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essentialism

JOSEPH MARGOLIS


Subject Literature

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405168908.2010.x


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Minimally, the doctrine that particular things necessarily possess essences or fixed natures in virtue of which they are what they are: particular things of determinate kinds. The idea is that nothing can remain one and the same, validly reidentifiable as such, if its assignable nature is lost or altered (as when a tree, cut down for lumber, loses its specific nature, being-a-tree, though it retains its generic nature as wood). There is no single version of essential-ism universally acknowledged to be true. Plato, for example, appears to have held that the things of the inconstant natural world lack all fixity, hence lack essences; nevertheless, their intelligibility presupposes and depends upon our grasping, through doxa (opinion), the changeless forms that natural things imperfectly “imitate.” Aristotle, who is generally conceded to be the author (particularly in Metaphysics) of the classic form of essentialism, holds that real particulars, things, ousiai , necessarily have fixed natures. Unlike Plato, Aristotle appears to believe that these “natures” or essences do not exist apart, but are manifested only in the changing or changeless things of the real world. Humans, Aristotle says, possess an intuitive theorizing power of reason ( nous) for directly discerning the essences of things: this, in effect, is the necessary condition of Aristotelian science. In contemporary ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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