Contemporary debates in philosophy of science

Speaker: Emma Tobin (UCL)

Title: Mechanisms and Natural Kinds

Abstract: Some views of natural kinds (Boyd, 1991) have invoked the notion of a mechanism to provide a robust realist account of natural kinds.  Meanwhile the mechanisms literature has orthogonally discussed the reality of mechanisms, but has seldom addressed the question as to whether mechanisms form natural kinds. The precise relationship between mechanisms and natural kind has not been sufficiently explored.  I bring together the kinds literature with the mechanisms literature to see how they impact one another. I also address some pragmatic challenges facing mechanism classification from a consideration of scientific practice. In the light of scientific practice, I argue that the grouping of mechanisms into types may just be a matter of epistemic parsimony in the light of voluminous data and complexity. Given this, it becomes clearer that the “homeostatic mechanism” part of the HPC view is not a simple type level component, but rather a catchall for a very complex set of mechanism tokens. The addition of mechanisms brings with it some deep challenges about how we can draw the boundaries.  The HPC view faces a problem of circularity: the mechanisms were introduced to help us to delineate the property clusters on the HPC account of natural kinds, but kinds are needed to help distinguish the boundaries of token mechanisms.


The seminars are organised by the philosophy of science research group. For more information or to find out about future events, please contact Dr Alistair Isaac.

Dr Alistair Isaac

Philosophy of science research group

Apr 06 2017 -

Contemporary debates in philosophy of science

06 Apr 2017: Seminar

Room 2.13, Old Infirmary Building (Geography), 1 Drummond Street, Edinburgh, EH8 9XP