Atran’s Unnatural Kinds

Croatian Journal of Philosophy 5 (2):345-357 (2005)

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
Keywords Analytic Philosophy  Contemporary Philosophy
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ISBN(s) 1333-1108
DOI croatjphil20055230
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