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The Concept of Essence Essay

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Fundamentalism in everyday life is important, which makes everything that exists equally important. The state of being is crucially determined by the principle of fundamentalism, which in turn leads to the essence of an object (Allaf 2003).

“The attributes, singly or collectively that make an object of a substance what it is and what it possesses and lack of which, it loses its identity is basically what essence is” (Weinberg 1964). So as to help in knowing the complexity in essence, Dilthey (1969) states that, “it is normally contrasted with accident, which is a contingent property that objects, or substances have and lack which does not deprive it its identity”(p, 66).

Aristotle was the proponent of essence whose English translation meant the “what it as to be”. The difficulty the phases presented to translators led to the coinage of the word Essential in Latin to summarize the whole concept of essence (Dilthey 1969). Existentialism and metaphysics comprise some of the contexts within which essence can explored and which formed the interest base of scholars such as Ibn Rushd.

Issues to do with existence characterize existentialism in an effort to define essence. Scholars such as Jean-Paul Sartre reckon “Existence precedes essence” for human beings. According to him, existence and actuality came first and afterwards, essence can be derived (Collinson.et al 2000).

Existentialists argue the soul makes the most important part metaphysics. They continue arguing that human beings only acquire a soul only after their existence. Further, metaphysics holds its only during individuals lifetimes that people develop spirits and souls. Analysis of different scholar’s views on ontology and essence will for the basis of this paper. Ibn Rushd, Ibn Sina, and Aristotle works will feature in the sections ahead.

Ibn Rushd

The development of the concept of essence could not be where it is without the contributions of Ibn Rushd (Allaf 2003). He was the Muslim scholar who produced works that went against most scholars of his kind. His contributions are acknowledged by both friend and foes alike.

Islamic philosophy and theology, Malik law, logic, psychology, politics and most importantly Aristotelian philosophy were some of the areas of interest of Rushd.

His commonly referred to as Averroes in the West and his contribution to the shaping of Islāmic, Christian, and Jewish philosophy is widely acknowledged. Rushd produced works in reaction to Ibn Sina’s concept of essence precedes existence which is an important concept of existentialism.

According to Hyman et al. (2010), Ibn Rush marked the climax of Muslim Aristoteliansim as well as its virtual end. Rush took keen interest in the works of Aristotle a stance which earned him the title “the commentator” for the role he played in commenting and translating the works of Aristotle (Dilthey 1969).

He considered his role as that of a cleanser of Aristotle works of the misinterpretations that had occurred through earlier commentators. He tasked himself to explaining the obscurities that characterize the Aristotle philosophies as well as removing the accretions that had gathered in the centuries that followed especially of the Arab Neo-Platonist like Ibn Sina (Averroes and Aristotle 2009).

According to Hyman et al. (2010), Ibn Rushd’s position is best captured by his critique of Avicennian theory, which at a certain point was analyzing existence of substances within the world. Ibn Sina had fronted the Avicennian concept where he sought to distinguish objects essence and existence by asserting that essence is ontologically prior and at the same time, existence is added to essence.

Averroes and Aristotle (1986) further argue that it is, as far as Ibn Sina followed Aristotle that Ibn Rushd expounded his ideas in the need to answer accusations and objections that went out of scope of Aristoteliansim.

Rushd rejected the Avicennian distinction by holding that individual objects and substances exists primarily (Janin 2006). He added that even though the mind can differentiate between essence and existence, in them, the two are one if looked at from an ontological point of view.

The main difference in their arguments therefore was the belonging of essence. For Ibn Sina, the essences were primary while for Ibn Rushd, the primacy belonged to individual substances (Hyman et al. 2010).

It is important to note that Rushd’s polemic was especially directed and Ibn Sina who according to him (Rushd) had capitulated to theological interests on certain crucial points of Aristotle works. It is also important to note that Rushd’s explicit aim was to follow Aristotle philosophy which he regarded unsurpassable (Averroes and Aristotle 1986).

Any support or criticism that may portray accommodation or rejection of Aristotle way of thinking will largely depend on the analysis that Rushd had on Ina Sina’s distinction works. A thorough understanding of Ibn Sina’s works and that of Aristotle is therefore necessary if meaningful comparison is to take place.

Aristotle’s concept of essence human and the ontology perspective

In an effort to unravel the deeper meaning of the concept of being, Aristotle engages in metaphysics. The description of the criterion for the substantiality and the identification of essence with the substance are what Aristotle used in his writing to discuss essence (Leaman 2009).

The primary message in all of Aristotle’s analysis is the subject of being. Greek philosophy regards the explanation of being as a fundamental question. According to Aristotle, analysis of “being” is determined from two angles: First as that is which and as the item with “thisness”. Secondly as the quantity, quality and/or any category, whose prediction is possible (Fakhry 2001).

According to Aristotle, being is anything that posses “thisness” which in essence is what enables people determine it a thing. For instance, it is possible to determine a single human being as “this” and, it is possible to determine the entire human race as “this” (Miljenovic 2002).

A scholar, Suhrawardi seconds Aristotle on the view of looking at “being” from two angles; as a universal concept that is shared by all existent beings or as a particular being. he adds that being as the universal concept is just a mental concept while being as a particular being depends on the its essence to exists because a particular being can only be equal to its essence which effectively makes it the way it is.

According to Kamal (2010), it is possible to look at being from the point of being a mental concept and on its essence to exist because a particular being is equal to its essence. Greek

According to Aristotle, all categories safe for substance posses existence but only as being predicted. Substance therefore is the only thing that is independent of prediction. All categories that rely on prediction including qualities and quantities are dependent on substance for their existence. Being therefore is substance.

According to Aristotle, definition of “substance” in categories is necessary for effective comprehension of essence. “Substance in categories is the primary category on which other categories relied on for their prediction” (Aristotle and Tancred 1998). Substances have qualities and qualities in turn belong to substances (Aristotle and Tancred 1998).

For instance if one can say that President Obama is oratory it means Obama is the substance that happens to posses the oratory quality. Substance in this case is superior because its devoid of any dependence on quality while the vice versa applies in the case of quality. Quality therefore relies on substance but substance does not rely on quality.

Referring to the example, Obama does not need to have the oratory skill but the being o the oratory skills have to belong to Obama (the entity or substance). Aristotle continued the investigation about what substance is by applying subject, essence, and genius as criteria of substantiality (Miljenovic 2002). In Greek terms Aristotle describes essence as “what it was to be that thing”.

Essence for each thing therefore is what people take it to be, completely. Therefore only things with an account of definition posses essence. spirit owes its predominance to substances while it applies secondarily to other substances.

Perhaps in a simple way, essence is normally the describable in a thing. Borrowing from biological classification of living things to genuses and species, he describes essence as absolutely the genus of species (Naseem 2001). According to Janin (2006), “anything intelligible about a thing is what its essence is, since it is the essence that is described in the definition of that particular thing” (Janin 2006).

The absolute features of a thing are its essence, those that can be described. Therefore, the essence of a thing according to Aristotle is its substance. According to Miljenovic (2002), Aristotle therefore means that if essence is substance, then what is ontologically fundamental is also prior conceptually.

Ontological priority means that the being of everything depends on the essence while conceptual priority means that everything has to be understood in terms of essence (Peters 2003). However, the definition of essence within the biological context of species raises questions about specificity of things having essence.

Ontology and Essence

The rise of ontology was largely seen a challenge to Aristotle’s views on the essence. Numerous scholars many of them Muslims came forward to challenge the view by Aristotle that being precedes existence. The distinction between existence and essence was always a focal point for philosophers (Kamal 2010). The scholars were turning from the metaphysical position of essentialism to existentialism.

It also marked the movement from the doctrine of he principality of essence to the doctrine of the principality of being (Naseem 2001). The scholars most of the time unanimously agreed that “being was not apprehended rationally adding that the Aristotelian logic failed to in its attempt to reveal its truth, whereas essence was conceived rationally” (Kamal 2010).

Rather than an external reality with its independent ontological status, essence is as a mental phenomenon defined by thinking. Three ontological dimensions that help explain the principality of being and/or the principality of essence.

Being which is prior to essence, posterior to it and being that coexists simultaneously. Aristotle had adopted the thinking that being can stand on its own without depending on essence (Maclntyre 2009). From an ontological point of view, al-Kindah argues that there is no pure form of being. There is simply a being without essence (Kamal 2010).

Aristotle somehow supports this view through his description of being in metaphysic. According to Aristotle, the first unmoved mover is immune from change and matter chance it gives a pure form or actuality (Fakhry 2001). This view, is always presented by scholars especially Muslim philosophers opposing Ibn Rushd’ criticism of Ibn Sina.

They say the description fits that of God hence giving impetus to Ibn Sina’s argument that God is the Ultimate being. The distinction between existence and essence can also be portrayed through al-Farabi’s discourse in light of Aristotle and Neoplatonic theology. The pseudo theology of Aristotle helped influence al Farabi’s thinking (Maclntyre 2009).

According to him the “One” is the source of existence and it is the one from which the first intellect emanates. In the Aristotelian thinking, it is referred to as First Cause or pure being.

This “One” does not exhibit multiplicity because of the properties of the “One” and it presupposes the preexisting elements or its parts. Failure of multiplicity however does not lead to a deficiency in the existence of the being. The simplistic idea behind the “One” diminishes the dichotomy factor of existence and essence in this being (Kamal 2010).

The simplicity displayed by this being means that it is either identical to its essence or its pure and without essence. Al-Farabi at this point is in harmony with Aristotle that because he also presents the “One as” having no difference and as a quantitative character as well.

In this ontology presented by Al-Farabi the distinction between existence and essence appears as part of descending substance or as an emanated contingent of beings (Nasr 1993). Distinction between the “One” as the necessary being and the contingent arises from the above description. Essence therefore is the contingent being that requires existence.

Ibn Sina’s philosophy whose reliance on the ontology described in this section forms the basis of the Ibn Rushd; the spheres that he identifies are a clear indication of the dichotomous relationship between existence and essence.

Ontology does present views on the existence of accidental beings onto which essence is added. These beings existence and essences are not their own hence they cannot be the cause of their own beings (Kamal 2010).

Ibn Sina is the most forceful of all these scholars of the being and essence in philosophy. According to Sina, God is the purity being without essence and his existence can be described as simple and indivisible (Booth 1983). Contingent beings on the other hand are composite and their existence is added to them. Actuality of these incidental beings is incidental and it is something that has to happen o them.

Ibn Sina

He is one of the Islāmic philosophy forces who established themselves in the eastern portion of the Islāmic territory. His works were done in the Eleventh century when Christians popularly referred to as the Avicenna. Subtlety and sophistication characterized his work (Khan 2006). Though he based his analyses on Neo-Platonism emanations, Sina did devote some of his time for the Aristotelian works and the works of al-Farabi.

Often, Sina tried to combine elements of both sources in and came up with a comprehensive account of reality that was critically acclaimed (Taylor and Adamson 1999). Ibn Rushd was one of the most consistent and notable commentators of the work of Sina and most of his criticism were regarded as a defense of the Aristotelian works.

The subject of the existence of being and essence by Aristotle elicited different reviews from different waiters including Sina. He believed that all human awareness began with the realization and the knowledge of the self. The self according to Sina could be acquired wholly without the help of the senses (Booth 1983). The human mind is the only available agent intellect and the only one that can do the above.

According to him, the realization of the essential quality of human thinking depended on some prior existing cause. Human beings realization of own reality as thinking things ensured a natural awareness of the existence of something else (Taylor and Adamson 1999). On top of the contingent beings is a supreme being that existed before everything else, according to Sina.

Derivation of everything else must be from the God who is the centre of reality (Grant 2007). God therefore encompasses everything and acts as the link to the core and which is necessary for any anything to survive. According to Sina, “the cosmos is a single and unified whole where everything that happens does so because it must symbolize the essence” (Khan 2006). The ultimate origin who too is the ultimate being is God.

Ibn Sina prioritized essence over existence. According to Leaman (2009), Sina expresses existence as an attribute of being. He advances the idea that what really exists is being, the notion, or definition of a thing (Leaman 2009). He continues to say that its eventual instantiation is a question of whether some things move being from potentiality to actuality.

Supporters of the Sina School of though contend that his idea is valid since there are many things that can be thought of meaning they are possible and which do actually come to existence meaning they are not actually existent. The above therefore justifies the reason why it is important to put being first before existence (Leaman 2009).

Inb Rushd on Aristotle

Ibn Rushd began his writings almost a century after Sina. The commentator tag that he acquired was because of the emphasis he placed n translating the work of Aristotle (Urvoy 1991). His explicit disagreement with his Islāmic philosophy predecessors describe in his work Tahafut al-Tahafut that especially spoke against Ghazail.

He argued for prevalence of reason in solving philosophical problems so as people can gain genuine knowledge and truth (Sonneborn 2006). “He differed with Sina by asserting that efficient causation is a genuine feature displayed by all created things but, the first mover was had the privilege of remaining the ultimate source of all the motion there is” (Urvoy 1991).

Aristotle did view human beings holomorphic composites subject to the soul and matter. He captured essence through the immortality brought about by the absorption into the greater whole of universal intellect.

Interpretation of Metaphysics according to Rushd

Rushd holds that the analogical being idea that underlies metaphysics is the most important and is what is effectively used to explain the concept of being. For Rushd, metaphysics, which Aristotle used to explain the being, is concerned with analogical idea of being. He further describes metaphysics as a science that is used to differentiate between inferior classes of being from the main or the real being.

The classification that Rushd carried out on Aristotle’s metaphysics largely agreed with him (Aristotle) but sought to look at things from a different perspective as far as the being and the essence is concerned.

He acknowledges the existence of accidental substances, which he refers to as physical beings (Aristotle and Averroes 1986). He tackles the being of the souls and mind and discusses if the substance that exists outside the soul for instance the sphere of the fixed stars could be materials or immaterial.

Compared to Aristotle’s hierarchy of material beings, Rushd’s classification differs a little. Accidental substances and the material/immaterial classifications do have quite a lot of similarities since their differentiation of the material-immaterial rift is less. In the second classification of soul and mind does include both universals and mathematical beings (Sonneborn 2006).

This therefore creates lack of abridge between physics and metaphysics which in Aristotle’s case exists. All beings therefore, material or not belong to one category, according to Rushd. Though they largely agree on the whole metaphysics theory, here Rushd disagrees with Aristotle.

Aristotle’s interpretation was more materialistic compared to that of Rushd. For Rushd, there is not little difference between physics and metaphysic nor did he see them as opposite sides of the same coin (Aristotle and Averroes 1986).

The difference between the physic and metaphysics according to Rushd was substance. The link brings together physics and metaphysics that Aristotle used to explain the essence.

His ontological views is brought out here and it is clear he believes that substance is what has temporary priority over the other parts of the being (Aristotle and Averroes 1986). He holds that there is an overlap in the subject matters of physics and metaphysics because they seek to explain things in sensible and eternal substances, respectively.

The eternal and numerically eternal perspectives characterize the cosmos, according to Rushd. A clear separation is evident through this classification (Loux 2002).

The celestial realm and the physical universe form the two classes. External cycle of generation and corruption and immortality characterize all things in the physical and celestial worlds respectively. He further says that what occurs on earth and the celestial sphere in terms of emanation is more or less the same.

According to the Aristotelian emanation doctrine therefore, “matter unites substance and that no one can create matter”. Physics seeks to explain the movement of things in the cosmological sphere (Boer 1983). “In the cosmological sphere, things are involved in movement, things move and other things are moved”.

Therefore, only physics according to him can explain the concept of movement in the cosmological sphere according to Rushd. The origin of motion that must be there in the cosmological sphere therefore must be God (Aristotle and Averroes 1986). The difference between physics and metaphysics comes out in this explanation. Physics and metaphysics differ in such a way that they concern the mover and the prime mover respectively.

According to him actuality is prior to potentiality makes little sense but to suggest the opposite gives rise to the idea of a possible spontaneous movement in the universe.

‘The prime mover according to Ibn Rushd moves the cosmos and especially the celestial bodies because it is the object of attraction of desire” (Kenny 2003). Celestial bodies have been conferred upon high power of intellect and desire because they have souls and they are always in a quest to be like God.

Rushd on Ibn Sina

Ibn Rushd argued against the thesis presented by Sina in the ontological context. He especially rejected the thesis because some thinkers like al-Ghazail found it useful. In rejecting the notion that being came first while existence came second, he endorsed Aristotle’s thinking that existence comes first giving importance to essence. They bring the role of religion to the exploration of essence.

The space created by the distinction between essence and existence creates an important role for God’s action (Leaman 2009). Ibn Sina asserted that a prior cause brought things to existence which in can be traced back to the very first cause or the epicenter or as he put it the Necessary Thing.

According to Sina, God is the only thing that does not require pre determination for causal. According to Ibn Sina, metaphysics investigated God and everything that does with God. It also demonstrated that God actually did exist (Hyman et al. 2010). He as a result formulated the proof from necessity and contingency in an attempt to proof the existence of God.

Ibn Rushd’s criticism and rejection of Sina’s argument took place because existence of a thing is assumed part of its essence. This kind of argument he added would advocated gave priority of existence over being, which watered the basic tenet of Aristotle’s thinking. More candidly put, Sina’s arguments meant that existence of a thing was incidental, was essential to it, its character, and role (Leaman 2009).

Ibn Rushd maintained an opposite view to that of Sina by saying that metaphysics represented the existence of the subject matter. He developed an argument than invalidates the proof by Sina that God exists. According to him, the proof presented by Ibn Sina required the existence of beings through themselves and necessary through another. He added that it is possible to proof that such beings do not exist.

In his teachings, Ibn Rushd supports Aristotle’s views on the picture of the universe with its distinction between a sub lunar and trans-lunar world (Hyman et al. 2010).

The sub-lunar world according to Aristotle is subject to generation and possible corruption and substances within this sub lunar world are subject to for elements. First matter, a substantial, and the elemental form comprise the components of the sub-lunar world. Rushd also accepted the Aristotle explanation of the trans-lunary world which he characterized as eternal and contains celestial bodies and immaterial mover.

Rushd did not however adopt Aristotle’s thinking wholly. He did inject his own modification, a subtle show of disagreement of Aristotle’s concept. In the bid to explore essence, Ibn Rushd produced his own doctrine on corporal form.

Aristotle has presented prime matter which was an enigmatic notion and which created a gap between itself and that of the elemental form (Hyman et al. 2010). Aristotle alluded that corporal form was common to all bodies and related to an extent to the body’s property dimensionally.

Sina on his part had defined the corporal form as one that possessed predisposition as result of receiving the three dimensions. He insisted that this form differed dimensionality since form belonged to the category of substance and dimensionality belonged to the category of quality.

On his part, Ibn Rushd agreed with the alternative that Sina had differed rejected. He defined the corporal form as being identical with indeterminate triple dimensionality (Hyman Et al. 2010).

Again in an apparent endorsement of Aristotle’s thinking, Rushd rejected Sina’s interpretation of celestial movers. They however both agreed that celestial movers did have a soul and an intellect. Sina again differs with Rushd where he (Sina) asserts that celestial souls are inhered in the celestial body. Rushd on his part says that the souls and intelligence of celestial bodies were two aspects made from a similar immaterial celestial mover.

Ibn Rushd had his own interpretations on metaphysics that Aristotle largely used to describe his concept of essence.


The concept of the essence is as presented by Ibn Rushd agrees of what Aristotle taught (Fürth and Aristotle 1985). Perhaps a demonstration of how much Rushd believed in the works of Aristotle is the way in which he went against Muslim scholars especially Ibn Sina in rejecting their assertions on the being and how the how the being precedes the essence.

However that is not to say he was in agreement with Aristotle as far as the writings on essence were concerned. He did have his differences and unlike his mentor, he be explicitly acknowledged the existence of the Supreme Being which is God. Aristotle did say the same but he left the field wide open for anyone who can across the writings to fill for himself who the Supreme Being was.


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