Two approaches to natural kinds

Synthese 199 (5-6):12177-12198 (2021)
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Philosophical treatments of natural kinds are embedded in two distinct projects. I call these the philosophy of science approach and the philosophy of language approach. Each is characterized by its own set of philosophical questions, concerns, and assumptions. The kinds studied in the philosophy of science approach are projectible categories that can ground inductive inferences and scientific explanation. The kinds studied in the philosophy of language approach are the referential objects of a special linguistic category—natural kind terms—thought to refer directly. Philosophers may hope for a unified account addresses both sets of concerns. This paper argues that this cannot be done successfully. No single account can satisfy both the semantic objectives of the philosophy of language approach and the explanatory projects of the philosophy of science approach. After analyzing where the tensions arise, I make recommendations about assumptions and projects that are best abandoned, those that should be retained, and those that should go their separate ways. I also recommend adopting the disambiguating terminology of “scientific kinds” and “natural kinds” for the different notions of kinds developed in these different approaches.

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Judith Crane
Southern Illinois University Edwardsville


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