International Society for History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Biology

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FRIDAY, JULY 10  /  11:00 - 12:30  /  DS-1520
Individual papers
Making Biological Categories: Species and other kinds

Race: The very idea of a biological basis

Christopher Clarke** (University of Cambridge, United Kingdom)

Geneticists know that the connection between genetics and race is a relatively loose one. There is no gene for example that is possessed by (almost) all people racialized as Asian, but that is possessed by (almost) no people racialized as Native American. Philosophers such as Appiah, Glasgow, Mills, Root, Sundstrom and Zack take facts like this one to prove that race is not a “real biological kind”. It lacks a “principled biological basis”. But Andreasen, Sesardic, and Spencer argue that these anti-realists about race are too restrictive in their standards for what counts as biologically real. I provide a novel argument for Kitcher’s deflationary stance towards this debate: for any project one can distinguish between those categories/classifications that will be helpful and those that will be unhelpful in pursuing the aims of that project. But there is no aim-independent distinction, I argue, between those categories/classifications that have a biological basis and those that do not. So both sides are mistaken. Racialized categories don’t deserve to be called biologically real, but this is because nothing deserves this empty honorific. I distinguish this deflationary stance from the much more moderate stance taken by Spencer and by Kaplan and Winther.

Lineages and identity in systematics: A critique of de Queiroz

Celso Antonio Alves Neto (Leibniz Universität Hannover, Germany)

Species are traditionally seen as evolving lineages (Hull, 1978). They are taken to be population-level lines of descent which speciate, change and go extinct across evolutionary time. For instance, de Queiroz (1997, 1999) claims that all species concept in the literature tacitly agree on the ontology of species, assuming that species are biological lineages. Insofar the conflict concerning how to delimit such lineages is unsolvable, there is no more no solution to the species problem other than say that species are lineages. In this paper I criticize de Queiroz's solution to the species problem as a mean to reflect on lineages identity. My criticism assumes that the species problem is essentially about identity. First, I claim, the author promotes an ontological division of labor: species are committed to one and the same ontological status, but they are individually committed to different identity criteria. De Queiroz detaches ontological status from identity. But that is not a good way to solve the species problem in systematics, as I defend. Species problem concerns how to count species and not simply how to characterize their ontological status. My hypothesis is that de Queiroz does not take the difference between the uses of “lineage” in systematics and evolutionary biology seriously enough. As an evolutionary concept, “lineage” can be applied loosely without presupposing a unique and precise identity criterion. But if “lineage” is to be applied in systematics as a classificatory concept, this is not an option. There must be a single clear identity criteria associated to it. Such a difference can be made clear by contrasting selection-based and phylogenetic explanations, as well as appealing to the role of pattern and processes in evolution and systematics. After exploring such concepts, it will be clear that de Queiroz ontological division of labor is the wrong way to explain away the species problem.

Homologizing and other kinding practices

Catherine Kendig (Missouri Western State University, United States)

Homology is a notoriously elusive concept to pin down (Hall 1992, 2003, 2012; Love 2007; Brigandt 2007; Ereshefsky 2012; Minelli 1996, 2003). There has been sustained debate over the nature of its correspondence and the units of comparison. I address some of these debates by analysing the nature of the comparative approach through the epistemological practice of homologizing. Consideration of practice provides not only potential for further understanding of the process of homologizing but also of kinding in general, insofar as homology is a kind of kinding. I suggest that the processes of homologizing are constitutive of natural kinding activities. As such, it is the activity that precipitates what has been called “homology thinking” (Ereshefsky 2012). Although infrequently discussed in the philosophical literature, the emphasis on comparative practice is not new. A record of comparative anatomy and the identification of sameness of form in different animals has been observed and documented since Andreas Vesalius (1543) and Nehemiah Grew (1681). The extensive anatomical collections of John Hunter (1835) and Richard Owen (1843) exemplified the making, displaying, and tracking the sameness of form in different organisms. These curated collections, their identification of type specimens, and the meticulous descriptions of these served as the epistemic estate required for adjudicating whether a particular organism belonged to, or lay outside of, a particular kind. Homologizing can be understood as a set of kinding activities that continue to shape the meaning and use of homology. Investigation into historical as well as current comparative practices reveals the diversity of these kind-generating practices, the nature of correspondence, and the units of comparison.