DE&E: Prolog

I’ve chosen to go with Robert Miller’s translation of De Ente et Essentia; you can find the whole thing at the link. Here’s the prolog:

A small error at the outset can lead to great errors in the final conclusions, as the Philosopher says in I De Caelo et Mundo cap. 5 (271b8-13), and thus, since being and essence are the things first conceived of by the intellect, as Avicenna says in Metaphysicae I, cap. 6, in order to avoid errors arising from ignorance about these two things, we should resolve the difficulties surrounding them by explaining what the terms being and essence each signify and by showing how each may be found in various things and how each is related to the logical intentions of genus, species, and difference.

We’re going to look at the terms being and essence, because these are the things “first conceived of by the intellect.” And this is clearly true, upon reflection; as I look around, I say “There’s a chair!” or “There’s a book!” or “There’s Jane!” What’s there is a being, and what it is is the being’s essence. But of course I’m getting ahead of things.

I have some notion of what Thomas means by genus, species, and difference, but no notion at all of why he calls them intentions. Perhaps this will become clear as he goes forward.

Since we ought to acquire knowledge of simple things from composite ones and come to know the prior from the posterior, in instructing beginners we should begin with what is easier…

I’m all in favor of beginning with what is easier. I find it counter-intuitive that it should be easier to acquire knowledge of composite things than of simple ones: aren’t simpler things easier to understand? But I suspect by “composite things” he means beings that we can sense, which are composites of matter and form, and of potency and act. Simple things would include immaterial substances, such as angels, and God Himself; and these, as we can’t know them directly, are harder to understand.

…and so we shall begin with the signification of being and proceed from there to the signification of essence.

Being being simpler than essence, one presumes.

4 Responses to “DE&E: Prolog”

  1. Niggardly Phil says:

    I posted something on Just Thomism with regard to intention:

    This is a long post about intellectual intention, from Fr Contat’s book on Logic. Translation is my own:

    a) The notion of intentio

    The term intentio comes from in-tendere, which means to tend towards (something) (cf I-II,12,2,c: intentio, sicut ipsum nomen sonat, significat in aliquid tendere). In the psychology of the will, intention designates the act which bears upon the goal, and on which depends the choice of means. In the noetic field, intentionality refers to the tension of the knowing subject towards the object known. In St Thomas, the intentio does not signify the intellective act, but rather the fruit that is yielded at the end of expressing itself and the thing which it knows is rendered present:

    Dico autem intentionem intellectam id quod intellectus in seipso conipit de intellecta.

    (CG 4,11,n3466 – the text continues: Quæ quidem in nobis neque est ipsa res quæ intelligitur; neque est ipsa substantia intellectus; sed est quædam similitudo concepta in intellectu de re intellecta, quam voces exteriores significant; unde et ipsa intentio verbum interius nominatur, quod est exteriori verbo significatum)

    Therefore, the intellective intentio is on the one hand (ex parte subiecti), the product (concept, proposition, argument) by means of which the mind reaches the being of the thing; on the other hand (ex parte obiecti), intentio designates the object which is so known by the mind. The relation established by the intentio between the knowing subject and the known object constitutes intentionality.

    Niggardly Phil said,

    August 20, 2008 at 6:04 am

    b) Division

    Intentio can take for its object something real – and such is normally the case -, or something consecutive to the act itself of grasping what is real; in the first case, the foundation of intentionality in reality is immediate, while in the second case, it is mediated:

    intellectui respondet aliquid in re dupliciter.
    Uno modo immediate, quando videlicet intellectus concipit formam rei alicuius extra animam existentis, ut hominis vel lapidis.
    Alio modo mediate, quando videlicet aliquid sequitur actum intelligendi, et intellectus reflexus supra ipsum considerat illud. Unde res respondet illi considerationi intellectus mediate, id est mediante intelligentia rei: verbi gratia, intellectus intelligit naturam animalis in homine, in equo, et multis aliis speciebus: ex hoc sequitur quod intelligit eam ut genus. Huic intellectui quo intellectus intelligit genus, non respondet aliqua res extra immediate quæ sit genus; sed intelligentiæ, ex qua consequitur ista intentio respondet aliqua res (QDP 1,1,10m)

    To this twofold connection between intellect in act and the thing corresponds the distinction between first intention and second intention. First intention is therefore that which considers things in their being real (and therefore called ‘first’ or prime); whereas second intention is what considers on reflection that which depends on being known of the thing (and therefore called ’second’). So second intention can be defined objectively as the relation of logical reason inhering in the being known of the thing (insofar as such being is different from the being in se of the thing itself); subjectively, on the other hand, second intentions signify the concepts by which such relations of reason are known.

    (S. Thomas distinguishes, in these lines, between nomen primæ intentionis and nomen secundæ intentionis, vg. SN 1, 23, 1, 3, c. Here is how John of St Thomas defines the two types of intentions, objectively considered, in his Ars logica II, q. 2, art. 2, 291 a 40 – 44: “Illæ ergo affectiones seu formalitates, quæ conveniunt rei prout in se, vocantur primæ intentiones, quæ conveniunt rei prout cognita, vocatur secundæ”)

    The following paragraph summarizes well what is necessary to retain about beings of logical reason or second intention:

    ens est duplex: ens scilicet rationis et ens naturæ. Ens autem rationis dicitur proprie de illis intentionibus, quas ratio adinvenit in rebus consideratis; sicut intentio generis, speciei et similium, quæ quidem non inveniuntur in rerum natura, sed considerationem rationis consequuntur. Et huiusmodi, scilicet ens rationis, est proprie subiectum logicæ (SM 4,lect.4,n574)

  2. Ryan H says:

    Now I’m going through DE&E and your posts on it, starting from the beginning.

    Re: “I have some notion of what Thomas means by genus, species, and difference, but no notion at all of why he calls them intentions.”

    First, Phil’s comment is way over my head.

    My assumption was that Aquinas was not saying that genus, sepcies, and difference are instances of a more general category called “intentions,” in the way that apple, banana, and pear are instances of the more general category fruit.

    Rather, I assumed “the logical intentions of genus, species, and difference” just meant, what is intended when those terms are used – the implications of the meanings of the words, the logical commitments inherent to using the words coherently and consistently.

    Another way of stating my assumption: In a figurative manner of speaking, “intention” isn’t a thing these terms are, but an action these terms do. (In saying this, I am using the same type of figure of speech that Aristotle uses when he said things like “plants want to grow.”)

  3. Will says:

    I’ve got a somewhat better understanding than I did when I wrote this post, though the term still seems rather weird to me.

    When I apprehend something, Aristotle apparently refers to what arises in my mind as an “intention”, because it has the tendency to produce action. This is clearer in other animals: seeing a cat has a tendency to make a dog give chase.

  4. Hi,

    I cut and pasted that translation as part of my first translation efforts; now that the blog is going strong with the full translation, I’d like to expand with some of my own comments here, and the blog can be referenced as time and interest allow.

    Intention in English almost always connotes action, but for Thomas it is used more broadly and without that connotation as a technical term. In the field of apprehension (as opposed to appetite), it is the product the mind in the act of simple apprehension. When I think of an apple, I conceive of an apple in my mind, and this conception is an intention. Notice that an intention is not an act, but a thing. It is analogous to the species of sensation.

    The modifier “logical” sets off the intentions Thomas is talking about from other intentions.

    First (or epistemological) intention is based on things, second (or logical) intention is based on first intentions. So concepts like genus, species, and so forth don’t tie back to any one material thing the way first intention things do.

    I think the whole action thing might be throwing you off, for the medievals, it had a broader meaning and didn’t immediately refer to actions. Be careful not to introduce that connotation to the term.

    So why did this stuff about intentions come up? It’s one of the first things someone studying logic would cover, the Isagoge which is an explanation of these. So by means of them, and remember he is explaining to a somewhat beginner in philosophy who would have some training in logic, he is going to explain metaphysics.

    But consider the problem Thomas is facing – presumably the question is something like, “Thomas, I don’t get this whole … being thing. Can you explain it in simple terms to a simple person like me?” So where would you start? Well, Thomas starts from the beginning, with being, but he presumes some knowledge of logic, because he wants to explain being and how it relates to the intentions (and he couldn’t call them things, so what are genus, species, etc?)

    Anyway, I’m sorry the quote, and Contat in general, is perhaps confusing, but I really do think that it’s as thorough a treatment as I’ve ever seen. Perhaps not great for those studying without a magister to ask questions of, but as you get the hang of it, perhaps try reading again and see if there is profit?