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5 - Natural-kind terms

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 June 2012

Michael Morris
Affiliation:
University of Sussex
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Summary

Key texts

Saul Kripke, Naming and Necessity, 2nd edn (Oxford: Blackwell, 1980), lecture III; and H. Putnam, ‘Meaning and Reference’, Journal of Philosophy, 70 (1973), pp. 699–711.

Introduction

Saul Kripke's arguments against description theories of names inaugurated a revolution in the philosophy of language. One of the first acts of that revolution was an application of similar arguments against a similarly descriptive theory of another sort of expression – so-called natural-kind terms. Kripke himself claimed that natural-kind terms are rigid designators. In this he was supported by the semi-independent work of Hilary Putnam. Kripke and Putnam together are acknowledged as the creators of a new theory of such terms. This chapter focuses on the work by these two philosophers in which they first proposed that new theory.

But what are natural-kind terms? They differ from proper names in this: whereas proper names pick out individuals, natural-kind terms pick out kinds. Favourite examples are ‘tiger’ and ‘water’. But natural-kind terms form a grammatically variegated class. Although they're all terms for kinds in some sense, they may be terms for kinds of object (like ‘tiger’, ‘mammal’, ‘fish’, ‘whale’) or for kinds of stuff (like ‘water’, ‘gold’, ‘aluminium’). It's generally assumed that this difference is not important for the issues which Kripke is concerned with. What does matter is that the kinds in question are natural kinds. So what makes a kind natural? There are two broad conceptions of nature which seem to be at play in the focus on natural-kind terms.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2006

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  • Natural-kind terms
  • Michael Morris, University of Sussex
  • Book: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Language
  • Online publication: 05 June 2012
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511801464.006
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  • Natural-kind terms
  • Michael Morris, University of Sussex
  • Book: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Language
  • Online publication: 05 June 2012
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511801464.006
Available formats
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To send content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

  • Natural-kind terms
  • Michael Morris, University of Sussex
  • Book: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Language
  • Online publication: 05 June 2012
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511801464.006
Available formats
×