Il macellaio di Platone [English Title: Plato's Joints]

Rivista di Estetica 41:11-37 (2009)


Plato‘s often-quoted statement in the Phaedrus that we should 'cut up each kind according to its species along its natural joints' (265e) has been an influential metaphor in discussions of natural kinds. In this essay, I investigate the source domain of the metaphor, the joints of the animal body, to determine whether, as users of the metaphor often assume, there is just one scientifically legitimate division of the body into component skeletal parts. Through an examination of animal joints from the perspective of both the butcher and then the biologist, I argue that there are multiple, legitimate divisions. Yet I suggest that, properly interpreted, the deeper message of the metaphor may still be defensible: the suggestion that some 'carvings' are more natural or real than others. I conclude by considering the implications this result should have for our approach to natural kinds and for the metaphors we use to describe them.

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Laura Franklin-Hall
New York University

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