Species Have Historical Not Intrinsic Essences

Marion Godman, David Papineau*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)


In a series of important recent papers, Michael Devitt has argued, against contemporary orthodoxy, that species and other biological taxa have essences. We fully support this revival of essentialism. We further agree with Devitt that biological essences are properties that explain the multiple shared features of taxon members. We are not persuaded, however, that these essences need be common intrinsic properties of those members. An alternative candidate is shared historical origins. We argue, contra Devitt, that historical essences explain the shared features of biological taxa just as well as intrinsic properties. Indeed, we think that there are reasons for viewing historical essences as more basic than intrinsic properties. One reason is that many taxonomically shared features depend on non-zygotic inheritance rather than intrinsic genetic nature. Another is that historical origins play a more significant role than intrinsic properties in explaining the shared features of non-sexually-reproducing organisms.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationPhilosophical Studies Series
PublisherSpringer Nature
Number of pages13
Publication statusPublished - 2020

Publication series

NamePhilosophical Studies Series
ISSN (Print)0921-8599
ISSN (Electronic)2542-8349


  • Essentialism
  • Historical essences
  • Intrinsic essences
  • Michael Devitt
  • Natural kinds
  • Species


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