Science and Science Communication
"Public Conceptions of Scientific Consensus"
"Trust of Science as a Public Collective Good"
"The Development and Validation of the Social Enterprise of Science Index (SESI): An Instrument to Measure Grasp of the Social-Institutional Aspects of Science"
with Joanna Huxster & Asheley Landrum (2021) SAGE Open 11:2 | Journal Page (open access)
"Reporting on Science as an Ongoing Process (or Not)"
with Emily R. Scholfield (Bucknell ’22) & J. Conor Moore (Bucknell ’20), Frontiers in Communication (2021) — part of the research topic special issue on Theoretical and Practical Issues in the Epistemology of Science Journalism. | Journal Page (open access)
"Open Questions in Scientific Consensus Messaging Research" (2020)
"Understanding and Trusting Science" (2019)
"Denialism as Applied Skepticism" (2018)
"Attempts to Prime Intellectual Virtues for Understanding of Science: Failures to Inspire Intellectual Effort" (2017)
Joanna Huxster, Melissa Hopkins (Bucknell ’16), Julia E. Bresticker (Bucknell ’17), Matthew H. Slater, & Jason Leddington | Philosophical Psychology 30(8): 1141–1158 | Penultimate Draft | Journal Version
"Understanding ‘Understanding’ in Public Understanding of Science" (2017)
"Balancing the Costs of Wildlife Research with the Benefits of Understanding a Panzootic Disease, White-Nose Syndrome" (2015)
with DeeAnn Reeder and Ken Field | Institute for Laboratory Animal Research Journal 56(3): 275–282 | Journal Version
Philosophy of Science & Philosophy of Biology
“A Pragmatic Approach to the Possibility of De-Extinction” (2018)
A number of influential biologists are currently pursuing efforts to restore previously extinct species. But for decades, philosophers of biology have regarded “de-extinction” as conceptually incoherent. Once a species is gone, it is gone forever. We argue that a range of metaphysical, biological, and ethical grounds for opposing de-extinction are at best inconclusive and that a pragmatic stance that allows for its possibility is more appealing.
“Natural Kinds for the Scientific Realist” (2018)
“Anchoring in Ecosystemic Kinds” (2018)
The world contains many different types of ecosystems. This is something of a commonplace in biology and conservation science. But there has been little attention to the question of whether such ecosystem types enjoy a degree of objectivity—whether they might be natural kinds. I argue that traditional accounts of natural kinds that emphasize nomic or causal–mechanistic dimensions of “kindhood” are ill-equipped to accommodate presumptive ecosystemic kinds. In particular, unlike many other kinds, ecosystemic kinds are “anchored” to the contingent character of species and higher taxa and their abiotic environments. Drawing on Slater (2015), I show how we can nevertheless make room for such contingent anchoring in an account of natural kinds of ecosystems kinds.
“Pluto and the Platypus: an Odd Ball and an Odd Duck — On Classificatory Norms” (2017)
Some astronomers believe that we have discovered that Pluto is not a planet. I contest this assessment. Recent discoveries of trans-Neptunian Pluto-sized objects do not require that we exclude Pluto from the planets. But the obvious alternative, that classificatory revision is a matter of arbitrary choice, is also unpalatable. I argue that this classificatory controversy — which I compare to the controversy about the classification of the platypus — illustrates how our classificatory practices are laden with normative commitments of a distinctive kind. I argue that the “norm-ladenness” of classification has philosophically significant ramifications for how we think about scientific disputes and debates in the metaphysics of classification such as the monism/pluralism debate.
“Naturalized Metaphysics and the Contention over the Ontological Status of Species” (2017)
Metaphysics and the Philosophy of Science: New Essays (Oxford University Press, 2017) | Penultimate Draft
The aim of this chapter is to begin exploring the connection between two debates at the intersection of metaphysics and the philosophy of science. First, we have the longstanding debate over the ontological status of biological species: are they individuals, natural kinds, or what (Ruse 1987)? Second, we have the more recent contention over “naturalized metaphysics”. What is it? What should it be? Can it be vindicated as intellectually superior to its complement within metaphysics more generally? I consider three case studies in the former debate to suggest that attempts to employ naturalistic considerations as epistemic trump cards are likely to be unsuccessful and diagnose why this is and what it means for the prospects of naturalized metaphysics.
"Natural Kindness" (2015) — Winner of the 2015 Karl Popper Prize.
Philosophers have long been interested in a series of interrelated questions about natural kinds. What are they? What role do they play in science and metaphysics? How do they contribute to our epistemic projects? What categories count as natural kinds? And so on. Owing, perhaps, to different starting points and emphases, we now have at hand a variety of conceptions of natural kinds—some apparently better suited than others to accommodate a particular sort of inquiry. Even if coherent, this situation isn’t ideal. My goal in this paper is to begin to articulate a more general account of “natural kind phenomena”. While I do not claim that this account should satisfy everyone—it is built around a certain conception of the epistemic role of kinds and has a certain obvious pragmatic flavor—I believe that it has the resources to go further than extant alternatives, in particular the Homeostatic Property Cluster (HPC) view of kinds.
"Cell Types as Natural Kinds" (2013)
Talk of different types of cells is commonplace in the biological sciences. We know a great deal, for example, about human muscle cells by studying the same type of cells in mice. Information about cell type is apparently largely projectible across species boundaries. But what defines cell type? Do cells come pre-packaged into different natural kinds? Philosophical attention to these questions has been extremely limited (see, e.g., Wilson 1999 and Wilson, Barker, and Brigandt 2007). On the face of it, the problems we face in individuating cellular kinds resemble those biologists and philosophers of biology encountered in thinking about species: there are apparently many different (and interconnected) bases on which we might legitimately classify cells. We could, for example, focus on their developmental history (a sort of analogue to a species' evolutionary history); or we might divide on the basis of certain structural features, functional role, location within larger systems, and so on. In this paper, I sketch an approach to cellular kinds inspired by Boyd's Homeostatic Property Cluster Theory, applying some lessons from this application back to general questions about the nature of natural kinds.
"Lessons from the Scientific Butchery" (2011)
with Andrea Borghini | introduction to Carving Nature at its Joints, Volume 8 of Topics in Contemporary Philosophy (MIT Press), Eds. Joseph Keim Campbell, Michael O'Rourke, Matthew H. Slater | Penultimate Draft
"Macromolecular Pluralism" (2009)
Different chemical species are often cited as paradigm examples of structurally-delimited natural kinds. While classificatory monism may thus seem plausible for simple molecules, it looks less attractive for complex biological macromolecules. I focus on the case of proteins which are most plausibly individuated by their functions. Is there an objective count of proteins? I argue that the vagaries of function individuation infect protein classification. We should be pluralists about macromolecular classification.
"Where No Mind has Gone Before" (2009)
Lange’s criticism of Humean Supervenience plays a key role in his account of natural laws. Though we are sympathetic to his account, we remain unconvinced by his criticism. We focus on his thought experiment involving a world containing nothing but a lone proton and argue that it does not cast sufficient doubt on HS. In addition, we express some concern about locating the lawmakers in an ontology of primitive subjunctive facts and suggest that a “mixed” metaphysics to the lawmaker question might be attractive.
"How to Justify Teaching False Science" (2008)
We often knowingly teach false science. Such a practice conflicts with a prima facie pedagogical value placed on teaching what's true. I imagine two natural responses to this puzzle: one that defends the purported facts taught as in one way or another “true enough”; another that minimizes the purportedly factual component of education. Neither response straightforwardly succeeds. A simple-minded notion of verisimilitude cannot clearly undergird the practice of teaching false science when better alternatives are available. Nor is it credible that science as taught does not represent itself as true. I argue that only a partial dissolution of the conflict is possible: the proper aim of instruction in science is not to provide an armory of facts about what things the world contains, how they interact, &c., but rather to contribute to an understanding of how science as a human endeavor works and what sorts of facts about the world science aims to provide. Such an aim legislates for an increased prominence of history and philosophy in even secondary science education.
"Monism on the One Hand, Pluralism on the Other" (2005)
In this paper, I consider ways of responding to critiques of natural kinds monism recently suggested from the pluralist camp. Even if monism is determined to be un-tenable in certain domains (say, about species), it might well be tenable in others. Chemistry is suggested to be such a monist-friendly domain. Suggestions of trouble for chemical kinds can be defused by attending to the difference between monism as a metaphysical thesis and as a claim about classification systems. Finally, I consider enantiomers as a test case for the monism/pluralism debate. The question of whether enantiomers differ in kind does not appear easily answerable. I suggest that this legislates for pluralism in chemistry.
"A Reflection on Our Freedom" (2010)
Many Compatibilists seem to suppose that discover that we lived in a deterministic world would not unseat our confidence that many of our actions are nevertheless free. Here's a short story about such confidence becoming unseated.
"Framing the Problems of Time and Identity" (2010)
introduction to Volume 6 of MIT Press's Contemporary Themes in Philosophy series: Time and Identity | Penultimate Draft
A general introduction to various problem in the philosophy of time and identity and summary of papers in the volume.
"Playing for the Same Team" (2007)
"The Necessity of Time Travel (On Pain of Indeterminacy)" (2005)There is a tension between the “growing block” account of time (closed past, open future) and the possibility of backwards time travel. If Tim the time traveler can someday travel backwards through time, then he has (in a certain sense) already been. He might discover this fact before (in another sense) he goes. Hence a dilemma: it seems that either Tim’s future is determined in an odd way or cases of (temporary) ontic indeterminate identity are possible. Either Tim cannot avoid heading for the past or he is only indeterminately that guy who appeared in the past with many of Tim’s memories. Determinacy in the past implies a degree of determinism in the future; indeterminism about the future seeps back to the past.
"A Contextualist Reply to the Direct Argument" (2005)
Philosophical Studies 125:115-137 | Journal VersionThe Direct Argument for the incompatibility of moral responsibility and determinism is designed toside-step complaints given by compatibilist critics against the so-called Transfer Argument. I argue that while it represents an improvement over the Transfer Argument, it loses some of its plausibility when we reflect on some metalogical issues about normal modal modeling and the semantics of natural language. More specifically, the crucial principle on which the Direct Argument depends appears doubtful where context plays a role in evaluation of normative claims.
"Commitments about Coincidence" (2003)
Dialectica 57(3): 323–329 | Journal VersionAchille Varzi  has suggested a nice response to the familiar argument purporting to establish the existence of perfectly coinciding objects objects which, if they existed, would trouble mereological extensionality and the “Minimalist View” of ontology. The trick is to defend Minimalism without tarnishing its status as a meta-principle: that is, without making any first-order ontological claims. Varzi’s response, though seeming to allow for a comfortable indifference about metaphysical matters peripheral to Minimalism, is not general enough to stave off attacks on extensionality from more sophisticated corners. However, Varzi’s argument bears a kinship with a more general argument against coincident objects. I consider how such an argument sits with the meta-doctrinal status of Minimalism.
"Review of Muhammad Ali Khalidi's, Natural Categories and Human Kinds" (2015)
The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 66(4): 1017–1023 | Journal Version
"Review of P.D. Magnus, Natural Kinds and Scientific Enquiry" (2013)
Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews | Journal Version
"Texts in Metaphysics" (2009)
Teaching Philosophy 32(3)Teachers of analytic metaphysics face a bewildering array of textbook and anthology options. What’s to choose? This depends, of course, on one’s course and goals as instructor. This comparative book review will survey several options — both longstanding and recent to press — from a pedagogical perspective. The options are not exclusive. Many are natural complements and would work nicely other collections or single-author texts. I shall focus my attention here on six texts (in this order): two textbooks, one by Peter van Inwagen and one by Michael Jubien, two anthologies of previously published papers (one edited by van Inwagen and Dean Zimmerman, another by Michael Loux), a collection of new paired “pro-and-con” essays assembled by Ted Sider, John Hawthorne, and Dean Zimmerman, and finally a hybrid text/anthology by Helen Beebee and Julian Dodd.