Biology & Philosophy

, Volume 25, Issue 5, pp 823–841 | Cite as

Sexes, species, and genomes: why males and females are not like humans and chimpanzees

  • Sarah S. RichardsonEmail author


This paper describes, analyzes, and critiques the construction of separate “male” and “female” genomes in current human genome research. Comparative genomic work on human sex differences conceives of the sexes as like different species, with different genomes. I argue that this construct is empirically unsound, distortive to research, and ethically questionable. I propose a conceptual model of biological sex that clarifies the distinction between species and sexes as genetic classes. The dynamic interdependence of the sexes makes them “dyadic kinds” that are not like species, which are “individual kinds.” The concept of sex as a “dyadic kind” may be fruitful as a remedy to the tendency to conceive of the sexes as distinct, binary classes in biological research on sex more generally.


Comparative genomics Gender Genomics Human genome Sex Sex differences Species 



Thank you to Elisabeth Lloyd, Helen Longino, and Joan Roughgarden for their valuable feedback and support for this project. An American Fellowship from the American Association of University Women and a Mary Anne Bours Nimmo Fellowship at Stanford University helped to support this research.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of MassachusettsAmherstUSA

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