It then becomes evident that the priority of ens reale over ens rationis emphasized by Aquinas is more ontological than experiential. The fact that some among objects before us are also present-at-hand as things in their own right (indifferent to any relation to us in objectivity) is an awakening unique to the human animal, and the source of the experience which leads the human animal to recognize that there is a difference between being and non-being, where being means precisely ens reale and non-being means precisely ens rationis. Being as first known by the human mind, ens primum cognitum, Aquinas tells us, transcends this distinction, and so cannot be identified with either term of it, even though ens reale maintains its ontological priority in the experiential discovery that there is more to the being of the objective world than can be reduced to our experience of or interests in it. The “external world” is not discovered as external; it is discovered as a dimension within objects irreducible to our experience of them. The “problem of the external world” such as we find it in Berkeley, Hume and the moderns after them, including Kant, is not really a critical problem so much as it is a quasi-error rooted in the failure to recognize the being proper and peculiar to relations.20
20 This failure, philosophically at least, is the essence of nominalism, as it turns out. But that is another story: see Deely 2001: esp. Chaps. 8–10 & 15.