About this topic
Summary De re modality concerns the modal properties that an object has in virtue of itself. This contrasts with de dicto modality, which concerns modal properties that are merely "said of" an object. More formally: De dicto: Necessarily, some x is such that it is F.  De re: Some x is such that it is necessarily F. The essence of an entity in contemporary metaphysics is generally regarded as being constituted by the entity's de re modal properties. For instance, if we consider it necessary for John to be human, then this is part of John's essence. Different varieties of essentialism can be distinguished by the kind of de re modal properties in question. If we debate whether it is necessary for John to have the very parents that he actually has, we are debating origins essentialism. It should also be noted that essences may be individual or general. John's essence is an individual essence, and it may be essential for John to belong to the (natural) kind human. But we can also ask what is essential for the kind, e.g. whether humans are essentially rational. In that case we are concerned with the general essence of humans. Essentialism about species is a good example of a debate concerning general essences. Essences are commonly considered to be synonymous with de re modal properties, following the work of Kripke and others. However, the more traditional view, following Aristotle, may in fact be that essence is ontologically prior to modality. Recently, such non-modal accounts of essence have been defended in the literature, with one suggestion being that essence should be explicated via real definition.
Key works The most influential modern contributions are no doubt Kripke 1980, and Putnam 1975 which reintroduced essentialism into metaphysics. Quine's classic critique (Quine 1953) of De Re Modality was largely undermined by the contributions of Kripke and Putnam, but Marcus 1967 and Hintikka 1970 should also be mentioned. Wiggins 1980, Plantinga 1992, and Salmon 2005 are also classics. One important application of essentialism is counterpart theory, e.g. Lewis 1968. The secondary literature on different aspects of the topic is enormous, but recent, often cited contributions include Bealer 1987, Shalkowski 1994, Ellis 2001, Della Rocca 2002, LaPorte 2004, Paul 2006, Mackie 2006, and Devitt 2008. Non-modal accounts of essence have been gaining popularity, especially due to the work of Kit Fine (e.g. Fine 1994). Other recent works in this tradition include Paul 2006Oderberg 2007, Lowe 2008, Tahko 2009, Correia 2012, Dumsday 2012, and Vaidya 2010.
Introductions Robertson 2008, Cameron 2010, Roca-Royes 2011, Roca-Royes 2011.
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Subcategories:See also:History/traditions: Essentialism and De Re Modality
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  1. Joseph Almog (2010). Nature Without Essence. Journal of Philosophy 107 (7):360-383.
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  2. Matthew J. Barker (2010). Specious intrinsicalism. Philosophy of Science 77 (1):73-91.
    Over the last 2,300 years or so, many philosophers have believed that species are individuated by essences that are at least in part intrinsic. Psychologists tell us most folks also believe this view. But most philosophers of biology have abandoned the view, in light of evolutionary conceptions of species. In defiance, Michael Devitt has attempted in this journal to resurrect a version of the view, which he calls Intrinsic Biological Essentialism. I show that his arguments for the resurrection fail, and (...)
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  3. John Black (1998). On the Origin of Objects. Review of Metaphysics 51 (3):720-721.
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  4. Robert Black (2000). Against Quidditism. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 78 (1):87 – 104.
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  5. G. Bonetti (1985). The Theory of Reference and the Science That Reveals the Essences. Verifiche: Rivista Trimestrale di Scienze Umane 14 (4):383-402.
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  6. Rosi Braidotti (1992). Essentialism. In Elizabeth Wright (ed.), Feminism and Psychoanalysis: A Critical Dictionary. Blackwell.
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  7. Hugh T. Bredin (1976). Metaphysics and Essence. Philosophical Studies 25:333-335.
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  8. Teresa Brennan (1996). Essence Against Identity. Metaphilosophy 27 (1‐2):92-103.
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  9. Michael Cohen (1984). Reference and Essence. Philosophical Investigations 7 (2):173-177.
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  10. Durant Drake (1920). The Status of the Essences Given in Knowledge. Philosophical Review 29 (2):173-179.
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  11. Brian Ellis (2000). The New Essentialism and the Scientific Image of Man-Kind. Epistemologia 23 (2):189-210.
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  12. Berent Enç (1975). Necessary Properties and Linnaean Essentialism. Canadian Journal of Philosophy 5 (1):83 - 102.
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  13. George Englebretsen (1974). Essentiality. Journal of Critical Analysis 5 (3):112-118.
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  14. Evan Fales (1982). Natural Kinds and Freaks of Nature. Philosophy of Science 49 (1):67-90.
    Essentialism--understood as the doctrine that there are natural kinds--can be sustained with respect to the most fundamental physical entities of the world, as I elsewhere argue. In this paper I take up the question of the existence of natural kinds among complex structures built out of these elementary ones. I consider a number of objections to essentialism, in particular Locke's puzzle about the existence of borderline cases. A number of recent attempts to justify biological taxonomy are critically examined. I conclude (...)
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  15. Frederic B. Fitch (1967). A Theory of Logical Essences. The Monist 51 (1):104-109.
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  16. Susan A. Gelman (2004). Defining Essentialism. Trends in Cognitive Sciences 8 (9):404-409.
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  17. Susan A. Gelman & Lawrence A. Hirschfeld (1999). How Biological is Essentialism. In D. Medin & S. Atran (eds.), Folkbiology. Mit Press. 403--446.
  18. P. Giaretta, Andrea Bottani & Massimiliano Carrara (eds.) (2001). Individuals, Essence and Identity. Kluwer.
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  19. Jules Girardi (1961). Description des Essences Et Ontologie (Suite Et Fin). Revue Philosophique De Louvain 59 (64):640-671.
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  20. Dan Goldstick (1986). What Are "Purely Qualitative" Terms? American Philosophical Quarterly 23 (1):71 - 81.
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  21. Lars Gundersen (1995). The Problem of Transworld Identity. Danish Yearbook of Philosophy 30.
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  22. Zhen Han (2010). Some Remarks on the Re-Building of the Category of Essence and the Reflective Modernity. Frontiers of Philosophy in China 5 (1):134-141.
    If modernity is manifested as essentialism, postmodernity is manifested as anti-essentialism. Modernity is, in essence, human beings’ discovery of their own power, and is based on rational knowledge that has grasped the essence of things. In fact, in the discourse system of modernity, the various concepts of “essence” connote nothing but people’s imaginative constructions and rational conjectures about objects. In the past, our order, be it internal or external, was in essence guaranteed by God. Afterwards, all “essences”, as essences, must (...)
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  23. Patricia Johnston (1977). Origin and Necessity. Philosophical Studies 32 (4):413 - 418.
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  24. Jack Kaminsky (1985). Identity and Essence. International Studies in Philosophy 17 (3):89-90.
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  25. Antti Keskinen (2013). Quine on Objects and De Re Modality. European Journal of Analytic Philosophy 8 (2):4-17.
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  26. Olli Koistinen (1993). Individual Essences in Individuation. In Risto Hilpinen, Olli Koistinen & Juha Räikkä (eds.), Good Reason: Essays Dedicated to Risto Hilpinen. Turun Yliopisto. 200--139.
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  27. John D. Kronen (1991). Essentialism Old and New. Modern Schoolman 68 (2):123-151.
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  28. Frederick William Kroon (1987). Reference and Essence. Philosophical Studies 31:349-356.
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  29. Manfred Kupffer, Counterparts and Qualities.
    David Lewis proposed to deal with the semantics of sentences that state what is possible for an individual in terms of possible individuals that are in ways the first individual might have been, so called counterparts of the individual. In this book, I defend counterpart semantics as an approach to the semantics of modality and natural language semantics in particular. Counterpart semantics has a rival, the standard Kripkean semantics that deals with the same sentences in terms of an accessibility relation (...)
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  30. Peter Lamarque (2001). Aesthetic Essentialism. In Emily Brady & Jerrold Levinson (eds.), Aesthetic Concepts: Essays After Sibley. Oxford University Press. 100--122.
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  31. Zhang Lifeng (2012). Comments on Plantinga's Argument of Transworld Identity. Frontiers of Philosophy in China 7 (1):164-178.
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  32. Michael J. Loux (1999). Essentialism. In Robert Audi (ed.), The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy. Cambridge University Press. 281--283.
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  33. Michael J. Loux (1970). Identity-Statements and Essentialism. New Scholasticism 44 (3):431-439.
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  34. Penelope Mackie (forthcoming). Transworld Identity. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
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  35. Genoveva Martí (2012). On Modality and Reference: Ruth Barcan Marcus (1921-2012). Teorema: Revista Internacional de Filosofía 31 (2):203-212.
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  36. Genoveva Marti (1995). The Essence of Genuine Reference. Journal of Philosophical Logic 24 (3):275-289.
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  37. Colin McGinn (1976). On the Necessity of Origin. Journal of Philosophy 73 (5):127-135.
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  38. Jared S. Moore (1928). What and Where Are the Essences? Philosophical Review 37 (4):373-376.
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  39. Linda Nicholson (1997). The Question of Essentialism. In Linda J. Nicholson (ed.), The Second Wave: A Reader in Feminist Theory. Routledge. 319--20.
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  40. Douglas Odegard (1971). Locke, Geach, and Individual Essences. Philosophical Studies 22 (5-6):70 - 73.
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  41. Slobodan Perovic (2004). Brian Ellis, The Philosophy of Nature: A Guide to the New Essentialism Reviewed By. Philosophy in Review 24 (2):95-97.
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  42. Charles M. Perry (1930). Essences Sublimated. Journal of Philosophy 27 (3):57-65.
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  43. Luminiţa Pogăceanu (2008). Essentialism and Musicality. Linguistic and Philosophical Investigations 7.
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  44. M. S. Price (1982). On the Non-Necessity of Origin. Canadian Journal of Philosophy 12 (1):33 - 45.
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  45. Jeffry L. Ramsey & Rosenfeld Bhushan (2000). Realism, Essentialism, and Intrinsic Properties. In Nalini Bhushan & Stuart Rosenfeld (eds.), Of Minds and Molecules: New Philosophical Perspectives on Chemistry. New York: Oxford University Press. 117.
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  46. Teresa Robertson (2002). Are Modal Contexts Opaque? Southwest Philosophy Review 18 (1):79-88.
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  47. Teresa Robertson & Graeme Forbes (2006). Does the New Route Reach its Destination? Mind 115 (458):367-374.
    A New Route to the Necessity of Origin’, Guy Rohrbaugh and Louis deRossett argue for the Necessity of Origin in a way that they believe avoids use of any kind of transworld constitutional sufficiency principle. In this discussion, we respond that either their arguments do imply a sufficiency principle, or else they entirely fail to establish the Necessity of Origin.
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  48. Michael Delia Rocca (1996). Essentialism: Part 1. Philosophical Books 37 (1):1-13.
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  49. Michael Della Rocca (2002). Essentialism Versus Essentialism. In Tamar Szabo Gendler & John Hawthorne (eds.), Conceivability and Possibility. Clarendon Press.
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  50. Michael Della Rocca (1996). Essentialism: Part 2. Philosophical Books 37 (2):81-89.
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