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RE: Essentialism and such (was a bunch of previous subject lines)


Since I began my part in this by dragging in poor Webster and Goodwin, I
ought to give them a chance to present an outline of their view. 

In "Form and Transformation: Generative and Relational Principles in
Biology" Gerry Webster writes:

"...the position adopted in this book is that the causal mechanism
responsible for the production of empirical morphologies is that
structure of the organism referred to in the classical literature as the
morphogenetic field.  I have also suggested that morphogenetic fields
should be regarded as putative natural kinds.  From this perspective,
the theory... is a Theory of Field Structure and, as Goodwin will
explain, the embryological and genetic transformations... should be
understood as field transformations.

In the theoretical models proposed by Goodwin, the field is conceived as
a dynamical system and he argues that genetic and environmental factors
determine parametric values in the equations describing the field and
therefore act to select or stabilize one manifest form from the set of
forms which are possible for that type of field.  In principle,
therefore, a set of determinate empirical forms is conceived as being
generated by a series of determinate fields and these fields are the
same in the sense that they are all susceptible to description in terms
of a single set of fundamental equations.  In that sense they constitute
a single kind.  Consequently, the determinate members of the series are
variants of that kind related as transformations--they comprise a
rational system--and the basic field equations are, in Cassier's
terminology, a symbolic representation of the form of the series--in a
sense, the 'essence' of the kind.  Thus, insofar as any set of
specifically different empirical forms or patterns can be understood as
being produced by the same generative mechanism in this sense, that set
can be conceived as comprising a single kind.  From this perspective,
kinds are theoretically significant kinds, that is, natural kinds.

I have suggested that, despite all the difficulties traditionally
associated with it, the Linnaean hierarchy should be regarded as
representing some aspects of a real natural order, albeit approximately
and schematically..."

Typology?  Essentialism?  (Is there a difference?)  I don't know, but I
hope it's of interest.

Carl Ramm