Both realist and anti-realist accounts of natural kinds possess prima facie virtues: realists can straightforwardly make sense of the apparent objectivity of the natural kinds, and anti-realists, their knowability. This paper formulates a properly anti-realist account designed to capture both merits. In particular, it recommends understanding natural kinds as ‘categorical bottlenecks,’ those categories that not only best serve us, with our idiosyncratic aims and cognitive capacities, but also those of a wide range of alternative agents. By endorsing an ultimately subjective (...) categorical principle, this view sidesteps epistemological difficulties facing realist views. Yet, it nevertheless identifies natural kinds that are fairly, though not completely, stance-independent or objective. (shrink)
This paper sketches a causal account of scientific explanation designed to sustain the judgment that high-level, detail-sparse explanations—particularly those offered in biology—can be at least as explanatorily valuable as lower-level counterparts. The motivating idea is that complete explanations maximize causal economy: they cite those aspects of an event’s causal run-up that offer the biggest-bang-for-your-buck, by costing less (in virtue of being abstract) and delivering more (in virtue making the event stable or robust).
Though biologists identify individuals as ‘male’ or ‘female’ across a broad range of animal species, the particular traits exhibited by males and females can vary tremendously. This diversity has led some to conclude that cross-animal sexes (males, or females, of whatever animal species) have “little or no explanatory power” (Dupré 1986: 447) and, thus, are not natural kinds in any traditional sense. This essay will explore considerations for and against this conclusion, ultimately arguing that the animal sexes, properly understood, are (...) “historical explanatory kinds”: groupings that can be scientifically significant even while their members differ radically in their current properties and particular histories. Whether this makes them full-fledged natural kinds is a question I take up at the very end. (shrink)
Plato’s often-quoted statement in the Phaedrus that we should “cut up each kind according to its species along its natural joints” (265e) has become an influential metaphor in discussions of natural kinds and natural properties. In this essay, I investigate the source domain of the metaphor, the joints of the animal body, to determine if these joints are indeed “natural”—meaning that there exists a single, non-disjunctive account of joint-hood applicable to the osteological world. By examining animal joints from the perspective (...) of both the butcher and the biologist, I argue that there is no single natural division of the body into component skeletal parts. I conclude by considering what impact this result should have on our understanding of natural kinds and on the metaphors we use to describe them. (shrink)
Plato‘s often-quoted statement in the Phaedrus that we should 'cut up each kind according to its species along its natural joints' (265e) has been an influential metaphor in discussions of natural kinds. In this essay, I investigate the source domain of the metaphor, the joints of the animal body, to determine whether, as users of the metaphor often assume, there is just one scientifically legitimate division of the body into component skeletal parts. Through an examination of animal joints from the (...) perspective of both the butcher and then the biologist, I argue that there are multiple, legitimate divisions. Yet I suggest that, properly interpreted, the deeper message of the metaphor may still be defensible: the suggestion that some 'carvings' are more natural or real than others. I conclude by considering the implications this result should have for our approach to natural kinds and for the metaphors we use to describe them. (shrink)
Plato’s Socrates says in the Phaedrus that we should “cut up each kind according to its species along its natural joints, and to try not to splinter any part, as a bad butcher might” (265e). In the Statesman Plato’s interlocutors make the similar suggestion that kinds should be divided from one another “limb by limb, like a sacrificial animal” (287c). This jointing metaphor is often used to illustrate the divisibility of the natural world into objective kinds or natural categories—such as (...) into particles like electrons, species, such as Homo sapiens, or even into sociological kinds like care-giver or psychological ones like fear. It has been thought that by dividing the world at its joints, we can lay bare the natural kinds; when we fail to so divide we splinter the world’s kinds like an incompetent butcher. In accordance with the metaphor, each bone in the animal body is likened to a category of things in the natural world. The claim that there is one natural set of joints at which we can physically separate the parts of the animal parallels the claim that there is a unique set of natural categories into which we should partition objects into species. Some, such as David Hull, say that this metaphor is “apt” (Hull 1989, 153) and others, like Ian Hacking, that it is “unsavory rubbish” (Hacking 1991, 111). Philip Kitcher is equally critical, writing that: “Plato gave us a vivid metaphor, suggesting that our classificatory task is like that of carving a beast at its joints. But that is just metaphor. I find it hard to give substance to the notion that nature is a beast with joints or that it comes with neat fenceposts that our scientific language must respect.”. (shrink)