Argumenta – Journal of Analytic Philosophy

Essence, Necessity, and Non-Generative Metaphysical Explanation [Special Issue]

Topics: Epistemology, Metaphysics, Modal Logic, Ontology, Philosophical logic
Keywords: Essence, grounding, Metaphysical explanation, Necessity


Finean essentialists take metaphysical necessity to be metaphysically explained by essence. But whence the explanatory power of essence? A recent wave of criticism against the Finean account has put pressure on essentialists to answer this question. Wallner and Vaidya (2020) have responded by offering an axiomatic account of the explanatory power of essence. This paper discusses their account in light of some recent criticism by Bovey (2022). Building on work by Glazier (2017), Bovey succeeds in showing that Wallner and Vaidya’s account is in need of modification and clarification. In this paper, I take up Bovey’s challenge and argue that Wallner and Vaidya have the resources available to incorporate the necessary modifications. I discuss the details of this modification, specifically, the question of what kind of metaphysical explanation is at work in the explanation of the necessity of essence itself. To get clear on this, I will introduce the distinction between generative and non-generative metaphysical explanation. In this way the paper contributes to both, the debate about whether essences can explain necessity and to the ongoing debate about metaphysical explanation.

According to Finean essentialists, essence is the metaphysical source or ground or explanation of metaphysical necessity. Fineans hold that metaphysically necessary facts are metaphysically explained by facts about essence. Recently, there has been a wave of criticism against Finean essentialism. According to Casullo (2020), Leech (2018, 2021), Mackie (2020), Noonan (2018) and Romero (2019) essences by themselves are incapable of explaining necessity. The critics believe there to be an explanatory gap between essence and modality and charge the Finean essentialist with the task of accounting for why and how precisely essences are supposed to explain necessity. More specifically, those critics maintain, that in order for the Finean essentialists to be able to account for the explanatory power of essence, they have to be able to account for…


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