How Things Might Have Been: Individuals, Kinds, and Essential Properties

Paperback | March 12, 2009

byPenelope Mackie

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How are we to distinguish between the essential and accidental properties of things such as individual people, cats, trees, and tables? Almost everyone agrees that such individuals could have been different, in certain respects, from the way that they actually are. But what are the respects inwhich they could not have been different: which of their properties are essential to their being the individuals that they are? And why? Following the revival of interest among analytic philosophers in essentialism and de re modality generated by the work of Kripke and others in the 1970s, these questions have been the subject of intense, yet still unresolved, debate. In this book, Penelope Mackie challenges most of the answers thathave been given to these questions. Via a critical examination of rival theories, she arrives at what she calls 'minimalist essentialism', an unorthodox theory according to which ordinary individuals have relatively few interesting essential properties, and intuitions that appear to support strongerversions of essentialism are interpreted as consistent with the theory. The topics discussed include the rivalry between the interpretation of de re modality in terms of 'identity across possible worlds' and its interpretation in terms of David Lewis's counterpart theory, some notorious modal puzzles generated by the theory that individuals exist with differentproperties in different possible worlds, the notion of an individual essence, Kripke's 'necessity of origin' thesis, and the widely held view that there are sortal properties that are essential properties of the things to which they belong. The book also includes a discussion of the relation betweenessentialism about individuals and essentialism about natural kinds, and a critical examination of the connection between semantics and natural kind essentialism.

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How are we to distinguish between the essential and accidental properties of things such as individual people, cats, trees, and tables? Almost everyone agrees that such individuals could have been different, in certain respects, from the way that they actually are. But what are the respects inwhich they could not have been different: w...

Penelope Mackie is an Associate Professor in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Nottingham
Format:PaperbackDimensions:224 pages, 8.5 × 5.43 × 0.47 inPublished:March 12, 2009Publisher:Oxford University PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0199562407

ISBN - 13:9780199562404

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Table of Contents

1. Preliminaries2. Individual Essences and Bare Identities3. Origin Properties and Individual Essences4. Extrinsically Determined Identity and 'Best-candidate' Theories5. Counterpart Theory and the Puzzles of Transworld Identity6. The Necessity of Origin7. Sortal Concepts and Essential Properties I: Substance Sortals and Essential Sortals8. Sortal Concepts and Essential Propeties II: Sortal Concepts and Principles of Individuation9. Essential Properties and Remote Contingencies10. Essentialism, Semantic Theory, and Natural Kinds

Editorial Reviews

"...How Things Might Have Been consists of a wonderfully clear, thorough and informative analysis of rival views on essentialism as it pertains to individuals, like Socrates, and essentialism as it pertains to stuffs or kinds of things, like water." --Daniel Stoljar, TLS