How to Philosophically Tackle Kinds without Talking About ‘Natural Kinds’

Canadian Journal of Philosophy 52 (3):356-379 (2022)
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Recent rival attempts in the philosophy of science to put forward a general theory of the properties that all (and only) natural kinds across the sciences possess may have proven to be futile. Instead, I develop a general methodological framework for how to philosophically study kinds. Any kind has to be investigated and articulated together with the human aims that motivate referring to this kind, where different kinds in the same scientific domain can answer to different concrete aims. My core contention is that non-epistemic aims, including environmental, ethical, and political aims, matter as well. This is defended and illustrated based on several examples of kinds, with particular attention to the role of social-political aims: species, race, gender, as well as personality disorders and oppositional defiant disorder as psychiatric kinds. Such non-epistemic aims and values need not always be those personally favoured by scientists, but may have to reflect values that matter to relevant societal stakeholders. Despite the general agenda to study ‘kinds,’ I argue that philosophers should stop using the term ‘natural kinds,’ as this label obscures the relevance of humans interests and the way in which many kinds are based on contingent social processes subject to human responsibility.



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Ingo Brigandt
University of Alberta

Citations of this work

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