AskDefine | Define quiddity

Dictionary Definition



1 an evasion of the point of an argument by raising irrelevant distinctions or objections [syn: quibble, cavil]
2 the essence that makes something the kind of thing it is and makes it different from any other [syn: haecceity]

User Contributed Dictionary



Mediaeval Latin quidditas, from Latin quid ‘what’.


  • /'kwɪdɪti/


  1. the essence or inherent nature of a person or thing
    • 1962: My vision reeked with truth. It had the tone, / The quiddity and quaintness of its own / Reality. — Vladimir Nabokov, Pale Fire
  2. a trifle; a nicety or quibble

Derived terms


*Spanish: esencia

Extensive Definition

In philosophy, quiddity is identity or "whatness," i.e., something's "what it is." The term derives from the Latin word "quidditas," which was used by the medieval Scholastics to refer to a concept of substance they encountered while translating the works of Aristotle.
The (Greek equivalent) term was used by Aristotle in reference to an entity's aspects of "matter" and "form."
It describes properties a particular substance (e.g. a person) shares with others of its kind. The question "what (quid) is it?" asks for a general description by way of commonailty. This is quiddity or "whatness" (i.e., its "what it is"). Quiddity is often contrasted with the haecceity or "thisness" of an item, which, in turn, describes the particular properties of an object or substance (e.g. a particular person).

Other senses

  • In law, the term is used to refer to a quibble or academic point. An example can be seen in Hamlet's graveside speech found in Hamlet by William Shakespeare. "Where be his quiddities now, his quillets, his cases, his tenures" says Hamlet referring to a lawyer's quiddities.
quiddity in German: Quidditas
quiddity in Slovak: Quidditas
quiddity in Finnish: Mikyys ja tämyys

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

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