Sie sind auf Seite 1von 25


Paul Gerard Horrigan, Ph.D., 2017.

Lockes Empiricism

John Locke (1632-1704)1 concentrated his philosophical efforts in the areas of

philosophy of knowledge (gnoseology) and political philosophy. He was an empiricist, believing

Studies on Locke: J. GIBSON, Lockes Theory of Knowledge and its Historical Relations, Cambridge University
Press, Cambridge, 1917 ; S. P. LAMPRECHT, The Moral and Political Philosophy of John Locke, Columbia
University Press, New York, 1918 ; J. W. GOUGH, Lockes Political Philosophy: Eight Studies, Oxford University
Press, Oxford, 1950 ; J. D. OCONNOR, John Locke, Penguin, Baltimore, 1952 ; J. W. YOLTON, John Locke and
the Way of Ideas, Oxford University Press, New York, 1956 ; R. H. COX, Locke on War and Peace, Oxford
University Press, Oxford, 1960 ; R. CRIPPA, Esperienza e libert in John Locke, Marzorati, Milan, 1960 ; K.
DEWHURST, John Locke (1632-1704) Physician and Philosopher, Wellcome Historical Medical Library, London,
1963 ; M. SELIGER, The Liberal Politics of John Locke, Allen & Unwin, London, 1968 ; J. L. KRAUS, John
Locke, Philosophical Library, New York, 1968 ; J. W. YOLTON (ed.), John Locke: Problems and Perspectives: A
Collection of New Essays, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1969 ; J. DUNN, The Political Thought of John
Locke: An Historical Account of the Argument of the Two Treatises of Government, Cambridge University Press,
Cambridge, 1969 ; S. ALEXANDER, Locke, Kennicat, New York, 1970 ; J. W. YOLTON, Locke and the Compass
of Human Understanding, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1970 ; R. S. WOOLHOUSE, Lockes
Philosophy of Science and Knowledge, Barnes & Noble, New York, 1971 ; R. J. AARON, John Locke, Clarendon
Press, Oxford, 1971 ; C. A. VIANO, John Locke: dal razionalismo allIlluminismo, Einaudi, Turin, 1973 ; A.
SABETTI, La filosofia politica di John Locke, Liguori, Naples, 1971 ; J. D. MABBOTT, John Locke, Macmillan,
London, 1973 ; W. EUCHNER, La filosofia politica di Locke, Laterza, Bari, 1976 ; J. L. MACKIE, Problems from
Locke, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1976 ; I. MANCINI, G. CRINELLA, John Locke, Vita e Pensiero, Milan, 1976 ; B.
D. BARGER, Locke on Substance, Sheffield, Manhattan Beach, CA, 1976 ; I. C. TIPTON (ed.), Locke on Human
Understanding, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1977 ; J. H. FRANKLIN, John Locke and the Theory of
Sovereignty, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1978 ; G. PARRY, John Locke, Allen & Unwin, London,
1978; M. SINA, Introduzione a Locke, Laterza, Bari, 1982 ; J. J. JENKINS, Understanding Locke, Columbia
University Press, New York, 1982 ; J. COLMAN, John Lockes Moral Philosophy, Edinburgh University Press,
Edinburgh, 1983 ; F. FAGIANI, Nel crepuscolo della probabilit: ragione ed esperienza nella filosofia sociale di
John Locke, Bibliopolis, Naples, 1983 ; I. C. TIPTON, Locke: Reason and Experience, Open University Press,
Milton Keynes, 1983 ; K. I. VAUGHN, John Locke: Economist and Social Scientist, University of Chicago Press,
Chicago, 1983 ; R. S. WOOLHOUSE, Locke, Harvester, Brighton, 1983 ; N. WOOD, The Politics of Lockes
Philosophy: A Social Study of An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, University of California Press,
Berkeley, 1983 ; A. PACCHI, Introduzione alla lettura del Saggio sullintelletto umano, Unicolpi, Milan, 1983 ; J.
DUNN, Locke, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1984 ; R. PITITTO, John Locke: mondo linguistico e
interpretazione, Athena, Naples, 1984 ; N. TARCOV, Lockes Education for Liberty, University of Chicago Press,
Chicago, 1984 ; M. CRANSTON, John Locke: A Biography, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1985 ; S. GOYARD-
FABRE, John Locke et la raison raisonnable, Vrin, Paris, 1986 ; R. W. GRANT, John Lockes Liberalism,
University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1987 ; W. M. SPELLMAN, John Locke and the Problem of Depravity,
Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1988 ; R. SPECHT, John Locke, C. H. Beck, Munich, 1989 ; R. POLIN, John
Locke, Pellicani, Rome, 1990 ; M. R. AYERS, Locke, 2 vols., Routledge, London, 1991 ; J. W. YOLTON, Locke
and French Materialism, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1991 ; J. M. VIENNE, Exprience et raison: Les
fondements de la morale selon Locke, Vrin, Paris, 1991 ; P. A. SCHOULS, Reasoned Freedom: John Locke and the
Enlightenment, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, 1992 ; A. J. SIMMONS, The Lockean Theory of Rights, Princeton
University Press, Princeton, 1992 ; J. W. YOLTON, A Locke Dictionary, Blackwell, Oxford, 1993 ; M. SINA,
Introduzione a Locke, Laterza, Bari, 1993 ; V. CHAPPELL (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Locke, Cambridge
University Press, Cambridge, 1994 ; E. J. LOWE, Locke on Human Understanding, Routledge, London, 1995 ; N.
JOLLEY, Locke: His Political Thought, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1999 ; G. YAFFE, Liberty Worth the
Name: Locke on Free Agency, Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, 2000 ; E. FESER, Locke, Oneworld,

that all knowledge has its origin in experience, of which there are two types: sensation and
reflection. These latter are, for him, the sole founts of ideas. He rejects Cartesian innatism: there
are no innate ideas; man begins his cognitive journey with a blank slate (tabula rasa), which is
destined to receive the imprint of simple ideas which come from two sources: sensation and
reflection. Locke devoted the first book of his Essay to proving that there are no innate
principles in the mind. The mind of the new-born child resembles a clean sheet of paper (tabula
rasa of Aristotle). All knowledge is derived from experience, which he teaches is twofold:
external, namely sensation or the perception of the external phenomena by means of the senses,
and internal, namely reflection or the consciousness of the activity discernible in sensation. This
internal experience comprises several activities which tend to combine simple representations
together, and make complex ideas by reflecting, comparing and combining (association-
theory in germ).2

Concerning Lockes teaching on the mind as a tabula rasa or blank tablet, William
Sahakian notes that according to Locke, in the process of gaining knowledge, only the mental
faculty (or power) is innate, whereas the actual knowledge itself is acquired. Knowledge is
imprinted on the mind by sensations, which impress themselves upon the mind as if it were a
tabula rasa, a blank tablet or white paper void of all characters, without any ideas. All ideas
(all materials used in reasoning and knowing) come from experience; hence Lockes philosophy
is called Empiricism. There are two kinds of experience, external and internal, and two
corresponding avenues of knowledge: (1) sensations provide us with ideas emanating from
external experience (from objects outside ourselves); (2) inner reflection also provides ideas as
part of the world within us. Our understanding receives ideas in the same way that a blackboard
receives chalk marks imprinted upon it. Sense experience presents sensible qualities to the mind,
such as yellowness, heat, softness, sweetness; the mind, reflecting on these activities and states,
receives a second set of ideas, as in perception, thinking, doubting, believing, reasoning,
knowing, and willing. Only after the mind acquires sense experience may it have these
reflections and ideas dealing with its inner sensory operations.3

Oxford, 2007 ; L. NEWMAN (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Lockes Essay Concerning Human
Understanding, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2007 ; W. UZGALIS, Lockes Essay Concerning Human
Understanding A Readers Guide, Continuum, London, 2007 ; P. SHERIDAN, Locke: A Guide for the Perplexed,
Continuum, London, 2010 ; K. J. S. FORSTROM, John Locke and Personal Identity, Continuum, London, 2010 ;
G. STRAWSON, Locke on Personal Identity, Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, 2011 ; P. R. ANSTEY,
John Locke and Natural Philosophy, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2011 ; G. FORSTER, Starting with Locke,
Bloomsbury Academic, London, 2011 ; A. J. PYLE, Locke, Polity, Cambridge, 2013 ; M. STUART, Lockes
Metaphysics, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2013 ; E. J. LOWE, The Routledge Guidebook to Lockes Essay
Concerning Human Understanding, Routledge, London, 2013 ; S. C. RICKLESS, Locke, Wiley-Blackwell,
Hoboken, NJ, 2014 ; S.-J. SAVONIUS-WROTH, P. SCHUURMAN, and J. WALMSLEY (eds.), The Bloomsbury
Companion to Locke, Bloomsbury Academic, London, 2014 ; J. D. MABBOTT, John Locke, Palgrave Macmillan,
London, 2014 ; N. JOLLEY, Lockes Touchy Subjects: Materialism and Immortality, Oxford University Press,
Oxford, 2015 ; M. STUART (ed.), A Companion to Locke (Blackwell Companions to Philosophy), Wiley-Blackwell,
Hoboken, NJ, 2015 ; S. WEINBERG, Consciousness in Locke, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2016.
D. MERCIER, Outlines of the History of Philosophy, in D. Mercier, Manual of Modern Scholastic Philosophy, vol.
2, Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner and Co., London, 1938, p. 441.
W. S. SAHAKIAN, History of Philosophy, Barnes and Noble, New York, 1968, p. 154.

An Essay Concerning Human Understanding

Lockes theory of knowledge is contained in An Essay Concerning Human

Understanding, which is divided into four books: in the first book he criticizes the innate ideas of
Descartes; in book two he inquires into the origin of ideas, establishes his system of
gnoseological empiricism, and explains his division of concepts into simple ideas and complex
ideas; the third book deals with the relationship between words and ideas, while the last book
delves into certainty, extension, and the various degrees of knowledge.

Simple and Complex Ideas

Ideas are, for Locke, either simple or complex. Simple ideas are those which come
through experience and are divided into four classes: 1. those which come to us through one
sense (e.g., color) ; 2. those which come to us through more than one sense (e.g., extension,
coming from sight and touch) ; 3. those which come to us by reflection only (e.g., perception,
belief, doubt and volition) ; and 4. those which are derived from sensation and reflection together
(e.g., pleasure, pain, power, existence, unity and succession). Complex ideas, on the other hand,
are those which the human mind forms by combining simple ideas derived from experience and
are classified into modes (ideas representing that which has no proper and independent existence,
and is dependent in being on a substance which it modifies), substances (which, in the logical
order, are the minds postulate of some subject or substrate underlying and supporting sense
qualities; in the ontological order or the order of reality substance is that unknown and
unknowable something which supports qualities; man knows that it exists, but does not know
what it is), and relations (which are ideas arising from the minds perception of an order existing
between objects, the chief relation being that of cause and effect).

Lockes Confusion of Ideas and Images

Central to Lockes whole empiricist philosophy is his theory of the idea. Locke writes:
Since the mind, in all its thoughts and reasonings, hath no other immediate object but its own
ideas, which it alone does or can contemplate, it is evident that our knowledge is only conversant
about them. Knowledge, then, seems to me to be nothing but the perception of the connection of
and agreement, or disagreement and repugnancy of any of our ideas. In this alone it consists.4
This position is, of course, manifestly immanentist: one does not really know extra-mental
objects or noumena but rather ideas or conscious states of the mind. Locke is trapped within the
subjectivist prison of his mind.

Locke again, in the Introduction to his Essay, writes on the idea: It being that term
which, I think, serves best to stand for whatever is the object of the understanding when a man
thinks, I have used it to express whatever is meant by phantasm, notion, species, or whatever it is
which the mind can be employed about in thinking.5 Bittle comments: In this superficial
definition Locke unfortunately lumps together as ideas things which might conceivably be
radically different in nature, namely phantasm, notion, species, or whatever it is which can be
employed about in thinking. By thus arbitrarily blurring the nature of the idea so as to include

J. LOCKE, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, vol. 2, book 4, ch. 1, p. 167.
J. LOCKE, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Introduction, Oxford, 1894, p. 32.

the images of sense-perception (phantasm, species), he laid the foundation for sensism, in
which all thinking is nothing but a form of sensation. Descartes placed all sense-perception in
the spiritual mind, thus identifying sense-perception with spiritual activity; Locke here does the
reverse, by reducing ideas, at least in part, to the level of sense-perception. This confusion of
ideas and images is present in all his philosophy.6 Bittle further criticizes Lockean empiricist
sensism, writing: For one thing, Locke simply assumes without proof that ideas and images
are identical. This identification of ideas and images wipes out the distinction between sensory
and intellectual knowledge simply by definition. Again, according to his definition of the idea
the idea is the object of our understanding, instead of the reality of things being the object of our
intellectual knowledge. All we can know, then, are ideas, internal states of mind; in that case,
however, we can acquire no knowledge of the material world as it is in itself. If carried out to its
logical conclusion, such a theory must inevitably end in subjective idealism.7

Lockes Erroneous View of Substance as an Unknown Substrate

For Locke, substance is the unknown substrate of accidents. R. J. Kreyche writes that
the notion of substance for Locke is not given in our sensible experience, although our ideas of
certain basic qualities are. Since it is unreasonable to suppose that these qualities can exist by
themselves, we must assume that there is a support of these qualities which Locke identifies
with substance. Hence our general notion of substance is nothing more than an unknown
substrate of accidents, and this notion is produced by the mind.89 Locke states the following
concerning substance in his An Essay Concerning Human Understanding: The notion one has
of pure substance is only a supposition of he knows not what support of such qualities, which are
capable of producing simple ideas in us; which qualities are commonly called accidentsThe
idea than we have, to which we give the general name substance, being nothing but the
supposed, but unknown support of those qualities we find existing, which we imagine cannot
subsist, sine re substante, without something to support them, we call that support
substantia.10 Whatever therefore be the secret abstract nature of substance in general, all the
ideas we have of particular distinct sorts of substances, are nothing but several combinations of
simple ideas, co-existing in such, though unknown, cause of their union, as makes the whole
subsist of itself.11 Not imagining how simple ideas (i.e., of primary qualities) can subsist by
themselves, we accustom ourselves to suppose some substratum wherein they do subsist, and
from which they do result, which therefore we call substance. So that if anyone will examine
himself concerning his notion of pure substance in general, he will find no other idea of it at all,
but only a supposition of he knows not what support of such qualities which are capable of

C. BITTLE, The Whole Man, Bruce, Milwaukee, 1945, pp. 314-315.
C. BITTLE, op. cit., p. 315.
To appreciate what Locke has in mind we must consider that for him we have no (external) experience of
substance. All that we do experience from without are the impressions that we have of certain sense qualia. For
example, when we perceive the impressions of a turtle we are not aware of anything beyond its sense qualities,
such as its shape, hardness, and so forth. Whatever might be the substance of the turtle as something distinct from
its sensible qualities of that we have no experience. Nevertheless we must imagine it (the substance or turtle) to
be there, since these qualities cannot exist by themselves.
R. J. KREYCHE, op. cit., p. 280.
J. LOCKE, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, book II, ch. 23, section 2.

producing simple ideas in us; which qualities are commonly called accidents.12 Our idea of
substance is equally obscure, or none at all, in both: it is but a supposed I-know-not-what, to
support those ideas we call accidentsBy the complex idea of extended, figured, colored, and
all other sensible qualities, which is all that we know of it, we are as far from the idea of the
substance of the body, as if we knew nothing at all.13 Thonnard notes that Locke concedes that
we legitimately assert the existence of this substratum distinct from its properties, for one cannot
conceive of modes without a subject which bears them up; we are, however, totally ignorant of
its nature or quiddity, for our ideas, coming from experience, do not allow us to know simple
qualities and their diverse combinations in any proper sense. It is clear in this theory that
substance, in the ordinary sense of the word, designates a vague something of which we have no
clear idea and whose essence it is impossible to penetrate14

Criticizing Locke on substance, John F. McCormick writes: For Locke, substance was
the unknown substrate of accidents. This definition really arises from his false interpretation of
experience, as if we knew only qualities or accidents by experience, and brought in the idea of
substance merely because we could not imagine accidents existing without something to inhere
in. He always maintained that he did not deny that substance had reality. He claimed that he
called in question only the idea of substance, not its reality. But if our idea is questionable, if it
does not correspond with any reality, then we should have no right to assert that real substance
existed at all. Locke was neither very clear nor very consistent in his thinking15 Thus, Locke
paves the way for the radical skepticism of Hume on substance.

Critique of Locke Concerning our Knowledge of Substance. R. J. Kreyche critiques the

reductionist empiricism of Locke concerning substance as follows: The very existence of
metaphysics is contingent on the fact that substances exist and that we have knowledge of them.
Should we suppose, as did Locke, that the notion of substance is not drawn from things and
nevertheless hold that substance is real, then our philosophy would rest on a blind act of faith.
On the other hand, should we suppose with Hume that philosophy has no way of establishing an
objective counterpart for the idea that we have of substance, we would be led down the path of
phenomenalism. On either supposition the human mind would be deprived of any direct,
existential contact with an order of really existing things.

To refute these denials it is necessary to give some consideration to the origin of our
notion of substance, and the first question we must ask is this: Does an empirical knowledge of
substance require that we have an experience of substance all by itself.? From reading the
Essay of Locke one certainly gets the impression that unless we can isolate substance and view
it all by itself with our senses, then we can have no real knowledge of substance at all. In other
words, either we must be able to lift up the veil of accidents and in so doing to experience
substance as a thing by itself, or we have no knowledge of substance except as an unknown X
as an unknown substrate of accidents. This is the fundamental dilemma of the Essay and, in his
theory of knowledge, Locke has no means of escaping its horns.

J. LOCKE, op. cit., book II, ch. 23, 1, 2.
J. LOCKE, op. cit., vol. 1, book 2, ch. 23, pp. 406-407.
F. J. THONNARD, A Short History of Philosophy, Descle, Tournai, 1956, pp. 601-602.
J. F. McCORMICK, Scholastic Metaphysics, vol. 1: Being, Its Division and Causes, Loyola University Press,
Chicago, 1940, pp. 101-102.

In recognition, then, of the difficulty experienced by Locke it is to be noted as a matter
of fact that we have no experience of substance in the way Locke would have us experience it,
for two reasons: 1. substance as substance is not a per se object of sensation, and 2. when we do
experience substance it is precisely in connection with, and not apart from, its concrete
accidental characteristics or modes.

The importance of both these points requires that we take them up separately. In
reference to (1) above, when we say that substance is not a per se object of sensation we mean
that our powers of sensation do not know substance formally, or, what amounts to the same
thing, they have no knowledge of substance as such. Yet granting this, we need not assume (as
did Locke) either that an experience of substance would be limited to sensation alone or that
the senses do not know substance at all. Both of these suppositions are contrary to fact, and in a
few moments we shall see why.

Regarding (2) it is no more possible to experience substance as a thing apart from its
accidents than it is to perceive accidents all by themselves. However, this fact alone does not
imply an inability on our part to abstract the given contents of experience, even though these
contents are not given in a pure state. Substance, in other words, is not given by itself, but this
is not to say that it cannot be known by itself, as something that has been abstracted from

Contrary, then, to the doctrine of Locke, our knowledge that substances exist is not a
product of inference. Substance rather is something that we experience, and we experience it the
moment we perceive it. Now it is true, as we have already indicated, that substance is not a per se
object of sensation, but it would be false to suppose that we do not perceive substance at all. That
we do have a perception of substance may be seen from the fact that our sensible knowledge of
accidents (color, shape, weight, and the rest) is never a knowledge of accidents all by themselves.
Rather, what we perceive is the thing itself together with its accidental modes (for example,
something like a live, slippery fish that is speckled in color and oval in shape). It is this concrete
thing existing under these concrete determinations of color, shape, and the like, that constitutes
the object of perception. In our concrete perception of the sensible qualities of objects we
perceive incidentally but really the reality of the substance itself.

Substance, then, is given in perception, and it is incidentally perceived by the senses

themselves. This means that in the process of experiencing accidents in their concrete form we
cannot avoid also experiencing the substance itself. However, beyond this point we must also
recognize that a human awareness of objects is not limited to sensation alone. Except in the case
of infants our human awareness of objects is at one and the same time both sensory and
intellectual. Whenever we experience an object, the intellect too is involved so as to discover
whatever element of meaning (or intelligible significance) the object itself might convey. As
regards, then, our knowledge of substance, the very least we can say is this: the moment we
perceive a thing with our senses (for example, a rock, a tree, a frog) we immediately know
through an act of understanding that what we perceive is a thing or a substance of a definite
kind. Hence, even though we may be ignorant of the precise nature of the object at hand, we at
least know on the level of understanding that what we experience is a thing.

To understand this point well we must consider that in man there are two levels of
knowing sensation and intellection and that in a normal human experience we do not operate
on either of these levels to the absolute exclusion of the other. On the one hand, our
understanding of things is always in some way related to the order of our sensible experience,
and for this reason even such exalted notions of God are based on the analogy of experience.
Conversely, whenever we (as adult humans) perceive an object with our senses, our
understanding too is simultaneously present in that act of perception. Every human experience,
unlike the bare sensory perception of brutes, is fraught with some meaning, and to that extent
also involves an intellectual grasp, however imperfect, of the nature of the object perceived.
This, then, is the nature of our knowledge of substance.16

Against Locke on Substance: What is Substance? What are Accidents?

Let us observe accidental changes around us. A fathers face, for example, gets red
because his son bumped his favorite car. The passage from the fathers originally white face to a
red face to a white face again does not obviously destroy the individual being that is the father.
He doesnt turn into a cat or into an elephant. Neither does he simply vanish into thin air.
Therefore, this accidental change or modification that he undergoes without destroying his being
an individual man reveals a reality that changes only in its secondary aspects, without losing its
nature. There is manifested, in the accidental alteration that we have observed in the father, the
presence of both a stable, permanent substratum, called the substance, and certain secondary
changeable perfections, called the accidents. There is, in each individual finite being, a single
substantial core which is affected by various accidental modifications.


Substance is that reality to whose essence or nature it is proper to be by itself (esse per
se, or to be in itself [esse in se17]) and not in another subject. There are two basic aspects of
substance: 1. The substance is the substratum, the subject, that supports the accidents; and 2.
This function of substance is based upon the fact that the substance is the subsistent. This means
that it does not exist in something else but is by itself (or is in itself), not needing to inhere in
another like the accidents do, which need the support of a subject, namely, the substance, in
order to be. A dog, for example, is a substance because, in view of its nature or essence it is
proper to it to subsist in itself (in se), having its own being distinct from the being of anything
else. The brown color of this dog, however, doesnt subsist in itself (in se), but is an accident that
needs to inhere in an existing subject. We say This brown dog.


An accident is that reality to whose essence it is proper to be in something else, as in its

subject. If what is most characteristic of the substance is subsistence (to subsist), that which is
most characteristic of accidents is to be in another (their being esse in or inesse). Take for

R. J. KREYCHE, op. cit., pp. 282-285.
Esse per se and esse in se, as opposed to esse in alio, have the same signification. Both are correct, if they are
properly understood.(H. GRENIER, Thomistic Philosophy, vol. 3 (Metaphysics), St. Dunstans University,
Charlottetown, 1950, p. 173).

example a cat. The substance here would be the substance cat, while its accidents would be the
various perfections inhering in the substance cat (a substance that, though modified by its
accidents, nevertheless does not change into another substance), accidents such as its shape, size,
colour, fluffiness of its fur, etc.

Classification of Accidents

Classification of Accidents According to Origin. Alvira, Clavell, and Melendo classify

the various accidents into four groups according to their origin, writing: a) accidents which
belong to the species: these are accidents which spring from the specific principles of the essence
of a thing, and are therefore properties common to all individuals of the same species (e.g., the
shape of a horse, the powers of understanding and willing in man); b) accidents which are
inseparable from each individual: these accidents stem from the specific way the essence is
present in a given individual, for instance, being tall or short, being fair or dark-complexioned,
being a man or a woman these are all individual characteristics which have a permanent basis
in their subject; c) accidents which are separable from each individual: these accidents, such as
being seated or standing, walking or studying, stem from the internal principles of their subject,
but they affect it only in a transient manner; d) accidents which stem from an external agent:
some of these may be violent, that is, they are imposed upon the subject against the normal
tendency of its nature (e.g., a viral disease); others, in contrast, may actually be beneficial to the
subject which receives them (e.g., instruction received from another person).18

The Nine Accidents.The nine accidents enumerated by the Stagirite are quantity, quality,
relation, when, where, posture, action, passion, and habitus. Concerning the classification of the
nine accidents, Grenier explains: The secondary form added to substance, i.e., accident can
affect substance absolutely, i.e., in itself, or relatively, i.e., in relation to another subject: 1. If
absolutely: a) it renders substance distinct and determinate: quality; b) or it extends substance
into parts: quantity; 2. If relatively: a) it relates substance to a term: relation; b) or it modifies
substance in relation to an external subject; 3. This extrinsic subject may be: a) totally extrinsic,
b) or partially extrinsic; 4. If the extrinsic subject is totally extrinsic, a) it is not a measure of
substance: habit; b) or it is a measure of substance; 5. If it is a measure of substance, a) it is a
measure of time: when; b) or it is a measure of place, either without reference to the disposition
of parts in the place: where; or with reference to the disposition of parts in the place: posture; 6.
If the extrinsic subject is only partially extrinsic, a) it is intrinsic as regards its principle: action,
which derives its name from passion, of which it is a principle; b) or it is intrinsic as regards its
term: passion, which derives its name from action, of which it is a term.19

The Real Distinction Between Substance and Accidents

There is a real distinction between substance and accidents, as Alvira, Clavell and
Melendo explain: A substance and its accidents are really distinct from one another. This can be
clearly seen by observing accidental changes, in which certain secondary perfections disappear
and give way to other new ones without the substance itself being changed into another

T. ALVIRA, L. CLAVELL, T. MELENDO, Metaphysics, Sinag-Tala, Manila, 1991, pp. 48-49.
H. GRENIER, Thomistic Philosophy, vol. 3 (Metaphysics), St. Dunstans University, Charlottetown, Canada,
1950, pp. 188-189.

substance. Such alterations are only possible if the accidents are really distinct from the
substance which they affect. The color of an apple, for instance, is something really distinct from
the apple itself, since the apple changes in color when it ripens, but does not cease to be an apple.

The readily-changeable accidents are not the only ones really distinct from the
substance. All the accidents, by virtue of their very essence, are distinct from their subject. For
instance, to be divisible is by nature proper to quantity whereas substance is by itself both one
and indivisible. Relation is a reference to another; in contrast, substance is something

Substance has its own consistency, truly distinct from that of the accidents, and superior
to it. Substance determines the basic content of things and makes them to be what they are (a
flower, an elephant, a man). In contrast, accidents depend on the substantial core, and at the same
time constitute its determining aspects.20

Describing how this real distinction between substance and accidents, nevertheless, does
not destroy the unity of a concrete being (ens), Alvira, Clavell and Melendo point out: The real
distinction between substance and accidents may seem to undermine the unity of a concrete
being. This, in fact, is the result that emerges from theories which regard the substance as a
substratum disconnected from the accidents, and merely juxtaposed to them in an extrinsic
fashion. It must, however, be stressed that the real distinction between substance and accidents
does not destroy the unity of the being. Substance and accidents are not several beings put
together to form a whole, just as various decorative elements are combined to constitute a room.
There is only one being (ens) in the strict sense, namely, the substance; all the rest simply
belong to it. A tree, for instance, does not cease to be a single thing even though it has many
accidental characteristics. The accidents are not complete, autonomous realities added to a
substance; they are only determining aspects of the substance, which complete it and do not,
therefore, give rise to a plurality of juxtaposed things.

The unity of the composite also becomes evident in the case of operations. An animal,
for instance, carries out many different actions, which do not hamper its unity. On the contrary,
its entire activity forms a harmonious unified whole precisely because there is a single subject
that acts. In the case of man, it is neither the intelligence which understands, nor the will that
desires; rather, it is the person who understands and desires by means of these respective powers,
and consequently all his operations are imbued with an underlying unity.21

Knowledge of Substance and Accidents

Explaining how the substance-accidents composition is known with the intelligence

starting from the data offered to it by the senses, and how, in our knowledge of the singular and
concrete being (ens), we find ourselves in a continuous going back and forth between the
substance and its accidents, Alvira, Clavell and Melendo write: Our way of knowing substance
and accidents is determined by their respective natures and their mutual relation.

T. ALVIRA, L. CLAVELL, T. MELENDO, op. cit., p. 52.
T. ALVIRA, L. CLAVELL, T. MELENDO, op. cit., pp. 52-53.

In the first place, the substance-accident composite is known through the intelligence on
the basis of the data provided by the senses. Sense knowledge always refers directly to the
accidents of a thing; in contrast, the intelligence grasps, through the accidents, their source and
basis, which is the substance. This, of course, is possible because the accidents are not like a veil
that hides the substance: on the contrary, the accidents reveal the substance.

Since its proper object is being (ens), the intellect is not limited to grasping the more
peripheral aspects of things, so to speak, but knows everything that is, i.e., the entire being
(ens) with all its real characteristics. Thus, the intellect perceives being (ens) as a whole,
composed of substance and accidents and which is not merely the result of putting together
various aspects of the thing. The distinction between substance and accidents can only be
grasped through the intellect. It cannot be obtained through the external or internal senses
because these faculties perceive only the accidents.22

In the process of knowing the specific individual being, we constantly go back and forth
from the substance to the accidents, and vice-versa. For the sake of clarity, we may distinguish
three stages in this knowledge.

a) First, what we have is an indistinct or vague knowledge of the composite. Whenever

we encounter an unknown object, whose nature we are not familiar with, we immediately
understand that the qualities perceived by our senses (e.g., color, shape, size) are not independent
realities, but a unified whole by virtue of their belonging to a single substance. Even at this initial
stage of knowing an object, we know that the accidents are secondary manifestations of a subject
that subsists by itself, notwithstanding our inability to know as yet what sort of substance it is.
Indeed, since being (ens) is what is first known by the intelligence, and in the strict sense the
substance alone is being (ens), our intellect cannot grasp accidents without simultaneously
perceiving their subject.

b) Then from the accidents we move on to the substance. Once the subject of the
accidents is known in an indistinct way, the accidents, which reveal the substance, become the
natural path to know what the substance is, i.e., its nature or essence. The accidents of a man (his
shape, his proper operations), for instance, lead us to his essence: rational animal. Thus, starting
from the more external aspects of a being, so to speak, we gradually come to grasp its deeper,
more internal aspects. We penetrate its substantial core through its more peripheral

c) From the substance, we go back to the accidents. Once we have discovered the
essence of a thing, this knowledge becomes a new, more intense light which illumines all the
accidents arising from the substance. It enables to acquire a more adequate notion of each of the
accidents and of their mutual relationships. No longer are we merely aware of them as mere
external manifestations of something, whose nature is not yet distinctly known to us. Rather,
we recognize them as the proper natural manifestations of a specific way of being. Once we have

The senses are said to perceive the substance, not in the strict sense, but only in a certain way (per accidens).
Thus, the eye does not see a color as such and as a separate reality; what it always perceives is a colored object.
Likewise, the sense of touch does not grasp a separated extension, but an extended thing. Nevertheless, the
intelligence alone grasps the substance precisely as substance, differentiating from the accidents.

come to know the essence of man, for instance, we can fit together in a better way his diverse
accidents, since we are aware that they stem from his nature and are dependent on it. This helps
us to have a better grasp of their real meaning. We can, for instance, perceive the many activities
of man as the result of a free rational activity, which is itself a consequence of his specific
essence, and as a result, we are able to grasp them in their true dimension. Otherwise, even
though we might obtain a very detailed description of human activities and succeed in measuring
many aspects of human behavior, our knowledge of the human person would remain extremely
poor; we would even fail to realize that man has a spiritual and immortal soul.

Summing up, we can say that our knowledge begins from the sense-perceptible
properties of things, perceived as manifestations of a thing which has being (esse). These
properties reveal the essence to us, and the accidents, in turn, are seen as stemming from this
substance, which provides the light for a better knowledge of them. This process is not, of
course, undergone and completed once and for all in an instant. In fact, an unending flux
characterizes our knowledge, as we move on from the accidents to the substance, and from the
substance to the accidents, thus gradually acquiring a deeper knowledge of both.23

Lockes Error Concerning the Notion of Person

For Locke, personal identity24 would consist in the sameness of consciousness itself25 that
persists throughout a succession of past and present conscious states (the person, for Locke, is

T. ALVIRA, L. CLAVELL, T. MELENDO, op. cit., pp. 55-57.
Studies on Lockes views concerning personal identity: H. ALLISON, Lockes Theory of Personal Identity,
Journal of the History of Ideas, 27 (1966), pp. 41-58 ; A. FLEW, Locke and the Problem of Personal Identity, in
Locke and Berkeley, edited by C. B. Martin and D. M. Armstrong, Anchor Doubleday, Garden City, 1968, pp. 155-
178 ; B. LANGTRY, Locke and the Relativisation of Identity, Philosophical Studies, 27 (1975), pp. 401-409 ; D.
WIGGINS, Locke, Butler, and the Stream of Consciousness: And Men as Natural Kind, in The Identities of Persons,
edited by A. O. Rorty, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1976 ; J. McINTYRE, Locke on Personal Identity:
A Re-examination, Philosophical Research Archives, 3.1103 (1977), pp. 115-144 ; P. HELM, Lockes Theory of
Personal Identity, Philosophy, 54 (1979), pp. 173-185 ; D. BEHAN, Locke on Persons and Personal Identity,
Canadian Journal of Philosophy, 9 (1979), pp. 53-75 ; M. ATHERTON, Lockes Theory of Personal Identity,
Midwest Studies in Philosophy, 8 (1983), pp. 273-293 ; W. P. ALSTON and J. BENNETT, Locke and People and
Substances, The Philosophical Review, 97.1 (1988), pp. 25-46 ; V. CHAPPELL, Locke and Relative Identity,
History of Philosophy Quarterly, 6 (1989), pp. 69-83 ; W. L. UZGALIS, Relative Identity and Lockes Principle
of Individuation, History of Philosophy Quarterly, 7 (1990), pp. 283-297 ; K. WINKLER, Locke on Personal
Identity, Journal of the History of Philosophy, 29.2 (1991), pp. 201-226 ; E. McCANN, Locke on Identity: Matter,
Life and Consciousness, in Essays on Early Modern Philosophers from Descartes and Hobbes to Newton and
Leibniz, vol. 8 (John Locke: Theory of Knowledge), edited with introductions by V. Chappell, Garland, New York,
1992, pp. 434-458 ; M. B. BOLTON, Locke on Identity: The Scheme of Simple and Compound Things, in
Individuation and Identity in Early Modern Philosophy, edited by K. F. Barber and J. J. E. Gracia, SUNY Press,
Albany, 1994 ; M. A. STEWART, Reid on Locke and Personal Identity: Some Lost Sources, Locke Newsletter, 28
(1997), pp. 105-116 ; D. GARRETT, Locke on Personal Identity, Consciousness and Fatal Errors,
Philosophical Topics, 31 (2003), pp. 95-125 ; P. LOPTSON, Locke, Reid, and Personal Identity, The
Philosophical Forum, 35.1 (2004), pp. 51-63 ; A. COVENTRY and U. KRIEGEL, Locke on Consciousness,
History of Philosophy Quarterly, 25 (2008), pp. 221-242 ; S. WEINBERG, The Coherence of Consciousness in
Lockes Essay, History of Philosophy Quarterly, 25 (2008), pp. 21-39 ; K. J. S. FORSTROM, John Locke and
Personal Identity, Continuum, London, 2010 ; J. E. GUSTAFSSON, Did Locke Defend the Memory Continuity
Criterion of Personal Identity?, Locke Studies, 10 (2010), pp. 113-129 ; G. STRAWSON, Locke on Personal
Identity, Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, 2011.

constituted by this sameness of consciousness itself that persists throughout a succession of past
and present conscious states). Locke writes, in his Essay Concerning Human Understanding:
For since consciousness always accompanies thinking, and it is that which makes every one to
be what he calls self, and thereby distinguishes himself from all other thinking things, in this
alone consists personal identity, i.e. the sameness of a rational being: and as far as this
consciousness can be extended backwards to any past action or thought, so far reaches the
identity of that person; it is the same self now it was then; and it is by the same self with this
present one that now reflects on it, that that action was done.26 the same consciousness that
makes a man be himself to himself, personal identity identity depends on that only.27 Self
depends on consciousness, not on substanceThat with which the consciousness of this present
thinking thing can join itself, makes the same person, and is one self with it, and with nothing
else; and so attributes to itself, and owns all the actions of that thing, as its own, as far as that
consciousness reaches, and no further; as every one who reflects will perceive.28

Again, Locke states in what personal identity consists in: This may show us wherein
personal identity consists: not in the identity of substance, but, as I have said, in the identity of
consciousness, wherein if Socrates and the present mayor of Queinborough agree, they are the
same person: if the same Socrates waking and sleeping do not partake of the same consciousness,
Socrates waking and sleeping is not the same person. And to punish Socrates waking for what
sleeping Socrates thought, and waking Socrates was never conscious of, would be no more right,
than to punish one twin for what his brother-twin did, whereof he knew nothing, because their
outsides were so like, that they could not be distinguished; for such twins have been seen.29

If it be possible for the same man to have distinct incommunicable consciousness at

different times, it is past doubt the same man would at different times make different persons;
which, we see, is the sense of mankind in the solemnest declaration of their opinions, human
laws not punishing the mad man for the sober mans actions, nor the sober man for what the mad
man did, thereby making them two persons: which is somewhat explained by our way of
speaking in English when we say such an one is not himself, or is besides himself; in which
phrases it is insinuated, as if those who now, or at least first used them, thought that self was
changed; the self-same person was no longer in that man.30 It is impossible to make personal
identity to consist in anything but consciousness.31

Distinguishing between a man and a person, Locke writes: But whatsoever to some men
makes a man, and consequently the same individual man, herein perhaps few are agreed,
personal identity can by us be placed in nothing but consciousness, (which is that alone which
makes what we call self)32 Commenting on this passage, Fraser writes: According to Locke,
our idea of the identity of a man includes participation in the same life by constantly changing

Cf. H. W. NOONAN, Personal Identity, Routledge, London, 2003, pp. 35, 36, 38 ; E. FESER, Locke, Oneworld,
Oxford, 2007, p. 68.

particles of matter. Our idea of the identity of the person, on the other hand, is independent of
particles of matter, organized or unorganized; and involves only a conception of the self-
conscious being or person as the same, as far back as memory extends, and without implying that
connection with the same material or other substance is also continued. The same person might
thus be incarnated in succession in a series of bodies.33

Negating again the constitution of person in substance and rooting it rather in the
sameness of consciousness itself that persists throughout a succession of past and present
conscious states, Locke states in section twenty-three of the twenty-seventh chapter of the second
book of his Essay: Nothing but consciousness can unite remote existences into the same person:
the identity of substance will not do it; for whatever substance there is, however framed, without
consciousness there is no person.34 Person a Forensic Term. Wherever a man finds what he
calls himself, there, I think, another may say it is the same person. It is a forensic term,
appropriating actions and their merit; and so belongs only to intelligent agents, capable of a law,
and happiness, and misery. This personality extends itself beyond present existence to what is
past, only by consciousness, whereby it becomes concerned and accountable; owns and
imputes to itself past actions, just upon the same ground and for the same reason as it does the
present. Commenting on Lockes distinguishing between the concepts man and person, Fraser
writes: Throughout this discussion, what Locke means by person must be kept in view. If
person means the living agent, or the man, then appropriation of past actions by present
consciousness is not necessary to sameness of personality; since they are the same living agents,
whether conscious or not of past and present actions. But a person with Locke means an agent
who is accountable for past actions. Although present appropriation by consciousness of past
actions is not implied in a living agent, it is necessary, according to the Essay, to our being
persons, i.e. the proper objects of reward and punishment on account of them. If a man is not
justly responsible for a past act, he is not the person by whom it was done, although he is the
man or living agent through whom it was done; as no man can justly be punished for an action
that cannot be brought home to his consciousness and conscience, as in a Book of Judgment. We
are thus responsible only for voluntary actions which can by consciousness be appropriated to
ourselves; consciousness uniting the most distant actions in one and the same personality.
Consciousness that I am the same person cannot, Locke would say, be consciousness that I am
the same substance, to any one who makes his body his substance. In short, we need not, he
implies, for determining personality, embarrass ourselves with subtle questions about
substances: they are irrelevant to the practical certainty that we are the same accountable
agents, as far back as our remembrance of actions as ours can be made to reach, by a just and
good God.35 Fraser goes on to write that Lockes concept of personal identity called forth a
host of critics, Sergeant, Stillingfleet, Lee, Clarke in controversy with Collins, Butler, and Reid,
with Vincent Perronet and others in defence. The main objection is thus put by Butler: One
should think it self-evident that consciousness presupposes, and cannot constitute personal

J. LOCKE, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, vol. 1, Fraser edition, The Clarendon Press, Oxford,
1894, p. 462, footnote 2.
J. LOCKE, op. cit., book II, ch. 27, section 23.
J. LOCKE, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, vol. 1, Fraser edition, The Clarendon Press, Oxford,
1894, p. 467, footnote 1 by Fraser.
J. LOCKE, op. cit., p. 468, footnote 4 by Fraser.

Critiques of Lockes Concept of the Human Person as Sameness of Consciousness
Itself that Persists Throughout a Succession of Past and Present Conscious States

Krapiecs Critique of Self-Consciousness as Constituting the Human Person: Descartes,

seeing in res cogitans the highest manifestation of being, believed that thinking is what
constitutes the person...According to the German transcendental idealists, it is self-awareness
that determines the person. Other factors that have been thought to determine the person
areconsciousness of ones past and present life (Locke)Philosophical theories that seek the
constitutive element of the person in some quality of being, e.g., in intellectual cognition or
freedom, do not yet really arrive at the problem of the person, for they grasp merely an essential
(according to them) manifestation of personal being, expressing itself in action, and they
absolutize this particular manifestation. They thereby confuse the order of a beings action with
the order of its existence, in which being a person belongs.37

Battista Mondins Critique of Self-Consciousness as Constituting the Human Person:

For Descartesthe I consists in self-consciousnessIdentifying the person with self-
consciousness leads to the concession that he who does not exercise self-consciousness remains
deprived of personality; in such a way, babies who have not yet reached the use of reason, the
sleeping, and the comatose would no longer be or would not yet be persons!

For these reasons, I consider a psychological definition of the person which does not
carry with it an ontological definition absolutely unsatisfactory.

By transforming the person from an ontological to a psychological fact, Descartes has

opened the door to a series of either grave diminuitions or of enormous exaggerations of the
concept of person. The major diminuitions are those of Hume, Freud, and Watson; meanwhile,
the most exasperating exaggerations are those of Fichte, Hegel and Nietzsche.38

Donald De Marcos Critique of Self-Consciousness as Constitutive of the Human Person:

According to Singer, some humans are non-persons...The key is not nature or species
membership, but consciousnessAccording to this avant garde thinker, unborn babies or
neonates, lacking the requisite consciousness to qualify as persons, have less right to continue to
live than an adult gorilla. ...Singer writes, in Rethinking Life and Death: Human babies are not
born self-aware or capable of grasping their lives over time. They are not persons. Hence their
lives would seem to be no more worthy of protection than the life of a fetus.39

For Peter Singer a human being is not a subject who suffers, but a sufferer. Singers
error here is to identify the subject with consciousness. This is an error that dates back to
seventeenth-century Cartesianism captured in Descartes famous phrase I think therefore I am
(which is to identify being with thinking). Descartes defined man solely in terms of his
consciousness as a thinking thing (res cogitans) rather than as a subject who possesses

M. A. KRAPIEC, Metaphysics, Peter Lang, New York, 1991, p. 300.
B. MONDIN, Philosophical Anthropology, Urbaniana University Press, Rome, 1985, p. 251.
P. SINGER, Rethinking Life and Death, St. Martins Griffin, New York, 1994, p. 210.

At the heart of Pope John Paul II's Personalism (his philosophy of the person) is the
recognition that it is the concrete individual person who is the subject of consciousness. The
subject comes before consciousness. That subject may exist prior to consciousness (as in the case
of the human embryo) or during lapses of consciousness (as in sleep or in a coma). But the
existing subject is not to be identified with consciousness itself, which is an operation or activity
of the subject. The Holy Father rejects what he calls the hypostatization of the cogito (the
reification of consciousness) precisely because it ignores the fundamental reality of the subject of
consciousness the person who is also the object of love. Consciousness itself is to be
regarded neither as an individual subject nor as an independent faculty.40

John Paul refers to the elevation of consciousness to the equivalent of the persons being
as the great anthropocentric shift in philosophy.41 What he means by this shift is a movement
away from existence to a kind of absolutization of consciousness. Referring to Saint Thomas
Aquinas, the Holy Father reiterates that it is not thought which determines existence, but
existence, esse, which determines thought!.4243

Coffeys Critique of Locke on Personal Identity: False Theories of Personality.It is

plain that conscious mental activity cannot constitute human personality, or subconscious mental
activity either, for all activity is of the accidental mode of being, is an accident, whereas a person
must be a substance. Of course it is the self-conscious cognitive activity of the human individual
that reveals to the latter his own self as a person: it is the exercise of reflex consciousness
combined with memory that gives us the feeling of personal identity with ourselves throughout
the changing events of our mental and bodily life. Furthermore, this self-consciousness has its
root in the rational nature of the human individual; and rationality of nature is the differentiating
principle which makes the subsisting individual a person as distinct from a (subsisting) thing.
But then, it is not the feeling of personal identity that constitutes the person. Actual
consciousness is neither the essence, nor the source, nor even the index of personality; for it is
only an activity, and an activity which reveals immediately not the person as such, but the nature
as rational;44 nor does the rational (substantial) principle of a composite nature constitute the
latter a person; but only the subsistence of the complete (composite) individual nature itself.

These considerations are sufficiently obvious; they presuppose, however, the truth of the
traditional doctrine already explained in regard to the existence, nature and cognoscibility of
substance. Philosophers who have misunderstood and rejected and lost this traditional doctrine
of substance have propounded many varieties of unsatisfactory and inconsistent theories in
regard to what constitutes person and personality. The main feature of all such theories is
their identification of personality with the habitual consciousness of self, or habitual feeling of
personal identity: a feeling which, however, must be admitted to include memory in some form,
while the function of memory in any shape or form cannot be satisfactorily explained on any

K. WOJTYLA, The Acting Person, D. Reidl, Dordrecht, 1979, p. 37.
JOHN PAUL II, Crossing the Threshold of Hope, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1994, p. 51.
JOHN PAUL II, op. cit., p. 38.
D. DE MARCO, Peter Singer, in D. De Marco and B. Wiker, Architects of the Culture of Death, Ignatius Press,
San Francisco, 2004, pp. 365-368.
There are cogent theological reasons also against the view that consciousness constitutes personality. For instance,
the human nature of our Divine Lord has its own proper consciousness, which, nevertheless, does not constitute this
nature a person.

theory of the human Ego which denies that there is a human substance persisting permanently as
a unifying principle of successive mental states (63-4).

So far as English philosophy is concerned such theories appear to have had their origin
in Lockes teaching on person and personal identity. Discussing the notions of identity and
diversity,45 he distinguishes between the identity of an individual substance with itself in its
duration throughout time, and what he terms personal identity; while by identity in general he
means not abstract identity but the concrete permanence of a thing throughout time (34). On this
we have to call attention to the fact that just as duration is not essential to the constitution of a
substance, so neither is it essential to the constitution of a complete subsisting individual
substance or person (64); though it is, of course, an essential condition for all human
apprehension whether of substance or of person. Locke was wrong, therefore, in confounding
what reveals to us the abiding permanence, identity or sameness of a subsisting thing or person
(whether the self or any other subsisting thing or person) throughout its duration in time, with
what constitutes the subsisting thing or person.

Furthermore, his distinction between substantial identity, i.e. the sameness of an

individual substance with itself throughout time, and personal identity or sameness, was also an
error. For as long as there is substantial unity, continuity, or identity of the subsisting individual
substance, so long is there unity, continuity, or identity of its subsistence, or of its personality if
it be a rational substance. The subsistence of a complete individual inorganic substance is
changed as soon as the individual undergoes substantial change: we have then no longer the
same subsisting individual being. So, too, the subsistence of the organic individual is changed as
soon as the latter undergoes substantial change by the dissolution of life, by the separation of its
formative and vital substantial principle from its material substantial principle: after such
dissolution we have no longer the same subsisting plant or animal. And, finally, the subsistence
of an individual man is changed, or interrupted, or ceases by death, which separates his soul, his
vital principle, from his body. We say, moreover, that in the latter case the human person ceases
to exist when the identity or permanence of his subsisting substance or nature terminates at death
; for personal identity we hold to be the identity of the complete subsisting substance or nature
with itself. But Locke, who practically agrees with what we have said regarding the abiding
identity of the subsisting individual being with itself whether this individual be an inorganic
individual, a plant, a brute beast, or a man46 distinguishes at this point between identity of the
subsisting individual substance and personal identity.

Essay Concerning Human Understanding, bk, ii., ch, xxvii.
That being then one plant which has such an organization of parts in one coherent body partaking of one
common life, it continues to be the same plant as long as it continues to partake of the same life, though that life be
communicated to different particles of matter vitally united to the living plant, in a like continued organization
conformable to that sort of plants
The case is not so much different in brutes, but that anyone may hence see what makes an animal and continues
it the same
This also shows wherein the identity of the same man consists: viz. in nothing but a participation of the same
continued life, by constantly fleeting particles of matter, in succession vitally united to the same organized
bodyFor if the identity of soul alone makes the same man, and there be nothing in the nature of matter why the
same individual spirit may be united [i.e. successively] to different bodies, it will be possible that . . . men living in
distant ages, and of different tempers, may have been the same man Essay Concerning Human
Understanding, bk. ii. ch. xxvii. 4-6. Yet though identity of soul does not make the same man, Locke goes on
immediately to assert that identity of consciousness, which is but a function of the soul, makes the same person.

Of identity in general he says that to conceive and judge of it aright, we must consider
what idea the word it is applied to stands for; it being one thing to be the same substance, another
the same man, and a third the same person, if person, man, and substance, are three names
standing for three different ideas.47 And, struggling to dissociate person from substance, he
continues thus: To find wherein personal identity consists, we must consider what person stands
for; which, I think, is a thinking, intelligent being, that has reason and reflection, and can
consider itself as itself, the same thinking thing in different times and places; which it does only
by that consciousness which is inseparable from thinking, and, as it seems to me, essential to it.
When we see, hear, smell, taste, feel, meditate, or will any thing, we know that we do so. Thus it
is always as to our present sensations and perceptions, and by this every-one is to himself what
he calls self; it not being considered in this case whether the same self be continued in the same
or divers substances. For since consciousness always accompanies thinking, and it is that which
makes every one to be what he calls self, and thereby distinguishes himself from all other
thinking things; in this alone consists personal identity, i.e. the sameness of a rational being: and
as far as this consciousness can be extended backwards to any past action or thought, so far
reaches the identity of that person; it is the same self now it was then; and it is by the same self
with this present one that now reflects on it, that that action was done.48

The definition of person in this passage as a thinking, intelligent being, etc., is not far
removed from our own definition; but surely conscious thought is not that which makes every
one to be what he calls self, seeing that conscious thought is only an activity or function of the
rational being. It is conscious thought, of course, including memory, that reveals the rational
being to himself as a self, and as the same or identical self throughout time; but unless the
rational being, or the thinking, intelligent being, that has reason and reflection, etc. which
is Lockes own definition of person were there all the time identical with itself, exercising
those distinct and successive acts of consciousness and memory, and unifying them, how could
these acts even reveal the person or his personal identity to himself, not to speak of their
constituting personality or personal identity? It is perfectly plain that these acts presuppose the
person, the thinking, intelligent being, or, as we have expressed it, the subsisting, rational,
individual nature already constituted; and it is equally plain that the personal identity which
they reveal is constituted by, and consists simply in, the duration or continued existence of this
same subsisting individual rational nature; nor could these acts reveal any identity, personal or
otherwise, unless they were the acts of one and the same actually subsisting, existing and
persisting substance.

Yet Locke thinks he can divorce personal identity from identity of substance, and
account for the former independently of the latter. In face of the obvious difficulty that actual
consciousness is not continuous but intermittent, he tries to maintain that the consciousness
which links together present states with remembered states is sufficient to constitute personal
identity even although there may have intervened between the present and the past states a
complete change of substance, so that it is really a different substance which experiences the
present states from that which experienced the past states. The question Whether we are the

Essay Concerning Human Understanding, bk. ii., ch. xxvii., 7. Names do not stand for ideas or concepts but for
conceived realities; and the question here is: What is the conceived reality (in the existing human individual) for
which the term person stands?
Ibid., 9.

same thinking thing, i.e. the same substance or noconcerns not personal identity at all: the
question being, what makes the same person, and not whether it be the same identical substance,
which always thinks in the same person: different substances, by the same consciousness (where
they do partake in it), being united into one person, as well as different bodies by the same life
are united into one animal, whose identity is preserved, in that change of substances, by the unity
of one continued life[for] animal identity is preserved in identity of life, and not of

Here the contention is that we can have the same person and yet not necessarily the
same identical substance, because consciousness may give a personal unity to distinct and
successive substances in the individual man just as animal life gives an analogous unity to
distinct and successive substances in the individual animal. This is very superficial; for it only
substitutes for the problem of human personality the similar problem of explaining the unity and
sameness of subsistence in the individual living thing: a problem which involves the fact of
memory in animals. For scholastic philosophers unity of life in the living thing, involving the fact
of memory in animals, is explained by the perfectly intelligible and well-grounded teaching that
there is in each individual living thing a formative and vital principle which is substantial, a
forma substantialis, which unites, in the abiding self-identical unity of a complete individual
composite substance, the material principle of the corporeal substances which thus go, in the
incessant process of substantial change known as metabolism, to form partially, and to support
the substantial continuity of, the living individual. While the latter is thus in constant process of
material, or partial, substantial change, it remains, as long as it lives, the same complete
individual substance, and this in virtue of the abiding substantial formative and vital principle
which actuates and animates it. The abiding permanence or self-identity of the subsisting
individual substance which feels or thinks, and remembers, is an intelligible, and indeed the only
intelligible, ground and explanation of memory, and of our consciousness of personal identity.

But if we leave out of account this abiding continuity and self-identity of the subsisting
individual substance or nature, which is the subject, cause and agent of these acts of memory and
consciousness, how can these latter, in and by themselves, possibly form, or even indeed reveal
to us, our personal identity? Locke felt this difficulty; and he tried in vain to meet it: in vain, for
it is insuperable. He merely suggests that the same consciousnesscan be transferred from one
thinking substance to another, in which case it will be possible that two thinking substances
may make [successively] one person.50 This is practically his last word on the question, and it
is worthy of note, for it virtually substantializes consciousness. It makes consciousness, which is
really only an act or a series of acts, a something substantial and subsisting. We have seen
already how modern phenomenists, once they reject the notion of substance as invalid or
superfluous, must by that very fact equivalently substantialize accidents (61); for substance,
being a necessary category of human thought as exercised on reality, cannot really be dispensed
with. And we see in the present context an illustration of this fact. The abiding self-identity of
the human person cannot be explained otherwise than by the abiding self-identical subsistence of
the individual human substance.

Essay Concerning Human Understanding, bk. ii., ch, xxvii., 13, 14.
Essay Concerning Human Understanding, bk. ii., ch. xxvii., 13.

If personal identity were constituted and determined by consciousness, by the series of
conscious states connected and unified by memory, then it would appear that the human being in
infancy, in sleep, in unconsciousness, or in a state of insanity, is not a human person!
Philosophers who have not the hardihood to deny human personality to the individual of the
human species in these states, and who on the other hand will not recognize the possession of a
rational nature or substance by the subsisting individual as the ground of the latters personality
and personal identity, have recourse to the hypothesis of a sub-conscious, or sub-liminal
consciousness in the individual, as a substitute. If by this they merely meant an abiding
substantial rational principle of all mental activities, even of those which may be semi-conscious
or sub-conscious, they would be merely calling by another name what we call the rational nature
of man. And the fact that they refer to this principle as the sub-conscious self or Ego shows
how insistent is the rational need for rooting personality and personal identity in something
which is a substance. But they do not and will not conceive it as a substance; whereas if it is not
this, if it is only a process, or a function, or a series or stream of processes or functions, it
can no more constitute or explain, or even reveal, personal identity, than a series or stream of
conscious states can.

Unable as he was to explain how the same consciousness could persist throughout a
succession of really and adequately distinct substances (except by virtually substantializing
consciousness), Locke nevertheless persisted in holding that consciousness and consciousness
alone (including memory, which, however, is inexplicable on any other theory than that of a
subsisting and persisting substance or nature which remembers), constitutes personality and
personal identity. We have dwelt upon his teaching mainly because all modern phenomenists try
to explain personality on the same principles i.e. independently of the doctrine of substance.51

Contrary to Locke, the Human Person is Not Sameness of Consciousness Itself that
Persists Throughout a Succession of Past and Present Conscious States ; Instead, the
Human Person, a Composite of Body and Soul,52 is a Rational Supposit, an Individual
Substance of a Rational Nature (Natur Rationalis Individua Substantia), a Rational
Subsistent (Subsistens Rationale)

Supposit: Being in the Fullest Sense. A consideration of the various constitutive

principles of being should naturally have as its goal being in the fullest sense, which is the
supposit, our subsisting subject. The term subsisting subject refers to the particular being with all
of its perfections. The supposit or subsisting subject is being in the full sense; it is being in the
most proper sense of the term, subsisting, existing in itself as something complete and finished,
distinct from all other things. The supposit designates the particular being with all of its
perfections. The supposit is defined as the individual whole, which subsists by virtue of a single
act of being (esse), and which consequently cannot be shared with another.

P. COFFEY, Ontology, Longmans, Green and Co., London, 1926, pp. 276-282.
La persona umana ha una struttura ilemorfica: non fatta soltanto di materia e neppure soltanto di spirito
(anima), ma la sua struttura composita e i suoi elementi costitutivi essenziali sono il corpo (materia) e lanima
(forma)(B. MONDIN, Manuale di filosofia sistematica, vol. 3 (Ontologia e metafisica), ESD, Bologna, 2007, p.

Characteristic Marks of the Supposit. The characteristic marks of the supposit are 1. its
individuality (only singular beings [entia] exist in extra-mental reality, while the universal exists
in the mind; a universal essence cannot be a suppositum for it cannot receive a proper act of
being of its own [esse proprium]); 2. subsistence (we must add subsistence for not everything
that can be called individual can subsist; accidents, for example, are individual but are not
subsistent, not having an act of being of their own [esse as actus essendi]); and 3.
incommunicability or unsharedness (because of the preceding two characteristics, namely,
individuality and subsistence, the supposit cannot be shared by others. The supposit cannot be
participated in by various subjects for it exists as something unique and distinct from other
subjects. A rock, for example, does not share its being with the dog that is next to it).

Elements of the Supposit. What are the elements that make up the supposit? The finite
subsisting subject or finite supposit (suppositum) is composed of act of being (esse, which gives
subsistence to the subject, making it be), essence (essentia, which in corporeal beings is
hylomorphically composed of prime matter and substantial form), and accidents (which are acts
that perfect the receptive subject in potency to be perfected by them).

Supposit and Nature. St. Thomas writes in the fourth article of Quodlibet 2: In every
thing to which can accede something which does not belong to the concept of its nature, the thing
itself and its essence, i.e., the supposit and nature, are distinct. For, in the meaning of the nature
is included only that which belongs to the essence of the species, whereas the supposit has not
only what belongs to the essence of the species but also whatever else accedes to this essence.
Hence, the supposit is signified by the whole, but the nature or quiddity [is signified only] as the
formal part. Now, in God alone no accident can be found added to the essence because His act of
being is His Essence, as has been said; hence in God supposit and nature are entirely the same.
But in an angel [i.e., an unreceived subsistent form] the supposit is not entirely the same [as the
nature] because something accedes to it which does not belong to the concept of its essence. For
the act of being itself of an angel is in addition to the essence or nature; and other things [acts of
intellect and will] accede to it, which belong to the supposit but not to the nature.53

Alvira, Clavell and Melendo explain that the essence, and more particularly the form,
gives the individual whole a way of being similar to that of other individuals, thus situating it in
a given species. Due to a common essence or nature, men form part of the human race or species.
As the intrinsic principle of similarity at the level of the species, the essence can be contrasted
with the supposit or individual, which is an unshared reality (distinct and divided from all
others). Consequently, the relation between supposit and its nature is not that which exists
between two principles of being; rather, it is one that entails a real distinction; the supposit is
distinct from its nature in the same way a whole is different from one of its parts.54 The real
distinction between nature and supposit can be seen in two ways: a) in every individual, there is a
distinction between the individuated essence and the whole subsisting subject; b) every

Quodlibet. 2, a. 4.
The distinction between nature and suppositum is of paramount importance in theology. St. Thomas Aquinas
made use of this doctrine to express with precision the mystery of the Incarnation: the human nature of Christ
despite its being singular and its full perfection as nature cannot be a suppositum, for it does not include in itself
the act of being.

individual is distinct from the common specific nature (taken as a universal perfection which all
individuals share, and which sets aside particular characteristics).55

In his treatment of the distinction between supposit and nature, Renard explains that the
supposit does add something not contained in the nature. It includes everything, says everything
that can be predicated of a being. The nature on the contrary in creatures is distinct from and
consequently does not contain its to be (esse) and its accidents. These words: person,
hypostasis, and supposit designate an integral being.56 A human supposit is the entire being that
is this man.57 The supposit implies that which is most complete.58 Therefore, it takes in the
accidents whereas the nature does not. Consequently, the nature is part of the supposit, a part
which is designated as the formal part.59

Moreover, since the to be (esse) is the highest actuality in the order of being, and the
supposit demands the most perfect completeness in that order, it follows that the substantial to
be (esse) by which a being subsists is of the very essence of the supposit. It is not the supposit
itself, for the supposit includes the whole being; but we may say that it is its most important
factor: for it is that because of which and by which a being attains its highest completion in the
order of being, and by which it exists in its own right (it subsists). The to be (esse) is that in
which the unity of the supposit is founded.60 The to be (esse) pertains to the very constitution of
person.61 Person signifies that which is most perfect in the entire nature, namely, a being
subsisting in a rational nature.62 It must include, therefore, the to be (esse) which is the
actuality of all acts, and the perfection of all perfections.63 Indeed the most perfect completion
consists precisely in this, that a being has its to be (esse), which is an analogous participation in
the divine to be (Esse).64

To repeat then the individual nature differs from the specific nature in that it adds to
the latter the individuating principles (in actu secundo); the supposit differs from the individual
nature in that it adds the to be (esse) and the necessary concomitant accidents.

The Supposit Adds the Proper To Be (Esse) to Individual Nature. It is, therefore, this
substantial to be the very act of esse (which to be is proportioned and due to each individual
nature) that conjoins with the nature to establish the supposit and render it incommunicable in
an absolute sense. Thus the supposit is established by the very act of coming into existence. Let
us analyze this last statement. Since the supposit demands perfect completion, and since the
highest completion in a being consists precisely in the actuation in the order of being by a to be
(esse) that is proportioned to its individual nature, that is to say, by a proper to be (esse), it

T. ALVIRA, L. CLAVELL, T. MELENDO, op. cit., pp. 120-121.
Compendium Theologiae, ch. 211.
In III Sent., d. 5, q. 3, a. 3.
Cf. Quodlibet II, q. 2, a. 4 ; Summa Theologiae, III, q. 2, a. 2.
Quodlibet IX, 3, ad 2m.
Summa Theologiae, III, q. 19, a. 1, ad 4m.
Summa Theologiae, I, q. 29, a. 3.
De Potentia Dei, q. 7, a. 2, ad 9.
Cf. Quodlibet, XII, q. 5, a. 5.

follows that an individual nature with its to be will establish a supposit. In other words, the
supposit adds to an individual nature its proper to be (esse).65

Act of Being as the Source of Unity of the Supposit. Alvira, Clavell and Melendo explain
that the act of being (esse) belongs to the supposit and that the source of the unity of the supposit
lies in its proper act of being (esse): The constituent act which makes the suppositum real is
esse. What is most proper to the individual is to subsist, and this is solely an effect of the act of
being.66 Nevertheless, one cannot disregard the essence in explaining the subsistence of a
subject, since a being receives esse if it has an essence capable of subsisting; that is, it must be a
substantial essence, not a mere accidental one. For instance, as man is able to receive the act of
being in himself and to be a suppositum because he possesses human nature, an essence meant to
subsist in itself (and, thus, not to inhere in something else, as in the case of accidents).

However, the specific nature of a thing does not subsist unless it forms part of a
subsisting subject (the individual). That is why it is not quite correct to say that the act of being
belongs to the nature; it only belongs to the suppositum. However, since esse affects the whole
by virtue of the essence, we can say that esse belongs to the suppositum through the nature or
substantial essence. Nature gives the whole the capacity to subsist, although it is the whole
which does in fact subsist through the act of being.

Since esse is the ultimate act of a being, which gives actuality to each of its elements
(which are no more than potency with respect to esse), these parts are united to the extent that
they are made actual by this constituent act, and referred to it. It is quite correct, therefore, to
claim that the act of being is the basis of the unity of the suppositum.67 No part of the whole,
taken separately, has esse of its own; it is, by virtue of the esse of the composite. To the very
extent that the parts of the whole have esse, they must be a unity, since there is only a single act
of being that actualizes them. Matter, for instance, does not subsist independently of the form;
rather, both matter and form subsist by virtue of the act of being received in them. Operations are
no more than an expression of the actuality which a being has because of its esse, and the same
thing can be said of the other accidental modifications as well. In spite of the variety of
accidents, the unity of the suppositum can easily be seen if we consider that no accident has an
act of being of its own. All accidents share in the single act of being of the substance.68

Perfections of a Particular Being to be Referred to the Supposit. Alvira, Clavell and

Melendo also explain why all the perfections of a particular being must be referred to the
supposit: We have seen that the entire actuality of a being has its ultimate basis in the perfection
of its act of being. Since the suppositum is the natural seat of the act of being, all the perfections
of the suppositum, of whatever type they might be, have to be attributed to the suppositum as
their proper subject. Actions, in particular, have to be attributed to the subsisting subject. Thus, it

H. RENARD, op. cit., pp. 230-231.
St. Thomas Aquinas always maintained this doctrine, as can be verified from his early writings as well as the later
ones (cf. In III Sent., d. 6, q. 2, a. 2 ; Quodlibet, IX, a. 3, and Summa Theologiae, III, q. 17, a. 3, c.). This was
explicitly defended by Capreolus, one of the commentators of the Angelic Doctor (cf. Defensiones Theologicae divi
Thomae Aquinitatis, T. Pgues Ed., V, Tours, 1907, pp. 105-107). Later on, Suarez and Cajetan regarded the essence
(and not esse) as the ontological basis of the subsisting subject.
Quodlibet, IX, a. 3, ad 2.
T. ALVIRA, L. CLAVELL, T. MELENDO, op. cit., pp. 121-122.

cannot correctly be said that the hand writes, that the intellect knows, or that the will loves. In
each case, it is the entire man who acts through his powers. Only that which subsists can act.

It could be further stated that the manner in which an individual acts follows its nature,
which is what determines its manner of being. It can, therefore, be claimed that acting belongs to
the subsisting hypostasis in accordance with the form and nature specifying the kind of
operations it can carry out. Thus, only individuals act, since they alone exist. There is a certain
similarity, however, among the activities of the members of a species, since all of them share in a
common nature. Men think and laugh; dogs bark; each one of the elements of the periodic table
behaves in a particular way. This also explains why no individual can act beyond the limits set
by its own species.

The recognition of the individual as a single subsisting whole provides the metaphysical
basis for avoiding any kind of dualism (between matter and spirit, between senses and
intelligence) and any division of things into stagnant compartments in which the unity of the
whole would be compromised.

This doctrine equally denies the validity of philosophies which acknowledge the
universal as the primary reality (like in Hegelian historicism, socialism, and marxism), thereby
absorbing the individual, robbing it of its metaphysical significance. The actus essendi, as the
single act of the suppositum, impedes any reduction of being to a mere relation or to a set of
relations within the same class or category, as these philosophical systems purport to do.69

Person. A human being is a particular type of supposit, namely, a rational supposit.

Rational or intellectual supposits are called persons. A human being, therefore, is a person. The
sixth century A.D. Roman philosopher Severinus Boethius gave the definition of the person as an
individual substance of a rational nature (natur rationalis individua substantia). Aquinas
defines the person as every being which subsists in an intellectual or rational nature;70 a person
is a rational or intellectual subsistent. Person is the name used to designate the most perfect
beings that exist, namely, God, the angels and men. Since all perfections stem from esse, the
excellence of these substances is due either to the possession of the fullness of the act of being
(God as Esse Subsistens), or to a high degree of participation in esse which angels and men have.
In the final analysis, to be a person amounts to possessing a likeness of the divine esse in a more
sublime way, that is, by being spiritual; it means having a more intense act of beingultimately,
the entire dignity of the person, the special greater perfection of his operations, is rooted in the
richness of his act of being. The latter is what makes him a person and provides the basis of his
psychological uniqueness (self-knowledge, spiritual love, etc.) and of his moral and social value.
Consequently, neither consciousness nor free-will, neither responsibility nor inter-personal
relations can constitute a person. All these perfections are merely accidents whose being is
derived from the act of being, the only real core of personality.71 Battista Mondin states in his
La metafisica di S. Tommaso dAquino e i suoi interpreti (2002): Con S. Tommaso il concetto
di persona acquista un significato metafisico del tutto singolare. Egli ha, infatti, un concetto

T. ALVIRA, L. CLAVELL, T. MELENDO, op. cit., pp. 122-123.
Cf. Summa Contra Gentiles, IV, 35.
T. ALVIRA, L. CLAVELL, T. MELENDO, op. cit., pp. 123-124.

altissimo della persona, che a suo giudizio quanto di pi perfetto esiste nelluniverso: Persona
significat quod est perfectissimum in tota natura.72

Il Dottore Angelico guarda alla persona dal punto di vista ontologico e la considera
quindi come una modalit dellessere, ossia di quella perfezione che nella sua metafisica la
perfectio omnium perfectionum e lactualitas omnium actuum ed proprio rispetto a questa
perfezione che la persona occupa il gradino pi alto. Infatti in questa prospettiva lessere nella
persona trova la sua attuazione pi piena, pi eccellente e pi completa.73

Toms Melendo writes in his Metafisica del concreto (2005): La libert, la capacit
personale di autodeterminazione, solo un indice dellinnegabile eminenza di chi la possiede,
ma non la sua causa o il suo fondamento definitivi. O, se si preferisce, che si configura come il
suo penultimo riferimento e da tale punto di vista rappresenta la via di accesso privilegiata per
addentrarsi fino alla fonte dellimminenza dellatto di essere della persona. Per, questo,
lessere supereminente, il motivo sostanziale e determinante dellineguagliabile eccellenza che
compete o ogni uomo e che chiamiamo dignit.

A tale proposito, non potrebbero essere pi chiare le parole di Tommaso dAquino.

Daccordo con la migliore tradizione classica, ma facendo leva sulla sua particolare concezione
dellactus essendi, egli afferma che lagire non la prima cosa, ma segue lessere, cos come il
modo e la qualit di ogni operazione seguono la natura e lintensit dellessere che la costituisce.
Da cui trae una conclusione che si potrebbe suddividere in tre punti:

- Prima assicura, in modo ancora generico: tutta la nobilt di qualsiasi realt le

appartiene in base al suo essere. Come vedevamo lessere proprio di ogni esistente costituisce
la prima perfezione che pone e sostiene tutti gli altri suoi attributi, che partecipano a questo

- Poi aggiunge, concretando maggiormente il problema: ovvio pertanto che nessuna

eccellenza deriverebbe alluomo dalla sua sapienza, e dalle altre sue perfezioni, se grazie ad esse
non fosse saggio. lessere come atto ci che include e fa sgorgare da s tutte le perfezioni del
suo soggetto.

- Infine ricava le legge universale: Il grado e la qualit, limportanza di tutto ci che

esiste sono determinati dal modo con cui ogni cosa possiede lessere e dalla sua intensit o
grandezza: infatti ogni cosa pi o meno nobile a seconda che il suo essere sia collegato a un
certo e particolare modo di nobilt, maggiore o minore. Si tratta della funzione limitante della
potentia essendi

La sublimit della persona risiedenella particolare grandezza del suo essere che a
volte conosciuto come essere personale o atto personale di essere

Summa Theologiae, I, q. 20, 3.
B. MONDIN, La metafisica di S. Tommaso dAquino e i suoi interpreti, ESD, Bologna, 2002, p. 260.

La preminenza della persona creata fa appello, in ultima istanza, alla superiore
categoria del suo atto di essere, che lessenza che questo stabilisce limita in minor grado delle
realt infrapersonali.

Il punto conclusivo dunque sta nellatto di essere. E questo, non solo per la
fondamentale ragione gi-nota del fatto che tutta la nobilt di qualsiasi cosa le appartiene in
base al suo essere, ma per il motivo complementare e capitale del fatto che lessenza non nulla
se non in virt dellessere che la instaura. Dialetticamente e paradossalmente, ma con rigorosa
coerenza e conformit con la sua indole costitutiva, lessenza partecipata trae tutta la sua realt
dallatto di essere, che essa stessa limita. Lessenza rimanda allessere che le d vita e, al di fuori
di esso, nulla .

leminente perfezione della persona deriva, alla fine, dalla peculiare grandezza
dellessere che la costituisce

Tommaso dAquinoappoggia pi definitivamente la dignit e lindole della

personanella peculiare grandezza dellatto di essere che le attribuito come proprio74

Clavell writes in his Metafisica e libert (1996): Il fondamento dellagire si trova

nellessere. Ogni ente in quanto , anche attivoPi si partecipa allatto di essere, pi si
attivi. La libert una forma molto alta di agire, e si fonda quindi su una partecipazione
particolarmente intensa dellatto di essere propria del soggetto personale. Lessere della persona
il fondamento della libert.

Si pu ancora determinare di pi il livello personale dellessere? La dottrina di San

Tommaso offre una fondazione pi precisa. LAquinate infatti afferma che nelluomo la sua
anima spirituale, in quanto riceve direttamente da Dio lessere, per creazione immediata, e che
lanima comunica, in quanto forma, questo suo essere anche al corpo, il quale partecipa di quello
stesso atto di essere. Cos lanima umana emergente rispetto al corpo, possiede in propriet
lessere ricevuto da Dio per sempre, ha un autopossesso del suo essere, una propriet privata
dellessere, usando le parole di Cardona.

Ogni anima umana cos una novitas essendi nelluniverso, qualcosa di nuovo, frutto
della donazione di Dio. Il suo carattere sussistente e spirituale rende lanima principio delle
azioni umane libere, fondate sul dinamismo immanente dellintendere e del volere, di un agire
che nuovo ed emergente rispetto al mondo. Lessere che il soggetto personale ha grazie
allanima spiega perch la persona sia una sorgente originaria di attivit, perch luomo sia
capace di donazione, di dare se stesso a Dio, di unire la propria volont a quella divina. La libert
ha bisogno di essere riportata a questo fondamento che viene offerto dallantropologia metafisica
dellAquinate. Altrimenti rimane una libert non fondata e priva di orientamento. luomo
libero prima nel suo essere e poi nel suo agire.75

T. MELENDO, Metafisica del concreto, Ed. Leonardo da Vinci, Rome, 2005, pp. 189-192, 194.
L. CLAVELL, Metafisica e libert, Armando, Rome, 1996, pp. 170-171.