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Abstract Detail

Concepts of Systematic Biology from Linnaeus to the Present (1707-2007): Three Hundred Years of Progressive Change

Winsor, Mary P [1].

The Impact of Taxonomy upon Darwin, and of Darwin upon Taxonomy.

It strikes many people as paradoxical that a set of techniques for naming, describing, and classifying kinds of organisms that was instituted by people with scant scientific understanding of the history of living things should have survived and even flourished beyond 1859, largely untouched by Darwin’s revolutionary theory. Some biologists and philosophers have recently claimed that the overthrow of Linnaean practices is long overdue. Yet Darwin himself did not call for nor expect great changes in taxonomy. Did he fail to appreciate the full force of his own theory, or did he think it prudent to pull his punches? I say no, and no.
Much of what has been said on this question has focussed on species, but to appreciate how Darwin’s ideas relate to systematics, higher categories must be considered too. Darwin’s contemporary Louis Agassiz followed where logic seemed to lead and concluded that each level of the Linnaean hierarchy must represent a distinct sort of character, and Agassiz’s writings contributed to Ernst Mayr’s picture of typological thinking or essentialism in the history of taxonomy. Yet Agassiz’s views ran counter to the experience of his fellow naturalists. With extraordinary boldness, Darwin proposed that higher categories like families or classes required no further explanation beyond the factors causing the origin of species. This aspect of his theory was hard for many biologists to swallow in the 19th century, and during the Modern Synthesis the problem was pointedly set aside.

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1 - University of Toronto, Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology, 550 Spadina Crescent, Toronto, Ontario, M5S 2J9, Canada

History of botany

Presentation Type: Symposium or Colloquium Presentation
Session: SY16
Location: Stevens 1/Hilton
Date: Wednesday, July 11th, 2007
Time: 9:00 AM
Number: SY16003
Abstract ID:1363

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