Academic articles

Forthcoming in: The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science. https://doi.org/10.1086/730387.

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Abstract:

Scientists often communicate using generic generalizations, which are unquantified generalizations such as ‘Americans overestimate social class mobility’ or ‘sound waves carry gravitational mass’. In this article, I explain the role of such generic generalizations in science, based on a novel theory about their characteristic meaning. According to this theory, a scientific generalization of the form ‘Ks are F’ says that F is one property based on which category K qualifies as a scientific kind. Because what it takes to qualify as a scientific kind varies depending on the discipline, what a generic sentence entails also varies. Based on this semantic theory, I discuss the benefits and drawbacks of using generic language in science.

In: Philosophy of Science (2023), https://doi.org/10.1017/psa.2023.109.

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Abstract:

Scientists may sometimes generalize from their samples to broader populations when they have not yet sufficiently supported this generalization. Do such hasty generalizations also occur in experimental philosophy? To check, we analyzed 171 experimental philosophy studies published between 2017 and 2023. We found that most studies tested only Western populations but generalized beyond them without justification. There was also no evidence that studies with broader conclusions had larger, more diverse samples, but they nonetheless had higher citation impact. Our analyses reveal important methodological limitations of many experimental philosophy studies and suggest that philosophical training may not protect against hasty generalizations.

In: Mind & Language 38(3), 772-786, 2023., https://doi.org/10.1111/mila.12431.

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Abstract:

Some generic generalizations have both a descriptive and a normative reading. The generic sentence “Philosophers care about the truth”, for instance, can be read as describing what philosophers in fact care about, but can also be read as prescribing philosophers to care about the truth. On Leslie’s account, this generic sentence has two readings due to the polysemy of the kind term “philosopher”. In this paper, I first argue against this polysemy account of descriptive/normative generics. In response, a contextualist semantic theory for generic sentences is introduced. Based on this theory, I argue that descriptive/normative generics are contextually underspecified.

In: Synthese, 200, 1–28 (2022), https://doi.org/10.1007/s11229-022-03546-9.

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Abstract: Various authors have recently expressed doubts about the public relevance of philosophy. These doubts target both academic philosophy in general and particular subfields of philosophy. This paper investigates whether these doubts are justified through two tests in which the lack of public relevance of a philosophical paper is operationalized as the degree to which that paper is isolated. Both tests suggest that academic philosophy in general is more isolated from the broader public than it should be, and confirm the hypothesis that some subfields of philosophy are more isolated than others. We argue that this lack of public relevance is caused by the incentive structure of academic philosophy and discuss a range of individual-level and incentive-level solutions.

In: Philosophical Studies, 178(7), 2293-2312, 2021, https://doi.org/10.1007/s11098-020-01555-3.

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Abstract: Generic stereotypes are generically formulated generalizations that express a stereotype, like “Mexican immigrants are rapists” and “Muslims are terrorists.” Stereotypes like these are offensive and should not be asserted by anyone. Yet when someone does assert a sentence like this in a conversation, it is surprisingly difficult to successfully rebut it. The meaning of generic sentences is such that they can be true in several different ways. As a result, a speaker who is challenged after asserting a generic stereotype can often simply dismiss the objection and maintain that the stereotype is true in a way that is compatible with the challenger’s objection. In this paper, a semantic theory for generics is presented that accounts for this type of defensive shifting in upholding generic stereotypes. This theory is then used to develop two strategies to object more efficiently. The first strategy is to immediately deny that either of the two possible ways in which a generic can be true obtains. The second strategy is to deny the satisfaction of an additional condition that is necessary for a generic sentence to be true.

In: Studies in History and Philosophy of Science, Part A., 85, 200-207, 2021, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.shpsa.2020.10.009.

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Abstract: One primary goal for metaphysical theories of natural kinds is to account for their epistemic fruitfulness. According to cluster theories of natural kinds, this epistemic fruitfulness is grounded in the regular and stable co-occurrence of a broad set of properties. In this paper, I defend the view that such a cluster theory is insufficient to account for the epistemic fruitfulness of kinds. I argue that cluster theories can indeed account for the projectibility of natural kinds, but not for several other epistemic operations that natural kinds support. Natural kinds also play a role in scientific explanations and categorizations. To account for these additional kind-based epistemic practices, a metaphysical theory is required that analyzes the causal structure of natural kinds.

Synthese, 198(12), 2907-2925, 2018, https://doi.org/10.1007/s11229-018-1806-8.

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Abstract: Several philosophers have recently tried to define natural kinds in epistemic terms only. Given the persistent problems with finding a successful metaphysical theory, these philosophers argue that we would do better to describe natural kinds solely in terms of their epistemic usefulness, such as their role in supporting inductive inferences. In this paper, I argue against these epistemology-only theories of natural kinds and in favor of, at least partly, metaphysical theories. I do so in three steps. In the first section of the paper, I propose two desiderata for a theory of natural kinds. In the second section, I discuss one example of a ‘general’ epistemology-only theory, proposed by Marc Ereshefsky and Thomas Reydon, and argue that theories like theirs fail to provide adequate criteria of natural kinds. In the third section, I focus on one example of a ‘specific’ epistemology-only theory, proposed by P.D. Magnus, and use it to show why such theories cannot justify the claim that the proposed epistemic criteria account for the naturalness of kinds.

In: Algemeen Nederlands Tijdschrift voor Wijsbegeerte, 109(1), 105-122, 2017, https://doi.org/10.5117/ANTW2017.1.BLOC.

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Abstract: This is a Dutch article on ideological diversity in philosophy. We discuss a number of possible causes for the (alleged) underrepresentation of right-wing and conservative philosophers in the academic profession. We then argue that such an underrepresentation should be an important concern, based on epistemic reasons. Given what we know about ideological bias in reasoning and the success conditions of reasoning in group, a strong underrepresentation of right-wing philosophers (or left-wing philosophers for that matter) is epistemically problematic. Finally, we explore what kind of ideological diversity would be desirable for academic philosophy.

In: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, 59, 47-56, 2016 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.shpsc.2016.08.001.

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Abstract: The current metaphysical race debate is very much focused on the realism question whether races exist. In this paper I argue against the importance of this question. Philosophers, biologists and anthropologists expect that answering this question will tell them something substantive about the metaphysics of racial classifications, and will help them to decide whether it is justified to use racial categories in scientific research and public policy. I argue that there are two reasons why these expectations are not fulfilled. First of all, the realism question about race leads to a very broad philosophical debate about the semantics of general terms and the criteria for real kinds, rather than to a debate about the metaphysics of racial categories specifically. Secondly, there is a type of race realism that is so toothless that it is almost completely uninformative about the metaphysics of race. In response to these worries, I argue that the metaphysical race debate should rather be focused on the question in what way and to what extent ‘racial’ distinctions can ground the epistemic practices of various scientific disciplines.

 

De Block, A. & Lemeire, O. (2016), The co-evolution of nativist beliefs and tolerant attitudes, Association for the Study of Ethical Behavior and Evolutionary Biology in Literature, 12(1), 27-29, 2016.

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Commentary on  “Moral beliefs about homosexuality: Testing a cultural evolutionary hypothesis,” by L. Newson & P. Richerson

In: Philosophy Compass, 10(7), 479-488, 2015, https://doi.org/10.1111/phc3.12233.

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Abstract: In this paper, we review how biological and other scientific theories or findings can be used to answer philosophical questions about the nature of male homosexuality. We argue that although these sciences are certainly relevant for present philosophical debates, few of the philosophical issues surrounding male homosexuality can actually be settled by science alone. In the first section of the paper, we introduce a number of essentialist and constructivist views on (male) homosexuality. The second section focuses on the innateness debate over homosexuality. In the last section we assess the typically constructivist critiques of biological research into homosexuality.

In: Tijdschrift voor Filosofie, 76(2), 217-246, 2014, https://doi.org/10.2143/TVF.76.2.3030628.

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Abstract: This is a Dutch article on the validity and naturalness of psychiatric disorders as classified by the current DSM-5. Firstly, I consider different conceptions of validity in the literature, and define diagnostic validity as ‘picking out a natural kind’. Secondly, I discuss two broad views of natural kinds, namely essentialism and pragmatism, and reject both. A conception of natural kinds as causal-epistemic kinds is defended that goes beyond the essentialism/pragmatism dichotomy. In the final section, it is argued that the multidimensional complexity of psychiatric disorders does not preclude the possibility that they are natural kinds, but that pragmatic considerations in favor of finding a single classification system that is useful for researchers and for clinicians has resulted in the current DSM not optimally tracing causal-epistemic kinds.

In:Tijdschrift voor Seksuologie, 38(3), 105-113, 2014.

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Abstract: This is a Dutch article in which we discuss recent social-psychological research into the relation between attitudes toward homosexuality and so-called essentialist beliefs about homosexuality. We summarize the main results of this research, focusing on the explanations that have been given for the findings. The second part of the paper criticizes some of the assumptions of the discussed research. We provide reasons for doubting whether the studies actually show what they claim to show.