ESSENCE AND EXISTENCE: A COMPARATIVE STUDY OF THE VIEWS OF THOMAS AQUINAS AND JEAN-PAUL SARTRE IN DEFENCE OF THE HUMAN NATURE

Author: Agbali Bonaventure
Department: Philosophy
Affiliation: Nnamdi Azikiwe University Awka

What a thing is (form/essence) and that it exist (matter/existence) are the two aspects of all beings. This was expressed in the views of Plato who posits that the real world, the ‘World of Forms’ is the transcendental world while the material world is a mere copy or image of the real world. Plato places emphasis on the form, the essence of things. On the other hand, Aristotle posits that everything that is, belongs to a particular category and there are ten categories. Of the ten categories, only substance is unique and independent, all the other nine are ‘accidents’ because they depend on substance for their existence. These views could be said to have attained their climax during the medieval period in the teachings of philosophers like Thomas Aquinas. However, from the Renaissance, the above views were challenged by those who hold strong adherence to the empiricists and materialists tendencies. For these philosophers, all there is to man are those things we can see of him. With the advancement of science and technology in the modern and contemporary periods, this position was further strengthened. In the views of existentialist philosophers like Jean-Paul Sartre, the existence of man is all that is of him. The notion where man is seen as a purely spiritual or purely material being gives us a defective perception of the being of man, his nature, person and identity and this has both moral and social implications. For, if a man does not know his true nature, he will not know how to act. Using the philosophical method of critical analysis, this research work aims to reawaken the comprehensive perception of man which looks beyond his physical existence to the core of his being. With the aid of the view of Thomas Aquinas and Jean-Paul Sartre, we intend to argue that the human person is a composite of essence and existence, body and soul and that his essence precedes his existence and bear his identity and dignity.

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