Is there really such a thing as having the essence of a cat?


It wasn’t potentially a cat to begin with because cats were not and are not the end product. Was there a potential dinosaur at some point? Because certain dinosaurs evolved into flying reptiles which evolved into birds. Was there a different potential at every stage? If you lived a few million years ago you’d only have ‘potential flying reptile’. Does that then change into ‘potential bird’?

None of this makes any sense whatsoever in the light of evolution.


You were the one who conceded to the assumption that cat is the ideal form for the sake of argument to begin with, I merely asserted that if cat is the ideal form, then it is the end (purpose) of its ancestral species according to Aristotle’s natural teleology.

You don’t seem to be aware of what Aristotle’s theory of potentiality and actuality really is. It was a solution to the problem of change raised by philosophers such as the Eleatics. These philosophers asserted there was no such thing as change, they denied empirical observation of change because it seemed to deny self evident truths. A seed is not the same as a tree, existence is not the same as non-existence, and thus these could not change into each other. According to Aristotle’s theory, a seed is a tree, but only potentially rather than actually, that which comes into existence, previously existed potentially but not actually. Matter itself it pure potentiality, so yes there can be more than one potential form. However, this discussion was based on you conceding that cat is an ideal form, which you seem to have forgotten.


While i disagree with with Brad, he does make a point for which i made this thread. If a living Organism is potentially any particular form (evolution) then is it meaningful to speak of final causes, or to say that to be a cat is the natural end of being a cat. Given evolution there is the apparent possibility that there really is no such thing as a particular kind of organism acting only for the end of that which it happens to be, but rather there is simply an organism that can become many different things through the process of reproduction over long periods of time. In other words, when we call a thing a cat, this is just a categorical description based on its appearance and not a description of something necessarily intrinsic to the organism. Thus a cat in Aristotelian terms becomes more like a description of “accidents” rather than a “substance”.


Are you saying that the essence of a cat, and that of its ancestral species are one and the same? But it is their accidents that differ? Perhaps it is difficult to truly distinguish the essence of animals from their ancestral species, besides that of humans because they possess rational souls. But in this case, again taking humans out of the equation, what distinguishes the various members of the animal kingdom from each other? Would you say it is only their accidents?


The form or the essence as such did not evolve. And it certainly did not evolve into “cats”.

But yes, for all we know some specific individual who had an essence of maiacoid gave birth to individuals who had essence of a cat. And, presumably, such ability would be in the description of the essence of maiacoid.

The essence of maiacoid as such is unchanged, for otherwise you wouldn’t be able to talk about them, your words here would be meaningless.

“Essence” is not “description”. It would be more accurate to say that it is what is being described when we describe, let’s say, “a cat”. Also, it is more like a “specification” than a “description”.

That’s sloppy terminology.

A species can’t “evolve” into another species. Saying so gives you “If humans evolved from monkeys, why are there still monkeys?”.

An individual can’t “evolve” into anything. Saying so gives you jokes like “Little Johnny at the Zoo asks his Dad: ‘How long shall we have to wait until one of those monkeys evolves into a man?’.”.

If you keep the terminology precise, saying that some individuals of one species had descendants of different species, the difficulty disappears.


In terms of living beings, I have a temptation to think that the very first proto-cell, that which preceded and gave birth to all that has lived (assuming there were not many proto-cells), was the one and only true substantial nature, and everything else is just something added to it (for lack of a better word; perhaps emerged would be better).

But, although i can see how that view would seem to fit better with the theory of evolution, i am not going to assume that the Aristotelian view is incorrect. Perhaps i have misunderstood Aristotle; but then again Aristotle did not know about evolution and i am curious to know how he would fit evolution into his view of things if he were alive today.


I am aware that individuals of species have given rise to other species. I did say that this happened through a process of reproduction over very long periods of time. I don’t think your charge is valid.

The question is, what do we mean by species; is this just a categorical distinction? Are we referring to accidents or an actual substance; and which fits better in light of evolution.


In such case, try describing the difficulty using the precise terms.

OK, can you explain what would be the difference between those two cases? Just trying to do so might solve everything.

Oh, and evolution is very unlikely to have anything to do with it.

In this specific case both senses of “species” seem to work.

Yes, my “examples” were jokes, and meant as such. I’m afraid that proper scientific names wouldn’t really fit their mood. :slight_smile:

But the point is serious: I’m pretty sure that the whole difficulty with evolution here is caused by talking as if it was “species” or “individuals” that “evolved” and changed. For yes, if “species” or “individual” changed into a different “species”, it sounds as if their essence itself changed.

And I’m pretty sure that a slightly more precise talking would make much of the difficulty disappear - it won’t sound as if the essence has changed, only that some individuals had one essence and some other individuals had a different essence.


Evolution doesn’t affect all members of a particular species equally.

If you have one species covering a large area and environmental pressures in one area cause some of them in that area to adapt and then evolve to be sufficiently different from those in another area, then indeed one species has evolved into another. Termed divergent evolution.

Whether the original species survives or becomes extinct is neither here nor there.


This picture is witty, and yet is probably the best at answering the question. To think a cat and a mouse are the same, since they both contain fundamental bits of matter, is not true even on intuition.


As for the existence of essence as a metaphysical category, or as for the differentiation between essence and existence, I think one very simply way to show this – without getting into cats and biology and evolution and the like – is to simply ask yourself: Is there a difference between a figure with 50,000,000 sides and and figure with 50,000,001 sides? Of course. The essence of one is not the essence of the other, but simply knowing one or the other does not tell you whether any such figure has ever existed in reality.

Someone on these forums said a similar thing when I asked a similar question a few months ago, and it’s always stuck with me. I like this example.

Isn’t this how you put it, @Wesrock?


Yes, though I’m certainly not the first to do so. To state that there is a real distinction between essence and existence isn’t to state that we know any one or all essences absolutely.

As for cats, is there an essence of a cat? Or do cats share an essence with other felines? Or maybe maybe the essence is even broader or maybe more particular. Those determinations can only be made through empirical study, simply the study of what things are, and the scientific method is one tool for learning more.


But isn’t form just the arrangement of the matter? We call a certain random arrangement of matter a “cat” because that is just what that arrangement is: it’s DNA molecules, and all the rest.


True, but what’s the difference between form and essence?

By form, I meant that which identifies matter as something different from that matter over there. That’s what I meant by arrangement.


I honestly don’t know enough about it.

Like, sticking with the original discussion on essence vs. existence, I think at the very least we have to maintain that existence is different from essence. Even if you don’t use those terms, the idea of divine creation suggests them.

I also think the form-matter distinction in Aquinas (Aristotle) helps make the idea of the soul make more sense, rather than considering the soul to be a spiritual substance.



Evolution being true implies that descendants of parents with some essence will usually, but not always, have the same essence.

That’s all. As you can see, just one tiny modification to one application of Aristotle’s metaphysics is necessary.

So, this:

obviously doesn’t follow.

Evolution doesn’t “affect” any members of a particular species.

As far, as they’re concerned, they simply get conceived (with or without mutations), reproduce, die.

Their offspring differs from them? So, it does. That doesn’t “affect” the parents. It is so different that it belongs to a different species, has different essence? That still doesn’t “affect” the parents. Nor does that “affect” their species.

No. In such case “species” did not really “evolve” into anything.

Sure, it is often convenient to use such “abuse of notation”. But one should not forget that it is indeed the “abuse of notation”.

On the other hand, “species evolved from another species” is much less of an “abuse of notation”.

Sure. Unless you want to forget that you are dealing with “abuse of notation”.


You apear not to understand the principles of evolution. That is not an unusual position on this forum.

Ah well…


Really? Can you actually demonstrate that?

Can you show me the error of my ways? :slight_smile:

Or is it just that you have no answer, and don’t want to admit that?



You have to actually show that.

You know, an argument from authority looks a bit better when one can point to someone else as an authority… Especially when one is an annonymous user on the Internet…

Are things so desperate that that’s the best that can be done? :slight_smile:

“Reasoning”? OK: you did talk as if “what is born of a particular animal will forever have the same essence or form of its same parent forms” is somehow vital for Aristotle’s metaphysics. You did not demonstrate that. And thus your argument has to be patched up to consider the possibility that this part could be dropped while leaving Aristotelian metaphysics intact.


No problem. These two sentences contradict each other:

"Evolution doesn’t “affect” any members of a particular species.

As far, as they’re concerned, they simply get conceived (with or without mutations), reproduce, die."

The mutation and the process of reproduction is a simple explanation of evolution itself. If something is born with a slight advantage over its peers and lives long enough to reproduce then it will pass on that advantage.

If evolution never had any effect on any member of a species then that species would not never evolve.

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