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What is a species? Essences and generation

Wilkins, John S. (2010) What is a species? Essences and generation. [Preprint]

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Abstract

Arguments against essentialism in biology rely strongly on a claim that modern biology abandoned Aristotle's notion of a species as a class of necessary and sufficient properties. However, neither his theory of essentialism, nor his logical definition of species and genus (eidos and genos) play much of a role in biological research and taxonomy, including his own. The objections to natural kinds thinking by early twentieth century biologists wrestling with the new genetics overlooked the fact that species have typical developmental cycles and most have a large shared genetic component. These are the "what-it-is-to-be" members of that species. An intrinsic biological essentialism does not commit us to Aristotelian notions, nor even modern notions, of essence. There is a long-standing definition of "species" and its precursor notions that goes back to the Greeks, and which Darwin and pretty well all biologists since him share, that I call the Generative Conception of Species. It relies on there being a shared generative power that makes progeny resemble parents. The "what-it-is-to-be" a member of that species is that developmental type, mistakes in development notwithstanding. Moreover, such "essences" have always been understood to include deviations from the type. Finally, I shall examine some implications of the collapse of the narrative about essences in biology.


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Item Type: Preprint
Creators:
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Wilkins, John S.
Additional Information: Forthcoming in Theory inBiosciences
Keywords: Species concept; essentialism story; typology; generation; natural kinds; classification
Subjects: Specific Sciences > Biology > Evolutionary Theory
Specific Sciences > Biology > Systematics
General Issues > History of Science Case Studies
Depositing User: John S Wilkins
Date Deposited: 13 Jun 2010
Last Modified: 07 Oct 2010 15:19
Item ID: 5407
URI: http://philsci-archive.pitt.edu/id/eprint/5407

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