Biological Theory

, Volume 7, Issue 4, pp 338–345 | Cite as

Classificatory Theory in Biology

Thematic Issue Article: The Meaning of “Theory” in Biology

Abstract

Scientific classification has long been recognized as involving a specific style of reasoning and doing research, and as occasionally affecting the development of scientific theories. However, the role played by classificatory activities in generating theories has not been closely investigated within the philosophy of science. I argue that classificatory systems can themselves become a form of theory, which I call classificatory theory, when they come to formalize and express the scientific significance of the elements being classified. This is particularly evident in some of the classification practices used in contemporary experimental biology, such as bio-ontologies used to classify genomic data and typologies used to classify “normal” stages of development in developmental biology. In this paper, I explore some characteristics of classificatory theories and ways in which they differ from other types of scientific theories and other components of scientific epistemology, such as models and background assumptions.

Keywords

Biology Bio-ontologies Classification Data Theory 

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Copyright information

© Konrad Lorenz Institute for Evolution and Cognition Research 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Sociology and Philosophy, ESRC Centre for Genomics in SocietyUniversity of ExeterExeterUK

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