In Search of a Structurally Complete Epistemology of Essence

In Anand Jayprakash Vaidya & Dusko Prelevic (eds.), The Epistemology of Modality and Philosophical Methodology. New York, London: Routledge. pp. 150-175 (2023)
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A very influential idea in the epistemology of modality is that we acquire knowledge of metaphysical modality through knowledge of essence. As a consequence, the epistemology of essence becomes crucial in the attempt to answer the question of how we come to know modal propositions. In this paper I investigate Lowe’s and Hale’s approach to the epistemology of essence and argue that both of them remain in a crucial, structural sense incomplete. Systematizing this criticism against Lowe and Hale, I then break down desiderata of what I call a structurally complete picture of the epistemology of essence. Finally, I discuss Husserl’s epistemology of essence and defend it against a notorious objection. However, Husserl’s approach also seems to remain incomplete, due to its appeal to imagination, which operates on the basis of background assumptions that are themselves in need of justification. I indicate, however, that a Husserlian theory of intuitive awareness of universals might supply us with (direct) justification of these background assumptions and, hence, that we might be able to paint a structurally complete picture of the epistemology of essence with Husserlian means.

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Michael Wallner
University of Graz


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