Monday, October 27, 2008

Can a joke be a premise?

Some jokes are philosophically deep. Here's a classic that I'm surprised that (as far as I know) philosophers of science haven't picked up on (my verision): A panda walks into a bar and orders a Guinness and a salad. When he's done, he pulls out a gun, fires a few shots into the air, and ambles out. As he passes, the bartender shouts: "Hey, what'dya do that for?!" To which the animal replies: "It's 'cause I'm a panda: look it up!" The bartender reaches for his copy of Mammalian Systematics and reads with a groan: "Giant Panda . . . Ailuropoda melanoleuca . . . eats shoots and leaves."

Thus begins my paper "Why the Long Face?: The Stable Property Cluster Account of Natural Kinds". The title references the (quick) joke about the horse that walks into the bar --- the bartender asks "Why the long face?" The answer, of course, is because it's a horse. So here's a quick argument that there are natural kinds in biology: These jokes wouldn't be funny if species were not natural kinds. But they are funny (well, sort of). Hence there are biological natural kinds.

The paper is basically a defense of the first premise. But I must say, it's getting a little out of hand. After "trimming" my for a while dormant paper on biological kinds, it now weighs in at a hefty 22,000 words. And of course I found all sorts of things that I need to expand and eleborate. Damn! The journey continues. [inner voice: Shhhh! Don't tell anyone or they might not read it! --- oops!]. At this rate, perhaps I should give up trying to trim it down to a stand-alone article and instead simply focus on my book.

Well, in case you work in this area and are interested, here's the most recent copy, warts and all. Comments welcome. But please don't cite it, of course.

"Why the Long Face?: The Stable Property Cluster Account of Natural Kinds"
as of 10/27/08
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