Philosophers have long been interested in a series of interrelated questions about natural kinds. What are they? What role do they play in science and metaphysics? How do they contribute to our epistemic projects? What categories count as natural kinds? And so on. Owing, perhaps, to different starting points and emphases, we now have at hand a variety of conceptions of natural kinds—some apparently better suited than others to accommodate a particular sort of inquiry. Even if coherent, this situation isn’t (...) ideal. My goal in this article is to begin to articulate a more general account of ‘natural kind phenomena’. While I do not claim that this account should satisfy everyone—it is built around a certain conception of the epistemic role of kinds and has an obvious pragmatic flavour—I believe that it has the resources to go further than extant alternatives, in particular the homeostatic property cluster view of kinds. (shrink)
A number of influential biologists are currently pursuing efforts to restore previously extinct species. But for decades, philosophers of biology have regarded “de-extinction” as conceptually incoherent. Once a species is gone, it is gone forever. We argue that a range of metaphysical, biological, and ethical grounds for opposing de-extinction are at best inconclusive and that a pragmatic stance that allows for its possibility is more appealing.
This study examines the conflation of terms such as “knowledge” and “understanding” in peer-reviewed literature, and tests the hypothesis that little current research clearly distinguishes between importantly distinct epistemic states. Two sets of data are presented from papers published in the journal Public Understanding of Science. In the first set, the digital text analysis tool, Voyant, is used to analyze all papers published in 2014 for the use of epistemic success terms. In the second set of data, all papers published (...) in Public Understanding of Science from 2010–2015 are systematically analyzed to identify instances in which epistemic states are empirically measured. The results indicate that epistemic success terms are inconsistently defined, and that measurement of understanding, in particular, is rarely achieved in public understanding of science studies. We suggest that more diligent attention to measuring understanding, as opposed to mere knowledge, will increase efficacy of scientific outreach and communication efforts. (shrink)
Talk of different types of cells is commonplace in the biological sciences. We know a great deal, for example, about human muscle cells by studying the same type of cells in mice. Information about cell type is apparently largely projectible across species boundaries. But what defines cell type? Do cells come pre-packaged into different natural kinds? Philosophical attention to these questions has been extremely limited [see e.g., Wilson (Species: New Interdisciplinary Essays, pp 187–207, 1999; Genes and the Agents of Life, (...) 2005; Wilson et al. Philos Top 35(1/2):189–215, 2007)]. On the face of it, the problems we face in individuating cellular kinds resemble those biologists and philosophers of biology encountered in thinking about species: there are apparently many different (and interconnected) bases on which we might legitimately classify cells. We could, for example, focus on their developmental history (a sort of analogue to a species’ evolutionary history); or we might divide on the basis of certain structural features, functional role, location within larger systems, and so on. In this paper, I sketch an approach to cellular kinds inspired by Boyd’s Homeostatic Property Cluster Theory, applying some lessons from this application back to general questions about the nature of natural kinds. (shrink)
Different chemical species are often cited as paradigm examples of structurally delimited natural kinds. While classificatory monism may thus seem plausible for simple molecules, it looks less attractive for complex biological macromolecules. I focus on the case of proteins that are most plausibly individuated by their functions. Is there a single, objective count of proteins? I argue that the vagaries of function individuation infect protein classification. We should be pluralists about macromolecular classification.
Do the laws of nature supervene on ordinary, non-nomic matters of fact? Lange's criticism of Humean supervenience (HS) plays a key role in his account of natural laws. Though we are sympathetic to his account, we remain unconvinced by his criticism. We focus on his thought experiment involving a world containing nothing but a lone proton and argue that it does not cast sufficient doubt on HS. In addition, we express some concern about locating the lawmakers in an ontology of (...) primitive subjunctive facts and suggest that a 'mixed' metaphysics to the lawmaker question might be attractive. (shrink)
In this paper, I consider ways of responding to critiques of natural kinds monism recently suggested from the pluralist camp. Even if monism is determined to be untenable in certain domains (say, about species), it might well be tenable in others. Chemistry is suggested to be such a monist‐friendly domain. Suggestions of trouble for chemical kinds can be defused by attending to the difference between monism as a metaphysical thesis and as a claim about classification systems. Finally, I consider enantiomers (...) as a test case for the monism/pluralism debate. The question of whether enantiomers differ in kind does not appear easily answerable. I suggest that this legislates for pluralism in chemistry. (shrink)
The scientific community, we hold, often provides society with knowledge—that the HIV virus causes AIDS, that anthropogenic climate change is underway, that the MMR vaccine is safe. Some deny that we have this knowledge, however, and work to undermine it in others. It has been common to refer to such agents as “denialists”. At first glance, then, denialism appears to be a form of skepticism. But while we know that various denialist strategies for suppressing belief are generally effective, little is (...) known about which strategies are most effective. We see this as an important first step toward their remediation. This paper leverages the approximate comparison to various forms of philosophical skepticism to design an experimental test of the efficacy of four broad strategies of denial at suppressing belief in specific scientific claims. Our results suggest that assertive strategies are more effective at suppressing belief than questioning strategies. (shrink)
Good chefs know the importance of maintaining sharp knives in the kitchen. What’s their secret? A well-worn Taoist allegory offers some advice. The king asks about his butcher’s impressive knifework. “Ordinary butchers,” he replied “hack their way through the animal. Thus their knife always needs sharpening. My father taught me the Taoist way. I merely lay the knife by the natural openings and let it find its own way through. Thus it never needs sharpening” (Kahn 1995, vii; see also Watson (...) 2003, 46). Plato famously employed this image as an analogy for the reality of his Forms (Phaedrus, 265e). Just like an animal, the world comes pre-divided for us. Ideally, our best theories will be those which “carve nature at its joints”. While Plato employed the “carving” metaphor to convey his views about the reality of his celebrated Forms, its most common contemporary use involves the success of science -- particularly, its success in identifying distinct kinds of things. Scientists often report discovering new kinds of things -- a new species of mammal or novel kind of fundamental particle, for example -- or uncovering more information about already familiar kinds. Moreover, we often notice considerable overlap in different approaches to classification. As Ernst Mayr put it: No naturalist would question the reality of the species he may find in his garden, whether it is a catbird, chickadee, robin, or starling. And the same is true for trees or flowering plants. Species at a given locality are almost invariably separated from each other by a distinct gap. Nothing convinced me so fully of the reality of species as the observation . . . that the Stone Age natives in the mountains of New Guinea recognize as species exactly the same entities of nature as a western scientist. (Mayr 1987, 146) Such agreement is certainly suggestive. It suggests that taxonomies are discoveries rather than mere inventions. Couple this with their utility in scientific inference and explanation and we have compelling reason for accepting the objective, independent reality of many different natural kinds of things.. (shrink)
There is a tension between the “growing block” account of time (closed past, open future) and the possibility of backwards time travel. If Tim the time traveler can someday travel backwards through time, then he has (in a certain sense) already been. He might discover this fact before (in another sense) he goes. Hence a dilemma: it seems that either Tim’s future is determined in an odd way or cases of (temporary) ontic indeterminate identity are possible. Either Tim cannot avoid (...) heading for the past or he is only indeterminately that guy who appeared in the past with many of Tim’s memories. Determinacy in the past implies a degree of determinism in the future; indeterminism about the future seeps back to the past. (shrink)
Are there natural kinds of things around which our theories cut? The essays in this volume offer reflections by a distinguished group of philosophers on a series of intertwined issues in the metaphysics and epistemology of classification.
The Direct Argument for the incompatibility of moral responsibility and determinism is designed to side-step complaints given by compatibilist critiques of the so-called Transfer Argument. I argue that while it represents an improvement over the Transfer Argument, it loses some of its plausibility when we reflect on some metalogical issues about normal modal modeling and the semantics of natural language. More specifically, the crucial principle on which the Direct Argument depends appears doubtful where context plays a role in evaluation of (...) normative claims. (shrink)
We often knowingly teach false science. Such a practice conflicts with a prima facie pedagogical value placed on teaching only what’s true. I argue that only a partial dissolution of the conflict is possible: the proper aim of instruction in science is not to provide an armory of facts about what things the world contains, how they interact, and so on, but rather to contribute to an understanding of how science as a human endeavor works and what sorts of facts (...) about the world science aims to provide. Such an aim legislates for an increased prominence of history and philosophy in even secondary science education. (shrink)
Some astronomers believe that we have discovered that Pluto is not a planet. I contest this assessment. Recent discoveries of trans-Neptunian Pluto-sized objects do not require that we exclude Pluto from the planets. But the obvious alternative, that classificatory revision is a matter of arbitrary choice, is also unpalatable. I argue that this classificatory controversy — which I compare to the controversy about the classification of the platypus — illustrates how our classificatory practices are laden with normative commitments of a (...) distinctive kind. I argue that the “norm-ladenness” of classification has philosophically significant ramifications for how we think about scientific disputes and debates in the metaphysics of classification such as the monism/pluralism debate. (shrink)
How many championships have the Lakers won? Fourteen, if one counts those won in Minneapolis; nine, otherwise. Which is the correct answer? Is it even obvious that there is a correct answer? One is tempted to identify a team with its players. But teams, like ordinary objects, seem to survive gradual turnover of their parts. Suppose players from the Lakers are gradually replaced, one by one, over the years. We have the intuition that the team persists through this change, even (...) after none of the original players remain. Suppose too that these original players wind up playing for the Celtics. Lakers fans face an awkward question: for whom should they root? On the one hand, they have the team currently playing in L.A.—a team that has continued gradually through the years, who wear the same uniforms, but now can’t make the playoffs. On the other hand, there are the beloved Lakers starting five (responsible for all those championships) now playing together in the hated Boston garden—a team which looks (despite wearing those hated Celtics jerseys) and plays just like the Lakers of old. What’s a loyal fan to do? (shrink)
Strategies for effectively communicating scientific findings to the public are an important and growing area of study. Recognizing that some complex subjects require recipients of information to take a more active role in constructing an understanding, we sought to determine whether it was possible to increase subjects’ intellectual effort via “priming” methodologies. In particular, we asked whether subconsciously priming “intellectual virtues”, such as curiosity, perseverance, patience, and diligence might improve participants’ effort and performance on various cognitive tasks. In the first (...) experiment, we found no significant differences in either effort or understanding between IV-primed and neutrally-primed individuals across two different priming techniques. The second experiment measured the effect of IV-priming on intellectual effort in simpler, shorter-duration puzzles and exploration activities; here, we observed an effect, but given its low strength and short duration, we do not believe that priming of IVs is a promising strategy for science communication. (shrink)
We describe a simple, flexible exercise that can be implemented in the philosophy of science classroom: students are asked to determine the contents of a closed container without opening it. This exercise has revealed itself as a useful platform from which to examine a wide range of issues in the philosophy of science and may, we suggest, even help us think about improving the public understanding of science.
The world contains many different types of ecosystems. This is something of a commonplace in biology and conservation science. But there has been little attention to the question of whether such ecosystem types enjoy a degree of objectivity—whether they might be natural kinds. I argue that traditional accounts of natural kinds that emphasize nomic or causal–mechanistic dimensions of “kindhood” are ill-equipped to accommodate presumptive ecosystemic kinds. In particular, unlike many other kinds, ecosystemic kinds are “anchored” to the contingent character of (...) species and higher taxa and their abiotic environments. Drawing on Slater :375–411, 2015a), I show how we can nevertheless make room for such contingent anchoring in an account of natural kinds of ecosystems kinds. (shrink)
A teacher of analytic metaphysics faces a bewildering array of textbook and anthology options. Which should one choose? Thisdepends, of course, on one’s course and goals as instructor. This comparative book review will survey several options—both longstanding and recent to press—from a pedagogical perspective. The options are not exclusive. Many are natural complements and would work nicely with other collections or single-author texts. I shall focus my attention here on six texts (in this order): two textbooks, one by Peter van (...) Inwagen and one by Michael Jubien, two anthologies of previously published papers (one edited by van Inwagen and Dean Zimmerman, another by Michael Loux), a collection of new paired “pro-and-con” essays assembled by Ted Sider, John Hawthorne, and Dean Zimmerman, and finally a hybrid text/anthology by Helen Beebee and Julian Dodd. (shrink)
Many Compatibilists seem to suppose that discover that we lived in a deterministic world would not unseat our confidence that many of our actions are nevertheless free. Here's a short story about such confidence becoming unseated.
Richard Boyd has long campaigned for a view of natural kinds he calls the Homeostatic Property Cluster account. This account has been particularly exciting for philosophers of biology unhappy with traditional essentialism about natural kinds and the views that biological kinds are, in one way or another, “historical entities”. Though defenders of HPC kinds have done much to further articulate the view, many questions about the account remain. One pressing question concerns the way in which HPC kinds are supposed to (...) accommodate our inductive and explanatory practices via causal, homeostatic mechanisms. In addressing the question, I am led to an alternative conception of what a property cluster kind might be. I call my alternative, in deference to its Boydian origins, the Stable Property Cluster account of natural kinds. Rather than emphasizing homeostasis or causal mechanism, the SPC account emphasizes the stability of a property cluster over the various ways stability may be maintained. In virtue of this modest change of emphasis, the SPC account does not advertise itself as an account of a kind of natural kind — it is, I think, an attractive candidate for a general natural kind concept, able to accommodate the diversity of natural kinds we find in the world. (shrink)
Of those who believe that biological species are real, the dominant metaphysics of species is that they are individuals. While the arguments for this view have been thoroughly criticized in the last quarter thirty years, comparatively less effort has been spent trying to show that the view is actually false. My primary concern in the present paper is to detail a metaphysical problem for the species-as-individuals thesis that should at least give potential adherents great pause. Second, I will sketch a (...) “deflationary” approach to the metaphysics of species which requires us to swallow fewer contentious philosophical claims and yet still accommodate the intuitions that species are real. (shrink)
Joe Campbell has identified an apparent flaw in van Inwagen’s Consequence Argument. It apparently derives a metaphysically necessary conclusion from what Campbell argues is a contingent premise: that the past is in some sense necessary. I criticise Campbell’s examples attempting to show that this is not the case (in the requisite sense) and suggest some directions along which an incompatibilist could reconstruct her argument so as to remain immune to Campbell’s worries.
Achille Varzi  has suggested a nice response to the familiar argument purporting to establish the existence of perfectly coinciding objects – objects which, if they existed, would trouble mereological extensionality and the “Minimalist View” of ontology. The trick is to defend Minimalism without tarnishing its status as a meta-principle: that is, without making any firstorder ontological claims. Varzi’s response, though seeming to allow for a comfortable indifference about metaphysical matters peripheral to Minimalism, is not general enough to stave off (...) attacks on extensionality from more sophisticated corners. However, Varzi’s argument bears a kinship with a more general argument against coincident objects. I consider how such an argument sits with the meta-doctrinal status of Minimalism. (shrink)
Taxonomy is undeniably central to science — indeed, some see taxonomy as prerequisite to scientific theorizing. But what are taxonomies about? Are taxonomies discoveries or inventions? Has the world an objective, monistic structure — natural kinds or, to use Plato’s metaphor, joints along which true scientific theories carve? Controversy surrounding these issues has been at the heart of important debates in the philosophy of science, metaphysics, and the philosophy of language.
The hard questions regarding identity, explicitly or implicitly, involve questions of time, therefore inheriting the complexities involved in the discussion of the concept of time. This book begins the discussion of the philosophy of time by posing the question of whether time exists or not. In ancient times, the reality of time was presupposed even if the concept did not have a clear-cut definition. Ironically, it was during the time when physicists seemed to gain a better scientific understanding of time (...) that philosophers began questioning the reality of time. The discussion of identity begins with Locke’s notion that the identity of a person consists in nothing but memories and conscious experience, which are independent of the body. (shrink)
We describe a simple, flexible exercise that can be implemented in the philosophy of science classroom: students are asked to determine the contents of a closed container, over the course of a semester, without opening it. This exercise has proved a useful platform from which to examine a wide range of issues in the philosophy of science and may, we suggest, even help us think about improving the public understanding of science.
Achille Varzi  has suggested a nice response to the familiar argument purporting to establish the existence of perfectly coinciding objects ‐ objects which, if they existed, would trouble mereological extensionality and the “Minimalist View” of ontology. The trick is to defend Minimalism without tarnishing its status as a meta‐principle: that is, without making any first‐ order ontological claims. Varzi's response, though seeming to allow for a comfortable indifference about metaphysical matters peripheral to Minimalism, is not general enough to stave (...) off attacks on extensionality from more sophisticated corners. However, Varzi's argument bears a kinship with a more general argument against coincident objects. I consider how such an argument sits with the meta‐doctrinal status of Minimalism. (shrink)
These fifteen original essays address the core semantic concepts of reference and referring from both philosophical and linguistic perspectives. After an introductory essay that casts current trends in reference and referring in terms of an ongoing dialogue between Fregean and Russellian approaches, the book addresses specific topics, balancing breadth of coverage with thematic unity. The contributors, all leading or emerging scholars, address trenchant neo-Fregean challenges to the direct reference position; consider what positive claims can be made about the mechanism of (...) reference; address the role of a theory of reference within broader theoretical context; and investigate other kinds of linguistic expressions used in referring activities that may themselves be referring expressions. The topical unity and accessibility of the essays, the stage-setting introductory essay, and the comprehensive index combine to make R _eference and Referring_, along with the other books in the Topics in Contemporary Philosophy series, appropriate for use in advanced undergraduate and graduate courses. (shrink)
Philosophical reflections on the environment began with early philosophers' invocation of a cosmology that mixed natural and supernatural phenomena. Today, the central philosophical problem posed by the environment involves not what it can teach us about ourselves and our place in the cosmic order but rather how we can understand its workings in order to make better decisions about our own conduct regarding it. The resulting inquiry spans different areas of contemporary philosophy, many of which are represented by the fifteen (...) original essays in this volume. The contributors first consider conceptual problems generated by rapid advances in biology and ecology, examining such topics as ecological communities, adaptation, and scientific consensus. The contributors then turn to epistemic and axiological issues, first considering philosophical aspects of environmental decision making and then assessing particular environmental policies, including reparations, remediation, and nuclear power, from a normative perspective. (shrink)
This volume of new essays, written by leading philosophers of science, explores a broadly methodological question: what role should metaphysics play in our philosophizing about science? The essays address this question both through ground-level investigations of particular issues in the metaphysics of science and by more general methodological investigations.