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What’s my age again?: Age categories as interactive kinds

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Article number36
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>10/03/2021
<mark>Journal</mark>History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
Number of pages24
Publication StatusPublished
<mark>Original language</mark>English


This paper addresses a philosophical problem concerning the ontological status of age classification. For various purposes, people are commonly classified into categories such as “young adulthood”, “middle adulthood”, and “older adulthood”, which are defined chronologically. These age categories prima facie seem to qualify as natural kinds under a homeostatic property cluster account of natural kindhood, insofar as they capture certain biological, psychological, and social properties of people that tend to cluster together due to causal processes. However, this is challenged by the observation that age categories are historically unstable. The properties that age categories are supposed to capture are affected by healthcare and cultural developments, such that people are staying biologically, psychologically, and socially young for longer. Furthermore, the act of classifying people into age categories can bring about changes in their behaviors, which in turn alter the biological, psychological, and social properties that the categories are supposed to capture. Accordingly, I propose that age categories are best understood as interactive kinds that are influenced in dynamic ways by looping effects. I consider some implications of these looping effects for our classificatory practices concerning age, including how different disciplines may need to review the ways they define and use age categories in their inductive inferences.