Essence in the Age of Evolution : A New Theory of Natural Kinds book cover
1st Edition

Essence in the Age of Evolution
A New Theory of Natural Kinds

ISBN 9781032094755
Published June 30, 2021 by Routledge
152 Pages

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Book Description

This book offers a novel defence of a highly contested philosophical position: biological natural kind essentialism. This theory is routinely and explicitly rejected for its purported inability to be explicated in the context of contemporary biological science, and its supposed incompatibility with the process and progress of evolution by natural selection. Christopher J. Austin challenges these objections, and in conjunction with contemporary scientific advancements within the field of evolutionary-developmental biology, the book utilises a contemporary neo-Aristotelian metaphysics of "dispositional properties", or causal powers, to provide a theory of essentialism centred on the developmental architecture of organisms and its role in the evolutionary process. By defending a novel theory of Aristotelian biological natural kind essentialism, Essence in the Age of Evolution represents the fresh and exciting union of cutting-edge philosophical insight and scientific knowledge.

Table of Contents


1. Biological Natural Kind Essentialism: Definitions & Desiderata

2. Essence and Explanation: Natural Kinds in the Taxonomic Tree

3. Powerfully Directed Development: A Dispositional Analysis of Ontogenesis

4. Ontogenetic Causal Primacy: The Fount and Flow of Information

5. The Essence of Natural Kinds: Unity in Diversity

6. An Evolutionary Ontology: Priority, Modality, and The Natural State


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Christopher J. Austin is Head of Philosophy at Sutton Grammar School, London, and specialises in the metaphysics of science, with a particular focus on biology. Recent publications include ‘Dispositions in Evolutionary Developmental Biology’ in Evolutionary Developmental Biology: A Reference Guide, and ‘A Biologically Informed Hylomorphism’ in Neo-Aristotelian Perspectives on Contemporary Science.


"This exciting book defends a controversial position: biological natural kind essentialism with a neo-Aristotelian twist. It makes an interesting, novel contribution to the metaphysics of natural kinds and is a great example of what work in scientifically-informed metaphysics, or the metaphysics of science, should look like."Tuomas E. Tahko, University of Helsinki


"Christopher Austin’s Essence in the Age of Evolution has the ambitious and provocative aim of recovering the debate about essence by proposing a novel, neo-Aristotelian theory of ‘biological natural kind essentialism’, grounded in current research in evolutionary developmental biology. Christopher Austin embodies a trend of contemporary essentialism that shares with philosophers such as Denis Walsh (see his ‘Evolutionary essentialism’ (2006) in The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 57: 425–448) a reaffirmation of Aristotle’s heritage and the idea that evolutionary biology has already proved anti-essentialism wrong. This book ...shows how philosophers are undertaking new and empirically-informed approaches to ancient philosophical problems...Austin’s book is conceived primarily as a contribution towards overcoming the dichotomy between evolution and essentialism. His intention to demystify essence is perhaps the aspect that makes this work unique."

 - Silvia Basanta Martínez,  History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences