Natural kind terms and recognitional capacities

Mind 107 (426):275-303 (1998)
The main contribution of this paper is a new account of how a community may introduce a term for a natural kind in advance of knowing the correct scientific account of that kind. The account is motivated by the inadequacy of the currently dominant accounts of how a community may do this, namely those proposed by Kripke and by Putman. Their accounts fail to deal satisfactorily with the facts that (1) typically, an item that instantiates one natural kind instantiates several - 'the higher-level natural kinds problem', and (2) natural kinds often occur in nature in impure form - 'the composition problem' .On the account I propose, a term for a natural kind gains its reference by being associated with a recognitional capacity for that kind. I show how members of a scientifically ignorant community could have a recognitional capacity for a natural kind, say gold, as opposed to a certain kind of appearance, for instance the appearance that gold actually has. I argue that members of such a community can have recognitional capacities for particular natural kinds despite the actual or possible existence of duplicate kinds, e.g. water. After developing the account in detail, I show how it can deal with the two problems faced by Kripke's and Putnam's problem. The case of natural kind terms is crucial to the central debate in the philosophy of language and the philosophy of mind about whether we can refer non-descriptively to objects and kinds in the world. I take the account I propose to be a non-descriptive account of linguistic reference to natural kinds that can be used to support externalism in the philosophy of mind
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DOI 10.1093/mind/107.426.275
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