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Frontiers of Philosophy in China

ISSN 1673-3436

ISSN 1673-355X(Online)

CN 11-5743/B

Postal Subscription Code 80-983

Front Phil Chin    2009, Vol. 4 Issue (1) : 143-155     DOI: 10.1007/s11466-009-0009-2
research-article |
The double meanings of “essence”: The natural and humane sciences — A tentative linkage of Hegel, Dilthey, and Husserl
ZHANG Shiying()
Department of Philosophy, Peking University, Beijing 100871, China
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Early in Aristotle’s terminology, and ever since, “essence” has been conceived as having two meanings, namely “universality” and “individuality”. According to the tradition of thought that has dominated throughout the history of Western philosophy, “essence” unequivocally refers to “universality”. As a matter of fact, however, “universality” cannot cover Aristotle’s definition and formulation of “essence”: Essence is what makes a thing “happen to be this thing.” “Individuality” should be the deep meaning of “essence”. By means of an analysis of some relevant Western thoughts and a review of cultural realities, it can be concluded that the difference between the attitudes toward things of the natural sciences and the humane sciences mainly lies in the fact that the former focus on the pursuit of universal regularity, whereas the latter go after the value and significance of human life. The movement from natural things to cultural things is a process in which essence shifts from universality to individuality. It is the author’s contention that what should be stressed in the fields of human culture and society is the construction of an ideal society that is “harmonious yet not identical”, on the basis of respecting and developing individual peculiarity and otherness.

Keywords essence      universality      individuality      natural science      human science      culture     
Corresponding Authors: ZHANG Shiying,   
Issue Date: 05 March 2009
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