Definition of essentialism in US English:



  • 1A belief that things have a set of characteristics which make them what they are, and that the task of science and philosophy is their discovery and expression; the doctrine that essence is prior to existence.

    Compare with existentialism
    • ‘It is a different phenomenon from philosophical or metaphysical essentialism.’
    • ‘From the perspective of Newtonian essentialism, all samples of a chemical element are identical and, as modern physics assumes, so are nuclear particles.’
    • ‘Darwin was generally thought to have struck a blow against Aristotelian essentialism by showing that the lines between biological species had not been drawn by God, and that species kept mutating into different species.’
    • ‘But essentialism about organisms has been undermined by Darwinism.’
    • ‘They did so using the most mathematical and scientific language possible, leading into endless discussions of material constitution, possible worlds, and debates between essentialism and non-essentialism.’
    • ‘For example, Pinker attributes opposition to genetically modified foods to innate and intuitive essentialism.’
    1. 1.1 The view that all children should be taught on traditional lines the ideas and methods regarded as essential to the prevalent culture.
      • ‘Then essentialism was criticized as being too rigid to prepare students adequately for adult life.’
      • ‘For better or worse, essentialism is the quintessential American approach to education.’
    2. 1.2 The view that categories of people, such as women and men, or heterosexuals and homosexuals, or members of ethnic groups, have intrinsically different and characteristic natures or dispositions.
      • ‘In fact, this is a very familiar problem in feminist theory: how to argue for a feminine specificity without falling into the trap of biological essentialism.’
      • ‘In other words, he bases his argument on the grounds of biological essentialism, which will connect him to African Americans.’
      • ‘Extreme assertions of diversity, such as Kallen's, imply a kind of racial or ethnic essentialism and separatism, not merely cultural pluralism.’
      • ‘Some readers have discerned a strain of racial essentialism in his putatively social constructionist stance.’
      • ‘So-called identity art flirted with essentialism in the early '90s, with the categories of race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation regarded as all-important indicators of an artist's intent.’
      • ‘However, we do not subscribe to a politics based on essentialism.’