Posted: February 23, 2013 by Dillon in Apologetics
Tags: , , , , , ,

I started planning this entry and realized it would turn into 10 pages.  So I’m going to split it up into a couple of entries and post them throughout the coming week.

What is an “essence” and why write about it?  In a world with every possible viewpoint, sometimes it’s useful to get past all the jargon and go right to the heart of an issue; understanding essences is how you can get past the jargon. “Essence” is one of those terms that gets thrown around in conversation without a proper understanding.

es·sence (sns)n. (

1. The intrinsic or indispensable properties that serve to characterize or identify something.

2. The most important ingredient; the crucial element.

3. The inherent, unchanging nature of a thing or class of things 

“Essence” as we understand it was first proposed by Aristotle in his philosophical writings.  Without getting bogged down in a 100 pages of philosophy, Aristotle argued that: an essence is inherent to an individual, different species have different essences, and removing an essence destroys whatever the essence was related to.¹  Aristotle continues saying that essences of one kind cannot produces essences of a different kind (to put it simply, the essence of a human and a bird cannot combine to create a human-bird, it would still be distinct essences).  This is similar to the idea of creatures producing their own kind, as seen in Genesis.

The really important thing to remember is that essences aren’t material.  You cannot touch an essence, you cannot see an essence, but you can intrinsically understand an essence.  Reread that if it didn’t make sense. Now I’m going to add to it.  Ready?  Essences aren’t limited to just individuals or species; everything has an essence.  Experiences (again, immaterial) have intrinsic essences, making experience A objectively different from experience B.  Likewise, concepts have an essence–this is how we derive definitions for something.

Definitions assign a value to an object, an idea, etc.  Definitions are most certainly not arbitrary because without proper definitions, communication (even thought) is impossible. A chair has a different definition (both denotation and connotation) than a river.  This is because a chair has a different essence than a river. I realize this is a bit abstract, but when you take time to consider it, you’ll realize you already inherently understood this concept.  

So what’s the point of all this?  Essences are the reasons we can think.  A mental state (thoughts, beliefs, experiences, intentions, concepts) is only viable if there’s a foundation to it.  The reason you can understand a phrase like, “my favorite color is green,” is because you understand the essence of every word in that phrase.  For people who have studied a foreign language, it’s the same.  Sometimes a word has no literal translation, but its meaning, its essence, does.  The reason you can understand it is because the essence remains the same no matter what language it is expressed in.  

That’s all for part 1, keep an eye out for part 2!


¹Aristotle’s Metaphysics

  1. […] We now know that essences are fairly important.  But we have to keep going.  In keeping with the idea of this blog, being a site “for the rest of us,” I’m going to do my best to boil down these complicated topics.  Once you understand the concept of an essence, you can then apply it to mental states and intentionality. […]

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