Reference, Truth, and Biological Kinds

In: J. Dutant, D. Fassio and A. Meylan (Eds.) Liber Amicorum Pascal Engel (2014)

Abstract

This paper examines causal theories of reference with respect to how plausible an account they give of non-physical natural kind terms such as ‘gene’ as well as of the truth of the associated theoretical claims. I first show that reference fixism for ‘gene’ fails. By this, I mean the claim that the reference of ‘gene’ was stable over longer historical periods, for example, since the classical period of transmission genetics. Second, I show that the theory of partial reference does not do justice to some widely held realist intuitions about classical genetics. This result is at loggerheads with the explicit goals usually associated with partial theories of reference, which is to defend a realist semantics for scientific terms. Thirdly, I show that, contrary to received wisdom and perhaps contrary to physics and chemistry, neither reference fixism nor partial reference are necessary in order to hold on to scientific realism about biology. I pinpoint the reasons for this in the nature of biological kinds, which do not even remotely resemble natural kinds (i.e., Lockean real essences) as traditionally conceived.

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References found in this work

The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.Thomas Samuel Kuhn - 1962 - Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
What We Owe to Each Other.Thomas Scanlon - 1998 - Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.
The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.Thomas S. Kuhn - 1962 - University of Chicago Press.
On What Matters: Two-Volume Set.Derek Parfit - 2011 - Oxford University Press.

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Citations of this work

Scientific Realism.Richard Boyd - 1984 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy 21 (1&2):767-791.
Scientific Realism.Anjan Chakravartty - 2011 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Gene.Hans-Jörg Rheinberger - 2008 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

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