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CUNYColloq: Michael Devitt (w/ comments by Peter Godfrey-Smith)

October 26, 2016 @ 4:15 pm - 6:00 pm

Each colloquium will be held on Wednesday at 4:15 P.M.
All colloquia will take place at the Graduate Center in rooms 9204/9205 except as otherwise noted.

Oct. 26
Michael Devitt (CUNY Graduate Center)
“Individual Biological Essentialism”

with comments by Peter Godfrey-Smith (CUNY Graduate Center)


Saul Kripke and other metaphysicians have proposed, on the basis of modal intuitions, two distinct essentialist doctrines about Linnaean biological taxa. The first is the doctrine that these taxa, particularly species, have essences that are, at least partly, intrinsic, underlying, and mostly genetic. This has long been the subject of criticism in the philosophy of biology. In contrast, the second, “Essential Membership”, the doctrine that if an individual organism belongs to a taxon it does so essentially, had not received such criticism until Joseph LaPorte’s “Essential Membership” (1997). Whereas, he charges, “essentialists have tended to be rather naïve on scientific matters”, he aims to approach Essential Membership “in the light of biological systematics”. He, and a few other philosophers of biology since, reject the doctrine. Thus, they urge, from a biological basis, a view of what is not essential to an individual organism. But neither they nor, so far as I can discover, any other philosopher of biology, have seriously addressed the broader issue, much discussed by metaphysicians, of what is essential to the organism. My paper addresses this issue. Using analogues of my arguments for taxon essentialism in “Resurrecting Biological Essentialism” (2008), I argue that the explanatory concerns of biology support the Kripkean view that an individual organism has an essence that is partly intrinsic and partly historical. I use that view to support Essential Membership. I conclude by rejecting LaPorte’s case against Essential Membership. That case follows the standard pattern of essentialism discussions in the philosophy of biology of misapplying “the species concepts”.



October 26, 2016
4:15 pm - 6:00 pm
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