Archive for the ‘De Ente et Essentia’ Category

DE&E: Chapter 5:7

Wednesday, November 12th, 2008

Continuing yesterday’s thought on the nature of genus an difference for immaterial substances, Thomas says:

Similarly, in immaterial things the genus is taken from the whole essence, though not in the same way as the difference is. One separated substance is like another with respect to their immateriality, but they differ one from another with respect to their grade of perfection according to how far each recedes from potentiality and approaches pure act.

Right, we’ve been through that.

And so, in such substances, the genus is taken from that which arises in these substances insofar as they are immaterial, as intellectuality and such things; the difference, however, is taken from that which arises in these substances from their grade of perfection, although these differences are unknown to us.

How do they differ? In terms of how perfect they are, how much in act and how much in potency. Their genus, I gather, depends on their properties, i.e., all immaterial substances are, apparently, intellectual, but some may have properties others do not, and this would lead to distinct genera.

Nor are these differences accidental because they arise from greater and lesser perfection, which do not diversify the species. For, while the grade of perfection in receiving the same form does not diversify the species (as whiter and less white in participating in whiteness of the same type),….

My son and I belong to the same species. Presumably, as he’s 11 and I’m, ahem, rather older than that, I’ve more act and less potency than he does when it comes to being a man. We both participate in the same form to a lesser or greater degree, and that does not make us different species. But immaterial substances are different.

….nevertheless, a different grade of perfection in these participated forms or natures does diversify the species, just as nature proceeds by grades from plants to animals through those things that are median between plants and animals, as the Philosopher says in VIII De Historia Animalium cap. 1 (588b4-12).

I take this to mean that there needs to be a qualitative difference in the degree of perfection, not merely a quantitative difference. (I’m sure that the terms “qualitative” and “quantitative” aren’t exactly right, here, but you get the idea.)

Nor is it necessary that the division of intellectual substances always be made through two true differences, for it is impossible that this happen in all things, as the Philosopher says in I De Partibus Animalium cap. 2 (642b5-7).

OK, this is completely opaque. I’m not sure how much it matters, but it’s completely opaque.

DE&E: Chapter 5:6

Tuesday, November 11th, 2008

Things are beginning to get deep again. Thomas says,

We should note, though, that the genus and difference in immaterial substances are not taken in the same way as in sensible substances, for in sensible substances the genus is taken from that which is material in the thing, while the difference is taken from that which is formal in the thing.

He talked about this awhile back, but the details are getting fuzzy. I’m clearly going to have to work through all of this again. (Aaargh!) But yes, I vaguely recall that for sensible substances, like me, you, or that dog, two substances share a genus based on a material similarity (the dog and I are both animals) where as the specific difference is taken from the actual form of the substance, that is, I’m rational because I have an intellectual soul.

Hence, Avicenna says, De Anima I, cap.1, that, in things composed of form and matter, the form “is its simple difference because the thing is constituted from it,” not, however, because the form is the difference but rather because it is the principle of the difference, as Avicenna himself says in his Metaphysicae V, cap. 6.

What does it mean to be the “principle of the difference”? The principle of a thing is its chief cause. So Thomas is saying that the chief cause of Socrates being rational is his essential form, but that rationality is not Socrates’ essential form. There’s more to that form than rationality alone.

Further, this difference is called a simple difference because it is taken from that which is a part of the quiddity of the thing, namely, from the form.

Remember that for material substances, the essence, the quiddity, includes both form and non-signate matter. So the essential form is only a part of the quiddity.

But since immaterial substances are simple quiddities, in such substances the difference cannot be taken from that which is a part of the quiddity but only from the whole quiddity, and so in De Anima I, cap. 1, Avicenna says that substances “have no simple difference except for those species of which the essences are composed of matter and form.”

OK; for material substances the difference is a part of the quiddity, whereas for immaterial substances the difference is the whole of the quiddity. If you define “simple difference” to mean “a difference that’s only part of the quiddity” then, sure, immaterial substances don’t have such a thing. But why the former should be called “simple” while the latter is not eludes me completely.

DE&E: Chapter 5:5

Sunday, November 9th, 2008

Having spent all of this time talking about the essence of various things, Thomas now tells a bit about the limits of our knowledge.

Since in these substances the quiddity is not the same as existence, these substances can be ordered in a predicament, and for this reason we find among these things genera, species, and differences, although their proper differences are hidden from us.

The “these substances” of which he speaks are the intellectual substances: angels, and the human soul. I did a quick Google search, and it appears that the word predicament is simply the Latin equivalent to the Greek category. The categories are the “top-level” genera, so to speak. So far he’s saying little that we haven’t already covered. I’ve highlighted the bit I find interesting: “their proper differences are hidden from us”. On the one hand, we know that the intellectual substances can in principle be ordered by genus, species, and difference; but on the other, we are not in a position to know what the differences are. (Does this mean that we can know the genus and species?)

In sensible things even the essential differences are unknown to us, and so they are signified through accidental differences that arise from the essential ones, just as a cause is signified through its effect. We take bipedality, for example, as the difference of man.

With sensible things, all we can sense are the accidents of things; we can’t really know the essential differences. Now, this raises all sort of questions. Haven’t we been talking about apprehending essences? Though perhaps I’m confusing logical essences with metaphysical essences.

Also, in what sense is bipedality the difference of man? Up until now, Thomas has said that rationality is the difference of man. I suppose bipedality is the accidental difference rather than the essential difference; but that’s still odd. Plato famously defined man as a featherless biped; but in that definition, bipedality is the genus, not the difference.

The proper accidents of immaterial substances, however, are unknown to us, and thus we can signify their differences neither per se nor through their accidental differences.

But to get back to the point, not only can’t we perceive the essential difference of intellectual substances, we can’t even perceive their accidents. Consequently, there’s really very little we can know about them using our own faculties.

DE&E: Chapter 5:4

Friday, November 7th, 2008

There are three ways that essence is found in substances; today Thomas begins to talk about the second way:

In a second way, essence is found in created intellectual substances, in which existence is other than essence, although in these substances the essence is without matter. Hence, their existence is not absolute but received, and so finite and limited by the capacity of the receiving nature; but their nature or quiddity is absolute and is not received in any matter.

And so, as we discussed in Chapter 4, angels are a composite of essence and existence, with no admixture of matter.

Thus, the author of the Liber de Causis, prop. 16, com., says that intelligences are infinite in an inferior way and finite in a superior way: they are finite with respect to their existence, which they receive from something superior, though they are not rendered finite in an inferior way because their forms are not limited to the capacity of some matter receiving them.

I think what he’s saying here is that angels have their essence in full: they are finite, but what they are, they are completely. Humans, by contrast, have potency mixed with act; and none of us, I imagine, actualize our entire nature, at least in this life.

And now we get to a topic I’ve been wondering about.

And thus among such substances we do not find a multitude of individuals in one species, as said above, except in the case of the human soul, and there we do find a multitude of individuals in one species because of the body to which the soul is united. Now, the individuation of the soul depends on the body, in an occasional manner, as to its inception, for the soul does not acquire for itself individual existence unless in the body of which it is the act. But nevertheless, if we subtract the body, the individuation does not perish because, since the soul was made the form of a given body, the form has absolute existence from which it has acquired individuated existence, and this existence always remains individuated. And thus Avicenna says, De Anima V, cap. 3, that the individuation of souls and their multiplication depend on the body for their beginning but not for their end.

Human souls are individuated by their bodies; you can have a soul apart from a body, but bodies and souls are created together and belong together.

This would seem to imply that the species “man” is almost a genus: my essence, my form, is not simply to be human, but to be me, specifically, the human with this body–the human whose form is the form of this body. Two apples may have the same quiddity, and two dogs, but it’s not clear to me, from what Thomas says here, that two people do.

Anyway, we now have two of the three ways in which substances have essence:

  • Ways in which substances may have an essence
    • As God has His essence, His existence
    • As intellectual substances have essence, while receiving existence from another
    • ???

DE&E: Chapter 5:3

Tuesday, November 4th, 2008

This paragraph has more on how essence is found in God.

Similarly, although God is existence alone, the remaining perfections and nobilities are not lacking in him. On the contrary, he has all the perfections that exist in every genus, and for this reason he is called perfect without qualification, as the Philosopher, V Metaphysicae cap. 16 (1021b30-33), and the Commentator, Metaphysicae V, com. 21, each say. But God has these perfections in a more excellent way than all other things have them because in him they are one, while in other things they are diverse. And this is because all these perfections pertain to God according to his simple existence, just as, if someone through one quality could effect the operations of all qualities, such a person would have in that one quality all the qualities, so too does God in his very existence have all the perfections.

God is existence, simply, and is infinite. As such, He contains all perfections that are in creatures, and infinitely so. We covered this in detail a while backwhile going through the Compendium Theologiae.

I am somewhat unclear on the highlighted phrase, however. Here’s a stab at it. A white dog has whiteness, and hence appears white. It has sentience, and hence can sense things. It has mobility, and hence can move. It possesses many qualities, and also the operations of those qualities, those things that the qualities cause. I’m presuming that the qualities are forms, and forms are act, that is to say, causes, and I gather that their operations are the things they cause.

Now, suppose I had a quality called “bloof”. And if by virtue of being “bloof” I was white, and sentient, and mobile, and so forth, we’d say that the quality of “bloof” contained the qualities of whiteness and sentience, and mobility, and so forth. When you’ve said “bloof”, you’ve said it all. And similarly, God really does possess all perfections simply by being infinite existence; and so when we have said that God’s essence is His existence, we’ve said all of the other things as well.

DE&E: Chapter 5:2

Monday, November 3rd, 2008

After a break of several days, we’re back with the second paragraph of Chapter 5. You might want to go back and re-read the first paragraph. Thomas has begun to discuss the three ways in which essence is found in various substances; so far we’ve gotten this:

  • Ways in which substances may have an essence
    • As God has His essence, His existence
    • ???
    • ???

He’s still talking about the first way in paragraph two.

Even though we say that God is existence alone we do not fall into the error of those who said that God is that universal existence by which everything formally exists.

God is existence alone; all that is owes its existence to God; but God is not merely that existence which we find in the created world.

The existence which is God is of such a kind that no addition can be made to it, whence through its purity it is distinct from every other existence; for this reason the author of the Liber de Causis, prop. 9, com., says that the individuation of the first cause, which is being alone, is through its pure goodness.

Or, as Thomas puts it elsewhere, God is infinite and possesses all perfections in His infinity: all good, all truth, all beauty. But more of this anon, in paragraph three.

But common existence, just as it does not include in its concept any addition, so too in its concept does it not exclude any addition; for, if such existence did in its concept exclude any addition, nothing could be understood to exist in which there was added something beyond existence.

Naturally. If a dog has no existence, it doesn’t exist; but if it doesn’t have dogginess, then it isn’t a dog. And the same holds for everything that is, save for God.

DE&E: Chapter 5:1

Thursday, October 30th, 2008

On to Chapter 5!

Having treated these matters, we can see clearly how essence is found in various kinds of things. There are three ways in which substances may have an essence.

Three ways. This paragraph only begins to talk about the first of them, so we’ll have to accumulate them as we go along.

First, surely, is the way God has his essence, which is his very existence itself, and so we find certain philosophers saying that God does not have a quiddity or essence because his essence is not other than his existence.

So that’s the first way:

  • Ways in which substances may have an essence
    • As God has His essence, His existence
    • ???
    • ???

It’s sufficiently different from the others that some philosophers don’t regard it as an essence at all.

From this it follows that he is not in a genus, for everything that is in a genus has a quiddity beyond its existence, since the quiddity or nature of the genus or species is not in the order of nature distinguished in the things of which it is the genus or species, but the existence is diverse in diverse things.

All animals, for example, have a quiddity that is common among them, but each has its own existence. God is, on the other hand, solely His own existence, and so He is not in a genus.

Thomas goes into this in greater detail in the Compendium Theologiae; see Chapter 13.

DE&E: Chapter 4:9

Wednesday, October 29th, 2008

We come to the last paragraph of Chapter 4, and it’s time to stretch!

The term “possible intellect” pops up again in this paragraph, so I went and did a Google search. What I discover is this: the intellect has two faculties: the agent intellect, and the possible intellect. When I apprehend a concept, it becomes act in the agent intellect. And the collection of concepts I know and can bring into act is stored in the possible intellect. It would appear that the possible intellect is to concepts as the memory is to sense images.

OK, with that out of the way (garbled though it likely is), let’s move on:

This scale comes to an end with the human soul, which holds the lowest place among intellectual substances.

I’m still trying to figure how the soul is a substance all on its own, when I know that Catholic doctrine says that man is a body and soul together, the soul being the form of the body.

The soul’s possible intellect is related to intelligible forms just as prime matter (which holds the lowest place in sensible existence) is related to sensible forms, as the Commentator says in De Anima III, com. 5.

Gosh, I’m glad I looked up “possible intellect”, because now the above actually makes sense.

Material things are composed of sensible forms and matter. Formless matter, called “prime matter”, doesn’t really exist; it’s more of a conceptual convenience, like the number zero. Prime matter is pure potency with no admixture of act, and is thus at the other end of the scale from God, who is pure act with no potency. When a material substance is generated, you could think of it as a form sucking up prime matter and giving it form.

The possible intellect is the equivalent of prime matter. When the agent intellect apprehends a form, it gives the form act; it’s as though the form is sucking up possible intellect to make a genuine concept.

I’m probably mangling the terminology, here, and stepping on fine distinctions.

The Philosopher thus compares, III De Anima cap. 4 (430a1), the soul to a tablet on which nothing has been written.

That kind of makes sense. The agent intellect can give act to forms; but without forms, it’s blank.

Since, among intellectual substances, the soul has the most potency, it is so close to material things that a material thing is brought to participate in its existence: that is, from the soul and the body there results one existence in one composite thing, although this existence, as the existence of the soul, is not dependent on the body.

Thomas has already established that there is a ranking among intellectual substances, from the greater with more act and less potency to the lesser with less act and more potency. And the human soul is the least of these; it has the most potency of any. And in fact, it has just enough potency to (in computer terms) “interface” well with matter. The soul is combined with a material thing, the body, and the two are one thing.

I’m intrigued by Thomas’ statement that although the soul and body are one composite thing, the existence of the soul doesn’t depend on the body. OK; but how does that work?

Therefore, beyond this form that is the soul, there are other forms having more potency and being closer to matter, and so much so that they have no existence without matter. Among these forms there is an order and gradation down to the primary forms of the elements, which are closest to matter; and so these have no operation except as required by the active and passive qualities and other such qualities by which matter is disposed by form.

So the soul is the lowest form that can exist without matter.

DE&E: Chapter 4:8

Tuesday, October 28th, 2008

Here’s a short little paragraph:

Moreover, since we posit in the intelligences potency and act, it will not be difficult to find a multitude of intelligences, which would be impossible if there were in them no potency. Hence, the Commentator says in De Anima III, com. 5 that if the nature of the possible intellect were unknown, we would not be able to find a multitude of separate substances. There is thus a distinction among separate substances according to their grade of potency and act such that the superior intelligences, which are nearer the first cause, have more act and less potency, and so on.

God is the only being that is pure act. The angels are composed of form and existence; and in them, per the previous paragraph, form is potency and existence is act. At least, that’s what I think I read. But anyway, they contain no matter. For material beings, matter is the principle of individuation. For immaterial beings, no two beings can have the same form: without matter to individuate them, they’d be the same being.

It’s not clear to me whether or not two angels can have the same degree of potency and act but different and distinct forms. Even if not, it’s not clear to me whether the ranking of angels is meant to be a complete ordering or a partial ordering. Also, I have no idea what Thomas means by “possible intellect”.

In short, the gist of the paragraph is reasonably clear–some angels have more act and some have less–but much of the detail eludes me.

DE&E: Chapter 4:7

Monday, October 27th, 2008

So, angels are composed of form and existence, and have their existence from God. Let’s dig a little deeper.

Everything that receives something from another is in potency with respect to what it receives, and that which is received in the thing is its act; therefore, a quiddity or form that is an intelligence is in potency with respect to the existence that it receives from God, and this received existence is received as its act.

An angel receives existence from God, so it is in potency with respect to existence; this existence is its act.

Hmmm. In material substances, we usually say that matter is potency and form is act. Here, we are saying that form is potency, and existence is act. This implies that in material substances, existence is to form as form is to matter: that which gives it act.

And thus there are found in the intelligences both potency and act but not matter and form, unless in some equivocal sense.

So this is how there can be potency in angels, even though they have no matter. (I say that as though I understand it.) An angel’s form is only potency, potential, until it receives existence from God. But once it receives existence, can it still change? Can it exist in different ways at different times? I don’t see how it could, for then there would be different kinds of existence, and the kind of existence the angel has at any given time would be a predicate. But existence isn’t a predicate.

So too to suffer, to receive, to be a subject and everything of this type that seem to pertain to things by reason of their matter are said of intellectual substances and corporeal substances equivocally, as the Commentator says in De Anima III, com. 14.

He says “equivocally”; does he really mean “analogically”? I presume that he must, e.g., that angels suffer in a way that’s somewhat similar to how we humans suffer, though also somewhat different. If he really means “equivocally” then he’s saying that angels do something that we call “suffering”, though it really bears no resemblance to human suffering at all. And in that case, why call it “suffering”?

Furthermore, since, as said above, the quiddity of an intelligence is the intelligence itself, its quiddity or essence is itself the very thing that exists, and its existence received from God is that by which it subsists in the nature of things; and because of this some people say that substances of this kind are composed of what is and that by which it is, or of what is and existence, as Boethius says in De Hebdomadibus (PL 64, 1311 B-C).

“…what is and that by which it is…”, which is to say, its whatness, or quiddity, and its cause, that which causes it.