Proceedings of the American Catholic Philosophical Association

Volume 82, 2008


Richard Colledge
Pages 263-274

On Ex(s)istere
Revisiting the “To Be”–“To Exist” Debate

This paper looks to revive and advance dialogue surrounding John Nijenhuis’s case against ‘existence language’ as a rendering of Aquinas’s esse. Nijenhuis presented both a semantic/grammatical case for abandoning this practice as well as a more systematic argument based on his reading of Thomist metaphysics. On one hand, I affirm the important distinction between being and existence and lend qualified support to his interpretation of the quantitiative/qualitative correlation between esse and essentia in Aquinas’s texts. On the other hand, I take issue with Nijenhuis’s relegation of exist(ence) to a second-rate ontological principle, and to this end undertake a brief historical and etymological survey, noting its emergence in Greek thought (ὑπάρχϵιν, ἥπαρξις), its translation into medieval Latin (ex(s)istere, ex(s)istentia) and thus something of the pedigree of this terminology in modern usage. I conclude with some brief remarks on the task of exegeting Aquinas vis-à-vis the revivification of contemporary metaphysical ontology in general.