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.

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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: Quine’s Version

Although I’m a realist about scientific entities, I’m not a realist about natural kinds. In fact, anti-realism about natural kinds was, at one point, going to be the focus of my dissertaion (around and about my second year). Nothing *deeply* has changed about my problems with most standard accounts of natural kind terms, but I do think I can articulate some of those problems a bit more clearly and succinctly. This week, I’ll look at one of the few relatively empiricism-friendly accounts of natural kinds: Quine’s.

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Moritz Schlick, Hard-Core Realist

I’m not really a verificationist (see here for the beginnings of my account of content), but I have a lot of general sympathy for verificationism, and I think the verificationists were certainly onto something both true and important, even if they didn’t get the formulation quite right.

I am not a metaphysical anti-realist, though, and it’s always bugged me quite a bit that realism and empiricism (especially verificationism) are contrasted. Which they are, regularly, by realists like Boyd, and even by empiricists like Van Fraassen (who isn’t actually an anti-realist, but believes that the truth of scientific laws isn’t something we should be concerned with).

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The Unreducability of Reductionism

This started as an off-the cuff comment over at the blog for Philosophy Talk, a radio show run by two Stanford philosophers, John Perry and Ken Taylor. But I decided I liked this idea too much to leave it as an unpolished comment.

Reductionism, if you don’t know, is the thesis that claims from one “science” (this might be a true science in the technical sense, or simply any realm of human experience/endeavor) can be “reduced” to claims from another science. Psychology, for example, may be reducable to biology, biology may be reducable to chemistry, chemistry may be reducable to physics, and so on. What this means is that, for example, if we really had a completed biology (and, potentially, a lot of time to state what would count as simple facts from a psychological perspective), we could get rid of psychological language entirely: All psychological claims could be replaced with (admittedly rather more complex) biological claims.

I’m going to argue that reductionism is false–but not (unless there’s an extant argument I’m unaware of) on any of the grounds that people before have argued that reductionism as false. Continue reading The Unreducability of Reductionism