Aristotelian essentialism: essence in the age of evolution

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Synthese, ISSN: 0039-7857, Vol: 194, Issue: 7, Page: 2539-2556

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Austin, Christopher J.
Springer Nature
Arts and Humanities; Social Sciences
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The advent of contemporary evolutionary theory ushered in the eventual decline of the theory of Aristotelian Essentialism (Æ)—for it is widely assumed that essence does not, and cannot have any proper place in the age of evolution. This paper argues that this assumption is a mistake: if Æ can be suitably evolved, it need not face extinction. In it, I claim that if that theory’s fundamental ontology consists of dispositional properties, and if its characteristic metaphysical machinery is interpreted within the framework of contemporary evolutionary developmental biology, an evolved essentialism is available. The reformulated theory of Æ offered in this paper not only fails to fall prey to the typical collection of criticisms, but is also independently both theoretically and empirically plausible. The paper contends that, properly understood, essence belongs in the age of evolution.