Atran's Unnatural Kinds

Croatian Journal of Philosophy 5 (2):345-357 (2005)
Abstract
Scott Atran has argued that scientific thinking about living things necessarily emerges out of a common-sense structure of ideas which reflects the ways in which humans are constitutionally disposed to think about ‘manifestly perceivable empirical fact’. He maintains that the uniformity in folk-biological taxonomy under diverse socio-cultural learning conditions established by recent ethnobiological research undermines the predominant view that folk classifications of living things are a function of local interests and culture, and he further maintains that such uniformity must be grounded in species-specific and domain-specific cognitive capacities. I consider certain philosophically controversial lessons that Atran wishes to draw from these claims, concerning (a) philosophical theories of natural kinds, and (b) the ‘reality’ of folk-biological kinds and the relation between such kinds and the kinds posited by biological science. I argue that, even if we grant the ethnobiological evidence to which he appeals, such evidencedoes not bear upon the philosophical issues in the ways that he proposes
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