About this topic

Essentialism is the view that objects (or other entities) have at least some of their properties essentially, that these are (at least) necessary conditions for being this object, or belonging to this kind.  Traditionally, anti-essentialism would then be the view that this is not so.  But many who would be classified as anti-essentialists are really skeptical only about ‘real’ or mind-independent essences. Some are skeptical of modality in general, and claim that one cannot really make any sense of the essential/accidental distinction.  A larger group of skeptics do not reject the distinction entirely, but see it as non-objective, as somehow a product of mental activity – this includes conventionalists, projectivists, response-dependence theorists and deflationists.  Anti-essentialists are usually motivated by metaphysical concerns about the supposed nature or basis of essential properties, or the seeming arbitrariness of what falls on one or the other side of the divide, and by epistemological concerns about our ability to know that some feature is essential, often focusing on our actual practices which involve intuitions and thought experiments.  Anti-essentialism concerning kinds – at least in some domains - is also sometimes motivated by Wittgenstein’s remarks on ‘family resemblance’ in the Philosophical Investigations. With Kripke and Putnam’s arguments supporting necessity a posterioriand plausible essentialist claims which could not be seen as true in virtue of meaning, essentialism experienced a resurgence which it still enjoys, both about essential properties of individuals and of natural kinds.  Some subsequent anti-essentialists challenge the essentialist claims, while others accept the phenomena of a posteriorinecessity and necessity de re, while attempting to understand them in a deflationary way.  A more robust anti-essentialism – a denial of essences - is more common in discussion of biological and social kinds.  Deflationist accounts of essence are also often tied to deflationary, conventional or constructivist accounts of the things which have these essences – individuals and kinds.

Key works

 Locke 1689, Book III ch. iv distinguishes real essence from nominal essence, and argues that the boundaries of the things we talk about are set by nominal essences. He also classifies species as ‘the workmanship of the understanding,’ since their essences are.  Quine 1953 connects quantified modal logic and essentialism, and ends with a famous disparagement of essentialism as ‘a jungle’.   Mackie 1974 illustrates a deflationary approach to essence as does Sidelle 1989.  Skepticism about essence in biology is famously championed by Hull 1964 and more recently by Winsor 2006 , while it is a common theme in literature on gender and social kinds, discussed (critically) in Witt 1995

Related categories

64 found
1 — 50 / 64
  1. added 2019-05-17
    Ayer on Monism, Pluralism and Essence.D. Wiggins - 1979 - In Graham F. Macdonald (ed.), Perception and Identity. Cornell University Press. pp. 131--160.
  2. added 2019-05-15
    Linguistic Convention and Worldly Fact.Brett Topey - 2019 - Philosophical Studies 176 (7):1725-1752.
    Truth by convention, once thought to be the foundation of a uniquely promising approach to explaining our access to the truth in nonempirical domains, is nowadays widely considered an absurdity. Its fall from grace has been due largely to the influence of an argument that can be sketched as follows: our linguistic conventions have the power to make it the case that a sentence expresses a particular proposition, but they can’t by themselves generate truth; whether a given proposition is true—and (...)
  3. added 2019-05-15
    Inventing Logical Necessity.Crispin Wright - 1986 - In Jeremy Butterfield (ed.), Language, Mind and Logic. Cambridge University Press.
  4. added 2019-05-15
    Anti-Realist Semantics: The Role of Criteria: Crispin Wright.Crispin Wright - 1982 - Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplement 13:225-248.
    §I. Anti-realism of the sort which Michael Dummett has expounded takes issue with the traditional idea that an understanding of any statement is philosophically correctly analysed as involving grasp of conditions necessary and sufficient for its truth. Many kinds of statement to which, as we ordinarily think, we attach a clear sense would have to be represented, according to this tradition, as possessing verification-transcendent truth-conditions; if true that is to say, they would be so in virtue of circumstances of a (...)
  5. added 2019-04-24
    Soames's Deflationism About Modality.Tuomas E. Tahko - 2013 - Erkenntnis 78 (6):1367-1379.
    One type of deflationism about metaphysical modality suggests that it can be analysed strictly in terms of linguistic or conceptual content and that there is nothing particularly metaphysical about modality. Scott Soames is explicitly opposed to this trend. However, a detailed study of Soames’s own account of modality reveals that it has striking similarities with the deflationary account. In this paper I will compare Soames’s account of a posteriori necessities concerning natural kinds with the deflationary one, specifically Alan Sidelle’s account, (...)
  6. added 2019-04-24
    Perhaps Essentialism is Not so Essential: At Least Not for Natural Kinds. [REVIEW]Miles MacLeod - 2013 - Metascience 22 (2):293-296.
  7. added 2019-04-24
    How Scientific Is Scientific Essentialism?Muhammad Ali Khalidi - 2009 - Journal for General Philosophy of Science / Zeitschrift für Allgemeine Wissenschaftstheorie 40 (1):85-101.
    Scientific essentialism holds that: (1) each scientific kind is associated with the same set of properties in every possible world; and (2) every individual member of a scientific kind belongs to that kind in every possible world in which it exists. Recently, Ellis (Scientific essentialism, 2001 ; The philosophy of nature 2002 ) has provided the most sustained defense of scientific essentialism, though he does not clearly distinguish these two claims. In this paper, I argue that both claims face a (...)
  8. added 2019-04-24
    Philosophical Investigations, 4th Edition (Trans. Hacker and Schulte).Ludwig Wittgenstein - 2009 - Wiley-Blackwell.
  9. added 2019-04-24
    Essentialism and Reference to Kinds: Three Issues in Penelope Mackie'show Things Might Have Been: Individuals, Kinds, and Essential Properties.Teresa Robertson - 2009 - Philosophical Books 50 (3):125-141.
  10. added 2019-04-24
    Why Water is Not H2O, and Other Critiques of Essentialist Ontology From the Philosophy of Chemistry.Holly VandeWall - 2007 - Philosophy of Science 74 (5):906-919.
    Ellis argues that certain essential properties of objects in the world not only determine the nature of these objects but also how they will behave in any situation. In this paper I will critique Ellis's essentialism from the perspective of the philosophy of chemistry, arguing that our current knowledge of chemistry in fact does not lend itself to essentialist interpretations and that this seriously undercuts Ellis's project. In particular I will criticize two key distinctions Ellis draws between internal vs. external (...)
  11. added 2019-04-24
    A Note on Scientific Essentialism, Laws of Nature, and Counterfactual Conditionals.Marc Lange - 2004 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 82 (2):227 – 241.
    Scientific essentialism aims to account for the natural laws' special capacity to support counterfactuals. I argue that scientific essentialism can do so only by resorting to devices that are just as ad hoc as those that essentialists accuse Humean regularity theories of employing. I conclude by offering an account of the laws' distinctive relation to counterfactuals that portrays laws as contingent but nevertheless distinct from accidents by virtue of possessing a genuine variety of necessity.
  12. added 2019-04-24
    Natural-Kind Term Reference and the Discovery of Essence.Joseph Francis Laporte - 1998 - Dissertation, University of Massachusetts Amherst
    According to a doctrine that has been popularized by Kripke and Putnam, a natural kind term like 'bird' rigidly designates the kind with the microstructure of sample birds. This microstructure is the essence of birdhood, so our learning what the relevant microstructure is our discovery of the kind's essence. We have discovered that some statement like 'The bird is the taxon with such and such DNA structure' is true. Further, it is commonly added, the discovered microstructure is essential to each (...)
  13. added 2019-04-24
    A Kantian Critique of Scientific Essentialism.Robert Hanna - 1998 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 58 (3):497-528.
    According to Kant in the Prolegomena, the natural kind proposition (GYM) "Gold is a yellow metal" is analytically true, necessary, and a priori. Saul Kripke and Hilary Putnam have argued that on the contrary propositions such as (GYM) are neither analytic, nor necessary, nor a priori. The Kripke-Putnam view is based on the doctrine of "scientific essentialism" (SE). It is a direct consequence of SE that propositions such as (GE) "Gold is the element with atomic number number 79" are metaphysically (...)
  14. added 2019-04-24
    How Things Might Have Been: A Study in Essentialism.Penelope Mackie - 1987 - Dissertation, University of Oxford (United Kingdom)
    Available from UMI in association with The British Library. Requires signed TDF. ;The main part of the thesis concerns how things, in the sense of individuals, might have been. The topic is what limits there are on the counterfactual possibilities for individuals: in other words, what essential properties, if any, they have. ;In Chapters 3-6 three answers to this question that have been given in recent philosophical literature are examined. They are: that each thing has a unique individual essence ; (...)
  15. added 2019-04-24
    Essence and Scientific Discovery in Kripke and Putnam.Edward Averill - 1982 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 43 (2):253-257.
  16. added 2019-04-24
    Necessary Truth as Analyticity, and the Eliminability of Monadic de Re Formulas.Thomas Schwartz - 1979 - Notre Dame Journal of Formal Logic 20 (2):336-340.
  17. added 2019-04-24
    De What Re is de Re Modality?J. L. Mackie - 1974 - Journal of Philosophy 71 (16):551-561.
  18. added 2019-04-24
    Language, Truth, and Logic.Alfred Jules Ayer - 1936 - Dover Publications.
  19. added 2019-04-23
    The New Aristotelian Essentialists.Harold W. Noonan - 2018 - Metaphysica 19 (1):87-93.
    In recent years largely due to the seminal work of Kit Fine and that of Jonathan Lowe there has been a resurgence of interest in the concept of essence and the project of explaining de re necessity in terms of it. Of course, Quine rejected what he called Aristotelian essentialism in his battle against quantified modal logic. But what he and Kripke debated was a notion of essence defined in terms of de re necessity. The new Aristotelian essentialists regard essence (...)
  20. added 2019-04-23
    Quine, Davidson, Relative Essentialism and the Question of Being.Samuel C. Wheeler - 2018 - Open Philosophy 1 (1):115-128.
    Relative essentialism, the view that multiple objects about which there are distinct de re modal truths can occupy the same space at the same time, is a metaphysical view that dissolves a number of metaphysical issues. The present essay constructs and defends relative essentialism and argues that it is implicit in some of the ideas of W. V. Quine and Donald Davidson. Davidson’s published views about individuation and sameness can accommodate the common-sense insights about change and persistence of Aristotle and (...)
  21. added 2019-04-23
    Not So Human, After All?Brendan Shea - 2016 - In C. Lewis & K. McCain (eds.), Red Rising and Philosophy. Chicago, IL: Open Court. pp. 15-25.
    If asked to explain why the Golds’ treatment of other colors in Red Rising is wrong, it is tempting to say something like “they are all human beings, and it is wrong to treat humans in this way!” In this essay, I’ll argue that this simple answer is considerably complicated by the fact that the different colors might not be members of the same biological species, and it is in fact unclear whether any of them are the same species as (...)
  22. added 2019-04-23
    Lockean Real Essences and Ontology.Jan-Erik Jones - 2016 - Southwest Philosophy Review 32 (2):137-162.
    In this paper I argue that John Locke is not ontologically committed to corpuscularian real essences. I do this by laying out his antirealist argument against corpuscular real essences within the Essay and then defend it. I then identify a version of real essences to which he is ontologically committed. Recognition of the antirealist argument in the Essay should significantly alter our interpretation of the Essay.
  23. added 2019-04-23
    MATTHEW H. SLATER Are Species Real? An Essay on the Metaphysics of Species.Thomas A. C. Reydon - 2015 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 66 (4):1029-1033.
  24. added 2019-04-23
    Natural Kind Essentialism Revisited.Tuomas E. Tahko - 2015 - Mind 124 (495):795-822.
    Recent work on Natural Kind Essentialism has taken a deflationary turn. The assumptions about the grounds of essentialist truths concerning natural kinds familiar from the Kripke-Putnam framework are now considered questionable. The source of the problem, however, has not been sufficiently explicated. The paper focuses on the Twin Earth scenario, and it will be demonstrated that the essentialist principle at its core (which I call IDENT)—that necessarily, a sample of a chemical substance, A, is of the same kind as another (...)
  25. added 2019-04-23
    Essentialism: Metaphysical or Psychological?Moti Mizrahi - 2014 - Croatian Journal of Philosophy 14 (1):65-72.
    In this paper, I argue that Psychological Essentialism (PE), the view that essences are a heuristic or mental shortcut, is a better explanation for modal intuitions than Metaphysical Essentialism (ME), the view that objects have essences, or more precisely, that (at least some) objects have (at least some) essential properties. If this is correct, then the mere fact that we have modal intuitions is not a strong reason to believe that objects have essential properties.
  26. added 2019-04-23
    De Re Essentialism, Species, and Modal Ambiguity.Ross Inman - 2014 - Metaphysica 15 (1).
    I offer a concise critique of a recurring line of reasoning advanced by Joseph LaPorte and Samir Okasha that all modern species concepts render the view that biological organisms essentially belong to their species empirically untenable. The argument, I claim, trades on a crucial modal ambiguity that collapses the de re/de dicto distinction. Contra their claim that the continued adherence of such a view on behalf of contemporary metaphysicians stems from the latter’s ignorance of developments in modern biology, the modal (...)
  27. added 2019-04-23
    Microstructure Without Essentialism: A New Perspective on Chemical Classification.Julia R. Bursten - 2014 - Philosophy of Science 81 (4):633-653,.
    Recently, macroscopic accounts of chemical kind individuation have been proposed as alternatives to the microstructural essentialist account advocated by Kripke, Putnam, and others. These accounts argue that individuation of chemical kinds is based on macroscopic criteria such as reactivity or thermodynamics, and they challenge the essentialism that grounds the Kripke-Putnam view. Using a variety of chemical examples, I argue that microstructure grounds these macroscopic accounts, but that this grounding need not imply essentialism. Instead, kinds are individuated on the basis of (...)
  28. added 2019-04-23
    Are Species Real? An Essay on the Metaphysics of Species.Matthew H. Slater - 2013 - Palgrave-Macmillan.
  29. added 2019-04-23
    Knowledge of Essence: The Conferralist Story.Ásta Kristjana Sveinsdóttir - 2013 - Philosophical Studies 166 (1):21-32.
    Realist essentialists face a prima facie challenge in accounting for our knowledge of the essences of things, and in particular, in justifying our engaging in thought experiments to gain such knowledge. In contrast, conferralist essentialism has an attractive story to tell about how we gain knowledge of the essences of things, and how thought experiments are a justified method for gaining such knowledge. The conferralist story is told in this essay.
  30. added 2019-04-23
    Deep Conventionalism About Evolutionary Groups.Matthew J. Barker & Joel D. Velasco - 2013 - Philosophy of Science 80 (5):971-982.
    We argue for a new conventionalism about many kinds of evolutionary groups, including clades, cohesive units, and populations. This rejects a consensus, which says that given any one of the many legitimate grouping concepts, only objective biological facts determine whether a collection is such a group. Surprisingly, being any one kind of evolutionary group typically depends on which of many incompatible values are taken by suppressed variables. This is a novel pluralism underlying most any one group concept, rather than a (...)
  31. added 2019-04-23
    Quine on Objects and De Re Modality.Antti Keskinen - 2012 - European Journal of Analytic Philosophy 8 (2):4-17.
  32. added 2019-04-23
    Three Ways of Resisting Essentialism About Natural Kinds.Bence Nanay - 2011 - In J. K. Campbell & M. H. Slater (eds.), Carving Nature at its Joints: Natural Kinds in Metaphysics and Science. MIT Press. pp. 175--97.
    Essentialism about natural kinds has three tenets. The first tenet is that all and only members of a natural kind has some essential properties. The second tenet is that these essential properties play a causal role. The third tenet is that they are explanatorily relevant. I examine the prospects of questioning these tenets and point out that arguing against the first and the second tenets of kind-essentialism would involve taking parts in some of the grand debates of philosophy. But, at (...)
  33. added 2019-04-23
    Against Species Essentialism.Olivier Rieppel - 2011 - Metascience 20 (2):339-341.
    Against species essentialism Content Type Journal Article DOI 10.1007/s11016-010-9448-6 Authors Olivier Rieppel, Department of Geology, The Field Museum, 1400 South Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, IL 60605-2496, USA Journal Metascience Online ISSN 1467-9981 Print ISSN 0815-0796.
  34. added 2019-04-23
    Modality and Objects.Alan Sidelle - 2010 - Philosophical Quarterly 60 (238):109-125.
    A not-unpopular position in the metaphysics of material objects (Ted Sider's, for instance) combines realism about what objects there are and the conditions of objecthood with conventionalism about de re modality. I argue that this is not a coherent combination of views: one must go fully conventionalist, or fully realist. The central argument displays the difficulty for the modal conventionalist/object realist in specifying the object that satisfies de re modal predicates. I argue that if this is a mind-independent object, contradictions (...)
  35. added 2019-04-23
    Locke on Real Essences, Intelligibility and Natural Kinds.Jan-Erik Jones - 2010 - Journal of Philosophical Research 35:147-172.
    In this paper I criticize arguments by Pauline Phemister and Matthew Stuart that John Locke's position in his An Essay Concerning Human Understanding allows for natural kinds based on similarities among real essences. On my reading of Locke, not only are similarities among real essences irrelevant to species, but natural kind theories based on them are unintelligible.
  36. added 2019-04-23
    Conventionalism and the Contingency of Conventions.Alan Sidelle - 2009 - Noûs 43 (2):224-241.
    One common objection to Conventionalism about modality is that since it is contingent what our conventions are, the modal facts themselves will thereby be contingent. A standard reply is that Conventionalists can accept this, if they reject the S4 axiom, that what is possibly possible is possible. I first argue that this reply is inadequate, but then continue to argue that it is not needed, because the Conventionalist need not concede that the contingency of our conventions has any bearing on (...)
  37. added 2019-04-23
    Essentiality Conferred.Ásta Sveinsdóttir - 2008 - Philosophical Studies 140 (1):135 - 148.
    In this article I introduce a certain kind of anti-realist account of what makes a property essential to an object and defend it against likely objections. This account, which I call a ‘conferralist’ account, shares some of the attractive features of other anti-realist accounts, such as conventionalism and expressivism, but I believe, not their respective drawbacks.
  38. added 2019-04-23
    Evolutionary Essentialism.Denis Walsh - 2006 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 57 (2):425-448.
    According to Aristotelian essentialism, the nature of an organism is constituted of a particular goal-directed disposition to produce an organism typical of its kind. This paper argues—against the prevailing orthodoxy—that essentialism of this sort is indispensable to evolutionary biology. The most powerful anti-essentialist arguments purport to show that the natures of organisms play no explanatory role in modern synthesis biology. I argue that recent evolutionary developmental biology provides compelling evidence to the contrary. Developmental biology shows that one must appeal to (...)
  39. added 2019-04-23
    The Creation of the Essentialism Story: An Exercise in Metahistory.Mary P. Winsor - 2006 - History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences 28 (2):149 - 174.
    The essentialism story is a version of the history of biological classification that was fabricated between 1953 and 1968 by Ernst Mayr, who combined contributions from Arthur Cain and David Hull with his own grudge against Plato. It portrays pre-Darwinian taxonomists as caught in the grip of an ancient philosophy called essentialism, from which they were not released until Charles Darwin's 1859 Origin of Species. Mayr's motive was to promote the Modern Synthesis in opposition to the typology of idealist morphologists; (...)
  40. added 2019-04-23
    Joseph LaPorte. Natural Kinds and Conceptual Change. X + 221 Pp., Notes, Refs., Index. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004. $70. [REVIEW]Gordon McOuat - 2006 - Isis 97 (3):594-595.
  41. added 2019-04-23
    Linaeus' Biology Was Not Essentialist.Mary P. Winsor - 2006 - Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden 93 (1):2-7.
    The current picture of the history of taxonomy incorporates A. J. Cain's claim that Linnaeus strove to apply the logical method of definition taught by medieval followers of Aristotle. Cain's argument does not stand up to critical examination. Contrary to some published statements, there is no evidence that Linnaeus ever studied logic. His use of the words “genus” and “species” ruined the meaning they had in logic, and “essential” meant to him merely “taxonomically useful.” The essentialism story, a narrative that (...)
  42. added 2019-04-23
    Natural Kinds and Conceptual Change.Joseph Laporte - 2005 - Philosophical Quarterly 55 (221):672-674.
  43. added 2019-04-23
    Pre-Darwinian Taxonomy and Essentialism – a Reply to Mary Winsor.David N. Stamos - 2005 - Biology and Philosophy 20 (1):79-96.
    Mary Winsor (2003) argues against the received view that pre-Darwinian taxonomy was characterized mainly by essentialism. She argues, instead, that the methods of pre-Darwinian taxonomists, in spite of whatever their beliefs, were that of clusterists, so that the received view, propagated mainly by certain modern biologists and philosophers of biology, should at last be put to rest as a myth. I argue that shes right when it comes to higher taxa, but wrong when it comes the most important category of (...)
  44. added 2019-04-23
    Chemical Kinds and Essences Revisited.Rom Harré - 2004 - Foundations of Chemistry 7 (1):7-30.
    The philosophical problem of the utility andmeaning of essences for chemistry cannot beresolved by Wittgenstein's principle thatessence cannot explain use, because use isdisplayed in a field of family resemblances.The transition of chemical taxonomy fromvernacular and mystical based terms to theorybased terms stabilized as a unified descriptivetaxonomy, removes chemical discourse from itsconnection with the vernacular. The transitioncan be tracked using the Lockean concepts ofreal and nominal essences, and the changingpriorities between them. Analyzing propertiesdispositionally, initiating a search forgroundings strengthens the case for (...)
  45. added 2019-04-23
    Dupre's Anti-Essentialist Objection to Reductionism.D. Gene Witmer - 2003 - Philosophical Quarterly 53 (211):181-200.
    In his 'The Disorder of Things' John Dupré presents an objection to reductionism which I call the 'anti-essentialist objection': it is that reductionism requires essentialism, and essentialism is false. I unpack the objection and assess its cogency. Once the objection is clearly in view, it is likely to appeal to those who think conceptual analysis a bankrupt project. I offer on behalf of the reductionist two strategies for responding, one which seeks to rehabilitate conceptual analysis and one (more concessive) which (...)
  46. added 2019-04-23
    Non-Essentialist Methods in Pre-Darwinian Taxonomy.Mary P. Winsor - 2003 - Biology and Philosophy 18 (3):387-400.
    The current widespread belief that taxonomic methods used before Darwin were essentialist is ill-founded. The essentialist method developed by followers of Plato and Aristotle required definitions to state properties that are always present. Polythetic groups do not obey that requirement, whatever may have been the ontological beliefs of the taxonomist recognizing such groups. Two distinct methods of forming higher taxa, by chaining and by examplar, were widely used in the period between Linnaeus and Darwin, and both generated polythetic groups. Philosopher (...)
  47. added 2019-04-23
    Natural Kinds and Conceptual Change.Joseph LaPorte - 2003 - Cambridge University Press.
    According to the received tradition, the language used to to refer to natural kinds in scientific discourse remains stable even as theories about these kinds are refined. In this illuminating book, Joseph LaPorte argues that scientists do not discover that sentences about natural kinds, like 'Whales are mammals, not fish', are true rather than false. Instead, scientists find that these sentences were vague in the language of earlier speakers and they refine the meanings of the relevant natural-kind terms to make (...)
  48. added 2019-04-23
    Locke on Natural Kinds and Essential Properties.Christopher Hughes Conn - 2002 - Journal of Philosophical Research 27:475-497.
    The two opinions concerning real essences that Locke mentions in III.iii.17 represent competing theories about the way in which naturally occurring objects are divided into species. In this paper I explain what these competing theories amount to, why he denies the theory of kinds that is embodied in the first of these opinions, and how this denial is related to his general critique of essentialism. I argue first, that we cannot meaningfully ask whether Locke accepts the existence of natural kinds, (...)
  49. added 2019-04-23
    Rigidity and Kind.Joseph LaPorte - 2000 - Philosophical Studies 97 (3):293-316.
  50. added 2019-04-23
    Essential Membership.Joseph LaPorte - 1997 - Philosophy of Science 64 (1):96-112.
    In this paper I take issue with the doctrine that organisms belong of their very essence to the natural kinds (or biological taxa, if these are not kinds) to which they belong. This view holds that any human essentially belongs to the species Homo sapiens, any feline essentially belongs to the cat family, and so on. I survey the various competing views in biological systematics. These offer different explanations for what it is that makes a member of one species, family, (...)
1 — 50 / 64