An Essential Question

Like most terms in philosophy, ‘essentialism’ gets used in a variety of different ways in a variety of different contexts. In its most general use, though, essentialism is the view that some things have essences. What is an essence? Accounts differ, but roughly at least we can say that an essence is a set of properties that a thing must have so long as it is the thing that it is and that it cannot lose without ceasing to be the thing that it is. Not all properties that a thing has are essential, because some of them are properties that a thing can gain or lose without ceasing to be the thing that it is; these are so-called accidental properties. Philosophers argue about whether this is the right way to understand essences and essential properties. Some, for instance, follow Aristotle in distinguishing further between necessary properties and essential properties: a property is necessary if it is one that a thing must have to be the thing that it is and that it cannot lose without ceasing to be the thing that it is, but a property is essential only if it is both necessary and fundamental, explaining why the thing has the other necessary properties it has, but not itself explained in terms of some other property. I’m not much interested here in the distinction between necessary and essential properties. What interests me is that there are plenty of philosophers who want to reject essentialism altogether. They don’t just want to say that for some categories, such as ‘human’ or ‘American’ or ‘fun,’ there is no set of properties that everything falling within that category must have and cannot lose without ceasing to belong to that category. Instead, they want to deny that there are any essential properties at all. I find this puzzling. Here’s why.

If nothing has any essential properties, then, naturally enough, there is no legitimate distinction to be made between essential and accidental properties. But if there is no legitimate distinction between essential and accidental properties, then how is change possible in anything like the way we normally understand it? Essential properties are (at least a sub-set of) properties that a thing cannot lose without ceasing to exist, whereas accidental properties are properties that a thing can gain or lose without ceasing to exist. If no such distinction is to be had, then what can we say about cases in which things seem to gain and lose properties without ceasing to exist, and how can we distinguish these cases from cases in which things cease to exist because they lose some properties? It seems that, if the distinction between essential and accidental properties is abandoned, then whenever something gains or loses any property at all, it ceases to exist and is replaced by a new entity. So when I go outside in the humid swamp that is Houston and I become hot, I cease to exist and am replaced by a new entity that is otherwise like me but hot; when I then go back inside into my gloriously air-conditioned apartment and cool down, I again cease to exist and am replaced by a new entity that is otherwise like me but cool. Such cases would differ only superficially from those that we’re more accustomed to think of as my ceasing to exist; when I go outside my apartment and am killed by a runaway ice cream truck, I cease to exist and am replaced by a new entity, just as in the other cases, but this entity shares fewer other properties with me; it is not conscious or alive, it lacks some of the bodily fluids jettisoned upon the impact of the ice cream truck, and so on. When that entity’s organs are harvested and the remainder is cremated, it too ceases to exist and is replaced by a plurality of entities, some of which share some of the properties with my formerly existing corpse, others of which do not. But these cases are pretty much just like the case where I went outside into the swamp and got hot; it’s not that one and the same, numerically identical entity gained or lost some properties in that case but ceased to exist when clobbered by the ice cream truck; in both cases one entity ceased to exist and was replaced by another entity with a different set of properties, it’s just that in one case the new entity was more similar to the old one.

This is, to say the least, a wildly counter-intuitive result. Nothing persists through change; every change involves the passing-away of one entity and the coming-to-be of a new entity. But it looks like this, or something about as wild as this, would have to follow from a rejection of essentialism. It’s not surprising that some philosophers would accept this implication; philosophers will believe almost anything. But it seems like an awfully steep price to pay for rejecting essentialism.

So my question to those who are more metaphysically talented than I am is: is something like this really an unavoidable consequence of rejecting essentialism? And if so, why reject essentialism? Is it really any more problematic than the view that nothing persists through change? It’s not hard to see why one might reject essentialist views of certain categories or concepts; perhaps there is no non-disjunctive set of properties that belong to every and all games, as in Wittgenstein’s famous example, or every and all human beings, or every and all living things, or every and all Alaskans, or whatever. But that’s a far cry from holding that there is no set of properties that a given thing must have and cannot lose while remaining the numerically same individual thing.

I am metaphysically naive, though. So perhaps you can help me out. I can see my way more or less clearly to a few alternative responses, but I think I probably have more to learn from others than they do from me on this topic.

13 thoughts on “An Essential Question

  1. It’s not hard to see why one might reject essentialist views of certain categories or concepts; perhaps there is no non-disjunctive set of properties that belong to every and all games, as in Wittgenstein’s famous example, or every and all human beings, or every and all living things, or every and all Alaskans, or whatever. But that’s a far cry from holding that there is no set of properties that a given thing must have and cannot lose while remaining the numerically same individual thing.

    Who holds the stronger view you have in mind? And where?

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    • Wittgenstein, on at least some readings, in Philosophical Investigations; Quine in various places (‘Three Grades of Modal Involvement’ and other essays in The Ways of Paradox and Other Essays and From a Logical Point of View, and perhaps elsewhere); Popper in Conjectures and Refutations and elsewhere; anti-realist constructivists of all sorts, e.g., Rorty in Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature or Foucault, by report (no Foucault that I’ve read addresses the question at this level of generality, so perhaps the reports are exaggerated). Classical Empiricists like Locke and Hume appear to reject belief in essences, and Hume’s bundle theory of objects seems to deny that objects genuinely persist through change. I don’t have a great grasp on any of this, which is part of why I’m asking the question. It might help, though, to clarify that so far as I know none of these thinkers denies that some predicates might necessarily be entailed by others, for instance that if x is triangular it is also trilateral; what they deny is that there is any genuine necessity here independent of how we conceptualize and describe things. So Quine, for instance, acknowledges that relative to a certain description of x, x may be necessarily y; what he denies is that this necessity holds in virtue of anything other than how we describe x (so, famously, if Jones is a cyclist and a mathematician, he’s both necessarily and contingently two-legged; necessarily insofar as he is described as a cyclist, contingently insofar as he is described as a mathematician — evidently Quine has no truck with one- or more-than-two-legged cyclists). Wittgensteinians and anti-realist constructivists as I understand them hold a broadly similar view, and insofar as the Empiricist tradition insists that necessity is strictly a logical, and therefore conceptual, matter, Empiricists may be committed to a similar view whether they say so or not. I take essentialism to require more than the claim that certain concepts logically entail others; as I understand it, it’s a metaphysical view about how things are independently of how we conceptualize them.

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      • The real target there seems to be Quine. Wittgenstein is too cryptic, and Rorty and Foucault are probably too indirect, to serve as bona fide critics of the sort of essentialism you have in mind. I either haven’t read Popper, or read him so long ago that I don’t remember what he says. Locke’s metaphysical views are too much of a mess to be taken at face value, and Hume’s views may end up being aporetic. So Popper aside, I’d focus on Quine’s anti-essentialism. Metaphysics is not my forte, so I haven’t thought about this in awhile, and haven’t read Quine in awhile. But I guess I’d want to know on textual grounds whether Quine’s anti-essentialism is as global as you’re suggesting it is.

        I don’t have a substantive comment to make (when do I ever?), but I do have a methodological or logical one. It seems to me that one has to distinguish these two questions:

        1. How good are, say, Quine’s arguments against essentialism?
        2. How does Quine propose to handle the problem of change on anti-essentialist grounds?

        Would you agree that the two issues are methodologically distinct? In other words, would you agree that it’s not just that (1) and (2) are two separate questions but that answering them involves two separate inquiries? It could be (couldn’t it?) that Quine’s arguments against essentialism are conclusive, and yet he has no adequate non-essentialist account of change–and neither does anyone else. That would leave the matter aporetic. Essentialism would be false, but change would remain a mystery.

        Is there such a thing as a legitimate inference to the truth of a claim from the intolerability of an unresolved aporia about that claim? In other words, is there a permissible inference from the non-existence (or even impossibility) of an anti-essentialist resolution to the problem of change to the truth of essentialism? I don’t think so, but I wonder if you do.

        I raise the issue because it affects how one proceeds with the inquiry. One of way of engaging in the inquiry is to structure it like this (call it A):

        1. Well, obviously we have to have a resolution to the problem of change.
        2. There’s no anti-essentialist resolution.
        3. Whatever the problems with it, essentialism does seem to solve the problem. Given (1), let’s discount the problems with essentialism, and treat the problem as solved, since it’s not as though we can feasibly or indefinitely go without a resolution.

        Another way is this (call it B):

        1. The problem of change could end up being genuinely aporetic. Too bad if it is. But no big deal, either. We can manage without.
        2. There’s no anti-essentialist resolution to the problem.
        3. As Quine showed, there’s no essentialist resolution, either.
        4. Wow, sucks to be us.

        Do you want to rule (B) out from the start? The advocate of (A) will be willing to accept essentialism while discounting the problems with it. If a given problem isn’t lethal, he’ll discount it, and accept essentialism anyway. The advocate of (B) will be willing to reject essentialism if it has any major problems, lethal or not. The advocate of (B) treats every significant theoretical problem with a view as a reason against it, while discounting what the advocate of (A) regards as the much worse problem of being left in an aporetic state about the metaphysical nature of change.

        I think it helps to get clear where one stands on this meta-issue, not that doing so really solves anything of a substantive nature.

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        • That’s helpful. None of these points really gets at the issue I’m trying to make some headway on — viz., whether a realist acceptance of persistence through change requires essentialism — but they’re important in their own right and significant in relation to the broader question.

          Yes, your (1) and (2) are different questions and methodologically distinct. I have opinions about (1), but no clear sense of the answer to (2). My opinions about (1) could be further refined, better defended, and all that, but that wouldn’t help us answer (2). (2) is closer to the question that motivated my original post, and it’s at least possible that an answer to (2) could answer that original question — if, say, Quine accepts persistence through change without appealing to a distinction between essential and accidental properties. In fact, I suspect that the answer to (2) won’t help much, because Quine’s pragmatism and anti-realism will make any answer he gives to “how do you understand change?” a claim about how we should talk and think about change and not a claim about whether or not objects really persist through change.

          The more interesting general question you pose has to do with whether there’s a permissible inference to the truth of P from intolerable aporia arising from the denial of P. I think the answer to that depends on a few factors: first, what kind and how strong an inference; second, what we suppose about other claims relevant in the context.

          Take the second first, since it’s more straightforward. Suppose that the persistence of objects through change is simply an empirical fact, a given of experience. While we might have doubts about whether something that is a given of experience has to be true, such skeptical doubts raise general issues that can be set aside here because they cast doubt on the deliverances of the senses in general, not on this particular claim; so we could say that unless our senses are radically deceived, then objects sometimes persist through change and sometimes do not. If that’s so, then any view that entails that objects do not persist through change would have to be false. If, then, a given view lands in irresolvable aporia about the persistence of objects through change, there’s a straightforward and unproblematic inference to the falsity of that view. The inference would be as unobjectionable as an inference that a scientific theory that makes regularly falsified predictions is a false scientific theory, and the reason would be the same: the claim is inconsistent with the empirical evidence.

          As it happens, though, I don’t think the persistence of objects through change can be regarded as an empirical given, at least not in the way that it would need to be for arguments of that sort to go through. Ultimately, the persistence of objects through change is not so much an empirical claim about what happens as it is a metaphysical claim about how to understand what happens. So it can’t have the kind of foundational or quasi-foundational status that it would need to have in order for us to infer straightaway the falsity of any claim that denies it or can’t account for it.

          That said, I do think that the persistence of objects through change deserves something close to that kind of status. It’s not just a belief that happens to go unquestioned outside of philosophy by most people in our time and place, like the claims that the earth is round, that slavery is wrong, or that people are sometimes morally responsible for their actions. Those claims are all (I take it) true, most of us have strong intuitions that they’re true, and those intuitions give us some good reason to think that the claims are true. But none of them pervasively structures human experience in quite the same way as the persistence of objects through change. I wouldn’t claim, à la Kant, that experience would be unintelligible apart from this assumption, but it does seem to be fairly fundamental to experience. As such, I think we’re quite well warranted in accepting it as true and setting a very high bar for theories and arguments that would lead us to reject it. There should be a very heavy burden of proof on those who deny that objects genuinely persist through change.

          So what kind or strength of inference does this license when we encounter an irresolvable aporia in a claim that entails that objects don’t persist through change? Clearly not a straightforward and unassailable deductive inference either to the falsity of the view in question or to the truth of the claim that objects persist through change. The latter claim could conceivably be false, so we can’t validly infer that it’s true from the falsity of some theory that denies it; maybe that theory is wrong, but some other with the same implication isn’t. Much less can we validly infer the truth of the claim simply because some theory that denies it lands in apparently irresolvable aporia; maybe that aporia can be resolved after all, or maybe a very similar but slightly different theory can avoid it. The mere fact that some theory entailing not-p lands in aporia can’t entail the truth of p.

          Nonetheless, it does seem to me that if a theory entailing that objects do not persist through change lands in aporia, that gives us some additional reason to believe that that theory is false and that objects persist through change. If the only problem with a given theory is that it entails that objects don’t persist through change, then obviously we don’t get any additional reason to disbelieve that theory or to believe that objects do persist through change. But if the theory generates additional problems, that seems like a good reason to reject it. If we had no independent reason to believe that objects persist through change, then the theory’s problems would not license any inference to the truth of the claim that they do. But we do have independent reason to believe that objects persist through change, and, so I think at least, very strong reason; hence if theories that deny it end up in difficulties even apart from their rejection of persistence through change, we get extra reason to believe that objects really do persist.

          So if rejecting essentialism leads to a bunch of problems and essentialism doesn’t, that’s a good reason to think that essentialism is true. If the only problem with rejecting essentialism is that it can’t account for persistence through change, then that wouldn’t give us any additional reason to believe in persistence through change. But even if the only difference between accepting and rejecting essentialism were accounting for persistence through change, then that would, I think, give us very powerful reason to accept essentialism and reject anti-essentialism, even though persistence through change is not a given of experience and could be merely how things appear to us or merely how we make sense of our experience.

          In fact, I don’t think we’re in either of these scenarios. Anti-essentialists want to reject essentialism in part because they think it faces problems of its own; in response to that, it’s not enough to say, “well, but anti-essentialism entails that objects don’t persist through change, so we should be essentialists!” We need at least to see that the alleged problems with essentialism can be resolved. But — to come along to the last issue you raise — even if essentialism and anti-essentialism alike face some difficulties, it does seem to me that if anti-essentialism can’t account for persistence through change, then unless the difficulties with essentialism are clearly greater than the difficulties with anti-essentialism, we still have good reason to be essentialists. If we need to be essentialists to account for persistence through change — and it’s still not apparent to me that we do — then I think we should not reject essentialism even if it has major problems, provided they’re not lethal, as you put it, but that we should reject anti-essentialism even if none of its problems are lethal. More concisely put: persistence through change is a pervasive assumption of ordinary thinking, and we shouldn’t accept any theory that entails that objects don’t persist through change until that theory can be shown to be genuinely compelling.

          For what it’s worth, my thinking on these sorts of methodological issues has been importantly shaped by Stephen Boulter’s The Rediscovery of Commonsense Philosophy, which is well worth a read.

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  2. I see that nobody else is taking the bait. What do I have to do to get some discussion going on in the comments around here? Do I need to start writing posts in which I make bold, unsubstantiated claims of sweeping generality that offend the sensibilities of my 8 readers? I know, I know, you’re thinking, ‘start by writing something that isn’t so damn boring.’ Is our comment policy too restrictive? What would happen if we started allowing unapproved comments? Anonymous comments? Ok, that might be going too far…

    I’ll work on being less boring instead.

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    • Submitted four minutes too soon. I don’t recommend writing posts that make bold, unsubstantiated claims of sweeping generality etc., as that would usurp my role at PoT. And clearly, we need a division of labor here. You’re not boring, by the way, unless philosophy itself is boring (which it isn’t, at least not to philosophers). I don’t think the comments policy is particularly restrictive, since we almost never decline comments that we get; I myself have only declined obvious spam. Perhaps the need to register creates a deterrent to commenting, but that’s a price I’m willing to pay to avoid turning PoT into BHL. And we de facto do allow anonymous/pseudonymous comments, whatever my official policy says.

      If you want commenters, you have to mention the keywords that draw them in: “Israel,” “Palestine,” “Zionism,” “Islam,” “ISIS,” and “terrorism.” As in: “Israel’s Assault on the Analytic-Synthetic Distinction,” or “ISIS and the A Priori,” or “BDS and the Case Against Zionist Qualia.” It’s called marketing.

      As you’ve probably figured out, my “hiatus” from social media has had all of the stability and consistency of Robert Nozick’s commitment to libertarianism, but the fact is, I’ve drastically cut down the amount of time I spend on it (really), in part because I’ve been trying to figure out what I’m trying to accomplish by being on it. I’m trying to integrate it into my life in a way that involves a worked-out plan, rather than in the hit/miss fashion that had become my habit. So far, the result of my hiatus has been an ad hoc pattern of over-engagement and abrupt disengagement. But character change doesn’t happen overnight.

      It probably doesn’t help that for reasons that I’m hard-pressed to explain, I’ve decided once again to fast for Ramadan. Since I can’t wake up for the morning meal (4 am), I’ve been subsisting on one meal a day. Right now, I’m hungry enough to eat the collected works of W.V.O. Quine. Would I persist through that change? I don’t fucking care. All I know is that it’s 4 pm and it’ll be another four hours and twenty minutes before the sun goes down. Do I really know that the sun will go down? Trust me, pal. I just do. Four hours, 20 minutes. Sun will go down.

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      • Why wouldn’t you want PoT to be like BHL? Look at all the terrific conversation that goes down over there! So much constructive critique! So much insight! Such brilliant creativity in name-calling!

        The most read posts on this blog almost every single day are Potts’ ‘The Schwartz Theory of Basic Values and Some Implications for Political Philosophy’ and Barnes’ ‘Marx’s Theory of the State.’ So clearly what I really need to do is write a post with a title that will show up when students with papers due frantically search the Google for some help. Sure, sure, I suppose I might also try to write something good like those two posts, but let’s get real.

        You know, if you keep fasting for Ramadan all those people who think you’re a secret Muslim trying to infiltrate the West are going to get suspicious. Seriously, though, fasting is, well, serious. I remain attached to certain Catholic practices despite my inveterate agnosticism, but fasting sure isn’t one of them — and, as you know, standard Catholic fasting is pretty weak sauce; no meat on Fridays during Lent, only fish! Not that I find abstinence from meat especially challenging in itself, but when I did try to observe the lenten fast I found myself occasionally eating something with meat in without realizing it. I guess you can’t inadvertently break the Ramadan fast, eh? “Oh, damn, I forgot that this was food…”

        Keep on keepin’ on. I’ll see if I can continue to hold down the fort while you’re hiatusizing, however sporadically. Don’t count on any improvement in my advertising, though.

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        • Further support for your thesis about the power of advertising: as of 9:42PM Central Time, your ‘Orientalism, Racism, and Islam’ has had 20 visitors (which does not, I think, include any of us with author privileges, but certainly doesn’t include you), whereas ‘An Essential Question’ has had only 18 since publication. Your way of talking about essentialism is just more exciting than mine. I know a guy who teaches marketing; maybe he’d let me audit his class.

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  3. I suppose one might hold that changing-but-remaining-of-type-F versus changing-and-not-remaining-of-type-F is entirely relative to the (or your) concept of an F. The reply would be that this sort of change seems to be determined by the properties or kinds, not our concepts of them. The further reply would be that this appearance is deceptive and, for reasons of coherent or best explanation, we should abandon it. It is less clear to me how the anti-essentialist handles token or particular identity-conditions. Maybe our perception of x changing but remaining the same particular object (and presumably the same type of object as well, at least in some respect) as against x ceasing to exist would be construed as relative to some primitive concept of what an entity is (or some such). And then the same dialectic plays out. Maybe, then, anti-essentialists have to be revisionary anti-realists regarding change as against ceasing to exist (at both the token or particular and type level)? If so, they would be committed to something akin to eliminativism in philosophy of mind. But maybe that simply underlines your point: [insert insistent tone] it is the objects that change, not merely their membership in our categories (and it is the former that explains the latter, at least usually or in the normal cases).

    (Does that make any sense? I haven’t thought about this stuff in a long time.)

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    • Most of the anti-essentialism that I’m familiar with is (very) broadly Kantian in that it rejects the notion that we ever get at ‘things in themselves’ as opposed to things as we conceptualize and describe them. I think what this sort of anti-essentialist would want to say is that independently of some conceptual scheme that we’ve adopted, there either is no fact of the matter about whether an entity has persisted through change or ceased to exist and been replaced with another, or that we have no way of knowing, even in a weak sense of ‘knowing,’ what that fact of the matter is. Insofar as anti-essentialism is tied up with this sort of anti-realism, I suppose it makes some sense to me, and though I don’t find it attractive or plausible, I understand the kind of difficulties that lead some people to adopt it (indeed, I used to believe something like it a long time ago). Of course it might be a different question whether one should, as an anti-realist, reject essentialism; why not be an anti-realist essentialist, holding that the best conceptual scheme is one that treats many individual things as having essential properties? But that’d be importantly different from standard varieties of essentialism, I think.

      I wonder more about realist varieties of anti-essentialism. So far as I can see, if one is a realist and an anti-essentialist, one has to adopt some pretty wild ontology or other, one that does deny that objects genuinely persist through change. Bundle theories, as I understand them, do this: what we think of as entities or objects like your dog or my shoe or your former roommate’s best friend’s sister’s boyfriend are in fact bundles of properties, and what we ordinarily describe as cases in which they persist through change are really cases in which some properties are added to or subtracted from the bundle, and so there’s a real difference between stepping outside and getting hot and stepping outside and getting killed, but it’s really a matter of changes in which properties exist in the world and how they’re associated, not a matter of some object gaining or losing properties. Or something like that; I’m not sure I’m capable of giving more than a bare sketch of this sort of view, and there’s a variety of ways they might cash out what we ordinarily describe as persistence through change.

      One of the questions I have is why anybody would think that such a view is less problematic than essentialism. But the broader background question is whether there is any anti-essentialist view that allows for genuine persistence through change. Anti-realist views won’t count because they allow only for persistence through change relative to a conceptual scheme. I’m not quite so naive as to think that we can treat persistence through change as an established empirical fact that any metaphysical theory must accommodate, but my usual way of thinking about this has been to follow Aristotle and think: look, some objects certainly seem to persist through change; a distinction between essential and accidental properties is necessary to account for persistence through change; a distinction between essential and accidental properties gives us essentialism; therefore we should be essentialists. Lots of people will grumble about various features of that line of reasoning, but I’m especially interested in whether the second premise is true: do we need the essential/accidental property distinction to account for genuine persistence through change?

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      • Oh, I should probably note another complication. Some people reject essentialism because they suppose that essences must be universals and that there are no universals. But I’m not sure that we need to believe in universals in any ontologically robust sense in order to preserve the distinction between essential and accidental properties. A nominalist who doesn’t want to countenance anything that looks remotely like universals might have to reject the distinction, but then will either be led into a kind of anti-realist direction and treat the apparent difference between persistence and non-persistence through change as simply relative to our way of thinking and classifying, or will end up adopting some kind of ontology that rejects genuine persistence through change. Or such, at least, are the options so far as I can see them. I’ve never really been able to understand nominalism except as an over-reaction to particularly strong conceptions of universals anyway, so perhaps there’s some other alternative for nominalists.

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  4. I think it’s right to focus on Quine as the key figure in motivating anti-essentialism, but I take a more skeptical (and sociological) view of his impact. It’s not so much that people anymore are overly impressed with his arguments that necessity of properties can only be relative to a conceptualization; more important is when he was being honest and saying (I don’t recall where, sorry) that he just has an aesthetic preference for an “austere ontology”. His aesthetic preference for an austere ontology led him to the practice of using paraphrase to get rid of things that seemed to make for a less-austere ontology, and that set up the kind of game that 20th and 21st century metaphysicians like to play: how clever can I be in explaining away phenomenon X such that I can continue to coherently hold a minimalist ontology? I think of the article “Holes” as the par excellence example of people playing this game, but it’s certainly the case that for 60-odd years a reliable way to get a publication was to pick a phenomenon and explain it away by playing this game.

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    • Duane! My man!

      Interesting thought. I don’t have a good sense of how his arguments against essentialism have fared. Clearly they haven’t stood in the way of essentialist theories flourishing in analytic metaphysics over the past several decades. But, contemporary philosophy being as it is, what is widely accepted as a viable view in one area is sometimes dismissed out of hand in others, and I don’t know various areas well enough to know whether essentialism is in that predicament. Certainly most of what I’ve read about Quine’s arguments against essentialism has been critical, but I can’t claim that my reading on this topic has been, ehm, fair and balanced.

      Your broader sociological point seems right, but I wonder whether it’s independent of his views on essentialism. The trend you describe seems to be embraced by some people who endorse essentialism. Indeed, it seems to be embraced by people who embrace realism. In a way this just shows how broad Quine’s impact has been; people who don’t accept many of his other views nonetheless adopt his austerity measures. But austerity and anti-essentialism seem to pull apart in both directions; not only are some austere metaphysicians essentialists, but it seems like anti-essentialists who aren’t also anti-realists might not be able to be too austere, at least if austerity is in tension with an ontology that doesn’t include objects that persist through change. But maybe that’s austere enough; maybe it’s just weird.

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