May 11, 2016

A Simple Argument for the Essentiality of Gender

Filed under: Philosophy — camcintosh @ 10:01 am

Here’s a simple argument for the conclusion that your gender is essential to you, your essence, haecceity, or identity.

(i) Take Kripke’s essentiality of origins thesis: your origin is essential to you. You could not have originated from a different set of parents. That a particular sperm and a particular egg united at a particular moment (i.e., conception) is essential to you. Had a different sperm or egg united at that moment, you would not have existed. (ii) You originated at conception. Your origin and conception are, in fact, the same event. (iii) Gender is determined at conception. The moment a sperm fertilizes an egg, gender is set. It might be protested at this point that the argument confuses biological “sex” with “gender.” But the arguer need not assume human persons are essentially biological organisms; only that their biological origin is essential to them, and that they have certain essential properties in virtue of that origin. But if human persons are possibly not biological organisms (e.g., they can exist disembodied, or at least with a non-biological body), then they possibly lack a biological sex. What would it mean to say you’re biologically male while lacking a biological body? So either the distinction between “sex” and “gender” is illegitimate, or what is essential to you in virtue of your biological origin is gender, not biological sex. It follows that (iv) gender is constitutive of your origin. Part of what made your origin/conception the very event it was, was what occurred in that event; what occurred in that event was the creation of a gendered zygote. (v) If x is constitutive of y, and y is essential to S, then x is essential to S. So, (vi) your gender is essential to you.



  1. Hi Chad,
    I fear this may not be a popular argument.
    For one thing, it assumes that gender is a “binary ” reality. Maybe in 99% cases yes, but it definitely ain’t 100%.

    Comment by JB — May 11, 2016 @ 11:53 am | Reply

    • Thanks for the comment, JB. I don’t see how the argument assumes that gender is binary. It is compatible with the qualification that your gender, be it male, female, or neither, is essential to you.

      Comment by camcintosh — May 11, 2016 @ 12:54 pm | Reply

      • Thanks Chad. “….or neither”. I think that this might go to show that “gender” is somewhat harder to define than can initially be presupposed. My point was that even from a biological standpoint, this does not hold up well. But gender is not purely biological. So far, I’m not buying the essential gender argument.

        I thought this was a great discussion, did you hear it?

        Comment by JB — May 11, 2016 @ 3:00 pm

      • JB, that science bit… mind blown.

        Comment by Michael R. — May 15, 2016 @ 3:11 pm

  2. “(iii) Gender is determined at conception. The moment a sperm fertilizes an egg, gender is set. This is a simple, scientific fact.”

    But isn’t gender usually talked about as the possession of certain masculine or feminine qualities/dispositions/ or behaviors which conform to norms associated with males and females? At best, doesn’t your argument get you that only a small part of one’s gender is determined in utero and essential? I’m having trouble seeing how gender and sex aren’t being conflated (and maybe they should be). What do you mean by “gender”?

    Comment by Tully Borland — May 12, 2016 @ 3:04 pm | Reply

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