Essential Properties and Remote Contingencies

Penelope Mackie

in How Things Might Have Been

Published in print April 2006 | ISBN: 9780199272204
Published online September 2006 | e-ISBN: 9780191604034 | DOI:
 Essential Properties and Remote Contingencies

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Having rejected the standard views about the essential properties of ordinary individuals, this chapter confronts the question whether such individuals have any interesting essential properties at all. It defends a version of ‘extreme haecceitism’, also known as ‘minimalist essentialism’, according to which ordinary individuals have relatively few interesting essential properties. According to this theory, many properties that might be assumed to be essential properties of ordinary individuals are not, strictly speaking, essential, but rather ‘tenacious’ or ‘quasi-essential’, where this implies that the possibility that the thing should lack the property is so remote as normally to be ignored in the context of counterfactual speculation. It is argued that the appearance of conflict between this version of extreme haecceitism and our intuitions may largely be dispelled, partly by appeal to the fact that in many contexts in which we make de re modal claims, we restrict ourselves to what all theorists must acknowledge to be a limited subset of the full range of de re possibilities. It is also argued that extreme haecceitism need not undermine the role played by an appeal to essential properties in various philosophical arguments, such as the debate between psychological and biological theorists concerning personal identity and a standard form of argument that appeals to modal distinctions, in order to establish the numerical distinctness of coincident entities.

Keywords: bare particular; essential kind or category; haecceitism; minimalist essentialism; personal identity; quasi-essential properties; remote contingencies; substance sortal; tenacious properties

Chapter.  8232 words. 

Subjects: Metaphysics

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