The Metaphysical Distinction between Existence and Essence: A Foundation for the Non-Greek Philosophical System

Document Type : Original Article


department of Islamic philosophy, faculty of theology, azarbaijan shahid madani university, Tabriz, Iran


With a rational reflection on possible beings, Farabi presents an analysis of the relationship between existence and essence, which requires a new philosophical system distinct from Greek philosophy. In his view, all possible beings are composed of two metaphysical aspects, i.e. existence and essence. By distinguishing constituents (muqawwamāt) from accidental things (‘araḍiyyāt) and using terms such as ‘āriand lāzim, Farabi explores the structure of possible beings. In possible beings, existence is not the same or a part of essence; rather, it is an accident of essence, and since any accidental thing is subject to causality (muallal), thus the possible things require something out of themselves for their existence. The main point is that the container of this distinction is not merely the world of the mind or the objective world; rather, it is the product of rational analysis. In other words, the distinction of existence and essence is neither a mental distinction nor a physical one; rather, it is a rational distinction which is called, in today’s metaphysics, metaphysical distinction. In metaphysical distinction, the existence and essence of the possible beings are two ontological principles and two metaphysical modes of the being that compose its identity. The metaphysical distinction designs the foundation of the non-Greek philosophical system based on which one can explain, from the theological viewpoint, proving the existence of the Necessary Being, the evolution of the ultimate causality, natural agency with the agentive causality and divine agency; from the cosmological viewpoint, proving the essential contingency of the universe and the philosophical explanation of the creation; from the ontological viewpoint, dividing beings into necessary and possible, and explaining the structure of possible beings; and from the epistemological viewpoint, evolution in dividing knowledge. This article is an applied study that attempts, by relying on the descriptive-analytical method with an exploration of the metaphysical distinction between existence and essence, to deal with applying that distinction in Farabi’s philosophical system and its products and results.