Character analysis in cladistics: Abstraction, reification, and the search for objectivity

Acta Biotheoretica 57:129-162 (2009)
Abstract
The dangers of character reification for cladistic inference are explored. The identification and analysis of characters always involves theory-laden abstraction—there is no theory-free “view from nowhere.” Given theory-ladenness, and given a real world with actual objects and processes, how can we separate robustly real biological characters from uncritically reified characters? One way to avoid reification is through the employment of objectivity criteria that give us good methods for identifying robust primary homology statements. I identify six such criteria and explore each with examples. Ultimately, it is important to minimize character reification, because poor character analysis leads to dismal cladograms, even when proper phylogenetic analysis is employed. Given the deep and systemic problems associated with character reification, it is ironic that philosophers have focused almost entirely on phylogenetic analysis and neglected character analysis.
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