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Essence and Existence, Transcendentalism and Phenomenalism: Aristotle's Answers to the
Questions of Ontology
Author(s): D. Wyatt Aiken
Reviewed work(s):
Source: The Review of Metaphysics, Vol. 45, No. 1 (Sep., 1991), pp. 29-55
Published by: Philosophy Education Society Inc.
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http://www.jstor.org

ESSENCE AND EXISTENCE, TRANSCENDENTALISMAND
PHENOMENALISM:ARISTOTLE'S ANSWERS TO THE
QUESTIONS OF ONTOLOGY
D. WYATT AIKEN

JL HE FIRSTEXHAUSTIVELYscientific,
speculative inquiry into the
notion and nature of essence in the Western philosophical tradition
is found inAristotle's Metaphysics.
In contrast to the earlier Greek
and Plato,

philosophers

change Aristotle
of material

after

the problem

considering

reached the conclusion
is an

or ousia,

phenomena,

immanent

and

quality that forms the identity of each particular
Aristotle's

which

however,
ousia
realism,

concept,

phenomenal

constitutes

is not

of being

that the essential

inseparable

Aristotle,

Following

the theme of this present
of essence

nature

and

that Aristotle

whose

sophical
transcendental.

This

deviated

theoretical

extraneous

addresses

of Sein

presence

the
Seienden,
of process.
world

Heidegger's.1
for

the

This

tradition,
and, more
the essence
of the tran
metaphysic.

der
(3) of the Seinsart
in the
manifests
itself

and
Sein

of course,

terminology,

is strictly

of this

present

acuity

and linguistic

Heidegger,

Was

study,

not

only

because

rigor that

istMetaphysik?

useful

of the

ex

it lends to the

(Frankfurt:

Klostermann

1977).

Review of Metaphysics
Metaphysics

particular

of

problematic

(1) of Sein as such, (2) of the

or Da-sein,
in which

in a philo

But it is a type of language that is especially

visual

1
Cf. Martin
Verlag,

in-the-world,
various
ways

purposes

ceptional

the questions

to

predominantly

the

identity
seeks to contrast
and compare
particularly,
scendental
the ousia of Aristotle's
against
philosophers

Ontology

it

the orientation

was
on

of

inquiry into the

from

propensity

focuses
then,
transcendental

article,

form
some

implied, "it"

imputed to that study, evolving

in the Western

essential

the speculative

phenomenality

initially

milieu

article,

for reasons

and

though,

In

phenomenon.

For though its presence may certainly be speculatively
is not.

identity

the original
or
some-thing

"it"-self

and

45 (September 1991): 29-55. Copyright ?

1991 by the Review of

D. WYATT AIKEN

30
recondite

frequently

that

language
peculiar

discourse

actually

of ontology,
very

corresponds

metaphysical

but
closely

also

it is a

because

own

to Aristotle's

terminology.2

I

The Language
of the Onto-metaphysical
at the outset
to
of any
establish
pensable
then
very

a consistent

to sustain,
precise,

albeit

linguistic
language

poetic

the thing-that-is-there

Nichts),
is-there

and

is (das Was-sein),

Discourse.

concerning
fact

that

and

treatise,

philosophical
environment.

Heidegger's
nothingness

{das Seiende), what
the

It is indis

(das

the thing-that

the-thing-that-is-there

is present in the world (dasDa-sein), is ideally suited to that purpose.
In a poetically trenchant, but otherwise quite workable depiction
of the relationship between nonbeing (potential being) and being
(actual being) in his Was istMetaphysik? Heidegger emphasizes the
idea
only

are perceived
to be there?that
is, as Da-seiende?
objects
that they throw against
because
of the shadow
the emptiness

that

ofNichts.
It is only in contrast to no-thing (Nichts) that some-thing
comes to light as [being] phenomenally present.3 The type of lan
stresses
the idea that objects
that Heidegger
guage
employs
clearly
as some-things,
are defined
in the process
of
and not as no-things,
no
it is only against
of
the back-drop
Thus,
recognition.
epistemic
to
is
that
be
some-thing
perceived
some-thing.
thing-ness
in their
and Aristotle
differ
Of course, Heidegger
this
is
the ontological
and
difference
discourse,
certainly
to make
strives
the clearest
for while Heidegger
possible

distinction
upon

the

between
strictly

Sein and Nichtsein,

theoretical

the allusion

generally
be seen, when Aristotle

remains
speaks

concept

Aristotle

of Sein

as such,

to

approach
significant,
theoretical

rarely touches
or

and nonexplicit.
peripheral
or
of ousia
ti, he is referring

if he does,
As

shall

uniquely

to the particular and individual identity of each phenomenal entity.
less restrictive philosophical use of the term
Although Heidegger's
should perhaps be considered typical, the strict rigor surrounding
Aristotle's

2
The

definition

of ousia

as

the

integral

identity

text for this article
is Jaeger's
edition
primary
Press, 1957).
(London: Oxford University
Metaphysics
18-19.
Was ist Metaphysik?,
Heidegger,

of each

par

of Aristotle's

ESSENCE AND EXISTENCE
ticular

thing,
of presence

is to say as some
a Heideggerian

he

Rather,

nificant reference to that which constitutes

particular
reference

or

is, to Da-sein,
a specific
is making

that

in-the-world,

is there.

to the
quite nicely
is because
Ar
when

correspond
normally
of Was-sein.
This

concept
linguistic
ousia as ti, which
defines
he is not simply making

istotle

that

would

phenomenon

German

31

existing
to the fact

to the

some-thing
more
sig

and much

the identity of that which

or to the
is there,
is there,
that
is, to what
to be some-thing.
In Aristotle's
metaphysical

is perceived
framework,
then, on

thing

that

+ Da-sein?is
that quality
that defines
Was-sein
identity?
as
and very definite
and only after
first
things,
particular
as things
of
qua (some)
knowledge.
objects

tological
objects
wards

II

versus

Transcendentalism

The Problematic.

Phenomenalism:

In

that because
the Metaphysics,
Aristotle
is the ep
argues
knowledge
a
istemic
of
then
the
recognition
Was-sein,
particular
particular
to apperception
Was-sein
must
be present
before
knowl
necessarily
is possible.
edge
wise man
to seek
as

Therefore,
any

it is impossible
for
ingly for transcendental

posing

possible

answer

imagine
one were

to argue

ti) that
to this question,

for

the

realm
convinc

the

the source

answer,

then,

wings
as a form

answer,

namely,
in-the-world

purple,
referent.

enough
sight
of locomotion
for birds

and other

an actually-existing,
is a common
elephant

are

One pos
present?
to
be: It is possible
of course,
that
(supposing,

of knowledge).
This
type
little weight
carries
when
examined
against
because
each of the
comprehensive
thesis,

imagination

impressively
elements
of

(this is the import of

apperceptually
of course, would

with

elephant

however,

component
has
wings,

of specific-things

are not

a purple
to admit

of sophistry,
Aristotle's

wings
This

knowledge
the speculative

to have knowledge

the Aristotelian

color,

it is as useless
concludes,
outside
of the phenomenal

philosopher
Now
the substantiality
of this
knowledge.
is really
be
and
demonstrated
might
quite evident,
easily
by
a rather
almost
rhetorical
Is it
simple,
flippant
question:

thesis

sible

he

does

not

demonstrate

to the

zoo

in any way

and

elephant,
Purple
visitor,
flying
that

is a
and

things.
a truly

D. WYATT AIKEN

32
unknown
has

been

in the

quantity,
introduced

into

Transcendental
tant

sense
the

thought,

in Western

place
to establish
it seeks

of a non-existent

of the phenomenally
to occupy
continues

sphere
which

is problematic
philosophy,
as one of its fundamental

ciples the idea that it is possible
"entities"

or no-thing

an
sense

in the

impor
that

philosophical

prin

for certain types of transcendental
as

to exist

("a-things")

entity,
known.4

essences

being defined by the structure of existence

without

(
Was-seiende)

This position

(Da-sein).

to be maintained

the fact that Aristotle
very ef
despite
and
disarmed
the
very convincingly
argument
by showing
fectively
that even
theoretical
of tran
if, on a strictly
level, the existence
in
it
be
scendental
should
fact
would
nonetheless
admitted,
a-things
continues

ever
to acquire
certain
knowledge
impossible
or
of
the
what-nature
these
transcendental
identity

be

a thing (such as a transcendental
particular

in a world

of Aristotle's

transcendental
edge

is no-thing;

thing,

of knowledge
crux

things

no-things
is

no-thing.
In the Metaphysics,
that phenomenality
lows ousia

and

that

Was-sein)
(

the

no-things

identity (essence/
some
of being
become
objects

quality
cannot

is phenomenally

determined.

The
or

essences

transcendental

against

For

"things."5

essence) without
without

argument

of some-thing,

existing

a thing

is to say

which

ousia),

the

concerning

is twofold: (1) All knowledge

is the knowl

nature
and (2) the necessary
ousia;
namely,
as
not
that
exist
and
they
some-thing,6
Aristotle's

first
is the

(Da-sein)
to be defined

sine

elaboration
qua non

in terms

of
as

of the argument
structure

of the epistemic

that

al

process

4
to posit the
to this type of argument was obviously
Kant's
response
a priori knowledge
and a posteriori
of two types of knowledge:
existence
or the knowledge
of transcendental
"a
A priori knowledge,
knowledge.
to
Aristotle's
spec
Raum,
roughly
corresponds
Zeit),
things" (for example,
that unlike a priori
But it must be remembered
ulative
concept of ousia.
or
some
some
not
what.
So
Aristotle's
is
ousia
??-self
response
thing
Wesen,
or knowledge
of things tran
to the Kantian
notion of a priori knowledge,
ar
that he gave regarding
Plato's
scendent, would be the same response
even
the
should
Ideas:
if
Ideas
for
the
of
transcendental
existence
gument
it
be said to exist, since they do not enter into the sphere of apperception
or not they truly
not only really to know whether
is ultimately
impossible
Cf.
exist, but also to discover what they are like even if they should exist.
990b9-10.
Metaphysics
5
990b9-10.
Metaphysics
6
Ibid., 991al4.

ESSENCE AND EXISTENCE

33

of Plato's
from his exposition
and criticism
doctrine
of
In the analysis
of the various
must
it
however,
arguments,

emerges
Ideas.

be kept inmind

that Aristotle's

is apperceptible
an
of some
it is
embodiment
a preface
Aristotle

As
Ideas,

well

quite

to his

versed

continues

working hypothesis
in the

that Da-sein

particular

criticism

process

epistemic
Was-sein

of Plato's

doctrine

in his

that Plato,
explains
in certain
doctrines

to be

because

only

of transcendental

earlier

years,

of Cratylus

had

been

and Heraclitus.

Those doctrines are as follows: All sensible things are incessantly
in flow, and knowledge of things in flow is impossible.7 While this
statement

seem

may

more

to be nothing

an

than

innocuous

intro

intent is anything but inno
duction to Plato's thought, Aristotle's
cent. For by presenting Plato's philosophical affinities as it were,
Aristotle

what

exposes

to be the faille

considers

he will

which

continue

away

pounding

Aristotle

of Plato's philosophical
if not

with,
tenet

an actual

is that,

material
vances

because

phenomena
second
and

The

against

suggests

astutely

Plato's

that

tran

against

the

foun

Plato himself never
of sensible things in

of that speculative edifice. Although
actually questions the real physical existence

dations

his writings,

in Plato's

to bear the logical

edifice, and already begins bringing

scendental
ram with

he

an

important

element

is that he is on very familiar terms

thinking

of thought
whose
of, a school
partisan
major
are
more
matter
than
in motion,
nothing
they
cannot
be known.
possibly
clearer
certainly
transcendentalism

that

argument
takes

form

Aristotle

ad

in his

analysis
out a logical
of numbers,
and begins
concept
by pointing
own theory.
In this argument
in Plato's
Aristotle
inconsistency
to
are Ideas
out
Plato's
there
that, according
although
theory,
points
of Plato's

(that is, noetic or transcendental)

for the numbers,8 the intelligible
numbers
scendental

do not

have

hypothesis

This

ousiai.9
that

Plato

contradicts
clearly
to demonstrate,
wishes

the

tran

however,

because it thus becomes impossible for him to deduce convincingly
from his theory of transcending Ideas any type of existence for ideal
or transcendental

or noetic

ousiai.

In addition,

which Plato defines as things, that is, as possessing

987a29-bl.
8''Metaphysics
990a32.
Ibid.,
9
Ibid.

should

the

Ideas,

specific identity

D. WYATT AIKEN

34

or ousia, be posited as the causes of intelligible
then

in spite of Plato's
bers must
necessarily
can

and

transcendental

have

no

therefore

own

the Ideas

ideas

are

presence
(actual
be noetic
(having
only

longer

or

theoretical

has

of this argument

already
the Ideas

that

demonstrated,
using
are ousiai,10 and that
Given
these two premises,

teachings,
of the numbers.11

(ousiatic)

or the unavoidable

participation,
of the en auto

of "something"

identity

trans
cause

of the

(ousia)

(that is, the Ideas) from the cause to the caused (for example,
numbers)

the causal

during

the first contradiction

that Plato disallows.

But then Aristotle

contradiction,
namely,
this is a concept
that

to his theory.
Ideas

the

of them, because
what
(
Was-sein),14

the

Ideas

in fact

Plato

demonstrates

dialectic with

existence

also establishes

cannot

affirms,

conclusion

are not

of the numbers

The

that

Aristotle's

to demonstrate

easily

transcendental

this

the

Ideas must

sential

Aristotle

process.12

in Plato's

the

numbers
that are caused
intelligible
by es
a
be
is
this
essential,
necessarily
although
concept

because

argument,

it

points to what is obviously the logical flaw in Plato's
theory: inherent within the notion of causality is the

of essential

mission

the full significance

that Aristotle
and

the causes

then, Aristotle
transcendental
idea

num
intelligible
as some-thing),

contrary,

existence).

be remembered

Plato's

(noetic) numbers,

ousiai

In order to appreciate
must

to the

assertions

ousiai,13
of those

a second

be essential,
although
and which
is necessary

is thus demonstrated:
then

Plato

cannot

hope

If the
either

or to claim

Ideas,
knowledge
or some
is the knowledge
of some-thing
of a theoretical,
transcendental
no-thing.
of Aristotle's
concepts
significant
metaphysics

knowledge
and not

two most

are (1) that ousia, as the identity or ti quality of all Da-seiende,
the

necessary

structure

of any

possible

phenomenal

presence,

is
and

(2) that it is only conceivable to posit possible knowledge when the
object of knowledge is ousia. Thus in the cadre of Aristotelian
it is both indefensible and absurd to argue that non
metaphysics
ousiatic (that is, transcendental)
objects could possibly have exis
tence.

This

is because

an

object

10
990b28-34.
Metaphysics
987b9-10.
"Ibid.,
12
990b30.
13Ibid., 987b9, 20-22,
Ibid., 990b28-34.
14
Ibid., 991al4.

is recognized

as

some-thing

pre

ESSENCE AND EXISTENCE
cisely because
form

it has been formally defined in the framework
to phenomenal
existence.
identity
a contradictio
thesis
constitutes

and

gives
the transcendental
cadre

of Aristotelian

of the

indefensible
Even

mode

of existence
if only

Aristotle,

though

(Seinsart).
in the role of devil's

in fact prepared to argue hypothetically
sufficient
idea

iatic

the
Likewise,
"things."
to an obvious
contradiction

leads

are

and

not,

thus

nul

apparent
uration

contradiction

of the relationship
transcendental
mode

entities.

For

versy
crux

it must

existence

to defend

between

transcendental
that

becomes

auto

then, the most
is in the config
and
"a-entities,"

is said

to define

such

and

controversy
existence
and
that

be said

or ein Nicht

(ein Nichts

wo-thing

the point
because

con
in philosophy
essence.
For
the

is moot

in the frame

the controversy
ob
phenomenalism,
to some degree
the overcoming
of the transcen
The precise
of contention
in the contro
point

anticipates
hypothesis.
has hinged

upon

of the matter

particular
defended

of tran

or even to argue
is it possible
to argue reasonably,
of "thing"
should
"exist"
that is at the same time

of Aristotelian

being-there

transcendental

argument
to Aristotle,
According
in the transcendental
thesis

been

of course,

viously

of

transcendental

a long-standing
between
relationship

has
the

cerning

theory
with

of "existence"

(ein Daseiende)

daseiende)*!
There

work

how

a type

that

some-thing

dental

the

et non-avenu.

matically

record,

for the possibility

of a "thing"
that
is no-thing,
also enters
contradiction.
This
is because
it is impossible
to acquire
or
of
knowledge
concerning
"things"

reasonably
into an epistemic
or
to have
either

at all,

is

advocate,

existence

the

the

argument
for an ulti

into the simple conflict of having

talist, beyond entering

that

then,
in the

to knowledge
and the
respect
because
has as its sole object
knowledge
ousia,
of phenomenal
So the transcenden
integrity.

of knowledge
is the quality

object
which

that

it is impossible
for him to find an argument
existence,
a transcendental
to justify
or
either
mode
of existence,
ous
that such a mode
of existence
could be populated
with

scendental

the

In effect,
in adjecto

because
the principal
metaphysics,
an appeal
thesis
revolves
around

transcendental

mately

35

precedes
controversy,
by Aristotle.

the notion

revolves

invariably
what
is there,

or chronology;
around whether
the

of sequence

or vice-versa.

the position
of this paper
is that
That
position

istence of an object must precede the possibility

In terms
shall
the

for the
fact

of

of that

be the position
ex
phenomenal

of the object being

D. WYATT AIKEN

36

as a recognition
of phenomenal

in knowledge,
being understood
knowledge
given
the structure
This
Was-sein.
is because
given
that

the fact
perception,
of what
that object
nition
of essence,
be knowledge
known,

an

possess

identity.
particular
are knowable.

seiende

must

object

an

object

is.

Likewise,

because

it necessarily

follows

be

must

exists

ap

the

recog
precede
can only
knowledge
to be
that
in order

is to say

which
essential,
In Aristotelian

of

it must

that

metaphysics

only Was

to the

the objective
concerning
question
The principal
focus of metaphysics
endeavor.
of the metaphysical
or the what-nature
as a speculative
the identity
is to isolate
science
This

us,

brings

of phenomena.
names

many

given

then,

or essence

of what-ness

In fact, the notion
in the historical

unfolding

ousia

(Aristotle), quiddity (Thomas Aquinas),
Wasgehalt (Kant), and das Was-sein (Heidegger).
one

each

of

the

has

of speculative

various

been

thought:

das Wesen
Despite

or das
the di
for

versity

in nomenclature,

essence

is in fact a useful linguistic vehicle that points its signifying

to a single,
that
in-fact
type of quality
defines
the boundaries
and which
phenomenon,

the specific
permeates
of that phenomenon's

finger

presence

in-the-world.

is to be believed, at the heart of metaphysical

If Aristotle
course
undrum.

designations

lies

a primal
an, as it were,
antinomy,
conundrum
It was
this speculative

voked, and which

to justify by its relevance,

still continues
into

the

inquiry
philosophical
upon the ambiguity
surrounding
us that
teaches
Observation

onto-epistemic
that originally

nature
the

of being,

because

dis
con
pro

the

it focuses

process.
are
phenomena
constantly
changing
nature
is known
in or
of that which
epistemic

and yet the exact
"things,"
so obviously
are themselves
and profoundly
which
about phenomena,
to determine.
is difficult
Even
in a state of constant
transformation,

to
which
corresponds
linguistically
example,
a static
is an equivocal
considered
what
is loosely
state,
ontological
an
or
at
least
the very
inadequate
descrip
misnomer,
ontologically
the

term

"thing,"

for

tion; for far from being ontologically
are

incessantly

in-change,

and

are

static, the objects of knowledge
therefore

no-things.15

Given

the

15
the more
and so much
is critical,
of this argument
The language
into arguments
themselves
errors have a tendency
to introduce
because
this point
A. J. Ayer makes precisely
of language.
simply out of looseness
while his
of certain ontological
in his consideration
However,
arguments.


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