The Botanical Review

, 69:93 | Cite as

The illogical basis of phylogenetic nomenclature

  • Roberto A. Keller
  • Richard N. Boyd
  • Quentin D. Wheeler


The current advocacy for the so-called PhyloCode has a history rooted in twentieth-century arguments among biologists and philosophers regarding a putative distinction between classes and individuals. From this seemingly simple and innocuous discussion have come supposed distinctions between definitions and diagnosis, classification and systematization, and now Linnaean and “phylogenetic” nomenclature. Nevertheless, the metaphysical dichotomy of class versus individual, insofar as its standard applications to the issue of biological taxonomy are concerned, is an outdated remnant of early logical positivist thinking. Current views on natural kinds and their definitions under a scientific realist perspective provide grounds for rejecting the class versus individual dichotomy altogether insofar as biological entities are concerned. We review the role of natural kinds in scientific practice and the nature of definitions and scientific classifications. Although inherent instabilities of the PhyloCode are clearly sufficient to argue against the general application of this nominally phylogenetic system, our goal here is to address serious and fundamental flaws in its very foundation by exposing the unsubstantiated philosophical assumptions preceding and subtending it.


Botanical Review Natural Kind Natural Kind Term Homeostatic Property Cluster Nominalist Conception 
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.


Las propuestas actuales en favor del llamado Código de Nomenclatura Filogenética (Phylo-Code) tienen una historia basada en argumentos desarrollados, durante el siglo veinte, por biólogos y filósofos sobre una distinción putativa entre clases e individuos. De esta simple y aparentemente inocua discusión han surgido supuestas distinciones entre definición y diagnosis, clasificación y sistematización, y ahora entre nomenclatura Lineana y “filogenética.” Sin embargo, la dicotomía metafísica clase contra individuo, al menos en lo concerniente a su aplicación estándar al tema de taxonomía biológica, es un remanente obsoleto del pensamiento positivista lógico. Opiniones actuales sobre categorías naturales y sus definiciones bajo la perspectiva del realismo científico proveen bases para rechazar por completo dicha dicotomía, al menos en lo que concierne a las entidades biológicas. En este artículo se revisa el papel de las categorías naturales en la práctica científica, y la naturaleza de las definiciones y la clasificación científica. Aún cuando la inestabilidad inherente en el Código de Nomenclatura Filogenética es claramente suficiente para argumentar contra la aplicación general de este sistema nominal filogenético, el objetivo de este artículo es mostrar las serias y fundamentales deficiencias en sus propias bases al exponer las suposiciones filosóficas sin fundamento que le preceden y sustentan.

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Copyright information

© The New York Botanical Garden 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  • Roberto A. Keller
    • 1
    • 3
  • Richard N. Boyd
    • 2
  • Quentin D. Wheeler
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of EntomologyCornell UniversityIthacaUSA
  2. 2.Department of PhilosophyCornell UniversityIthacaUSA
  3. 3.Division of Invertebrate ZoologyAmerican Museum of Natural HistoryNew YorkUSA

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