Biology and Philosophy

, Volume 13, Issue 2, pp 233-244

Taxonomy and Philosophy of Names

  • Mikael HärlinAffiliated withDepartment of Zoology, Göteborg UniversityCenter for the History and Philosophy of Science, California Academy of Sciences Email author 
  • , Per SundbergAffiliated withDepartment of Zoology, Göteborg University

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Although naming biological clades is a major activity in taxonomy, little attention has been paid to what these names actually refer to. In philosophy, definite descriptions have long been considered equivalent to the meaning of names and biological taxonomy is a scientific application of these ideas. One problem with definite descriptions as the meanings of names is that the name will refer to whatever fits the description rather than the intended individual (clade). Recent proposals for explicit phylogenetic definitions of clade names suffer from similar problems and we argue that clade names cannot be defined since they lack intension. Furthermore we stress the importance of “tree-thinking” for phylogenetic reference to work properly.

reference meaning individual class definition clade evolution phylogeny phylogenetic taxonomy systematics tree-thinking cladistics intention extension