Etymologically, the word existence is formed by the latin terms ex and sistentia – from the verb sistere from which the language conserved the defective form sit. Sistere means to be, to remain, to maintain. Therefore, exsistentia means that of which maintains, remains, what is “out” of something else. Thus the concept of existence is that of which constitute the being (formally) outside of the nothingness. If one combines different prefixes (in, re, per, ex, sub, ad, ab, ob, dis) with the aforegoing root, the following, related words can be formed: insistence, resistance, persistence, existence, subsistence, assistance, distance or absistence (departing “sistence”) and ob-sistence (opposing sistence).
The term is constantly used in philosophy in a latu sensu of what occurs off of its causes, or rather the being in the exercise of itself. Being (or entity) is the aptitude for existence, the aptitude thus to be in the full exercise of its being – off of its causes – “ex sistent”. The possible being is not yet in the full exercise of its being but can only be in its full exercise if it has aptitude to do so, even though it does not actually become. Its possibility is expressed by the aptitude for existing. In the case in question, the possible being does not exist, but only the being-in-act, the being in the exercise of being – only the actual being exists.
One of the most controversial themes in medieval philosophy is the distinction between essence and existence, which has penetrated modern philosophy through the influence of existentialism. Essence – as we have already discussed – whilst quiddity is what is congruous with the definition and existence as such can be denied since can be comprehended simply as an eidetic-noetic scheme; whilst nature, essence is existent within the individual; whilst form, it is the logos of intrinsic proportionality that repeats within the being by the intrinsic proportion of its composing elements [thus, existentialization is of the parts intrinsically proportionate according to the normal of a logos]; whilst substance, it constitutes the consistency of things and then essence is existent.
Since no existent being is a “no thing” but it is always a something – and as something, it has an essence – somehow the essence is existent and identify itself with its existence. Therefore, the controversy between essentialists and existentialists on the priority of one or another has no raison d’être, i.e., it is a result of improperly putting the issue. To conceive a non-existent essence can only occur as follow: whilst quiddity, essence is non-existent, it does not occurs outside its causes in the full exercise of itself, as the existence of “horsity” whilst entity in the full exercise of its being. However, if one properly considers the platonic concept, horsity a form (eidolon). If one wants to give it a material existence, one would be violating its nature, which is formal. In such case – the platonic would say – the existence that could be given to the form is formal, not material. Consequently, from the form as such one cannot demand properties that can only be found in matter, such as topicality, temporality, weight, size, etc., since form is form and its way of being is eidetic. To demand a location (a ubi) from form is a nonsense for it is not a chronotopic (time-spatial) entity: its “existing” is eidetic, according to its nature, and it is what it is and as substance it consists in being itself – always form, with no variations in time or space.
Thereby, one can then distinguish: essence – whilst quidity – is not existent as it is; whilst form in re (nature) in the existing being, is distinct from form as formal nature; and whilst substance of the chronotopical being, it i distinct from the substance of the formal being. Thus, if one affirms the chronotopical as the only way of existing, such ought to be apodictically demonstrated. However, that would be impossible to do so. It is inconsistent to deny other ways of existing – other than the chronotopical one – when our own ideas does not happen topically [although the act of thought happens chronologically] and the schemes we reach – such as the triangle or the number three – have no chronotopicality. To affirm that there are only chronotopical beings is to make the same mistakes as the ones already examined of the materialists.
The controversy is thus simplified once we clarify the concepts of essence and existence. As for the distinction between them, we have addressed in our “Ontology and Cosmology”. Let us not deal with that herein, for such controversy is not properly fomenter of dangerous errors but in fact of new and beneficial speculations of philosophical knowledge.
There is however an error that is important pointing out, which is the affirmation that in the contingent being essence and existence are identical. If essence and existence were identical, essence would be absolutely the same as existence and, as such, the being would be necessary – and not contingent, which would be nonsense. The contingent being would have unlimited existence and being, i.e., it would be no longer contingent.
Others claim that appropriately distinct concepts must correspond to really distinct realities. Such is what happen with the concepts of essence and existence. Those who reject such thesis affirm that there is not exclusion between those concepts. On the contrary, one implies the other: by itself essence refers to existence and existence to essence.
Yet others argue that essence only limits existence if it exists, therefore there is no real distinction between essence and existence. But the defenders of real distinction affirm that essence has its own reality that consists in its ordination to existence.
Regardless, it is undeniable that there is a distinction of reason between the concepts of essence and existence. However, it is impossible to conceive an existence without an essence. Nor an essence that is nature, form in re, and a substance that is not existent.
Essence whilst possibility within the being is not yet existent in a natural way nor formal in re or substantial. As those, it would undoubtedly be existent and existing implies the existentialization of essence. However, the existence of the essence – eidetically considered – in the order of being can only be considered formally, however dependent and specifically limited – not by real-real limitations. It would therefore be unlimited specifically whilst it is what it is but limitedly whilst specifically other. Thus, the identification between essence and existence would not be absolutely simple, but that of which occurs between the essence of a specifically limited being in a specifically limited existence, which would resolve all difficulties by showing the validity of all positions: the thomists that affirm the real distinction of essence and existence,the scotists that admit only a formal distinction and the suarezists that affirm simply a distinction of reason. As for the positions of the existentialists, they are included in one of the previous, although not offering clarity of attitude and doctrine such as presented by those.
To say thus that essence and existence always simply identify in any way presented is an error. Such case would be absurd for the contingent being would be absolutely necessary forevermore. Apples – possible in a determined historical moment in our planet – would have chronotopicaly always existed; that would be nonsense.
That said, one can clearly understand that by considering the subject matter of essence and existence in such way precipitates inevitably the thought into the abyss of absurd. That can be avoided however by the concrete exposition that allows a clear distinction between essence and existence.