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Evolutionary Biology

, Volume 35, Issue 1, pp 52–82 | Cite as

Abductive Inference: Implications for ‘Linnean’ and ‘Phylogenetic’ Approaches for Representing Biological Systematization

  • Kirk Fitzhugh
Research Article

Abstract

A common claim among advocates of the ‘phylogenetic’ system of nomenclature (PN) is that the ‘Linnean’ system (LN) is defective because it fails to promote stability, universality, and unambiguous meaning in the naming of phylogenetic hypotheses. This claim rests on the premise that biological systematization should be phylogenetic. The foundation for systematization lies beyond the principles of phylogenetics, as systematization is a goal common to all fields of science. Namely, that explanatory hypotheses should be communicated as accurately as possible. The basis for this claim is established through a brief review of the relations between causal questions and the abductive inferences that lead to phylogenetic hypotheses. Six implications ensue from this analysis. (1) The LN requirement that species hypotheses be presented in conjunction with genus-level (phylogenetic) hypotheses is unfounded. The basis for the inference of a species hypothesis stands entirely separate from any phylogenetic hypothesis. (2) Monotypic supraspecific hypotheses have no epistemic basis. (3) While comparisons of phylogenetic hypotheses based on rank assignments in the LN are denied for the fact that these distinct explanatory accounts are irrelevant to one another, this does not preclude the use of ranks. The ranking of hypotheses has the utility of communicating their relative explanatory inclusiveness. But, since there are no requirements that all hypotheses be formally named, there can be no consistent application of ranks, thereby obviating their use. (4) The argument for nomenclatural stability, used by advocates of both the LN and PN, is shown to be an arbitrary and unfounded criterion. (5) The distinctions between diagnosis, description, and definition are examined in light of the abductive nature of phylogenetic inference. The classes of definition promoted by advocates of the PN, i.e., node-, stem-, and apomorphy-based, are shown to be defective. (6) The association of species and phylogenetic hypotheses with types in the LN and specifiers in the PN is shown to be inadequate. The basis for formal names that represent species and phylogenetic hypotheses is the totality of observed specimens that prompted inferences of those hypotheses. Finally, universality and unambiguous meaning are shown to be unnecessary criteria, as each is subsumed by the broader principles of abductive inference.

Keywords

Abductive inference Linnean system Biological nomenclature PhyloCode Phylogenetics Systematics 

Notes

Acknowledgments

Thanks go to Drs. Ángel Valdés and Brian Brown, Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, for discussions and comments on an earlier version of this paper. An earlier version of this paper was submitted to the journal Cladistics. Part of the reason for not accepting it for publication was the claim by an unnamed Associate Editor that, “There is a reason, I think, that nobody besides Kirk seems very interested in abduction.” Ironically, I am reminded of C.S. Peirce’s (1934: 5.172) insight, “A man must be downright crazy to deny that science has made many true discoveries. But every single item of scientific theory which stands established today has been due to Abduction.” Fortunately, the merits of reasoning are ultimately judged by understanding, not uninformed consensus.

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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Research & Collections BranchNatural History Museum of Los Angeles CountyLos AngelesUSA

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