A Puzzle for Social Essences

Journal of the American Philosophical Association 8 (1):128-148 (2022)
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The social world contains institutions, groups, objects, and more. This essay 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 essay 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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Michael J. Raven
University of Victoria


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