The Ways to Wisdom
The Ways to Wisdom
Aquinas Day By Day


Aquinas’s topic: considerations of essence: absolute vs. as existing in reality or in the mind

Scripture: “Now even the first covenant had regulations for worship and an earthly sanctuary. For a tabernacle was constructed, the outer one, in which were the lampstand, the table, and the bread offering; this is called the Holy Place. But behind the second veil was the tabernacle called the Holy of Holies, having the golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold.” Hebrews 9: 1-4

Aquinas’s text: De ente et essentia, c. 3, written 1252-6.

Here Br. Thomas follows Avicenna in giving a metaphysical account of how the same Anature” or Aessence” can be found in the mind, where it is studied in logic, and can be found in reality, where it is studied in the various Asciences” of reality.

Now a nature or essence . . . can be considered in two ways.

In one way, it is considered according to its proper meaning, and this is the absolute consideration of it. Considered in this way, nothing is true of it except what applies to it in so far as it is a nature of this sort. Consequently, whatever else might be attributed to it is attributed falsely. For example, to a human as human applies Arational” and Aanimal” and other features that fall under the definition of a human; but Awhite” or Ablack” or things of this sort, which are not part of the meaning of human, do not apply to a human as human. Therefore, if one asks whether this nature so considered can be said to be Aone” or Amany,” neither should be admitted, because both are beyond the understanding of Ahumanity” yet both are able to accrue to it. For if plurality were part of its understanding, it could never be one, but humanity is one in so far as it exists in Socrates. Likewise, if unity were part of its meaning, then there would be one and the same humanity of both Socrates and Plato, but it could not be multiplied in more humans.

In a second way, nature is considered according to the existence that it has in this or that thing. When so considered, something can be predicated of it accidentally, by reason of that in which the nature exists. For example, it is said that Aa human is white” because ASocrates is white,” although this does not apply to human as human. Now nature considered in this way has two kinds of existence (esse), one kind in singulars and another kind in the soul, and for both certain accidents follow on the aforesaid nature. In singulars, the nature has manifold existence based on the diversity of singulars, but the existence of none of them is owing to the nature itself in its first or absolute consideration. For it is false to say that the human essence as such has existence in this singular, because if existence in this singular applied to the human as human, then it would never exist outside this singular. Likewise, if it applied to the human as human not to exist in this singular, it would never exist in him. But it is true to say that the human, but not as human, happens to exist in this singular or in that singular or in the soul. Therefore, it is clear that human nature absolutely considered abstracts from every sort of existence, though not in a way that it prescinds from any of them. And this nature, considered in this way, is what is predicated of all individuals.


Natura autem vel essentia sic accepta potest dupliciter considerari:


Uno modo, secundum rationem propriam, et haec est absoluta consideratio ipsius. Et hoc modo nihil est verum de ea nisi quod convenit sibi secundum quod huiusmodi. Unde quicquid aliorum attribuatur sibi, falsa est attributio. Verbi gratia, homini in eo quod est homo convenit rationale et animal et alia, quae in diffinitione eius cadunt. Album vero aut nigrum vel quicquid huiusmodi, quod non est de ratione humanitatis, non convenit homini in eo quod homo. Unde si quaeratur utrum ista natura sic considerata possit dici una vel plures, neutrum concedendum est, quia utrumque est extra intellectum humanitatis et utrumque potest sibi accidere. Si enim pluralitas esset de intellectu eius, nunquam posset esse una, cum tamen una sit secundum quod est in Socrate. Similiter si unitas esset de ratione eius, tunc esset una et eadem Socratis et Platonis nec posset in pluribus plurificari.


Alio modo consideratur secundum esse quod habet in hoc vel in illo, et sic de ipsa aliquid praedicatur per accidens ratione eius, in quo est, sicut dicitur quod homo est albus, quia Socrates est albus, quamvis hoc non conveniat homini in eo quod homo. Haec autem natura duplex habet esse, unum in singularibus et aliud in anima, et secundum utrumque consequuntur dictam naturam accidentia. Et in singularibus etiam habet multiplex esse secundum singularium diversitatem et tamen ipsi naturae secundum suam primam considerationem, scilicet absolutam, nullum istorum esse debetur. Falsum enim est dicere quod essentia hominis in quantum huiusmodi habeat esse in hoc singulari, quia si esse in hoc singulari conveniret homini in quantum est homo, nunquam esset extra hoc singulare. Similiter etiam si conveniret homini in quantum est homo non esse in hoc singulari, nunquam esset in eo. Sed verum est dicere quod homo non in quantum est homo habet quod sit in hoc singulari vel in illo aut in anima. Ergo patet quod natura hominis absolute considerata abstrahit a quolibet esse, ita tamen quod non fiat praecisio alicuius eorum. Et haec natura sic considerata est quae praedicatur de individuis omnibus.

[Introductions and translations © R.E. Houser]

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