Archive for October, 2008

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.

DE&E: Chapter 4:6

Sunday, October 26th, 2008

I’m back from gallivanting, and I’m mostly recovered from several days of diehard Tcl/Tk geekery. So, on to Chapter 4, paragraph 6 of De Ente et Essentia.

In the previous paragraph, Thomas showed that the “intelligences”, e.g., angels, are composites of form and existence. Now he goes on to show that in addition, the angels have their existence not of themselves, but of the first cause, which is God.

Everything that pertains to a thing, however, either is caused by the principles of its own nature, as risibility in man, or else comes from some extrinsic principle, as light in the air from the influence of the sun.

Everything about a thing has a principle, that is, some cause. And that cause is either from within, from the thing’s nature, or from without. My natural hair color is brown (with bits of gray); or I can dye it black if I choose.

I find Thomas example interesting: apparently man is naturally comical. (Although, a secondary meaning of risible is to have the ability to laugh; I suspect this is actually what Thomas had in mind, rather than saying that man naturally induces laughter in others.) (Of course, both statements are true.)

Now, it cannot be that existence itself is caused by the very form or quiddity of the thing (I mean as by an efficient cause), because then the thing would be its own efficient cause, and the thing would produce itself in existence, which is impossible.

And anyway, we’ve already shown that angels can’t simply be their own existence, as then they’d have no form.

Therefore, everything the existence of which is other than its own nature has existence from another.

It is not an angel’s nature to exist, and so the angel must have its existence from another. OK.

And since everything that is through another is reduced to that which is through itself as to a first cause, there is something that is the cause of existing in all things in that this thing is existence only. Otherwise, we would have to go to infinity in causes, for everything that is not existence alone has a cause of its existence, as said above.

The emphasized phrase is difficult. Let’s take it piece by piece. “…everything that is through another” means “every being whose existence is caused by some other being”. “…that which is through itself as to a first cause” must, I think, mean that being which is its own cause, which causes its own existence: the first cause, or God. That leaves use with “is reduced to”. In other words, if A is caused by B, and B by C, then A is ultimately caused by C. And if C is caused by D, then A is ultimately caused by D. This is a reduction. And so then, there is either an infinite chain of causes or we ultimately get to the first cause, God…and A’s existence reduces to that of God’s existence.

Or, in Thomas’ words:

It is clear, therefore, that the intelligences are form and existence and have existence from the first being, which is existence alone, and this is the first cause, which is God.

DE&E: Chapter 4:5

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2008

Let’s continue to look at simple substances. In this paragraph, Thomas explains why they must be a composition between essence and existence.

Although substances of this kind are form alone and are without matter, they are nevertheless not in every way simple, and they are not pure act; rather, they have an admixture of potency, and this can be seen as follows.

Interesting. Where there is potency, there is (by definition) the possibility of change. But what kind of change?

Whatever is not in the concept of the essence or the quiddity comes from beyond the essence and makes a composition with the essence, because no essence can be understood without the things that are its parts.

If there’s something in a substance that is not in the essence, then it’s composed with the essence; if it were essential, it would be part of the essence, and if it’s not essential and not composed, it’s not part of the substance.

But every essence or quiddity can be understood without understanding anything about its existence: I can understand what a man is or what a phoenix is and nevertheless not know whether either has existence in reality.

Right. A phoenix has an essence, and thanks to Harry Potter every 10-year-old knows what it is. But there aren’t any.

Therefore, it is clear that existence is something other than the essence or quiddity, unless perhaps there is something whose quiddity is its very own existence, and this thing must be one and primary.

And that would be God. Why must this thing be one and primary?

For, there can be no plurification of something except by the addition of some difference, as the nature of a genus is multiplied in its species; or as, since the form is received in diverse matters, the nature of the species is multiplied in diverse individuals; or again as when one thing is absolute and another is received in something else, as if there were a certain separate heat that was other than unseparated heat by reason of its own separation.

OK, I got the first two cases: species differ from other species in the same genus by their specific difference; individuals within a species differ by their matter. But the emphasized phrase is not quite clear to me.

But if we posit a thing that is existence only, such that it is subsisting existence itself, this existence will not receive the addition of a difference, for, if there were added a difference, there would be not only existence but existence and also beyond this some form;

Well, OK; by definition. If it’s only existence, it’s only existence.

…much less would such a thing receive the addition of matter, for then the thing would be not subsisting existence but material existence.

This presumably ties in with the separated heat thing up above. I still don’t quite get it.

Hence, it remains that a thing that is its own existence cannot be other than one, and so in every other thing, the thing’s existence is one thing, and its essence or quiddity or nature or form is another.

If there were a thing that is only its own existence, then it is only its own existence. Thomas hasn’t really explained why there can’t be a thing that is its own existence and more.

Oh, but wait. He’s not trying to prove the existence of God, here; he’s trying to prove that angels are not utterly simple. An angelic substance exists; so it has existence. But if it’s not composite, then it has only existence; and then it must be utterly simple, and also unique, and has no form. But the intelligences have form. So their existence must be separate and composed.

In the intelligences, therefore, there is existence beyond the form, and so we say that an intelligence is form and existence.

OK, I think I’ve got that, mostly.

DE&E: Chapter 4:4

Tuesday, October 21st, 2008

So far, I’m enjoying Chapter 4 more than Chapter 3, because I’m having an easier time understanding it (at least, I think I am). This continues in paragraph 4.

Therefore, the essence of a composite substance and that of a simple substance differ in that the essence of a composite substance is not form alone but embraces both form and matter, while the essence of a simple substance is form alone.

As Thomas indicated in the previous paragraph.

And from this two other differences arise. One is that the essence of a composite substance can be signified as a whole or as a part, which happens because of the designation of the matter, as said above. Hence, in one way, the essence of a composite thing is not predicated of the composite thing itself, for we cannot say that a man is his own quiddity.

Right. Here’s a big chunk of Chapter 3 in a nutshell.

But the essence of a simple thing, which is its form, cannot be signified except as a whole, as in this case there is nothing beyond the form that might receive the quiddity, and so, however we take the essence of a simple thing, the essence is predicated of it. Hence, Avicenna says in Metaphysicae V, cap. 5 that “the quiddity of a simple thing is the simple thing itself,” because there is no other thing to receive the form.

The phrasing “receive the quiddity” is odd, but I’m pretty sure I get it. In a composite substance, the quiddity or essence embraces form and matter. In a simple substance, there’s no matter, so matter cannot be essential; and so all that’s left to be essential is form.

Well, there’s also existence, and simple substances are set to be a composite of form and existence. But we also know (from Compendium Theologiae) that only God has existence as His essence.

The second difference is that the essences of composite things, because they are received in designate matter, are multiplied according to the division of matter, and so it happens that some things are the same in species but different in number. But since the essence of a simple thing is not received in matter, there can be no such multiplication in this case, and so among such substances we do not find many individuals of the same species, as Avicenna expressly says in Metaphysicae V, cap. 2.

Right. We’ve talked about this before as well. Matter is the principle of individuation, which allows there to be many individuals with the same essence. But among simple substances, multiplicity of individuals requires multiplicity of forms.

I still want to know what individuates souls after the death of the body.

More Gallivanting

Monday, October 20th, 2008

I’m off, first thing in the morning, to attend the
annual Tcl/Tk conference. That’ll keep me fairly busy until sometime Saturday. I hope to keep up with St. Thomas during the week, but the point of attending a conference is to spend time with the other attendees, which I can’t do if I’m in my room studying metaphysics. So we shall see.

DE&E: Chapter 4:3

Monday, October 20th, 2008

In this paragraph, Thomas discusses some basic facts about form, matter, and their relation, in response to his assertion that “the intelligences have form and existence, and in this place form is taken in the sense of a simple quiddity or nature.” That is, and angel is its essence. Thomas explains this as follows:

It is easy to see how this is the case.

And for a wonder, this is true.

Whenever two things are related to each other such that one is the cause of the other, the one that is the cause can have existence without the other, but not conversely.

Right. You can’t have my eldest son without the prior existence of Jane and me. You can’t have Middle Earth without the prior existence of Tolkien. But Jane and I might not have had any kids, and Tolkien might never have imagined Middle Earth.

Now, we find that matter and form are related in such a way that form gives existence to matter, and therefore it is impossible that matter exist without a form; but it is not impossible that a form exist without matter, for a form, insofar as it is a form, is not dependent on matter.

Right. I can imagine a cat, down to its whiskers and feline disdain, but there is no cat present (I’m allergic). Forms can exist without matter; in my intellect, in this case. But Thomas isn’t talking about forms existing in the intellect; he’s talking about existence in the real world. The form of a cat exists in the real world only when there’s a cat.

When we find a form that cannot exist except in matter, this happens because such forms are distant from the first principle, which is primary and pure act.

The first principle being God, of course.

Hence, those forms that are nearest the first principle are subsisting forms essentially without matter, for not the whole genus of forms requires matter, as said above, and the intelligences are forms of this type.

“…subsisting forms essentially without matter,” i.e., immaterial substances, which are, in fact, forms, there being nothing else for them to be.

Thus, the essences or quiddities of these substances are not other than the forms themselves.

If the essence of a being is a form, and the being is a form to begin with, it makes sense that it would be its essence.

OK. So far so good. An angel has an essence; can it also have accidents? Can it change, gaining and losing accidents? And how can it change without matter? (I notice that no one’s jumping in to answer questions like these, which is appropriate; I’ll get to the answers eventually. Where I need help is knowing when I’ve gone off track, for which I thank everyone for their help!)

DE&E: Chapter 4:2

Sunday, October 19th, 2008

In Chapter 4:1, Thomas asserts (in different words) that matter impedes intelligibility: that is, that what is intelligible, i.e., apprehended by the intellect, must be immaterial, abstracted from matter…and hence that the soul, angels, and God, all known for their intelligence, must also be immaterial. (I’d be interested in seeing more on this latter point.) Now, Thomas asks whether there might be some other kind of matter than the usual that doesn’t impede intelligibility, and might therefore (I presume) be part of one of the separated substances. The answer, of course, is no:

Nor can someone say that only corporeal matter, and not some other kind of matter, impedes intelligibility. For, if it were only corporeal matter that impedes intelligibility, then since matter is called corporeal only insofar as it exists under a corporeal form, matter’s impeding intelligibility would come from the corporeal form; and this is impossible, for the corporeal form is actually intelligible just like any other form, insofar as it is abstracted from matter.

Let’s suppose, just as an experiment, that in addition to the corporeal matter we are familiar with, matter found in bodies, that there’s some other kind of matter that is directly intelligible. Let’s call it “ooblick”. This immediately raises the question, what is it that makes corporeal matter corporeal? For this, whatever it is, will be the real reason that corporeal matter impedes intelligibility. What does corporeal matter have that “ooblick” doesn’t?

Well, we know that a body is a composition of form and matter. No form, no matter; “prime” matter doesn’t really exist. So it must be the body’s form that gives body to matter, that makes it corporeal; and hence it must the form that prevents the matter from being intelligible. This is, of course, absurd, as it’s the form that is intelligible to begin with. Consequently, there’s no such thing as “ooblick”.

Hence, in no way is there a composition of matter and form in either the soul or the intelligences, such that an essence is received in these as in corporeal substances.

Aha! I begin to see what Thomas is getting at. An essence exists in the intellect analogously to how it exists in reality: it forms the intellect as it forms the real body. But in the intellect it doesn’t give form matter in any sense. When I think of a dog, nothing in my soul physically takes the shape and proportions of dog. There is no corporeal dog in my head. And, since there’s no “ooblick”, there’s no other kind of matter involved either.

Nevertheless, in separate substances there is a composition of form and existence, and so in the Liber de Causis, prop. 9, com., it is said that the intelligences have form and existence, and in this place form is taken in the sense of a simple quiddity or nature.

So the angels have form and existence, and the form is an essence. Since matter is the principle of individuation, every angel must have a distinct essence.

So what about souls? One the one hand, per Catholic doctrine, souls can be sundered from their bodies and exist separately. Thomas himself refers to the soul as a separated substance. On the other hand, all humans share the same nature, the same essence. There’s a problem here: how can souls be separate from matter and yet distinct?