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P.D. Magnus

How to be a realist about natural kinds

Laura Franklin-Hall argues for a nuanced anti-realism about natural kinds. In the course of her argument, she considers the accounts offered by Richard Boyd and me to be alternative anti-realist views. But Boyd and I are both avowed realists about natural kinds. There is an important presupposition hidden in the way that Franklin-Hall poses the problem, namely that a real natural kind must be natural simpliciter.

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Although some authors hold that natural kinds are necessarily relative to disciplinary domains, many authors presume that natural kinds must be absolute, categorical features of the reality — often assuming that without even mentioning the alternative. Recognizing both possibilities, one may ask whether the difference especially matters. I argue that it does. Looking at recent arguments about natural kind realism, I argue that we can best make sense of the realism question by thinking of natural kindness as a relation that holds between a category and a domain.

The first on-line draft of this paper was posted 8aug2014.