Meaning and essence: ancient and contemporary perspectives, 10 March 2017


Organizers: Adrian Ludușan, Mihai Rusu, Iovan Drehe

Contact: sau

Friday, 10 March, 11.30

This workshop aims to bring together a number of young researchers working in logic, philosophy of language, epistemology or argumentation theory on some key issues of common interest, but also of great importance for contemporary philosophy, such as theories of meaning and essentialism. In order to accomplish this, we thought about including an incursion back in time to what could be considered the starting point of such theories, as it is generally accepted among scholars that pursuits of this sort, in the Western tradition, first appeared in classical Greece. The theories of ancient philosophers such as Plato or Aristotle contributed with necessary steps, directly or indirectly, towards the development of contemporary theories. In the case of Plato, meaning and essence are linked to what is known as the Theory of Forms or Ideas, the character of Socrates being usually in search of essences by his insistence on the definition of the things considered in the discussion; in the case of Aristotle we find a more nuanced theory, its fundamentals being found in the relation between words, thoughts, and things, in what will be later known as the semantic or semiological triangle. Recent historiographical scholarly work started focusing on ancient works such as those of Aristotle with the express purpose of offering (new) discussion partners in contemporary debates on topics of this kind (e.g. David Charles, Aristotle on Meaning and Essence, OUP, 2000; etc.). Even if in the case of the ancient theories we cannot always distinguish sharply between the psychological, linguistic, pragmatic and other sides of the discussion, we can still consider that antiquity left us a theoretical heritage important enough to be given consideration today. One of the contributions to this workshop (I. Drehe) will consider Aristotelian essentialism in the context of dialectic.

For the most significant philosophers of the pre-Kripkean analytic tradition that were concerned with modal issues, essentialism was an unsustainable position, underpinned by unacceptable metaphysical commitments. These doubts continue a modal skepticism that was exhibited in more or less radical forms by classical empiricists, proceeding from the assumption of a structural separation between ordinary empirical propositions and modal propositions, the latter having to be justified by appeal to the former. The fact that the initial skeptical view has lost its dominance is notably due to the extraordinary development of modal logic, but most importantly to the rehabilitation of the metaphysical interpretation of modal notions by Saul Kripke in Naming and Necessity. Nowadays, essentialism appears to be a blanket term that groups a multitude of metaphysical theories sharing a core thesis that might be described roughly as the idea that there are necessary truths which are not based exclusively on the meaning of terms that compose them and/or on logical form. The main conundrums that the essentialist should be committed to solve are how we manage to distinguish essential properties from accidental ones and if there are multiple irreducible varieties of modality or the purported differences are explainable as variations of some unique fundamental kind (usually singled out as metaphysical modality). A robust ontological realist concerning modality will hold, as Fine (1994) does, that even logical necessity is a kind of metaphysical necessity. In most cases, the multiple and intricate ramifications of metaphysical discussions tend to obscure a crucial aspect: the relation between essence (modality) and meaning. The critique of a certain view of this relation was the catalyst for Kripke’s famous examples of necessary a posteriori truths. However, the significance of these cases remains a subject of controversy, and we believe that a (re)examination of the relation between essence and meaning is an unavoidable step towards a better understanding of these issues. This includes the fundamental logical questions (such as the significance of logical connectives, the relation between modal systems and metaphysical tenets, etc.) that will be treated in at least two of the proposed talks (C. Brîncuş and A. Dragomir). We also aim to explore the possibility of determining other general theses or principles that would allow an explanatory unification of the contemporary varieties of essentialism (M. Rusu) and to examine comparatively the relations between contemporary and historical essentialism. The projected conclusions might be used both ways, that is, for future essentialist theory-building, but also for a critique of this type of philosophical doctrine. Our overview will be completed by a discussion of the concepts of meaning and reference in the context of the philosophy of mathematics (A. Luduşan).


10:30 – 11:15 – Keynote speaker: Mircea DUMITRU  (University of Bucharest) – Essentialism Today – Cancelled

The workshop will start at 11.30

11:30 – 12:15 – Iovan DREHE (“Babeș-Bolyai” University of Cluj-Napoca) – Essence, Definition and Dialectic in Aristotle

12:15 – 13:00 – Mihai RUSU (“Babeș-Bolyai” University of Cluj-Napoca/ USAVM Cluj-Napoca) – Some reflections on contemporary essentialism: how do we acquire and justify modal knowledge?

13:00 – 15:00 – Lunch break

15:00 – 15:45 – Alexandru DRAGOMIR (University of Bucharest) – Kripke’s semantics for Modal Logic and Aristotelian Essentialism

15:45 – 16:30 – Constantin BRÎNCUȘ (University of Bucharest) – The Necessity of Logical Connections

16:30 – 16:45 – Coffee break

16:45 – 17:30 – Adrian LUDUȘAN (“Babeș-Bolyai” University of Cluj-Napoca) –Schematic theories categoricity theorems and determinacy of reference