Given the mythology that species were defined by essences prior to Darwin found in nearly every textbook, I find this passage, published in 1826 by Archbishop Richard Whately (1787–1863), first in the Encyclopaedia Metropolitana (a project initially proposed by Coleridge) and then as a separate textbook, very telling. Whately was Archbishop of Dublin in the Church of Ireland, and was both a social reformer as well as an educator. He was a mentor to John Henry Newman, who later converted to Catholicism and became one of the greatest apologists for the Church (and a Cardinal) writing in English.
The Elements of Logic, first published in 1826 (1823 in the Encyclopaedia) underwent nine editions, but Whatley never substantially changed any of his logical positions even as logic underwent a major revival in large part due to his own text. He was derided by Whewell, for example, for his emphasis on deductive logic rather than inductive reasoning, and for thinking that logic was merely the inference of ideas than more substantive reasoning. Nevertheless, much of modern logic would not have developed as it did without him. Pierce read his Elements as a young man (around 13), and it inspired much of his thinking. Boole, Mill and many others drew inspiration from him.
In this section, which is notionally about Realism (what would now be called Platonism), Whately makes several points that are relevant to the species question/problem. They are:
- Species as used in syllogistic logic is a different sense of the term from how it is used by naturalists; hence what can be said of logical species (they have essences that define them; they are not real but are simply convenient abstractions, etc.) cannot be transferred over to the naturalist’s sense.
- Naturalists will define varieties and races within species. Any such subtaxon will be a “species” in logic.
- The standard meaning of natural species is descent from a common stock and resemblance of organisms.
- The naturalist’s genus is a matter of a convenient arrangement. Specificity (being a member of a natural species), however, is a fact.
- Natural species may be defined or identified by “marks”, but these are not necessarily, or even often, the differentia (the essential differences) of the species.
- The cause of specificity is not observable; hence we infer species rather than observe them.
- Realism regarding classes is a mistake, except in the case of natural species, either of living or inorganic objects (like gems).
This text alone is sufficient to destroy the essentialism myth. Not only is it some 33 years before Darwin published the Origin of Species, the third edition was actually in Darwin’s library. It is clear that most educated English speakers would have known, therefore, that the species of logic and essences are distinct from the species of natural history.
The passage is taken from the first edition of the Elements. It is substantially the same as late as the ninth edition, however.
Download the text here: Whately on species