What PhilArt can teach PhilSci
Fri 07 Mar 2014 10:05 AM
In recent work, I have argued that, when thinking about natural kinds, we should distinguish the taxonomy question (which categories are natural kinds and which are not?) from the ontology question (what kind of being have natural kinds got?).
Familiar ways of posing the problem of natural kinds invite either ignoring one of the two questions or conflating the two. For example, finding natural kinds is described as carving the world at its joints. That answers both questions: A natural kind is a cut at the joints of nature, and its ontology is given by those joints.
Most approaches to the problem are guilty of this. Even some people who mark the distinction nevertheless argue that there is a single ontology to be given for all natural kinds.
I'm teaching a course on philosophy of art this semester, and we're just switching from talking about definitions of art to art ontology. And it occurred to me that the distinction which is rarely made about natural kinds is entirely standard in philosophy of art. The issue of definition is a question of what separates art from non-art. The issue of art ontology is a question of what kinds of objects art works are. Many authors pursue one but not the other. It is widely accepted that different art works might belong to different ontological categories even if there is a single, unified definition. Mutatis mutandis, this is just the taxonomy/ontology distinction.
It surprised me that, in this respect, philosophers of art have a clear and valuable distinction that parallels one philosophers of science need. I have written some papers in which I take lessons from philosophy of science and apply them to thinking about art, but I am happy to note that some traffic could go the other way.
I only came to distinguish the two questions in the course of struggling with Homeostatic Property Cluster accounts of natural kinds. As a result, I did not have the distinction clearly in mind when writing SENK. I came to realize its importance when writing the introduction and the conclusion to the book. As I'd put the point now: The first five chapters of the book are directed at the taxonomy question, but the final chapter is directed at the ontology question.