Books about kinds 
I met Muhammad Ali Khalidi in Paris last Spring. I had regrettably only taken the most cursory of glances at his book, Natural categories and human kinds. The library here had just gotten a copy, so 'just' that it wasn't processed and available for checkout until after I got back.

So I checked it out and took a more careful look at it when I returned. Over the summer, I was invited to write a review for Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences. This provided me a copy of my own and an occasion to think more about his view.

I was asked to write a longish essay review which both evaluated the book and connected it to broader issues that I think are important. I have am already on record as to what I think is important about natural kinds, so I use the review to distinguish MAK's view from mine and to argue briefly for my own way of doing things. It's a review and a critical notice all in one, at once other-directed and self-indulgent.

I sent my last draft off to the journal and posted it: Epistemic categories and causal kinds

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Two papers from late summer 
In the waning days of summer, before the semester started, I finished up two draft papers. I neglected to actually link to them however, an oversight which I now remedy.


How to be a realist about natural kinds
Abstract: 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. Boyd and I take naturalness to be a relation between a kind and a domain and, because we do not accept a presupposition of the question, are neither realists nor anti-realists in Franklin-Hall's sense. Nevertheless, there is another important sense in which domain-specificity is compatible with realism.


What kind of is-ought gap is there and what kind ought there be?
with Jon Mandle
Abstract: Some philosophers think that there is a gap between is and ought which necessarily makes normative enquiry a different kind of thing than empirical science. We argue that there is no categorical answer as to whether there is or is not. The question of an is-ought gap is practical and strategic matter rather than a logical one, and it might be answered in different ways for different questions or at different times.

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Twitter buzz 
My department has a widget on its homepage which lists recent department news, and I came in today to find that something had broken in the string of tin cans which I had relied upon turn the Facebook feed to RSS to Javascript to a news box. So the other things I had to do got put on hold while I tried to unbreak our website.

After some searching, I gave up on finding a solution that mirrors the Facebook feed. The same information, more or less, is posted to Twitter. And Twitter provides widgets for mirroring feeds.

However, actually getting one of the Twitter widgets required registering for Twitter. So I did. I had no interest in having a Twitter account for actually tweeting, but whatever.

Almost immediately, I got a notification that someone I know is now following me on Twitter.

[Insert hold music: dum dah dum, doo doo]

I got distracted mid rant. Returning to finish the post, I realized that I might actually prefer Twitter to social microblogging alternatives like posting on Facebook or Google+.

Twitter posts are in many ways like tiny webpages: You can get at them with third-party clients. They are public things that you can link to. You can aggregate or sort them in different ways.

Those are things which are good about the web.

Facebook posts and comments, in contrast, are kept inside Facebook's private garden. You can't link to them. You're at the mercy of Facebook's interface. And Facebook will filter what you and others see in whatever ways they decide to use for now.

So maybe I should use my Twitter account.

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Mill still and again 
My second paper on JS Mill and natural kinds was written with the working title "Let a Millian flower bloom". Ultimately, I decided that it needed a more informative title. So it will be presented under another a title and published under a third.

I'll be giving a version as a talk at the PSA in November under the title "What the 19th century knew about natural kinds and the 20th forgot".

And the fully developed paper has been accepted for publication in HOPOS under the title "John Stuart Mill on taxonomy and natural kinds".

A late-stage draft is available on my website.

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What I said in Paris, more or less 
The talk I gave in France a few months ago was mostly a paper, but there were parts I hadn't written out. I had bullet points where I was saying things I've shown in other papers or in my book, because I could talk those through just fine without scripting them precisely.

I finally got around to filling in those lacunae, and today I posted a draft.

I am sure there are places where I should say more in order to be clear, but I am not sure where they are. If I elaborated on every point where I could say more, it would recapitulate most of my prior work. So, if you take a look, I'd be glad to hear which parts seem to go by too quickly.

Link: Taxonomy, ontology, and causation

Abstract: When we ask what natural kinds are, there are two different things we might have in mind. The first, which I'll call the taxonomy question, is what distinguishes a category which is a natural kind from an arbitrary class. The second, which I'll call the ontology question, is what manner of stuff there is that realizes the category. When causal accounts of natural kinds are assessed without clearly distinguishing these two questions, they fare poorly. The reason is that causal structure only provides an answer to the ontology question, it does so for many but not all natural kinds, and even where it applies it provides some importantly different kinds of answers. This confusion occurs when philosophers take John Stuart Mill's Kinds to be predecessors of our natural kinds, because it ignores Mill's equal commitment to what he calls natural groups as the right categories for scientific taxonomy. It occurs, too, when philosophers take homeostatic property cluster (HPC) accounts as a candidate definition for `natural kind', because being an HPC is neither necessary nor sufficient for being a natural kind. So we should think of causal accounts as just partial answers to the ontology question. I argue that most philosophers have systematically failed to distinguish these questions but that making doing so would offer several advantages.

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