Monday, April 30, 2012

More on Being and Essence

Here's a quick recap:

A thing's essence is what it is, e.g. a thing's nature.  A thing's being is that it is, e.g. a thing's existence.

For example, we can describe a unicorn's essence as a magical horse with a horn.  However, that does not mean we are committed to a unicorn's being/existence.

Following Parmenides (although I disagree with him on some implications), I argue that being is one.  For, to be distinct from being is to be non-being.  Since non-being is literally nothing, anything distinct from being is non-existent.  Things can still differ by essence, however, even if they share the same being.

One way of avoiding this conclusion is to postulate that there are different types of being, just as there are different types of essence.  The problem with this objection is that distinct entities would therefore be incapable of interacting with one another.  If they do not have essence in common, and they do not have being in common, then they have nothing in common.  Hence, they have no point of contact in which they are causally related.

I think the unicity of being and the plurality of essence allows us to affirm one of our most fundamental metaphysical beliefs: that existent things are diverse, yet connected.


  1. Hey Doug, hope you're doing well. Here is a question:

    How do you think we should distinguish between the unicity of being and the univocity of being? After all, Aquinas does not think beings are all beings in the same sense. They are only beings in a related sense. Would this contradict what you say about the unicity of being?

  2. Good to hear from you, Alfredo. I'm not convinced that Aquinas and Scotus were really too far away from each other as one might think. My attempt to salvage the doctrines of each is to view distinction as a matter of essence. When Aquinas calls being analogical, in relation to God and created entities, being is said to be somewhat different, but also somewhat alike. It's in the latter sense that being is one. In the former, it's essence.

    Nevertheless, if it turns out that this implies univocity of being, I don't think that's the end of the world. I'm happy to side with Scotus, if need be.