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📙 Real Essentialism (Routledge Studies in Contemporary Philosophy) by David S Oderberg — download pdf

An in-depth treatment of essence is not very common, so the book -- by a professor at the University of Reading in England -- was interesting. I agreed with part, though not near all. Chapter 1 - Contemporary essentialism and real essentialism. Since about 1970 essentialism has received more attention from philosophers than the previous few centuries. However, the modern versions significantly differ from the real essentialism endorsed by Oderberg and deriving from Aristotle and Aquinas. In his view the modern version is too much concerned with reductionism. Real essentialism is concerned not just with internal structure and an emphasis on quantity, but the unity of objects. It holds that qualitative characteristics are equally a part of ontology. The broader perspective is needed to address the essence of a statue or immaterial things. Chapter 2 - Some varieties of anti-essentialism. Oderberg addresses the views of empiricists (mainly Locke), Quine, Popper, and Wittgenstein. His presentation of Locke is one-sided. While Locke criticized real essentialism, at least for substances (Aristotle's meaning), he gave an account of nominal essence that Oderberg omitted entirely. Chapter 3 - The reliability and knowability of essence. Real essentialism is based on two aspects of unity. First, there is the unity of multiple entities that fall under the same kinds. Second, there is the unity of a concrete particular, especially a substance such as a man or gold. How can we account for a unified, characteristic repertoire of behavior, operations, and functions of a single integral entity? How do we account for something persisting that undergoes change? Chapter 4 - The structure of essence. He introduces hylemorphism (it is spelled with "e" instead of "o" in England?). Every finite material body is a compound of act and potency. Potency may be active or passive. He discusses substantial form. Actuality is to be understood as form, and potentiality as matter. Per Oderberg prime matter underlies all kinds of matter and has no form or essence. This goes beyond what Aristotle said, but maybe not beyond Aquinas. It is also rather strange, as he also says prime matter is never without some form and completely undifferentiated. The latter conflicts with the history of discovery in physics and chemistry, unless it is held that prime matter is imaginary but not real. He defends substance against trope theory. Substances are a compound of prime matter and substantial form. Chapter 5 - Essence and identity. This chapter is more about genus-species and classification. There is also a section on individuation. Every substance is a compound of matter and form. The dominant hylemorphic view is that form is the universal part, giving to each thing that shares it, its particular essence. Matter must be the principle of diversity. However, this seems to go against the claim that prime matter is not the principle of individuation. He spends pages trying to address the apparent inconsistency, in my view not very successfully. He also addresses identity over time. Chapter 6 - Essence and existence. This is about the debate of whether the essence/existence distinction is real or conception, powers, and laws of nature. Chapter 7 - Aspects of essence. He moves on to essences of other than substances, especially properties. We gain knowledge of essences via properties. He addresses jade and topaz, which are real examples somewhat like Hilary Putnam's famous water (or Twin Earth) example. Chapter 8 - Life. What is the essence of life? In essentialist terms, metabolism, growth, and reproduction stand out. He rejects vitalism and abiogenesis. Life forms are immaterial, like all forms and universals. Chapter 9 - Species, biological and metaphysical. This is about categorizing species in a hierarchy. The essentialist hierarchy, based on similar properties, i.e. morpohology, has been challenged by categorizing by evolutionary descent, especially cladistics. He thinks essence is determined by form, not a cluster of properties. A prominent argument against essentialism in biology is its vagueness, usually based on intermediate and transitional species. He argues that holding that an essence could be vague is tantamount to denying essence altogether. That is an astonishing charge. He writes, "in some cases, belief in metaphysical vagueness is no more than a projection onto the world of our incomplete grasp of essence". So why doesn't he charge classifying by metaphysical essence with vagueness, too? Chapter 10 - The person. What is the essence of personhood? He posits hylemorphic dualism. Divergences from Aristotle's ideas and toward typical religious ideas are clear. A dog's soul is wholly material but a human soul is wholly immaterial. A human soul is immortal. Consciousness is addressed.

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