Threads that Guide or Ties that Bind: William Kirby and the Essentialism Story

Journal of the History of Biology 42 (1):119-149 (2009)

Nineteenth-century British entomologist William Kirby is best known for his generic division of bees based on tongues and his vigorous defence of natural theology. Focusing on these aspects of Kirby's work has lead many current scholars to characterise Kirby as an "essentialist." As a result of this characterisation, many important aspects of his work, Monographia Apum Angliœ (1802) have been over-looked or misunderstood. Kirby's religious devotion, for example, have lead some scholars to assume Kirby used the term "type" for connecting an ontological assumption about essences with a creationist assumption about species fixity, which I argue conceals a variety of ways Kirby employed the term. Also, Kirby frequently cautioned against organising a classification system exclusively by what he called "analytic reasoning," a style of reasoning 20th century scholars often associate with Aristotelian logic of division. I argue that Kirby's critique of analytic reasoning brought the virtues of his own methodological agenda into sharp relief. Kirby used familiar metaphors in the natural history literature-Ariadne's thread, the Eleusinian mysteries, and Bacon's bee and spider metaphors-to emphasise the virtues of building tradition and cooperation in the goals and methodological practices of 19th century British naturalists.
Keywords natural history  essentialism  logic  taxonomy  entomology  creationism  William Kirby  Ernst Mayr  metaphors
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DOI 10.1007/s10739-008-9156-x
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References found in this work BETA

A Matter of Individuality.David L. Hull - 1978 - Philosophy of Science 45 (3):335-360.
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Individuality and Selection.David L. Hull - 1980 - Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics 11:311-332.

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