In order to understand what essence is, you must also understand what essence is not. Essence is not all of what a particular thing is in its own right. A thing has many additional features and characteristics that are not the thing’s essence. The essence is a substance stripped of its accidental features, those characteristics that distinguish a particular from another particular. An essence corresponds to a species, not to the particular substances within the species. For example, a brown table is not a brown table essentially. A brown table is a table essentially, because if you took away the quality of brown it would still be a table. You cannot take away the quality of table and still have a table. We look to the species for essence because individual primary substances tend to contain accidents that tell us nothing about what the substances actually are. A pale man would not cease to be human if he were stripped of his paleness, yet the m...
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...r example, a baby does not yet have rationality, but we do not call the baby any less human; we recognize that the baby has the potential for rationality, and will one day actually have rationality. In the same way, people who make poor decisions do not use their rationality in the right way, but they are no less humans. Babies and troublemakers still have the potential of rationality, and failing to use it does not mean that it does not exist at all.
In conclusion, essence is a thing in its own right. Essence exists in and of itself without qualification and does not depend the existence of accidental properties or qualities. Aristotle uses the explanation of essence to aide him in his attempt to come to a conclusion about what substance is. Simply put, essence is what a thing is most fundamentally, stripped away of all characteristics that make it individual.
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