Biology and Philosophy 7 (2): 135–160 (1992)

Robert J. O'Hara
Harvard University (PhD)
Accounts of the evolutionary past have as much in common with works of narrative history as they do with works of science. Awareness of the narrative character of evolutionary writing leads to the discovery of a host of fascinating and hitherto unrecognized problems in the representation of evolutionary history, problems associated with the writing of narrative. These problems include selective attention, narrative perspective, foregrounding and backgrounding, differential resolution, and the establishment of a canon of important events. The narrative aspects of evolutionary writing, however, which promote linearity and cohesiveness in conventional stories, conflict with the underlying chronicle of evolution, which is not linear, but branched, and which does not cohere, but diverges. The impulse to narrate is so great, however, and is so strongly reinforced by traditional schemes of taxonomic attention, that natural historians have more often abandoned the diverging tree than they have abandoned the narrative mode of representation. If we are to understand the true nature of the evolutionary past then we must adopt tree thinking, and develop new and creative ways, both narrative and non-narrative, of telling the history of life.
Keywords cladistics  evolutionary history  historical sciences  narrative  natural system  phylogeny  progress  systematics  tree-thinking  teleology
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DOI 10.1007/BF00129880
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References found in this work BETA

Against Method.Paul Feyerabend - 1975 - London: New Left Books.
Against Method.P. Feyerabend - 1975 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 26 (4):331-342.
Wonderful Life; The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History.Stephen Jay Gould - 1992 - Journal for General Philosophy of Science / Zeitschrift für Allgemeine Wissenschaftstheorie 23 (2):359-360.

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Citations of this work BETA

Histories of Molecules: Reconciling the Past.Maureen A. O'Malley - 2016 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 55:69-83.
Anthropocentricisms in Cladograms.Hanno Sandvik - 2009 - Biology and Philosophy 24 (4):425-440.

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