DE&E: Chapter 1:2

In yesterday’s passage, Thomas distinguishes between two senses of the word being. In the first sense, a being is something that is, as described by Aristotle’s ten categories. The second sense, the word “being” is used for things that appear in the place of a term in a proposition, whether they are real things or not. Darkness, for example, is a being in this second sense, but, as it is simply the absence of light (the privation of light), it is not a being in the first sense.

Moving on, Thomas starts to explain the word essence:

The term essence is not taken from being in the second sense, for in this sense some things are called beings that have no essence, as is clear with privations. Rather, the term essence is taken from being in the first sense. Thus in Metaphysicae V, com. 14, the Commentator explains the cited text from Aristotle by saying that being, in the first sense, is what signifies the essence of a thing.

Gilson says that when a being is defined, its essence is that part of it that corresponds to the definition. Now, Aristotle meant the ten categories to cover all conceivable kinds of beings, rather as a biological taxonomy is meant to cover all living things. I gather that some think that the ten categories aren’t complete; given that I’ve hardly looked at them, I have no opinion.

And since, as said above, being in this sense is divided into the ten categories, essence signifies something common to all natures through which the various beings are placed in the various genera and species, as humanity is the essence of man, and so on.

OK, so beings have natures, and it is by their natures that beings are placed in the various genera and species. It is not yet clear to me whether the ten categories are the same as the genera, or whether the categories are divided into genera. I’ve also been wondering whether genera nest: whether the kingdom, phylum, class, family, and genus of taxonomy are all genera in Thomas’ sense.

But anyway, humanity is the nature of man; all human beings share this human nature, this humanity. And so this is our essence: something common to all of us. As rational animals, we also have an animal nature; and so our animality is something common to us and all other animals of whatever species. So we have the essence of animality and the essence of humanity.

I believe Thomas has more to say about genera and species further on, so I’ll hold onto those questions for the time being.

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