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The Metaphysics of Gender$
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Charlotte Witt

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780199740413

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2012

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199740413.001.0001

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Two Notions of Essence

Two Notions of Essence

Chapter:
1 (p.3) Two Notions of Essence
Source:
The Metaphysics of Gender
Author(s):

Charlotte Witt

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199740413.003.0001

One difficulty facing discussions of gender essentialism is the lack of clarity in the terms of the conversation. This chapter discusses the meaning of essentialism. It begins by distinguishing between kind and individual essentialism. It then focuses on individual essentialism in its Aristotelian guise. It explains how and why Aristotle's unification essentialism (or uniessentialism for short) is used to express gender essentialism. It revisits identity essentialism and considers the way some philosophers use it to discuss issues of gender (and race) essentialism. The purpose of this chapter is to clarify the differences between uniessentialism and identity essentialism in relation to the topic of gender essentialism. The chapter then considers Locke's distinction between nominal and real essences. Feminist debate concerning essentialism frequently turns on disagreement between gender nominalists and gender realists, and the concepts framing this debate originate with Locke. Some feminists have argued for adopting a theory of nominal essences about gender. Others are gender realists. As it turns out, however, the realism/nominalism debate among feminists is tangential to the focus of this book since it concerns the basis for membership in gender kinds, and not what makes an individual be the individual that it is.

Keywords:   gender essentialism, individual essentialism, Aristotle, unification essentialism, Locke

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