Almost every verb has a noun that implies "the act and effect of" whatever the verb is. So, an existence is the act of existing. Nonetheless, the most simple verb, to be seems to lack such a noun, at least in Spanish (link in Spanish, sorry).

But then someone came up with essence as a possibility for the noun of to be, but in Spanish it lacks that meaning (it means roughly "the most important and charasteristic part of a thing"). But what about Latin? In Latin we have exsistĕre and its noun exsistentia, and also essentĭa which seems to mean the being or essence of a thing, according to the Lewis & Short dictionary.

Can then essentĭa be understood as "the act of being" the same way as exsistentia is "the act of existing"?


No. Essentia (to-be-ness) was coined by Cicero as a Latin counterpart for the Greek οὐσία (ousia). Both words refer to something's essence or nature, that which makes a thing "to be" the particular kind of thing that it is. Nature or essence is contrasted with accidents, those qualities of a thing that can change without changing what kind of thing something is.

Eventually, medieval philosophers would come up with three terms: ens (an existing thing), essentia (the nature of a thing), and esse (the act or property of being/existing). So, every thing that actually exists (ens) possesses both a particular nature (essentia) and the property of existing (esse).

  • 1
    So the word I am looking for is "esse"?
    – Charlie
    Jan 10 '19 at 18:13
  • 1
    @Charlie yes, esse. Jan 10 '19 at 18:15

FWIW, the act of being in Medieval philosophy was called actus essendi (from which the English and Spanish expressions are mere translations). The term was apparently coined by St. Thomas Aquinas (XIII cent.)


The original meaning of οὐσία is “that which is one’s own; property”, attested since Herodotus. In the philosophers (Plato, Aristotle and perhaps already Democritus) it takes on the sense “true nature of something” as opposed to πάθη. Latin essentia is a calque on οὐσία and is not attested before the imperial period, though Seneca says that he thinks it was coined by Cicero ("Ciceronem auctorem hujus verbi habeo").


Well I agree with Kingshorsey about Essentia. If I talked about Unicorns, or Justice, or Beauty, you know what I mean because you know their essence: essentia.

And if I asked you to describe them you might start with 'spiral horns and white hair;' or 'wigs, black robes, and juries;' or 'angel choirs and tangerine skies.' These are accidental properties which remind you of the 'Essentia.'

But in this world Unicorns are not alive; Justice turns out to be about plea bargaining and how much you can afford for a lawyer; and beauty means hours of sweat in a gym or sleepless nights creating a novel.

What Unicorns don't have; but what Law, and ballet, and novels have is an extra something called 'ΥΛΗ

I think the word you are looking for is 'ΥΛΗ or hyle. Accusative hylen.

But I'm just an apocalyptic platonist.

  • I think most ancient and medieval philosophers would disagree: matter (hyle) isn't a principle of existence. Immaterial substances can fail to exist just as much as material substances.
    – brianpck
    Jan 11 '19 at 15:41
  • @brianpck While it's abstract nature, and the accidental nature have been discussed, I thought Charlie was asking for the actuality, the 'thing,' the kickable object and its distinctive reality in the world. Isn't that hyle?
    – Hugh
    Jan 11 '19 at 19:47

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.