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William Whewell, Cluster Theorist of Kinds

Ward, Zina B. (2023) William Whewell, Cluster Theorist of Kinds. [Preprint]

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Abstract

A dominant strand of philosophical thought holds that natural kinds are clusters of objects with shared properties. Cluster theories of natural kinds are often taken to be a late twentieth-century development, prompted by dissatisfaction with essentialism in philosophy of biology. I will argue here, however, that a cluster theory of kinds had actually been formulated by William Whewell (1794-1866) more than a century earlier. Cluster theories of kinds can be characterized in terms of three central commitments, all of which are present in Whewell’s work on classification. Like contemporary cluster theorists, Whewell claims that kinds are united by similarity, that many kinds do not have essences, and that there are “gaps” between kinds. Moreover, Whewell advises taxonomists to look for consilience (roughly, convergence) between different classificatory schemes, a recommendation that reinforces the identification of natural classes with property clusters. Thus Whewell was not only an early cluster theorist, but one with important insights into what a cluster theory of kinds means for the practice of classification.


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Item Type: Preprint
Creators:
CreatorsEmailORCID
Ward, Zina B.zina.b.ward@gmail.com0000-0003-0160-6656
Additional Information: Forthcoming in HOPOS: The Journal of the International Society for the History of Philosophy of Science
Keywords: natural kinds; William Whewell; homeostatic property clusters; consilience; essentialism
Subjects: General Issues > History of Philosophy of Science
General Issues > Natural Kinds
General Issues > Philosophers of Science
Depositing User: Zina B. Ward
Date Deposited: 27 Feb 2023 15:42
Last Modified: 27 Feb 2023 15:42
Item ID: 21797
Subjects: General Issues > History of Philosophy of Science
General Issues > Natural Kinds
General Issues > Philosophers of Science
Date: 2023
URI: https://philsci-archive-dev.library.pitt.edu/id/eprint/21797

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