instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Monday, February 22, 2010

Quis, quid, ubi, quibus auxiliis, cur, quomodo, quando

Things really heat up in ST I-II, 7, 3. Who isn't dying to know whether the circumstances are properly set forth in Ethic. iii?

In the article, "Whether the circumstances are properly set forth in the third book of Ethics?," St. Thomas characterizes the different ways something can be the accident of an act and enumerates these ways as (more or less) those circumstances identified by both Aristotle and by Cicero (in On Invention):

CircumstanceWhat it touchesHow it touches
TIMEthe act itselfby way of measure
PLACEthe act itselfby way of measure
MODE OF ACTINGthe act itselfby qualifying the act
WHATthe effectn/a
WHYthe cause of the actfinal cause
ABOUT WHATthe cause of the actmaterial cause
WHOthe cause of the actprincipal efficient cause
BY WHAT AIDSthe cause of the actinstrumental efficient cause

"Time" and "place" are pretty straightforward.

The "mode of acting" is, you might say, the adverb of the act. It modifies the act in a way worth mentioning, but not in a way that changes what the act itself is. The examples St. Thomas provides are of a man walking quickly or slowly and of a man striking hard or softly.

The "what" of the act is the act's immediate effect. If I am baking a pie, the what of my act is (God willing) a baked pie. It may seem a bit odd to say that "what is done" is only a circumstance, an accident, of the act, and not the act itself. In fact, we do often conflate the act with its effect. We might, for example, speak of the act of saving someone from drowning, when strictly speaking "saving someone from drowning" is really the effect of the act of jumping into the lake and drawing the person out.

"Why" is just what it sounds like.

The "about what" (which, St. Thomas says, Cicero includes in the "what") is simply the material or stuff that what is done is done to; the ingredients of my pie, for example.

"Who" is who, and "by what aids" are the circumstantial tools or instruments used by the "who" upon the "about what" to effect the "what".

All good to know. But what really glitters like a diamond in this article is the reply to objection 3, which objection says that "the causes of an act seem to belong to its substance," so why, about what, who, and by what aids shouldn't count as circumstances.