Dear Jay, more about natural kinds 
Jay Odenbaugh wrote a provocative reply to my last post on realism. I was going to leave a short reply in the comments, but it ran long.

Reply to Jay


As I understand Jay's reply, LIZ (lizard front ends) might be a legitimate kind. Yet Jay wants to resist accepting any artibrary set as a kind; he gives the example of the members of the set {Jay's nose, Michael Keaton, Eiffel Tower}. Call this would-be-kind jayskind. He suggests two criteria that might be used to bar such a monster.


(1) Non-circularity


jayskind is not a kind, because the feature that distinguishes members of the set is just that something be a member of the given set.

Yet the items in the things might also be described as things featured in Jay's example; so he adds:

(2) Mind-independence


jayskind is not a kind, because the fact that the members figure in an example is just the result of his deciding that they should.

I do not think mind-independence can be settled so easily. Frog food is a natural kind because it is picked out from the environment by frogs. Although it is a frog-dependent kind, it counts as a natural kind in biological study of frogs. Thorough-going naturalism allows for a scientific study of philosophers. Although jayskind isn't an especially important kind, it is only Jay-dependent in the way that frog food is frog-dependent. Now that he has given it as an example, he cannot change what counts as a member of that set just by thinking a different thought about it.

Jay and I began discussing these issues at the last PSA, and we had the good fortune of having Dick Boyd join the conversation; the frog food example is Boyd's. If I recall Boyd's position correctly, he avoids counting collections like jayskind as a natural by only counting something as a real kind if it appears in some actual enquiry. No one has done a sociological study of the Magnus-Odenbaugh correspondence, and no one will. So jayskind is not a real kind. This embraces the first horn of the dilemma that I posed a while back: Kinds that now appear in our science were not real ones prior to the science in which they appeared. This is at least somewhat odd.

(3) Intension


I thought up this further criterion, which is akin to non-circularity. In Jay's example, there are three things that are members of this would-be kind. Because the extension of the set is stipulated, further members of the kind are precluded. Yet scientific kinds are not like this. They are open ended. Although we think that there are eight (or nine) planets in our solar system, one natural moon orbiting Earth, and zero golden mountains, these numbers are contingent. Nothing about the categories themselves determines the numbers to be 8, 1, or 0.

We can bar monsters like jayskind by insisting that there be more to natural kinds than simply a stipulated extension. Natural kinds have intensions, too. This requires (contra Quine) that there be intensions, but that is not asking too much of our philosophy of language.

Alas, this criterion will probably not be enough for Jay. Although jayskind does not count as a natural kind, things featured in Jay's example still does; and the latter is extensionally equivalent to the former.

'Natural Kind' as a relation


A different way of understanding Boyd's suggestion is this: Being a natural kind is not a second-order property that obtains of a predicate. Rather it is a relation between a predicate and a specified enquiry. "Frog food is a natural kind" must be elliptical for something like "Frog food is a natural kind for biology."

Although we might say that jayskind is a natural kind for the micro-sociology of the Magnus-Odenbaugh correspondence, that seems less brazen than saying that it is a natural kind simpliciter. It is certainly not a natural kind for physics, ecology, pharmacy, gastronomy, or any other interesting area of enquiry.

This would also allow us to distinguish between categories that are natural kinds for some actual enquiry and ones that are natural kinds for some possible enquiry. We would just need quantifiers and predicates that distinguish on kind of enquiry from another. We can say that electron was a natural kind for particle physics even before electrons were discovered; it was the existence of physics that changed, rather than the existence of the kind electron.

How about it, Jay?

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