Causality, Convention, and Natural Kinds


In recent years, there has been a growing interest for social kinds, to such an extent that their traditional exclusion from being natural kinds has been questioned. The Homeostatic Property Cluster (HPC) account, being an alternative to the essentialist accounts of natural kindhood, paved the way for treating social kinds as candidate natural kinds. However, one of the most compelling defenses of the view that social kinds can be natural kinds is to be found in the work of Muhammad Ali Khalidi, whose view differs from the HPC account. Khalidi’s account of natural kinds takes the HPC account’s insight that the projectibility of natural kinds is grounded in causal properties and relations, but it gets rid of the homeostatic mechanism as a necessary feature, developing instead a more general causal theory of natural kinds (Khalidi 2013). Relying on this view, Khalidi claims that those social kinds whose properties are causally related such as recession or racism, are natural kinds, whereas social kinds whose properties are conventionally related such as permanent resident or prime minister, are not (Khalidi 2015).

In my work, I argue that even kinds whose properties are conventionally related can be natural kinds, since they can fulfill the epistemic role that natural kinds play. Legal and linguistic kinds are examples of categories that they can fulfill this role, given the explanatory and inductive powers in their relevant disciplines. Linguistic kinds such as noun and verb allow inductive inferences about the relations that words have with each other in a grammatical structure. Legal kinds such as civil law and criminal law, are key categories in for explaining legal systems. Although there might be a complicated causal chain that led to the creation of the conventional properties of these social kinds, the properties themselves of legal and linguistic kinds are not causally related.

If some conventional social kinds are natural kinds, then any view of natural kinds based on causality such as Khalidi’s causal account or the HPC account seems inadequate, since the properties of conventional categories are not causally related. Essentialism would not help either, given its restrictions to physical, chemical, and – sometimes – biological kinds. Thus, I claim that the best account available is the one presented by Matthew Slater, the Stable Property Cluster (SPC) account, that shifts the focus from the ontological ground for induction – the essence or the homeostatic property cluster – to the epistemic ground of the kind for induction (Slater 2015). In other words, this anti-realist and pragmatic account focuses on the stability of the kind rather than on what causes this stability. Thus, the flexibility of the SPC account allows us to include as natural kinds the conventional categories investigated by the social sciences.


2 thoughts on “Causality, Convention, and Natural Kinds

  1. Hi, Francesco! Great thanks for your impressive talk!
    I support your anti-realist and pragmatic account focuse on the stability of social kinds.
    But I have the question: what cathegories allows us to think of social kinds as the stable?
    If we accept anti-naturalistic position, these cathegories couldn’t already be the Thing or the Substance.
    So what is the foundation of social kinds stability in our thinking?

    Best wishes,

    1. Franda, Francesco says:

      Hi Slava!

      Thank you for your interest and your question! It’s very helpful that you’re asking me this because it’s a question that makes me thing about a point that I haven’t developed yet in my view.

      I believe that there isn’t a unique answer as to what grants the stability of social kinds, but there are different metaphysical groundings depending on the kind of social kind. I favor a pluralistic view of what grounds the stability of the clusters. Thus, you’ll have some kinds whose stability is granted by a homeostatic mechanism, others whose stability is grounded by simple causal relations (like the one Khalidi discusses), and others whose stability is grounded by our intentionality (see my example of legal kinds).
      However, I’m still not sure this list exhausts the possibilities of what could metaphysically ground the stability of a social kind.

      I hope this can clarify a bit my view!

      Looking forward to hearing your thoughts on that.



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