Should one be afraid of Essentialism?

Claudine Tiercelin is Professor at the College of France, where she holds the Chair of Metaphysics and Philosophy of Knowledge. She is also a member of the Institut Jean Nicod. Her works build on both the tradition of French rationalism and on the inheritance of the founder of pragmatism, Charles S. Peirce. She defends a scientific metaphysics, both realistic and rational, in which the essentially dispositional properties of things, viewed as causal powers, play a central role. Her most recent books in metaphysics are: la Connaissance métaphysique, and Le Ciment des choses: petit traité de métaphysique scientifique.

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Should One Be Afraid of Essentialism?
Essentialism, basically viewed both as Aristotelian and as anti-scientific, was largely out of favor during the two thirds of the twentieth century, thanks to the prevailing anti-metaphysical attitude associated with the linguistic and logical positivist heritage. With a revival of metaphysics, some new forms of essentialism came to the fore, which were no longer tied to a substantialist or “deep” approach, but insisted more on viewing essence as a modality. More recently, such conceptions have been attacked, and other versions of essentialist metaphysics have been proposed: either along neo-Aristotelian lines, or in such versions as B. Ellis’s or A. Bird’s “scientific essentialism.” However, essentialism still has a bad reputation in many circles, and not only among metaphysicians, but also among scientists (and philosophers of biology in particular).
In order to show that such fears are unjustified, Tiercelin shall suggest another “thin” approach, “dispositional aliquidditism,” consisting mainly in viewing essence along relational and dispositional lines, which is part and parcel of the overall dispositional realistic and scientific attitude I recommend in metaphysics. After presenting the main features of such a view, and explaining why it should not be confused with a mere pan-dispositionalist or power account, I shall show its merits over other essentialist frameworks (modalism; quidditism, intrinsic essentialism and other forms of neo aristotelianism), but also over other relational, ontic or causal structuralist accounts, and even over some other traditional dispositional essentialists frameworks.
In so doing, Tiercelin hopes to provide some tools for what she takes to be the metaphysician’s much hoped for reconciliation between the “manifest” image and the “scientific” image of the world.

Time: 11:30 pm
Location: Ukrainian Institute of America / Concert Hall