Over at The Splintered Mind, Eric Schwitzgebel identifies what he calls the inflate-and-explode maneuver. Abstractly, the move is this: “Assume that things of Type X must have Property A, and then argue that nothing has Property A.”
Schwitzgebel is especially interested in the case of consciousness. On many accounts, one is supposed to have infallible access to the contents of one’s consciousness. However, one doesn’t have infallible access to anything. Having thus inflated consciousness with the pompous swell of infallibility, one blows it up— there is no such thing as consciousness!
Over on my website, I’ve posted an e-mail exchange I had with the late Hilary Putnam in 2011-12. The text of it has been knocking around on my hard drive, and it’s apt to get lost if I don’t put it somewhere. So posting it is as much for my own record keeping as for anything else.
In March 2014, I attended a workshop on natural kinds in Paris. Other attendees included Matt Slater, Muhammad Ali Khalidi, and Thomas Reydon. It seemed to me that, although we disagreed about many of the details, we shared a core conception of natural kinds.1 I mooted the idea of writing a consensus statement. We could give it a flashy name, refer to in our writing, and then maybe other people would start using the phrase too.
Today, while moving the last papers out of my old office, I came across an outline from the conference. Here I’ve quoted it exactly, including the all-caps title.2 Despite agreement from at least some of the others, nobody else assented to sign on.
THE SPRINGTIME in PARIS VIEW
NKs should be understood by way of scientificclassification
they are natural to the extent that the world constrains classificatory categories3
metaphysical depth is attained by starting superficially and, by considering evidence, making contingent a posteriori claims of greater depth
Popular Science has a recent item about whether Pluto is a planet, prompted by a short paper from the NASA New Horizons team (Runyon, et al.). The paper argues for redefining ‘planet’. In the Popular Science article, Sara Chodosh tries to show “why this matters”. The back-and-forth about Pluto, she writes, is a sign that “we’re still learning”. But the problem is that the short paper doesn’t make any new arguments or reflect any new findings. Continue reading “Reheated cabbage about planets”
[N]early all of the communication calls of the Egyptian fruit bat in the roost are emitted during aggressive pairwise interactions, involving squabbling over food or perching locations and protesting against mating attempt.
Using algorithms, researchers were able to discern differences in bat griping depending both on who the target bat was (who was being griped with) and the context (what the griping was about).
I have argued that, for a domain of enquiry that includes meerkats in their natural environment, different meerkat alarm calls and the classes of threats which elicit them comprise natural kinds (see ch4). That admits six kinds, because there are three different calls and three corresponding classes of threats.
There’s no reason why the argument doesn’t generalize. For fruit bat groups in their environment, there may well be natural kinds corresponding to distinct classes of vocalizations and to the classes of objects picked out by those vocalizations. But what if it turns out that bat reference to individual other bats uses sounds functioning in the fashion of proper names? Suppose there’s an individual bat that the other bats pick out with a specific squeeky sound, something like “leeko leeko leeko”. Does that individual bat count as a natural kind?
One might think the answer has to be no, because kinds and individuals are different ontological categories. I’m not tempted by that, however. As I argue, species might turn out to be continuous individuals (in their fundamental ontology) but still count as natural kinds (see ch6).
Nevertheless, the category for the specific bat leeko could only be a natural kind for the domain including that specific bat population. And it might lack enough general importance to be a natural kind for a domain that includes all the Egyptian fruit bat populations across both space and time. So my account doesn’t require the answer to be yes.
Moreover, it’s not clear to me from the recent report whether the distinctions between bat vocalizations are clear and sharp enough to count as natural kinds. As always, the answer will depend on the details.