On what I call absolutist essentialism about modality (AE), the metaphysical necessities are the propositions that are true in virtue of the essence (i.e. Aristotelian, absolute essence) of some entities. Other kinds of necessity can then be defined by restriction—e.g. the conceptual necessities are the propositions that are true in virtue of the essence of conceptual entities specifically. As an account of metaphysical modality and some other kinds (e.g. logical, conceptual), AE may have important virtues. However, when it comes to accounting for further important kinds, like natural or normative necessity, it faces a challenge. Three main options have been defended: treat those kinds as further restricted forms of metaphysical necessity; define them as conditional forms of metaphysical necessity; treat them as primitive kinds. In this paper, I propose a new option, which combines the main idea of AE (reducing necessities to essences) with an idea which has been developed largely independently: that of relative essence. On the proposed view, those kinds (e.g. natural necessity) that cannot be grounded in the essences (i.e. absolute essences) of the relevant entities (e.g. natural entities) may be grounded in their relative essences instead. Thus, I propose a generalized, or extended, version of AE, which I call relativized essentialism about modality (RE). In particular, RE offers prospects for a general framework for kinds of modality which is flexible enough to cover a large range of kinds (both absolute and relative ones) while remaining parsimonious and unified.
The last few decades have witnessed a revival of essentialism in metaphysics—with essence understood in the Aristotelian, absolute sense. One main way in which essence has been put to work is as a source of modality (see e.g. Fine 1994; Lowe 2008; Hale 2013). On what I call absolutist essentialism about modality (AE), the metaphysical necessities are the propositions that are true in virtue of the essence (i.e. absolute essence) of some entities—e.g. <Socrates is human (if he exists)> is metaphysically necessary because it is true in virtue of the essence of an entity, namely Socrates. On that basis, other kinds of necessity may be defined by restriction—e.g. the conceptual necessities are the propositions that are true in virtue of…
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