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In a message dated 9/4/00 12:45:12 PM Pacific Daylight Time, 
philidor11@snet.net writes (in response to my earlier post):

> <Taxonomy only works because we have a finite collection of individuals to
>  classify.  If we were confronted with the grand parade of every individual
>  organism that ever lived, any classificatory scheme would totally break
>  down.>
>  Do you want to rephrase this?  Sounds like the ultimate refutation of every
>  taxonomic scheme so far.

Why would I want to rephrase it?  I think this is a very important point.

At some point or another, every honest taxonomist must admit to him- or 
herself that if we truly had the capability to observe the origin and 
development of every individual organism that ever lived on earth, we would 
find that there are no distinct groups to name.  Indeed, at that resolution, 
it might not even be possible to tell life from non-life.  This, I would 
suggest, is the fundamental problem of taxonomy: the basic mismatch between 
Linnaeus and Darwin, a philosophical roadblock past which each of us must 
find his or her own way.

Fortunately for us, nature and the efforts of collectors of things dead and 
alive have provided us with only a tiny slice of this maddeningly continuous 
variation: a finite collection of discrete data points known as individuals.  
The job of the taxonomist is to classify *those individuals available for 
study* as best he or she can.  At least, that is my way past the roadblock.

Nick Pharris