On the Origins of the Quinarian System of Classification

Journal of the History of Biology 49 (1):95-133 (2016)

Aaron Novick
Purdue University
William Sharp Macleay developed the quinarian system of classification in his Horæ Entomologicæ, published in two parts in 1819 and 1821. For two decades, the quinarian system was widely discussed in Britain and influenced such naturalists as Charles Darwin, Richard Owen, and Thomas Huxley. This paper offers the first detailed account of Macleay’s development of the quinarian system. Macleay developed his system under the shaping influence of two pressures: (1) the insistence by followers of Linnaeus on developing artificial systems at the expense of the natural system and (2) the apparent tension between the continuity of organic nature and the failure of linear classification schemes (which continuity seemed to require). Against what he perceived as dogmatic indolence on the part of the Linnaeans, Macleay developed a philosophy of science in which hypotheses that exceeded the available evidence should be proposed and subjected to severe tests. He also developed a novel comparative anatomical methodology, the method of variation, to aid in his search for the natural system. Using this method, he developed an intricate system that showed how organic nature could be continuous without being linear. A failure to appreciate these facets of Macleay’s thought has led to several misunderstandings of him and his work, most notably that he was an idealist. These misunderstandings are here rebutted.
Keywords William Sharp Macleay  Quinarian System  Continuity  Natural History
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Reprint years 2016
DOI 10.1007/s10739-015-9419-2
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References found in this work BETA

The Triumph of the Darwinian Method.Michael T. Ghiselin - 1973 - Philosophy of Science 40 (3):466-467.
Form and Function: A Contribution to the History of Animal Morphology.E. S. Russell - 1916 - Journal of the History of Biology 17 (1):151-151.

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