Character individuation in phylogenetic inference

Philosophy of Science 70 (2):264-279 (2003)
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Abstract

Ontological questions in biology have typically focused on the nature of species: what are species; how are they identified and individuated? There is an analogous, but much neglected concern: what are characters; how are they identified and individuated? Character individuation is significant because biological systematics relies on a parsimony principle to determine phylogeny and classify taxa, and the parsimony principle is usually interpreted to favor the phylogenetic hypothesis that requires the fewest changes in characters. But no character individuation principle identified so far is adequate. For biological systematics we need a better way of conceiving characters.

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Richard A. Richards
University of Alabama

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