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Natural kinds in biology

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-Q124-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 2009
Retrieved May 26, 2019, from

Article Summary

Species are seen as paradigmatic natural kinds in biology. However, that assumption poses a potential problem for the traditional account of natural kinds. Many biologists and philosophers argue that species lack essences. They maintain that there is no biological trait that must occur in all and only the members of a species. If species are natural kinds and lack essences, then species are a counterexample to the view that natural kinds have essences.

Philosophers have responded to this problem in several ways. Some defend traditional essentialism. Others offer accounts of biological kinds that depart from traditional essentialism. Still others suggest that there are different types of natural kinds in biology: some biological kinds have essences, while other biological kinds do not.

The issue of natural kinds in biology is important because such kinds serve as a basis for prediction and explanation in science. Furthermore, biological kinds are taken to be real categories in nature. For these reasons, the topic of natural kinds in biology is of special interest to the philosophy of science and metaphysics.

Citing this article:
Ereshefsky, Marc. Natural kinds in biology, 2009, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-Q124-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2019 Routledge.

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