Biology & Philosophy

, 33:14 | Cite as

Amorphic kinds: Cluster’s last stand?

  • Neil E. Williams


I raise a puzzle case for “cluster” accounts of natural kinds—the homeostatic property cluster and stable property cluster accounts, especially—on the basis of their expected treatment of the metaphysics of certain disease kinds. Some kinds, I argue, fail to exhibit the co-instantiated property clusters these cluster views take to be (partly) constitutive of natural kinds. Some genetic diseases, for example, have archetypical instances with few or none of the pathological processes or symptoms associated with the kind: their instances are typified by a single dispositional property. I dub such kinds ‘amorphic’, owing to their limited morphology, and try out a number of ways in which these kinds might be treated in terms of property clusters, adapting responses cluster theorists have offered to the problem of polymorphic species. Finding these responses wanting, I conclude that cluster accounts are unlikely to be the best account of the metaphysics of amorphic kinds.


Natural kinds Disease Polymorphism HPC SPC PKU Disposition Amorphism 



Thanks to all those who helped improve this paper: the audience in Madrid; the journal referees; D Limbaugh; and J Beverley.


  1. Aristotle (1975) Categories. (Trans.: Ackrill JL). Oxford University PressGoogle Scholar
  2. Boyd R (1991) Realism, anti-foundationalism and the enthusiasm for natural kinds. Philos Stud 61:127–148CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Boyd R (1999) Homeostasis, species, and higher taxa. In: Wilson R (ed) Species—new interdisciplinary essays. MIT Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  4. Chakravartty A (2007) A metaphysics for scientific realism. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Cooper R (2005) Classifying madness. Springer, BerlinGoogle Scholar
  6. Cooper R (2007) Psychiatry and the philosophy of science. McGill-Queen’s Press, KingstonGoogle Scholar
  7. Dragulinescu S (2010) Diseases as natural kinds. Theor Med Bioeth 31:347–369CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Ereshefsky M, Matthen M (2005) Taxonomy, polymorphism, and history: an introduction to population structure theory. Philos Sci 72:1–21CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Griffiths P (1999) Squaring the circle: natural kinds with historical essences. In: Wilson R (ed) Species—new interdisciplinary essays. MIT Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  10. Kornblith H (1993) Inductive inference and its natural ground. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  11. Kripke S (1980) Naming and necessity. Harvard University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  12. Lange M (2007) The end of diseases. Philos Top 35:265–292CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Magnus PD (2011) Drakes, seadevils, and similarity fetishism. Biol Philos 26:857–870CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Magnus PD (2014) NK ≠ HPC. Philos Q 64:471–477CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Martínez M (2015) Informationally-connected property clusters and polymorphism. Biol Philos 30:99–117CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Mill JS (1884) A system of logic. Longmans, HarlowGoogle Scholar
  17. Murphy G et al (2008) Adults with untreated phenylketonuria: out of sight, out of mind. Br J Psychiatry 193(6):501–502CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Putnam H (1975) Mind, language and reality. Cambridge University Press, New YorkCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Reznek L (1987) The nature of disease. Routledge, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  20. Samuels R, Ferreira M (2010) Why don’t concepts constitute a natural kind? Behav Brain Sci 33:222–223CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Slater M (2013) Are species real? An essay on the metaphysics of species. Palgrave-MacMillian, BasingstokeCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Slater M (2015) Natural kindness. B J Philos Sci 66:375–411CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Whitbeck C (1977) Causation in medicine: the disease entity model. Philos Sci 44:619–637CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Williams NE (2007) The factory model of disease. Monist 90:555–584CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Williams NE (2011) Arthritis and nature’s joints. In: Campbell JK et al (eds) Carving nature at its joints—topics in contemporary philosophy, vol 8. MIT Press, Cambridge, pp 199–230CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Wilson R et al (2007) When traditional essentialism fails: biological natural kinds. Philos Top 35:189–215CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University at BuffaloBuffaloUSA

Personalised recommendations