Essence

Authored by: Jessica Leech

The Routledge Handbook of Metametaphysics

Print publication date:  July  2020
Online publication date:  July  2020

Print ISBN: 9781138082250
eBook ISBN: 9781315112596
Adobe ISBN:

10.4324/9781315112596-19

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Abstract

What is essence? In rough terms, the essence of a thing is what it is to be that thing. So, perhaps what it is to be Socrates is, in part, to be human. Or what it is to be the number 2 is to be the successor of 1. Or what it is to be the Mona Lisa is, in part, to have been painted by da Vinci. Such a phrase has its origins in Aristotle, and the notion of essence can be found throughout the history of philosophy, although in this chapter we will focus on the contemporary context of this notion. This chapter focuses primarily on attempts to give an account of what essence is, and its relationship to other (meta)metaphysical notions such as necessity, real definition, grounding and identity. We review attempts to define essence in terms of necessity, and how these might be refined in the light of some well-known purported counterexamples to such attempts. We consider alternative accounts of essence, for example, given in terms of real definition, grounding or identity. We consider the breadth of the notion of essence, introducing the distinction between constitutive and consequential essence, and considering what has an essence (objects? properties? facts?). We also take a critical look at essentialist theories of modality; where rather than giving an account of essence in terms of modality, an account of modality is given in terms of essence.

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