Social Research Glossary


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Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2012-17, Social Research Glossary, Quality Research International,

This is a dynamic glossary and the author would welcome any e-mail suggestions for additions or amendments. Page updated 2 January, 2017 , © Lee Harvey 2012–2017.


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core definition

Essence refers to the possibility of fixed and timeless existence.

explanatory context

The idea of timeless essence derives from Aristotle who maintained that the essence of a thing was what it had to have in order to be the thing that it was.


This essence, according to Aristotle, could be expressed in the definition of the thing.


Empiricists (in the 17th century) argued that a definition, however full, simply reflected how the term was to be applied rather than captured the essence of the thing. Locke distinguished real essence, that which characterised the thing and was unknown, from nominal essence, which was the known properties attributed to the thing and through which the correct application of the term is possible.


Essence is an important idea in some approaches to phenomenology where it is argued that knowing involves a grasping of the essential nature of the world of objects and social interactions.

analytical review

Under the heading The Meaning of Hegel's Logic: III: The Meaning of “Essence ”, the Marxists Internet Archive (undated) states:

At first, it appears that Hegel is using the word "essence" quite differently from the way it is used conventionally or in philosophy. In mediaeval philosophy and in the philosophy of Kant "Essence" refers to some elusive, unattainable, inner content of a thing which is hidden from perception. In ordinary language, we talk of the "essence of the matter", by which is meant it's "meaning" or significance, the most important or defining aspect of thing, besides which other aspects are just accidental or "unessential". As it turns out, Hegel is indeed talking of the same thing, but his approach is distinctively "Hegelian"..

associated issues


related areas

See also




Researching the Real World Section


Marxists Internet Archive, undated, The Meaning of Hegel's Logic: III: The Meaning of “Essence ”, available at, accessed 25 February 2013, still available 20 December 2016.

copyright Lee Harvey 2012–2017

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