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Real Essentialism (Routledge Studies in Contemporary Philosophy, Vol. 11) Paperback – January 30, 2008

ISBN-13: 978-0415872126 ISBN-10: 041587212X Edition: 0th

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 314 pages
  • Publisher: Routledge (January 30, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 041587212X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0415872126
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.7 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #595,879 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


'[Real Essentialism] presents vigorous and wide-ranging arguments in defense of an Aristotelian metaphysical scheme … This book puts forward many unfashionable views. But it argues for them with vigor and erudition.'Crawford L. Elder, Analysis Reviews

'Oderberg … exemplifies the unfortunately rare combination in analytical philosophy of rigorous and historically informed argumentation …This book places hylomorphism squarely on the table for discussion.' – Sebastian Rehnman, Review of Metaphysics

'a major intellectual achievement....I can particularly recommend, for those interested in such matters--as many metaphysicians presently are--his very well informed discussion of powers and laws of nature, which raises important objections to many current accounts of these.' -E.J. Lowe, The Philosophical Quarterly


"...there can be no doubt that this learned and rigorous work deserves a wide readership."--Edward Feser, Faith and Philosophy

From the Author

Real Essentialism sets out a system of realist metaphysics in the Aristotelian tradition, applying it to fundamental metaphysical and scientific problems. First, the theory is contrasted with the contemporary essentialism of Saul Kripke, Hilary Putnam, and their followers, which is shown to be inadequate to the task of justifying real, objective, knowable essences. Next, the book criticizes the anti-essentialism of Locke, Quine, Wittgenstein, and Popper. After a further defence of the reality and knowability of essence, the system of real essentialism is laid out, beginning with a defence of hylemorphism - prime matter and substantial form as the foundation of essence. There follows an account of substance, classification, individuation, and identity. Essence and existence, powers, and laws of nature are then analyzed, followed by properties, artefacts, and origins. The book concludes by applying real essentialism in great depth to three central problems at the interface of science and metaphysics: the nature of life, the reality of biological species, and the essence of the person.

Real Essentialism has as its underlying idea the view that traditional metaphysics is relevant to contemporary philosophy and science. It is not an outmoded relic of pre-Enlightenment thinking, but a vital and reasonable way of solving perennial philosophical problems as well as many of the foundational and methodological questions thrown up by contemporary science. Hylemorphism, long discarded as an Aristotelian relic, is again brought to the forefront of metaphysical thinking. In particular, the doctrine of substantial forms, for centuries rejected outright by the overwhelming majority of philosophers, is rehabilitated. Hylemorphism may have been tossed aside, but for no good reason other than historical prejudice. Its critics can be answered, as can anti-essentialists in general. The system of Aristotelian taxonomy, never fully abandoned by scientists but long suspected of inadequacy, especially in biology, is defended in a way that has not been done for a long time. Real Essentialism puts traditional metaphysics back in its rightful place at the centre of philosophical and scientific thinking. It will be of interest to professional philosophers and scientists alike, especially those working in metaphysics and biology. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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29 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Deya S. on March 29, 2009
Format: Hardcover
This book should be required reading for professional philosophers and serious students of philosophy.

Professor Oderberg's book presents a serious, erudite, rigorously argued, very well-documented and detailed contemporary defense and explanation of the Aristotelian-Thomistic metaphysics.

If you think (like I did, some time ago) that the metaphysical ideas of Aristotle and Aquinas are a silly and naive product of the scientific ignorance of the times of their writings, then you'll discover (after close reading Oderberg's book) how much ill-informed you are. When I read this book, I already knew that most criticisms of the Aristotelian-Thomistic metaphysics were based on misunderstandings of the critics. But after I read it, I confirmed that the case for an Aristotlian-Thomistic metaphysics is very hard to refute indeed; and certainly, the common and well-known criticisms against it don't affect it at all, as you can judge by yourself.

Dr.Oderberg's command of the relevant metaphysical literature on contemporary analytic philosophy and his knowledge of Aristotelian Thomistic philosophy, makes this book a philosophical masterpiece.

I'd dare to say this book is one of the best books on philosophy that I've ever read, and probably the best book defending the Aristotelian-Thomistic metaphysics in print.

If you're a serious truth-seeker, philosopher or student of philosophy, you have to read and STUDY Dr.Oderberg's excellent book.

You won't be dissapointed.
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful By merjet on September 3, 2010
Format: Paperback
An in-depth treatment of essence is not very common, so the book -- by a professor at the University of Reading in England -- was interesting. I agreed with part, though not near all.

Chapter 1 - Contemporary essentialism and real essentialism.
Since about 1970 essentialism has received more attention from philosophers than the previous few centuries. However, the modern versions significantly differ from the real essentialism endorsed by Oderberg and deriving from Aristotle and Aquinas. In his view the modern version is too much concerned with reductionism. Real essentialism is concerned not just with internal structure and an emphasis on quantity, but the unity of objects. It holds that qualitative characteristics are equally a part of ontology. The broader perspective is needed to address the essence of a statue or immaterial things.

Chapter 2 - Some varieties of anti-essentialism.
Oderberg addresses the views of empiricists (mainly Locke), Quine, Popper, and Wittgenstein. His presentation of Locke is one-sided. While Locke criticized real essentialism, at least for substances (Aristotle's meaning), he gave an account of nominal essence that Oderberg omitted entirely.

Chapter 3 - The reliability and knowability of essence.
Real essentialism is based on two aspects of unity. First, there is the unity of multiple entities that fall under the same kinds. Second, there is the unity of a concrete particular, especially a substance such as a man or gold. How can we account for a unified, characteristic repertoire of behavior, operations, and functions of a single integral entity? How do we account for something persisting that undergoes change?

Chapter 4 - The structure of essence.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Alfredo Watkins on October 29, 2010
Format: Paperback
In recent years, some philosophers, such as Kit Fine, E.J. Lowe, have been re-investigating an Aristotelian conception of metaphysics. This ultimately is rooted in the study of the "essence" of things. David Oderberg presents his own explanation of Aristotelian metaphysics and some of the things it entails. Oderberg deals preliminarily with modality, how this relates to modern problems (e.g. "possible worlds"), then replies to some objections against the concept of essences. Oderberg then continues to draw out conclusions and explain in clear terms such seemingly obscure things as essence, form, prime matter, analogy, being, species, genus, nature, etc. Important issues, such as the relation between evolutionary theory and the idea of necessary essences are discussed. The only thing that may have made this book better would have been if Oderberg mentioned a little bit more about science and philosophy of physics. Oderberg *does* talk about philosophy of biology, which may be somewhat more pertinent. Ultimately, Oderberg presents for an analytic audience a clear and concise enunciation of some central ideas in Aristotelian metaphysics.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Bobby Bambino on December 2, 2013
Format: Hardcover
This is not a book for the faint of heart. It is a book by a professional analytic philosopher defending an Aristotelian-Thomostic (AT) understanding of real essentialism, and it is written for those who are already familiar with much of the debate surrounding real essentialim in the sense that the author interacts with many other authors who argue either against real essentialism or hold to a view of essentialism (e.g. a "bundle theory") that is incompatible with the AT viewpoint of the author. Hence, this is a scholarly work as opposed to a popular level work like many of the books by fellow AT metaphysicist Edward Feser. I am not by any stretch of the imagination a professional philosopher, and so this book was very challenging for me. There are many parts that I will need to go back and reread.

That being said, someone like me who is only a lowly amateur scholastic was able to get much out of this book. Oderberg defines and defends the AT view of real essentialism; that is, he defends the proposition that things have real essences which are knowable (though not exhaustively) by us. As mentioned above, he critiques other forms of essentialism or those ideas associated with essentialism, such as "other worlds" and the view that the essence of something is simply a collection of properties (the so-called bundle theory). Chapter 3 is especially helpful, as in this chapter Oderberg gives the most robust positive defense of real essentialism, arguing why such a philosophy is necessary as well as how we can know essences. Other chapters are devoted to interacting with much of modern science and modern objections to essentialism.
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