Selected Philosophical Writings

Selected Philosophical Writings

Selected Philosophical Writings

Selected Philosophical Writings


St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) saw religion as part of the natural human propensity to worship. His ability to recognize the naturalness of this phenomenon and simultaneously to go beyond it--to explore, for example, spiritual revelation--makes his work as fresh and readable today as it was seven centuries ago. This accessible new translation offers thirty-eight substantial passages not only from the indispensable Summa Theologicae, but from many other works, fully illustrating the breadth and progression of Aquinas's philosophy. It is an ideal introduction to this key figure in the philosophy of religion.


. . . but the second argument argues that it adds nothing notional either, so to this we say: understanding one thing without another has two senses. Firstly, it could mean understanding the statement that one exists without the other, and in this sense if mind can understand one without another God can make it exist that way: but existing can't be understood without being good in this sense (mind can't understand something to have existence yet not be good). But the second sense of understanding one thing without another is that of understanding a definition, in which one thing is understood without reference to another, in the way we understand animality without having to understand humanity and the other species; and this is the way existing can be understood without being good. But it doesn't follow that God can make things exist without being good, since making precisely brings the things into existence.

Passage 3 Actual and Potential Being

Source: Thomas's public disputations on the Power of God, 1.1. Text from Quaestiones Disputatae de Potentia, Marietti edn. (Turin, 1953), with corrections from the Leonine text in preparation.

Date: 1265-7, in Italy, aged 40.

Type of passage and bow to read: Sections extracted from the summing-up (corpus) of a disputed question and from an answer to an objection (see Introduction).

Notes on translation: Power, potential, potency all translate potentia, which I often translate elsewhere as ability, since it derives from the verb posse, to be able. Act, actual, actuality translate actus; action, active, activity translate actio--both words deriving from the verb agere, to do.

. . . a thing's power or potential is its openness to some act or actuality, either the primary act of having form, or the secondary act of action. the way we commonly understand the word act suggests that originally it meant action--it is well-nigh universally understood in that way--and was later adopted to mean form, because a thing's form of existence . . .

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