Biology and Philosophy

, Volume 4, Issue 1, pp 1–16 | Cite as

The cladistic solution to the species problem

  • Mark Ridley


The correct explanation of why species, in evolutionary theory, are individuals and not classes is the cladistic species concept. The cladistic species concept defines species as the group of organisms between two speciation events, or between one speciation event and one extinction event, or (for living species) that are descended from a speciation event. It is a theoretical concept, and therefore has the virtue of distinguishing clearly the theoretical nature of species from the practical criteria by which species may be recognized at any one time. Ecological or biological (reproductive) criteria may help in the practical recognition of species. Ecological and biological species concepts are also needed to explain why cladistic species exist as distinct lineages, and to explain what exactly takes place during a speciation event. The ecological and biological species concepts work only as sub-theories of the cladistic species concept and if taken by themselves independently of cladism they are liable to blunder. The biological species concept neither provides a better explanation of species indivudualism than the ecological species concept, nor, taken by itself, can the biological species concept even be reconciled with species individualism. Taking the individuality of species seriously requires subordinating the biological, to the cladistic, species concept.

Key Words

Cladism species 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1989

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mark Ridley
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of ZoologyCambridgeU.K.

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