Scientific realism with historical essences: the case of species

Synthese 198 (Suppl 12):3041-3057 (2018)
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Natural kinds, real kinds, or, following J.S Mill simply, Kinds, are thought to be an important asset for scientific realists in the non-fundamental (or “special”) sciences. Essential natures are less in vogue. I show that the realist would do well to couple her Kinds with essential natures in order to strengthen their epistemic and ontological credentials. I argue that these essential natures need not however be intrinsic to the Kind’s members; they may be historical. I concentrate on assessing the merits of historical essential natures in a paradigm case of Kinds in the non-fundamental sciences: species. I specify two basic jobs for essential natures: 1) offering individuation criteria, and 2) providing a causal explanation of the Kind’s multiple projectable properties. I argue that at least in the case of species historical essences are fit for both tasks. The principled resistance to Kinds with historical essences should also be cleared.

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Marion Godman
Cambridge University


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