Classificatory practices in biology give rise to a manifold of philosophical questions. For example, is there a natural system of classification, and if so, what is the nature of such a system and of the taxa that would make it up? Are taxa best understood as kinds or as individuals? If they are kinds, are they kinds of organisms, kinds of populations, or something else? And what about other kinds of biological entities, such as kinds of genes or kinds of homologous traits? By virtue of what sort of criteria do biological entities count as instances of particular kinds? How are these criteria determined by the roles that biological kinds play in scientific reasoning? At the intersection of these questions lies the philosophical notion of "natural kind," a notion that in recent times has met with both great enthusiasm and deep skepticism. In this talk, I will explore some of the reasons that underlie these diverging attitudes and suggest that both to some extent rest on good reasons. I shall then discuss what I call a "middle of the road" account of natural kinds that responds to these worries. This account might enable philosophers to address the above questions regarding biological classification and as such allow for a tempered enthusiasm about the notion of "natural kind."
Thomas Reydon is a lecturer/research fellow at the Center for Philosophy and Ethics of Science (ZEWW), Leibniz Universität Hannover. He studied physics and philosophy of science at Leiden University and obtained a PhD in philosophy of biology from the same university. His current research is mainly in the fields of philosophy of biology and philosophy of science more generally. Focal topics are, among others: classification in the natural and social sciences and in technological disciplines; the philosophy of natural kinds; species concepts; gene concepts; and the possible use (and abuse) of concepts from evolutionary theory in fields outside biological science. He is Associate Editor for philosophy of biology and book reviews editor of the journal Acta Biotheoretica (Springer). Selected publications Van Dijk EM, Reydon TAC (2010) A conceptual analysis of evolutionary theory for teacher education. Science and Education 19(6/7) (in press). Reydon TAC (2009) How to fix kind membership: A problem for HPC-theory and a solution? Philosophy of Science 76(5) (in press). Reydon TAC (2009) Natural kind theory as a tool for philosophers of science? In: EPSA — Epistemology and Methodology of Science: Launch of the European Philosophy of Science Association (Suárez M, Dorato M, Rédei M, eds) , 245-254. Dordrecht: Springer. Reydon TAC (2009) Species and kinds: A critique of Rieppel's "one of a kind" account of species. Cladistics 25: 660-667. Reydon TAC (2009) Gene names as proper names of individuals: An assessment. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 60: 409-432. Reydon TAC, Scholz M (2009) Why organizational ecology is not a Darwinian research program., Philosophy of the Social Sciences 39: 408-439.