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The double meanings of “essence”: The natural and humane sciences — A tentative linkage of Hegel, Dilthey, and Husserl

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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.

10.1007/s11466-009-0009-2
/content/journals/10.1007/s11466-009-0009-2
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/content/journals/10.1007/s11466-009-0009-2
2009-01-01
2016-12-04

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