Making sense of "essence" : a critical examination of the adequacy of the modern philosophical conception of "essence"

Ross, Allison (2000) Making sense of "essence" : a critical examination of the adequacy of the modern philosophical conception of "essence". Masters thesis, Rhodes University.




The idea that some sub-set of the properties of an object captures what it is to be that thing i.e. that it has an essence which is there to be discovered and about which we can be mistaken - is a commonsense assumption that we use all the time. However, philosophers of this century have regarded the realism about essence with skepticism, arguing that we impose essences on things by the way we define our concepts as opposed to discovering them. Essences are supposedly characteristics of our concepts rather than of objects in the world. This was the orthodox view until a group of philosophers of language developed the theory of direct reference. They claimed that proper names and certain other words refer non-connotatively which entails that the real properties of objects are crucial to the establishment of the reference of such terms. It can be shown that the properties involved in reference determination must be all and only the necessary properties of those objects. This discovery has been taken to mark the rehabilitation of the notion of essence, with an object’s essence being taken to be that set of properties which it must have in all possible worlds in which it exists. I will argue that the theory of direct reference is correct up to the point at which it assimilates the necessary properties of objects to their essences. I will show that the set of an object’s necessary properties cannot fulfill the role reserved for the concept of essence in metaphysical hypotheses concerning the nature of objects. I will go on to show that a sub-set of a thing’s necessary properties can fulfill this role and I will suggest that we identify the members of this sub-set by testing their ability to furnish the kinds of explanations we expect from essences. I will demonstrate how this can be done using the Aristotelian idea that the notion of essence is required in order to explain how it is that objects can persist through change.

Item Type:Thesis (Masters)
Uncontrolled Keywords:Essentialism
Subjects:B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > B Philosophy (General)
Divisions:Faculty > Faculty of Humanities > Philosophy
ID Code:2258
Deposited By: Mrs Carol Perold
Deposited On:23 Nov 2011 08:11
Last Modified:06 Jan 2012 16:22
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