College of Liberal Arts & Social Sciences Theses and Dissertations

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medieval philosophy, thomas aquinas, metaphysics, the real distinction between Esse(Being) and Essence


"Thomas Aquinas, The Real Distinction Between Esse and Essence, and Overcoming the Conceptual Imperialism of Metaphysics" treats the relation between thought and being within medieval metaphysics, especially as it relates to the distinction between essence and existence. The dissertation argues against a prominent strand of distinction between whatness (i.e., essence) and thatness (i.e., existence) constitutes a rupture with the dominant essentialism of metaphysics. I contend such a distinction, which would make existence into an act of being irreducible to the categories of conceptual thought and knowledge, introduces a signifier that, in its primary and proper signification of God, deprives creates of the very perfection it was introduced to signify (i.e., actual existence). It thus fails to identify an ontological perfection in creatures really distinct from the intention and extension of the concepts "substance" or "thing". I then turn to the though of Duns Scotus to show that the mere identification of existence with essence does not entail"conceptual imperialism." Although situated in the period of medieval scholasticism, such a study resonates with more contemporary philosophical critiques of the limitations and presuppositions of metaphysical knowledge and intelligibility.