Ideas of John Dupré, by Theme

[British, fl. 1993, At Stanford and Birkbeck, and the Professor at Exeter University.]

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7. Existence / E. Categories / 1. Categories
All descriptive language is classificatory
     Full Idea: Classification pervades any descriptive use of language whatever.
     From: John Dupré (The Disorder of Things [1993], 1)
     A reaction: This is because, as Aristotle well knew, language consists almost entirely of universals (apart from the proper names). Language just is classification.
7. Existence / E. Categories / 2. Categorisation
We should aim for a classification which tells us as much as possible about the object
     Full Idea: The most important desideratum of a classificatory scheme is that assigning an object to a particular classification tell us as much as possible about that object.
     From: John Dupré (The Disorder of Things [1993], Ch 1)
     A reaction: We should probably say that the aim is a successful explanation, rather than a heap of information. If we are totally baffled by a particular type of object, it is presumably important to group the instances together, to focus the bafflement.
9. Objects / D. Essence of Objects / 8. Essence as Explanatory
Natural kinds don't need essentialism to be explanatory
     Full Idea: The importance of natural kinds for explanation does not depend on a doctrine of essences.
     From: John Dupré (The Disorder of Things [1993], 3)
     A reaction: He suggest as the alternative that laws do the explaining, employing natural kinds. He allows that individual essences might be explanatory.
9. Objects / D. Essence of Objects / 10. Essence as Species
A species might have its essential genetic mechanism replaced by a new one
     Full Idea: Contradicting one of the main points of essentialism, there is no reason in principle why a species should not survive the demise of its current genetic mechanisms (some other species coherence gradually taking over).
     From: John Dupré (The Disorder of Things [1993], 2)
     A reaction: I would say that this meant that the species had a new essence, because I don't take what is essential to be the same as what is necessary. The new genetics would replace the old as the basic explanation of the species.
It seems that species lack essential properties, so they can't be natural kinds
     Full Idea: It is widely agreed among biologists that no essential property can be found to demarcate species, so that if an essential property is necessary for a natural kind, species are not natural kinds.
     From: John Dupré (The Disorder of Things [1993], 2)
     A reaction: This uses 'essential' to mean 'necessary', but I would use 'essential' to mean 'deeply explanatory'. Biological species are, nevertheless, dubious members of an ontological system. Vegetables are the problem.
14. Science / A. Basis of Science / 4. Prediction
The possibility of prediction rests on determinism
     Full Idea: Determinism is the metaphysical underlay of the possibility of prediction.
     From: John Dupré (The Disorder of Things [1993], Intro)
     A reaction: Not convinced. There might be micro-indeterminacies which iron out into macro-regularities.
18. Thought / C. Content / 5. Twin Earth
Presumably molecular structure seems important because we never have the Twin Earth experience
     Full Idea: It is surely the absence of experiences like the one Putnam describes that makes it reasonable to attach to molecular structure at least most of the importance that Putnam ascribes to it.
     From: John Dupré (The Disorder of Things [1993], 1)
     A reaction: That is, whenever we experience water-like stuff, it always turns out to have the same molecular structure. Twin Earth is a nice thought experiment, except that XZY is virtually inconceivable.
26. Natural Theory / B. Natural Kinds / 1. Natural Kinds
Phylogenetics involves history, and cladism rests species on splits in lineage
     Full Idea: The phylogenetic conception of classification reflects the facts of evolutionary history. Cladism insists that every taxonomic distinction should reflect an evolutionary event of lineage bifurcation.
     From: John Dupré (The Disorder of Things [1993], 1)
     A reaction: Devitt attacks cladism nicely. It rules out species change without bifurcation, and it insists on species change even in a line which remains unchanged after a split.
Kinds don't do anything (including evolve) because they are abstract
     Full Idea: A kind, being an abstract object, cannot do anything, including evolve.
     From: John Dupré (The Disorder of Things [1993], 2)
     A reaction: Maybe. We might have an extensional view of the kind, so that 'gold' is the set of extant gold atoms. But possible gold atoms are also gold, and defunct ones too. Virtually every word in English is abtract if you think about it long enough.
26. Natural Theory / B. Natural Kinds / 7. Critique of Kinds
Natural kinds are decided entirely by the intentions of our classification
     Full Idea: The question of which natural kind a thing belongs to ....can be answered only in relation to some specification of the goal underlying the intent to classify the object.
     From: John Dupré (The Disorder of Things [1993], Intro)
     A reaction: I don't think I believe this. The situation is complex, and our intents are relevant, but to find an intent which no longer classifies tigers into the same category is wilful silliness.
Borders between species are much less clear in vegetables than among animals
     Full Idea: The richest source of illustrations is the vegetable kingdom, where specific differences tend to be much less clear than among animals, and considerable developmental plasticity is the rule.
     From: John Dupré (The Disorder of Things [1993], 1)
     A reaction: Nice. Just as the idea that laws of nature are mathematical suits physics, but founders on biology, so natural kinds founder in an area of biology to which we pay less attention. He cites prickly pears and lilies. I'm thinking oranges, satsumas etc.
Even atoms of an element differ, in the energy levels of their electrons
     Full Idea: Even if we claim that it is really isotopes not atoms that are the natural kinds (thus divorcing chemistry from ordinary language), atoms are said to differ with respect to such features as energy levels of the electrons.
     From: John Dupré (The Disorder of Things [1993], 2)
     A reaction: So we can't just pick out the features of one atom, and say that is the essence. Essence always involves some selection. I say the essence arises from the explanation of the atom's behaviour.
Ecologists favour classifying by niche, even though that can clash with genealogy
     Full Idea: To the extent that the occupants of a particular niche do not coincide with the members of a particular genealogical line, a possibility widely acknowledged to occur, ecologists must favour a method of classification lacking genealogical grounding.
     From: John Dupré (The Disorder of Things [1993], 2)
     A reaction: Zoo keepers probably classify by cages, or which zoo owns what, but that doesn't mean that they reject genealogy. Don't assume ecologists are rejecting any underlying classification that differs from theirs. Compare classification by economists.
Cooks, unlike scientists, distinguish garlic from onions
     Full Idea: It would be a severe culinary misfortune if no distinction were drawn between garlic and onions, a distinction that is not reflected in scientific taxonomy.
     From: John Dupré (The Disorder of Things [1993], 1)
     A reaction: Not every persuasive. We distinguish some cows from others because they taste better, but no one thinks that is a serious way in which to classify cows.
Wales may count as fish
     Full Idea: The claim that whales are not fish is a debatable one
     From: John Dupré (The Disorder of Things [1993], 1)
     A reaction: A very nice challenge to an almost unquestioned orthodoxy.
27. Natural Reality / G. Biology / 5. Species
Species are the lowest-level classification in biology
     Full Idea: Species are, by definition, the lowest-level classificatory unit, or basal taxonomic unit, for biological organisms.
     From: John Dupré (The Disorder of Things [1993], 2)
     A reaction: I think this is the 'infima species' for Aristotelians. What about 'male' and 'female' in each species?
The theory of evolution is mainly about species
     Full Idea: Species are what the theory of evolution is centrally about.
     From: John Dupré (The Disorder of Things [1993], 2)