Science & Education

, Volume 22, Issue 2, pp 221–240 | Cite as

Biological Essentialism and the Tidal Change of Natural Kinds

  • John S. WilkinsEmail author


The vision of natural kinds that is most common in the modern philosophy of biology, particularly with respect to the question whether species and other taxa are natural kinds, is based on a revision of the notion by Mill in A System of Logic. However, there was another conception that Whewell had previously captured well, which taxonomists have always employed, of kinds as being types that need not have necessary and sufficient characters and properties, or essences. These competing views employ different approaches to scientific methodologies: Mill’s class-kinds are not formed by induction but by deduction, while Whewell’s type-kinds are inductive. More recently, phylogenetic kinds (clades, or monophyletic-kinds) are inductively projectible, and escape Mill’s strictures. Mill’s version represents a shift in the notions of kinds from the biological to the physical sciences.


Natural Kind Essential Character Inductive Generalization Homeostatic Property Cluster Individual Essence 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



I am grateful to Michael Devitt, Gordon McOuat, Polly Winsor, Paul Griffiths, Karola Stotz, and Dominic Murphy for critical comments and suggestions. I also thank Philip Sloan for his discussions at ISHPSSB 2009, and the audience there. This work was undertaken with funding from an Australian Research Council postdoctoral fellowship DP0984826, based on work done under a previous ARC grant FF0457917.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of SydneySydneyAustralia

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