A nineteenth century view on classification

The principle upon which I understand the Natural System of Botany to be founded is, that the affinities of plants may be determined by a consideration of all the points of resemblance between their various parts, properties, and qualities; that thence an arrangement may be deduced in which those species will be placed next each Read More…

Speciation – A brief history: The late eighteenth century

After Linnaeus had settled on the older mechanism of hybridisation of genera with other genera or with varieties formed by geographical conditions as the cause of new species, the topic began to pick up speed. Hybridisation remained the usual method as late as the 1830s (e.g., in Lindley) but two developments were crucial in the Read More…

Are species theoretical objects?

[Note: this is a paper that has sat in my drawer for a while now. I am posting it to follow from my last post on the theological origins of species. If species are not ranks in biology, what are they?] It is often claimed that species are the units of evolution, but this is Read More…

Articles of faith: The theological and philosophical origins of the concept of species

It takes a while for the implications of one’s own work to sink in. In my 2009 book Species, a History of the Idea (see here), I argued that the notion that before Darwin people were essentialistic and fixist about species was false. A recent paper by Jack Powers about Mayr’s misreading of Plato complements an earlier Read More…

Coming to Berkeley

I’ll be in Berkeley (California, in case there’s another one somewhere) from around the 9th to the 15th of March, to give a talk to the Mellon-Sawyer series Speciesism and the Future of Humanity. Anyone who wants an unemployed philosopher to give a talk to their group also, or just buy him a meal, should Read More…

Did Popper and Quine invent “Aristotelian essentialism”?

There are many narratives told about evolution. One of the most widely told is the Essentialism Story, replayed in textbook, popular storytelling and philosophy alike. It goes like this: Before Darwin, biologists were constrained by essentialist thinking, in which they were committed to species being natural kinds where there were essential characters shared by every Read More…

The difference between population concepts and “population thinking”

The late Ernst Mayr is remembered for many things, but a number of his historical and philosophical claims are unravelling. The very clever and perspicacious Rutgers geneticist, Jody Hey, has published a paper in the Quarterly Review of Biology on one of these. Jody is a very good reader of history as well as being Read More…