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Book Views Changes in Term Meaning
And Their Implications for Science

Posted January 19, 2004

HOLLAND – A new book by Dr. Joseph LaPorte of the Hope College philosophy faculty examines the way that scientific inquiry refines the meaning of words, and how such changes in turn affect scientific inquiry.

LaPorte, who is an assistant professor of philosophy, is the author of “Natural Kinds and Conceptual Change,” published by Cambridge University Press through the series Cambridge Studies in Philosophy and Biology.

He focuses on the way in which scientists have shaped the meaning of terms that describe “natural kinds” such as species and types of chemicals. For example, where in earlier centuries whales would have been considered fish, whales are now classified as mammals, a change that has in turn modified the way that the concepts of “whales” and “fish” are understood.

He further considers how such changes in meaning affect how science progresses, since present and future researchers may have a different understanding of terms than the predecessors upon whose work they are building.

LaPorte’s work on the book was supported through a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities for 2000-01. Only six scholars from Michigan, and 172 nationwide, received one of the $30,000 fellowships that year.

His primary research interests are the philosophy of biology, the philosophy of science, the philosophy of language and metaphysics, with areas of concentration including the nature and origin of knowledge and the philosophy of religion. He has had articles in journals including Philosophical Quarterly, NOUS, Philosophical Studies, Mind, Philosophy and Biology, and The Monist.

LaPorte joined the Hope faculty in the fall of 1998. He graduated from the Franciscan University of Steubenville in 1991 with a bachelor of arts degree; earned his master’s from University College London in 1993; and earned his doctorate from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in 1998.

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