The Question of the Truth of the Essence [63-65] 58

And that was, not because there were already other individual houses before this one, but because, in order for this or that house to become and be what it is, something like "house in general" must exist and be given. Consequently, "house" is, with regard to the constructed individual house, what already was—τὸ τί ἦν εἶναι. With this determination is connected the one that became usual in the subsequent thinking of the West and received a special stamp in Kant's philosophy: the essence as what is prior to the thing, deriving from what is earlier: the a priori.

4. In all these determinations, the essence is what lies over or before the individual, or what lies under it as its ground: τὸ ὑποκείμενον.

After this first perspective, it was then our task to sketch more precisely what we genuinely mean by "essence," especially since our concept of essence is still entirely founded on the Greek one.

The most familiar characterization of the essence, the one that is still usual today, though also the most superficial, is the first-mentioned: the essence is τὸ καθόλου, conceived by Plato as τὸ κοινόν. A moment's reflection showed, however, that the universality and its applicability to many are not themselves the essentiality of the essence but only its consequences. The universal "table in general" is not the essence because it applies to many particular tables, but it applies to the many and can do so only because there is in this universal, in what is common to all the particularizations, something identical, and that is where the essence resides.

What then is this identity taken in itself, abstracting from the merely subsequent applicability to the individual instances? We said the essence is what something is, τὸ τί ἐστιν (quidditas). And what now is this, what something is, the whatness? No further answer seems possible. Nevertheless Plato provided an answer, an answer which became henceforth perhaps the most consequential, influential, and disastrous philosophical definition in Western thinking: the essence is what something is, and we encounter what it is as that which we constantly have in sight in all our comportment to the thing. When we enter a house and live in it we constantly have "house" in sight, i.e., house-ness. If this were not seen, we could never experience and enter stairs, hall, room, attic, or cellar. But this house-ness, which stands in view, is


Basic Questions of Philosophy (GA 45) by Martin Heidegger