the distinction between essentia and existentia in scholasticism

The Distinction Between Essentia and Existentia in Scholasticism
The Distinction Between Essentia and Existentia in Scholasticism
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  • 7/30/2019 The Distinction Between Essentia and Existentia in Scholasticism



    by Martin Heidegger, 1975


    Critical Phenomenological Discussion of Some Traditional Theses about Being

    Chapter Two

    The Thesis of Medieval Ontology Derived from Aristotle: To the Constitution of the Being of a Being There

    Belong Essence and Existence

    10. The content of the thesis and its traditional discussion

    c) The distinction between essentia and existentia in Scholasticism

    (Thomas Aquinas, Duns Scotus, Suarez)

    . . . The mystical theology of the Middle Ages, for example, that of Meister Eckhart, is not even remotely

    accessible without comprehension of the doctrine of essentia and existentia.

    It is the characteristic quality ofmedieval mysticism that it tries to lay hold of the being ontologically rated as

    the properly essential being, God, in his very essence. In this attempt mysticism arrives at a peculiar speculation,peculiar because it transforms the idea of essence in general, which is an ontological determination of a being, the

    essentia entis, into a being and makes the ontological ground of a being, its possibility, its essence, into what isproperly actual. This remarkable alteration of essence into a being is the presupposition for the possibility of what

    is called mystical speculation. Therefore, Meister Eckhart speaks mostly of the "superessential essence;" that is to

    say, what interests him is not, strictly speaking, GodGod is still a provisional object for himbut Godhead.

    When Meister Eckhart says "God" he means Godhead, not deus but deitas, not ens but essentia, not nature but whatis above nature, the essencethe essence to which, as it were, every existential determination must still be

    refused, from which every additio existentiae must be kept at a distance. Hence he also says: "Sprch man von

    Gott er ist, das wre hinzugelegt." "If it were said of God that he is, that would be added on." Meister Eckhard's

    expression "das wre hinzugelegt" is the German translation, using Thomas' phrase, of: it would be an additio

    entis. "So ist Gott im selben Sinne nicht und ist nicht dem Begriffe aller Kreaturen." Thus God is for himself his

    "not"; that is to say, he is the most universal being, the purest indeterminate possibility of everything possible, purenothing. He is the nothing over against the concept of every creature, over against every determinate possible and

    actualized being. Here, too, we find a remarkable parallel to the Hegelian determination of being and its

    identification with nothing. The mysticism of the Middle Ages or, more precisely, its mystical theology is notmystical in our sense and in the bad sense; rather, it can be conceived in a completely eminent sense.

    ) The Thomistic doctrine of the distinctio realis between essentia and existentia in ente creato

    The problem of the relationship between essence and existence is resolved in the Thomistic school by saying

    that in an actual being the what of this being is a second res, something else for itself as over against the actuality;

    thus, in an actual being we have the combination or composition, compositio, of two realities, essentia and

    existentia. Therefore, the difference between essence and existence is a distinctio realis. Cum omne quod est

    praeter essentiam rei, dicatur accidens; esse quod pertinet ad quaestionem an est, est accidens; since everything

    that [in the Kantian sense] is not a real predicate in a being is spoken of as something that befalls or is added to

    the being [accidens], to the what, therefore the actuality, or existence, that relates to the question whethera res

    with the totality of its realities exists, is an accidens. Actuality is something accessory to the what of a being.

    Accidens dicitur large omne quod non est pars essentiae; et sic est esse [that is, existere] in rebus creatis ;existence is not part of the reality but is added on to it. Quidquid est in aliquo, quod est praeter essentiam ejus,

    oportet esse causatum; everything that is outside the thing-content of a thing, everything that is not a real predicate

    of a res, must be caused, and indeed vel a principiis essentia . . . vel ab aliquo exteriori, either by reason of the

    essence itself or by another. In God, existence belongs to the res by reason of his essence. God's essence is his

    existence. In the created being, however, the causation of its actuality does not lie in that being itself. Si igitur

    ipsum esse [existere] rei sit aliud ab ejus essentia, necesse est quod esse illius rei vel sit causatum ab aliquo

    exteriori, vel a principiis essentialibus ejusdem rei; if therefore that which is, the existent, is something other than

    the whatness, it must necessarily be caused. Impossibile est autem, quod esse sit causatum tantum ex principiis

    essentialibus rei; quia nulla res sufficit, quod sit sibi causa essendi, si habeat esse causatum. Oportet ergo quod

    illud cujus esse est aliud ab essentia sua, habeat esse causatum ab alio ; it is impossible, however, that existing

    would be caused solely by the essential grounds of a thing [Thomas is speaking here only of created entities],

    since no thing suffices in its inherent content to be the cause of its own existence. This is reminiscent of a principle

    that Leibniz formulated as the law of sufficient reason, causa sufficiens entis, a law that in its traditional foundinggoes back to this problem of the relationship of essentia and existentia.

    Existere is something other than essence; it has its being on the basis of being caused by another. Omne quod

    est directe in praedicamento substantiae, compositum est saltem ex esse et quod est; each ens, therefore as ens

    creatum is a compositum ex esse et quod est, of existing and of whatness. This compositum is what it is,

    distinction between essentia and existentia in Scholasticism

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  • 7/30/2019 The Distinction Between Essentia and Existentia in Scholasticism


    compositio realis; that is to say, correspondingly: the distinctio between essentia and existentia is a distinctio

    realis. Esse, or existere, is conceived of also, in distinction from quod est or esse quod, as esse quo or ens quo.

    The actuality of an actual being is something else of such a sort that it itself amounts to a res on its own account.

    If we compare it with the Kantian thesis, the Thomistic thesis saysindeed, in agreement with Kantthat

    existence, there-being, actuality, is not a real predicate; it does not belong to the res of a thing but is nevertheless a

    res that is added on to the essentia. By means of his interpretation, on the other hand, Kant wishes to avoid

    conceiving of actuality, existence, itself as a res; he does this by interpreting existence as relation to the cognitive

    faculty, hence treating perception as position.

    distinction between essentia and existentia in Scholasticism

    2 19/07/2013 15.05