JMC : The Metaphysics of the School / by Thomas Harper, S.J.

Chapter III. Existing Being.

IN the fifth of the Prolegomena which head the preceding Chapter, it is stated that Possible and Existent have been accounted by some, foremost among the primary determinations of Being. Now that the nature of Possibles has been carefully sifted and is more clearly and scientifically understood; it will be well to retrace our steps for a while, in order to realize the precise sense in which such a statement must be understood.

It will appear from the analysis which has been made, that Possibles, considered formally, are mere logical entities having no pretension to other than psychological reality, which they claim for themselves by virtue of their being real acts of the soul. But, regarded in their ideological aspect, i.e. as concepts representative of an object, they are formally a mere creation of thought, directly representative of nothing; in that they exhibit a positive exclusion of existence. Fundamentally, however, they are real; in other words, they are concepts of the mind built up on a real foundation. That foundation is God. All that is real in possible Essence is of God; partly the Divine Prototypal Idea, partly the Divine Nature as imitable outside Itself, and in part the Divine Omnipotence. Not that These, or any of Them, are necessarily represented in the human concept of the Possible; but They are the sole sufficient Reason for the measure of reality belonging to such concept. Consequently, possible and existent Being cannot stand in correlation as two positive determinations of Being; neither is such tbe nature of the distinction between them. They are rather distinguished from each other, as Something from Nothing. For possible Being is not Being, save in the Wisdom and Power of God; existent Being is something real in itself.

What, then, is Existence? Its grammatical form suggests, that the idea embodied in the word is abstract and representative of a certain Quiddity, by virtue of which things are truly said to exist. But what is that Quiddity? It is impossible to define it; for Existence is a Transcendental, embracing, as it does, all the Categories and beyond. Can it, then, be declared or described? This, too, is difficult; because, as in the instance of Essence, the idea is so simple, that any attempt at description runs the risk of creating obscurity. However, the attempt must be made. Existence, then, is that by which any Thing is formally and immediately constituted in itself and, if it be not self-caused, is, outside its causes, -- that entity by which the no thing of mere possibility ceases, and some thing begins to be.

This declaration or description mainly and, as regards a portion of it, exclusively applies to finite Existence. For, in the Infinite, Essence and Existence are on all sides identical. He is Being, essentially Being; and is, because He must be. But the doctrine touching the Existence of God will occupy us later on; tbe question that awaits us now, embraces finite Existence only. And it is here that all the difficulties crop up, which beset this recondite subject.

Existence is the actuality of Being. Now, actuality supposes a reduction to Act, in the case of finite Being. But Act is the correlative of receptivity or passive power; and, consequently, Act follows the nature of that receptivity, of which it is the Act. But Receptivity is two-fold. For there is what is called an objective, and there is what is called a subjective, receptivity. Objective receptivity or potentiality is extrinsic to the Subject of actuation, which it neither really presupposes nor informs; on the contrary, subjective potentiality is intrinsic in the Subject of actuation. Thus, for instance, a watch, previous to its actual construction, is in the power of the watchmaker, relatively to whom it possesses a real potentiality or receptivity of existence; but the same watch, subsequent to its actual construction, has a subjective potentiality of being possessed by this or that person. Hence it follows, that there is a twofold actuation as well as a twofold Act; one of which is the correlative of objective, the other of subjective, potentiality. From these premisses it is demonstratively concluded that, while the actuation or Act of objective potentialify constitutes Being, it does not really compose it, or rather enter with it into actual composition. But why? Because real composition postulates, as a preliminary essential condition, the existence of parts entitatively distinct; whereas existent Being and actual Being are not only physically, but metaphysically, identical. On the other hand, the act of a subjective potentiality not only constitutes, but, either physically or at all events metaphysically, composes Being. Again, why? Because there is the Subject and its potentiality on the one hand, and the informing Act on the other; and both are real, though partial, entities in synthesis. Consequently, we find ourselves in presence of two real parts of one composite whole. Thus, in quantitative actuation the increased bulk of a man since his childhood is something real, and the substantial individual himself is another thing real; and both constitute a composite whole. Therefore, there is a real composition; and not a constitution of Being only. For constitution has a wider periphery than composition. Wherever there is composition, there is a certain constitution; but not always a composition, where there is a constitution.

It follows from what has been stated, that in the notional transition of a thing from possible to actual Being, no real addition, by virtue of which it becomes actual, is made to the thing in its state of possibility, but only a conceptual addition. For you cannot really add to nothing; since addition presupposes something to which the addition is made. Actual Being, therefore, is distinguished from possible by its entire entity. So much is admitted by every school of opinion.

But now, a most subtile and intricate question presents itself, about which the Schools are divided. Though in itself it does not lead to very important issues, it has been decided to discuss it here for two reasons. First of all, whatever seems to admit of scientific demonstration can never be unimportant to the philosopher; more particularly, when the subject belongs to the Transcendentals. Then, again, there are certain other questions, incidentally involved in the discussion, which are of the highest moment.

The problem is this: Whether there is any real distinction of whatever kind between actual or actuated Being and its Existence. It will be seen at once, that this question is widely different from that other touching the distinction between possible and actual Being; for it concerns actual Being only. To repeat it under another form; Does the actual Essence of existing Being really differ from its Existence?

Thomists{1} generally, together with other Scholastics of name, maintain that there is a real distinction between the two; and that, as a consequence, there is a real composition between them, the term of which is existing Essence. Suarez, Vasquez, with many others, defend the contrary opinion, viz, that actual Essence and its Existence are really identical, and are only distinguished from each other by a conceptual distinction. This latter opinion will be sustained here, both on account of the preponderance of intrinsic evidence which it seems to carry with it, as also because it seems more consonant with the teaching of the Angelic Doctor; though it is only fair to state, that his authority has been claimed by the opposite School, and in fact constitutes what may be called their palmary argument. The reasons for their opinion will be more conveniently given in the shape of objections to the following propositions.

{1} The name Thomists has been given to the illustrious and learned Doctors in Theology and Philosophy who belong to the Order of St. Dominic.

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