Monday, 10 May 2010

A Riff on Essences

Every so often, I come across a sentence or a paragraph in a book that absolutely nails something that I have been thinking about in a sort of inchoate way. This is one of those paragraphs. Metaphysically we infer essences from properties; that is, from essential accidents as opposed to inessential accidents. However, when we come across what we think is a property which is in itself explained in some sense by some further feature of the property in question, what are we to make of this “deeper” explanation of the property? Do they provide a better stepping off point for inferring essences?

…there is a difference between what is constitutive of a thing and what constitutes it. Once we have located an object’s genus and specific difference, we have its essence – that which is constitutive of it. If we then find out that the object is constituted by something else, say by fundamental particles, what we discover is not its deeper essence but its material cause. Now the root material cause of all substances is prime matter, but since there is no matter without form, when we discover a thing’s constituents, whether fundamental or not, we discover proximate matter, i.e. its proximate material course, and this comes to us already packaged by form, as it were.

David Oderberg, “Real Essentialism” p 158.

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