Do the Life Sciences Need Natural Kinds?

Croatian Journal of Philosophy 9 (2):167-190 (2009)
Natural kinds have been a constant topic in philosophy throughout its history, but many issues pertaining to natural kinds still remain unresolved. This paper considers one of these issues: the epistemic role of natural kinds in scientific investigation. I begin by clarifying what is at stake for an individual scientific field when asking whether or not the field studies a natural kind. I use an example from life science, concerning how biologists explain the similar body shapes of fish and cetaceans, to show that natural kinds play a central epistemic role in scientific explanations that cannot be delegated to other explanatory factors. A task for philosophy, then, is to come up with a theory of natural kinds that adequately accounts for the epistemic role of natural kinds in science. After having sketched the spectrum of available philosophical theories of natural kinds, I argue that none of the available theories adequately performs this task and that therefore the search is still open for a theory that does
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DOI croatjphil20099221
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