Re: A review of "The Selfish Meme"

From: John Wilkins (
Date: Wed 01 Jun 2005 - 02:42:35 GMT

  • Next message: Scott Chase: "Re: data, information and knowledge"

    On 01/06/2005, at 11:47 AM, Scott Chase wrote:

    > --- John Wilkins <> wrote:
    >> On 01/06/2005, at 11:09 AM, Scott Chase wrote:
    >>> ...

    >>> John foaming at the mouth if he's reading this :-)
    >> Fortunately I'm not. But while not reading this, let
    >> me not make this
    >> point: The view you are referring to is basically
    >> that of the
    >> nominalists (all general terms are flatus vocus -
    >> breath of the
    >> voice), or conventionalism, a view that arises, so
    >> far as I can tell,
    >> with Locke.
    >> In modern biological taxonomy, this is what I call
    >> species denial. A
    >> species is just some handy tag we assign to
    >> organisms to help
    >> communication between scientists. I have some
    >> sympathy for it,
    >> although I reject it.
    > Likewise, essentialism has its allure too, but can be
    > taken too far. We have Owen's vertebrate and Goethe's
    > leaf, but each must be historicized, via homology and
    > the common ancestor. There are phylum level
    > conceptualizations in evo-devo that I remember like
    > the phylotypic stage of pharyngula (doesn't somebody
    > have a website named after this one?). These phylum
    > level distinctions would give most nominalists a
    > severe case of wheezing and hives. Essentialism and
    > nominalism represent a tension of opposites.

    Essentialism is overrated. A recent book by Ron Amundson argues that it was never a precondition for taxonomy in biology, and I agree with him. In fact, the ideal morphologists were not essentialists at all. It's well worth a read, and I have a short review up on my blog

    Paul Myers has, which has excellent discussions of development (and politics, if you are into that sort of thing). Just don't tell him I sent you...

    Oh, and the book:

    Amundson, Ron. 2005. The changing rule of the embryo in evolutionary biology: structure and synthesis, Cambridge studies in philosophy and biology. New York: Cambridge University Press.

    John S. Wilkins, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Biohumanities Project
    University of Queensland - Blog:
    "Darwin's theory has no more to do with philosophy than any other
    hypothesis in natural science." Tractatus 4.1122
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