Essence and the inference problem

Synthese 198 (2):915-931 (2021)
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Discussions about the nature of essence and about the inference problem for non-Humean theories of nomic modality have largely proceeded independently of each other. In this article I argue that the right conclusions to draw about the inference problem actually depend significantly on how best to understand the nature of essence. In particular, I argue that this conclusion holds for the version of the inference problem developed and defended by Alexander Bird. I argue that Bird’s own argument that this problem is fatal for David Armstrong’s influential theory of the laws of nature but not for dispositional essentialism is seriously flawed. In place of this argument, I develop an argument that whether Bird’s inference problem raises serious difficulties for Armstrong’s theory depends on the answers to substantial questions about how best to understand essence. The key consequence is that considerations about the nature of essence have significant, underappreciated implications for Armstrong’s theory.

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Ashley Coates
University of the Witwatersrand


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