, Volume 81, Issue 4, pp 795–816 | Cite as

The Mystery of the Triceratops’s Mother: How to be a Realist About the Species Category

  • Adrian Mitchell Currie
Original Article


Can we be realists about a general category but pluralists about concepts relating to that category? I argue that paleobiological methods of delineating species are not affected by differing species concepts, and that this underwrites an argument that species concept pluralists should be species category realists. First, the criteria by which paleobiologists delineate species are ‘indifferent’ to the species category. That is, their method for identifying species applies equally to any species concept. To identify a new species, paleobiologists show that interspecies processes, such as phenotypic plasticity (including pathology), sexual dimorphism, or ontogenetic diversity, are a worse explanation of the variance between specimens than intraspecies processes. As opposed to operating under a single or plurality of species concepts, then, paleobiologists use abductive inferences, which would be required regardless of any particular species concept. Second, paleobiologists are frequently interested in large-scale, long-term morphological patterns in the fossil record, and resolving the fine-grained differences which result from different species concepts is irrelevant at those scales. I argue that this claim about paleobiological practice supports what I call ‘indifference realism’ about the species category. The indifference realist argues that when legitimate investigation is indifferent to a plurality of concepts, we should be realists about the category those concepts pertain to.


Scientific Practice Species Concept Species Category Biological Species Concept Virtuous Agent 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



Brandan Holter, David Liebesman, Marc Ereshefsky and two anonymous referees provided extremely helpful feedback, as did the audience at the 2014 Boston Colloquim on philosophy of paleontology.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Philosophy DepartmentUniversity of CalgaryCalgaryCanada

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