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I am not an expert and I cannot understand why essentialism is incompatible with naturalism? Why scientific laws cannot describe essential properties of objects?

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    Before Naming & Necessity, most philosophers, and especially Quine and those who agreed with his views, didn't separate "necessary" from "a priori". Now we can make a three way cleave between the semantical/logical analytic/synthetic, the metaphysical necessary/possible, and the epistemic a priori/a posteriori. Quine rejected essentialism because he (incorrectly) argued that whether or not something has a an essential property seems to depend on how that object is described. Barcan-Marcus, Kripke, and Lewis helped dispel that incorrect line of thought. – Not_Here Oct 2 '18 at 16:47
  • Thank you very much. Could you please tell me who wrote Naming and Necessity? You know, I am not an expert. – Mortimer Oct 2 '18 at 17:20
  • Fair enough, I should have put "by Saul Kripke". It is one of the most important and widely read pieces of philosophy from the second half of the 20th century, and you will find everything you want to know about it and more from googling the name. There are many examples of free lecture notes, there are even recorded lectures on youtube, discussing it in various history of analytic philosophy, history of 20th century philosophy, and philosophy of language classes. It's also been reprinted multiple times and you can find very cheap copies second hand. – Not_Here Oct 2 '18 at 19:35
  • Before I write a full answer to this question, however, I want to make sure that you are specifically talking about Quine's naturalism, yes? So a fair way of rephrasing this question would be "why does Quine argue against essentialism"? If you are not familiar with all of the literature on this topic, I think it would be best to answer it by explaining Quine's views and then the arguments the people I mentioned had against them, but I want to make sure you are explicitly talking about Quine's views. But if that isn't your question, don't feel pressured to change it, I'm not trying to dictate. – Not_Here Oct 2 '18 at 19:38
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    @Not_Here No, he argued that de re modality is "at variance" with necessity by analyticity favored by Carnap and Lewis, and explicitly offered Aristotelian essentialism as something that quantified modal logic "must settle for". As indeed it did under Kripke. So Quine did not conflate necessity with analyticity or a priori, and he rejected de re necessity due to ontological minimalism, not incoherence, as did Carnap and Lewis. And the de dicto necessity that remained indeed does not support substitution into modal contexts, as he claimed. See Reference and Modality (1953). – Conifold Oct 2 '18 at 21:12
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Essentialism is compatible with naturalism, Aristotle, the father of essentialism, is typically named as a precursor of naturalism (and even empiricism), and today we have scientific essentialism founded by Kripke and Putnam. Essentialism is simply the claim that objects have some properties "of necessity" while others are "accidental". It usually requires some sort of modal ontology to account for non-actual variations that separate the essential from the accidental, Aristotle's potentialities or Leibniz's possible worlds. This makes it unattractive to empiricists suspicious of metaphysical excesses, for them the way to account for necessity is to make it into a linguistic artifact, necessity by explicit or implicit stipulation. This is called de dicto ("by speech") necessity. But metaphysical minimalism is not essential (pardon the pun) to naturalism/empiricism, although the distaste for metaphysics of possible worlds is shared more widely, and alternatives have been developed, see Is there modal logic without possible worlds?

Historically, the modern controversy over essentialism is linked with the controversy over the modal logic, Tuboly's Quine and Quantified Modal Logic is a nice review. Quine was concerned that one can not substitute descriptions or quantify into modal contexts under de dicto necessity, they are "opaque". It is necessary that 9 is greater than 7, but it is not necessary that the number of planets in the Solar System is greater than 7, even though 9 is the number of planets in the Solar System (well, it was, Pluto was still in). In Reference and Modality he concluded that essentialism is just what one needs to take care of this. Modal contexts are not opaque as long as the descriptions involved are essential, and for 9 being the number of planets in the Solar System is not:

"The Aristotelian notion of essence was the forerunner, no doubt, of the modern notion of intension or meaning. For Aristotle it was essential in men to be rational, accidental to be two-legged... An object, of itself and by whatever name or none, must be seen as having some of its traits necessarily and others contingently, despite the fact that the latter traits follow just as analytically from some ways of specifying the object as the former traits do from other ways of specifying it. In fact, we can see pretty directly that any quantified modal logic is bound to show such favoritism among the traits of an object...

Essentialism is abruptly at variance with the idea, favored by Carnap, Lewis, and others, of explaining necessity by analyticity. For the appeal to analyticity can pretend to distinguish essential and accidental traits of an object only relative to how the object is specified, not absolutely. Yet, the champion of quantified modal logic must settle for essentialism... To defend Aristotelian essentialism, however, is not part of my plan. Such a philosophy is as unreasonable by my lights as it is by Carnap’s or Lewis’s. And in conclusion I say, as Carnap and Lewis have not: so much the worse for quantified modal logic."

Ironically, the subsequent acceptance of quantified modal logic proceeded according to the very plan dismissed by Quine. Kripke explicitly adopted a form of Aristotelian essentialism in Naming and Necessity and made it more palatable, the resulting type of necessity is now termed de re ("by things"), Kripke's version of it "metaphysical".

Why was it unacceptable to Carnap, Lewis and Quine? Because they espoused a particular version of naturalism/empiricism, one committed to ontology of first order languages, where only objects are accorded existence. Properties and relations are treated nominalistically, as mere linguistic predicates. This move is known as semantic ascent. According to Quine's criterion of ontological commitment, "to be is to be a value of a bound variable", and in first order languages one can not quantify over predicates. Hence they are not, and neither are de re essences. And if de re necessity is rejected quantified modal logic is indeed so much the worse.

  • Your explanation is very clear. But I cannot understand why Lewis would reject essentialism since he is a modal realist...Probably I cannot see the point because I do not know what is analyticity. Could you clarify my doubts, please? Thank you very much for your answer. – Mortimer Oct 3 '18 at 20:20
  • @Mortimer Different Lewis. Quine refers to C.I. Lewis, one of the founders of modal logic and his mentor, you probably have D. Lewis in mind. “Analytic” roughly means "determined by meanings/conventions/background assumptions", see SEP's Analytic/Synthetic Distinction. Positivists (Carnap) and pragmatists (Lewis) generally favored explicating necessity as an analytic artifact rather than as metaphysically grounded. – Conifold Oct 3 '18 at 20:33
  • Thanks for the answer @Conifold Just another clarification...I read somewhere online that Quine accepted the concept of states of affairs in a extensional way. I frankly haven't understood his idea of states of affairs as mathematically expressible...It is totally obscure to me. – Mortimer Oct 4 '18 at 13:25
  • @Mortimer Yes, he did it in Propositional Objects. It is briefly described and cited under What is Quine's perspective on probability? Chatti's commentary, also cited there, gives a longer discussion that might help. – Conifold Oct 4 '18 at 17:35
  • Sorry @Conifold totally forgot about it. Just accepted. And again thanks! – Mortimer Oct 5 '18 at 9:34

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