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DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-Q102-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved April 12, 2024, from

Article Summary

The fundamental elements of any classification are its theoretical commitments, basic units and the criteria for ordering these basic units into a classification. Two fundamentally different sorts of classification are those that reflect structural organization and those that are systematically related to historical development.

In biological classification, evolution supplies the theoretical orientation. The goal is to make the basic units of classification (taxonomic species) identical to the basic units of biological evolution (evolutionary species). The principle of order is supplied by phylogeny. Species splitting successively through time produce a phylogenetic tree. The primary goal of taxonomy since Darwin has been to reflect these successive splittings in a hierarchical classification made up of species, genera, families, and so on.

The major point of contention in taxonomy is epistemological. A recurrent complaint against classifications that attempt to reflect phylogeny is that phylogeny cannot be ‘known’ with certainty sufficient to warrant using it as the object of classification. Instead, small but persistent groups of taxonomists have insisted that classifications be more ‘operational’. Instead of attempting to reflect something as difficult to infer as phylogeny, advocates of this position contend that systematists should stick more closely to observational reality.

Citing this article:
Hull, David L.. Taxonomy, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-Q102-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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