Darwin's Species Category Realism

History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences 21 (2):137 - 186 (1999)
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Abstract

Ever since Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species was published, the received view has been that Darwin literally thought of species as not extra-mentally real. In 1969 Michael Ghiselin upset the received view by interpreting Darwin to mean that species taxa are indeed real but not the species category. In 1985 John Beatty took Ghiselin's thesis a step further by providing a strategy theory to explain why Darwin would say one thing (his repeated nominalistic definition of species) and do another (hold that species taxa are real). In the present paper I attempt to take this line of interpretation to a new level. Guided by the principle of charity, I provide and analyze a considerable amount of evidence from Darwin's mature writings (both private and published) to show that (contra Ghiselin and Beatty) Darwin did not simply accept the species delimitations of his fellow naturalists but actually employed, repeatedly and consistently, a species concept in a thoroughly modern sense, albeit with an implicit definition, a concept uniquely his own and fully in accord with his theory of evolution by natural selection. This implicit concept and definition is carefully reconstructed in the present paper. A new strategy theory is then provided to account for why Darwin would define species (both taxa and category) nominalistically on the one hand but delimit species realistically on the other

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