Against the reduction of modality to essence

Synthese. 2021;198(Suppl 6):1455-1471. doi: 10.1007/s11229-017-1667-6. Epub 2018 Jan 5.


It is a truth universally acknowledged that a claim of metaphysical modality, in possession of good alethic standing, must be in want of an essentialist foundation. Or at least so say the advocates of the reductive-essence-first view (the REF, for short), according to which all (metaphysical) modality is to be reductively defined in terms of essence. Here, I contest this bit of current wisdom. In particular, I offer two puzzles-one concerning the essences of non-compossible, complementary entities, and a second involving entities whose essences are modally 'loaded'-that together strongly call into question the possibility of reducing modality to essence.

Keywords: Essence; Grounding; Modality; Necessity; Ontological dependence; Possibility.