Biology & Philosophy

, Volume 27, Issue 2, pp 159–177 | Cite as

Pheneticism reconsidered

  • Tim LewensEmail author


The pheneticist philosophy holds that biological taxa are clusters of entities united by a form of all-things-considered resemblance. This view of taxonomy has come in for almost universal criticism from philosophers, and has received little praise from biologists, over the past 30 years or so. This article defends a modest pheneticism, understood as part of a pluralist view of taxonomy. First, phenetic approaches to taxonomy are alive and well in biological practice, especially in the areas of microbiology and botany. Second, the pheneticist notion of overall similarity is defensible, and is implicitly endorsed even by those (such as Quine) usually implicated in attacks on similarity. Third, there are limited biological domains within which pheneticism’s conception of species as kinds (rather than heterogeneous individuals) remains applicable.


Taxonomy Pheneticism Pluralism Species Microbiology 



The research leading to these results has received funding from the European Research Council under the European Union's Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013)/ ERC Grant agreement no 284123. A version of this paper was presented at the CLMPS, Nancy, in July 2011. I am grateful to the organisers and the audience for comments. For more detailed feedback I would like to thank an anonymous referee, Kim Sterelny, Jonathan Birch, Joeri Witteveen, and especially Nick Jardine, to whom this article is dedicated.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of History and Philosophy of ScienceUniversity of CambridgeCambridgeUK

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