50 words for snow 5: constructing phenomena

There is a naive empiricist view held by nobody on close inspection, that phenomena merely present themselves to the observer, and call for explanation. At least since Kant, such a view has been untenable, as Michela Massimi has shown. As she notes, it is well understood that phenomena are underdetermined by observational data, and she Read More…

50 words for snow 4; species

All classificatory terms are impossible of exact definition. Their use always has and always will depend upon the consensus of opinion of those best qualified by wisdom, experience and natural good sense. They will never become stable; we shall never cease to amend, to change, to repudiate old and propose new, because we shall never Read More…

Species: The evolution of the idea

My revised book is now titled Species: The evolution of the idea, and now contains a philosophy section as well as a complete list of species concept[ion]s and an appendix of all taxonomic levels I could locate. It is due out in February 2018 from CRC Press. I have done a complete revision of all sections Read More…

50 words for snow: addendum 3a, or what counts as sociocultural?

Jim Harrison made the following comment on the last post: … I have trouble understanding how you distinguish the s and the c in your pseudo equation. You mention folk taxonomic as an example of sociological distinctions, but if such taxonomies aren’t part of culture, what’s left to put under c Maybe distinguishing s and Read More…

50 words for snow 3: what are phenomena?

If experienced observers are trained to observe natural phenomena in their environment, pace the “interference” of cultural accidents, what is it they observe? As I mentioned before, we are not born into a world of ready made phenomena. William James referred to the sensory world of a newborn baby as a “blooming, buzzing confusion”: Experience, from Read More…

50 words for snow 2: or, the economics of cultural categories

Humans evolved in a world where knowing whether an animal was an antelope or a lion was essential for their survival: they could eat the antelope, and they could be eaten by the lion. Accordingly, the human mind seems to have evolved to organize its knowledge of the natural world into sets of related categories Read More…

50 words for snow, or conceptual confusion

In a well-known and generally debunked story, Inuit people have around 50 words for snow. Or so the argument by anthropologist Franz Boas goes. In fact, people who engage with the phenomena of their environments often make distinctions that those who rarely or never engage in the same way with those phenomena don’t. Snow is Read More…

Species: The evolution of the idea

I have completed and submitted the manuscript now for my revision of Species: A history of the idea, now renamed Species: the evolution of the idea. I am publishing it with CRC Press, and it is due out next year. In addition to updating and revising the historical sections of the book, I have added Read More…

Noah’s Ark and the creation of the species rank

This is a section of my forthcoming revision to Species, presented here for comments that I can steal – umm, I mean for peer commentary. At this point in our narrative, we still do not have a uniquely biological notion of species, nor of a fixed rank in logic. As species concepts evolved, at some point both of Read More…

Are species life forms?

This is a section of my forthcoming revision to Species, presented here for comments that I can steal – umm, I mean for peer commentary. The philosophical ideas and terms of Wittgenstein have played an interesting and underappreciated role in the species debate: we saw Beckner appeal to family resemblance predicates, and Pigliucci revive that, Read More…