How Things Might Have Been

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

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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 in which 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 that have 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 stronger versions 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 different properties 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 between essentialism about individuals and essentialism about natural kinds, and a critical examination of the connection between semantics and natural kind essentialism.
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Product details

  • Paperback | 228 pages
  • 139 x 216 x 12mm | 287g
  • Oxford, United Kingdom
  • English
  • 0199562407
  • 9780199562404
  • 1,217,065

Table of contents

1. Preliminaries ; 2. Individual Essences and Bare Identities ; 3. Origin Properties and Individual Essences ; 4. Extrinsically Determined Identity and 'Best-candidate' Theories ; 5. Counterpart Theory and the Puzzles of Transworld Identity ; 6. The Necessity of Origin ; 7. Sortal Concepts and Essential Properties I: Substance Sortals and Essential Sortals ; 8. Sortal Concepts and Essential Propeties II: Sortal Concepts and Principles of Individuation ; 9. Essential Properties and Remote Contingencies ; 10. Essentialism, Semantic Theory, and Natural Kinds
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Review quote

Review from previous edition of the clearest and fullest discussions of contemporary essentialism that has appeared for quite some time. * E. J. Lowe, Mind * ...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 *
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About Penelope Mackie

Penelope Mackie is an Associate Professor in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Nottingham
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Rating details

8 ratings
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2 12% (1)
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