Two Notions of Essence

Charlotte Witt

in The Metaphysics of Gender

Published in print October 2011 | ISBN: 9780199740413
Published online January 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199918720 | DOI:

Series: Studies in Feminist Philosophy

Two Notions of Essence

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One difficulty facing discussions of gender essentialism is the lack of clarity in the terms of the conversation. This chapter discusses the meaning of essentialism. It begins by distinguishing between kind and individual essentialism. It then focuses on individual essentialism in its Aristotelian guise. It explains how and why Aristotle's unification essentialism (or uniessentialism for short) is used to express gender essentialism. It revisits identity essentialism and considers the way some philosophers use it to discuss issues of gender (and race) essentialism. The purpose of this chapter is to clarify the differences between uniessentialism and identity essentialism in relation to the topic of gender essentialism. The chapter then considers Locke's distinction between nominal and real essences. Feminist debate concerning essentialism frequently turns on disagreement between gender nominalists and gender realists, and the concepts framing this debate originate with Locke. Some feminists have argued for adopting a theory of nominal essences about gender. Others are gender realists. As it turns out, however, the realism/nominalism debate among feminists is tangential to the focus of this book since it concerns the basis for membership in gender kinds, and not what makes an individual be the individual that it is.

Keywords: gender essentialism; individual essentialism; Aristotle; unification essentialism; Locke

Chapter.  8016 words. 

Subjects: Feminist Philosophy

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