Philosophy, natural kinds, microstructuralism, and the (mis)use of chemical examples: intimacy versus integrity as orientations towards chemical practice


This essay critically considers the issue of natural kind essentialism. More specifically, the essay critically probes the philosophical use of chemical examples to support realism about natural kinds. My simple contention is that the natural kind debate can be understood in terms of two different cultures of academic production. These two cultures will be conceptualized using Thomas Kasulis’s distinction between intimacy and integrity as cultural orientations. Acknowledging Kasulis’s contention that, “What is foreground in one culture may be background in another”, it may very well be the case that philosophers writing about chemistry place chemical practice in the background, thereby adopting the orientation of integrity. Chemists and philosophers of chemistry, on the other hand, place chemical practice at the foreground of their work, thereby adopting the orientation of intimacy. Because the intimacy orientation is grounded in chemical practice, it is preferable to the integrity orientation. Understanding the natural kinds debate from this perspective highlights the fact that the misuse of chemical examples by certain philosophers is informed by an orientation of detachment from actual chemical practice. This underscores the importance of an intimate understanding of chemical practice when deploying chemical examples in the context of philosophical discussions about ontology and metaphysics.

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Headley, C. Philosophy, natural kinds, microstructuralism, and the (mis)use of chemical examples: intimacy versus integrity as orientations towards chemical practice. Found Chem 22, 489–500 (2020).

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  • Essentialism
  • Essences
  • Natural kinds
  • Microstructural essentialism
  • Integrity
  • Intimacy