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The Scientific Construction of Kinds

Tuesday, April 25, 2017
CUNY Graduate Center, Room 5307
Jesse Prinz (CUNY)

In philosophy of mind and semantic theory, strong forms of realism continue to be popular.  Our concepts are presumed to pick our kinds whose joints are given by nature.   This picture is said to take science seriously, and philosophers with a naturalist bent have been especially drawn to it.  Within scientific practice, however, taxonomies often reflect a degree of fiat, with pragmatic and aesthetic factors determining the contours of kinds.  This is most obviously true is social sciences, but equally prevalent in natural sciences, such as chemistry and biology.  Those who have reflected on such practices sometimes lobby for sophisticated forms of realism (e.g., promiscuous realism or homeostatic property closers) in place of the sparser and sharper ontologies presupposed in other domains of philosophy.  Here is is argued that commitments to realism about kinds is weaker in scientific practice than we have been led to believe, even on these less stringent accounts.  Naturalists who defer to science on matters of ontology should be open to the possibility that kinds are, in some sense, constructed, rather than discovered.

If you have any other questions, please email eddy.chen@rutgers.edu

Sponsored by Metro Area Philosophy of Science (MAPS)

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