Philosophical Studies

, Volume 172, Issue 8, pp 2141–2151 | Cite as

On deriving essentialism from the theory of reference



Causal theories of reference for natural kind terms are widely agreed to play a central role in arguments for the claim that theoretical identity statements such as “Water is H2O” are necessary, if true. However, there is also fairly wide-spread agreement, due to the arguments of Nathan Salmon (in Reference and Essence), that causal theories of reference do not alone establish such essentialism about natural kinds: an independent, non-trivial essentialist premise is also needed. In this paper I will question this latter agreement. I will argue that there is an independently attractive explanation of why such identity statements are metaphysically necessary, if true: an explanation which relies on assumptions about the semantics of natural kind terms, general philosophical assumptions about reference, and straightforward empirical assumptions, but presupposes no non-trivial essentialist premises.


Essentialism Natural kinds Reference Necessity 



Earlier versions of this material were presented at conferences, seminars and workshops in Athens, Canberra, Dunedin, Auckland, Helsinki, and Tampere. I am grateful to audiences at these events for useful feedback. I also want to thank Daniel Cohnitz, Markku Keinänen, Erick Llamas, Daniel Nolan, Alexander Sandgren, and Tuomas Tahko, as well as an anonymous reviewer for the journal, for helpful comments on earlier written versions. Research on this paper was financially supported by the Norwegian Research Council grant 212841.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Philosophy and Religious StudiesNorwegian University of Science and TechnologyTrondheimNorway

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