Philosophical assumptions related to the question “What is a god?” in Hebrew Bible scholarship

The answer to the question ‘What is that?’ is a process of fixing a meaning from a different standpoint. The “essence”, the “essential factor”, is something which is seen as a whole only in perspective, and which presupposes a basis which is multifarious (Nietzsche 1968:556).

See Also: What is a God?( T&T Clark; Reprint edition, 2018).

By Jaco Gericke
Associate Research Professor
Ancient Texts, Faculty of Theology
North-West University
October 2018

In the Hebrew Bible (HB), the word “elohim” (as well as related terms like el and eloah) is not only used in an absolute sense as a proper name that English translations render as “God”. It also appears in the generic sense as a common name to indicate the kind of entity that both the god of Israel and a variety of “…praeternatural beings, [and] also lower deities (in modern usage referred to as 'spirits', 'angels', 'demons', 'semi-gods', and the like)” were assumed to be (see Van der Toorn 1999:353).

To be sure, the HB features multiple extensions[j1]  for the general terms for deity in different literary and historical contexts. Taken as an artificial whole, the concept of generic godhood included the following phenomena, all of which were considered “divine” at one time or another and in one sense or another: God (Gen. 1.1); wind/spirit (Gen. 1.2); divine offspring (Gen. 6.2); Isaac (Gen. 23.6); struggling (Gen. 30.8); teraphim (Gen. 31.30); a man/angel/spirit (Gen. 32.24); the angel of Yhwh (Exod. 3.4); Moses (Exod. 7.1); household gods (Exod. 21.6); community judges (Exod. 21.22); the image of a golden calf (Exod. 32.4); metal statues (Lev..19.4); demons (Deut.32.17); 15) Chemosh (Judg. 11.24); the emotion of fear (1 Sam. 14.15); the dead Samuel (1 Sam. 28.13); ancestors (2 Sam. 14.16); 19) fire (Job 1.16); stars (Job 38.7); cosmic deities (Job 41.25); superhuman beings (Ps. 8.6); 23) mountains (Ps. 36.20); the king (Ps. 45.6); cedar trees (Ps. 80.10); the divine council (Ps. 82.1); ability (Prov. 3.27); the messiah (Isa. 9.6); trees and stones (Jer. 2.27); town patrons (Jer. 2.28); powerful warriors (Ezek. 32.12); a city (Jon. 3.3); the power of people (Hab 1.11); and the Davidic dynasty (Zech. 12.8), etc.

Of course, scholars involved in relevant research differ on many issues of interpretation when it comes to the etymology, grammar, meaning and other semantic features of the data. Even so, the conceptual diversity present has for some time now meant that traditional questions regarding the HB’s perspectives on “God” (as in OT theology) could now be supplemented with an even more fundamental underlying perspective, i.e. about what, according to a given text in the HB, a god was assumed to be. To some extent, though, the question of “whatness” has been asked in biblical theology leading one to expect a concern with what was assumed to make a god divine.  Typical discussions in this context tend to end up addressing what can be said to be unique of Yhwh among the gods (e.g. Miles 1995:85; Knierim 1995:491).

Examples of studies one can expect to encounter in a review of literature that is more attentive to the subject of divinity as type include Ringgren (1974:267-284); Schmidt (1994:331-347); van der Toorn (1999:313-319); Burnett (2001); Smith (2001; 2004, 2010); Wardlaw (2008); Hundley (2011); Mclellan (2013); and Gericke (2017). Other examples of the question “What is a god?” appearing verbatim in contemporary related research in cognate fields are found in ongoing discussions in, among others, classical studies (e.g. Haught 1986; Lloyd and Burkert 1997), philosophy of religion (e.g. Cupitt 1996; Pyysiäinen 2005:n.p.; Hansen 2010:83-116), Egyptology (e.g. Dunand et al 2004) and Assyriology (e.g. Porter 2009).

In an overview of interpretative approaches adopted in related research, Smith (2001:6-9) noted the following trends:

  1. Compiling a list of entities/phenomena classified as gods;
  2. Discussing possible etymological/root meanings of terms for “deity”;
  3. Atomistic comparisons of ANE gods with Yhwh;
  4. Large-scale comparative typologies of divinity.

One assumption common to all four approaches is that was is meant by the question of what a god was assumed to be is relatively straightforward. The available scholarship on the subject contains little by way of critical awareness of and reflection on the essentialist assumptions underlying, and the turbulent philosophical history behind, whatness-interrogatives of the form “What is X-ness?” (or “What is an F?”) (see Fine 1994:1). As to attempted answers to the question, Gowan (1994:ix) described the prior situation in the context of biblical theology succinctly as involving “the traditional Christian method of distilling the Bible's information into a list of ‘attributes,’ a kind of ‘essence of divinity…’”. Consider the following examples, multiplied beyond what is required to give the impression that biblical theologians do not really, as is popularly claimed, seek to avoid the use of philosophical concepts, concerns and categories:

Since these body parts and bodily phenomena are images of qualities, the description of Jahweh’s appearance is, really, a description of his essence, of his spiritual personality as it is accessible to men. (Boman 1960:106)

He learns about the nature of God by reasoning a posteriori from the standards and usages of law and cult…from the events in history….in short, from his daily experience of the rule of God. By this means he comprehends the divine essence much more accurately than he would from a number of abstract concepts. The result is that the formation of such concepts in the Old Testament lags far behind… (Eichrodt 1961:33)

It makes a difference whether one makes from God’s hiddenness a statement of being, such that it belongs to God’s essence, that he is a deus absconditus, or whether one can speak of the possibility of God to hide him from a person. (Westermann 1982:172)

The name betrays something of the essential character of the deity, and declares his characteristics or the place of his appearance. (Schmidt 1983:57)

One of the most basic issues related to the understanding of metaphor is the relation between metaphor and essential definition. On the one hand, there is the danger of positing no real essential relationship between the metaphor and God….the most natural procedure is to take the metaphor as edumbrating an essential character, which is analogous to the metaphoric vehicle, and not contrary to it. (Fretheim 1984:7-8)

When the tribes, then, in the course of further historical developments suddenly experienced Yahweh's power also in the sacral form of wars, that was a new revelation of his essence. (Von Rad 1991:73)

…those rare attempts within the Bible to reflect on God's essential naturespecifically Exod 34:6-7; Gen 18:22-33; Job 1-2; and Jonah 4.4 (Crenshaw 1995:192)

The poet can speak of the god that is to come only in relation to the departed gods and through the intermediary concepts of divinity and the holy:  "Only from the essence of the holy can the essence of divinity be thought.” These sentences can also stand in a book of ancient Near Eastern ontology! (Knierim 1995:192)

Thus YHWH has spoken to the prophets through what happened to them….Having to do with a state of affairs, the event becomes the essence of YHWH’s reality. (Preuss 1996:74)

…regarded the reproductive member as the divine aspect of humans and, therefore, saw the essence of deity in generation ... (Gunkel 1997:149)

God’s qodesh is his essence, that by which he swears. (Ringgren 2003:541)

…the description of God's essential character in Deut 10 vv. 14–15 moves from creation to history. (Miller 2003:301)

The name of God, which like his glory and his face are vehicles of his essential nature, is defined in terms of his compassionate acts of mercy. (Childs 2004:596)

... experienced immediacy to God in temple metaphors:  the heart and the soul are now the place where God dwells, in the midst of a hostile world (explication of the "essence" of Yhwh in spatial categories). (Hossfeld & Zenger 2005:3)

…was wholly incompatible with Yahweh's essential character. (Mowinckel 2006:136)

All the perfections of God’s freedom and therefore of his love, and therefore the one whole divine essence, can and must be recognized by saying that God is constant. (Goldingay 2006:89)

In such a world, there is little reason to decide whether shem was the very essence of God, a local manifestation of God, or a hypostasis that overlapped with God while retaining a distinct nature. (Sommer 2009:62)

The words of verses 6-7 provide a summary from the essential characteristics of YHWH as Lord of the covenant. (Brueggemann 2010:n.p.)

The current, more fundamental, concern with what a god was assumed to be has inherited and incorporated the same philosophical idiom without any serious considerations as to its origins or regarding the possible need for a revision of the second-order concepts employed in the relevant meta-language. The following are but a handful of many possible examples of this trend:

The very point of difference between humans and gods, then, is accidental rather than essential; it was not there from the beginning. (Van der Toorn 1999:360)

….the kings were…representatives of the people before God's judgment; sons of God, sharers in the divine essence. (Thompson 2007:23)

If “oneness” becomes an essential feature of the deity, what might this mean in comparative terms? (Smith 2010:146)

Like a divine statue, yet unlike the ark, the glory seems to be a metonymn that captures some of the divine essence. (Hundley 2011:59)

In the case of holiness, which is the quintessential quality of divinity. (Clines 2015: n.p.)

It hardly matters whether the reference is simply to some sort of “divine essence” or to an essential “nature”, “attribute”, “characteristic”, “quality”, “feature”, “sign”, “point” or other related notion. To be sure, these particular terms have different histories and nuances within philosophy proper. However, to the extent that they are used in conjunction with the concept of essence (however constructed and perceived) in discussions of assumptions about what a god was assumed to be, the meta-language itself lacks ontological and metaphysical specificity. To be precise, the problem here is, in the words of Bird (2009:497) in another context, “what it is to possess a property essentially is a matter of debate.”

That is  putting it mildly. Included here are (very crudely summarized) Socrates (essence as common properties), Plato (essence as archetype), Aristotle (essence as genus), Porphyry (essence as species), Boethius (essence vs. existence), Avicenna (essence as quiddity/whatness), Abelard (essence as semantic feature), Scotus (essence as haecceity/thisness),  Descartes (essence as principle attribute), Locke (essence as sortal), Leibniz (essence as sufficient reason), Kant (essence vs. appearances), Hegel (essence in/as appearances), Nietzsche (only (non) appearances), Wittgenstein (essence as grammar), Husserl (essence as given), Heidegger (essence as being), Sartre (existence before essence),  Popper (essence as definitional fallacy), Quine (essence as accidents), Putnam (essence as stereotype), Kripke (essence as necessary properties), Derrida (“essence” vs. identity/difference), Deleuze (“essence” vs. difference/multiplicity) (see Gericke 2017).

Here we see proto-essentialist, essentialist, non-essentialist, anti-essentialist, neo-essentialist and post-essentialist points of view. Of course, not all philosophers nowadays even concern themselves with notions of essence or anything essential for that matter, despite the residual elements still being part of ordinary language. One reason for this is, as Kelly (1997:53) explains,

The concept of essence has, however, fallen into disuse today not only because of the fulminations of Nietzsche. The notion, common to Greek and mediaeval  philosophy, that things are what they are by virtue of their participation in some essential nature, is foreign to modern science, which abjures such qualitative analysis. For moderns, to know the nature of things is not to know their essence at all.

Even if it could be shown that some text in the HB might itself incidentally presuppose some sort of pre-modern folk-philosophical essentialist ontology, it does not follow that our second-order descriptions should do so as well in order to clarify the concept of generic godhood in the text. Yet the available research on what a god was assumed to be is still dominated by a very specific type of vocabulary traceable to now indelible approaches to the question of whatness in a variety of covert philosophical precursors. One example is when “God”, “divinity”, “deity” and related terms are called “concepts” in the tradition of Kant (instead of “Forms” as in Plato; ideas in the mind of God, as in Augustine; or merely as words, as in Derrida). (see Cupitt 1996 for a related discussion, both with reference to what a god was and the history of the problem of religion as language)

In doing so, the discussion of divinity in the HB has been constructed in the philosophical framework of popular theories of concepts which themselves presuppose a prior concern with the problems of essence and whatness. One is a definitional view of conceptual structure found in research operating within a classical theory of concepts (from Socrates) and which is present in any attempt to answer the question of what a god was assumed to be by seeking to specify whatever the HB might imply as being necessary and sufficient conditions for being a god. Another is a probabilistic view of conceptual structure found in research based on a prototype theory of concepts (from Wittgenstein) that is discernable when the question of what a god was assumed to be is dealt with by discussing what appears to have been typical characteristics of divinity in relation to a prototype (most typical member) for the category, e.g. Yhwh.

Among scholars not familiar with philosophical (as opposed to simply linguistic or psychological) theories of concepts, the two approaches (and others, including neo-classical theories, exemplar theories, theory-theories, atomism, pluralism, eliminativism) might feature more covertly or even become conflated. Often no theory of conceptual structure is fully utilised, yet the jargon employed shows possible connections with one or more ideas traceable to them (see Margolis & Laurence 1999 for a detailed and complete introduction).

In sum then, our philosophical assumptions about whatness and essence, as well as regards concepts themselves, will determine what we construct as the nature and content of the relevant research background, problems, objectives, hypotheses, methods, outlines, limits and scope. Whether overt or covert, these ideas are the reasons why things appear to us the way they do, or why they occur  to us at all.  


Bird, A. (2009). “Essences and Natural Kinds”, in R. Le Poidevin, P. Simons, A. McGonigal & R. P. Cameron (eds.), The Routledge Companion to Metaphysics (London & New York:  Routledge): 497-506.

Boman, T. (1960). Hebrew Thought Compared with Greek. Translated by J.L. Moreau; Philadelphia:  Westminster Press.

Brueggemann, W. (2010). Old Testament Theology: An Introduction. Library of Biblical Theology. Nashville: Abingdon Press.

Burnett, J.S. (2001). A Reassessment of Biblical Elohim. Atlanta, Georgia: Scholars Press.

Childs, B.S. (2004). The Book of Exodus: A Critical Theological Commentary. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.

Clines, D.J.A. (2015). ‘The Most High Male: Divine Masculinity in the Bible’ No pages. Paper read at the Feminist Section of the International Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature, Beunos Aires, Argentina. 22 July, 2015.

Crenshaw, J.L. (1995). Urgent Advice and Probing Questions. Macon, Ga: Mercer University Press.

Cupitt, D. (1996). After God: A New Theory of Religion. London: SCM Press.

Dunand, D. et al. (2004). Gods and Men in Egypt: 3000 BCE to 395 CE. Translated by David Lorton. New York: Cornell University Press.

Eichrodt, W. (1961). Theology of the Old Testament. Vol. 1. Translated by J.A. Baker.  Louisville: Westminster/John Knox.

Fine, K. (1994). “Essence and Modality”, pages 1-16 in Philosophical Perspectives 8, edited by J Tomberlin. The Nous Castenada Memorial Lecture.

Fretheim, T.E. (1984). The Suffering of God: An Old Testament Perspective. Overtures in Biblical Theology 14; Philadelphia: Fortress Press.

Gericke, J. (2017). What is a God? Philosophical Perspectives on Divine Essence in the Hebrew Bible, Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2017.

Goldingay, J. (2006). Old Testament Theology (Vol 2) – Israel’s Faith. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

Gowan, D.E.  (1994). Theology in Exodus: Biblical Theology in the Form of a Commentary. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.

Gunkel, H. (1997). Genesis. Translated by M.E. Biddle; Macon, Ga:  Mercer University Press.

Hansen, S.B. (2010). The Existence of God: An Exposition and Application of Fregean Meta-Ontology. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter.

Haught, J. F. (1986). What is God? How to Think about the Divine. New York: Paulist Press.

Hossfeld, F.L. & Zenger, E. (2005).   Psalms II: A Commentary on Psalms 51– 100. Edited by Klaus Baltzer; Hermeneia. Minneapolis:  Fortress Press).

Hundley, B. (2011). Keeping Heaven on Earth: Safeguarding the Divine Presence in the Priestly Tabernacle. Forschungen zum Alten Testament II, 50; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck.

Kelly, E. (1997).         Structure and Diversity: Studies in the Phenomenological Philosophy of Max Scheler. Phaenomenologica Series Volume 141 Series; Rotterdam: Springer.

Knierim, R.P. (1995). The Task of Old Testament Theology: Substance, Method, and Cases. Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdmans.

Lloyd, A. B. & Burkert, W. (1997). What is a God? Studies in the Nature of Greek Divinity. London: Duckworth/Classical Press of Wales.

Margolis, E. & Laurence, S. (1999). Concepts: Core Readings. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Miles, J. (1995). God: A Biography. New York: Knopf.

McClellan, D.O. (2013). You will be like the gods: The conceptualization of deity in the Bible in cognitive perspective, Unpublished Masters Dissertation, Langley: Trinity Western University.

Miller, P.D. (2003). The Religion of ancient Israel. Louisville:  Westminster/John Knox Press.

Mowinckel, S.  (1962). The Psalms in Israel's Worship (translated by D.R. Ap-Thomas; Nashville:  Abingdon).

Nietzsche, F.W. (1968). The Will to Power. Translated by W. Kaufmann & R. Hollingdale. New York, Vintage Books.

Porter, B.N. (ed.) (2009). What Is a God? Anthropomorphic and Non-Anthropomorphic Aspects of Deity in Ancient Mesopotamia. Winona Lake, Ind.: Casco Bay Assyriological Institute.

Preuss, H.D. (1996). Old Testament Theology. Vol 1. Translated by L. Perdue. London: SCM Press.

Pyysiäinen, I. (2005). God: A brief history with a cognitive explanation of the concept. No pages.

Ringgren, H. (1974). “god ʾelōhîm’” Pages 267–284 in Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament. Volume 1. Translated by John T. Willis; Edited by G. J. Botterweck and Helmer Ringgren; Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans.

Schmidt, W.H. (1994). “elohim” Pages 331-347 in Theologisches Handwörterbuch zum Alten Testament (THAT), 2 Bde. Edited by E. Jenni & C. Westermann. München: Chr. Kaiser Verlag. Scotus, D. (1987). Philosophical WritingsA Selection. Translated by A.B. Wolter. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company.

Smith, M.S. (2001). The Origins of Biblical Monotheism: Israel’s Polytheistic Background and the Ugaritic Texts. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Smith, M. (2004). The Memoirs of God. History, Memory, and the Experience of the Divine in Ancient Israel, Minneapolis.

Smith, M. (2010). God in Translation: Deities in Cross-Cultural Discourse in the Biblical World. Grand Rapids: William, B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

Sommer, B.D. (2009). The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Thompson, T.L. (2007). The Messiah Myth. The Near Eastern Roots of Jesus and David. London: Pimlico.

Van der Toorn, K. (1999). “God 1” Pages 313-319 in van der Toorn, K. Becking, B. and van der Horst, P.W. (eds.) Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible. Second Edition. Leiden: Brill.

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Article Comments

Submitted by John MacDonald on Wed, 10/17/2018 - 13:19


There are some perplexing statements in this article. The author characterizes some of Heidegger's thought in terms of "Essence as Being," which makes absolutely no sense, since Essence is a way of characterizing Being [the classic distinction between Being as Essential (What-Being)/Existential (How-Being), for instance], not the other way around. I have a blog that is dedicated to Contemporary Continental Philosophy and Christian origins that may be helpful. In particular, here is a blog post that is an introduction to some of the basics of Heidegger's thought:…

Submitted by Jaco Gericke on Wed, 10/17/2018 - 22:33


Granted, my choice of (English) wording in the bracketed summary of a Heideggerian perspective can give the wrong impression. However, it is all I could manage in the space available, especially with reference to Heidegger whose views on essence are varied throughout his writings (cf. Heidegger 1993a: 115-138; 1993b: 369–391; 1993c: 139-167). So much so, that one can say that Heideggerian philosophical assumptions (not to be confused with how he might have asked this question, essence and being in general, or how his thought relates to Christian conceptions of God), allows asking the question of what an god in the HB was assumed to be with reference to any of the following:
1. Divine ‘essence’ (i.e. common properties)
2. Divine ‘whatness’ (i.e. quiddity and constitutive properties)
3. Divinity's ‘essentialsway’ (i.e. necessary properties)
4. Divinity's ‘inherent’ nature (i.e. intrinsic properties)
5. The ‘whole’ or totality of divinity (i.e. consequential properties)
6. The divine's ‘way of being’ (i.e. identity over time)
7. ‘What is ownmost’ in a god (i.e. haecceity and identity across possible worlds)
This multiplicity of construction possibilities in Heidegger's constructions of the concept of "Wesen" (as "essence", "being" and "character") was what I had to consider in, somewhat foolishly, attempting the most briefest of summaries thereof with reference to the concept at hand in the context of its reapplication.

What is Phenomenology? How do we approach this question? Do we examine the use of the term Phenomenology in the history of Philosophy: Hegel, Husserl, and/or Heidegger?

Etymologically, for those who invented the word as a neologism, Phenomenology implied a discourse of what shows itself (from Greek phainómenon "that which appears" and lógos "study"). This refines our pursuit, but at the same time tells us very little. We may have some thoughts on logos as "discourse" and "study," but what does it mean for something "to show itself?" We say, for instance, "he shows himself to be a coward," but in what sense is "cowardice" showing itself in this example?

Perhaps we can approach this in the "privative." Heraclitus says "physis kryptesthai philei:" Being loves to hide. But if being loves to hide, how does this help us examine "that which shows itself," the phainómenon of Phenomenology that the lógos or discourse is going to be about?

If Being loves to hide, and we are talking about disclosing something out of hiddeness, is there a concept that will help us to reconcile these apparently contrary notions? In ancient Greek, the word they created as a neologism to express the concept of Truth is "A-letheia": un-hidden, dis-close, un-cover, re-veal. So there is going to be something about truth, at least as the Greeks experienced it, which will be an un-covering. But how are we to understand this? Perhaps we need to go back to the beginning and start over in "Phenomenological Kindergarten."

Heidegger says we go to Phenomenological Kindergarten when we consider for the first time things like the idea that a torn sock is better than an un-torn one. In the tearing, the "unity" of a previously un-torn sock is produced or dis-closed (a-letheia, un-covered), precisely "as a lost unity." Thus, the Category of Unity as a determination of the Being of a sock is not simply abstracted to, but is phenomenologically produced. In this way, part of the Being (in this case, unity) of this entity (the untorn sock) is re-vealed (a-letheia, un-hidden) in the tearing.

So, in “Four Seminars” Heidegger invites us to Phenomenological Kindergarten to consider how a torn sock is better than a mended one because in the tearing, the prior unity of the sock that we didn’t consider is "forced" to the surface, precisely as a lost unity (Heidegger, Four Seminars, 11).

But perhaps people don't want to go back to the beginning? People say: I am too far advanced to bother with the Basic Concepts, the grundbegriffe as German says. I would suggest that the fundamentals love to cover themselves up, so each age must begin again to try to discover how far they have fallen from the question of the meaning of Being, and how their forgetfulness of Being stands with the essence of their age. Heidegger wants to rekindle "a battle of the giants" concerning Being (cf. Plato's Sophist, 245e6-246e1). The question of Being enflamed the Philosophies of Plato and Aristotle, but since has been covered up and forgotten. In the last Philosophical system, Hegel's, the history of ontology is realized where the Being of beings becomes the most all encompassing concept, and hence also the most empty. In Being and Time, Heidegger undergoes an analysis of the history of ontology (destruction) to reawaken what lies hidden and dormant in that approach. For Heidegger's conclusion regarding the innermost Being of that entity which we ourselves are, see my blog post here:…

Submitted by John MacDonald on Fri, 10/26/2018 - 11:25


Gericke on The Essence and Existence of Nietzsche's Philosophy:

Nietzsche's two Basic Concepts (grundbegriffe) are Will To Power and Eternal Return Of The Same. This statement is both true and thoughtless. Everywhere Philosophers know this about Nietzsche, but when they explain it, Nietzsche's basic concepts sound silly and strange. Of course we have no evidence that Space/Time endlessly repeats itself as an Eternal Return of The Same. And what does Will to Power mean anyway?

Classically, the Being of beings is understood as a Unity, the essential/existential aspects of the Being of beings. Accordingly, Nietzsche's key concepts also express a uniity. But what does it mean to say the "essence" of beings is understood within the horizon of Will to Power? In the above article, Dr. Jaco Dr. Gericke, points out:

-The answer to the question ‘What is that?’ is a process of fixing a meaning from a different standpoint. The 'essence', the 'essential factor', is something which is seen as a whole only in perspective, and which presupposes a basis which is multifarious (Nietzsche 1968:556)."

Gericke analyzes:

-What it is to possess a property essentially is a matter of debate. That is putting it mildly. Included here are (very crudely summarized) Socrates (essence as common properties), Plato (essence as archetype), Aristotle (essence as genus), Porphyry (essence as species), Boethius (essence vs. existence), Avicenna (essence as quiddity/whatness), Abelard (essence as semantic feature), Scotus (essence as haecceity/thisness), Descartes (essence as principle attribute), Locke (essence as sortal), Leibniz (essence as sufficient reason), Kant (essence vs. appearances), Hegel (essence in/as appearances), Nietzsche (only (non) appearances), Wittgenstein (essence as grammar), Husserl (essence as given), Heidegger (essence as being), Sartre (existence before essence), Popper (essence as definitional fallacy), Quine (essence as accidents), Putnam (essence as stereotype), Kripke (essence as necessary properties), Derrida (“essence” vs. identity/difference), Deleuze (“essence” vs. difference/multiplicity) see:…

This analysis in Gericke's article on Nietzsche is helpful at "dis-closing" the (1) Essential (What-Being) aspect of the Being of beings as Will to Power.

I would just add that we also need to consider Nietzsche's (2) Existential (How-Being) aspect of the Being of beings as Eternal Return of the Same. On this second meaning and its relation to Ecclesiastes, see my analysis here:…

Submitted by John MacDonald on Fri, 10/26/2018 - 13:27


Responding to Dr. Gericke's analysis of Nietzsche, there are two key components that need to be considered: Will to Power, and Eternal Return of the Same:

(1) Regarding the Eternal Return, Nietzsche writes:

(1) "Whoever thou mayest be, beloved stranger, whom I meet here for the first time, avail thyself of this happy hour and of the stillness around us, and above us, and let me tell thee something of the thought which has suddenly risen before me like a star which would fain shed down its rays upon thee and every one, as befits the nature of light. - Fellow man! Your whole life, like a sandglass, will always be reversed and will ever run out again, - a long minute of time will elapse until all those conditions out of which you were evolved return in the wheel of the cosmic process. And then you will find every pain and every pleasure, every friend and every enemy, every hope and every error, every blade of grass and every ray of sunshine once more, and the whole fabric of things which make up your life. This ring in which you are but a grain will glitter afresh forever. And in every one of these cycles of human life there will be one hour where, for the first time one man, and then many, will perceive the mighty thought of the eternal recurrence of all things:- and for mankind this is always the hour of Noon".

(2) What, if some day or night a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: 'This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more' ... Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus? Or have you once experienced a tremendous moment when you would have answered him: 'You are a god and never have I heard anything more divine.' [The Gay Science, §341]

(3) My formula for human greatness is amor fati: that one wants to have nothing different, not forward, not backward, not in all eternity. Not merely to bear the necessary, still less to conceal it—all idealism is mendaciousness before the necessary—but to love it.

Nietzsche's thought of The Eternal Return of the Same is the Tragic insight into the Being of Beings. Every being we comport ourselves toward is just another being, something that will distract us for a while, but ultimately fall out of view, like a warn out recording of a favorite song. Ecclesiastes says:

“The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes)

see my post here:…

(2) Regarding Will to Power:

In Nietzsche's unpublished notes (later published by his sister as "The Will to Power"), Nietzsche seemed to view the Will to Power as (metaphysical) general force underlying all reality, not just human behavior—thus making it more directly analogous to Schopenhauer's will to live. For example, Nietzsche claims the "world is the will to power—and nothing besides!"

Power is being thought of the sense of will to control, to characterize, to limit the ἄπειρον, a Greek word meaning "(that which is) unlimited," "boundless", "infinite", or "indefinite" from ἀ- a-, "without" and πεῖραρ peirar, "end, limit", "boundary", the Ionic Greek form of πέρας peras, "end, limit, boundary".

Nietzsche means the essence of beings is uncovered in relation to the multitude of ways we comport ourselves to the Being of beings (in the non / perhaps never exhaustive list Gericke provided in the post). To recapitulate:

-"The answer to the question ‘What is that?’ is a process of fixing a meaning from a different standpoint. The 'essence', the 'essential factor', is something which is seen as a whole only in perspective, and which presupposes a basis which is multifarious (Nietzsche 1968:556)."

Gericke points out:

-What it is to possess a property essentially is a matter of debate. That is putting it mildly. Included here are (very crudely summarized) Socrates (essence as common properties), Plato (essence as archetype), Aristotle (essence as genus), Porphyry (essence as species), Boethius (essence vs. existence), Avicenna (essence as quiddity/whatness), Abelard (essence as semantic feature), Scotus (essence as haecceity/thisness), Descartes (essence as principle attribute), Locke (essence as sortal), Leibniz (essence as sufficient reason), Kant (essence vs. appearances), Hegel (essence in/as appearances), Nietzsche (only (non) appearances), Wittgenstein (essence as grammar), Husserl (essence as given), Heidegger (essence as being), Sartre (existence before essence), Popper (essence as definitional fallacy), Quine (essence as accidents), Putnam (essence as stereotype), Kripke (essence as necessary properties), Derrida (“essence” vs. identity/difference), Deleuze (“essence” vs. difference/multiplicity)

Privileging one of these interpretations of / perspectives on the essence of beings over another (and in fact over those we haven't discovered yet) is an act of the Will to Power: Controlling and Limiting the apeiron.

Submitted by John MacDonald on Fri, 10/26/2018 - 14:49


One last thought.

If any readers read my above comment on Phenomenology and are curious about how the Phenomenological method of Heidegger works to disclose Being, and the Being of beings, consider this brief phenomenological analysis of boredom:

What is boredom? We all get bored from time, some of us terribly, so why bother asking about boredom? We all know what it is, and how it is with boredom, don't we?

The above suggests a "Phenomenology" of Boredom. In previous posts, I described Phenomenology as a discourse on what shows itself. I related this to Heraclitus' saying "phusis kryptesthai philei," Being loves to hide, and the ancient Greek understanding of truth, which they expressed with, what was for them, the neologism a-letheia, truth, un-covered. So, if we are going to dis-close the hiding Being of boredom in that being which we ourselves are, the being of boredom may in fact need to be coaxed/forced out of hiding.

Regarding the phenomenological method, as I said, when Heidegger says a torn sock is better than a whole one, he means the "category of unity" that pertains to the Being of the sock (which remained hidden in our everyday dealing with the sock), has been "coaxed" to the surface in the tearing, precisely as a " lost unity." Hence, we say the "unity," which makes up part of the Being of the sock, is not just abstracted to, but can be "produced" in our tearing of it.

So, let's consider an example of boredom:

Aristotle asks why the great and creative thinkers are all such melancholics? Clearly, there is no shortage of boredom/anxiety and addiction among creative types. Perhaps they are a step back from everyday life, somewhat unsatisfied by the everyday, and so try to lose themselves in the esoteric/higher pursuits. Would this step back not give these creative types perspective, and hence the distance to see the forest for the trees in understanding the everyday world of the rest of us?

Heidegger and Psychiatrist Medard Boss suggest that our "being-addicted" to the beings that matter to us is thought out of a fundamental boredom that prompts us to lose ourselves in beings. Heidegger and Boss comment that:

Heidegger: ... To be absorbed by something ... [means] to be totally preoccupied by something , as for instance, when one says: He is entirely engrossed in his subject matter. Then he exists authentically as who he is, that is, in his task ... Da-sein means being absorbed in that toward which I comport myself... To be absorbed in beholding the palm tree in front of our window is letting the palm tree come to presence, its swaying in the wind, is absorption of my being-in-the world and of my comportment in the palm tree.

Medard Boss: Our patients force us to see the human being in his essential ground because the modem neuroses of boredom and meaninglessness can no longer be drowned out by glossing over or covering up particular symptoms of illness. If one treats those symptoms only, then another symptom will emerge again and again ... They no longer see meaning in their life and ... they have become intolerably bored

This tragic outlook is all well and good for depressed geniuses, but how can we coax/force this phenomenon out of hiding in our everyday life as a fundamental determination of our being-addicted to the beings that pertain to us?

Well, could you imagine doing your afternoon workout by yourself and without music/T.V. to help pass the time? Certainly, if we don't have these distractions, contemporary people experience a boredom, a stretching out of time (langweil in German), while exercising. Similarly, try going on a driving trip by yourself and without music.

Again, recall a time when something you are waiting for is late (eg., a friend, train, plain), and how you become acutely aware of the drawing out of time as you wait.

Remember being naughty as a child and getting punished by being separated from beings and made to sit in the corner facing the wall in a "time out," and how the stretching out of time afflicted you.

Further, consider how the misplacement of your cell phone caused you to have to endure the monotony/anxiety of the day in a way that simply didn't happen when you were younger and had not yet become addicted to smartphones. As Heidegger said, our being-addicted to beings is getting worse, not better with the contemporary age, which doctors try to bandage with processes like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Mindfulness Meditation.

Phenomenologically, the more and more we separate ourselves from beings, the more we are able to produce/coax/force to the surface the Being of that being which we ourselves are (fundamental boredom, which is perhaps worse in our age than any other). We are all a step back from life, never fully satiated - creative types more so than most.

On the other hand, being a step back, not fully caught up in things, gives perspective, and so is the impetus for critical thinking.

Submitted by John MacDonald on Sat, 10/27/2018 - 12:33


Sorry. There's one brief point I forgot:

What is the Existence-Essence unity/distinction?

As I said above, in terms of its "essential being," we say a chair is brown, hard, etc. In terms of its "existential being," we say the chair is badly positioned, etc.

Heidegger writes:

"That is, we will proceed step by step toward "what" is meant in the concepts and toward the "way" they are formed and grounded. It will thereby become evident "what" these lectures are dealing with, as well as "how" they interrogate and investigate the objects, the mode of dealing with them. (Heidegger, Basic Concepts Of Ancient Philosophy, 1)

Heidegger writes:

"The essential relation between the 'will to power' and the 'eternal return of the same' must be thought in this way; however we cannot yet represent it here directly because metaphysics has neither considered nor even inquired about the origin of the distinction between 'essentia' and 'existentia.' " (Heidegger, "Nietzsche's Word: God Is Dead," in Off the Beaten Track, 178 - cited by Derrida in "Heidegger: The Question of Being & History," 43)

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