Volume 18/19, 2020/2021

Ousia: Essence ou Substance?

Fabienne Jourdan
Pages 455-486

Οὐσία chez Numénius: une notion qui s’élabore progressivement. Analyse des difficultés relatives à l’οὐσία et à l’ἰδέα dans les fragments 22 F, 24 F et 28 F (fr. 14, 16 et 20 dP)

Οὐσία in Numenius: a notion which is progressively elaborated: Analysis of the difficulties linked to οὐσία and ἰδέα in fragments 22 F, 24 F and 28 F (fr. 14, 16 et 20 dP). In the Περὶ τἀγαθοῦ, Numenius refines his definition of οὐσία step by step. He uses the word at first as a synonym of τὸ ὄν (15 F) and as another designation of being. Then, he associates it to the ἕξις when he refers to the specific οὐσία which possesses science (22 F): in all likelihood, this οὐσία is the intellect as the essence common to God and Man in the possession of science. Finally, Numenius gives οὐσία two aspects or sides which, in our opinion, represent two manners of conceiving the intelligible it constitutes: on the one hand, οὐσία comes from Being itself (the Good) and seems to represent the eidetic predicates or what we could name the “fundamental intelligibility”, a state in which the form is not determined yet, but which gives it the status of a real being ; on the other hand, οὐσία is the product of the second god and intellect and the determined aspect of the previous one, which makes it possible to distinguish the forms one from the other. In this last case, Numenius seems to name οὐσία more specifically ἰδέα, even if both words are elsewhere synonymous and used to refer to the two aspects previously mentioned according to the context in which they are employed. The paper presents the analysis of fragments 22 F, 24 F and 28 F from which we arrive at this interpretation. The distinction between two manners of conceiving οὐσία makes it possible then to discover two levels in the Being at the origin of each of them: Being itself (αὐτοόν which is the Good itself, αὐτοάγαθον) and the ≪second≫ or ≪just≫ Being, constituted by the good demiurge which is probably the “One who is good par excellence”. From there, two ways of conceiving ἰδέα also appear: on the one hand, ἰδέα is synonymous with οὐσία, then it refers to the second aspect of οὐσία, the determined one; on the other hand, it can also refer to the level of Being which is the Good when, in fragment 28 F, it is conceived as a form and probably as the Form par excellence identified with the intellect which this Good is itself.