Event Detail

Thu Sep 17, 2009
234 Moses Hall (Dennes Room), 4–6 PM
NOTE: Non-standard day and time
Working Group in the History and Philosophy of Logic, Mathematics, and Science
Richard Boyd and Christopher Boyd (Cornell University and UC Berkeley)
Natural kinds and ceteris paratis generalizations: In praise of hunches

It is widely assumed that scientific categories must obey strict criteria in order to count as natural kinds: that kinds should have necessary and sufficient membership conditions; that the boundaries between kinds be sharply distinguishable; that kinds must appear in exact, exceptionless laws of nature. Yet molecular species are individuated in terms of continuously variable quantities like bond lengths and bond angles, suggesting that the boundaries between molecular kinds are vague, and chemical laws express defeasible tendencies rather than universal regularities. Similar considerations apply for other chemical kinds*kinds of chemical species or of reaction mechanisms, for instance. Drawing on examples from biology as well as chemistry, Richard Boyd and Christopher Boyd propose a more liberal, and accurate, conception of kinds and their role in science, emphasizing the importance of approximations, rules of thumb and moderately reliable hunches in chemical prediction and explanation.