Ernst Mayr''s scientific career continues strongly 70 years after he published his first scientific paper in 1923. He is primarily a naturalist and ornithologist which has influenced his basic approach in science and later in philosophy and history of science. Mayr studied at the Natural History Museum in Berlin with Professor E. Stresemann, a leader in the most progressive school of avian systematics of the time. The contracts gained through Stresemann were central to Mayr''s participation in a three year (...) expedition to New Guinea and The Solomons, and the offer of a position in the Department of Ornithology, American Museum of Natural History, beginning in 1931. At the AMNH, Mayr was able to blend the best of the academic traditions of Europe with those of North America in developing a unified research program in biodiversity embracing systematics, biogeography and nomenclature. His tasks at the AMNH were to curate and study the huge collections amassed by the Whitney South Sea Expedition plus the just purchased Rothschild collection of birds. These studies provided Mayr with the empirical foundation essential for his 1942Systematics and the Origin of Species and his subsequent theoretical work in evolutionary biology as well as all his later work in the philosophy and history of science. Without a detailed understanding of Mayr''s empirical systematic and biogeographic work, one cannot possibly comprehend fully his immense contributions to evolutionary biology and his later analyses in the philosophy and history of science. (shrink)
When developing phylogenetic systematics, the entomologist Willi Hennig adopted elements from Nicolai Hartmann’s ontology. In this historical essay I take on the task of documenting this adoption. I argue that in order to build a metaphysical foundation for phylogenetic systematics, Hennig adopted from Hartmann four main metaphysical theses. These are (1) that what is real is what is temporal; (2) that the criterion of individuality is to have duration; (3) that species are supra-individuals; and (4) that there are (...) levels of reality, each of which may be subject to different kinds of law. Reliance on Hartmann’s metaphysics allowed Hennig to ground some of the main theoretical principles of phylogenetic systematics, namely that the biological categories—from the semaphoront to the highest rank—have reality and individuality despite not being universals, and that they form a hierarchy of levels, each of which may require different kinds of explanation. Hartmann’s metaphysics thereby provided a philosophical justification for Hennig’s phylogenetic systematics, both as a theory and as a method of classification. (shrink)
A parallel exists between the threefold parallelism of Agassiz and Haeckel and the three valid methods of polarity determination in phylogenetic systematics. The structural gradation among taxa within a linear hierarchy, ontogenetic recapitulation, and geological succession of the threefold parallelism resemble outgroup comparison, the ontogenetic method, and the paleontological method, respectively, which are methods of polarity determination in phylogenetic systematics. The parallel involves expected congruence among similar components of the distribution of character states among organisms. The threefold parallelism (...) is a manifestation of a world view based on linear hierarchies, whereas polarity determination is part of the methodology of phylogenetic systematics which assumes that organisms are grouped into a nested hierarchy. The threefold parallelism facilitated the ranking of previously established taxa into linear hierarchies consisting mostly of paraphyletic groups. In contrast, methods of polarity determination identify apomorphies that determine and diagnose monophyletic taxa (clades) in the nested genealogical hierarchy. Taxa in linear hierarchies are defined by sets of character states, whereas clades are defined by common ancestry. Although the threefold parallelism was ostensibly abandoned with the rejection of Haeckel''s biogenetic law, some of its components continue to facilitate the progressive scenarios that are common in evolutionary thought. Although a general view of progression in organismal history may be invalid, the progressive or directional sequence of character state changes that results in the characterization of a particular clade has considerable heuristic value. Agassiz''s ostensibly nested hierarchy and other pre-Darwinian classifications do not provide support for the view that the natural system can be discovered without recourse to the principle of common descent. (shrink)
Ideas about the natural world are intertwined with the personalities, practices, and the workplaces of scientists. The relationships between these categories are explored in the life of the taxonomist William Steel Creighton. Creighton studied taxonomy under William Morton Wheeler at Harvard University. He took the rules he learned from Wheeler out of the museum and into the field. In testing the rules against a new situation, Creighton found them wanting. He sought a new set of taxonomic principles, one he eventually (...) found in Ernst Mayr's "Systematics and the Origin of Species". Mayr's ideas tied together a number of themes running through Creighton's life: the need for a revised taxonomy, the emphasis on fieldwork, and the search for a new power center for ant taxonomy after Wheeler died. Creighton's adoption of Mayr's ideas as part of his professional identity also had very real implications for his career path: field studies required long and intensive studies, and Creighton would always be a slow worker. His method of taxonomy contrasted sharply not only with Wheeler's but also with two of his younger colleagues, William L. Brown and E. O. Wilson, who took over Wheeler's spot at Harvard in 1950. The disputes between these men over ant taxonomy involved, in addition to questions of technical interest, questions about where and how best to do taxonomy and who could speak with the most authority. Creighton's story reveals how these questions are interrelated. The story also reveals the importance of Mayr's book for changes occurring in taxonomy in the middle of the twentieth century. (shrink)
What does it look like when a group of scientists set out to re-envision an entire field of biology in symbolic and formal terms? I analyze the founding and articulation of Numerical Taxonomy between 1950 and 1970, the period when it set out a radical new approach to classification and founded a tradition of mathematics in systematic biology. I argue that introducing mathematics in a comprehensive way also requires re-organizing the daily work of scientists in the field. Numerical taxonomists sought (...) to establish a mathematical method for classification that was universal to every type of organism, and I argue this intrinsically implicated them in a qualitative re-organization of the work of all systematists. I also discuss how Numerical Taxonomy’s re-organization of practice became entrenched across systematic biology even as opposing schools produced their own competing mathematical methods. In this way, the structure of the work process became more fundamental than the methodological theories that motivated it. (shrink)
Taxa and homologues can in our view be construed both as kinds and as individuals. However, the conceptualization of taxa as natural kinds in the sense of homeostatic property cluster kinds has been criticized by some systematists, as it seems that even such kinds cannot evolve due to their being homeostatic. We reply by arguing that the treatment of transformational and taxic homologies, respectively, as dynamic and static aspects of the same homeostatic property cluster kind represents a good perspective for (...) supporting the conceptualization of taxa as kinds. The focus on a phenomenon of homology based on causal processes (e.g., connectivity, activity-function, genetics, inheritance, and modularity) and implying relationship with modification yields a notion of natural kinds conforming to the phylogenetic-evolutionary framework. Nevertheless, homeostatic property cluster kinds in taxonomic and evolutionary practice must be rooted in the primacy of epistemological classification (homology as observational properties) over metaphysical generalization (series of transformation and common ancestry as unobservational processes). The perspective of individuating characters exclusively by historical-transformational independence instead of their developmental, structural, and functional independence fails to yield a sufficient practical interplay between theory and observation. Purely ontological and ostensional perspectives in evolution and phylogeny (e.g., an ideographic character concept and PhyloCode’s ‘individualism’ of clades) may be pragmatically contested in the case of urgent issues in biodiversity research, conservation, and systematics. (shrink)
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). (shrink)
The question of whether or not to partition data for the purposes of inferring phylogenetic hypotheses remains controversial. Opinions have been especially divided since Kluge's (1989, Systematic Zoology 38, 7–25) claim that data partitioning violates the requirement of total evidence (RTE). Unfortunately, advocacy for or against the RTE has not been based on accurate portrayals of the requirement. The RTE is a basic maxim for non-deductive inference, stipulating that evidence must be considered if it has relevance to an inference. Evidence (...) is relevant if it has a positive or negative effect on a given conclusion. In the case of ℈partitioned’ phylogenetic inferences, the RTE is violated, and the basis for rational belief in any conclusion is compromised, unless it is shown that the partitions are evidentially irrelevant to one another. The goal of phylogenetic systematics is to hypothesize past causal conditions to account for observed shared similarities among two or more species. Such inferences are non-deductive, necessitating consideration of the RTE. Some phylogeneticists claim the parsimony criterion as justification for the RTE. There is no relation between the two – parsimony is a relation between a hypothesis and causal question(s). Parsimony does not dictate the content of premises prior to an inference. ℈Taxonomic congruence,’ ℈supertrees,’ and ℈conditional combination’ methods violate the RTE. Taxonomic congruence and supertree methods also fail to achieve the intended goal of phylogenetic inference, such that ℈consensus trees’ and ℈supertrees’ lack an empirical basis. ℈Conditional combination’ is problematic because hypotheses derived from partitioned data cannot be compared – a causal hypothesis inferred to account for a set of effects only has relevance to those effects, not any comparative relevance to other causal hypotheses. A similar problem arises in the comparisons of hypotheses derived from different causal theories. (shrink)
Getting over systematics Content Type Journal Article Category Book Review Pages 1-4 DOI 10.1007/s11016-012-9662-5 Authors John S. Wilkins, University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW 2009, Australia Journal Metascience Online ISSN 1467-9981 Print ISSN 0815-0796.
Since the beginning of the twentieth century, Chinese scholars have tended to traditional Chinese learning split apart and rearrange it according to the systematics of modern Western academic disciplines. By examining the meaning of Western "philosophy" and "ethics," it is demonstrated that Western and Chinese learning should not be lumped together according to the same systematics. Moreover, classical Chinese learning has always had its own complex systematics and its own long tradition, and it has undergone constant development (...) over time. Thus, it is well beyond any criticism that may be leveled at it from the standpoint of Western systematics. Even so, modern Chinese intellectuals have become accustomed to understanding classical Chinese learning through a Western prism. (shrink)
The development of comparative biology (systematics) has been of interest to philosophers and historians. Particular attention has been placed on the ‘war’ of the 1970s and 1980s, the apparent dispute among those who preferred this or that methodology. In this contribution we examine the history of comparative biology from the perspective of fundamentals rather than methodologies. Our examination is framed within the artificial—natural classification dichotomy, a viewpoint currently lost from view (...) but worth resurrecting. (shrink)
I attempt to raise questions regarding elements of systematics—primarily in the realm of phylogenetic reconstruction—in order to provoke discussion on the current state of affairs in this discipline, and also evolutionary biology in general: e.g., conceptions of homology and homoplasy, hypothesis testing, the nature of and objections to Hennigian “phylogenetic systematics”, and the schism between (neo)Darwinian descendants of the “modern evolutionary synthesis” and their supposed antagonists, cladists and punctuationalists.
The Committee on Common Problems of Genetics, Paleontology, and Systematics (United States National Research Council) marks part of a critical transition in American evolutionary studies. Launched in 1942 to facilitate cross-training between genetics and paleontology, the Committee was also designed to amplify paleontologist voices in modern studies of evolutionary processes. During coincidental absences of founders George Gaylord Simpson and Theodosius Dobzhansky, an opportunistic Ernst Mayr moved into the project's leadership. Mayr used the opportunity for programmatic reforms he had been (...) pursuing elsewhere for more than a decade. These are evident in the Bulletins he distributed under Committee auspices. In his brief tenure as Committee leader, Mayr gained his first substantial foothold within the coalescing community infrastructure of evolutionary studies. Carrying this momentum forward led Mayr directly into the project to launch the journal Evolution. The sociology of interdisciplinary activity provides useful tools for understanding the Committee's value in the broad sweep of change in evolutionary studies during the synthesis period. (shrink)
The correspondence between Edgar Anderson and Ernst Mayr leading into their 1941 Jesup Lectures on “Systematics and the Origin of Species” addressed population thinking, the nature of species, the relationship of microevolution to macroevolution, and the evolutionary dynamics of plants and animals, all central issues in what came to be known as the Evolutionary Synthesis. On some points, they found ready agreement; for others they forged only a short term consensus. They brought two different working styles to this project (...) reflecting their different appreciations of what was possible at this point in evolutionary studies. For Mayr, it was a focused project with definitive short term conclusions imminent while Anderson viewed it as an episode in an ongoing historical process that, while exciting and suggestive, remained openended. Thus, Mayr and Anderson represent two distinct perspectives on the Evolutionary Synthesis in formation; by understanding both of their points of view, we can grasp more fully the state of evolutionary theory at this key moment. (shrink)
The paper shares the principal emphases to date in an attempt to begin a contemporary systematic theology and invites the collaboration of others in the development of that theology. Lonergan’s understanding of systematics as the imperfect and analogical understanding of the mysteries of faith is adopted from the outset, but so is his insistence (1) that a contemporary systematic theology must be grounded in interiorly and religiously differentiated consciousnessand (2) that such a theology will be a theology of history. (...) The dogmatic-theological context of such a development is found in a hypothesis that links the four relations in the Trinity to four distinct created supernatural participations and imitations. A brief outline of the author’s work on the theology of history is presented, and then central elements in the ‘four-point hypothesis’ are discussed, especially the relation between sanctifying grace and charity. Thepaper concludes with a suggestion regarding the theological importance of the mimetic theory of René Girard. (shrink)
The twentieth century witnessed a dramatic increase in the use of statistics by biologists, including systematists. The modern synthesis and new systematics stimulated this development, particularly after World War II. The rise of "the statistical frame of mind" resulted in a rethinking of the relationship between biological and mathematical points of view, the roles of objectivity and subjectivity in systematic research, the implications of new computing technologies, and the place of systematics among the biological disciplines.
Taxonomies of living things and the methods used to produce them changed little with the institutionalization of evolutionary thinking in biology. Instead, the relationships expressed in existing taxonomies were merely reinterpreted as the result of evolution, and evolutionary concepts were developed to justify existing methods. I argue that the delay of the Darwinian Revolution in biological taxonomy has resulted partly from a failure to distinguish between two fundamentally different ways of ordering identified by Griffiths (1974): classification and systematization. Classification (...) consists of ordering entities into classes, groups defined by the attributes of their members; in contrast, systematization consists of ordering entities into systems, more inclusive entities whose existence depends on some natural process through which their parts are related. Evolutionary, or phylogenetic, systematics takes evolutionary descent to be the natural process of interest in biological taxonomy. I outline a general framework for a truly phylogenetic systematics and examine some of its consequences. (shrink)
Many of the elements of the problem of implementation have been assembled in Philip McShane’s paper and addressed in his life’s work to date. The dimension to which I wish to contribute is the need to lift the chapter on Systematics in Method in Theology out of its tired and minimalist context into the context that Lonergan seems to have had in mind when, at the time of the breakthrough to functional specialization, what eventually was called Systematics was (...) named ‘Explanation’ and its mediated object was said to be Geschichte. At that point Lonergan had in mind, I submit, not simply summing up and integrating the dogmatico-theological context – and even that task does not emerge clearly in Method’s chapter – but also advancing that context, in fact catapulting it into the third stage of meaning and onto the plateau where a normative source of meaning has been articulated that, while remaining normative, pays full recognition to historical mindedness. (shrink)
This paper explores the use of Popper's philosophy of science by cladists in their battle against evolutionary and numerical taxonomy. Three schools of biological systematics fiercely debated each other from the late 1960s: evolutionary taxonomy, phenetics or numerical taxonomy, and phylogenetic systematics or cladistics. The outcome of that debate was the victory of phylogenetic systematics/cladistics over the competing schools of thought. To bring about this "cladistic turn" in systematics, the cladists drew heavily on the philosopher K.R. (...) Popper in order to dress up phylogenetic systematics as a hypothetico-deductivist, indeed falsificationist, research program that would put an end to authoritarianism. As the case of the "cladistic revolution" demonstrates, scientists who turn to philosophy in defense of a research program read philosophers with an agenda in mind. That agenda is likely to distort the philosophical picture, as happened to Popper's philosophy of science at the hands of cladists. (shrink)
Despite its lack of influence in analytical philosophy, and independently of its content as a process philosophy, Whitehead's system in Process and Reality affords a valuable lesson on how to pursue revisionary systematic metaphysics. This paper argues the case generally for metaphysical revision and system, describes the structure of Whitehead's categorial scheme, endorses his idea of an ultimate which is not an entity, and outlines an alternative, “digital” ultimate or basis composed of several analytical factors. [I]n the absence of a (...) well-defined categoreal scheme of entities, issuing in a satisfactory metaphysical system, every premise in a philosophical argument is under suspicion. (shrink)
The hierarchical reach of Atran's cognitive universals is unclear, and some of the key concepts used to discuss them are notorious for their imprecision. Although ideas of class hierarchy pervade Atran's discussion, other ways of thinking are also allowed. The history and practice of systematic biology suggests that a nonclass hierarchical and continuity-based way of thinking has been common there until recently.
Despite the traditional focus on metaphysical issues in discussions of natural kinds in biology, epistemological considerations are at least as important. By revisiting the debate as to whether taxa are kinds or individuals, I argue that both accounts are metaphysically compatible, but that one or the other approach can be pragmatically preferable depending on the epistemic context. Recent objections against construing species as homeostatic property cluster kinds are also addressed. The second part of the paper broadens the perspective by considering (...) homologues as another example of natural kinds, comparing them with analogues as functionally defined kinds. Given that there are various types of natural kinds, I discuss the different theoretical purposes served by diverse kind concepts, suggesting that there is no clear-cut distinction between natural kinds and other kinds, such as functional kinds. Rather than attempting to offer a unique metaphysical account of ‘natural’ kind, a more fruitful approach consists in the epistemological study of how different natural kind concepts are employed in scientific reasoning. (shrink)
Philosophical discussions of species have focused on multicellular, sexual animals and have often neglected to consider unicellular organisms like bacteria. This article begins to fill this gap by considering what species concepts, if any, apply neatly to the bacterial world. First, I argue that the biological species concept cannot be applied to bacteria because of the variable rates of genetic transfer between populations, depending in part on which gene type is prioritized. Second, I present a critique of phylogenetic bacterial species, (...) arguing that phylogenetic bacterial classification requires a questionable metaphysical commitment to the existence of essential genes. I conclude by considering how microbiologists have dealt with these biological complexities by using more pragmatic and not exclusively evolutionary accounts of species. I argue that this pragmatism is not borne of laziness but rather of the substantial conceptual problems in classifying bacteria based on any evolutionary standard. (shrink)
The role of scientific theories in classifying plants and animals is traced from Hennig's phylogenetics and the evolutionary taxonomy of Simpson and Mayr, through numerical phenetics, to present-day cladistics. Hennig limited biological classification to sister groups so that this one relation can be expressed unambiguously in classifications. Simpson and Mayr were willing to sacrifice precision in representation in order to include additional features of evolution in the construction of classifications. In order to make classifications more objective, precise and quantitative, numerical (...) pheneticists limited themselves to representing degrees of phenetic similarity. Finally, present-day cladists can be separated into phylogenetic cladists, who retain much of Hennig's theory of classification, and pattern cladists, who have stripped Hennig's system down to its bare essentials. (shrink)
We argue that C. Darwin and more recently W. Hennig worked at times under the simplifying assumption of an eternal biosphere. So motivated, we explicitly consider the consequences which follow mathematically from this assumption, and the infinite graphs it leads to. This assumption admits certain clusters of organisms which have some ideal theoretical properties of species, shining some light onto the species problem. We prove a dualization of a law of T.A. Knight and C. Darwin, and sketch a decomposition result (...) involving the internodons of D. Kornet, J. Metz and H. Schellinx. A further goal of this paper is to respond to B. Sturmfels’ question, “Can biology lead to new theorems?”. (shrink)
Biologists and historians often present natural history and molecular biology as distinct, perhaps conflicting, fields in biological research. Such accounts, although supported by abundant evidence, overlook important areas of overlap between these areas. Focusing upon examples drawn particularly from systematics and molecular evolution, I argue that naturalists and molecular biologists often share questions, methods, and forms of explanation. Acknowledging these interdisciplinary efforts provides a more balanced account of the development of biology during the post-World War II era.
‘The Natural System’ is the abstract notion of the order in living diversity. The richness and complexity of this notion is revealed by the diversity of representations of the Natural System drawn by ornithologists in the Nineteenth Century. These representations varied in overall form from stars, to circles, to maps, to evolutionary trees and cross-sections through trees. They differed in their depiction of affinity, analogy, continuity, directionality, symmetry, reticulation and branching, evolution, and morphological convergence and divergence. Some representations were two-dimensional, (...) and some were three-dimensional; n-dimensional representations were discussed but never illustrated. The study of diagrammatic representations of the Natural System is made difficult by the frequent failure of authors to discuss them in their texts, and by the consequent problem of distinguishing features which carried meaning from arbitrary features and printing conventions which did not. Many of the systematics controversies of the last thirty years have their roots in the conceptual problems which surrounded the Natural System in the late 1800s, problems which were left unresolved when interest in higher-level systematics declined at the turn of this century. (shrink)
The word ``deme'' was coined by the botanists J.S.L. Gilmour and J.W.Gregor in 1939, following the pattern of J.S. Huxley's ``cline''. Its purposewas not only to rationalize the plethora of terms describing chromosomaland genetic variation, but also to reduce hostility between traditionaltaxonomists and researchers on evolution, who sometimes scorned eachother's understanding of species. A multi-layered system of compoundterms based on deme was published by Gilmour and J. Heslop-Harrison in1954 but not widely used. Deme was adopted with a modified meaning byzoologists (...) leading the evolutionary synthesis – Huxley, Simpson, Wright,and Mayr. Connections are shown between Gilmour's ideas around definingthe deme, his role in founding the Systematics Association, and his chapter``Taxonomy and Philosophy'' in the book The New Systematics. Thishistorical episode raises questions about the role of carefully-definedwords in scientific practice. (shrink)
The contents of the British Ornithologists' Union's journal, "The Ibis," during the first half of the 20th century illustrates some of the transformations that have taken place in the naturalist tradition. Although later generations of ornithologists described these changes as logical and progressive, their historical narratives had more to do with legitimizing the infiltration of the priorities of evolutionary theory, ecology, and ethology than analyzing the legacy of the naturalist tradition on its own terms. Despite ornithologists' claim that the journal's (...) increasing focus on "biology" represented a natural development after the preliminary phase of systematics and geographical ornithology, in fact a small group campaigned to bring the priorities of population ecology, behavior, and selection theory into the journal and British ornithology more generally. The problems involved in this transition highlight the importance of methodological and institutional context in determining and reinforcing appropriate research programs for ornithologists. Comparing the discipline-building rhetoric of moderns with the contents of the past illustrates how modern evaluations of 19th century research programs have been enmeshed in ornithologists' endeavors to forge new identities for traditional disciplines. (shrink)