Essence

Essence

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In philosophy
Philosophy
Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental problems, such as those connected with existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. Philosophy is distinguished from other ways of addressing such problems by its critical, generally systematic approach and its reliance on rational...

, essence is the attribute or set of attributes that make an object or substance
Substance theory
Substance theory, or substance attribute theory, is an ontological theory about objecthood, positing that a substance is distinct from its properties. A thing-in-itself is a property-bearer that must be distinguished from the properties it bears....

 what it fundamentally is, and which it has by necessity
Metaphysical necessity
A proposition is necessary if it could not have been false. But there are various 'strengths' of necessity. In some sense, it necessarily takes longer than a day to get to the moon, because we don't have fast enough rockets to get us there any quicker. But in another sense, we could get to the...

, and without which it loses its identity. Essence is contrasted with accident
Accident (philosophy)
Accident, as used in philosophy, is an attribute which may or may not belong to a subject, without affecting its essence. The word "accident" has been employed throughout the history of philosophy with several distinct meanings....

: a property that the object or substance has contingently, without which the substance can still retain its identity. The concept originates with Aristotle, who used the Greek expression to ti ên einai, literally 'the what it was to be', or sometimes the shorter phrase to ti esti, literally 'the what it is,' for the same idea. This phrase presented such difficulties for his Latin translators that they coined the word essentia (English "essence") to represent the whole expression. For Aristotle and his scholastic
Scholasticism
Scholasticism is a method of critical thought which dominated teaching by the academics of medieval universities in Europe from about 1100–1500, and a program of employing that method in articulating and defending orthodoxy in an increasingly pluralistic context...

 followers the notion of essence is closely linked to that of definition (horismos).

In the history of western thought, essence has often served as a vehicle for doctrines that tend to individuate different forms of existence as well as different identity conditions for objects and properties; in this eminently logical meaning, the concept has given a strong theoretical and common-sense basis to the whole family of logical theories based on the "possible worlds" analogy set up by Leibniz
Gottfried Leibniz
Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz was a German philosopher and mathematician. He wrote in different languages, primarily in Latin , French and German ....

 and developed in the intensional logic from Carnap
Rudolf Carnap
Rudolf Carnap was an influential German-born philosopher who was active in Europe before 1935 and in the United States thereafter. He was a major member of the Vienna Circle and an advocate of logical positivism....

 to Kripke
Saul Kripke
Saul Aaron Kripke is an American philosopher and logician. He is a professor emeritus at Princeton and teaches as a Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the CUNY Graduate Center...

, which was later challenged by "extensionalist" philosophers such as Quine
Willard Van Orman Quine
Willard Van Orman Quine was an American philosopher and logician in the analytic tradition...

.

Ontological status


In his dialogues Plato
Plato
Plato , was a Classical Greek philosopher, mathematician, student of Socrates, writer of philosophical dialogues, and founder of the Academy in Athens, the first institution of higher learning in the Western world. Along with his mentor, Socrates, and his student, Aristotle, Plato helped to lay the...

 suggests that concrete beings acquire their essence through their relations to "Forms
Theory of Forms
Plato's theory of Forms or theory of Ideas asserts that non-material abstract forms , and not the material world of change known to us through sensation, possess the highest and most fundamental kind of reality. When used in this sense, the word form is often capitalized...

" (ειδε: eide) - abstract universals logically or ontologically separate from the objects of sense perception. These Forms are often put forth as the models or paradigms of which sensible things are "copies". When used in this sense, the word form is often capitalized. Sensible bodies are in constant flux and imperfect and hence, by Plato's reckoning, less real than the Forms which are eternal, unchanging and complete. Typical examples of Forms given by Plato are largeness, smallness, equality, unity, goodness, beauty and justice.

Aristotle
Aristotle
Aristotle was a Greek philosopher and polymath, a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great. His writings cover many subjects, including physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, linguistics, politics, government, ethics, biology, and zoology...

 moves the Forms of Plato to the nucleus of the individual thing, which is called ousía or substance. Essence is the of the thing, the to tí en einai. Essence corresponds to the ousia's definition; essence is a real and physical aspect of the ousía. (Aristotle, "Metaphisic", I)

According to nominalists (Roscelin of Compiègne, William of Ockham
William of Ockham
William of Ockham was an English Franciscan friar and scholastic philosopher, who is believed to have been born in Ockham, a small village in Surrey. He is considered to be one of the major figures of medieval thought and was at the centre of the major intellectual and political controversies of...

, John Duns Scotus, William of Champeaux
William of Champeaux
Guillaume de Champeaux , also known as William of Champeaux or Guglielmus de Campellis , was a French philosopher and theologian.He was born at Champeaux near Melun...

, Bernard of Chartres
Bernard of Chartres
Bernard of Chartres was a twelfth-century French Neo-Platonist philosopher, scholar, and administrator.- Life :...

), universals aren't concrete entities, just voice's sounds; there are only individuals: "nam cum habeat eorum sententia nihil esse praeter individuum(...)" (Roscelin, De gener. et spec., 524). Universals are words that can to call several individuals; for example the word "homo". Therefore a universal is reduced to a sound's emission. (Roscelin, "De generibus et speciebus")

According to Edmund Husserl
Edmund Husserl
Edmund Gustav Albrecht Husserl was a philosopher and mathematician and the founder of the 20th century philosophical school of phenomenology. He broke with the positivist orientation of the science and philosophy of his day, yet he elaborated critiques of historicism and of psychologism in logic...

 essence is ideal. However, ideal means that essence is the intentional object of the conscience. Essence is interpreted as sense. (E. Husserl, "Ideas pertaining to a pure phenomenology and to a phenomenological philosophy", paragraphs 3 and 4).

Existentialism



Existentialism
Existentialism
Existentialism is a term applied to a school of 19th- and 20th-century philosophers who, despite profound doctrinal differences, shared the belief that philosophical thinking begins with the human subject—not merely the thinking subject, but the acting, feeling, living human individual...

 was coined by Jean-Paul Sartre
Jean-Paul Sartre
Jean-Paul Charles Aymard Sartre was a French existentialist philosopher, playwright, novelist, screenwriter, political activist, biographer, and literary critic. He was one of the leading figures in 20th century French philosophy, particularly Marxism, and was one of the key figures in literary...

's statement that for human beings "existence precedes essence
Existence precedes essence
The proposition that existence precedes essence is a central claim of existentialism, which reverses the traditional philosophical view that the essence or nature of a thing is more fundamental and immutable than its existence...

." In as much as "essence" is a cornerstone of all metaphysical
Metaphysics
Metaphysics is a branch of philosophy concerned with explaining the fundamental nature of being and the world, although the term is not easily defined. Traditionally, metaphysics attempts to answer two basic questions in the broadest possible terms:...

 philosophy and the grounding of Rationalism
Rationalism
In epistemology and in its modern sense, rationalism is "any view appealing to reason as a source of knowledge or justification" . In more technical terms, it is a method or a theory "in which the criterion of the truth is not sensory but intellectual and deductive"...

, Sartre's statement was a repudiation of the philosophical system that had come before him (and, in particular, that of Husserl, Hegel, and Heidegger). Instead of "is-ness" generating "actuality," he argued that existence and actuality come first, and the essence is derived afterward. For Kierkegaard, it is the individual person who is the supreme moral entity, and the personal, subjective aspects of human life that are the most important; also, for Kierkegaard all of this had religious implications.

In metaphysics


"Essence," in metaphysics, is often synonymous with the soul
Soul
A soul in certain spiritual, philosophical, and psychological traditions is the incorporeal essence of a person or living thing or object. Many philosophical and spiritual systems teach that humans have souls, and others teach that all living things and even inanimate objects have souls. The...

, and some existentialists argue that individuals gain their souls and spirits after they exist, that they develop their souls and spirits during their lifetimes. For Kierkegaard, however, the emphasis was upon essence as "nature." For him, there is no such thing as "human nature" that determines how a human will behave or what a human will be. First, he or she exists, and then comes attribute. Jean-Paul Sartre
Jean-Paul Sartre
Jean-Paul Charles Aymard Sartre was a French existentialist philosopher, playwright, novelist, screenwriter, political activist, biographer, and literary critic. He was one of the leading figures in 20th century French philosophy, particularly Marxism, and was one of the key figures in literary...

's more materialist and skeptical existentialism furthered this existentialist tenet by flatly refuting any metaphysical essence, any soul, and arguing instead that there is merely existence, with attributes as essence.

Thus, in existentialist discourse, essence can refer to physical aspect or attribute to the ongoing being of a person (the character or internally determined goals), or to the infinite inbound within the human (which can be lost, can atrophy, or can be developed into an equal part with the finite), depending upon the type of existentialist discourse.

Marxism's essentialism


Karl Marx
Karl Marx
Karl Heinrich Marx was a German philosopher, economist, sociologist, historian, journalist, and revolutionary socialist. His ideas played a significant role in the development of social science and the socialist political movement...

 was a follower of Hegel's thought, and he, too, developed a philosophy in reaction to his master. In his early work, Marx used Aristotelian
Aristotle
Aristotle was a Greek philosopher and polymath, a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great. His writings cover many subjects, including physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, linguistics, politics, government, ethics, biology, and zoology...

 style teleology
Teleology
A teleology is any philosophical account which holds that final causes exist in nature, meaning that design and purpose analogous to that found in human actions are inherent also in the rest of nature. The word comes from the Greek τέλος, telos; root: τελε-, "end, purpose...

 and derived a concept of humanity's essential nature. Marx's Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844
Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844
Economic & Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 are a series of notes written between April and August 1844 by Karl Marx. Not published by Marx during his lifetime, they were first released in 1927 by researchers in the Soviet Union.The notebooks are an early expression of Marx's analysis of...

 describe a theory of alienation
Marx's theory of alienation
Marx's theory of alienation , as expressed in the writings of the young Karl Marx , refers to the separation of things that naturally belong together, or to put antagonism between things that are properly in harmony...

 based on human existence being completely different from human essence. Marx said human nature was social, and that humanity had the distinct essence of free activity and conscious thought.

Some scholars, such as Philip Kain, have argued that Marx abandoned the idea of a human essence, but many other scholars point to Marx's continued discussion of these ideas despite the decline of terms such as essence and alienation in his later work.

Buddhism


Within the Madhyamaka
Madhyamaka
Madhyamaka refers primarily to a Mahāyāna Buddhist school of Buddhist philosophy systematized by Nāgārjuna. Nāgārjuna may have arrived at his positions from a desire to achieve a consistent exegesis of the Buddha's doctrine as recorded in the āgamas...

 school of Mahayana
Mahayana
Mahāyāna is one of the two main existing branches of Buddhism and a term for classification of Buddhist philosophies and practice...

 Buddhism
Buddhism
Buddhism is a religion and philosophy encompassing a variety of traditions, beliefs and practices, largely based on teachings attributed to Siddhartha Gautama, commonly known as the Buddha . The Buddha lived and taught in the northeastern Indian subcontinent some time between the 6th and 4th...

, Candrakirti
Candrakīrti
Candrakīrti , was an Indian scholar and a khenpo of Nālandā Mahāvihāra. He was a disciple of and a commentator on his works and those of his main disciple, Āryadeva...

 identifies the self
Atman (Buddhism)
The word Ātman or Atta refers to a self. Occasionally the terms "soul" or "ego" are also used. The words ātman and atta derive from the Indo-European root *ēt-men and are cognate with the Old English æthm and German Atem....

 as:

Buddhapālita
Buddhapalita
Buddhapālita was a commentator on the works of Nāgārjuna and Aryadeva. His works were mildly criticised by his contemporary Bhavyaviveka, and then he was vigorously defended by the later Candrakīrti, whose terms differentiating the two scholars led to the rise of the Prasaṅgika and Svatantrika...

 adds, while commenting on Nagārjuna
Nagarjuna
Nāgārjuna was an important Buddhist teacher and philosopher. Along with his disciple Āryadeva, he is credited with founding the Mādhyamaka school of Mahāyāna Buddhism...

's Mūlamadhyamakakārikā
Mulamadhyamakakarika
The Mūlamadhyamakakārikā , or Fundamental Verses on the Middle Way, is a key text by Nagarjuna, one of the most important Buddhist philosophers.-Competing interpretations:...

,

For the Madhyamaka
Madhyamaka
Madhyamaka refers primarily to a Mahāyāna Buddhist school of Buddhist philosophy systematized by Nāgārjuna. Nāgārjuna may have arrived at his positions from a desire to achieve a consistent exegesis of the Buddha's doctrine as recorded in the āgamas...

 Buddhists, 'Emptiness
Shunyata
Śūnyatā, शून्यता , Suññatā , stong-pa nyid , Kòng/Kū, 空 , Gong-seong, 공성 , qoγusun is frequently translated into English as emptiness...

' (also known as Anatta or Anatman
Anatta
In Buddhism, anattā or anātman refers to the notion of "not-self." In the early texts, the Buddha commonly uses the word in the context of teaching that all things perceived by the senses are not really "I" or "mine," and for this reason one should not cling to them.In the same vein, the Pali...

) is the strong assertion that all phenomena are empty of any essence, and that anti-essentialism lies at the root of Buddhist praxis and it is the innate belief in essence that is considered to be an afflictive obscuration which serves as the root of all suffering
Samsara
thumb|right|200px|Traditional Tibetan painting or [[Thanka]] showing the [[wheel of life]] and realms of saṃsāraSaṅsāra or Saṃsāra , , literally meaning "continuous flow", is the cycle of birth, life, death, rebirth or reincarnation within Hinduism, Buddhism, Bön, Jainism, Sikhism, and other...

. However, the Madhyamaka
Madhyamaka
Madhyamaka refers primarily to a Mahāyāna Buddhist school of Buddhist philosophy systematized by Nāgārjuna. Nāgārjuna may have arrived at his positions from a desire to achieve a consistent exegesis of the Buddha's doctrine as recorded in the āgamas...

 also rejects the tenets of Idealism
Idealism
In philosophy, idealism is the family of views which assert that reality, or reality as we can know it, is fundamentally mental, mentally constructed, or otherwise immaterial. Epistemologically, idealism manifests as a skepticism about the possibility of knowing any mind-independent thing...

, Materialism
Materialism
In philosophy, the theory of materialism holds that the only thing that exists is matter; that all things are composed of material and all phenomena are the result of material interactions. In other words, matter is the only substance...

 or Nihilism; instead, the ideas of truth or existence, along with any assertions that depend upon them are limited to their function within the contexts and conventions that assert them, possibly somewhat akin to Relativism
Relativism
Relativism is the concept that points of view have no absolute truth or validity, having only relative, subjective value according to differences in perception and consideration....

 or Pragmatism
Pragmatism
Pragmatism is a philosophical tradition centered on the linking of practice and theory. It describes a process where theory is extracted from practice, and applied back to practice to form what is called intelligent practice...

. For the Madhyamaka
Madhyamaka
Madhyamaka refers primarily to a Mahāyāna Buddhist school of Buddhist philosophy systematized by Nāgārjuna. Nāgārjuna may have arrived at his positions from a desire to achieve a consistent exegesis of the Buddha's doctrine as recorded in the āgamas...

, replacement paradoxes such as Ship of Theseus
Ship of Theseus
The Ship of Theseus, also known as Theseus' paradox, or various variants, notably grandfather's axe and Trigger's Broom is a paradox that raises the question of whether an object which has had all its component parts replaced remains fundamentally the same object.The paradox is most notably...

 are answered by stating that the Ship of Thesesus remains so (within the conventions that assert it) until it ceases to function as the Ship of Theseus.

Among the many canonical Buddhist sources articulating a philosophical "Examination of Essence," stands Nagarjuna
Nagarjuna
Nāgārjuna was an important Buddhist teacher and philosopher. Along with his disciple Āryadeva, he is credited with founding the Mādhyamaka school of Mahāyāna Buddhism...

's Mulamadhyamakakarika
Mulamadhyamakakarika
The Mūlamadhyamakakārikā , or Fundamental Verses on the Middle Way, is a key text by Nagarjuna, one of the most important Buddhist philosophers.-Competing interpretations:...

, The Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way. Chapter I examines the Conditions of Existence, while Chapter XV examines Essence in itself, difference
Difference
Difference may refer to:* Difference , a 2005 power metal album* Difference , a concept in computer science* Difference , any systematic way of distinguishing similar coats of arms belonging to members of the same family* Difference , a statement about the relative size or order of two objects**...

, the eternalist's view and nihilist
Carvaka
' , also known as ', is a system of Indian philosophy that assumes various forms of philosophical skepticism and religious indifference. It seems named after , the probable author of the and probably a follower of Brihaspati, who founded the ' philosophy.In overviews of Indian philosophy, Cārvāka...

's view of essence and non-essence.

Hinduism


In understanding any individual personality, a distinction is made between one's Swadharma (essence) and Swabhava (mental habits and conditionings of ego personality). Svabhava is the nature of a person, which is a result of his or her samskaras (impressions created in the mind due to one's interaction with the external world). These samskaras create habits and mental models and those become our nature. While there is another kind of svabhava that is a pure internal quality - smarana - we are here focusing only on the svabhava that was created due to samskaras (because to discover the pure, internal svabhava and smarana, one should become aware of one's samskaras and take control over them). Dharma
Dharma
Dharma means Law or Natural Law and is a concept of central importance in Indian philosophy and religion. In the context of Hinduism, it refers to one's personal obligations, calling and duties, and a Hindu's dharma is affected by the person's age, caste, class, occupation, and gender...

 is derived from the root Dhr - to hold. It is that which holds an entity together. That is, Dharma is that which gives integrity to an entity and holds the core quality and identity (essence), form and function of that entity. Dharma is also defined as righteousness and duty. To do one's dharma is to be righteous, to do one's dharma is to do one's duty (express one's essence).

See also

  • Accident (philosophy)
    Accident (philosophy)
    Accident, as used in philosophy, is an attribute which may or may not belong to a subject, without affecting its essence. The word "accident" has been employed throughout the history of philosophy with several distinct meanings....

  • Avicenna
    Avicenna
    Abū ʿAlī al-Ḥusayn ibn ʿAbd Allāh ibn Sīnā , commonly known as Ibn Sīnā or by his Latinized name Avicenna, was a Persian polymath, who wrote almost 450 treatises on a wide range of subjects, of which around 240 have survived...

  • Essentialism
    Essentialism
    In philosophy, essentialism is the view that, for any specific kind of entity, there is a set of characteristics or properties all of which any entity of that kind must possess. Therefore all things can be precisely defined or described...

  • Fuzzy-trace theory
    Fuzzy-trace theory
    Fuzzy-Trace Theory is a theory that is used in several different areas of psychology, such as cognitive, developmental and social psychology. FTT is a theory of memory and cognition with broad ramifications for the study of judgment and decision-making and two decades of empirical support...

  • Haecceity
    Haecceity
    Haecceity is a term from medieval philosophy first coined by Duns Scotus which denotes the discrete qualities, properties or characteristics of a thing which make it a particular thing...

  • Modal logic
    Modal logic
    Modal logic is a type of formal logic that extends classical propositional and predicate logic to include operators expressing modality. Modals — words that express modalities — qualify a statement. For example, the statement "John is happy" might be qualified by saying that John is...

  • Physical ontology
  • Quiddity
    Quiddity
    In scholastic philosophy, quiddity was another term for the essence of an object, literally its "whatness," or "what it is." The term derives from the Latin word "quidditas," which was used by the medieval scholastics as a literal translation of the equivalent term in Aristotle's Greek.It...

  • Smarana
  • Theory of forms
    Theory of Forms
    Plato's theory of Forms or theory of Ideas asserts that non-material abstract forms , and not the material world of change known to us through sensation, possess the highest and most fundamental kind of reality. When used in this sense, the word form is often capitalized...


External links

  • Maurice De Wulf
    Maurice De Wulf
    Maurice De Wulf , a thomist philosopher, professor of philosophy at the Catholic University of Leuven, is one of the pioneers of the historiography of medieval philosophy. His book History of Medieval Philosophy appeared first in 1900 and was followed by many other editions and translations, one...

    : "Nominalism, Realism, Conceptualism.", in: The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 11. New York: Robert Appleton Company 1911.
  • Laboratory for Rational Decision Making