How Science and Semantics Settle the Issue of Natural Kind Essentialism
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Standard arguments for essentialism with respect to natural kinds such as gold, star, water or tiger enlist essentialist principles or essentialist intuitions. I argue that we need neither. All it takes to establish essentialism for the kinds in question are insights from science and semantics. Semantics establishes that natural kind predicates such as “is gold” or “is a star” are paradigm terms whose application conditions are relationally determined, object involving, and actuality dependent. Science assures us that a posteriori hypotheses such as “∀x(x is gold ↔ x is Au)” are deeply explanatory, as well as true. Taken together, these results establish essentialism for kinds such as gold, star, water or tiger. I consider this a deflationary result. When it comes to natural kind essentialism, there is no need for substantial metaphysics, be it essentialist or otherwise.
I would like to thank Tim Henning, Peter Schulte, Steven Kindley, Fabian Hundertmark, Martin Korth and audiences at Bielefeld, Tampere and Edinburgh for discussions of earlier versions of this paper. I am particularly indebted to two anonymous referees for Erkenntnis whose comments allowed me to substantially improve the argument.
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