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AQUINAS'S ROUTE TO THE REAL DISTINCTION: A Note on De ente et essentia T HIS BRIEF CHAPTER from one of Aquinas's earliest works has occasioned much disagreement on the part 0£ commentators not only with respect to the validity 0£ the argumentation found therein, but also with respect to Thomas's purpose in penning the same. Thus it is often contended that in this chapter he offers an argument based on one's understanding 0£ essence (intellectus essentiae argument) in support of real distinction or real composition 0£ essence and existence in creatures.1 Not only is the validity of this argumentation contested by many, but some maintain that it was not even intended by its author to establish such real distinction or composition.2 In a subsequent phase of what appears, at least at first sight, to be continued argumentation for this same distinction and composition, reference is made to the impossibility of there being more than one being in which essence and existence are identical. Surprisingly, the importance of this part of Thomas's argumentation is passed over lightly or even ignored by many commentators. 1 For discussion of this argument see C. Fabro, La nozione metafisica di partecipazione , 2nd ed. (Turin, 1950), pp. 218-219; U. degl'lnnocenti, "La distinzione reale nel 'De ente et essentia ' di S. Tommaso," Doctor Communis 10 (1957), pp. 165-73; L. Sweeney, "Existence/Essence in Thomas Aquinas's Early Writings," Proceedings of the American Catholic Philosophical Association 37 (1963), pp. 105-109 (Sweeney lists passages from other early works where the intellectus essentiae approach is also found); J. Bobik, Aquinas on Being and Essence (Notre Dame, Ind., 1965), pp. 162-170; J. Owens, "Quiddity and Real Distinction in St. Thomas," Mediaeval Studies 27 (1965), pp. 1-22 (seen. 2 of Owens's study for further references); A. Maurer, Thomas Aquinas. On Being and Essence (Toronto, 1968), pp. 21 ff. •See Maurer, op. cit., pp. 22-23; Owens, op. cit., pp. 12-14. As Owens also indicates in note 2, A. Forest denies that this argument leads to real distinction of essence and existence. See his La structure metaphysique du concret selon saint Thomas d'Aquin, 2nd ed. (Paris, 1956), pp. 148-49. ~79 280 JOHN F. WIPPEL Immediately thereafter Thomas offers what seems to be a philosophical argument for God's existence. One might wonder whether or not this argument of itself pre.supposes real distinction and / or composition of essence and existence as its point of departure. It could hardly do so, of course, for those who deny that it was Thomas's intention to establish such distinction and / or composition in the preceding sentences. According to one interpretation it is only after having established God's existence by means of this argument that Thomas is in a position to conclude to real distinction of essence and existence in creatures.3 According to another view, what appears to be an argument for God's existence is really not intended by Thomas to serve as such after all.4 Given these varied interpretations of one and the same text, therefore, further clarification seems to be desirable with respect to Thomas's intent in writing this chapter. Hopefully, the following remarks will contribute in some way to this. For the sake of context, it will be recalled that Thomas begins this chapter by announcing as his purpose an examination of essence as it is found in separate substances, that is, in the soul, in intelligences, and in the First Cause.5 While all acknowledge the simplicity of the First Cause, he continues, some endeavor to introduce composition of form and matter into intelligences and into the soul. He suggests that Avicebron (Ibn Gabirol) is responsible for this theory in his Fons vitae. Thomas then observes that this view, that separate substances are composed of matter and form, is generally rejected by the philosophers. Thomas apparently agrees with them in holding •See Owens, pp. 15-19. Note his remark on p. 19: "The foregoing considerations make clear that the real distinction between essence and existence cannot be known prior to the demonstration of the existence of God." • E. Gilson, "La preuve...


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