Modes: essendi, intelligendi, significandi


  • Modes: a mode is not a “what”, but a “how”.  Something could exist in different modes without changing its “whats”; for instance, what exists in itself can exist also in the mind while identical in its “what”.
    • Esse (existence/modus essendi): this is the mode in which some “what” exists in itself independently of any foreign actions.  Note that this mode of existence can be itself a wholly dependent one, as in the case of all purely objective beings (fictional characters, fantasies, etc.) while still retaining the existential character.
      • Esse in: within existence itself, one of two primary modalities is that of existence within a subject.  This can be divided as by Aristotle’s categories, which renders the primary division between substance and accident (and further, accident into many other categories, although the number is open to dispute).  This mode of existence is relatively independent, such that, while the entity may require many environmental surrounding factors to maintain its existence, its subjectivity will remain so long as its internal principles do.
      • Esse ad: equiprimodal with esse in is the kind of existence which belongs to relation; a modality which is not itself in anything, but between subjectivities.  This further subdivides:
        • Relativum secundum dici: while properly itself belonging to something which is “in” some mode of esse in, the way in which we conceptualize subjectivities and their inherent accidents requires a relative mode of expression.  Since no subjects are what they are, as they are, wholly independently of all else, we know them in no small part by their relations and therefore come to understand what is esse in by virtue of its esse ad.  Because this sort of relativity permeates all the categories, it is sometimes translated into English as “transcendental relation”.
        • Relativum secundum esse: this is the mode of existence which belongs to the relation itself, considered as modally separate from its relata (though a relation never exists in fact without at least some fundament).  Though ubiquitous in the universe, relations are the most contingent existence.  Nevertheless, they are distinguishable from their relata as really existent by virtue of the fact that one and the same relation, without changing its nature, can exist either as being a “real” relation, between two actually existent things which mutually affect one another, a “mixed” relation, where only one of the two things affects the other (and thus is only “partially real”), or a purely “logical” relation, where neither of the two things related has any actual affect on the other.
  • Intelligendi: what exists as either esse in or esse ad, considered with respect to the limits of its modus essendi, can also be understood with the same precise grasp of those limits, separately from its actual modus essendi.  In other words, the modus intelligendi is the way in which what exists in its own right (whether in itself, in another, or between two others) exists in the mind.
  • Significandi: just as what exists in itself, in another, or between two others can also exist in the mind, so too can it exist in a sign, a specific mode of existing between two others.  Thus, signification can replicate and transmit what exists in understanding as it is independently of that understanding.
    • Consigificandi: because of the innate relativity of all that we experience, most acts of signification include implicitly and by relation more than is contained in the supposed confines of the words themselves.  Thus there are attendant possible significations, including the syncategorematic indications of grammar.

2 thoughts on “Modes: essendi, intelligendi, significandi

  1. This is helpful. Where would you classify the mode of being by which things exist in the divine mind? Is this in the modus intelligendi? Can the divine intelligence be included in the same “modal category,” if you will, as human intelligence? Is the mode of divine intelligence more or less “real” than modus essendi?

    I am happy to have discovered the blog of another Thomist – particularly a Thomist interested in the study of signs. I do not yet know how much our thoughts might converge, but I am pursuing (in the long run) a project on the metaphysics of symbols – and by symbols I am referring especially to religious and/or liturgical symbols.


    1. Thanks for your comment (sorry for the delayed reply…).

      There is no distinction other than the logical between the divine modus essendi and its modus intelligendi; the divine ideas are known in the divine essence, where they exist perfectly. The only real distinction (minor real, or formal, I suppose), I think, would be in the modus significandi–which is the act of creation.


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