Daniele Sgaravatti


A Modal-Epistemic Account of Essence


I begin by going through a by now classic argument offered by Kit Fine which establishes that essence is not reducible to modality, and I note that the same examples appealed to in Fine’s argument show that essential properties are necessary properties which have a particular epistemic interest. I then suggest that one could take this feature of essential properties as yielding the key to a reductive modal-epistemic account of essence. For a property to be essential just is for that that property to necessary and to constitute a significant source of knowledge about its bearer. I then consider some traditionally accepted links between essence and broadly epistemic notions such as understanding, explanation and real definition. To know the essence of something is to understand it. Essential properties can be used to explain and predict further properties. A good (real) definition should not only be extensionally adequate, but also constitute a source of knowledge. The view I am proposing gains plausibility by naturally explaining these links. The alternative view that takes essence to be a primitive notion of course could also explain them, but it needs additional work. By looking at the epistemic role of essences, I hope to clarify the view and to help putting it on the table. I end by considering an objection that concerns the need to tie the epistemic and modal element of the notion together, and respond by pointing to the role of essence in modal epistemology.

Date / Time / Place

June 22nd / 15:20 / Aula Magna