Edith Stein

A summary of Edith Stein’s Potency and Act (Part 2)

The philosophical foundation for my work can be summarized as a Platonic Augustinian understanding of Edith Stein’s Phenomenological Thomism as outlined in her books Potency and Act and Knowledge and Faith. This includes particularly the concepts of Ideals (Forms), Spirit, Matter, and Nature. Using categories from the material sciences, Stein further breaks down philosophical nature into Genus and Species. Finally, we must include Stein’s concept of “determination” to bring this to life. Let us see how this works.

Study the following scene.

IMG_0004
The small saplings at the fore have moved from the potentiality of seed to the actuality of sapling. This, in turn, places them on a continuum with new potentiality to grow into trees. Potency, act, new potency, new act…etc.

We see saplings at the fore, full grown trees further back, and dead, fallen trunks in the distance. Each is representative of the continuum of potency and actuality for non-spiritual matter of a particular species belonging to a specific genus. Despite the different appearances at each stage, the groups of saplings, full grown trees, and dead trunks nevertheless are the same species and genus throughout each stage. They are always both different and the same as they go through each stage of act and potency. That which is different is their stage of actuality and their individuality from each other in those stages. That which is the same is the species and genus. Something never changes while the being itself changes constantly. Each always “is” while at the same time, it “was” and “will be.” They are not the same from one moment to the next; yet, they are trees; thus, they are the same throughout. That which makes them the same, that is, that which remains unchanged through each different stage of act is their form which is a general ideal of a tree. Adding accidents (characteristics) to the general ideal of tree makes a genus and then a species within that genus. Going down further to the individual “I,” each tree is individuated even between two saplings at the same stage. Each is its own.

“Material ideas on a higher level of generality make up the lower species and through them the individuals.” (Edith Stein).

This all follows a predetermined order.

“Empty forms nowhere confront us in our experience as empty forms, for they are always fulfilled by a content. On the other hand every content occurs in a form. Finally, not just any content can enter any form; rather they are ordered to one another.” (Edith Stein)

From where come the ideals? In the Platonic Augustinian concept, these ideals are in the mind of God who acts with “determination” to actualize specific possibilities while leaving other possibilities in potency. As Edith Stein points out, not all potential worlds necessarily must be actualized. A God acting with “determination” can actualize some possibilities while leaving others in potency. Conversely as an aside, the modern materialistic scientist takes the position that all possible potencies must actualize in nature necessarily based on scientific laws, thus the concept of the infinite number of multiverses. However, a spiritual “absolute” with no potency and a “determination” requires no such multiverse. Some potencies can remain in potency by the “determined” act of the absolute.

Now study the following scene, similar to the first.

IMG_0005
The creek, while in the same nonspiritual kingdom as the trees, nevertheless is of a different “nature.” The ideal of a creek is a composite of water, distance (space), and boundary.

The creek, while in the same nonspiritual kingdom as the trees, nevertheless is of a different “nature.” The ideal of a creek is a composite of water, distance (space), and boundary. “Nature,” according to Stein, is made of ideal combined with matter. The creek is of a different ideal with different matter; yet, at a higher level of generalization, it is the same nonspiritual being as that of the trees. At a lower level of specificity, the creek, though of the same nonspiritual kingdom as the trees, nevertheless cannot be a tree because of its genus and species and how they are united to matter. Nothing can be other than what is its nature, and it comes to actualize this nature in an ordered, “determined,” manner. The combination of ideals, potency, act, spirit, matter, nature, and determination means that things “are what they are” and have no potentiality to be another.

“Indeed, we can in principle state of any individual, of any species and of any genus that they are and what they are.” (Edith Stein)

There are many potencies but only in a “determined potency” based on the creek’s nature. Depending on outside forces, the creek could change direction, get muddier or purer, but it would always be a creek and could never be a tree. It could get wider and wider and eventually connect a local lake to the ocean in which case it would transform to a new species through new matter called a river.

“Nonliving matter does share with living matter the fact that they both come into existence with a ‘determination’ prescribing beforehand what can happen to it from without; that is, they come into existence as a thing with a determined ‘nature.’ (Edith Stein)

“The ‘nature’ of a thing is distinguished from the ideal species that corresponds to it by being bound to ‘a piece of matter.’ A series of like natures, each individuated by the spatial-temporal determination of a ‘piece of matter,’ may correspond to one and the same ideal species. Every piece of matter is completely controlled by its nature.” (Edith Stein)

Speaking of “we are what we are,” study the following.

IMG_0007
The pathway is an indicator of a different kingdom from that of the trees and the creek. That kingdom is of spiritual beings with intellect and will. Spiritual beings must make decisions as to their next stage of potency; however, each can do so only within the boundaries of its nature.

The pathway is an indicator of a different kingdom from that of the trees and the creek. That kingdom is of spiritual beings with intellect and will. Spiritual beings must make decisions as to their next stage of potency; however, each can do so only within the boundaries of its nature. A spiritual person’s potency is not determined in the same manner as a tree or creek, but it nevertheless is bounded by its nature.

Finally, then, we come to the essence, or substance of our own spiritual being as of those with both an ordered, determined potency like the trees and creek but with the power of free will that is peculiar to the nature of spirit.

“We may call the nature ‘substance’ as it ‘underlies as its basis’ the alteration of potency and act and persists throughout this alteration, and we may call the nature ‘form’ as it determines the entire process of becoming as well as its outer appearance…” (Edith Stein)

Edith Stein Potency and Act

 

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