Scientific essentialism

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Scientific essentialism, a view espoused by Saul Kripke and Hilary Putnam,[1] maintains that there exist essential properties that objects possess (or instantiate) necessarily. In other words, having such and such essential properties is a necessary condition for membership in a given natural kind. For example, tigers are tigers in virtue of possessing a particular set of genetic properties, but identifying (or appearance-based) properties are nonessential properties. If a tiger lost a leg, or didn't possess stripes, we would still call it a tiger. They are not necessary for being a member of the class of tigers.

It is important, however, that the set of essential properties of an object not be used to identify or be identified with that object because they are not necessary and sufficient, but only necessary. Having such and such a genetic code does not suffice for being a tiger. We wouldn't call a piece of tiger fur a tiger, even though a piece of tiger fur contains the genetic information essential to being a tiger.

Other advocates of scientific essentialism include Brian Ellis,[2] Caroline Lierse,[3] John Bigelow,[3] and Alexander Bird.[4]


  1. Hanna, R. (1998). "A Kantian Critique of Scientific Essentialism". Philosophy and Phenomenological Research. 58 (3): 497–528. doi:10.2307/2653754.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Brian Ellis (July 23, 2007), Scientific Essentialism (Cambridge Studies in Philosophy), Cambridge University Press, ISBN 978-0-521-03774-7, OCLC 124025546, 0521037743<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. 3.0 3.1 Bigelow, J.; Ellis, B.; Lierse, C. (1992). "The World as One of a Kind: Natural Necessity and Laws of Nature". The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science. 43 (3): 371–388. doi:10.1093/bjps/43.3.371.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Alexander Bird (August 31, 2007), Nature's Metaphysics, Oxford University Press, USA, ISBN 978-0-19-922701-3, 0199227012<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

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