Thursday, February 4, 2010

Giles of Rome on the Real Distinction

Aegidius Romanus, Theoremata de esse et essentia (transl. M. Murray, p.61-62):

Theorem 12: "Everything that exists, except the First Being, is not its own existence, but it has an essence really distinct from existence and by reason of the former it is a being and by reason of the latter it is an existant."


"We ought to note, nevertheless, that some objects can be separated actually; others only in thought. Therefore, in the way in which we find objects separated in that way they are distinct from each other. If, therefore, they are separated only in thought then they are rationally distinct; if they are really separated, they are really distinct. And although there is some doubt whether those objects which are really distinct are also really separable, there cannot be a doubt that those which are really separate are really distinct. If, indeed, an essence were always joined to an existence, it would always possess an existence and it would never be able not to exist. Therefore, because sensible natures are able not to exist or because they are not always joined to existence, because they begin to exist sometime, we can say that they are in potency to existence and that they have no essence really distinct from existence."

There we have it, Giles of Romes' famous or, if your name is Cunningham, infamous separability criterion added to the real distinction. This set of theorems was Giles' first examination of the topic, save perhaps for his Sentences. Henry reacted to this treatise, which prompted a series of quodlibetal debates between the two. Giles eventually wrote a series of disputed questions about essence and existence, attacking Henry and clarifying his own position. This debate seems to have been heavily influential for the way in which later scholastics interpreted the formal distinction, although the only real literature on this is from thomist scholars, who have notorious blindspots. The separability criterion was certainly incorporated by Scotus and his early followers, and probably became standard among other schools as well. The first question of Peter Thomae's QQ. de modis distinctionis is about it, for example. Comparing this with Thomas of Sutton's version of the real distinction, which is obtains between anything distinct prior to the operation of the intellect, one could note that neither are explicitly found in the writings of Aquinas himself, but have been filled in by his later students (which has provided fodder for plenty of modern thomists, who, forgetting that thomism was not always as dominant as it was from the period 1879-1965, generally attack both for their alleged weak adherence to thomistic doctrine). It would be an interesting study to see if other theologians advanced similar views in the 1280's and on, and to see if the version of Thomas of Sutton might be the Oxford real distinction while that of Giles the Parisian real distinction. But that I will leave to the Thomists.

Here is another quote, from the introduction, p.ix:

"A clear thread runs from Duns Scotus, through William of Ockham to Suarez in the explanation of the distinction between essence and existence. There has been, on the part of these men, a violent reaction to the real distinction between essence and existence, as proposed by St. Thomas. This opposition is based on their rejection of essence and existence as real physical entities which, so they thought, would be required in the real distinction of St. Thomas. In other word, for these men the real distinction is only valid if applied to physical entities which are separable. Such, of course, is not the doctrine of St. Thomas; nevertheless these men have rejected the real distinction for this reason. Why historically this particular doctrine of physical entities was involved in the Thomistic real distinction is not, at the present time, so clear as historians of philosophy would like. It does seem, however, that Giles of Rome is at least partly responsible for this identification of the real distinction with physical entities."


Michael said...

I would love to see where Scotus interprets Thomas as positing e. and e. as "real physical entities" and then violently reacts against it.

Lee Faber said...

Yes, in light of our previous conversation where I said that having read Reportatio Ia, Ordinatio I-III, the Qq. de anima, the QQ super libros metaphysicorum, the categories and porphyry commentaries, the Quodlibet, and the de primo principio, i have never seen a passage where scotus discuss e. and e. for more than a few sentences.

Michael said...

While I haven't read quite that much Scotus yet I'm working on it!), that does match my experience.

The fact that he leaves the subject alone is very odd to me, but I don't have much of an explanation.

AT said...

"Therefore, because sensible natures are able not to exist or because they are not always joined to existence, because they begin to exist sometime, we can say that they are in potency to existence and that they have no essence really distinct from existence."

To say something that doesn't exist has a potency to exist doesn't seem to make sense. If true this would mean the things created by God had a potency to be created. Where would this potency come from? Not from God because in God there is no potency. Also, creation was a free act of God and didn't depend on anything else.

Anyway his conclusion is also wrong since the things which do not exist yet have a potency to exist means they have a potency to exist as some thing - which means they have an essence distinct from existence. Even worse, he contradicts himself by saying "sensible natures" (essences) are "not always joined to existence".

Lee Faber said...

The paragraph immediately preceding the one I quoted reads: "Sensible objects can be known even though they are not known as existents and even though they do not possess existence. But this would not be possible unless they were in potency to existence. I can know a rose, for example, even though no rose exists. And then afterwards when I have acquired a knowledge of a rose by sense experience or by communicated knowledge, the existence of this rose or its existence does not alter my knowledge, because the object of the intellect is not existence but quiddity."

Doesn't clear it up much, and actually contradicts what he says later in talking about Aristotle's criticism of plato's forms, viz. that if there were no particular substances there would be no universals.

with respect to creation, perhaps the potencies of created beings are contained in the divine active potency somehow? the scotistae generally claim that God produces the essences of created beings by an intellectual act, and choses among them with the will, which is properly creation.

AT said...

I think you will agree that God knows things which have never existed, don't now exist, and will never exist. In what sense could they be said to have a potency to exist?

As for your example of a rose, you already know a rose exists (and what it is, based on experience). It doesn't clarify (for me) how 'something' which doesn't exist in any way has the potency to exist.

Aquinas says, "But in the first production of corporeal creatures no transmutation from potentiality to act can have taken place, and accordingly, the corporeal forms that bodies had when first produced came immediately form God, whose bidding alone matter obeys, as its own proper cause." (ST I, 65, 4)

The Just Thomism blog has this, "Note that logical possibility is a narrower sphere of discourse than verbal possibility. Just as we are particularly prone to think that something is really possible because it is logically possible, so too we are prone to think that something is a logical possibility because it is a verbal one."

Since I've had so much trouble just with potency I don't even want to think about the point of your post which is separability and/or the real or unreal distinction of essence and existence. One would expect philosophers go mad with the same or greater frequency as mathematicians. Is this the case?

Lee Faber said...

I can't defend Giles on this one. Most of these theorems start rather mundanely, stating a commonly held principle like 'matter and form are related as potency and act' and deriving conclusions such as 'form is both in act and in potency: in act with respect to matter and in potency to existence'.

I merely wanted with this post to point out the flux involved in the history of the real distinction. After Scotus comes along, his opponants suddenly pretend everyone has the same notion of real distinction and try to reject the formal distinction by reducing it to a real distinction.