Philosophers Index Abstract
- While there is general agreement that Locke's nominal essence theory provided an anti-essentialist alternative to scholastic/aristotelian essentialist theories of classification, some scholars regard Locke's real essence theory as providing the basis, either explicitly or implicitly, for an essentialist system of classification.
- I argue that this view is wrong. Locke has metaphysical reasons, based on a nominalist reading of the great chain of being, for holding that neither the appearances nor the atomic realities which underlie appearances provide a basis for an essentialist classification of natural kinds1.
- Real essences explain appearances; they do not uniquely mirror natural kinds2.
- John Locke in his essence theory provides an alternative account of classification of nominal essences and real essences.
- Locke emphasizes the point that the classificatory systems of ordinary language were made by ordinary, vulgar and illiterate persons for ease of communication in the conduct of ordinary practical affairs, and not by scientists seeking to mirror the way in which nature divides things into classes.
- Locke holds, in fact, that nature does not divide things into neat classes with distinct, non-arbitrary boundaries.
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