On the origin of the typological/population distinction in Ernst Mayr's changing views of species, 1942-1959

Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 34 (2):277-296 (2003)
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Ernst Mayr's typological/population distinction is a conceptual thread that runs throughout much of his work in systematics, evolutionary biology, and the history and philosophy of biology. Mayr himself claims that typological thinking originated in the philosophy of Plato and that population thinking was first introduced by Charles Darwin and field naturalists. A more proximate origin of the typological/population thinking, however, is found in Mayr's own work on species. This paper traces the antecedents of the typological/population distinction by detailing Mayr's changing views of species between 1942 and 1955. During this period, Mayr struggles to refine the biological species concept in the face of tensions that exist between studying species locally and studying them as geographically distributed collections of variable populations. The typological/population distinction is first formulated in 1955, when Mayr generalizes from the type concept versus the population concept in taxonomy to typological versus population thinking in biology more generally. Mayr's appeal to the more general distinction between typological and population thinking coincides with the waning status of natural history and evolutionary biology that occurs in the early 1950s and the distinction plays an important role in Mayr's efforts to legitimate the natural historical sciences.



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