Evolutionary Biology

, Volume 36, Issue 2, pp 248-255

First online:

Homology: Homeostatic Property Cluster Kinds in Systematics and Evolution

  • Leandro C. S. AssisAffiliated withLaboratório de Sistemática Vegetal, Departamento de Botânica, Universidade de São Paulo Email author 
  • , Ingo BrigandtAffiliated withDepartment of Philosophy, University of Alberta

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Taxa and homologues can in our view be construed both as kinds and as individuals. However, the conceptualization of taxa as natural kinds in the sense of homeostatic property cluster kinds has been criticized by some systematists, as it seems that even such kinds cannot evolve due to their being homeostatic. We reply by arguing that the treatment of transformational and taxic homologies, respectively, as dynamic and static aspects of the same homeostatic property cluster kind represents a good perspective for supporting the conceptualization of taxa as kinds. The focus on a phenomenon of homology based on causal processes (e.g., connectivity, activity-function, genetics, inheritance, and modularity) and implying relationship with modification yields a notion of natural kinds conforming to the phylogenetic-evolutionary framework. Nevertheless, homeostatic property cluster kinds in taxonomic and evolutionary practice must be rooted in the primacy of epistemological classification (homology as observational properties) over metaphysical generalization (series of transformation and common ancestry as unobservational processes). The perspective of individuating characters exclusively by historical-transformational independence instead of their developmental, structural, and functional independence fails to yield a sufficient practical interplay between theory and observation. Purely ontological and ostensional perspectives in evolution and phylogeny (e.g., an ideographic character concept and PhyloCode’s ‘individualism’ of clades) may be pragmatically contested in the case of urgent issues in biodiversity research, conservation, and systematics.


Characters Individuals Monophyly Natural kinds Phylogeny Similarity Taxonomy Transformational and taxic homology