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Constructed kinds that reflect real categories: On Hacking's looping kinds and his use of autism as an example

The Bergen Network for Women in Philosophy is happy to announce its first seminar this semester. The talk will be given by Ragnhild Jordahl.

Ragnhild Iveranna Hogstad Jordahl
Photo:
Ragnhild Jordahl

Can we use terminology from the philosophical discussion of natural kinds to talk about classifications internally in the human species? Ian Hacking introduces the term human kind and presents a framework for understanding and explaining the feedback effects and looping features that such kinds exhibit. The looping features entail that the individuals placed in certain categories are in some way changed by being categorised, and that these changes in turn will lead to the category itself changing.

Looping effects are limited to classifications applied to conscious beings, and will as such be a distinguishing feature of the human kinds. I will present Hacking's framework with focus on one of his examples; autism. Autism as a category, as well as the view of the autistic individual, has changed immensely since its introduction in the 1940s. The latest notable changes are the revisions of both the DSM and the ICD (the DSM-5 and ICD-11, respectively), where the diagnostic criteria have been rewritten in such a way that one diagnosis (Autism Spectrum Disorder) replace the many former diagnoses available. One of the consequences of this move is that two of the diagnoses available in the DSM-4 and the ICD-10 have disappeared (Pervasive Developmental Disorder – not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS) and Asperger’s syndrome).

In my talk, I will focus on the following: if the category itself is continuously changing, may we still say that it is a genuine kind? That is, can a realistic interpretation of these kinds have merit even if the categories are looping? Or do the looping effects reflect that these kinds are constructed, made up merely to serve human interests? I suggest that an understanding of the human kinds in line with J. S. Mill may be appropriate. His way of distinguishing between those classifications which are Real Kinds and those that are not gives some insight into why we can have, and perhaps should have, a realist attitude to certain classifications.   I will argue that it is possible to maintain a largely realist view of the human kinds, even if these categories do change over time. They still refer to something real.