What the 19th century knew about taxonomy and the 20th forgot

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P.D. Magnus
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conference paper description
The accepted narrative treats John Stuart Mill's Kinds as the historical prototype for our natural kinds, but Mill actually employs two separate notions: Kinds and natural groups. Considering these, along with the accounts of Mill's 19th-century interlocutors, forces us to recognize two distinct questions. First, what marks a natural kind as worthy of inclusion in taxonomy? Second, what exists in the world that makes a category meet that criterion? Mill's two notions offer separate answers to the two questions: natural groups for taxonomy, and Kinds for ontology. This distinction is ignored in many contemporary debates about natural kinds and is obscured by the standard narrative which treats our natural kinds just as a development of Mill's Kinds.

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