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

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THURSDAY, JULY 9  /  09:00 - 10:30  /  DS-M240
Individual papers
Trees and Lineages: Interdisciplinary Perspectives

The priest and the tree: Augustin Augier’s “botanical tree” (1801) as an image of divine Creation

Nils Petter Hellström (Uppsala universitet, Sweden)

The once forgotten “botanical tree” of Augustin Augier, a tree representation of the natural system, reminiscent of a natural tree and presented in analogy with a family tree, has received considerable attention since botanist Peter F. Stevens stumbled over it in the early 1980s. Originally part of Augier’s taxonomy treatise, Essai d’une nouvelle classification des végétaux (Lyon, 1801), historians of natural history and evolutionary theory have dubbed his tree the first tree in systematics, and treated it as a precursor to Darwin’s “tree of life”. Whereas the “botanical tree” has been granted much attention, the identity of its author has remained completely unknown – which has complicated attempts to place it into context. Following research by myself and colleagues in France, we have been able to reconstruct the identity of Augustin Augier de Favas, a Catholic priest of the Oratorian order, who saw in the tree the beauty, order, and perfect symmetry of divine Creation. Given that the family tree, as a model for the natural system, preceded theories of evolution, I call for a re-evaluation of the place of the tree in the history of the life sciences.

A tree of trees

Marie Fisler (Muséum national d'Histoire naturelle, France); Guillaume Lecointre (Muséum national d'Histoire naturelle, France); Pierre Darlu (Muséum national d'Histoire naturelle, France); Cédric Crémière (Muséum d'histoire naturelle du Havre, France)

In the history of science, we usually classify authors in "schools" of ideas. For example, we identify some naturalists as "Transformists", some of whome being "Darwinians" or "Lamarckians". In the twentieth century's Systematics (the science of classification), we usually distinguish "Synthetists", "Pheneticians" or "Cladists." Such categorizations are often described, but have never been formalized. In a similar way, during the history of Systematics, taxonomic groups were not formalized. This has changed in the second half of the twentieth century, with the emergence of a rigorous methodology : through coding the anatomical similarities of species into characters, by maximizing consistency among characters using a « tree », biologists could create rigorous tools (parsimonious trees) to make nested classes. With those tools, we know exactly why primates and rodents for example, belong to the mammals group, and why mammals and birds are members of the vertebrate group. We have reused these methods in order to code the similarities of ideas concerning the Tree of Life among authors. Thus, trees from 233 major works of natural history were coded. This produced a "tree of trees": a hierarchical representation of the ideas about trees shared among authors. With this tree, we formally found some already known categories, but we discovered new ones as well. We even found that some traditionally recognized groups were not homogeneous but had to be separated into two distinct “schools”. Thus, the categorization tools used in Systematics may allow the study of scientific Schools of thought. This will result to a more transparent and accurate description of the history of science.

Ontological frameworks for species pluralism

Justin Bzovy (University of Western Ontario, Canada)

Debates about what species are have been framed monistically. In a post-Darwinian context, philosophers and biologists have debated whether species are individuals (Ghiselin, 1974; Hull, 1976), natural kinds (Boyd, 1991), some mixture of both (Millikan, 1999; Rieppel, 2013), abstract sets (Kitcher, 1984; Valen, 1988), or processes (Rieppel, 2009; Dupre, 2012). Most have assumed that only one of these ontological accounts of species taxa will be correct. I take issue with this assumption by arguing that this ontological debate is not about what species taxa are, but about what sort of properties, be they historical or similarities, are more important for grouping species taxa. Given this simplification of the ontological debate, a resolution will require an interpretation of the role evolutionary theory plays. Those who stress the importance of evolutionary theory favour historical properties(e.g., Ereshefsky, 2001; Wilkins, 2003), and those who stress the importance of non-evolutionary factors or interests favour similarity properties (e.g., Dupre, 2001). I frame this debate in a pluralistic context. On my account, some species taxa may belong to different ontological categories. Different properties, historical or similarity, can be important in certain cases more than in others. Situating the ontological debate in this manner gives us a method for developing an ontological framework that is suitable to modern forms of realistic species pluralism. My approach is also particularly relevant to the development of the PhyloCode, a rankless or non-hierarchical approach to taxonomy that is meant to replace all existing taxonomic codes. Those hesitant to accept the PhyloCode have debated whether it stresses historical properties and treats species as individuals (e.g., Rieppel, 2006; Ereshefsky, 2007).