Dr. Zeyu chi

Areas of specialization:


Areas of competence: Ancient Philosophy, Modern Philosophy (esp. Kant)


Personal website

I am a philosopher who is passionate about projects that borrow cool ideas from the history of philosophy to shed light on various contemporary issues. I completed a PhD in philosophy at Cornell University in 2019. My dissertation focused on the recent literature on essence in metaphysics. I argue among other things that the notion of propria (roughly, non-essential necessary properties) is key to construing how essential properties can play a central role in metaphysical explanations.

As a continuity of my dissertation project, currently I am working on papers which aim at a better construal of the nature of metaphysical explanation via classical conceptual tools such as essence and metaphysical priority (which is key to grounding as the new buzzword for metaphysicians lately). (The broad questions I am after are: Is there a good way to separate the kind of explanation that metaphysicians—and philosophers in general— are after from scientific explanations? How might seemingly “occult” notions such as essence and grounding help us get a grip on the differences between these two explanatory endeavors?)

During my fellowship at the Van Leer Institute, I will be working on a project which investigates the use of metaphors and analogies in metaphysical explanation. Metaphors and analogies pop up on all levels of philosophical dialogues, and they seem indispensable both for an intuitive latch onto the view that a philosopher presents to the public and for guiding the creative process behind developing one’s philosophical vision in greater detail. Yet surprisingly little has been said about their role in metaphysics (by metaphysicians at any rate!). One reason behind is likely that many of us are taught to be followers of a recent ideal, which attempts to model philosophical explanation on that of natural sciences. It is this ideal that I hope to challenge, on the ground that it mistakes the nature of the kind of creative activity that we often undertake in philosophy.


Chi, Z. (2020). Essence, Propria, and Essentialist Explanation. History of Philosophy & Logical Analysis 23(2): 338-361. doi: https://doi.org/10.30965/26664275-02302004