A Puzzle for Social Essences

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The social world contains institutions (nations, clubs), groups (races, genders), objects (talismans, borders), and more. This paper explores a puzzle about the essences of social items. There is widespread consensus against social essences because of problematic presuppositions often made about them. But it is argued that essence can be freed from these presuppositions and their problems. Even so, a puzzle still arises. In a Platonic spirit, essences in general seem “detached” from the world. In an Aristotelian spirit, social essences in particular seem “embedded” in the world. The puzzle is that these inclinations are individually plausible but jointly incompatible. The paper has four aims: to clarify and refine the puzzle; to explore the puzzle’s implications for essence in general and for social essences in particular; to illustrate the fruitfulness of the general distinction between “detached” and “embedded”; and to develop this distinction to sketch a novel solution to the puzzle.
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Archival date: 2020-12-14
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