Essence, modality, and intrinsicality

Synthese:1-23 (forthcoming)
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Kit Fine famously objected against the idea that essence can be successfully analyzed in terms of de re necessity. In response, I want to explore a novel, interesting, but controversial modal account of essence in terms of intrinsicality and grounding. In the first section, I will single out two theoretical requirements that any essentialist theory should meet—the essentialist desideratum and the essentialist challenge—in order to clarify Fine’s objections. In the second section, I will assess Denby’s improved modal account, which appeals to the notion of intrinsicality, and argue that it is untenable. In the third section, I will explain how, when combined with a modal-existential criterion, a hyperintensional account of intrinsicality—in the same vein as Bader (J Philos 110(10): 525–563, 2013) and Rosen (in: Hale and Hoffman (eds) Modality: Metaphysics, logic, and epistemology, Oxford, OUP, 2010)—can help successfully address Fine’s counterexamples. In the fourth section, I will evaluate how this novel analysis of essence stands with respect to sortal, origin, and natural kinds essentialism and discuss potential objections and difficulties.
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