Natural Kinds


Natural Kinds as Categorical Bottlenecks (2015  Philosophical Studies 172: 925-948,  Journal Link)

Both realist and anti-realist accounts of natural kinds possess prima facie virtues: realists can straightforwardly make sense of the apparent objectivity of the natural kinds, and anti-realists, their knowability. This paper formulates a properly anti-realist account designed to capture both merits. In particular, it recommends understanding natural kinds as 'categorical bottlenecks,' those categories that not only best serve us, with our idiosyncratic purposes and cognitive capacities, but also those of a wide range of alternative agents. By endorsing an ultimately subjective categorical principle, this view sidesteps the epistemological difficulties facing realist views. Yet partly in consequence of the ubiquity of robust causal processes in our universe, it nevertheless identifies natural kinds that are fairly, though not completely, objective. 

Why are some kinds historical and others not? (Powerpoint heredraft available upon request)

This paper offers a metaphysically neutral account of the factors that determine when scientists classify individuals based on synchronic, rather than historical, properties. In particular, I suggest that the key determinant of classification type is the probability of the emergence of similar entities with independent origins.


Trashing life’s tree (2010 Biology & Philosophy 25: 689-709, Jounal Link)

This paper evaluates recent critiques of a popular interpretation of the Tree of Life, one maintaining that--among non-meiotic life-forms--it represents the history of cellular lineages. I argue that some extant critiques of this ‘tree of cells’ are based on metaphysical confusions, and that there are prospects to defend a cellular interpretation of the Tree on principled grounds; though some of life’s history is not tree-like, the cellular tree is special in light of the central causal importance of cells themselves in influencing the course of evolutionary change.

Bacteria, sex, and systematics (2007 Philosophy of Science 74: 69-95, JSTOR Link)

This paper argues that traditional evolutionary conceptions of species face substantial difficulties when applied to most of life on earth, that is, to bacteria. I suggest that the more ‘pragmatic’ and not exclusively evolutionary approach to species pursued by many microbiologists is not borne of laziness, but instead is required by the causal contours of the bacterial world. 

For agnosticism about species metaphysics (draft available upon request)

This paper argues that both empirical facts and biological theorizing (properly interpreted) are indeterminate between all competing views of species metaphysics; in light of this, I suggest that discussions of species metaphysics are projects in fully a priori metaphysics, not ‘scientific’ metaphysics