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Essences And Knowledge, Essences And Ethics, Empiricist Objections To Essentialism, Kripke: Essentialism Recast

Essentialists believe true essences exist. In the Metaphysics, Aristotle (384–322 B.C.E.) specifies the classic definition: an essence of a thing is that which it is said to be per se. It is that which is most irreducible, unchanging, and therefore constitutive of a thing. A thing's essence is that property without which the thing would cease to exist as itself. Each individual thing is one and the same as its essence, necessarily and not accidentally. Objects derive their coherence and intelligibility from the unchangeability and homogeneity of their underlying essences. Essence belongs primarily and simply to substance. The substance of things is their primary cause of being. Essences are anterior to and causative of ideas or practices. All things that have the same substance or essence are identical. Only a species or genus can have an essence. An essence is true of the thing in general, it does not derive from the manifold particulars of a thing. To define an essence is to give an account of a primary real—one that does not imply the assertion of something about something else. A distinctive set of ontological postulates thus appears intrinsic to essentialism. A realm of being outside time and culture or historical change exists. This realm is the real, the stable, the structured and eternal underlying the flux and chaos of the infinite variety of transitory appearances. The real world is made up of homogeneous, clear, and distinct essences. Innate or given essences sort objects naturally into species or kinds (natural kinds). The resulting categories are eternal, unchanging, stable, and universal.

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Ephemeris to Evolution - Historical Background