Water has a microstructural essence after all
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In recent years attacks on the Kripke-Putnam approach to natural kinds and natural kind terms have proliferated. In a recent paper, Häggqvist and Wikforss (The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, 1–23, 2017) attack the once-dominant essentialist account of natural kinds. Häggqvist & Wikforss also suggest that it is time to return to some sort of cluster-based descriptivist semantics for natural kind terms, thus targeting both the metaphysical and semantic tenets that underpin the Kripke-Putnam approach. In our paper we want to challenge both parts of Häggqvist and Wikforss’ project. We will argue that the anti-essentialist considerations and arguments they raise against the Kripke-Putnam view are far from compelling in some cases, and certainly not decisive against a reasonable form of the view. On the semantic side, although Häggqvist and Wikforss give few details about what a viable cluster-based descriptivist theory should look like, we will argue that one can already see the approach to be a non-starter. Ignorance and error arguments of the kinds provided by Kripke and Putnam continue to be decisive objections. The only way we can see to save the cluster descriptivist approach is to make the essential properties postulated by Kripke and Putnam become essential features of the descriptive cluster. But this makes the success of the approach parasitic on the correctness of the Kripke-Putnam view.
KeywordsNatural kinds Essentialism Reference Descriptivism Substances
We wish to thank Helen Beebee, Alexander Bird, Catherine Elgin, Robin Hendry, and an anonymous reviewer for very helpful comments on the first version of this paper.
The research for this paper was supported by projects FFI2016-76799-P and FFI-2015-70707-P of the Spanish MEIC, and the DIAPHORA project (H2020-MSCA-ITN-2015-675415.
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