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Summary Scientific essentialism, which is sometimes used synonymously with 'dispositional essentialism', is the view that (some) properties have their causal properties -- their 'dispositional profile' -- essentially. The focus is usually on fundamental properties. Scientific essentialism is typically associated with the view that the fundamental laws of nature depend on such essential properties, so laws are effectively explained by the dispositional profiles of the things that they concern. Since the properties have these profiles essentially, it seems natural to think that the laws of nature are thus metaphysically necessary, although attempts to develop weaker versions of scientific essentialism without this commitment do exist.
Key works The roots of scientific essentialism can be found in the classic works of Kripke 1980 and Putnam 1975, but the view was developed further in Ellis & Lierse 1994Ellis 2007Bird 2007, and Ellis 2010. Recent critical work engaging with various aspects of scientific essentialism includes Corry 2011Drewery 2005Hendry & Rowbottom 2009Mumford 2005, Schrenk 2010, Tahko 2015, Tahko 2015, and Yates 2013.
Introductions The introductory Chapters of Ellis 2007 and Bird 2007 provide a good starting point. See also Bird & Tobin 2008.
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  1. Dispositional Essentialism; Alive and Well.E. Anderson - 1997 - Philosophical Papers 26 (2):195-201.
  2. How General is Generalized Scientific Essentialism?Erik Anderson - 2005 - Synthese 144 (3):373-379.
    I look at a recent argument offered in defense of a doctrine which I will call generalized scientific essentialism. This is the doctrine according to which, not only are some facts about substance composition metaphysically necessary, but, in addition, some facts about substance behavior are metaphysically necessary. More specifically, so goes the argument, not only is water necessarily composed of H2O and salt is necessarily composed of NaCl, but, in addition, salt necessarily dissolves in water. If this argument is sound, (...)
  3. Kant, Natural Kind Terms, and Scientific Essentialism.Erik Anderson - 1994 - History of Philosophy Quarterly 11 (4):355 - 373.
  4. Essence and Scientific Discovery in Kripke and Putnam.Edward Averill - 1982 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 43 (2):253-257.
  5. Kantian Realism and Scientific Essentialism.Gary Banham - 2007 - British Journal for the History of Philosophy 15 (4):775 – 784.
    Full-text of this article is not available in this e-prints service. This article was originally published following peer-review in British Journal for the History of Philosophy, published by and copyright Routledge.
  6. The Philosophical Limits of Scientific Essentialism.George Bealer - 1987 - Philosophical Perspectives 1:289-365.
    Scientific essentialism is the view that some necessities can be known only with the aid of empirical science. The thesis of the paper is that scientific essentialism does not extend to the central questions of philosophy and that these questions can be answered a priori. The argument is that the evidence required for the defense of scientific essentialism is reliable only if the intuitions required by philosophy to answer its central questions is also reliable. Included is an outline of a (...)
  7. Review: Scientific Essentialism. [REVIEW]H. Beebee - 2004 - Mind 113 (450):334-340.
  8. Review: Ellis, Scientific Essentialism; The Philosophy of Nature. [REVIEW]Helen Beebee - 2004 - Mind 113 (450).
  9. Priority Monism and Essentiality of Fundamentality: A Reply to Steinberg.Matteo Benocci - 2017 - Philosophical Studies 174 (8):1983-1990.
    Steinberg has recently proposed an argument against Schaffer’s priority monism. The argument assumes the principle of Necessity of Monism, which states that if priority monism is true, then it is necessarily true. In this paper, I argue that Steinberg’s objection can be eluded by giving up Necessity of Monism for an alternative principle, that I call Essentiality of Fundamentality, and that such a principle is to be preferred to Necessity of Monism on other grounds as well.
  10. Necessary Laws and Chemical Kinds.Nora Berenstain - 2014 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 92 (4):631-647.
    Contingentism, generally contrasted with law necessitarianism, is the view that the laws of nature are contingent. It is often coupled with the claim that their contingency is knowable a priori. This paper considers Bird's (2001, 2002, 2005, 2007) arguments for the thesis that, necessarily, salt dissolves in water; and it defends his view against Beebee's (2001) and Psillos's (2002) contingentist objections. A new contingentist objection is offered and several reasons for scepticism about its success are raised. It is concluded that (...)
  11. The World Essence.John Bigelow - 1990 - Dialogue 29 (2):205-.
  12. 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.
  13. A Posteriori Knowledge of Natural Kind Essences.Alexander Bird - 2007 - Philosophical Topics 35 (1-2):293-312.
    I defend this claim that some natural essences can be known (only) a pos- teriori against two philosophers who accept essentialism but who hold that essences are known a priori: Joseph LaPorte, who argues from the use of kind terms in science, and E. J. Lowe, who argues from general metaphysical and epistemological principles.
  14. A Posteriori Knowledge of Natural Kind Essences: A Defense.Alexander Bird - 2007 - Philosophical Topics 35 (1/2):293-312.
  15. Laws and Essences.Alexander Bird - 2005 - Ratio 18 (4):437–461.
    Those who favour an ontology based on dispositions are thereby able to provide a dispositional essentialist account of the laws of nature. In part 1 of this paper I sketch the dispositional essentialist conception of properties and the concomitant account of laws. In part 2, I characterise various claims about the modal character of properties that fall under the heading ‘quidditism’ and which are consequences of the categoricalist view of properties, which is the alternative to the dispositional essentialist view. I (...)
  16. Against Quidditism.Robert Black - 2000 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 78 (1):87 – 104.
  17. Scientific Essentialism.George Botterill - 2005 - Philosophical Books 46 (2):118-122.
  18. Scientific Essentialism.L. Clapp - 2002 - Philosophical Review 111 (4):589-594.
    Scientific Essentialism defends the view that the fundamental laws of nature depend on the essential properties of the things on which they are said to operate, and are therefore not independent of them. These laws are not imposed upon the world by God, the forces of nature, or anything else, but rather are immanent in the world. Ellis argues that ours is a dynamic world consisting of more or less transient objects that are constantly interacting with each other, and whose (...)
  19. On What is Naturally Necessary.Romane Clark - 1965 - Journal of Philosophy 62 (21):613-625.
  20. Can Dispositional Essences Ground the Laws of Nature?Richard Corry - 2011 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 89 (2):263 - 275.
    A dispositional property is a tendency, or potency, to manifest some characteristic behaviour in some appropriate context. The mainstream view in the twentieth century was that such properties are to be explained in terms of more fundamental non-dispositional properties, together with the laws of nature. In the last few decades, however, a rival view has become popular, according to which some properties are essentially dispositional in nature, and the laws of nature are to be explained in terms of these fundamental (...)
  21. A Note on Science and Essentialism.Alice Drewery - 2004 - Theoria 19 (3):311-320.
    This paper discusses recent attempts to use essentialist arguments based on the work of Kripke and Putnam to ground causal necessity in the world. I argue in particular that arecent argument by Alexander Bird relies on controversial intuitions about the natures of substances which no Humean would accept. While a case can be made that essentialism reflects some assumptions within scientific practice, the same can be said of Humeanism; ultimately neither Bird’s arguments, nor any empirical facts, can decide the question (...)
  22. Natural‐Kind Essentialism, Substance Ontology, and the Unity Problem: Two Dispositionalist Solutions.Travis Dumsday - 2016 - Dialectica 70 (4):609-626.
    What accounts for the linkage of seemingly diverse and inherently separable fundamental properties, such that they are regarded as properties of a single thing? Multiple answers to this question have been put forward in both the historical and current literature, especially from competing substance ontologies and competing theories concerning the metaphysics of natural kinds. Here I lay out and critically assess two ways in which dispositionalism might contribute to the discussion.
  23. Defending an Essentialist Ontology of Kinds, Laws, and Biological Taxa.Travis Dumsday - 2010 - Dissertation, Proquest
  24. The Essence of Essentialism.George E. Newman & Joshua Knobe - forthcoming - Mind and Language.
    Over the past several decades, psychological essentialism has been an important topic of study, incorporating research from multiple areas of psychology, philosophy and linguistics. At its most basic level, essentialism is the tendency to represent certain concepts in terms of a deeper, unobservable property that is responsible for category membership. Originally, this concept was used to understand people’s reasoning about natural kind concepts, such as TIGER and WATER, but more recently, researchers have identified the emergence of essentialist-like intuitions in a (...)
  25. Scientific Essentialism.Brian Ellis - 2007 - Cambridge University Press.
    Scientific Essentialism defends the view that the fundamental laws of nature depend on the essential properties of the things on which they are said to operate, and are therefore not independent of them. These laws are not imposed upon the world by God, the forces of nature or anything else, but rather are immanent in the world. Ellis argues that ours is a dynamic world consisting of more or less transient objects which are constantly interacting with each other, and whose (...)
  26. Marc Lange on Essentialism.Brian Ellis - 2005 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 83 (1):75 – 79.
    For scientific essentialists, the only logical possibilities of existence are the real (or metaphysical) ones, and such possibilities, they say, are relative to worlds. They are not a priori, and they cannot just be invented. Rather, they are discoverable only by the a posteriori methods of science. There are, however, many philosophers who think that real possibilities are knowable a priori, or that they can just be invented. Marc Lange [Lange 2004] thinks that they can be invented, and tries to (...)
  27. The Philosophy of Nature: A Guide to the New Essentialism.Brian Ellis - 2002 - Routledge.
    In "The Philosophy of Nature," Brian Ellis provides a clear and forthright general summation of, and introduction to, the new essentialist position. Although the theory that the laws of nature are immanent in things, rather than imposed on them from without, is an ancient one, much recent work has been done to revive interest in essentialism and "The Philosophy of Nature" is a distinctive contribution to this lively current debate. Brian Ellis exposes the philosophical and scientific credentials of the prevailing (...)
  28. The New Essentialism and the Scientific Image of Man-Kind.Brian Ellis - 2000 - Epistemologia 23 (2):189-210.
  29. Bigelow's Worries About Scientific Essentialism.Brian Ellis - 1999 - In Howard Sankey (ed.), Causation and Laws of Nature. Kluwer Academic Publishers. pp. 61--75.
  30. Dispositional Essentialism.Brian Ellis & Caroline Lierse - 1994 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 72 (1):27 – 45.
  31. Remarques Sur le Projet Essentialiste de Brian Ellis En Philosophie de la Nature.Philippe Gagnon - 2012 - Eikasia. Revista de Filosofía 43 (March):61-94.
  32. Dispositional and Categorical Properties, and Russellian Monism.Eric Hiddleston - forthcoming - Philosophical Studies:1-28.
    This paper has two main aims. The first is to present a general approach for understanding “dispositional” and “categorical” properties; the second aim is to use this approach to criticize Russellian Monism. On the approach I suggest, what are usually thought of as “dispositional” and “categorical” properties are really just the extreme ends of a spectrum of options. The approach allows for a number of options between these extremes, and it is plausible, I suggest, that just about everything of scientific (...)
  33. Platonism, Alienation, and Negativity.David Ingram - 2016 - Erkenntnis 81 (6):1273-1285.
    A platonic theory of possibility states that truths about what’s possible are determined by facts about properties not being instantiated. Recently, Matthew Tugby has argued in favour of this sort of theory, arguing that adopting a platonic theory of possibility allows us to solve a paradox concerning alien properties: properties that might have been instantiated, but aren’t actually. In this paper, I raise a worry for Tugby’s proposal—that it commits us to negative facts playing an important truth-making role—and offer a (...)
  34. Dispositions and the Principle of Least Action.J. Katzav - 2004 - Analysis 64 (3):206-214.
    My aim is to argue for the incompatibility of one of the central principles of physics, namely the principle of least action (PLA), with the increasingly popular view that the world is, ultimately, merely something like a con- glomerate of objects and irreducible dispositions. First, I argue that the essentialist implications many suppose this view has are not compatible with the PLA. Second, I argue that, irrespective of whether this view has any essentialist implications, it is not compatible with the (...)
  35. 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 (...)
  36. Reply to Ellis and to Handfield on Essentialism, Laws, and Counterfactuals.Marc Lange - 2005 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 83 (4):581 – 588.
    In Lange 2004a, I argued that 'scientific essentialism' [Ellis 2001 cannot account for the characteristic relation between laws and counterfactuals without undergoing considerable ad hoc tinkering. In recent papers, Brian Ellis 2005 and Toby Handfield 2005 have defended essentialism against my charge. Here I argue that Ellis's and Handfield's replies fail. Even in ordinary counterfactual reasoning, the 'closest possible world' where the electron's electric charge is 5% greater may have less overlap with the actual world in its fundamental natural kinds (...)
  37. 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.
  38. Essence and Natural Kinds: When Science Meets Preschooler Intuition.Sarah-Jane Leslie - 2013 - Oxford Studies in Epistemology 4:108-66.
  39. Symmetries, Dispositions and Essences.Vassilios Livanios - 2010 - Philosophical Studies 148 (2):295 - 305.
    Dispositional essentialists ultimately appeal to dispositional essences in order to provide (a) an explanation of the conservation of physical quantities and (b) identity conditions for fundamental physical properties. This paper aims to offer alternative suggestions based on symmetry considerations and exhibits their consequences for the thesis of dispositional essentialism.
  40. Perhaps Essentialism is Not so Essential: At Least Not for Natural Kinds. [REVIEW]Miles MacLeod - 2013 - Metascience 22 (2):293-296.
  41. Putting Modal Metaphysics First.Antonella Mallozzi - 2018 - Synthese:1-20.
    I propose that we approach the epistemology of modality by putting modal metaphysics first and, specifically, by investigating the metaphysics of essence. Following a prominent Neo-Aristotelian view, I hold that metaphysical necessity depends on the nature of things, namely their essences. I further clarify that essences are core properties having distinctive superexplanatory powers. In the case of natural kinds, which is my focus in the paper, superexplanatoriness is due to the fact that the essence of a kind is what causes (...)
  42. Induction and Scientific Realism: Einstein Versus Van Fraassen: Part Two: Aim-Oriented Empiricism and Scientific Essentialism.Nicholas Maxwell - 1993 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 44 (1):81-101.
    In this paper I argue that aim-oriented empiricism provides decisive grounds for accepting scientific realism and rejecting instrumentalism. But it goes further than this. Aim-oriented empiricism implies that physicalism is a central part of current (conjectural) scientific knowledge. Furthermore, we can and need, I argue, to interpret fundamental physical theories as attributing necessitating physical properties to fundamental physical entities.
  43. Part Two: Aim-Oriented Empiricism and Scientific Essentialism.Nicholas Maxwell - 1993 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 44 (1):81-101.
  44. Brian Ellis, Scientific Essentialism. [REVIEW]Patrick Mcgivern - 2002 - Philosophy in Review 22 (4):269-271.
  45. Essences, Powers, and Generic Propositions.Julius Moravcsik - 1994 - In T. Scaltsas, David Charles & Mary Louise Gill (eds.), Unity, Identity, and Explanation in Aristotle's Metaphysics. Oxford University Press. pp. 229--244.
  46. Kinds, Essences, Powers.Stephen Mumford - 2005 - Ratio 18 (4):420–436.
  47. Review of Scientific Essentialism by Brian Ellis. [REVIEW]Stephen Mumford - 2002 - Metascience 11 (3):324-328.
  48. Ellis and Lierse on Dispositional Essentialism.Stephen Mumford - 1995 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 73 (4):606 – 612.
  49. Brian Ellis, The Philosophy of Nature: A Guide to the New Essentialism. [REVIEW]Slobodan Perovic - 2004 - Philosophy in Review 24 (2):95-97.
  50. Salt Does Dissolve in Water, but Not Necessarily.S. Psillos - 2002 - Analysis 62 (3):255-257.
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