Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Being and Essence

I am busy this month composing a note on Being and Essence for the new IGNOU course on Philosophy, at the behest of George Panthanmackel, MSFS. I think the CBCI / CRI have managed to persuade IGNOU to offer a philosophy course that would be largely designed by Catholic philosophers, and would be meant to serve Catholic philosophy students - while being open, naturally, to all. This would be a way for our seminarians to have their philosophical studies validated as a civilly recognized degree.

Panthanmackel has been released to supervise the work for 6 months. I believe he is based in Delhi, from where he coordinates especially the writing of notes for the course.

Being and Essence has never been a topic I have been interested in. With a largely Thomist / Lonergan background, one tends to be more interested in esse and existence, rather than essence. I took up the challenge, however, with the intention of seeing how the discourse about being and essence could be led to the recognition of the capital role of esse and existence.

The study has proved to be interesting, however. I discovered that I - and perhaps others - tend to read Plato and especially Aristotle through the lens of Thomas, assuming that Thomas' distinctions are to be found in Aristotle. I am discovering that ousia / being, essence and substance are not at all as clear as they seem to be. It seems that with every book Aristotle has a slightly different meaning of ousia, and substance. And in the middle of it all is his to ti en einai, which Thomas rendered quite literally as quod quid erat esse, and which Lonergan explains as the form or the formal cause, not the essence. What Thomas calls essence is Aristotle's to ti estin, says Lonergan.

But I have to check all this.

I must confess that, thanks really to Panthanmackel, I opened Aristotle's original works for the first time in my life. I am really ashamed about that, but there is always a first time... So.

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