Counterfactual Similarity, Nomic Indiscernibility, and the Paradox of Quidditism

Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy 67 (1):230-261 (2024)
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Aristotle is essentially human; that is, for all possible worlds metaphysically consistent with our own, if Aristotle exists, then he is human. This is a claim about the essential property of an object. The claim that objects have essential properties has been hotly disputed, but for present purposes, we can bracket that issue. In this essay, we are interested, rather, in the question of whether properties themselves have essential properties (or features) for their existence. We call those who suppose they do “property essentialists”; those who do not, “property anti-essentialists,” or “quidditists.” We offer two complementary arguments. Our total argument is under-girded by two assumptions: transworld identity theory and “received view” counterfactual semantics, a la David Lewis. We then argue that, if one presumes that these are true, then one risks running headlong into paradox if one also accepts property anti-essentialism. That's the first argument. By contrast, if one accepts these same assumptions in conjunction with property essentialism, then the paradox is avoided. This is the second argument. We take it that our arguments work to show that, between property essentialism and quidditism, the property essentialist is on better footing. Plausibly, properties themselves do have essential properties for their existence.

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Andrew Dennis Bassford
University of Texas at Austin


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