Natural Kinds in Philosophy and in the Life Sciences: Scholastic Twilight or New Dawn?
Sep 07 to Sep 09, 2011University of Granada, Spain
Organized by: Konrad Lorenz Institute for Evolution and Cognition Research (Altenberg, Austria) and the Department of Philosophy I, University of Granada (Spain)
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This workshop will be devoted to exploring the future of the ´natural kinds´’ concept in the philosophy of the life sciences (broadly conceived) and in scientific practice in this area of science, partly in comparison with the concept in other areas of science. In a recent paper, Ian Hacking claimed that the notion of ´natural kinds´ has outlived its use, that it stands in the way of progress in both philosophy of science and the sciences themselves, and that it should therefore be disposed of (Hacking, 2007, ´Natural kinds: rosy dawn, scholastic twilight´). According to Hacking, there is no such thing as a natural kind and, therefore, it doesn´t make much sense for philosophers of science and scientists to frame their work in terms of the concept of ´natural kinds´. The aim of this workshop is to explore which responses philosophers and scientists might give to Hacking´s claims.
There are good reasons to think such responses can be given. Hacking is principally concerned with essentialist conceptions of natural kinds and the metaphysical presuppositions of natural kinds philosophy, which are admittedly of limited use in most sciences. However, these are post hoc assessments of natural kinds concepts and seem at the very least presumptive of what counts as ´natural´. In contrast, the concept of ´natural kind´ seems to be moving away from these issues towards the fashioning of a concept that models important differences in the categories researchers construct in practice, in the process of that construction, and subsequently in the epistemic roles these categories play and how they are productively relied upon to further research (in all these contexts distinct from what may be labeled ´artificial´ kinds). Natural kinds are less a label philosophically applied to particular products of research, than to important elements of the process of research itself. In light of this the leading questions of the workshop are: Is Hacking really right in his general claim that there is no use for the concept of ´natural kind´ in either philosophy of science or science itself, or is there rather a significant aspect of the practices of categorization in the context of research to be captured by the notion of a natural category? If the latter, what philosophical work does the concept do? And how do scientists themselves think about their categories?
Since the main questions of this workshop concern research practices, and the productive application of a philosophical concept to them, one of the chief ambitions is to bring active researchers and philosophers into dialogue. We intend to address and discuss the meaningfulness of the natural kind concept both to philosophers of science and to scientists themselves. Participants from both sides of the division are asked to address this issue from the perspective of their own field of work, building their presentation and paper around the following questions:
- Do you recognise distinctions between types of categories in your field of work (or in the field you study as a philosopher) pertaining to their naturalness?
- What do you consider the natural kind categories of this field or the reasons whether the category makes (or doesn´t make) sense?
- What would you consider the basis and meaning of ´your´ natural kinds, and how would you distinguish them from non-natural kinds?
- What might be the importance to the field of making such a categorical distinction? In particular, what epistemic work does the notion of ´natural kind´ do in the field?
- And related, what kind of difference does the label ´natural kind´ reflect in terms of the use of such a concept in your research practice?
Towards answering these questions, the workshop plans to bring together scientists and philosophers who work particularly in philosophy of the life sciences and discuss how a concept of natural kinds allows facilitates a comparison of grouping and categorisation practices across science.