Essence, Necessity, and Explanation

In Tuomas E. Tahko (ed.), Contemporary Aristotelian Metaphysics. Cambridge University Press. pp. 187--206 (2012)
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It is common to think of essence along modal lines: the essential truths, on this approach, are a subset of the necessary truths. But Aristotle conceives of the necessary truths as being distinct and derivative from the essential truths. Such a non-modal conception of essence also constitutes a central component of the neo-Aristotelian approach to metaphysics defended over the last several decades by Kit Fine. Both Aristotle and Fine rely on a distinction between what belongs to the essence proper of an object and what merely follows from the essence proper of an object. In order for this type of approach to essence and modality to be successful, we must be able to identify an appropriate consequence relation which in fact generates the result that the necessary truths about objects follow from the essential truths. I discuss some proposals put forward by Fine and then turn to Aristotle’s account: Aristotle’s central idea, to trace the explanatory power of definitions to the causal power of essences has the potential to open the door to a philosophically satisfying response to the question of why certain things are relevant, while others are irrelevant, to the nature or essence of entities. If at all possible, it would be desirable for example to have something further to say by way of explanation to such questions as ‘Why is the number 2 completely irrelevant to the nature of camels?’

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Kathrin Koslicki
Université de Neuchâtel


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