Toward 'Perfect Collections of Properties': Locke on the Constitution of Substantial Sorts

Canadian Journal of Philosophy 29 (4):551-593 (1999)
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Locke's claims about the "inadequacy" of substance-ideas can only be understood once it is recognized that the "sort" represented by such an idea is not wholly determined by the idea's descriptive content. The key to his compromise between classificatory conventionalism and essentialism is his injunction to "perfect" the abstract ideas that serve as "nominal essences." This injunction promotes the pursuit of collections of perceptible qualities that approach ever closer to singling out things that possess some shared explanatory-level constitution. It is in view of this norm regulating natural-historical inquiry that a substance-idea represents a sort for which some such constitution serves as the "real essence," i.e. as that on which all the sort's characteristic "properties" depend.

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Lionel Shapiro
University of Connecticut


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