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Consider, for example, an existing bodily being. Because it is bodily, we know that it is composed of prime matter and substantial form. Also, because the bodily being is existing (not just made up in our heads) we know that it has an act of existing, i.e. esse.

My question is the following: What is the relationship, according to Aquinas, between the substantial form of a bodily being and its act of existing, ie. its esse?

It seems that Aquinas says that form produces/gives esse ( "...because form causes existence in act,..."), but how can form give esse if the form already needs to exist in order to give something? What is Aquinas saying in the text quoted?

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  • Esse more or less replaces prime matter in intellectual substances:"The intellectual soul, therefore, is pure form, not something composed of matter and form... Now the receptive potentiality in the intellectual soul is other than the receptive potentiality of first matter, as appears from the diversity of the things received by each. For primary matter receives individual forms; whereas the intelligence receives absolute forms... In intellectual substances there is a compounding of actuality and potentiality, but not of matter and form, but of form and the being in which it shares".
    – Conifold
    Mar 29 at 17:11
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Regarding your question:

what is the realtionship beteween the substantial form of a bodily being and its act of existing, ie. its esse?

It seems that Aquinas says that form produces/gives esse ( "...beacuse form causes existance in act,..."), but how can form give esse if the form already needs to exist in order to give something?

From my POV, Aquinas's above writing may be better understood following theory of Forms in Plato's dialogues and general speech. According to this theory, the physical realm is only a shadow or image of the true reality of the Realm of Forms. The Forms are abstract, perfect, unchanging concepts or ideals that transcend time and spaces. The theory is considered to be a classical solution to the problem of universals. Most western philosophers followed this Greek tradition to essentially propose "Form precedes essense/existence (a being's act of existing in your book's language)" metaphysically. Of course, Aquinas may actually thought independently as @Conifold commented below, but I found Platonism is easier for me to understand why Aquinas says "form causes essense", thus nothing super inexplicable here under this view. Also Cardinal Nicholas of Cusa applied similar writings in his On Learned Ignorance which employed the word "quiddity", "qua", etc. He used "enfolding" referring form, and "unfolding" referring existence in itself, since enfolding precedes and thus causes unfolding, you may also use this metaphor to help you understand Aquinas's meaning since Nicholas of Cusa fairly admired Aquinas and was very well versed in Aquinas' writings.

Of course there're different schools of thought like traditional Nominalism (Ockham's razor), Skepticism, and postmodern Existentialism as summarized by Sartre's famous proposition "Existence precedes essence" which replaces above form with existence, and in the meanwhile separates a being's existence from its essense.

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    The scholastic tradition was based on Aristotle's hylomorphism rather than on Platonism. There was no separate realm of forms, instead forms as "common natures" were entangled with matter in substances (realism of Duns Scotus, for example). And Aquinas deviates from the classical scholastic realism, the esse is a new addition to ontology unique to him, see Maurer, Revived Aristotelianism.
    – Conifold
    Mar 29 at 23:18
  • @Conifold thx for ur critique! I've edited my answer to better reflect my perspective to understand Aquinas's above linguistic wording. Mar 30 at 1:11

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