In the philosophy of Socrates and Plato we find the distinction between the “form” of the thing and its material composition. Another term for “form” is “essence,” which generally defines the “function” of an entity. In Plato, “forms” are realities that pre-exist entities. The term “entity” comes from the Latin ens “being.” Entities, or beings, consist of two “macrobutes” (two overarching attributes): essence and existence. For example, the essence of chair is “sitting on-ness.” The essence of the chair precedes (logically and chronologically) the chair itself.
Look, there’s Plato sittting in his chair thinking about his thinking. In most traditional philosophy, including Christian philosophy, the essence of Plato precedes his existence. This essence is his human “nature.” He comes into existence with his pre-formed human nature, his essence.
Jean Paul Sartre says, “non,” it doesn’t work this way; it mustn’t work this way, because in such a scheme human freedom is lost owing to the fact that human “nature” implies a fixety, a determinism in which man is reduced to a robot. Rationality, for Sartre, can only operate when man is totally free to think and feel what he wants, independent of any pre-existent restraints such as rules of morality, which many philosophies claim are part of the essence (nature) of man.
Here is a good description of Sartre’s “existence precedes essence.”
“In Jean-Paul Sartre’s “Existentialism and Human Emotions,” the author discusses the philosophical concept that existence precedes essence, a theory which involves elements of responsibility and freedom in regards to human choice. The idea that existence precedes essence means that a human being, as well as human reality, exists prior to any concepts of values or morals. A person is born a blank slate; humanity has no universal, predetermined principles or ethics common to all of mankind. Since no preformed essence or definition exists of what is means to “be human,” a person must form his/her own conception of existence by asserting control of and responsibility for his/her actions and choices. Consequently, a human being gains his/her essence through individual choices and actions. It is solely through the process of living that one defines one’s self.”
Which brings me to Al Mohler‘s “Sex education in kindergarten” (The Briefing, 28 Feb 2013).
Mohler discusses new US laws that cater for transgender children. In brief(s), if a boy feels that his essence is a girl, then he should be allowed to frequent the girls’ bathroom, and if a girl feels her essence is a boy, then she may use the boys’ bathroom. And if that arrangement becomes impractical (unmanageable? – peek-a-boo), then perhaps there should be transgender bathrooms.
What, though, if they change their minds later and choose to revert to their former state (essence?). And backwards and forwards: today, Arthur; tomorrow, Martha; next week, Arthur; next month Martha; in Sartrian terms, creating and recreating their essence, limited, alas, to only four options: girl, boy, birl, goy.
Setting – Kindergarten
Teacher – Martha, you said you wanted to be a boy, so why are you back in the girls’ bathroom?
Martha – Don’t call me Martha; my name – you promised! – is Arthur.