The Epistemology of Essence

Abstract
Our epistemic access to essence is a topic which has received very little attention. This is partly due to the mystery surrounding the notion of essence itself, and partly due to the sheer difficulty of developing a plausible epistemology. The need for such an account is clear: if there are any essences, we better have some story about how we come to know them. The starting point of this paper is an Aristotelian conception of essence; familiar from the work of Kit Fine, E. J. Lowe, David S. Oderberg, and others, i.e., essence is ontologically prior to modality. I introduce four options regarding our epistemic access to essence. These fall in two groups: we could gain knowledge about essence either directly, or via modal knowledge. Furthermore, each of these routes to essence could be either a priori or a posteriori (or a combination of the two). The advantages and disadvantages of each approach will be analysed, and I will ultimately defend the view according to which our epistemic access to essence is via our a priori knowledge of metaphysical modality
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