Ruth Barcan Marcus and Minimal Essentialism

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Since the publication of Kit Fine's “Essence and Modality”, there has been lively debate over how best to think of essence in relation to necessity. The present aim is to draw attention to a definition of essence in terms of modality that has not been given sufficient attention. This neglect is perhaps unsurprising, since it is not a proposal made in response to Fine's 1994 paper and ensuing discussion, but harks back to Ruth Barcan Marcus's earlier work in the 1960s and 1970s on essentialist claims. At the core of Barcan Marcus's account is Minimal Essentialism, of which there are several extensions, in particular, for cases of referential predicates (such as “x is identical to Socrates”), Individuating Essentialism, and Aristotelian Essentialism. I argue that Minimal Essentialism fares favourably against a host of familiar examples. I close with some historical observations, that the distinction between essence and necessity was already commonplace in the early days of quantified modal logic and its philosophy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)289-305
Number of pages17
Issue number4
Early online date28 Apr 2023
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2023


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