indifferent child of the universe (nonbeing) wrote in unjust_phil,
indifferent child of the universe


There is a concept that has plagued philosophy since its inception, a concept I personally find not merely irrelevant, but utterly incomprehensible, incoherent, and, worst of all, altogether incapable of clear definition. That concept is "essence."

What is a thing, "in itself?" What is a thing "intrinsically?" What is there to be known of a thing beyond how that thing "merely appears" to we observers? These questions have been asked time and time again, and I, for one, would like to know just what the philosopher is actually asking.

What does one mean by the "essence" of a thing? I can think of no description of a thing's "essence" that would not, in one form or another, employ attributes, properties, or other observed/designated qualities of that thing-- in other words, aspects of that thing's appearance.

Consider how an inquiry concerning the "essence" of some thing, X, might proceed:

Philosopher 1: What is X, in itself?
Philosopher 2: Well, X has such-and-such physical properties directly accessible by our senses.
P1: I didn't ask how X appears to our senses, I asked what X essentially is.
P2: Well, X also has a great many physical properties I could describe to you that are indirectly accessible-- that is, through mediate observation with scientific instruments-- and these properties can be detailed in a formal manner, often with mathematical precision.
P1: You still haven't answered my question.
P2: Okay... well, X has a number of designated functions-- that is, depending on who you ask, they will describe to you some desired end or goal, and tell you how X can be utilized in actualizing that possibility.
P1: I did not ask you anything about the properties, either directly or indirectly observable, of X, nor did I ask you what possible functions X can fulfill. I am asking you what X is.
P2: There is, I suppose, the collection of all ideas, emotions, memories, or other mental reactions X could possibly elicit in a person who interacts with it. There are the individual conceptions of X, which will most likely differ between different participants in different contextual experiences of X, though they will also, most likely, all be similar enough to assume that the X in question has consistent qualities.
P1: Concepts are just another layer constructed on appearance. I want to know what X essentially is, independent of all observances, interactions and conceptions!
P2: Okay, man, I have no fucking idea how to answer you. Your question, itself, precludes any possible description I could attribute to X, since the only things I can ever say about X are no more or less than those things derived from either the perception of X or the experience of interacting with X. You seem to be asking me something about X that cannot possibly be communicated, insofar as I can only communicate things about X that I, or someone else, has ascertained about X through some experience or contemplation with or about X! For fuck's sake, man, what do you want to know?
P1: It's a simple question, don't be a dick.

This is why I do not understand what is meant by "essence." Put simply, as Philosopher #2 pointed out, there is nothing I can possibly communicate about a thing that doesn't fit into one of the following categories:

1. It is a quality of the thing directly perceivable.
2. It is a quality of the thing indirectly perceivable (perceivable with the aid of instruments).
3. It is a function of the thing.
4. It is a mental construct of the thing-- some particular thought associated with the thing-- constituted of elements of one or more of the previous 3 categories.

So, tell me-- what the hell is a thing, in itself?

Furthermore, if there are things-in-themselves in either the form or noumena sense, is there anything useful, practical, or at all applicaple to phenomenal experience that can be said of these things? Or is essence simply a concept used to affirm that "yes, X does, in fact, exist. Period."

(reposted from philosophy with some modifications based on the dialectic already discussed there)

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