, Volume 21, Issue 1, pp 91-94
Date: 05 Apr 2011

Understanding the intrinsic/extrinsic distinction

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The distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic properties is one of the most fundamental in the field of metaphysics, and there is no better place to learn about the difference between these two types of property than in Hoffmann-Kolss’ new book. Intuitively, a property P is an intrinsic property of an object x just in case x’s having P does not depend on the features of x’s environment, but only on what x is like in itself. Each of the various definitions of “intrinsic” and “extrinsic” offered in the contemporary literature aim to make this intuitive notion more precise. Hoffmann-Kolss divides these accounts into three main categories—modal, combinatorial, and relational. The first and largest part of her book is a detailed presentation and critique of various accounts that fit these three categories, culminating in her own version of the relational account that avoids problems she presents for the other analyses.

The modal accounts addressed include Lewis’ (1983) account of intrinsic