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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter March 13, 2014

De Re Essentialism, Species, and Modal Ambiguity

Ross Inman
From the journal Metaphysica


I offer a concise critique of a recurring line of reasoning advanced by Joseph LaPorte and Samir Okasha that all modern species concepts render the view that biological organisms essentially belong to their species empirically untenable. The argument, I claim, trades on a crucial modal ambiguity that collapses the de re/de dicto distinction. Contra their claim that the continued adherence of such a view on behalf of contemporary metaphysicians stems from the latter’s ignorance of developments in modern biology, the modal ambiguity reveals the need to retrain in modal metaphysics.


LaPorte, J.1997. “Essential Membership.” Philosophy of Science64:96112.10.1086/392537Search in Google Scholar

LaPorte, J.2009. Natural Kinds and Conceptual Change. New York: Cambridge University Press.Search in Google Scholar

Okasha, S.2002. “Darwinian Metaphysics: Species and the Question of Essentialism.” Synthese131:191213.10.1023/A:1015731831011Search in Google Scholar

Plantinga, A.1974. The Nature of Necessity. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Search in Google Scholar

Wiggins, D.1980. Sameness and Substance. Cambridge:Harvard University Press.Search in Google Scholar

  1. 1

    See LaPorte (1997) for the source of this objection to de re biological essentialism, which is then restated and endorsed by Okasha (2002), and defended once more by LaPorte (2009).

  2. 2

    It is important to note the distinction between what I am calling “de re biological essentialism” – essentialism about individual biological organisms – and essentialism about biological kinds. As stated, the topic of this note is the former.

  3. 3

    LaPorte (2009, 57) and Okasha (2002, 205–06).

  4. 4

    See Plantinga (1974, 18–26).

Published Online: 2014-3-13
Published in Print: 2014-4-1

©2014 by Walter de Gruyter Berlin / Boston