Thursday, June 1, 2017


Some properties that a thing has partially or wholly explain other properties the thing has or doesn’t have. For instance, my having a body partially explains my being in Waco and wholly explains my having a body or horns. Some properties that a thing has do not explain, even partially, what other properties the thing has or doesn’t have. Call such properties “explanatorily fundamental”.

So, here’s a theory. The primary essential properties of a thing are the explanatorily fundamental properties of the thing. The primary essential properties are both essential in the medieval explanatory sense and the contemporary modal sense (properties a thing cannot exist without).

What about the case of Christ, who is essentially divine and essentially human, and yet prior (in the order of explanation) to the incarnation was not human? Here’s what we could say: Divinity is the one and only primary essential property of Christ. But humanity is a secondary essential property. A secondary essential property of a thing is the sort of property that (a) is not a primary essential property of that thing, but (b) normally is the primary essential property of its possessor. In the case of Christ, his divinity is explanatorily prior to his humanity, but normally a thing’s humanity does not have any property of that thing explanatorily prior to it.


Heath White said...

Consider a contingent being with the essential property of being F. Then the being also has the property "was created by God as an F." Arguably, this property explains the F-ness. Which is primary-essential?

Christopher Michael said...

Why not simply say that all essential properties are relativized to natures? That is, there is no such thing simply as "X is essentially F", but rather predication of essential properties is always of the form, "X is essentially F qua N". This is the way we should be talking anyway, given that it is natures that have essences primarily, and supposita only in virtue of having that nature.

Of course, we can dispense with such relativization in every case but Christ's, since in all created things, supposita and natures are one-to-one. But it's always implicitly there, and becomes explicitly relevant in Christ's case.

Alexander R Pruss said...

But then we need natures in addition to essential properties. It would be nice to have fewer categories.

Christopher Michael said...

We need natures anyway, because the Church bids us not to confuse the natures of Christ. We can't avoid confusing natures if we don't acknowledge natures in our ontology. Essential properties just don't make sense without natures, either, at least not in the mediaeval sense of "essential". I don't know what essential properties are if there aren't natures.

Alexander R Pruss said...

sure: that's why I said we don't need natures in addition to essential properties. There are natures: they are a special kind of essential property, perhaps the primary or secondary kind, on this theory.