The argument that I will be presenting and critiquing resides in Soames “Philosophical Analysis”, in which Quinean theory sets out to disprove the intelligibility of essentialism. The argument is as follows:
1. Essential properties of objects are defined as notions of necessity
2. Necessity is conveyed by predicates (i.e. the application to sentences; … is a necessary truth) or by use of the operator (i.e. the attachment to sentences; it is necessary that …)
3. Thus, for any applicable choice of a term t that refers to or describes o it is necessary that if t exists, then t is F.
Quine’s response to this argument attacks the concluding third premise, stating that by observing any object o, that there are some terms t that refer to o which make the sentence ‘It is necessary that if t exists, then t is F’ true or false depending on its context. So it is this relation that Quine rests his counterargument upon. Here is his counterexample:
1. Mathematicians are necessarily rational
2. Mathematicians are not necessarily two-legged
3. Cyclists are necessarily two-legged
4. Cyclists are not necessarily rational
5. There are individuals who consider themselves as both mathematicians and cyclists
6. Thus, there are properties that can be necessary or contingent relative to how you are describing the individual
However, the next question need be asked is what of considering o by itself and exclusive from any characterizations? While none of the readings are suggestive of any aiding theories, I would argue that this Quine’s rebuttal in itself is not enough to refute essentialism in its entirety. If we are inquiring about a specific individual and his properties, are we not comparing all of them in relation to himself, as he is, and none of his particular identities? There clearly are many objects and individuals in which properties are both clearly and distinctly essential or contingent; which seems counterintuitive to Quine’s reasoning.
Even with the case of considering multiple identities into one example it would be redundant to consider every case in such a way. Conceivably, you may add every type of attribute that that thing or person is (i.e. The individual is a mathematician, cyclist, female, blue-eyed, mother, etc.) as opposed to, in retrospect, just considering one identity or one type of thing at a time.