Essentialism Contextualized

Croatian Journal of Philosophy 9 (2):201-217 (2009)
Abstract
I critically discuss the contextualist approach to essentialism, which was developed as an explanation of the seeming inconstancy of our essentialist intuitions. The problem is supposed to be that we vacillate a great deal in judging what properties an object has essentially from one occasion to another, which obviously undermines the reliability of our essentialist intuitions. Contextualists solve the problem by combining the metaphysical view that objects have essential properties with the semantic thesis that the term “essentially” is a context sensitive expression. Once we are aware of the context shifting, the conflict of intuitions turns out to be onlyapparent. My aim is to show that contextualism is not the answer that a proponent of essentialism should adopt. First, I outline the contextualist strategy and argue by help of an example that our linguistic practice does not seem to support the contextualist claim that “essentially” is a context-sensitive term. Secondly, the contextualist strategy deals only with the vacillation of intuitions in one person, but offers a very unfavorable explanation of the conflict of intuitions among different persons. Thus, contextualists face the challenge of proving the reliability of essentialist intuitions nevertheless. I conclude with David Lewis’s proposal in order to illustrate that the contextualist approach only provides the appearance, but not the real essentialism
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