Monday, March 24, 2014

Natural Kinds and Causation in Paris

It was lovely to be invited to a workshop on the Metaphysics of Science: Causation and Natural Kinds put on by the Institut d'Histoire et de Philosophie des Sciences et des Techniques (IHPST) in Paris. It was a very congenial group and lots of interesting talks — and of course Paris is quite a nice place to be for a few days. This was the view outside my (tiny) hotel room.

I presented some very in-progress work — no written out paper or slides yet, unfortunately — on natural kinds of ecosystems, presumably a chapter in my next book. More specifically, I started getting interested in the ways in which non-fundamental kinds can find themselves "anchored" to contingent features of lower-level kinds. So, for example, a particular ecosystem might be characterized by a stable ensemble of species taxa because the functional characteristics of these taxa (mutualisms, climatic range, and so on). But the fact that these taxa possess the relevant functional characteristics is an accident of evolution — others could easily have played the same role. Indeed, in other geographical contexts, this sort of substitution does occur, with phylogenetically quite distantly-related (though morphologically similar) taxa playing more or less the same role in different geographical contexts.

More photos from the conference and a day of wandering Paris in the (much earlier) early spring here. This one's probably my favorite. . . .

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