Essence, individuation, and artifact: An Aristotelian model for familiar concrete particulars

Chad Vernon Meister, Marquette University

Abstract

Metaphysical questions concerning familiar objects are not new to philosophical discourse but emerge in the earliest centuries of philosophical reflection. One of the central questions concerned the nature of change: whether the idea of a continuant--a widely believed notion--was plausible and, if so, how to account for it given the constant flux of appearances. Aristotle, not least among those concerned with this issue, attempted to provide a philosophical account of both the nature of continuants and the reality of change. His solution is often referred to as Aristotelian essentialism. In this dissertation I sketch what I take to be central tenets of Aristotle's essentialism. In doing so I argue that such an account of certain familiar concrete particulars provides a plausible solution to a number of metaphysical puzzles prominent in recent discussions of analytic ontology. This account, or model, builds upon an interpretation of Aristotle's essentialism which, in many respects, is quite different from typical contemporary versions of essentialism. Most recent accounts, for example, entail the notion that certain properties of an object are essential to it, while others are only accidental. The difficulty is then to explain what "essential" means. I argue that, for Aristotle, essentialism is not primarily about properties, either essential or accidental ones, but rather is concerned with exemplified universal natures, and that the structure and function of these natures precludes their being properties as typically understood. There are other concrete objects, however, which Aristotle avoids much discussion of, namely, artifacts which lack true essences. But his overall model can, with certain emendations, account for the identity and individuation of these essence-lacking entities. Aristotle was, of course, unaware of a number of the themes involved in contemporary discussions of essentialism such as those having to do with reference. But I argue that the Aristotelian model presented here squares nicely with the recent causal account defended by Saul Kripke and others.

Recommended Citation

Meister, Chad Vernon, "Essence, individuation, and artifact: An Aristotelian model for familiar concrete particulars" (2002). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI3060052.
https://epublications.marquette.edu/dissertations/AAI3060052

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