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In the comment on How do we define this?, user g s wrote a deleted comment indicating that things could be defined using "type-which-corresponds-to" (exact quote from memory). They followed up with four examples, emphasis mine:

  • An apple tree is the type of plant whose genes and splicing correspond to the gestation of apples. Genes do not gestate. Apple trees do not always fruit.

  • A female is the type of organism whose genes correspond to the production of the larger, less motile gamete of a sexually reproducing species. Genes do not produce ova except at the end of a long and involved process involving many other things. Females only occasionally produce ova, and some do not at all.

    [do not debate gender here. This is just one person's definition of a female]

  • An internal combustion engine is a machine whose design corresponds to the use of internal combustion to do mechanical work. Designs do not use internal combustion or do work, or anything else except for reflecting the occasional bit of light into the eye of an engineer. Internal combustion engines only sometimes run, and some are broken.

  • A country is that territory which corresponds to a particular government or political structure. Territories are not governments. Countries often have disputed borders. Etc, etc, etc.

The format seems to be: X is the category of things whose Y corresponds to Z. Even though not every X does Z, they are members of the group X if they have Y that corresponds to Z.

I can't make head nor tail of this concept. What does it mean - what is meant by "corresponds to"? How could we tell if a plant has genes and splicing that "correspond to" the gestation of apples? I suspect it might be something from teleology.

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    It's a check that you can't take to the bank. (Defers the question without answering it)
    – Scott Rowe
    Jul 28, 2023 at 18:44
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    "The Unreasonable Effectiveness of the Virtus Dormitiva in Philosophy"
    – Scott Rowe
    Jul 28, 2023 at 21:30

2 Answers 2

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The phrase "type-which-corresponds-to" seems to be a way of defining categories based on potential capabilities, rather than on observed behavior. It's a way of saying that something belongs to a certain category if it has the inherent traits that typically allow members of that category to perform a certain function.

So, "corresponds to" means something like "matches up with" or "is consistent with." It's saying that there is a certain pattern or set of characteristics (Y) that we associate with a certain outcome or behavior (Z), and anything that possesses this pattern or set of characteristics is considered a member of the category (X), whether or not it actually exhibits the associated outcome or behavior.

For example, in the first example, an apple tree is defined as a type of plant whose genes and splicing match up with (i.e., correspond to) the gestation of apples. This doesn't mean that every apple tree is constantly producing apples, or even that every apple tree is capable of producing apples. Instead, it means that apple trees are defined by their inherent genetic potential to gestate apples.

Similarly, in the second example, a female organism is defined as an organism whose genes match up with (i.e., correspond to) the production of the larger, less motile gamete. This doesn't mean that every female organism is constantly producing these gametes, or even that every female organism is capable of producing them. Instead, it means that female organisms are defined by their inherent genetic potential to produce these gametes.

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    It just passes the buck to genes as the decider. But we knew what apple trees are before we knew about genes. Heck, even animals know what apple trees are. They know 'female' pretty well too.
    – Scott Rowe
    Jul 28, 2023 at 18:41
  • An apple tree which has died has no potential, capability or potential capability to produce apples, but we may still call it an apple tree Jul 28, 2023 at 18:45
  • @user253751 people ask me why I refer to deceased relatives in the present tense.
    – Scott Rowe
    Jul 28, 2023 at 21:32
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That's an interesting question.

I think the language of correspondence does certainly run adjacent to teleological language in the biological sciences. But I don't think there's too much concern to be had, because in this context, correspondence is simply an umbrella term for coincidence, correlation, and causation. When a genetic trait corresponds to a fact about developmental morphology of a plant, for instance, 'corresponds' simply implies logical consequence (SEP) through the lens of scientific explanation (SEP) more broadly in biological instances. Of course, there are many types of explanation, and so political science has explanations about territories, psychology about identity, and so on. In fact, 'corresponds to' outside of the scientific aspect of a naturalized epistemology can be seen as logical consequence in the language of metaphysical explanation (SEP). As a proponent of scientism, and an aside, that covers both the metaphysics of science and science proper, which I consider to be adequate enough to consider "type-of-corresponds-to" sufficiently grounded semantically to consider the question thoroughly founded.

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