You are on page 1of 17

The Thomistic essence-existence distinction of Barry Miller and

its debt to Aristotle

Marco Saccà
Abstract
Barry Miller, likewise other exponents of the Thomism, sustains that for Aristotle the essence of
something captures the entirety of something’s being and the other senses of ‘to be’ are not
genuine because are reducible to the essence, namely they are redundant. On the contrary, Thomas
Aquinas introduced the metaphysical distinction between essence and existence, thereby adding
a new sense of being. On the other hand, Miller argues that Aquinas’ merit is affected by the fault
of not having successfully explained such a distinction, so he tries to give a satisfactory definition
of it offering a Thomistic refined account. My aim is to show that Aristotle already distinguished
essence and existence and that Aquinas, and then Miller, used the very same Aristotelian concepts.
In section 1. I shall present Miller’s interpretative claim on the Aristotelian essentialism; in section
2. I shall show, citing some emblematic arguments for each position, the metaphysical distinction
of Thomas Aquinas and its refinement by Barry Miller; in section 3. I shall underline how the
distinction of Thomism is based on, hence in debt with, Aristotle’s metaphysical view. The
consequence will be that Miller will look more Aristotelic than he might have thought.1

1. The redundant Aristotle


According to many important Thomistic philosophers, Thomas Aquinas, though inspired by the
Aristotelian philosophy – and maybe something more than being inspired – , differently from
Aristotle states that:

C1) A real being2 has two metaphysical components3: essence [Es]


(quidditas) and existence [Ex] (esse, actus essendi).

1
I shall not deal neither with a definitive explanation of all the metaphysical notions involved by the Aristotelian
and the Thomist accounts nor whether they are true or false. The aim is only to show a theoretical continuity from
Aristotle to Thomism.
2
With “being” I refer to those beings into which Es and Ex are distinguishable. Concerning Aquinas, it is quite
sure that the only one being to which the distinction does not apply is God (cf. about God Sum. Con. Gen., I, c. 22
and about the presence of the distinction on angels, which could have been the only other possible candidates, In
Boet. de Trin. p. 3, q. 5, a. 4, ad 4). Concerning Aristotle – whenever he really endorsed the distinction, and we
think he did it, as we will see – , it is not equally immediate because it could be problematic to state the same
conclusion on the θεός and on the οὐσία of the ἄστρα, which should be the Aristotelian counterparts of God and
angels – adding that such a parallel might be controversial as well – . Anyway, I shall not consider whether the
distinction applies neither to a determinate being nor to a determinate kind of beings, rather the aim is to show that
the distinction is already present in Aristotle, whichever the beings involved are.
3
From an historical-philosophical point of view there is a huge amount of interpretations on the status of such a
distinction in Aquinas, whether it is real or metaphysical, and it is not the present purpose to deal with them.
However, in this work I shall talk of the distinction as metaphysical because Miller interprets Aquinas’ distinction
in metaphysical terms.
Nonetheless, both friends of the metaphysical distinction and of the real one, qua Thomist, generally endorse the
ongoing essentialist interpretation of Aristotle, therefore the considerations against this trend involve both of them
– such that, whenever the distinction were real, then Aquinas’ innovation would be only the ‘reality’ – .
Concerning Aristotle, the distinction that will be shown can only be metaphysical and not real, considering that Es
and Ex lead back respectively to the metaphysical figures of ἐντελέχεια ἡ πρώτη, which is a kind of δύναμις (as we

1
C2) The components are subordinately related: Es is to Ex as δύναμις to
ἐνέργεια.

Such a distinction, compared to the Aristotelian model and introducing Ex as the new element,
individuates a further sense of being that is missing in Aristotle’s metaphysics. In fact, the
Thomism’s ongoing interpretation states that according to Aristotle something’s being is
captured entirely by the Es4.
A clear exemplification can be found in Barry Miller5. Dealing with the defense of the predicate
‘to exist’ as a first-level predicate, Miller traces an historical reconstruction on the main
treatments of Ex and contrasts the theoretical analytic Frege-Russell-Quine tradition, which he
calls “redundantism”6 and wherein ‘to exist’ is a second-level predicate, with the “non-
redundantist” tradition – that has Aquinas as the most deserving representative – which
recognizes Ex as a predicate for individuals.
Aristotle belongs to the former tradition7 because the majority of the uses of ‘to be’ that might
aspire to a genuine sense of Ex are in the end elliptical uses, they express implicitly an essential
predicate.

(1) “Socrates is” or “Socrates exists”

(1) should be read as:

(2) “Socrates is [a human being]” or “Socrates exists [qua human being]”

Even the not-elliptical uses do not constitute a genuine use of “to exist”. Let consider the
following example from Soph. el.:

will see in section 2.), and ἐνέργεια, which in the reality are one and the same (i.e. look at De An. B.5 on the same
being of the ἐντελέχεια ἡ πρώτη and of its ἐνέργεια).
4
We might cite, among the others, C. Fabro (1959, 1961), E. Gilson (1988), G. Ventimiglia (2012a, 2012b, 2014).
5
B. Miller (2002: pp. 1-17), (2009: pp. 2-9).
6
The redundantist view claims that there are four senses of ‘to be’: as existential quantifier, “Socrates exists” = ∃x
(x = Socrates); as identity “Cicero is Tullius”, that is ‘Cicero = Tullius’; as copula, “Socrates is wise”, W(s); as
genus implication, “All human beings are animals”, ∀x (H(x) ⇒ A(x)). No one of these stands for a predicate for
individuals and all of these tend to reduce Ex to something else, namely to not recognize a genuine sense of Ex.
However, we have to note that at least in Frege it is not sure the presence of a totally redundant view of Ex,
considering that he distinguishes clearly between Existenz / es gibt, that is a predicated of concepts, and
Wirklichkeit, that concerns something effectively existent («And if I wished to say that the number 2 acts or is
active or actual [wirke oder sei wirksam oder wirklich], this would be false and wholly different from what I mean
by the sentence “There are [es gibt] square roots of four”», 1964: p. 24). A distinction that is used also by the
Thomist P. Geach (1954, 1969) in terms of present actuality sense of Ex and there is sense of Ex, which themselves
correspond to the Thomasian esse and esse ut verum.
7
More precisely, in B. Miller (2002) Aristotle is indicated as a redundantist and in B. Miller (2009) not properly
as a redundantist but as a precursor of redundantism, since, according to Miller, Aristotle recognized in some sense
the possibility of predicating “to be” as “to exist” of individuals, although “to exist” stands for an implicit
contraction of ‘to be the own Es’.

2
For it is not the same thing ‘not to be x’ [μὴ εἶναί τι] and ‘not to be’ at all [ἁπλῶς μὴ εἶναί τι]: it looks
as if it were, because of the closeness of the expression, i.e. because ‘to be x’ [εἶναί τι] is but little
different from ‘to be’ [εἶναι], and ‘not to be x’ [μὴ εἶναί τι] from ‘not to be’ [μὴ εἶναι].8

Here, according to Miller, the use of ‘to be’ in the sense of Ex is a derivative sense, a sense
which states the same content of (2) but with a peculiar force focalized to the actuality of that
being, of that Es. But this does not provide an ontological9 commitment to Ex by Aristotle10, in
fact the «immediate explanation of the reality» of something is still its Es11, even though with
the actuality force.
Therefore, we can point out Miller’s claims on Aristotle:

AM1) Something’s being is its Es.

AM2) Ex is reducible to the Es.

2. The distinction in Aquinas and Miller


In the following section I shall present the main arguments of Aquinas’ distinction and of its
improvement by Miller. To illustrate Aquinas’ account I will refer to a passage from In Meth.
(IV, l. 2, sct. 558), to one of Quodl. (II, q. 2, a. 1) and mainly to another, amazing, from De pot.
(q. 7, a. 2, ad 9), that, discussing the Divine nature, describes (in opposition to God) the nature
of the creatures – that kind of being to which we are dealing with – .
Aquinas’s thesis12:

[2] Being [esse], as we understand it here, signifies the highest perfection of all: and the proof is
that act [actus] is always more perfect than potentiality [potential]. [3] Now no signate form is
understood to be in act [in actu] unless it be supposed to have being [esse]. Thus we may take
human nature or fiery nature as existing potentially [in potentia existens] in matter, or as existing
in the power of an agent, or even as in the mind: but when it has being [esse] it becomes actually
existent [actu existens]. [4] Wherefore it is clear that being [esse] as we understand it here is the
actuality of all acts [actualitas omnium actuum], and therefore the perfection of all perfections.
[5a] Nor may we think that being [esse], in this sense, can have anything added to it that is more
formal and determines it as act [actus] determines potentiality [potentiam]: [5b] because being
[esse] in this latter sense is essentially distinct from that to which it is added and whereby it is
determined. [5c] But nothing that is outside the range of being [esse] can be added to being [esse]:
for nothing is outside its range except non-being [non-ens], which can be neither form [5d] nor
matter. [6] Hence being [esse] is not determined by something else as potentiality [potentia] by
act [actum] but rather as act [actus] by potentiality [potentiam]. [7] Since in defining a form we

8
Soph. el., 5, 167a4-8.
9
Like Miller, I use “ontological” as equivalent to “metaphysical”.
10
«Thus, Aristotle provides an excellent example of someone who, unlike Frege, recognized that ‘is’ could indeed
be predicated of individuals, but did not feel bound to accept any ontological implications therefrom» (B. Miller,
2009: p. 4).
11
«His conclusion in the Metaphysics that, for any entity to be, was for it to be what it is, i.e., what it essentially
is. If Socrates is essentially a man, then for him to be would be for him to be a man. So, the immediate explanation
of the reality of Socrates would be in terms of his being a man [my bold]» (B. Miller, 2009: p .4). Same words
of B. Miller (2002, pp. 10-11).
12
The numbers in the text link the passages to the correspondent thesis, i.e. [1] → T1.

3
include its proper matter instead of the difference: thus we define a soul as the act [actus] of an
organic physical body. Accordingly this being [esse] is distinct from that being [esse] inasmuch
as it is the being of this or that nature. [7] For this reason Dionysius says (Div. Nom. v) that though
things having life excel those that merely have being [existential], yet being [esse] excels life,
since living things have not only life but also being [esse].13

[1-8a] However, a creature does not participate in being [esse] this way for that belongs to the
substance of a thing which enters into its definition, but being [ens] is not included in the definition
of a creature because it is neither a genus nor a difference. So it is participated in as something
not belonging to the [ed. non-existent] thing's essence [Unde participatur sicut aliquid non
existens de essentia rei]. And therefore, the question 'Is it?' [an est] is different from the question
'What is it?' [quid est]. So, since all that is outside a thing's essence [essentiam rei] may be called
an accident; the being [esse] which pertains to the question 'Is it?' [an est] is an accident.14

[1-8b] But in regard to the first point he [ed. Avicenna] does not seem to be right; for even though
a thing’s existence [esse] is other than its essence [esentia], it should not be understood to be
something added to its essence after the manner of an accident, but something established, as it
were, by the principles of the essence [principia essentiae]. Hence the term being [ens], which is
applied to a thing by reason of its very existence [esse], designates the same thing as the term
which is applied to it by reason of its essence [essential].15

T1) C1.

[The following thesis explain C2.]

T2) Ex is actuality and since actuality is a perfection of a potentiality, then Ex is a perfection.


T3) Es is a potency and is in potency of Ex. Es can be found in the matter, in the capacity of the
agent and in the intellect; in such cases it is actual not in virtue of itself, rather it is in the
actuality of something else (the matter, the agent, the intellect). Since it is a potency, Es
becomes a perfection when it exists, when it is actual.
T4) Ex is perfection of a perfection, since Es is an actuality in the order of the formal
determination, and actuality is perfection. And considering Es as the complex of all
something’s potential-formal determinations, Ex will be perfection of perfections.
On the other hand, since Es is a potency and a perfection, it is a perfectible perfection.
[T7] An example is the living being, which is the formal actuality of the body and which is
perfectible in respect of Ex qua living, namely exercising its faculties.
T5) (5a) Ex is the ultimate perfection, a non-perfectible perfection, because nothing can be
added to it or determines it. That is due to the fact that: (5b) it is distinct from Es (from T1),
then it cannot participate of its being determinable by other accidents; (5c) outside Ex there
are no other determinations-perfections, there is only the non-being and the non-being is not
a form or a determination, hence it is not predicable of anything.

13
De pot., q. 7, a. 2, ad 9.
14
Quodl., II, q. 2, a. 1.
15
In Met., IV, l. 2, sct. 558.

4
T6) Ex can only be determined as the act by the potency. But this has not to be intended as a
subordination of Ex to Es, as if Ex is in potency of Es. To clarify such relation let consider the
case of that Es which has in its definition a reference to the matter: in this sense it is determined
by the matter, it is the Es of something material, but it does not lose its role of formal actualizer
of that matter16. Analogously Ex of a certain Es will be the Ex of that Es, it is determined to
be the actualization of that Es and not of another (cf. T7, Ex of Es-living being is to live).
T8) (8a) Let consider also how Ex is added to Es: Ex is not in Es, namely Ex is not in the
definition of Es17, rather it happens to Es and so, being outside Es, Ex it is an accident.
(8b) But Ex is a sui generis accident, because it does not add anything formal to Es – look at
[5] – differently from the common accidents that add further specification to a substratum,
putting something that is not in its Es. On the contrary, Ex simply actualizes what Es is, as it
were constituted “by the principles of the essence” (cf. T7, Ex of Es-living being is to live).

Miller’s thesis18 19:


M1) C1 [→T1]

[The following thesis explain C2.]

M2) Ex is an accident that adds the actuality to Es [→ T8a].


M3) Ex constitutes Es in the domain of actuality, since Es has no actuality per se [→ T3].
M4) (M4a) Es-Ex relation is explained by the bounding metaphor20: Es is the bound, Ex is the
bounded. (M4b) Es, the bound, is logically prior to Ex, the bounded, because it distinguishes
a thing from another giving to it the numerical difference and determining its features [→ T6].
(M4c) Ex, the bounded, is prior from the actuality point of view because it allows Es, the
bound, to exist [→ T2, T3].

16
Then is also clear (5d) why non-being cannot determine Ex at all, neither as form, as was said, nor as matter,
because matter is what is in potency of something and potency is a relative non-being of something which is, but
non-being is not.
17
Being that belongs to C1 are not necessary being, therefore cannot be existent by definition. This also explain
[3], namely why Es has not an own effective actuality.
18
B. Miller (2002: pp. 82-125).
19
Miller names respectively Es as “Socrates element” and Ex as “instance of existence”. However, presenting his
claims, I shall use Es and Ex.
“[→Tn]” stands for the correspondent T-thesis.
20
This metaphor should fix Aquinas’ failure on sketching clearly the relations between Ex and Es. The blamed
structure of those sketches is that which accounts the relation Ex-Es in terms of inherence, that allows to think to
a certain independence / actuality of Es (a sort of Avicennian esse essentiae, rejected in M3). Maybe this charge
is too simplistic: if we look at Aquinas’ texts quoted above, we should see quite easily the correspondence between
M-thesis and T-thesis. A general blame seems too strong. However, it is true that in many Aquinas’ works there
are metaphors and formulations that could be misleading or that contrast with the very same T-thesis. But this is
an historical-philosophical issue: Aquinas changed many times his mind and interpreters many times indicate a
claim as an Aquinas’ one which, on the contrary, is a comment on or a reconstruction of the thought of someone
else. This is to say that rather to judge Aquinas’s thought tout court, it is better to judge on the thought of ‘Aquinas-
of-the-work-x’.

5
M5) (5a) Ex is rich as much as the Es that actualizes. Actualization is allowing an Es to exist as
it is. If a’s Es is to swim, a’s Ex will be swimming and not to exist in an empty way. If we
subtract to something all its features and properties, we will not find the pure empty Ex [→
T6, T8b]. (5b) This means that each thing has its Ex, a’s Ex is swimming and the living being’s
Ex is living [→ T7].
M6) Ex is prior to Es in the order of conceivability: the determinations (properties, capacities,
abilities, etc.) established by Es that we can point out are conceivable because they are
actualized.
M7) Ex cannot itself be a subject of predication, Socrates’ Ex is not wise, rather it is that thanks
to which Socrates is wise [→ T5].
M8) Ex qua Ex is a virtuality, namely the possible realization of a potency: the virtual Ex of
Socrates as wise corresponds to Socrates’ potentiality of to be wise [→ T6].

3. Aristotle’s distinction and the debt of Thomism


In this section I shall sketch (I) the theory of δύναμις and ἐνέργεια, then (II) its application to
ἕξις and ἐνέργεια (where there is no change of being from δύναμις to ἐνέργεια) and finally (III)
an application of the latter to ψυχή and ἐνέργεια 21.
Unlike other distinguished interpreters that have already argued, although not in resolute terms22
– they do not propose a metaphysical distinction – , for some existential aspect in Aristotle and
against a Thomasian ex novo introduction of the existential component, on the contrary this
exposition would show the debt of the Thomism to the Aristotelian distinction of Es and Ex23.

Aristotelian arguments for C1 and C224:


I) Δύναμις [Δυ] and ἐνέργεια [Ἐν]:
A1) Δυ and Ἐν are senses of τὸ ὂν25 and they are the fundamental senses. Fundamentality means
that they are coextensive to τὸ ὂν, in fact the other senses of being are themselves potentially
or actually26 27.

21
Although these are particular applications, nevertheless they show the metaphysical principles that we are
looking for. Metaphysics is not a book written for publication, it does not have a complete and accomplished
exposition, so looking at the applications could be a good strategy in order to better understand the metaphysical
claims.
22
Cf. E. Berti (2014: pp. 562-563) and A. Kenny (2012a: pp. 245-246, 2012b: p. 216).
23
However, in doing so we have not to eliminate Aquinas’ merit: his “existential” view on Aristotle and his
application of the Aristotelian account with a deep existential aim are really useful to underline this aspect of the
Aristotelian metaphysics.
24
“[app. An]” stands for the connection between an A-thesis that is application of a more general A-thesis (“An”).
25
Met., E, 1026a33-1027b28.
26
Met., Δ, 1017a35-b2.
27
An immediate consequence of such coextension is the indefinability of Δυ and Ἐν (cf. Met., Θ, 1048a35-36),
that is caused by the indefinability of τὸ ὂν. Thus, although I want to show the presence of a genuine sense of Ex
in Aristotle, since I will argue that Ex = Ἐν, however I will not deal with the possibility of a definition of Ex. We
have also to note that a distinguished philosopher as P. Geach already tried to explain, but not to define, Ex (or

6
A2) Ἐν is the ὑπάρχειν28: “ὑπάρχειν” means – and this is not a definition29 – effective and
concrete presence. The very same meaning is in “ἐνέργεια”, that comes from “ἔργον”, the
concrete opera, whose root is “Ϝεργ”, which is also the root of the German “Werk” and of the
English “work” that refer to the concreteness too30.
A3) Δυ is a still-not-ὑπάρχειν31 and is for to be Ἐν-ὑπάρχειν32.
A4) Ἐν is the perfection of Δυ, is its completion (τέλος)33.
A5) Δυ individuates its correspondent Ἐν: Δυ has a determined content, that also includes the
conditions of its actualization. I.e., a potential act of deliberation will be actualized iff the
deliberator realizes the content of that act and wants it: realization and will are the internal
requirements determined by what is Δυ 34 35.
A6) Ἐν in prior to Δυ concerning conceivability36 and knowledge37. We define and know
something from its Ἐν.
A7) Ἐν is accidental to something that is Δυ 38, since Δυ is Δυ of the opponents.
A8) Ἐν and Δυ are said in many senses, the main two are (A8a) the a’s Δυ to be something that
a is not and the correspondent Ἐν of something that was not – the actualization process, as
μεταβολή, concerns a change of being (i.e., from ¬F(x) to F(x))39 – and (A8b) the a’s Δυ to
exercise something that a already is and the correspondent Ἐν of something that already was
– the actualization process concerns the same being that passes from the not-exercise to the
exercise (from Finactive(x) to Factive(x))40. Thesis from A2 to A7 apply to both A8’s cases.

using his terminology, the “present actuality”): according to Geach «x is actual if and only if x either acts, or
undergoes change, or both», but act and change (a real change) refer themselves to the notion of actuality (P.
Geach, 1968: p. 7).
28
Met., Θ, 1048a30-b6.
29
Cf. note 27.
30
In order to see the use as synonyms of εἰμί, ἐνέργεια, ἔργον, ὑπάρχειν, ἐντελέχεια, referring to the effective
presence cf., i.e.: Met., Θ, 1050a21-23, 1050b8-16; Eth. Nic., I, 1094a3-6.
31
Met., Θ, 1048a30-b6.
32
Met., Θ, 1049b13-17.
33
Met., Θ, 1050a10-13, 1050a21-23; Eth. Eud., II, 1219a8-10.
34
Met., Θ, 1049a5-12.
35
This is the criterion which allow to individuate the οἰκεία ὕλη (Met., H, 1044a15-b3). Only that ὕλη which
satisfies the internal requirements of the Δυ can be potentially a certain Ἐν-μορφή: something to be potentially a
human being has to be an organic body (σῶμα ὀργανικὸν, cf. De An. B, 412a28-29) that can eat, move, think, etc.,
therefore, i.e., earth cannot be a potential human being.
36
Met., Θ, 1049b13-17.
37
Met., Θ, 1050a16-21.
38
Met., Θ, 1050b9-12.
39
Note that, concerning μεταβολή, in the passage from ¬F to F there can be “intermediate” Ἐν as in the case of
κινήσεις, that are in fact defined as the Ἐν of what is potentially something as such, namely as Δυ (Phys., III,
201a11). This is an unperfected Ἐν (ἀτέλεια) because it needs a further realization. This refer to the distinction
between Ἐν τελεία and Ἐν ἀτέλεια, the former having their completion in themselves, the latter (falling in A8a) in
some other being (cf. Met. Θ, 1048b18-35; Phys., III, 201b7-13). We are not dealing here with Ἐν ἀτέλεια, because
we are looking for an Ἐν that does not accept further perfections.
40
De An., B, 417a30-b1; Met., Θ, 1048b6-9.

7
II) Ἕξις [Ἕξ] and ἐνέργεια – exemplification of A8b – :
A9) Ἕξ is a state-Ἐν: Ἕξ is a type of διάθεσις in formal function (κατ'εἶδος)41, namely to be in
a state (“ἕξις” from “ἔχω”, “to be” in the sense of the state42, and “διάθεσις” from “τίθημι”,
“to set”) that is actual (is Ἐν), realizing a διάθεσις in potential function (κατὰ δύναμιν, the Δυ
of to be in a certain Ἕξ)43. Therefore, qua Ἐν (from A4), Ἕξ is a perfection.
A10) Ἕξ can be innate (οὔσης) or acquired44.
A11) Ἕξ is in Δυ of the exercise (Ἐν)45, then, qua perfection (from A9), is a perfectible
perfection. The being Δυ follows A8b, in fact Ἕξ (i.e. the Ἕξ ‘F’) is not in Δυ of the contraries
¬F and F but only of F, namely the exercise, which does not produce a change of being46.
Look at the cases of the virtue and of the science: they are Ἕξ47 and they are looking for a
further actualization, for the former the action and the deliberation, for the latter the use of the
notions48, and these actualizations do not entail a change of being [app. A3].
A12) Ἕξ individuates its correspondent Ἐν. Ἕξ includes all the features required for the
achieving of Ἐν: in the case of a potential virtuous action an agent has to actualize a
determinate content (i.e. to help an old woman crossing the street) and she has to do it
according to certain requirements, as that the rational part of the soul governs the irrational
one (i.e. she helps the old woman not with the goal of a cash reward). This means that in order
to actualize an Ἕξ is required that the Ἕξ is still present during the Ἐν. This is a consequence
of A8b and is witnessed by applications as virtue, science, sight. An example: the good action
of a good man is different from a good action of a shrewd man, they are both good in relation
to the effect, but only the first one is properly good49 [app. A5].
A13) Ἐν is the perfection of Ἕξ, is its completion50. And since (from A9) Ἕξ is a perfection,
Ἐν is perfection of a perfection [app. A4].
A14) Ἐν is prior to Ἕξ in the order of the notion51 and of the knowledge52 [app. A6].
A15) Ἕξ’s Ἐν is prior in the order of actuality, it is the effective presence53 [app. A2, A3].
A16) Ἐν is accidental to Ἕξ: if a has the Ἕξ to F, could be the case that a is not F-ing or that a
is F-ing54[app A7].

41
Met., Δ, 1022b1-3.
42
Also among the senses of ἔχω there is a sense of formal state or formal possess (Met., Δ, 1023a11-13).
43
Met., Δ, 1022b4-12.
44
Met., Θ, 1047b31-35.
45
Cf. A. Kenny (1992: pp. 83-84) on the actual and potential aspect of Ἕξ.
46
Met., Δ, 1019a26-32. Cf. Top., IV, 125b20-24; De An., B, 417a21-b2.
47
Eth. Nic., II, 1106b36-1107a2, VI, 1139b31-34.
48
Eth. Eud., II, 1220a38-b7; Met., Θ, 1048a32-35.
49
Eth. Nic., II, 1103a28-31, VI, 1144a13-28, VII, 1152b33-1153a4.
50
M. Mor., II, 1208a31-39; Eth. Eud., II, 1219a2-13, 1220a29-31; De An., B, 417a23-29; Protr., fr. 81.
51
Met., Θ, 1050a10-13.
52
Met., Θ, 1050a16-21.
53
Eth. Eud., II, 1219a8-10; Met., Θ, 1050a10-23.
54
Phys., VIII, 255a30-b3.

8
III) Ψυχή [Ψυ] and ἐνέργεια – exemplification of II – 55:
A17) Ψυ is an innate (from A10) Ἕξ56.
A18) Ψυ is Es57. So Ψυ is Ἕξ (from A17), then Es is Ἕξ. Therefore, the thesis from A9 to A16
and those that will follow apply to Es too.
A19) Ψυ is the ἐντελέχεια ἡ πρώτη58, therefore (given also A17) is an Ἐν and a perfection [app.
A9].
A20) Ψυ is different from its Ἐν, since Ψυ is its faculties59 and it can exercise or not exercise
them60.
A21) Ψυ is in Δυ of its Ἐν 61 in accordance with A8a, namely when it exercises its faculties Ψυ
still is. And being a perfection (from A18), it is a perfectible perfection [app. A11, A3].
A22) Ψυ individuates its Ἐν and Ἐν actualizes what is stated by Ψυ, as in the famous motto “for
living beings to be is to be alive”62 (or more particularly, i.e., the visual perception of a hawk
in not the same of a human being, they actualize different Ψυ). Even if we think to an Ἐν
which should be of an eye but it is actualized without eye’s Es, then Ἐν would not be eye’s
actualization, because when there is not the a’s Es, a is not63. In fact, Es-Ψυ is present both
during the non-exercise (sleep) and the exercise (waking)64 [app. A12, A5].
A23) Ἐν is the completion and perfection of Ψυ65 and since Ψυ is Ἐν itself (from A19), then its
Ἐν is perfection of a perfection [app. A13, A4].
A24) Ἐν is prior to Ψυ in the order of notion and knowledge. We define and know Ψυ’s faculties
referring to their Ἐνs66 [app. A14, A6].
A25) Ἐν is accidental to Ψυ-Es. Whenever it were not enough the fact that could be the case
that the faculties are exercised or are not exercised, in order to point out with no doubts that

55
The following thesis apply to beings constituted of a permanent something which is both potential and actual.
Note that the living being case is used as exemplification in T7 too. Note also that the “actus” of the T-thesis, used
as synonyms of Ex, is the Latin translation of Ἐν. And finally note even that the very same concepts applied in the
description of Ψυ-Ἐν, namely ἐντελέχεια ἡ πρώτη and Ἐν, are used by Aquinas, translated respectively in “actus
primus” and “actus secundus”, to define how in God Es and Ex are not distinct (Sum. Con. Gen., I, c. 45; Comp.
Theol., I, c. 31).
56
De An., B, 417a22-b2. That the Aristotelian Ψυ is an Ἕξ is already said by Aquinas (In de An., II, c. 1, 412a22),
F. Suarez (1856: p. 468), A. Kenny (2003: p. 128, n. 2), O. Gigon (Aristotle, 1983: p. 132; Gigon names Ψυ as
“Besitz”, that is “possess”), D. W. Hamlyn (2002: p. 84).
57
De An., B, 412b10-12.
58
De An., B, 412a27-28.
59
De An., B, 413b12-14.
60
Protr., fr. 79, 83.
61
Eth. Eud., II, 1219a24-25.
62
Protr., fr. 86; De An., B, 415b14.
63
Cf. the principle of homonymy in, i.e.: De An., B, 412b10-22; Meteor., IV, 389b31; Pol., A, 1253a19-29.
64
De An., B, 412a23-28.
65
Protr., fr. 83.
66
De An., Γ, 434a21-435a10.

9
Ἐν is accidental to Ψυ and Es in general, we may cite some arguments that reproduces the
same situations of potentiality of Es in T3 [app. A16, A7]67:
1. There are non-beings («μὴ ὄντων») that are in Δυ («δυνάμει»), but they are not («οὐκ
ἔστι»), because they are not in the actual («ἐντελεχείᾳ»)68.
2. The following quotation is quite clear (note the use of ὑπάρχειν):
Every potentiality [δύναμις] is at one and the same time a potentiality for the opposite
[ἀντιφάσεώς]; for, while that which is not capable of being present [μὴ δυνατὸν ὐπάρχειν]
<in a subject> cannot be present [οὐκ ὐπάρξειεν], everything that is capable [δυνατὸν] <of
being> may possibly not be actual [μὴ ἐνεργεῖν]. That, then, which is capable of being
[δυνατὸν εἶναι] may either be [εἶναι] or not be [μὴ εἶναι]; the same thing, then, is capable
both of being [δυνατὸν μὴ εἶναι] and of not being [μὴ εἶναι]. And that which is capable of
not being [δυνατὸν μὴ εἶναι] may possibly not be [μὴ εἶναι]; and that which <may possibly>
not be [μὴ εἶναι] is perishable, either without qualification [ἢ ἁπλῶς], or in the precise
sense in which it is said that it possibly may not be, i.e. either in respect of place or quantity
or quality; ‘without qualification’ means ‘in substance’ [ἁπλῶς δὲ τὸ χατ'οὐσίαν] [my bold].69

It is immediate to say: the Es of a not necessary being can Ex or not-Ex, both in respect
of a qualification (Es exists as F but not as P) and without qualification, namely –
concerning the substance – it can Ex or not-Ex at all.
3. Let consider some aspects of generations. The human sperm is the efficient cause,
because gives movement to the menses, and also the formal cause70. Focusing on this
latter, the sperm carries the formal principle thanks to the fact that its matter includes,
over the watery elements that compose its body, also a special “matter”, which has
divine features, namely the πνεῦμα71. It holds the formal principle and it dissolves
when is putted into the menses, leaving the formal principle in it72. This principle is
the individual intellectual Ψυ (that includes potentially all the other Ψυs73), therefore
it is the Es (from A18). This Es exists in the sperm without an own actuality (cf. T3)
and it is in Δυ of Ex, of being born.
Note that a potential existing human is not the sperm but the Es, or intellectual Ψυ,
in it74, and this is important because someone might argue that Es is not potentially
existing since it is already existing as sperm.

67
This show definitely how Miller’s claims on Es as ultimate explanation of reality is wrong (cf. note 11).
68
Met., Θ,1047b1-2.
69
Met., Θ, 1050b8-16. Between “<...>” the words added by the translator that are not in the Greek text. Mostly “in
the subject” risks to give a restriction that is not present in the passage.
70
De gener. anim., I, 730a24-28, II, 734b22-25.
71
De gener. anim., II, 736b30-737a1. Cf. E. Berti (2010).
72
De gener. anim., II, 737a7-14.
73
De An., B, 414b28-33.
74
Met., Θ, 1049a14-16.

10
Analogously for the generation of artefacts, as the sperm has the Ψυ in the πνεῦμα,
the producer has the individual Es of the product in the mind75 76.
Therefore, the generation is the passage from a determinate non-existent, Es, to a
determinate existent, existing Es77.

Supplement:
A26) Es is a limit. Es is the principle of determination and separation78. Such a function is
already thought by Aristotle as a limit – that would have been the new metaphor of Miller
(M4a) – , since Es is the limit of being and also the limit of the knowledge concerning that
being79. Inside the limit-Es there are all its possible Ἐνs [→ M4a].
A27) Ἐν qua Ἐν is “virtuality”. We know what an Es is after that Es exists80. But Es of a non-
necessary being could exist or could not, maybe the requirements stated by Es for its
realization do not happen (a fertile man could not ever use its skill and Ψυ-Es in the sperm
remains only a potential Es), anyway that Es is an Es which could be, even though we cannot
know it. On the contrary the Es of a phoenix cannot ever exist81, it has no a real Es, that means
there is no possible, or virtual, correspondent Ἐν [→ M8].

Therefore (“→” = “explains”):

vsAM1. A3 (Δυ ≠ Ἐν)


A21 (Es = Δυ)
A23-25 (Ἐν perfection of / actualizes Es)

Es ≠ Ἐν [→ C1]

vsAM2. A3 (Δυ ≠ Ἐν)


A21 (Es = Δυ)
A23 (Ἐν perfection of Es)
A3 (Δυ is for Ἐν)

Es is for Ἐν [→ C2]

75
Met., Z, 1032b1-2, 1034a21-26, Θ, 1050a24-27; Eth. Nic., VI, 1140a10-13.
76
Among the differences between natural and non-natural generation there is the fact that we cannot know a natural
individual Es before it comes to Ex, instead the producer knows the Es that is his mind. That is why the nature acts
as a teacher, who does not know if the student has learned the notions (what is a particular Es) before examining
him (before Es exists) (Met., Θ, 1050 a16-21).
77
Phys., II, 193b12-17.
78
Met., Z, 1039a4-7.
79
Met., Δ, 1022a4-10.
80
Cf. note 76.
81
An. post., II, 92b4-8.

11
And it is possible to show also the correspondence between A-thesis and T/M-thesis82:

A2, A4, A14, A13, A23 → T2, M4c


A3, A11, A21 → T3, M3, M4c
A13, A23 → T4 (Ex as perfection of perfection)
A3, A11, A21 → T4 (Es as perfectible perfection)
A5, A12, A22 → T6 (Es individuates Ex), M4b
A12, A22 → T7, M5b
A7, A16, A25 → T8a, M2
A12, A22 → T8b, M5a
A26 → M4a
A6, A14, A24 → M6
A27 → T6 (Ex determined by Es, as Ἐν by Δυ) M8 (virtuality)

Finally note that the two emblematic cases used by Miller and Aquinas are already in Aristotle:
Es as a bound (M4) that is the same of Es as a limit (A26) and Aquinas’ example on the relation
between Es and Ex (T7), namely vivere viventibus est esse, the same of A2283.
A-thesis show that is possible to account plainly a genuine sense of Ex in Aristotle84.

Conclusion
In section 1. we have seen the ongoing essentialist interpretation of Thomists on Aristotle,
exemplified by the claims of B. Miller: AM1 and AM2. In section 2. I showed Aquinas’ thesis

82
The only two not explicitly accounted are T5 and M7, on the non-predicableness of Ex by other determinations.
But if we think that in A-thesis Ex simply actualizes what is in the Es, M7 easily should follow; and if we think
that also according to Aristotle there is nothing over the being, T5 easily should follow too.
83
Concerning this motto widely used by Aquinas, in order to give another example of how wrongly Aquinas is
considered in discontinuity to Aristotle, it is possible to quote a passage in which Aquinas states that there are
three senses of being, namely quidditas, esse and esse ut verum (In I Sent., d. 33, q. 1, a. 1, ad 1). This passage is
opposed to another in which Aquinas comments Aristotle Met. Δ.7 saying that he distinguishes two senses of
being, namely quidditas and esse ut verum (Quodl., IX, q. 2, a. 2). Not dealing with the issue on whether such a
comment is right, the point is that Aquinas himself when tries to explain the third sense uses, in the same passage,
the Aristotelian account of ἐντελέχεια ἡ πρώτη and Ἐν, as actus primus and actus secundus, that we have presented
as accounting the metaphysical distinction.
84
Note that the question on whether something exists or not are questions that consider a thing in a simple way
(ἀπλῶς λέγεσθαι). But these are not genuine scientific questions, because these latter have to be of the form “Is x
P?”, namely they have to articulate (διαρθρώσαντας) the subject wondering whether something belongs to
something other (τί ἄλλο ἄλλῳ τινὶ ὑπάρχει). We have the scientific progress thanks to this kind of question since
we have to find a medium (μέσον) between x and P which explains such a belonging. On the contrary, in the case
of “Is x?” we simply reply with the very same terms of the question, “It is / is not”, there is no progression. And
the absence of the progression is also witnessed by the fact that the scientific questions require that we already
know whether x exists, Ex is a pre-scientific requirement. Hence it is not surprising that the Metaphysics, which is
a science, does not inquiry Ex properly, but starts from Ex, inquiring the existing, and ends to Ex as Ἐν (cf. An.
post., II, 89b37-90a7, 92b4-8; Met., Z.17). That said, referring to the quotation from Soph. el. in section 1., there
is no reason to explain the «ἁπλῶς μὴ εἶναί τι» in terms of some concept of force with obscure features, since A-
thesis account Ex in its genuine sense and its opponent as well.

12
and the correspondent Miller’s refinement on C1-C2 and in section 3. I presented the possible
Aristotelian counterparts. The focal points were the conception of Es as a kind of δύναμις,
precisely an Ἕξ οὔσης (A18), and that Es, as in T3, is in potency of Ex (A21, A25). These allow
to individuate the very same kind of relations between Es and Ex that are found in Aquinas –
on the background of a metaphysical distinction – . The immediate consequence is that, since
Miller’s explicit proposal is a perfected re-exposition of Aquinas account and since Aquinas
adopts the very same Aristotelian metaphysical view, either Miller and his Thomism are
essentialist or the standard Thomistic view on Aristotle is wrong and AM1 and AM2 have to
be rejected.

13
Bibliography
Aristotle,
Eudemian Ethics, {= Eth. Eud.}
Greek text from: <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.01.00
49>.
English translation from: Id. (1991), Eudemian Ethics, in The Complete Works of Aristotle.
The Revised Oxford Translation, J. Barnes ed., Princeton University Press, Oxford.
Metaphysics, {= Meth.}
Greek text from: Id. (2017), Metafisica, E. Berti ed., Laterza, Bari.
English translation from: Id. (1991), Metaphysics, in The Complete Works of Aristotle. The
Revised Oxford Translation, J. Barnes ed., Princeton University Press, Oxford.
Meteorology, {= Meteor.}
Greek text from: Id. (1952), Meteorologica, Eng. tran. H. D. P. Lee, Harvard University
Press, Cambridge, William Heinemann Ltd, London.
English translation from: Id. (1991), Meteorology, in The Complete Works of Aristotle. The
Revised Oxford Translation, J. Barnes ed., Princeton University Press, Oxford.
Nicomachean Ethics, {= Eth. Nic.}
Greek text from: Id. (2011), Etica Nicomachea, C. Mazzarelli ed., Bompiani, Milano.
English translation from: Id. (1991), Nicomachean Ethics, in The Complete Works of
Aristotle. The Revised Oxford Translation, J. Barnes ed., Princeton University Press,
Oxford.
On Generation and Corruption, {= De gen. et corr.}
Greek text from: Id. (2013), La Generazione e la Corruzione, M. Migliori and L. Palpacelli
ed., Bompiani, Milano.
English translation from: Id. (1982), Aristotle’s De Generatione et Corruptione, C. J. F.
Williams ed., Clarendon Press, Oxford.
On the Soul, {= De An.}
Greek text and English translation from: Id. (1907), De Anima, Eng. tran. R. D. Hicks,
Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
Comment of D. W. Hamlyn from: Id. (2002), Aristotle De Anima, books II and III (with
passages from book I), Eng. tran. D. W. Hamlyn, Oxford University Press, Oxford.
German translation and comment of O. Gigon from: Id. (1983), Von der Seele, in Id., Vom
Himmel, Von der Seele, Von der Dichtkunst, Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, München.

14
Physics, {= Phys.}
Greek text from: Id. (2014), Fisica, It. trad, R. Radice, Bompiani, Milano.
English translation from: Id. (1991), Physics, in The Complete Works of Aristotle. The
Revised Oxford Translation, J. Barnes ed., Princeton University Press, Oxford.
Politics, {= Pol.}
Greek text from: < http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.01.00
57>.
English translation from: Id. (1991), Politics, in The Complete Works of Aristotle. The
Revised Oxford Translation, J. Barnes ed., Princeton University Press, Oxford.
Posterior Analitics, {= An. post.}
Greek text from: Id. (2007), Analitici secondi. Organon IV, M. Mignucci ed., Laterza, Bari.
English translation from: Id. (1991), Posterior Analitics, in The Complete Works of Aristotle.
The Revised Oxford Translation, J. Barnes ed., Princeton University Press, Oxford.
Protrepticus, {= Protr.}
Greek text from: Id. (2015), Protreptico, E. Berti ed., UTET, Torino.
English translation from: Id. (1952), The Works of Aristotle, W. D. Ross ed., vol. XII,
Clarendon Press, Oxford.
Sophistical Refutations, Greek text and English translation from Id. (1955), On Sophistical
Refutations, On Coming-to-Be and Passing-Away, E. S. Forster and D. J. Furley ed., Harvard
University Press, Cambridge, William Heinemann Ltd, London. {= Soph. el.}
Topics, {= Top.}
Greek text from: Id. (1960), Posterior Analytics. Topica, H. Trendennick and E. S. Forster
ed., Harvard University Press, Cambridge, William Heinemann Ltd, London.
English translation from: Id. (1991), Topics, in The Complete Works of Aristotle. The Revised
Oxford Translation, J. Barnes ed., Princeton University Press, Oxford.

Berti E.,
(2010), Natura e generazione degli animali in Aristotele, in KRITERION, vol. 51, n. 122,
Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais, Belo Horizonte, pp. 489-504.
(2014), Il concetto di atto nella Metafisica di Aristotele, in E. Berti, Aristotele, Bompiani,
Milano, pp. 550-570.

Bonitz H. (1870), Index Aristotelicus, Berolini Typis et Impensis Georgii Reimiri.

15
Fabro C.,
(1959), Dall’essere di Aristotele all’“esse” di Tommaso, in AA. VV., Mélanges offerts à
Étienne Gilson, Vrin, Toronto-Paris, pp. 227-247.
(1961), Partecipazione e causalità secondo san Tommaso d’Aquino, SEI, Torino.

Frege G. (1964), The Basic Laws of Arithmetic, Eng. tran. M. Furth, University of California
Press, Berkely-Los Angeles-London.

Kenny A.,
(1992), The Metaphysics of Mind, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1992.
(2003), Action, Emotion and Will, Routledge, London.
(2012a), Nuova storia della filosofia. Filosofia Antica, It. tran. G. Garelli, Piccola Biblioteca
Einaudi, Torino.
(2012b), Nuova storia della filosofia. Filosofia Medievale, It. tran. L. Corti, Piccola Biblioteca
Einaudi, Torino.

Geach P.,
(1954), Form and Existence, in Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, vol. 55, pp. 251-272.
(1968), What Actually Exists, in Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, vol. 42, pp. 7-30.

Gilson E. (1988), L’essere e l’essenza, It. tran. M. Roncoroni, Massimo, Milano.

Suarèz F. (1856), Opera Omnia, A. D. M. André ed., t. III, Bibliopolam Editorem, Parisiis.

Thomas Aquinas,
Compendium theologiae seu brevis compilation theologiae ad fratem Raynaldum,
<http://dhspriory.org/thomas/Compendium.htm>. {= Comp. Theol.}
In XII libros Metaphysicorum Aristotelis expositio, <http://dhspriory.org/thomas/
Metaphysics.htm>. {= In Met.}
Quaestiones disputate de potentia Dei, <http://dhspriory.org/thomas/QDdePotentia.htm>. {=
De pot.}
Quaestiones Quodlibetales, <http://dhspriory.org/thomas/QDquodlib.htm>. {= Quodl.}
Sentencia libri de Anima, <http://dhspriory.org/thomas/DeAnima.htm>. {= In de An.}
Summa Contra Gentiles, <http://dhspriory.org/thomas/ContraGentiles.htm>. {= Sum. Con.
Gen.}

16
Super Boetium De Trinitate, < http://www.logicmuseum.com/authors/aquinas/superboethium
-index.htm>. {= In Boet. de Trin.}

Ventimiglia G.,
(2012a), Ente, essenza ed esistenza. Prime nozioni di ontologia in prospettiva analitico-
tomistica, Eupress FTL, Lugano.
(2012b), To be o esse? La questione dell’essere nel tomismo analitico, Carocci, Roma.
(2014), Tommaso d’Aquino, La Scuola, Brescia.
(2015), Idem re differunt ratione. Frege "interprete" di Tommaso d'Aquino a proposito della
distinzione fra essenza ed esistenza, in Rivista di Filosofia Neoscolastica, vol. 107 (1-2), pp.
195-215.

17