- Aquinas on actus essendi and the Second Mode of Participation
IN HIS commentary on Boethius’s De hebdomadibus, Thomas Aquinas distinguishes three modes of participation.1 This article proposes an answer to the following question: Do finite beings participate in their actus essendi according to the second of these three modes of participation? I approach this question through an investigation of the criteria that identify and demarcate each of Aquinas’s three modes of participation.
In section I, I detail the criterial problem for identifying and demarcating Aquinas’s three modes of participation. In section II, I address at length John Wippel’s five arguments that purport to show that Aquinas’s second mode of participation excludes the participation of ens in esse. In section III, I propose my answer to the criterial problem, which supports my claim, contrary to Wippel, that the second mode of participation includes the participation of ens in its actus essendi. I do not provide a textual analysis of Aquinas’s account of the participation of ens in its actus essendi, since I have little to add to Wippel’s perspicuous treatment of this topic. My aim is more modest. I intend to challenge and correct Wippel’s taxonomy of the three modes of participation. Said otherwise, I accept the substance of his [End Page 573] interpretation of the participation of ens in its actus essendi. What I reject is his taxonomy of Aquinas’s three modes of participation, which restrictively forces Aquinas’s diverse orders of ens-esse participation to fit the mold of the third mode of participation, and so excludes from the second mode of participation the participation of ens in its actus essendi.
Many readers of Aquinas have proposed interpretations of his doctrine of participation that touch upon the question of the participation of ens in esse. Here my focus is on the interpretation of John Wippel presented in his magisterial study, The Metaphysical Thought of Thomas Aquinas. Wippel’s extended scholarly treatment of participation negotiates its way through a variety of primary texts taken from the corpus of Aquinas, and engages in an illuminating way various contemporary interpretations of Aquinas’s doctrine of participation.
It is important to distinguish the general question about the participation of ens in esse from more specific questions about the participation of ens in esse commune, actus essendi, and esse subsistens. Because Wippel’s answer to the general question maintains that the participation of ens in esse is the exclusive prerogative of Aquinas’s third mode of participation, Wippel’s answers to the more specific questions look exclusively to the way these types of participation are diverse manifestations of the third mode of participation. Consequently, Wippel denies the significance of any connection between Aquinas’s second mode of participation and his view that ens participates in its actus essendi. But in order to address this issue, we must first be clear about the criteria that identify and demarcate any one mode of participation from the others. My examination of Wippel’s interpretation of the three modes of participation in section II establishes that he has not articulated any principled criteria for identifying and demarcating the second mode of participation from the others. The absence of such criteria reveals that there are no cogent reasons to support Wippel’s claim that ens does not participate in its actus essendi according to the second mode of participation. In short, the aim of section II is to refute Wippel’s arguments in support of his answer to the general question. [End Page 574] Once this refutation has been secured, section III provides arguments to establish that when it comes to the specific question of the participation of an ens in its actus essendi, this specific case of ens participating in esse belongs to the second mode of participation.
I. The Criterial problem for the Three Modes of Participation
Aquinas identifies the participation of ens in esse as an instance of the concrete participating in the abstract, but he does not explicitly say to which one (or more) of the three modes of participation it belongs.2 Though he...