Existence and Being (Clip)

This is a five minute clip from “Aquinas’ Five Ways, Ep. 4” available to paid members of my Locals Community. You’ll find chapter markers and transcript in the player.

Get the full episode on Locals. Free memberships are very welcome, but this series is only available to paid members for $5/month) In this clip I get into Aquinas’ reflections on existence, exploring the concepts of generation, being, and contingency. Using a personal childhood story and the example of a tree’s growth, we examine how objects come into existence and discuss the nuances between generation and being.

In this clip:

# Reflections on Existence and Contingency

In my recent recordings, I’ve been diving deep into topics about existence and contingency. This time, I want to share some reflections on Aquinas’s thoughts and a personal story that brings some of these philosophies to life.

## The Nature of Existence and Contingency

Aquinas devoted much thought to the concept of existence, and his reflections are something to keep in mind. Keywords like existence, generation, and being are central—they’re not just casual terms but fundamental concepts. Aquinas taught that objects come into the world and then pass out of existence, and these objects are what we call contingent beings. They’re called contingent because their existence depends on other things.

Take a tree, for example. The tree doesn’t exist in isolation; it requires soil, water, nutrients, and several conditions to come into being. This reliance defines its nature as a contingent being.

## “But ‘Why’ is The Tree?”

I often use the example of a tree to explain these concepts, and I think it ties back to an experience I had when I was very young. My cousin, who was much older, was like an older sister to me. One day, we were looking out the window at a park across the street, and I was in my endless “why?” phase. 

There was a massive oak tree in the park, and I kept asking my cousin, “What is that?” and “Why?” At one point, out of frustration, she answered, “Just because.” Little me didn’t take that well and slapped her across the face, declaring, “That’s not an answer.”

Looking back, I now realize what I was probing at was far deeper than just a child’s curiosity. I was questioning the very existence and nature of the tree—why it existed the way it did. Even though I couldn’t articulate these thoughts clearly at the time, that moment has stuck with me. It’s fascinating to reflect on how these childhood questions have continued to influence my thinking.

## Natures of Being and Existence

Returning to Aquinas, objects like trees are contingent—they come into existence and fade out of it, needing other things to be. When we talk about their generation, we mean the process of them coming into being, like a seed planted in the soil growing into a tree. This generation process involves many steps—germination, sprouting, and growing.

However, existence and being are distinct yet connected concepts. Generation is how a tree comes into existence, but its being is about the nature of its existence. While they’re interconnected, they are also separate inquiries: one looks at the process of becoming, and the other at the nature of being.

## Conclusion

These reflections on existence, generation, and being are not just philosophical musings—they can deeply influence how we understand the world around us. The curiosity that spurred me as a child still drives me today, leading me to constantly question and explore these profound topics. I hope this exploration resonates with you and encourages you to reflect on the nature of the things around you.

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