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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
On Essences
By Aristotle (384–322 B.C.)
 
From ‘The Metaphysics,’ Book xi., Chapter 1

THE SUBJECT of theory (or speculative science) is essence. In it are investigated the principles and causes of essences. The truth is, if the All be regarded as a whole, essence is its first (or highest) part. Also, if we consider the natural order of the categories, essence stands at the head of the list; then comes quality; then quantity. It is true that the other categories, such as qualities and movements, are not in any absolute sense at all, and the same is true of [negatives, such as] not-white or not-straight. Nevertheless, we use such expressions as “Not-white is.”  1
  Moreover, no one of the other categories is separable [or independent]. This is attested by the procedure of the older philosophers; for it was the principles, elements, and causes of essence that were the objects of their investigations. The thinkers of the present day, to be sure, are rather inclined to consider universals as essence. For genera are universals, and these they hold to be principles and essences, mainly because their mode of investigation is a logical one. The older philosophers, on the other hand, considered particular things to be essences; e.g., fire and earth, not body in general.  2
  There are three essences. Two of these are sensible, one being eternal and the other transient. The latter is obvious to all, in the form of plants and animals; with regard to the former, there is room for discussion, as to whether its elements are one or many. The third, differing from the other two, is immutable and is maintained by certain persons to be separable. Some make two divisions of it, whereas others class together, as of one nature, ideas and mathematical entities; and others again admit only the latter. The first two essences belong to physical science, for they are subject to change; the last belongs to another science, if there is no principle common to all.  3
 
 
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