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Re: Dinosaur a tecnical term; fish is not (was RE: Fish with milk (Sheesh spinoff))

On 27/10/2006, at 3:46 AM, Carl wrote:

Is there anyone else on the list who has read--and felt sympathetic
towards--Webster and Goodwin's "Form and Transformation: Generative and
Relation Principles in Biology"?

One of the things they argue is that there is no _inherent_ antagonism
between essentialist/typological thinking and evolutionary/historical
thinking in taxonomy, just as there  is no inherent antagonism between
gold's position on the periodic table and the geological/historical
origins of any particular sample of gold.

I'm in no position to make a detailed defense of their views, but I
think anyone who hasn't utterly made up their mind on the matter ought
to at least find Webster's critique of Mayr and Hull stimulating. One
of Webster's key points is that, whatever they may profess, biologists
sneak a kind of typology (again in the sense that the periodic table is
typological and universal and not historical and contingent) in through
the back door and that in fact the whole process of taxonomy can't get
off the ground without them so doing.

Btw, I should mention that their book was published by Cambridge
University Press and not the Society for Creative Anachronism.  :-)

It is my view that there never was a real essentialism in taxonomy, before or after Darwin. What there was, was a *taxonomic* essentialism (and still is) which defines groups on the basis of characters. And it is a bad error to conflate, as many do following Mayr and Hull, typology and (constitutive) essentialism. Types were held to be the exemplars of some taxon (for instance, there was commonly a "type species" for genera in the early 19thC), but they did not have to bear all the characters of the taxon's other members. A good discussion of this can be had in

Stevens, Peter F. The Development of Biological Systematics: Antoine- Laurent De Jussieu, Nature, and the Natural System. New York: Columbia University Press, 1994.

Types were almost always used for classification, diagnosis or arrangement, not metaphysical or constitutive of the being of the taxa. This was first noted by

Farber, Paul. "The Type-Concept in Zoology During the First Half of the Nineteenth Century." Journal of the History of Biology 9, no. 1 (1976): 93-119.

The exceptions were not taxonomic, but to do with forms of organs, such as limbs or leaves (as in the Naturphilosophen tradition). Nobody was an essentialist-typologist as in Mayr's history. Not even Aristotle.

And it is also the case that the "essentially defined" members of the periodic table diverge from their defining criteria in isotopes, and that they can be converted from one essential state to another.

John S. Wilkins, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Biohumanities Project
University of Queensland - Blog: evolvethought.blogspot.com
"Darwin's theory has no more to do with philosophy than any other
hypothesis in natural science." Tractatus 4.1122