The Distinction: Essentia and Esse

I have been reading Gilson's book, "Being and Some Philosophers." Throughout, the work he seems to be holding up the distinction between essentia and esse as the solution to all our metaphysical difficulties. Leaving aside any disputes one might have about his understanding and application of the principle, it seems that he has neglected a somewhat fundamental question: Why do we think that this distinction is a true distinction? He admits, and I think rightly, that this distinction is a judgment. If it is a judgment, then it seems that we ought to be able to have confidence that it is true. Now, it does seem that it is among the first things, and in that sense it could be seen as self-evident, but it seems that it should be considered as something self-evident to wise, and that we should have some way of manifesting a need for making such a distinction. It seems, moreover, that such a an argument would a reduxio.

I therefore pose three preliminary questions: Does it seem right that we need to make an argument for this distinction? Is it correct that such an argument must be a reduxio? Is there anyplace where someone makes an argument manifesting this distinction?

Assuming an affirmative to the first two questions and being ignorant of the third, I formulated the following argument, which I give in brief outline:
1. I take St. Thomas Third Way
2. From this we see that there is a necessary ens per se.
3. Such an ens cannot not exist.
4. What it is to be this ens is to be.
5. Therefore there must be a distinction between the essentia and esse of all other entia.
6. If not, then they would be necessary through themselves.
7. But this is absurd since they are possible and necessary through another.
8. Therefore, there must be a real distinction between essentia and esse in all caused entia.

I think it might be the case that the movement from 3 to 4 will require that the simplicity and perhaps unity of God be shown. The simplicity would not be understood fully however, until we were sure of the distinction. Rather the argument for God's simplicity would be something like the second argument that Thomas gives in Q.3 a7, Utrum Deus sit omni simplex. The argument is as follows: Secundo, quia omne compositum est posterius suis componentibus, et dependens ex eis. Deus autmen est primum ens ut supra ostensum est. As I look more closely the third fourth and fifth arguments seem like they could all be made without making the distinction between esse and essentia.
However, once the distinction between essence and esse was made, then we could go back and manifest more clearly what it means for God to be wholly simple.

To clarify: I think this argument gives greater certainty to the distinction between essentia and esse. I think that we can probably see this distinction in a vague way before hand and thus we would be looking for an argument to manifest it more clearly and certainly.
One text that might challenge the argument that I am giving is Boethius' De Hebdomadibus and Aquinas Commentary on it.
Here is a decent translation of Boethius' work (I could not find the text in Latin).:
And here is St. Thomas' commentary on the same.

Boethius seems to imply that the reason he gives for the distinction is enough, and St. Thomas certainly does not correct him.
Boethius says, "Being and that which is are different. For being itself does not exist yet, but that which is exists and is established when it has taken on the form of being. "

I eagerly look forward to you illuminating insights!
Pax Christi Vobiscum


  1. Joshua said...

    Now you have Boethius in Latin ;)
    ho mathetes said...
    This comment has been removed by the author.
    ho mathetes said...
    Reposting comment due to a couple garbled sentences:

    Doesn't the very beginning of St. Thomas' De Ente speak to your generally stated question (i.e. "Does it seem right that we need to make an argument for this distinction?") in the beginning:

    "A small error at the outset can lead to great errors in the final conclusions, as the Philosopher says in I De Caelo et Mundo cap. 5 (271b8-13), and thus, since being and essence are the things first conceived of by the order to avoid errors arising from ignorance about these two things, we should resolve the difficulties surrounding them by explaining what the terms being and essence each signify..."

    There are a couple things clearly central to this text: first the obvious supposition of the fact that we first conceive of being and then essence, i.e. the apprehension of being is the first act of the intellect and etc. This is first in the order of our knowing (i.e. we know 'that' something first), as well as something formally and explicitly known as self-evident to the wise.

    Secondly, since there are a number of difficulties which need to be resolved in order to even understand the very signification of the terms, that it must be by making judgments, i.e. argument (what kind is a further question) that the metaphysician would formally study their difference?

    Let me know what you think....

    G/g but more comments forthcoming
    Natural_Inquirer said...
    Seems like judgment is where it is and that this proposition is per se notum.

    First, there is experience...blah, blah, blah. Then the realization/judgment that 'to be' is not 'to be such'.

    The dialectic to elucidate this seems to be a reduction, but not through God. Your process is begging the question, since the third way must assume what you are trying to prove.

    Rather, the dialectic seems to go something like this:
    1. If 'to be' is 'to be such'
    2. Then all that is, would be such
    3. But that is contrary to
    4. Therefore, 'to be' is not 'to
    be such'.

    Die, Parmenides! Anyway, your thoughts would be appreciated.
    Natural_Inquirer said...
    My dialectic redux is flawed. It represents only a logical distinction between esse and essentia. The difficulty of knowing/experience of esse or essentia per se does not give rise to a real contradiction by the end of my proposed redux. For the redux to have manifested the real distinction between esse and essentia, the conclusion would have to manifest a real contradition. So let us try again.

    1. Suppose in an ens, its 'essentia' was not other than its 'esse'
    2. Because what the being is 'is to be' it could never have not been nor never will not be. This being would 'be' always & eternally, necessary per se.
    3. In the case of those beings not necessary per se, their esse & essentia must be diverse.
    4. For, if they were not diverse, their esse and essentia would be the same, their 'what' would be 'to be'.
    5. Their 'what' being 'to be', they would be necessary per se.
    6. But, this is contrary to the premise and experience.
    7. Therefore, in beings not necessary per se, that is those not existing always and eternally per se, the esse and essentia must be different.

    I think that this is closer to the truth. Please comment and let me know how you think. PAX
    Frater Asinus said...
    I think you can make the argument stronger by seeing that there can be only one being that is the same as its essence. (see De Ente et Essentia cap. 4, or my latest post: In pursuit of metaphysics)Other than that, as per our conversation, this seems to be the right way to go about the question.

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