In recent years largely due to the seminal work of Kit Fine and that of Jonathan Lowe there has been a resurgence of interest in the concept of essence and the project of explaining de re necessity in terms of it. Of course, Quine rejected what he called Aristotelian essentialism in his battle against quantified modal logic. But what he and Kripke debated was a notion of essence defined in terms of de re necessity. The new Aristotelian essentialists regard essence as entailing but prior in the order of explanation to de re necessity. In what follows I argue that the concept of essence so understood has not been adequately explained and that any attempt to explain it, at least along the lines most familiar from the literature, must be flagrantly circular or make use of de re modal notions.
Fine, K. 1995b. “Senses of Essence.” In Modality, Morality, and Belief: Essays in Honor of Ruth Barcan Marcus, edited by W. Sinnott-Armstrong, D. Raffman and N. Asher, 53–73. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Fine, K. 2000. “Semantics for the Logic of Essence.” Journal of Philosophical Logic 29:543–584.
Lowe, E.J. 2008. “Two Notions of Being: Entity and Essence.” In Being: Developments in Contemporary Metaphysics: Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplement 62, edited by R. Le Poidevin, 23–48. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Lowe, E.J. 2011. “Locke on Real Essence and Water as A Natural Kind: A Qualified Defence.” Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Supplementary 85:1–19.