Notes on existence

Existence is known in the mode of an action: John runs, John sees, John exists. Why do we conceive it in this way, even though it clearly is not something one does?

All actions in one way or another reduce to the principles of the nature of the thing, existence does not. A thing can do what it does or suffer what it suffers in virtue of what it is. At the same time, action and suffering does have a real relation to existence. A proper cause is known to exist when the effect is known, even if the nature of the cause is not known.

The difficulty with studying existence and being in the thought of St. Thomas is that not all that is real is actual, and the principles of things in one sense exist, but not in the same sense as the thing that comes from them. Potency and principle are both real things, but they are not properly speaking what we call “being” or “things” like cats and motion and purple elephants.

There is a second difficulty in what to do with the knowledge of privations: nothing exists; blindness exists. These are less of a problem.

 

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