Are sexes natural kinds?

In Shamik Dasgupta, Ravit Dotan & Brad Weslake (eds.), Current Controversies in Philosophy of Science. New York: Routledge. pp. 163-176 (2021)
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Abstract

Asking whether the sexes are natural kinds amounts to asking whether the categories, female and male, identify real divisions in nature, like the distinctions between biological species, or whether they mark merely artificial or arbitrary distinctions. The distinction between females and males in the animal kingdom is based on the relative size of the gametes they produce, with females producing larger gametes (ova) and males producing smaller gametes (sperm). This chapter argues that the properties of producing relatively large and small gametes are causally correlated with a range of other properties in a wide variety of organisms, and this is what makes females and males natural kinds in the animal kingdom. The chapter concludes with a discussion of the relationship between sex and gender: while the difference between the sexes is biologically grounded, the difference between genders is socially based. Since gender depends in part on the perception of sex, whether or not gender is real or not does not depend on whether sex is, since social reality is constituted in part by our perceptions. The claim that sexes are natural kinds in the animal kingdom does not imply that the biological differences among female and male humans do and should have social consequences.

Author's Profile

Muhammad Ali Khalidi
CUNY Graduate Center

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