I have shown that there are two problems with universals and particulars. If there were a way to distinguish between individuals and universals, then there would be a solution to these problems. The distinction between an existence and an essence is such a thing. Each individual has a distinct existence but a universal has a common essence.

Universals are any thing that has a name. For example, redness, humanity and oneness are all universals. Each of these things are different from each other because of what they are. The name for “what it is” is essence. So the essence of redness is the color red, the essence of oneness is unity and the essence of humanity is rational animality. Each of these essences is different from each other, but every instance of an essence is the same essence.

Particulars are named with “this”, “that” or by pointing. So my apple is different from your apple, even if they have the same essence. This difference is their existence. That something is that it exists is normally different from what it is. Even though my apple and your apple are the same thing because they are both apples, they are different things because they have different existences. I can destroy my apple, and yours remains unharmed. The existence of my apple is not a feature of my apple. The existence of my apple just is my apple existing right now.

The previous problem with universals can now be resolved. The redness of a painting and a box are the same because they have the same essence. The redness of the painting is different from the redness of the box because each one has a different existence. What is true of redness is true of all universals, and all named things. Anything that is named, is unique as a particular because its existence is unique. It is the same universal because each instance of that universal has the same essence as any other instance.

The previous problem with particulars can also be resolved. There is no feature or history that makes one particular unique. So Stephen is not unique because he has a particular history, has a unique genetic code or because of any other feature. He is unique because his existence is different from absolutely everyone else’ s existence. If he were to have an identical twin, then each one would have a different existence. That is the only thing that is different from every other thing that no other thing could ever share with him.

Since the previous problems with particulars and universals are solved, it is natural for further problems to arise. There are several areas to examine. One of them is various essences. Categorizing them and determining which is most fundamental if any is a next step. Another area is the difference between essence and existence. Particulars must have both, but how are they related to each other? A final area is the nature of existence itself.

I will begin with the categorization of essence. Next I will discuss different universals and the relationships between them.

Rate your experience with this philosophy study!

Comments on Essence and Existence

  1. I would appreciate your comments on these thoughts I have about existence as relates to Aristotle:
    Is it possible that existence itself for Aristotle is that which contains reality ? I come to this understanding from reading discussion of ‘place’ by Aristotle in his ‘Physics’ (The Basic Works of Aristotle, ed. R. McKeon). In [Bk. IV: Ch.4: 211:20] Aristotle defines place as ‘the innermost motionless boundary of what contains’. Place (aka space) for Aristotle is a boundary of ‘what contains’, that is, space does not contain, it is the boundary of ‘what contains’. In [Sec. 211] Aristotle provides another wording of his definition of place as “the boundary of the containing body at which it is in contact with the contained body”. Here again, that which contains, a ‘containing body’, is not place. Thus the question becomes, what is it ‘that contains’ (aka ‘containing body’) that is not place, and what exactly does the ‘containing body’ contain ? I argue that it is existence itself ‘that contains’ (is the containing body) and what it contains are real things. I read also in Sec 208a:5 that Aristotle claims that place is distinct from bodies, thus the same thing cannot simultaneously be both place and body, either a body that contains or a body that is contained. Thus, if a balloon has a place in the air, it is impossible that air also is the body that contains a balloon….thus my question, if air does not contain a balloon, what does ? My thought is that all real things have a universal containing body, existence itself, and that each thing attains uniqueness from unique place associated with universal existence itself. Suppose a real thing, Bill Gates or an elephant. What does knowledge that a thing has an attribute as existence, as a containing body, add to knowledge of them ? I suggest that what is added is that at any moment in time each thing has unique place, a unique innermost motionless boundary and containing body, that can be left behind if the thing comes to occupy, as a movable body, another existence, e.g., another place with containing body. Thus what existence adds to any thing is the uniqueness of the identity of that thing. In [Sec 212.] Aristotle states that “not everything that ‘is’ is in place, but only movable body”. Thus I argue following Aristotle definition of place that not everything that ‘is’ is in existence (since there cannot be existence without place). Take for example a rainbow in the sky which has no place, no innermost motionless boundary nor containing body, yet ‘is’ a phenomenon of non existence. Thank you for your time reading this.

Discuss this Study