Esse as actuality

But, Thomas says, distinct from such predicative forms of existential judgement are judgements of actuality (actus essendi), and these cannot be analysed out in the same way, and in this he is on common ground with a number of contemporary logicians in resisting the claims of existential quantification in the analysis of all existential judgements.10 For here we must note the difference between 'Hamlet does not exist' and 'Lawrence Olivier does not exist'. Whereas 'Hamlet does not exist' is true in that 'Hamlet' never named a person, 'Lawrence Olivier' in 'Lawrence Olivier does not exist' does name a person: a person who no longer exists, for Lawrence Olivier is dead. We should say with Geach that in 'Hamlet does not exist' no person is named who ever possessed or did not possess actuality- because 'Hamlet' is said thereby not to name - but that in 'Lawrence Olivier does not exist' a person is named who once possessed actuality and now does not. There is not and cannot be any logical obstacle to our saying that the person named 'Lawrence Olivier' no longer possesses actuality; on the contrary. If we had to say that 'Lawrence Olivier' no longer names the person who was once actual, then we could not say that it was that same person who now does not exist; we should then have no way of saying that Lawrence Olivier is dead. Indeed, logic would leave us with no room for saying that anything at all ceases to exist if we had to say that what once named an existing thing no longer names the thing which has ceased to exist; the confusion arises, as Wittgenstein says, from failing to see that when N dies it is the bearer of the name who dies, not its reference.11 It is therefore for the sort of reason that we do want to say, 'There is a person, N, who no longer exists', that Thomas sees the need

9 ST 1a q13 a2 corp.

10 For example, J. L. Mackie, The Miracle of Theism: Arguments for and against the Existence of God, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1982, p. 47.

11 Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, 1. 40, trans. G. E. M. Anscombe, Oxford: Blackwell, 1958, p. 20.

to distinguish between the '... exists' of existential quantification, and the '... exists' of actuality.

Now this in turn explains something of what is meant by speaking of esse as 'actuality', or, as Thomas says, the actus essendi. If proper names retain their references in both affirmative and negative judgements of actuality, then, as Geach says, there can be no difficulty in saying of the existence thus attributed that it is a logical 'predicate'. For if 'Lawrence Olivier existed but no longer exists' refers to Lawrence Olivier, then his being once actual and then non-actual can safely be said to be predicated of him. What, then, are you predicating of Lawrence Olivier when you predicate esse of him? Thomas's answer to this is radical; though it may also appear, infuriatingly, either extreme in boldness or else innocuously vacuous, or in turns both. At any rate, he appears to want to say two sorts of thing which are at the least not easy to reconcile with each other.

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