Acta Biotheoretica

, Volume 57, Issue 1–2, pp 77–97 | Cite as

Natural Kinds in Evolution and Systematics: Metaphysical and Epistemological Considerations

Regular Article


Despite the traditional focus on metaphysical issues in discussions of natural kinds in biology, epistemological considerations are at least as important. By revisiting the debate as to whether taxa are kinds or individuals, I argue that both accounts are metaphysically compatible, but that one or the other approach can be pragmatically preferable depending on the epistemic context. Recent objections against construing species as homeostatic property cluster kinds are also addressed. The second part of the paper broadens the perspective by considering homologues as another example of natural kinds, comparing them with analogues as functionally defined kinds. Given that there are various types of natural kinds, I discuss the different theoretical purposes served by diverse kind concepts, suggesting that there is no clear-cut distinction between natural kinds and other kinds, such as functional kinds. Rather than attempting to offer a unique metaphysical account of ‘natural’ kind, a more fruitful approach consists in the epistemological study of how different natural kind concepts are employed in scientific reasoning.


Natural kinds Species Taxa Homologues Analogues Induction Explanation 



I thank Francisco Vergara-Silva and Rasmus Winther for the invitation to contribute to this special issue. I am indebted to Matt Barker, Joseph LaPorte, Alan Love, Rob Wilson, and Rasmus Winther for helpful comments on earlier versions of this paper. The work on this essay was funded with an Izaak Walton Killam Memorial Postdoctoral Fellowship by the Killam Trusts of Canada, and with a Standard Research Grant by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of AlbertaEdmontonCanada

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