Biology and Philosophy

, Volume 11, Issue 2, pp 215–244 | Cite as

The individuality of the species: A Darwinian theory? — from Buffon to Ghiselin, and back to Darwin

  • Jean Gayon


Since the 1970s, there has been a tremendous amount of literature on Ghiselin's proposal that “species are individuals”. After recalling the origins and stakes of this thesis in contemporary evolutionary theory, I show that it can also be found in the writings of the French naturalist Buffon in the 18th Century. Although Buffon did not have the conception that one species could be derived from another, there is an interesting similarity between the modern argument and that of Buffon regarding the “individuality of species’. The analogy is strong enough to force us to recognize that genuine evolutionary (or Darwinian) questions might be of secondary importance in the discussion. In consequence, the third section of the paper proposes an alternative schema for the “logical structure” of the Darwinian concept of species. Darwin distinguished the problem of the designation of a concrete species, and the problem of its signification of species within his theory of descent? The resulting notion of species involves a logical structure based on the fusion of the logical operations of classification and ordering. The difficulty — and interest — is that this interpretation of species does not entail any precise operational definition of species; it can only tell us what the ultimate signification of classification is within the theory of descent with modification through natural selection.

Key words

Classes classification evolution Buffon Darwin Ghiselin individuality ordering concept of species 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jean Gayon
    • 1
  1. 1.Faculté de Lettres et PhilosophieInstitut Universitaire de France Université de BourgogneDijonFrance

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