Philosophers' Imprint 21 (7) (2021)

Inquiry into the metaphysics of essence tends to be pursued in a realist and model-theoretic spirit, in the sense that metaphysical vocabulary is used in a metalanguage to model truth conditions for the object-language use of essentialist vocabulary. This essay adapts recent developments in proof-theoretic semantics to provide a nominalist analysis for a variety of essentialist vocabularies. A metalanguage employing explanatory inferences is used to individuate introduction and elimination rules for atomic sentences. The object-language assertions of sentences concerning essences are then interpreted as devices for marking off structural features of the explanatory inferences that, under a given interpretation, constitute the contents of the atoms of the language. On this proposal, object-language essentialist vocabulary is mentioned in a proof-theoretic metalanguage that uses a vocabulary of explanation. The result is a nominalist interpretation of essence as a modality, understood in the grammatical sense as a modification of the copula, and a view of metaphysical inquiry that is closely connected to the explanatory commitments present in first-order inquiry into things like sets, chemicals, and organisms. This result illustrates that some of the presuppositions that have animated analytic metaphysics over the last few decades can be profitably substituted with more practice-oriented conceptions of the forms of reasoning at work in different domains of human knowledge.
Keywords essentialism  essence and modality  proof-theoretic semantics
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