Virtual Conference on the Epistemology of Essence

July 12, 2023 - July 13, 2023

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University of Washington
University of Victoria

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Though interest in the metaphysics of essences has increased in recent years, relatively little has been written about the epistemology of essence. This online workshop features five talks on the topic, plus a concluding panel.

The workshop will run from 8am - 12:30pm Pacific Time on Wednesday, July 12 and Thursday, July 13.

Titles and abstracts (exact schedule TBD):

John Bengson: Intuiting Essences

Abstract. I will sing the praises of an intuitionist approach to the epistemology of  essence. Then I will invite you to tell me what you think is wrong or missing.


Mark Jago: Knowing What It Is

Abstract. Essentialists understand modal properties in terms of the essences of things. Given this view, it is natural to think that our knowledge of modality ultimately derives from our knowledge of the essences of things. Is that view plausible? Do we genuinely have knowledge of the essences of things, in a form substantial enough to ground our modal knowledge? The more we pack into the notion of essence to allow it to underpin modal properties, the harder it is to claim genuine knowledge. I will argue that realists about essence of a certain kind can have the best of both worlds. They can co-opt a conventionalist explanation of our knowledge of essence, but against the background of a fully realist notion of essence


Antonella Mallozzi: Knowing the Nature of Things A Priori

Abstract. The paper explores possible a priori routes for knowledge of essence - particularly, it discusses the roles played by understanding and knowledge of meaning according to recent work by E.J. Lowe and Bob Hale. As it turns out, a key issue for developing a successful account concerns knowledge of analyticity and how this is connected to knowledge of essence in relevant cases. We face a choice between two alternative candidate accounts, depending on whether or not knowledge of meaning suffices for a priori knowledge of essence.


Kyle O'Dwyer: An Explanatory Challenge for Essentialism

Abstract.  I’ll argue that the neo-Aristotelian essentialist faces a debunking challenge. Broadly speaking, I’ll present the challenge as coming in three grades, each centering on the question of what explanatory relation obtains between our essence-attitudes and the essence-facts such that our attitudes are non-accidentally correct about the facts. I’ll argue that two prominent accounts on offer fail to meet two grades of the challenge. Lastly, I’ll suggest that if the essentialist approaches the epistemology of essence in a way that avoids a central reliance on a priori sources, they might produce a dialectically forceful response to the deflationary grade of the challenge arising from neo-Carnapian anti-essentialism


Anand Vaidya & Michi Wallner: Knowing Essences, Knowing Necessities

Abstract. Our talk will be concerned with the epistemology of essence predominately as it is related to the epistemology of modality. We shall argue that any essentialist account that grounds knowledge of modality in knowledge of essence will face these two crucial questions:

Transition Question: How does the transition between knowledge of essence and knowledge of modality work?
Source Question: How do we acquire knowledge of essence in the first place?
In a first part, we are going to discuss some applications of our joint work in the metaphysics of essence and modality to the epistemology of these phenomena. We think that our non-reductive variant of Finean essentialism (Vaidya & Wallner 2021, Wallner & Vaidya 2020, Wallner 2022), according to which Finean essences, even though they are not reducible to necessity, are still in some specific sense modal, can fruitfully contribute to current discussions of the Transition Question. In a second part, we shall briefly introduce some new ideas on the epistemology of essence we are currently working on. We believe that introducing the notion of “controlling conceptions”, which is inspired by Gareth Evans, to the debate might bring new perspectives on the Source Question; especially on the currently much discussed question as to whether there are epistemological reasons that compel us to be anti-realists about essence.


Please email [email protected] if you are interested in attending.

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July 10, 2023, 9:00am UTC

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University of Vienna (PhD)
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