What Is the Essence of an Essence? Comparing Afro-Relational and Western-Individualist Ontologies

Synthesis Philosophica 65 (1):209-224 (2018)
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The dominant view amongst contemporary Western philosophers about the essence of a natu­ ral object is that it is constituted by its intrinsic properties. The ontological approach salient in the African philosophical tradition, in contrast, accounts for a thing’s essence by appeal to its relational properties. The Afro­relational ontology is under­developed, with the primary aim of this article being to help rectify that weakness. Specifically, this article’s aims are: to articulate an African approach to understanding the essence of a concrete, natural thing in terms of its relationships; to illustrate the Afro­relational approach with the examples of the self and of water; to contrast the Afro­relational characterization of the essence of the self and of water with a typically Western construal in terms of their intrinsic properties; and finally to provide an initial defence of the Afro­relational approach, both by responding to some objections facing it and by providing some new, positive reasons to take it seriously.

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Thaddeus Metz
Cornell University (PhD)


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