The Thing § 173

The Roman word res designates that which concerns somebody, an affair, a contested matter, a case at law. The Romans also use for it the word causa. In its authentic and original sense, this word in no way signifies "cause"; causa means the case and hence also that which is the case, in the sense that something comes to pass and becomes due. Only because causa, almost synonymously with res, means the case, can the word causa later come to mean cause, in the sense of the causality of an effect. The Old German word thing or dine, with its meaning of a gathering specifically for the purpose of dealing with a case or matter, is suited as no other word to translate properly the Roman word res, that which is pertinent, which has a bearing. From that word of the Roman language, which there corresponds to the word res—from the word causa in the sense of case, affair, matter of pertinence—there develop in turn the Romance la cosa and the French la chose; we say, "the thing." In English "thing" has still preserved the full semantic power of the Roman word: "He knows his things," he understands the matters that have a bearing on him; "He knows how to handle things," he knows how to go about dealing with affairs, that is, with what matters from case to case; "That's a great thing," that is something grand (fine, tremendous, splendid), something that comes of itself and bears upon man.

But the decisive point now is not at all the short semantic history here given of the words res. Ding, causa, cosa, chose, and thing, but something altogether different, to which no thought whatever has hitherto been given. The Roman word res denotes what pertains to man, concerns him and his interests in any way or manner. That which concerns man is what is real in res. The Roman experience of the realitas of res is that of a bearing-upon, a concern. But the Romans never properly thought through the nature of what they thus experienced. Rather, the Roman realitas of res is conceived in terms of the meaning of on which they took over from the Greek philosophy; ὄν, Latin ens, means that which is present in the sense of standing forth here.