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My guess about essences

For years I've been toying with the idea that essences are somehow more related to positions and addresses (to places and connections) than to any ultimate core. It is perhaps a monadological take on essences: instances instead of substances. If essences are not substantial, they can be present even in Latour's MET (the mode of existence of metamorphosis, see this post from last March). A crisis, a tempest, or climate change are things that only make sense in connection to what they affect - essences are like Eleatic placeholders, they reveal what is linked. They are like the node in a graph. Essences then can be understood as something like an I.P. number that relates it to other landmarks; to know the essence of X is to know how to find X. To be sure, such a notion of essence doesn't prevent things to be substantial or to have a core or a substratum. It is not committed to a bundle theory of particulars even though it tends to favor such a view (as any monadology does, for monads tend to be mundane, and not transmundane).

Such notion of essence could be spelled out in Fregean terms: something like what Dummett thought about Sinne: to know the Sinn of something is to be able to determine its Bedeutung. However, even being monadological, I guess it would go better with Kripkean accounts of reference-fixing - or rather with Kaplanian ones for essences would be mainly de re, that is indexical. The origin of a table - that it is made of such and such material, to use Kripke's example in N&N - would not be part of its essence as much as that it is THIS (or rather dTHIS) table. What matters is the contingent a priori mechanism that fixes its reference. This is what establishes something's essence. We can say that we know a priori the instances because we know some contingent things a priori: we know what we are talking about. And essences, in Aristotle, are what determine what we are talking about.

It has to do also with the idea of what is contemporary in Whitehead's P&R metaphysics: an actual entity is actual only with respect to other entities in a given address in time. In this case as well, it is about indexicals. Essences are what things are, that is, they are where things are. To be sure, this idea is inspired by the translation of esse in languages like Portuguese as both ser and estar. The latter is about a transient state, typically a position of something that can be moved, that can become different by being placed somewhere else. It is the location dimension of being, that gets a special name. I guess essences, that tell us what is talked about, are also geographical. An essence is no much more than an url.


  1. Thought maybe also essence is an issue of navigation (see post in July above). It is about routes, maps, directions - where to find something.


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