Ousia  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Ousia (οὐσία) is analogous to the English concepts of being and ontic used in contemporary philosophy.

Ousia is translated as Latin substantia and essentia, and hence to English as substance and essence.

Contents

Etymology

οὐσία is the ancient Greek noun formed on the femininfe present participle of the verb εἰμί, eimí, i.e. "to be, I am".

Philosophical use

Aristotle defined protai ousiai (πρῶται οὐσίαι), "primary substances", in the Categories as that which is neither said of nor in any subject, e.g., "this human" in particular, or "this ox". The genera in biology and other natural kinds are substances in a secondary sense, as universals, formally defined by the essential qualities of the primary substances; i.e., the individual members of those kinds.

Much later, Martin Heidegger said that the original meaning of the word ousia was lost in its translation to the Latin, and, subsequently, in its translation to modern languages. For him, ousia means Being, not substance, that is, not some thing or some being that "stood" (-stance) "under" (sub-). Moreover, he also uses the binomial parousiaapousia, denoting presence–absence, and hypostasis denoting existence.

Theological significance

New Testament

The word ousia is not used in the New Testament except in relation to the substance in the sense of goods twice in the parable of the Prodigal Son where the son asked his father to divide to him his inheritance, and then wasted it on riotous living.

An apparently related word, epiousios (affixing the prefix epi- to the word), is used in the Lord's Prayer, but nowhere else in the scriptures. Elsewhere, it was believed to be present in one papyrus (a list of expenses) among expenses for chick-peas, straw etc., and for material. In 1998, according to a xerographic copy of a papyrus found in the Yale Papyrus Collection (from the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library) inventory 19 (a.k.a. P.C.+YBR inv 19), it was suggested that the document had been transcribed differently from other early manuscripts and that the actual word used in that particular papyrus was elaiou, meaning "oil".

Early Christianity

Origen (d. 251) used ousia in defining God as one genus of ousia, while being three, distinct species of hypostasis: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The Synods of Antioch condemned the word homoousios (same substance) because it originated in pagan Greek philosophy. The Catholic Encyclopedia entry for Paul of Samosata states:

It must be regarded as certain that the council, which condemned Paul, rejected the term homoousios; but, naturally, only in a false sense, used by Paul; not, it seems, because he meant by it a unity of Hypostasis in the Trinity (so St. Hilary), but because he intended, by it, a common substance, out of which both Father and Son proceeded, or which it divided between them — so St. Basil and St. Athanasius; but the question is not clear. The objectors to the Nicene doctrine in the fourth century made copious use of this disapproval of the Nicene word by a famous council.

The generally agreed-upon meaning of ousia in Eastern Christianity is "all that subsists by itself and which has not its being in another" - in contrast to hypostasis, which is used to mean "reality" or "existence".

In 325, the First Council of Nicaea condemned Arianism and formulated a creed, which stated that in the Godhead the Son was Homoousios (same in substance) of the Father. However, controversy did not stop and many Eastern clerics rejected the term because of its earlier condemnation in the usage of Paul of Samosata. Subsequent Emperors Constantius II (reigned 337-361) and Valens (reigned 364-378) supported Arianism and theologians came up with alternative wordings like Homoios (similar) homoiousios (similar in substance), or Anomoios (unsimilar). While the Homoios achieved the support of several councils and the Emperors, those of an opposing view were suppressed. The adherents of the Homoiousios eventually joined forces with the (mostly Western) adherents of the Homoousios and accepted the formulation of the Nicene creed.

Use in Rhetoric

In Book IV of Metaphysics Aristotle explores the nature and attributes of being (ousia). Aristotle divides the things that there are, or "beings," into categories. Aristotle calls these substances and argues that there are many senses in which a thing may be said "to be" but it is related to one central point and is ambiguous.

Aristotle states that there are both primary and secondary substances. In Categories Aristotle argues that primary substances are ontologically based and if the primary substances did not exist then it would be impossible for other things to exist. The other things are regarded as the secondary substances (also known as accidents). Secondary substances are thus ontologically dependent on substances.

In Metaphysics, Aristotle states that everything which is healthy is related to health (primary substance) as in one sense because it preserves health and in the other because it is capable of it. Without the primary substance (health) we would not be able to have the secondary substances (anything related to health). While all the secondary substances are deemed "to be" it is in relation to the primary substance.

The question, what is being, is seeking an answer to something "that is." A contemporary example in rhetoric would be to look at a color. Using white as an example, when we define a color, we define it by association. Snow is white. Paper is white. A cow is white. But what is white? While we are saying things that are white, we are not defining what white is without qualification. Ousia is thus the answer to the question of "what is being" when the question is without qualification. The unqualified answer of what is white is the ousia of white.

See also




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