Existential notes

-Essence : existence :: the order that the parts of an artifact have to each other : the assembled parts.

In this sense, chance can be a cause of the existence of a thing but not its essence. Chance, random change, good or bad luck, tinkering, improvisation etc. can explain that something is but not what it is, where “what it is” includes the notion of intrinsic order of one thing to another.

-Even if the elements formed by chance (say, if we figured out that the forces working in dying stars were random) the periodic table would still be just what it is.

-The monkeys could make the manuscript but not the meaning.

-Existence is what accounts for the difference between the world and thought.

-The manuscript is no more or less probable than any other given string of gibberish. The improbability, strictly speaking, consists in falling into an order given in advance. This is essence. Thus, an essence formed by chance is a contradiction, for it is given in advance.

-We can spot Kant all of his observations about existence as adding nothing to the concept and still conceptualize existence positively and as real by way of negation. For that matter, it might be better to conceptualize the concept by way of negation.

-Anselm conceived the concept by way of negation: it would be better to exist in reality than only in thought.

-Anselm protests to Kant: “but I don’t think that existence is contained in a concept – my whole proof rests on this! If existence were just another conceptual modification, then it wouldn’t be any better to exist in reality!”

-Anselm protest to Kant again “you’re confusing the concept with the essence. The first is a sign for the second, and both are divided from existence, but the concept is not made real by existence whereas essence is. True, concepts have the same content as essences do, but we cannot add existence to the first though we can obviously add it to the second.”

(Pause to hear response)

“Oh, so that’s where the problem is. you don’t allow for essences in themselves apart from concepts.”

-Look at any good thing, say, a book on the shelf. It’s better that it be that then a mere thought, but its not the thought of teh book that exists, even if a thought was a paradigm that was necessary for it to exist.

-Plato had an idea of being as similar to letters that are compatible with each other (Sophist). This is an account of essence.


  1. December 12, 2013 at 1:39 am

    This is related, though it won’t at first seem to be.

    A friend and I were trying to figure out what the Catholics have when we say we have the unique claim to the apostolic deposit of faith as a single body of truth. In explaining myself, I tried to make the point that while the Protestants may have some true doctrines, only Catholics have an ear to their proper relationship.

    What is helpful is this: In better understanding the relationship of doctrines we produce more doctrines. This allows for both:

    1. Development of doctrine, and
    2. Identity of the deposit of faith with itself at a different stage of that development.

    As here defined, essence and existence are precisely useful ideas, and to think we were trying to reinvent them!

    Phrased simply: Catholics have the essence of apostolic teaching. Though identical teachings exist elsewhere, because the absence of some teachings and the admixture of error the essence of other bodies of teaching is fundamentally different.

    Question: Am I using the right words here? Are there better words?

    • December 12, 2013 at 10:23 am

      I think both sides of the debate recognize that even if two persons believe P, this won’t be enough for it to be salvific. We can’t just both believe, say, Jesus is Lord, we have to believe it by faith, that is, on the basis of some authoritative testimony. This immediately raises the question of what testimony is authoritative, and the basic Protestant answer is clear. That said, no document as such gives testimony but only records it, and so we’re led to base our faith on a certain group of persons who, while admitting of a certain equality, nevertheless show clear orders of authority and of communal living. There is recurrent descriptions of their life as a social-political entity: a “kingdom” or “the bretheren” or “community” or most importantly “the bride” and “the body” with bishops and deacons and ministers and the like. Now it’s uncontroversial to claim that the community existed with Christ and that it exists now, and has existed at various points in time. But we divide over the question whether it has existed historically. Historical reality requires continuity: to re-establish something is to deny that it has an integral link to a time immediately before, and so it insists on the severance of historical reality. In the Catholic/Orthodox/ traditional Anglican account, the authoritative community is essentially historical, and so to believe any fact about revelation apart from this historical basis is not faith, or at least not a faith that can save. There are important qualifications to make here since faith comes by baptism and baptism can be recognized as valid by all sorts of ministers, but to deny the historicity of the one giving testimony is not without serious consequences as to what can count as faith.

      But what can we say for the Catholic/Orthodox/ quondam Anglican claim that the faith is in a historical authority? On the one hand, this case has been definitively made in scriptural studies ever since Ritschl and Von Harnack made their mark in the early-middle 19th century. We now just take it for granted that Christianity is a social movement and is therefore essentially historical. It is not a mere idea that might happen to have a collective expression, but the collective expression itself. It is not like “representative republicanism” but like “the United States”. This has been proven over and over again by the higher criticism, even if the consequence is not usually drawn out that this requires that our faith be in a historical witness.

      Let me say it another way: if the United states vanished tomorrow, you could still trust in or have faith in representative democracy, but you couldn’t have faith or trust in the United States. In the same way, if the Church died off sometime between the Apostles and now, you might be able to have faith in Christ’s ideas, but not in his Kingdom, bretheren, assembly, bride, Church, or body. Is it possible to divide the two, even on merely scriptural witness?

      The essence- existence distinction mentioned here does divide the end result and completion (existence) from the necessary structure which pre-exists and which gives conceptual coherence to the totality (essence). It applies here when applied to the belief at least so far as historical existence is an attribute, in different ways, of both the existence and essence. The essence is historical in the sense that it is integral to the idea of Christianity, but it enters into existence as well so far as the concrete actuality of the authority in which one believes is not merely a conceptual idea. Here Kierkegaard is instructive. Here I think the arc of modern theology, while superficially against Catholicism and traditional forms of Christianity and for a liberalizing modernizing trend, is more deeply ordered to re-establishing it, so far as it critiques the notion of a merely abstract Christianity that is nothing but a system that floats above history.

      • December 13, 2013 at 1:04 am

        Thank you for your lengthy reply, which follows my comment astoundingly closely.

        Maybe you mean this by “concrete actuality of the authority in which one believes,” but in saying that Protestants believe doctrines first and figure out their relationship later I mean to refer to a fundamentalist approach to doctrines. That is, I mean literally fundamentalist in the historical sense, as in “these are the fundamentals of the faith, the necessary conclusions” as if how you get there doesn’t matter. This approach is upside-down, as the essence of the faith comes first, and in actualizing doctrine the essence is “nailed down” and kept from floating away.

        (It is this approach and only this approach where Protestantism can find doctrinal unity. Even when they believe the same things they believe them for different reasons or at least draw different relationships.)

        From here, your point about history seems to fit marvelously. As well as it fits, from here, I’m having trouble putting it into words. Lemme try:

        1. Doctrines are actualized from the essence of revealed truth rather than the other way around.
        2. Someone must know the essence of faith before he can actualize its doctrines.
        3. Someone who knows the essence of the faith had it communicated to him by some means.
        4. These means find the origin in the self, in divine intervention, and creature-to-creature. Given evidence in scripture, which is the ordinary means?
        a. Self: Given the emphasis on community in scripture, the isolated self even given scripture is not the ordinary chosen means to truth.
        b. God: Necessary and potentially sufficient, but, looking at what little agreement between the ahistorical communions, God did not will that it be sufficient.
        c. Community, or between creatures. But if a community is to be the same community possessing the same essence of the faith, not only must it have all the doctrines it had before but it must also have continuous historical heritage to ensure that creature-to-creature is kept up in the lifetimes of those creatures. Otherwise, when a creature dies, he cannot communicate through ordinary means the essence of the faith.

        If this flows well, once the essence of the faith must be communicated between creatures in any sense, this necessitates some kind of historical continuity. It requires some communion with the past, the present, and the future — as it was, is now, and ever shall be.

        For the essence of the faith to be the source of “actualized” doctrines, we must have some community who communicates the faith through time continuously and in continuity with itself.

        There’s probably a lot of hand-waving in that.

        I am curious about “Kierkegaard” and “the arc of modern theology” and wonder what you mean. Do you have any ideas for further reading? Please know I have neither training nor special knowledge. I just read a lot of blogs, and have read a little bit of Feser.

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