Philosophy Colloquium
Laura Franklin-Hall
New York University
Why are some kinds and classifications historical and others not?

One important fruit of the scientific project—arguably second only to the formulation of dynamic theories—is the principled organization of our universe’s constituents into categories and kinds. Such groupings come in two principal flavors: historical and synchronic. Historical categories group entities by their relationships to past events, as when an organism’s species is a function of the population from which it descended. By contrast, synchronic categories make group membership depend exclusively on current features of the universe, whether these are intrinsic or extrinsic to the things categorized. This talk explores just why scientists deploy historical categories when they do, and synchronic ones otherwise. After reviewing a number of examples, I formulate a principle designed to both describe and explain this feature of our scientific classificatory practice. According to this proposal, a domain is apt for historical classifications just when the probability of the independent emergence of similar entities (PIES) in that domain is very low. In addition to rationalizing this principle and showing its ability to correctly account for classification practices across the natural and social sciences, I will consider the nature of the probabilities that are at its core.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015
3:30pm

Skinner 1115