'Total evidence' in phylogenetic systematics

Biology and Philosophy 24 (5):607-622 (2009)
Taking its clues from Popperian philosophy of science, cladistics adopted a number of assumptions of the empiricist tradition. These include the identification of a dichotomy between observation reports and theoretical statements and its subsequent abandonment on the basis of the insight that all observation reports are theory-laden. The neglect of the ‘context of discovery’, which is the step of theory (hypothesis) generation. The emphasis on coherentism in the ‘context of justification’, which is the step of evaluation of the relative merits of alternative theories. The appeal to a total evidence approach in phylogenetic inference. And finally, a silence about causation, which results in an instrumentalist approach to phylogeny reconstruction. This paper explores how these empiricist assumptions are embedded in phylogenetic systematics, and why these assumptions are problematic for cladists (or any taxonomists).
Keywords Philosophy   Evolutionary Biology   Philosophy of Biology
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DOI 10.1007/s10539-008-9122-1
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Carl G. Hempel (1966). Philosophy of Natural Science. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.,Prentice-Hall.

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