Philosophy of Biological Classification


Essentialism was the prominent philosophy of classification until Darwin's time. Essentialism has been replaced with two philosophies based on evolutionary theory: evolutionary taxonomy and cladism.

Keywords: cladism; classification; essentialism; evolutionary taxonomy; taxonomy

Figure 1.

(a) A case of speciation through cladogenesis. A population of species A becomes isolated from the rest of the species. It undergoes a genetic revolution and becomes a distinct species, B. (b) A case of speciation through anagenesis. Species A gradually evolves until it becomes a new species, B.

Figure 2.

The taxon Reptilia contains lizards and crocodiles but not birds.


Further Reading

Atran S (1990) Cognitive Foundations of Natural History: Towards an Anthropology of Science. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Ereshefsky M (ed.) (1992) The Units of Evolution: Essays on the Nature of Species. Cambridge, MA: Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press.

Ereshefsky M (2001) The Poverty of the Linnaean Hierarchy: A Philosophical Study of Biological Taxonomy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hennig W (1966) Phylogenetic Systematics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Hull D (1988) Science as a Process. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Mayr E (1982) The Growth of Biological Thought. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Panchen A (1992) Classification, Evolution, and the Nature of Biology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Ridley M (1986) Evolution and Classification: The Reformation of Cladism. New York: Longman.

Sober E (ed.) (1994) Conceptual Issues in Evolutionary Biology, 2nd edn. Cambridge, MA: Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press.

Wiley E (1981) Phylogenetics: The Theory and Practice of Phylogenetic Systematics. New York: Wiley.

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Ereshefsky, Marc(Apr 2001) Philosophy of Biological Classification. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1038/npg.els.0003447]