A response to Chisholm’s paradox

  • Andrew Dennis BassfordEmail author


Essentialists suppose that for every individual, if that individual exists at any possible world, then necessarily that individual exemplifies some non-trivial qualitative property essential to it, as such. Anti-essentialists deny this. One important argument leveled by some anti-essentialists against essentialism takes the form of a thought experiment, one originally introduced by Chisholm (Nous 1(1):1–8, 1967), sometimes referred to as Chisholm’s Paradox (CP). In this essay, I defend essentialism against CP. I begin by presenting the argument and showing how it leads to a contradiction of the essentialist thesis. I then consider one of the most popular solutions to CP to date, that given by Salmon (Midwest Stud Philos 11:75–120, 1986, Philos Rev 98(1):3–34, 1989, Philos Top 21(2):187–197, 1993). Next, I critique Salmon’s proposal and show that it is an insufficient response on behalf of the essentialist. And finally, I propose a novel solution to the paradox and discuss why it is that many metaphysicians in the past have found CP plausible, despite being fallacious.


Chisholm’s paradox Modal paradox Essentialism Anti-essentialism S4 modal logic Tolerance principle Sorites paradox 



  1. Brody, B. (1980). Identity and essence. Princeton: Princeton University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Chandler, H. S. (1976). Plantinga and the contingently possible. Analysis, 36(2), 106–109.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Chisholm, R. M. (1967). Identity through possible worlds: Some questions. Nous, 1(1), 1–8.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Conee, E., & Sider, T. (2013). Riddles of existence: A guided tour of metaphysics (2nd ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  5. Cowling, S. (2015). Non-qualitative properties. Erkenntnis, 80, 275–301.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Cowling, S. (2016). Haecceitism. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by Edward N. Z.
  7. Drake, N. (1970). One of these things first. Bryter Layter [Vinyl]. Sound Techniques, 1971.Google Scholar
  8. Forbes, G. (1983). Thisness and vagueness. Synthese, 54(2), 235–259.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Forbes, G. (1984). Two solutions to Chisholm’s paradox. Philosophical Studies, 46(2), 171–187.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Heller, M. (2005). Anti-essentialism and counterpart theory. The Monist, 88(4), 600–618.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Leibniz, G. W. (1686 [1997]). Discourse on Metaphysics, Correspondence with Arnauld, & Monadology. (Paul J, Trans.). Chicago: Open Court Publishing.Google Scholar
  12. Lewis, D. (1986). On the plurality of worlds. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  13. Mackie, P. (2006). How things might have been: Individuals, kinds, and essential properties. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Menzel, C. (2017). Possible worlds. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by Edward N. Z.
  15. Murray, A., & Wilson, J. M. (2012). Relativized metaphysical modality. In B. Karen & Z. Dean (Eds.), Oxford study in metaphysics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  16. Plantinga, A. (1970). World and essence. The Philosophical Review, 79(4), 461–492.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Quine, W. V. O. (1976). Worlds away. The Journal of Philosophy, 73, 859–863.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Robertson, T. & Atkins, P. (2018). Essential vs. accidental properties. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by Edward N. Z.
  19. Salmon, N. (1984). Impossible worlds. Analysis, 44(3), 114–117.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Salmon, N. (1986). Modal paradox: Parts and counterparts, points and counterpoints. Midwest Studies in Philosophy, 11, 75–120.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Salmon, N. (1989). The logic of what might have been. The Philosophical Review, 98(1), 3–34.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Salmon, N. (1993). This side of paradox. Philosophical Topics, 21(2), 187–197.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Stalnaker, R. (1979). Anti-essentialism. Midwest Studies in Philosophy, 4(1), 343–355.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Wiggins, D. (1980). Sameness and substance. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  25. Wiggins, D. (2001). Sameness and substance renewed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Williamson, T. (2013). Identity and discrimination (2nd ed.). New York: Blackwell Publishing.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Yagisawa, T. (2017). S4 to 5D. Argumenta, 2(2), 241–261.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Western Michigan UniversityKalamazooUSA

Personalised recommendations