Putting modal metaphysics first
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I propose that we approach the epistemology of modality by putting modal metaphysics first and, specifically, by investigating the metaphysics of essence. Following a prominent Neo-Aristotelian view, I hold that metaphysical necessity depends on the nature of things, namely their essences. I further clarify that essences are core properties having distinctive superexplanatory powers. In the case of natural kinds, which is my focus in the paper, superexplanatoriness is due to the fact that the essence of a kind is what causes all the many properties and behaviors that are typically shared by all the instances of the kind. Accordingly, we know what is necessarily true of kinds by knowing what is essential to them in the sense of actually playing such causal-explanatory roles. Modal reasoning aimed at discovering metaphysical necessity thus proceeds via essentialist deduction: we move from essentialist truths to reach necessary truths.
KeywordsModal epistemology Essentialism Natural kinds Kripke A priori knowledge
I am grateful to Paul Boghossian, Michael Devitt, Boris Kment, David Papineau, Andrea Raimondi, Jonathan Schaffer, Tuomas Tahko, Anand Vaidya, Michael Wallner, and two anonymous referees for useful comments on earlier drafts of this paper. Thanks also to audiences at the Saul Kripke Center in March 2017, at the Conceivability and Modality conference in Rome in June 2017, and at the Pacific Meeting of the APA in San Diego in March 2018.
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