Can 'the + adjective' refer to things as well as people? For example, can the essential mean essential things?

When it comes to the beautiful, Collins English Dictionary defines it either as the qualify of beauty or those who are beautiful. But I never saw the beautiful used as beautiful things.

On one occasion I was trying to explain the concept of buffers to my children. We were in the car together at the time and I tried to explain the idea using a game. Imagine, I said, that we had to get to our destination three miles away without stopping. We couldn’t predict what was going to happen in front of us and around us. We didn’t know how long the light would stay on green or if the car in front would suddenly put on its brakes. The only way to keep from crashing was to put extra space between our car and the car in front of us. This space acts as a buffer. It gives us time to respond and adapt to any sudden moves by other cars. Similarly, we can reduce the friction of executing the essential in our work and lives simply by creating a buffer.

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less By Greg McKeown

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The formal term for this construct is “zero derivation nominalization” if you want to read more.

It is not limited to people. You can read “the essential(s)” as either “the essential one(s)” or as “the essential thing(s)”, depending on what makes sense in context. It can also be used both countably and uncountably, just like a normal noun.

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