Acta Biotheoretica

, Volume 57, Issue 1–2, pp 171–186 | Cite as

Explanation and Falsification in Phylogenetic Inference: Exercises in Popperian Philosophy

  • Arnold G. KlugeEmail author
Regular Article


Deduction leads to causal explanation in phylogenetic inference when the evidence, the systematic character, is conceptualized as a transformation series. Also, the deductive entailment of modus tollens is satisfied when those kinds of events are operationalized as patristic difference. Arguments to the contrary are based largely on the premise that character-states are defined intensionally as objects, in terms of similarity relations. However, such relations leave biologists without epistemological access to the causal explanation and explanatory power of historical statements. Moreover, the prediction-making to which those kinds of relations are limited in practice can lead to a category error—the mental conversion of an abstraction (the classes defined in terms of similarity relations) into a thing (such as an historical individual). The latter practices and problems characterize pattern cladistics, taxa being interpreted as homeostatic property cluster natural kinds, and other instrumentalist research programs.


Evolution Falsification Modus tollens Parsimony Phylogenetics Popper Similarity Transformation series 



Although we may not completely agree, I benefited from the criticisms and editorial suggestions provided by James Carpenter, Prosanta Chakrabarty, Taran Grant, Laura Howard, Alistair McGowan and Francisco Vergara-Silva. Demands for clarification from anonymous reviewers were especially useful. This paper was written and revised at the Cladistics Institute, Harbor Springs, MI.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Ann ArborUSA

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