The Animal Sexes as Historical Explanatory Kinds

In Shamik Dasgupta, Ravit Dotan & Brad Weslake (eds.), Current Controversies in Philosophy of Science. Routledge. pp. 177-197 (2020)
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Abstract

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.

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Laura Franklin-Hall
New York University

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