There are claims that categories are socially constructed and subjective. For example: "there's no such thing as specie or life. They are socially constructed"*

Are there philosophies in which categories such as specie and "life" have clear-cut, objective definitions proving that categories exist outside and independent of human societies and minds? What evidence is there for categories objectively existing?




  • Well, you can mathematically define anything you like, and what you've defined would be as objectively meaningful and rigorous as anything else in mathematics. Definitions don't have to be informal, fuzzy social constructions. However, there's no end to the possible things you can define, and for every object you do define, there are trillions of other objects you could define that are almost identical but differ by only an atom. Sure, you can define "life" in an objective, mathematical way, but you have infinite different possibilities for exactly how to do that.
    – causative
    Commented Apr 22, 2022 at 3:49
  • 1
    See Natural Kinds. Commented Apr 22, 2022 at 7:08
  • 2
    By way of natural kinds, you're also interested in the difference between scientific realism and instrumentalism. Also see social constructivism.
    – J D
    Commented Apr 22, 2022 at 15:36

1 Answer 1


This depends on whether or not you think science is really grasping on to what is 'true' or instead is just highly empirically adequate given our interests and perspective in nature. So the question is just an instance of the scientific realism/anti-realism question as well as a subset of the metaphysical realism question more generally.

Categories ought to be considered objective in exactly the same way that at least some areas of modern science are considered objective. For example, If one believes that GTR or Quantum theory are literally statements of fact-then the categories of particle interaction and spatial structure which they describe are not-socially constructed, but literally true. With this I mean they are not-interest relative or contingent, and thus their structure is dependent on the world and not our activities. Likewise if you think any claims at all are capable of transcending the anthropomorphic shield of our experience, then the answer is yes

So for this reason one would have to get into the arguments for and against scientific realism

The Common Pro-Arguments are

  1. The No-Miracles Argument: (roughly)It would a miracle if the esoteric views held by modern science and ostensibly confirmed by the construction of our modern world were all somehow false.

  2. Variations on Invariance - Due to the highly abstract nature of modern gauge theories there is a tendency to focus on realist/anti-realist commitments based around the seeming complete invariance of structures from any perspective in modern physics and base the realism from that point of view.

Returning to the nature of the original question - the category of life as having non-socially constructed conditions may be a particularly difficult case in part due to our lack of understanding of areas of biology as well as the immense complexity of the natural world. For this reason it seems the answer is likely to be indeterminate at the moment as to whether or not 'life' is an interest relative term, or whether or not it is true categorically that life has X, Y properties.

Keep in mind however that this question is a model of a deeper and more general question - how the mind and the world ultimately relate. So properly disambiguating a complete answer to this question depends on longstanding metaphysical questions which are unlikely to be given simple answers.

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