendi.’

‘Being states no essence but merely the act of being’ [Footnote]: In VI Metaph., lectio 2, n. 553: ‘Ens autem non dicit quidditatem sed solum actum essendi;’ ‘Ens imponitur ab actu essendi.’

‘The noun being (ens) is derived from the being (esse) of the thing’ [Footnote]: In I Sent., d. 25, q. l, a. 4: ‘Nomen entis sumitur ab esse rei.’ This means that our first concept ‘that which is’ is derived from the things that are real and expresses this ‘being real’ common to all existing things. However, our concept of the verb ‘to be’ is derived from the noun ‘being’ as St. Thomas explicitly says” (L. J. Elders, The Metaphysics of Being, 39-40).

“In these statements Aquinas refers to the fact that our concept of being means in the first place and in its formal sense the being real of a thing and in the second place that to which this being real is attributed. [Footnote]: Silvester Ferrariensis calls this ‘ens particulariter sumptum’ (In I Contra Gentes, c.25, VIII). 

This concept, however, is not yet the concept of being as a verb (esse), which we acquire by a further abstraction from what we experience in our statements about reality – in the so-called second operation of the intellect” (L. J. Elders, The Metaphysics of Being, 40).

“The concept of being (something that is really) is abstracted by us from the concrete things with which our senses bring us into contact and which they present to us. The content of the concept of being is not this individual real thing, but the ‘being real’ of something thought in a general concept which as general exists only in our intellect, even though in forming this concept, we know, — because of the cooperation of the sense-faculties with the intellect, — that an individual reality is present. [Footnote]: S.C.G. I, 26: ‘Multo igitur minus et ipsum esse commune est aliquid praeter omnes res existentes nisi in intellectu solum’” (L. J. Elders, The Metaphysics of Being, 40).

In other words, the human intellect first abstracts the concept of “being real” as such, independent of any subject, and second, through the so-called second operation of the human intellect we express this being real through propositions and in relation to things which are concretely present to us in and by means of sense perception. (See ibid.)