The Trouble with Natural Kinds: Putnam’s Version

This post is a continuation of my posts on natrual kinds; see my take on Quine’s account of kinds, and my twoparter on Kripke’s account of kinds.

Putnam’s views on issues of metaphysics and language have actually evolved extensively over time, and his main arguments for realism about natural kinds, which I’ll present here, do not accurately represent his views now, or for that matter, any time since about 1980. “Internal realism,” his current (last I checked) ontology, is extremely nuanced, and I’m not going to talk about it right here. Instead, the opponent whose arguments for natural kinds realism is, specifically, the Putnam of the 1970s. Putnam, in my opinion, deserves great respect for being one of the few philosophers to be completely forthright about changing his mind; he freely admits that his metaphysics has changed dramatically and that, in his opinion, his earlier incarnation was simply wrong.

Why investigate views whose own author has repudiated? The fact is, most of the philosophical community doesn’t agree with Putnam about his own earlier theories. I’d estimate that, currently, the hardcore scientific realist Putnam of the 1970s has more adherents than the internal realist of the 1980s and beyond.

Continue reading The Trouble with Natural Kinds: Putnam’s Version

The Trouble with Natural Kinds: Kripke’s Version, Part 2

In this post, I argued that, contra Kripke, when the baptismal origin of a natural kind term has none of the properties we associate with that term, the term no longer refers to a kind that includes its baptismal origin. I then promised that I argue that, when objects not “of the same kind” (in a realist sense) as the baptismal origin of a natural kind term have all of the properties associated with a kind term, the kind term does (or at least, Kripke didn’t show that it doesn’t) include those objects in its extension. Here’s where I’ll do that.

Kripke’s Original Argument

Kripke’s example is as follows: Consider English as it was spoken pre-Lavoisier. The term “water,” at that point, clearly did not have associated with it the property of having the chemical formula H2O. The set of properties associated with it, at most, involved those properties accessible to people at the time. Now, suppose there was another compound (which Kripke calls XYZ), such that it had all of the properties of water that were accessible to people before the start of modern chemistry.

Kripke takes it as obvious (and I’m pretty much inclined to agree) that XYZ shouldn’t count as water. But should it count as water as the term was used before the start of modern chemistry? Kripke thinks that’s pretty obvious, too. Of course, he claims, the meaning of “water” hasn’t actually changed since the 17th century. So XYZ couldn’t have counted as “water” then, either, even though it had all the properties that were associated with the term.

Continue reading The Trouble with Natural Kinds: Kripke’s Version, Part 2

The Trouble with Natural Kinds: Kripke’s Version

Unlike my attack on Quine’s argument for natural kinds realism, my problems with Kripke’s natural kinds realism did make it into my dissertaion. My focus there wasn’t on natural kinds; it was, instead, on Kripke’s general theory of non-connotativity of certain terms (and natural kind terms are among them). But, at least for Kripke, non-connotativity of natural kind terms and natural kinds realism are closely tied, so the same argument will do for both. For those of you who aren’t terribly excited about the idea of looking up my dissertation, I’ll put a somewhat abridged version of my argument here.

Kripke’s Original Argument

Kripke’s argument for natural kinds realism is, essentially, this: We don’t specify, through anything like definition, the extensions of our natural kind terms. For example (his example), there’s no set of concepts associated with the term “tiger” that uniquely picks out all and only tigers. Indeed, tigers could turn out to have none of the attributes associated with our concepts of them. Although they, for example, appear to eat meat, be related to cats, and be striped, these could (though it’s exceptionally implausible–it’s not impossible, and that’s all he needs) turn out to have none of these attributes. The apparent relation to cats could be a result of our inadequate understanding of genetics, the stripedness could be an optical illusion, and the meat-eating could in fact be something very different (perhaps–remember, we’re allowing the implausible here–tigers’ claws convert the creatures they kill into 100% textured tofu, so they never consume an iota of meat).

(Kripke has another argument, about water, that goes in the other direction–that something can have all the properties we conceptually associate with a kind without being a member of the kind.  I’ll cover that in a separate post.)

How do natural kind terms get their extensions? Well, Kripke wants to present, as opposed to a conceptual model, a causal model. The initial referent of “tiger” (or, more likely, some linguistic ancestor of “tiger”) was a tiger because of something that Kripke called a “baptismal event”–generally an ostention (“I shall call that thing [pointing] a tiger”) but possibly an *initial* description (“I shall call the creature that mauled this water buffalo a tiger”). At any rate, in all likielihood, this baptismal event picked out only a single object, or possibly a small number of objects. The relationship of that term  to other tigers is that other tigers are part of the same natural kind. The extent of that natural kind is a scientific fact to be discovered, not a definitional one to be stipulated. And the relationship of our term “tiger” to tigers is that there’s the right sort of “causal chain” between the initial term’s usage and our current usage of “tiger.”

Continue reading The Trouble with Natural Kinds: Kripke’s Version

The Thing I Love About Technology

…is how it makes our lives so much easier.

So, I think Dreamhost, or possibly WordPress, has done something that made my contact form stop sending me email. Problem is, I’m not sure *when* this happened; I have, at least, some hits on the contact form that didn’t result in my receiving any emails.


  1. Best not to use the contact form for now. If you want to contact me, and you don’t want to do it via a comment, email me directly (see below).
  2. If you’ve already used the contact form to contact me, and you haven’t received a reply, I’m really, really sorry–I think your email got lost in the void. If it’s not wildly inconvenient, please resend, again by emailing me directly (see below).

My email address:  My first name <at> avromroyfaderman <dot> com. Again, my apologies.

A Sinking Feeling

Songwriters, I’m sure, know it well, that tweak of deja vu when they listen to their last hook. It seems familiar, they think to themselves. Does it just seem familiar because I’ve been playing it so much, or is it that it’s an advertising jingle I heard when I was three?

At any rate, I’ve been having that same sinking feeling when I read back over my last two posts on decision theory. The arguments seem somehow…familiar, and I’m not quite sure if it’s just that they seem natural and right to me, or that <shudder> I’ve seen the arguments somewhere before. I’ve been out of this game for ten years, and I worry that, if you know what I mean, I remember more than I remember that I remember. A cursory search, which is all I can really do as a non-academic, has turned up nothing, and I certainly can’t for the life of me place where I might have heard them, but, you know. I worry.

At any rate, this is a plea: If you believe that in either of those posts, or in any post in this blog, I’m using the ideas of others without properly crediting them, please let me know. You can comment on the post, or you can contact me directly. I have far, far less than no interest in plagiarizing anyone, and promise that I will never do so intentionally. If I do so unintentionally, I hope that, with your help, I can set the record straight and make amends.

At any rate, enough paranoia. Back to your regularly scheduled blog.