Martin Lenz


University of Groningen

Transformations of Essentialism in Early Modern Thought: Natural Philosophy and Metaphysics in Bacon, Spinoza, Locke and Kant

In the aristotelian tradition, the assumption of essences allows for inherently normative explanations of natural things and processes. For essences determine not only what a thing is but also what it ought to be like. It is often taken for granted that the notion of essence gradually lost its explanatory status in early modern natural philosophy, thus giving way to non-normative theories.

From Smallpox to Nominal Essences: How Locke changed his mind about natural kinds

As is well-known, Locke endorsed a distinction between real and nominal essences. Since the real essences of things are unknowable to us, our categorizations are based on nominal essences, i.e. conventional classifications that are adapted to our needs. While there have been numerous debates about the characteristics of this distinction (see Atherton 2007), very little is known about its development and motivation.