About this topic

Essentialism is, broadly speaking, the doctrine that objects have essential properties. One issue here concerns the analysis or definition of ‘essential’ - i.e., what are the necessary and sufficient conditions for being an essential property? Modalists define essential properties in terms of an entity’s de re modal properties. And, while popular, the major challenges modalism faces have led many to embrace non-modalist accounts, which define essence in terms of e.g., 'real definition' or metaphysical explanation/grounding. A second issue concerns the extension of essential properties. Debates here center around various forms of essentialism, typically distinguished by the types of properties in question (e.g. origin essentialism, concerning whether an entity’s origin is essential to it, sortal essentialism, about whether an entity essentially is an instance of the sortal it is an instance of, etc.). A third issue concerns how we know essence facts. Tight connections with modal epistemology here seem obvious, but, depending upon how we answer the above analysis question, it could turn out that essence epistemology is an entirely different beast. Finally, while we can inquire about the essences of particular instances of kinds (e.g. is Tigger essentially carnivorous?), we can also ask questions about the essences of kinds themselves (e.g. are tigers essentially carnivorous?), where the former concerns individual or objectual essence, the latter, general or generic essence; the exact relation between these two types of essence is yet to be determined.

Key works The place to start is Kripke 1980, which effectively re-introduced metaphysicians to essentialism; closely related is Putnam 1975. Regarding the analysis of essence, the most important piece is Fine 1994, where Fine offers his influential critique of the modalist analysis of essence. Highlighted modalist responses include  Gorman 2005, Zalta 2006, Correia 2007, and Wildman 2013, though also see Correia 2012 for a few tweaks to Fine’s position and Lowe 2008 for an alternative non-modalist account. Meanwhile, concerning extension, Mackie 2006 offers a wonderful and detailed over-view of the debates here, while Paul 2006 argues against ‘shallow’ (minimalist) essentialism. Finally, on epistemology, see the above Lowe, Tahko 2018, as well as the affiliated section on Modal Epistemology. 
Introductions Robertson & Atkins 2013 - An excellent introduction to the Essential/Accidental Property distinction, touches upon most of the major topics concerning essence; Roca-Royes 2011 - Another excellent introduction looking at the relation between essential properties and other types of properties.
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  1. Essential Properties and Philosophical Analysis.Diana F. Ackerman - 1986 - Midwest Studies in Philosophy 11 (1):305-313.
  2. La Esencia.Antonio Aguilar - 1971 - Editorial Sanjuanina.
  3. Rigidity and Essentiality: Reply to Gomez-Torrente.A. Ahmed - 2009 - Mind 118 (469):121-133.
    Mario Gómez-Torrente (2006) says that whilst theoretical identifications (e.g. 'All lightning is electrical discharge') do not entail their own necessitations, they do entail the necessitation of a weaker statement. And he claims that this weaker entailment serves Kripke's purposes as well as the stronger one would have. I argue that this is false. Section 1 says what the weaker entailment is; section 2 says why it matters. Section 3 argues that the entailment identified at section 1 does not meet the (...)
  4. Nature Without Essence.Joseph Almog - 2010 - Journal of Philosophy 107 (7):360-383.
  5. The Structure–in–Things: Existence, Essence and Logic.Joseph Almog - 2003 - Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 103 (2):197–225.
    It has been common in contemporary philosophical logic to separate existence, essence and logic. I would like to reverse these separative tendencies. Doing so yields two theses, one about the existential basis of truth, the other about the essentialist basis of logic. The first thesis counters the common claim that both logical and essential truths-in short, structural truths-are existence-free. It is proposed that only real existences can generate essentialist and logical predications. The second thesis counters the common assumption that logic (...)
  6. Garrett on Causal Essentialism and Zombies.Torin Alter - manuscript
  7. Essences and Kinds.Peter R. Anstey - 2011 - In Desmond M. Clarke & Catherine Wilson (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy in Early Modern Europe. Oxford University Press.
    This article examines the views of René Descartes, Robert Boyle, and John Locke on essence and kinds and outlines the polemical stances that motivate and direct each of their views. It describes the ontological categories to which they subscribed and their own speculative theories about the actual kinds in the world. It categories to which they subscribed and their own speculative theories about the actual kinds in the world and discusses the late-Aristotelian theory of substantial forms.
  8. Necessity, Essence and Individuation: A Defence of Conventionalism.D. M. Armstrong - 1991 - Philosophical Books 32 (2):106-108.
  9. Aristotelian Essentialism: Essence in the Age of Evolution.Christopher J. Austin - 2017 - Synthese 194 (7):2539-2556.
    The advent of contemporary evolutionary theory ushered in the eventual decline of Aristotelian Essentialism (Æ) – for it is widely assumed that essence does not, and cannot have any proper place in the age of evolution. This paper argues that this assumption is a mistake: if Æ can be suitably evolved, it need not face extinction. In it, I claim that if that theory’s fundamental ontology consists of dispositional properties, and if its characteristic metaphysical machinery is interpreted within the framework (...)
  10. Essence and Scientific Discovery in Kripke and Putnam.Edward Averill - 1982 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 43 (2):253-257.
  11. Why Constitution is Not Identity.Lynne Rudder Baker - 1997 - Journal of Philosophy 94 (12):599-621.
  12. Geach, Locke, and Nominal Essences.K. C. Barclay - 1967 - Philosophical Studies 18 (5):78 - 80.
  13. Essentialism.Matthew J. Barker - 2013 - In Byron Kaldis (ed.), Encyclopedia of Philosophy and the Social Sciences.
  14. Specious intrinsicalism.Matthew J. Barker - 2010 - 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 (...)
  15. Material Objects and Essential Bundle Theory.Stephen Barker & Mark Jago - 2018 - Philosophical Studies 175 (12):2969-2986.
    In this paper we present a new metaphysical theory of material objects. On our theory, objects are bundles of property instances, where those properties give the nature or essence of that object. We call the theory essential bundle theory. Property possession is not analysed as bundle-membership, as in traditional bundle theories, since accidental properties are not included in the object’s bundle. We have a different story to tell about accidental property possession. This move reaps many benefits. Essential bundle theory delivers (...)
  16. On the Functional Origins of Essentialism.H. Clark Barrett - 2001 - [Journal (Paginated)] (in Press) 2 (1):1-30.
    This essay examines the proposal that psychological essentialism results from a history of natural selection acting on human representation and inference systems. It has been argued that the features that distinguish essentialist representational systems are especially well suited for representing natural kinds. If the evolved function of essentialism is to exploit the rich inductive potential of such kinds, then it must be subserved by cognitive mechanisms that carry out at least three distinct functions: identifying these kinds in the environment, constructing (...)
  17. Modern Essentialism and the Problem of Individuation of Spacetime Points.Andreas Bartels - 1996 - Erkenntnis 45 (1):25--43.
    In this paper Modern Essentialism is used to solve a problem of individuation of spacetime points in General Relativity that has been raised by a New Leibnizian Argument against spacetime substantivalism, elaborated by Earman and Norton. An earlier essentialistic solution, proposed by Maudlin, is criticized as being against both the spirit of metrical essentialism and the fundamental principles of General Relativity. I argue for a modified essentialistic account of spacetime points that avoids those obstacles.
  18. Essential Properties.Daniel Bennett - 1969 - Journal of Philosophy 66 (15):487-499.
  19. Plato's Phaedo and Plato's 'Essentialism'.Thomas Wheaton Bestor - 1988 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 66 (1):26 – 51.
    A new story is abroad that plato possessed two redundant devices in the "phaedo" to explain why some sensible "f" (a drift of snow, say) is "g" but never not-"g" (cold, say): (i) "f" participates in a special way in the (upper world) forms "f" and "g"; (ii) "f" is essentially "g" in its own (lower world) right. Were there such genuinely redundant devices, this would tidily explain both plato's coming to reject essential properties for sensibles in the "republic" and (...)
  20. What is a Chemical Property?Nalini Bhushan - 2007 - Synthese 155 (3):293 - 305.
    Despite the currently perceived urgent need among contemporary philosophers of chemistry for adjudicating between two rival metaphysical conceptual frameworks—is chemistry primarily a science of substances or processes?—this essay argues that neither provides us with what we need in our attempts to explain and comprehend chemical operations and phenomena. First, I show the concept of a chemical property can survive the abandoning of the metaphysical framework of substance. While this abandonment means that we will need to give up essential properties, contingent (...)
  21. Parker on Existence and Essence.John C. Bigelow - 1979 - Philosophia 9 (1):39-43.
  22. Essences and Natural Kinds.Alexander Bird - 2009 - In Robin Le Poidevin (ed.), The Routledge Companion to Metaphysics. Routledge. pp. 497--506.
    Essentialism as applied to individuals is the claim that for at least some individuals there are properties that those individuals possess essentially. What it is to possess a property essentially is a matter of debate. To possess a property essentially is often taken to be akin to possessing a property necessarily, but stronger, although this is not a feature of Aristotle’s essentialism, according to which essential properties are those thing could not lose without ceasing to exist. Kit Fine (1994) takes (...)
  23. Kripke.Alexander Bird - 2009 - In Christopher Belshaw & Gary Kemp (eds.), 12 Modern Philosophers. Wiley-Blackwell. pp. 153--72.
  24. Review of Alexander Bird, Nature's Metaphysics: Laws and Properties[REVIEW]Alexander Bird - 2008 - Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews 2008 (6).
    This is a rewarding book. In terms of area, it has one foot firmly planted in metaphysics and the other just as firmly set in the philosophy of science. Nature's Metaphysics is distinctive for its thorough and detailed defense of fundamental, natural properties as essentially dispositional and for its description of how these dispositional properties are thus suited to sustain the laws of nature as (metaphysically) necessary truths.
  25. Remarks on Our Knowledge of Modal Facts.Alexander Bird - 2008 - Norsk Filosofisk Tidsskrift 43 (1):54--60.
    Can we have a posteriori knowledge of modal facts? And if so, is that knowledge fundamentally a posteriori, or does a priori intuition provide the modal component of what is known? Though the latter view seems more straightforward, there are also reasons for taking the first option seriously.
  26. Kuhn on Reference and Essence.Alexander Bird - 2004 - Philosophia Scientiae 8 (1):39-71.
    Kuhn's incommensurability thesis seems to challenge scientific realism. One response to that challenge is to focus on the continuity of reference. The casual theory of reference in particular seems to offer the possibility of continuity of reference that woud provide a basis for the sort of comparability between theories that the realist requires. In "Dubbing and Redubbing: the vulnerability of rigid designation" Kuhn attacks the causal theory and the essentialism to which is is related. Kuhn's view is defended by Rupert (...)
  27. Necessarily, Salt Dissolves in Water.Alexander Bird - 2001 - Analysis 61 (4):267–274.
    In this paper I aim to show that a certain law of nature, namely that common salt (sodium chloride) dissolves in water, is metaphysically necessary. The importance of this result is that it conflicts with a widely shared intuition that the laws of nature (most if not all) are contingent. There have been debates over whether some laws, such as Newton’s second law, might be definitional of their key terms and hence necessary. But the law that salt dissolves in water (...)
  28. Aristotle's 'Essentialism' and Quine's Cycling Mathematician.Edward Black - 1968 - The Monist 52 (2):288-297.
  29. Psychological Essentialism in Selecting the 14th Dalai Lama.Paul Bloom - 2008 - Trends in Cognitive Sciences 12 (7):243.
  30. Essentialism and Semantic Theory in Aristotle: Posterior Analytics, II, 7-10.Robert Bolton - 1976 - Philosophical Review 85 (4):514-544.
    This essay argues that aristotle's doctrine of nominal definition is his semantic theory for natural-Kind terms. It offers a new interpretation of that doctrine. On this interpretation nominal definitions are initial working theoretical accounts of natural kinds which serve as starting points for scientific inquiry. As such, Nominal definitions have existential import. They make an implicit reference to the most familiar actual instances of the kinds they define and they define the essences of those kinds by reference to those instances. (...)
  31. Wittgenstein's Tractatarian Essentialism.Raymond D. Bradley - 1987 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 65 (1):43 – 55.
  32. Essentialism and The New Theory of Reference.Raymond D. Bradley - 1984 - Dialogue 23 (1):59-77.
  33. Essentialism.Rosi Braidotti - 1992 - In Elizabeth Wright (ed.), Feminism and Psychoanalysis: A Critical Dictionary. Blackwell.
  34. Metaphysics and Essence.Hugh T. Bredin - 1976 - Philosophical Studies 25:333-335.
  35. Essentialism Without Inner Natures?Larry Briskman - 1982 - Philosophy of the Social Sciences 12 (3):303-309.
  36. Natural Kinds and Real Essences.B. A. Brody - 1967 - Journal of Philosophy 64 (14):431-446.
  37. Six. Essence And Explanation.Baruch A. Brody - 1980 - In Identity and Essence. Princeton University Press. pp. 135-156.
  38. Five. The Theory Of Essentialism.Baruch A. Brody - 1980 - In Identity and Essence. Princeton University Press. pp. 84-134.
  39. Why Settle for Anything Less Than Good Old-Fashioned Aristotelian Essentialism.Baruch A. Brody - 1973 - Noûs 7 (4):351-365.
  40. De Re and de Dicto Interpretations of Modal Logic or a Return to an Aristotelean Essentialism.Baruch A. Brody - 1972 - Philosophia 2 (1-2):117-136.
  41. A Counterfactual Account of Essence.Berit Brogaard & Joe Salerno - forthcoming - The Reasoner.
    Kit Fine (1994. “Essence and Modality”, Philosophical Perspectives 8: 1-16) argues that the standard modal account of essence as de re modality is ‘fundamentally misguided’ (p. 3). We agree with his critique and suggest an alternative counterfactual analysis of essence. As a corollary, our counterfactual account lends support to non-vacuism the thesis that counterpossibles (i.e., counterfactual conditionals with impossible antecedents) are not always vacuously true.
  42. Meeting of the Minds: The Relationship Between Medieval and Modern Philosophy.S. Brown (ed.) - 1998 - Brespols.
  43. Counterpart Theory, Natural Properties, and Essentialism.Todd Buras - 2006 - Journal of Philosophy 103 (1):27-42.
    David Lewis advised essentialists to judge his counterpart theory a false friend. He also argued that counterpart theory needs natural properties. This essay argues that natural properties are all essentialists need to find a true friend in counterpart theory. Section one explains why Lewis takes counterpart theory to be anti-essentialist and why he thinks it needs natural properties. Section two establishes the connection between the natural properties counterpart theory needs and the essentialist consequences Lewis disavows. Section three answers two objections: (...)
  44. Is Each Thing the Same As Its Essence?Ronna Burger - 1987 - Review of Metaphysics 41 (1):53-76.
  45. Sortal Essentialism and the Potentiality Principle.Michael B. Burke - 1996 - Review of Metaphysics 49 (3):491 - 514.
  46. Dion and Theon: An Essentialist Solution to an Ancient Puzzle.Michael B. Burke - 1994 - Journal of Philosophy 91 (3):129-139.
    Dion is a full-bodied man. Theon is that part of him which consists of all of him except his left foot. What becomes of Dion and Theon when Dion’s left foot is amputated? Employing the doctrine of sortal essentialism, I defend a surprising answer last defended by Chrysippus: that Dion survives while the seemingly unscathed Theon perishes. For replies to critics, see my publications of 1997 and (especially) 2004.
  47. Essentialism and the Identity of Indiscernables.Michael B. Burke - 1983 - Philosophy Research Archives 9:223-243.
    The paper formulates and defends a version of the Identity of Indiscernibles and demonstrates that it entails a non-trivial version of the doctrine of essentialism.
  48. Essentialism and the Identity of Indiscernables.Michael R. Burke - 1983 - Philosophy Research Archives 9:223-243.
    The paper formulates and defends a version of the Identity of Indiscernibles and demonstrates that it entails a non-trivial version of the doctrine of essentialism.
  49. Essence Today: Hegel and the Economics of Identity Politics.Victoria I. Burke - 2007 - Philosophy Today 51 (1):79-90.
    The concept of essence is thought by many political theorists to be a residue of the patriarchal onto-theological tradition of metaphysics that needs to be (or has been) overcome by more progressive aims. The purpose of this paper is to examine the concept of essentialism in light of the treatment of the concept of essence in Hegel’s Science of Logic, and within the context of recent issues in critical race theory and feminism. I will argue that the role of an (...)
  50. 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 (...)
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