A prickly example [or] Cholla at ya' later
Tue 16 Nov 2010 08:37 AM
I began working on several papers when I arrived in Pittsburgh. They have spiraled out of control and - gathering mass like the proverbial snowball - are on their way to being a book manuscript. The draft now totals up to about 50K words.
Even in a book, there are nice bits that do not fit in. One of these is about T.E. Wilkerson, an essentialist who insists that biological species are characterized entirely by intrinsic and essential properties. When he first advocated this position (in the 1980s) John Dupré replied with standard examples of how the biological world does not line up as neatly as the periodic table. Rather than adjusting his metaphysics to better fit the science, Wilkerson bites the bullet and spins out a wacky view according to which only genetic individuals constitute proper kinds.
Wilkerson does not actually seem to look at biology, and instead takes all of his examples from Dupré. For example, "Americans easily distinguish between prickly pears and chollas, but the distinction corresponds to no taxonomic division."* It is nice to note, although I don't see a sensible place to do so in the book, that biologists have changed the taxonomy to acknowledge just this distinction.
* 'Species, essences and the names of natural kinds', The Philosophical Quarterly, January 1993, p. 4