Explaining essences

Philosophical Studies 178 (4):1043-1064 (2020)
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This paper explores the prospects of combining two views. The first view is metaphysical rationalism : all things have an explanation. The second view is metaphysical essentialism: there are real essences. The exploration is motivated by a conflict between the views. Metaphysical essentialism posits facts about essences. Metaphysical rationalism demands explanations for all facts. But facts about essences appear to resist explanation. I consider two solutions to the conflict. Exemption solutions attempt to exempt facts about essences from the demand for explanation. Explanation solutions attempt to explain facts about essences. I argue that exemption solutions are less promising than explanation solutions. I then consider how explanation solutions might be developed. I suggest that a “generative” approach is most promising. I tentatively conclude that the prospects for combining metaphysical rationalism and metaphysical essentialism turn on the viability of a generative approach. This sets the agenda for defending the combination as well as the more general project of explaining essences.

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Michael J. Raven
University of Victoria


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