Aristotle says there are things and two types of properties that thing can have,one accidental property other essential property.

my question is if we remove all accidental and essential properties of a thing will that thing still be same thing???

and why Aristotle made a distinction between a thing and its properties? because to invent categorical logic???

if i remove all accidental properties to a gold ring ,like polish or attached gems on gold ring then i will left essential properties of gold namely yellowish color and metal related stuff like chemical composition of metal gold.

i wounder if we remove essential properties of gold we are left with a metal that is not gold,so why Aristotle made a distinction between thing and essential properties and accidental properties of a thing???

i think it is wrong to say there is a "thing" and then we attach essential and accidental properties to that thing,i think when we talk about a thing we are talking about its essential properties,so making distinction between a thing and its properties is wrong,am i wrong or right?

  • I am by no means an expert, but my instinct is that if you had two gold rings, neither with any properties, you'd still have two things; put another way, that something exists is separate from whether or not it is yellow.
    – Magus
    Commented Jun 13, 2014 at 19:23
  • Why do you love question marks so much???
    – user132181
    Commented Jul 14, 2014 at 18:13
  • It's an essential property of a sentence. More question marks a richer sentence.
    – John Am
    Commented Nov 4, 2015 at 21:46
  • "How can you have a ring, without any rim?" "When the ring is melting it has no rim" From a version of Riddles Wisely Expounded, which is Child Ballad 1. How we group and label phenomena is a matter of convenience. You are saying, if we keep a label & remove the phenomena it was being attached to, what do we have? Which is like saying 'If I stop pointing at x, what am I pointing at?' Not x is the relevant specificity. See philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/70930/…
    – CriglCragl
    Commented Oct 9, 2022 at 20:58

4 Answers 4


Let's say here, the res essentia, the essence or conceptual reality, is that of a 'gold ring'. That it is 'gold' and 'a ring' are its real predicates and these cannot be changed without altering its essence. If you do remove 'gold' you are simply left with 'ring', and if you remove 'gold' and 'ring' you are left with nothing.

Conversely, accidens is different.

something that befalls or is added to the being - including its actuality - is an accidens

Actuality is something accessory to the what of a being

everything that is not a real predicate of a res, must be caused

An example of accidens would be if someone were to make the gold ring. This predicate could be removed, so to speak, by not making the ring. The essence of the ring would be unaltered. Another accidens could be for the produced ring to be lost. This predicate could be removed by finding the ring. Again, the essential concept, "gold ring", is unaltered throughout.

Referenced material: St Thomas Aquinas' interpretation of Aristotle's ontology :-

The problem of the relationship between essence and existence is resolved in the Thomistic school by saying that in an actual being the what of this being is a second res, something else for itself as over against the actuality; thus, in an actual being we have the combination or composition, compositio, of two realities, essentia and existentia. Therefore, the difference between essence and existence is a distinctio realis. Cum omne quod est praeter essentiam rei, dicatur accidens; esse quod pertinet ad quaestionem an est, est accidens; since everything that [in the Kantian sense] is not a real predicate in a being is spoken of as something that befalls or is added to the being [accidens], to the what, therefore the actuality, or existence, that relates to the question whether a res with the totality of its realities exists, is an accidens. Actuality is something accessory to the what of a being. Accidens dicitur large omne quod non est pars essentiae; et sic est esse [that is, existere] in rebus creatis; existence is not part of the reality but is added on to it. Quidquid est in aliquo, quod est praeter essentiam ejus, oportet esse causatum; everything that is outside the thing-content of a thing, everything that is not a real predicate of a res, must be caused, and indeed vel a principiis essentia . . . vel ab aliquo exteriori, either by reason of the essence itself or by another.

source :- The distinction between essentia and existentia in Scholasticism


Rev. Joseph Owens maintains that the Thomist interpretation differs from Aristotelian ontology in its treatment of actuality as accidens (viz. below). However, a commentary by Heidegger, here : - Does existence precede quiddity? - confirms the Thomist interpretation.

enter image description here

source :- The Collected Papers of Joseph Owens


You can remove the accidental properties - that is why they are called that; but essential properties can't be removed - thats why they're called essential;

  • If you remove the goldness of gold - does it remain gold?

  • If you remove the ringness of a ring - is it still a ring?

It doesn't seem so; in fact it doesn't result in a bare 'object' but a contradiction; This is why they're called essential properties.

  • You can remove the gold of a gold ring, and it remain a ring.

So gold on a ring is an accidental property.

  • You turn a bar of gold into another shape - say a pyramid

So shape is accidental to what gold is


First, I think Mozibur is on the right track here, but I'm a little hesitant to work with the example as supplied ("a gold ring"). Second, I'm going to use the word "substance" instead of thing to be consistent with Aristotle and the context where he speaks of essential and accidental properties.

Essential properties are those properties that follow necessarily for substances (formed matter) to be and have the form it is. Accidental properties are those things that are incidentally true. For example, long hair is an accidental property vis-a-vis the human essence. You can take it away and what remains is human. Being alive on the other hand is an essential property of the human essence. If you take it away, what remains is no longer human. So far, I think Mozibur and I are in full agreement.

Where I hesitate and this relates specifically to the example is that a gold ring is an artifact. And artifacts are difficult on the Aristotelian model. They don't necessarily have forms in the same way that (see the top of here: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/artifact/). Thus, at least for Aristotle, it's not clear that artifacts have essential properties. But if they do, then I think it's precisely those properties necessary for it to be what it is. So a gold ring would a gold ring insofar as it is gold and a ring. Specific ornamentation would be accidental.

I'm a little confused by your suggestion regarding taking away gold's yellowness and specific weight. Gold is a natural kind regardless of how it is shaped. If you take away the gold, you take away the thing and are left with nothing.... The yellowish color is what gold is or rather is an essential property of being gold (with two caveats: (1) modern inventions like "rose gold" and "white gold" are actually alloys -- the gold part is still yellowy and (2) Aristotle's theory is not ideally suited to molecular-level chemistry).

A gold ring on the other hand is an artifactual arrangement of gold. So you can change the shape without changing the gold essence.

Thus, moving to your last formulation of your question. Essential properties are no different than the thing insofar as you can only wipe out the properties by eliminating the thing. Accidental properties are different from the things to which they inhere, because they can be removed.

But essential properties can still be different than the substance itself. Silver, Platinum, and Palladium can all be said to be similar colors, and their precise colors are essential to them as are their softnesses, etc., but that doesn't make the color a softness or the softness a color.

  • I agree gold is an artifact; but what examples of substances are there? presumably gold is, but how about human being? Though not an artifact, I struggle to think of a particular thing as a substance; perhaps the human soul? Commented Jul 14, 2014 at 17:10
  • @virmaior, what do you think of this paper?
    – user132181
    Commented Jul 15, 2014 at 14:51
  • @MoziburUllah - gold is not an artifact, but a gold ring is. Human beings are most definitely substances on Aristotle's understanding. For him, that is formed matter. The form of a living thing for Aristotle is its soul.
    – virmaior
    Commented Jul 15, 2014 at 14:56
  • @user132181 - I don't really have many thoughts on it. I'm merely explicating Aristotle's account which is where the essential / accidental properties language comes from. I find this claim about natural kinds that they are distinguished "by relevant similarity to stereotypes" deeply dubious or rather one that would just mean we shouldn't speak in the Aristotelian way at all. A large part of Aristotle's disdain for artifacts is that they only stick together insofar as they cannot overcome entropy -- not insofar as they have a unifying form.
    – virmaior
    Commented Jul 15, 2014 at 15:00
  • @user132181 or to put it another way, the question of whether we should disagree with Aristotle about artifacts isn't especially relevant to answering this question. There might be some interesting questions there though.
    – virmaior
    Commented Jul 15, 2014 at 15:01

If it is possible to remove all properties from a thing you will have no thing. If you can remove one property which is an attribute of it, it will not be the same thing. But the question is: can you remove just one property of a thing, accidental or not?

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