The bottom of things: essences for explanation

Gibson, Peter (2014) The bottom of things: essences for explanation. PhD thesis, Birkbeck, University of London.

cp_PhD_thesis_Bottom_of_Things_Peter_Gibson_Nov14.pdf - Full Version

Download (1MB) | Preview
Print Copy Information:


Central to the philosophy of Aristotle is the belief that the aim of serious enquiry is knowledge of the constitutive essences of a given field. Modern scientific essentialism claims that this still holds good, and this thesis aims to support that approach by elucidating and applying the original concept of essence. Chapter one argues that Aristotle formulated his theory of essences entirely in the context of the theory of explanation expounded in Posterior Analytics. The components of that theory are explained, and the implications of Aristotle’s view for current debate are considered. Chapter two examines the reasons for the decline of Aristotelian essentialism during the scientific revolution, the metaphysical problems which resulted, and Leibniz’s reasons for defending the older view. Chapter three considers the nature of explanation in a modern context, starting with the preconditions for any grasp of reality that are needed to make explanations possible; it is then argued that only essentialist explanation can occupy the role which these preconditions entail. Chapter four surveys the components of that picture of reality that seem explicable, to see how essentialist explanations would actually be formulated. The theoretical discussion concludes with an account of what form essences should take, in order to occupy the explanatory role that has been assigned to them. The final chapter examines the cases of counting physical objects, explaining abstract axiomatic systems, and the discovery of the periodic table of elements, showing how attempts at explanation in these cases all converge on the sorts of essence which have been delineated in the thesis.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Copyright Holders: The copyright of this thesis rests with the author, who asserts his/her right to be known as such according to the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988. No dealing with the thesis contrary to the copyright or moral rights of the author is permitted.
School/Department: School of Social Sciences, History & Philosophy > Philosophy
Depositing User: ORBIT Editor
Date Deposited: 25 Nov 2014 10:16
Last Modified: 09 Mar 2015 14:40

Actions (ORBIT staff only)
View Item View Item