Essence, Explanation and Kind-membership

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My dissertation centers on questions about essence, explanation and kind-membership. In the first chapter, I examine a recent proposal which suggests that we define ontological dependence in terms of essence. Compared with the modal definition of ontological dependence, the essentialist definition promises to be sensitive to the direction in which specific dependence relation obtains. I argue that the promise is illusionary. The essentialist definition has the same defect facing the modal definition. The essence or real definition of a thing needs not always make reference to entities that are more fundamental; it can appeal to entities that are less fundamental as well. I then suggest that we distinguish the question whether we need essence in order to analyze ontological dependence from the question whether we need essence in order to explain particular features of specific dependence relations. In the second chapter, I argue that the traditional notion of propria that we get from Aristotle can help shed light on the question “How do the essential properties of a thing differ from its non-essential, necessary properties?” and the question “How can the non-essential, necessary properties of a thing be ‘derived from’ its essence?”. These questions are crucial for anyone who is interested in the project of characterizing essence in non-modal terms. I propose a particular notion of propria, on which the essential properties of a thing are necessary properties of the thing that explain its propria. In the third chapter, I examine a recent argument for coincidence between material entities, which appeals to various non-modal sortalish differences between a constituted object and its constituting matter. I offer a one-thinger reply to the argument. I suggest that the argument fails due to a mixed usage of names such as “David” and “Piece”: the names can either be used to highlight distinct sortal profiles of a material entity or to refer to the entity itself. Further, I defend a metaphysical picture on which an object can be member of distinct kinds by bearing distinct similarity relations to other objects in the same world.

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ontological dependence; one-thinger; material coincidence; kind-membership; essence; Philosophy; explanation


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Bennett, Karen

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Silins, Nicholas
Pereboom, Derk

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Ph.D., Philosophy

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Doctor of Philosophy

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dissertation or thesis

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