Taxonomy and Philosophy of Names

  title={Taxonomy and Philosophy of Names},
  author={Mikael H{\"a}rlin and Per Sundberg},
  journal={Biology and Philosophy},
Although naming biological clades is a major activity in taxonomy, little attention has been paid to what these names actually refer to. In philosophy, definite descriptions have long been considered equivalent to the meaning of names and biological taxonomy is a scientific application of these ideas. One problem with definite descriptions as the meanings of names is that the name will refer to whatever fits the description rather than the intended individual (clade). Recent proposals for… 

Taxonomic names and phylogenetic trees

This paper addresses the issue of philosophy of names within the context of biological taxonomy, more specifically how names refer. By contrasting two philosophies of names, one that is based on the

Phylogenetic hypotheses, taxonomic sameness and the reference of taxon names

It is argued that a taxon name does not primarily refer to a single clade that somehow mirror the reality of branches in the tree of life, and it is suggested that aTaxon name refers to a set, or natural kind, of counterfactual and reconstructed clades.

Biological taxon names are descriptive names

An alternative account of reference for biological nomenclature in which taxon names are understood as descriptive names is argued, using the ‘DN account’ to focus on the debate between Matt Haber and Joeri Witteveen concerning misidentification of type specimens, misapplication of names, and the truth conditions of Joseph LaPorte’s de dicto necessary sentence.

Taxon names as paradigms: the structure of nomenclatural revolutions

It is argued that the two systems of phylogenetic nomenclature hitherto proposed represent, in a generalized sense, two different philosophies for how science develops and progresse.

A review of criticisms of phylogenetic nomenclature: is taxonomic freedom the fundamental issue?

It is argued that the form of taxonomic freedom inherent in phylogenetic nomenclature is appropriate to phylogenetic taxonomy, in which taxa are considered historical entities that are discovered through phylogenetic analysis and are not human constructs.

The PhyloCode: a critical discussion of its theoretical foundation

  • O. Rieppel
  • Philosophy
    Cladistics : the international journal of the Willi Hennig Society
  • 2006
It is shown that the thesis of “rigid designation” if deployed in taxonomy introduces a new essentialism into systematics, which is exactly what the PhyloCode was designed to avoid.

Proposal of an integrated framework of biological taxonomy: a phylogenetic taxonomy, with the method of using names with standard endings in clade nomenclature

An integrated framework of biological taxonomy is proposed, in which the advantages of phylogenetic taxonomy and traditional, Linnaean nomenclature, together with the temporal banding methods are synthesized, without deteriorating the strength of theoretical coherence.

Should taxon names be explicitly defined?

The current system of nomenclature is better able to handle new and unexpected changes in ideas about taxonomic relationships, and greater flexibility in the names themselves makes the current system better designed for use by all users of taxon names.

Ceci n'est pas une pipe: names, clades and phylogenetic nomenclature

It is argued that taxon names under the Linnaean system are unclear in meaning and provide unstable group–name associations, notwithstanding whether or not there are agreements on relationships, and that species should not be recognized as taxonomic units.

On the relationship between content, ancestor, and ancestry in phylogenetic nomenclature

These concepts are tightly linked and that they cannot be separated as suggested by Bryant and Cantino and the basic assumption in phylogenetic nomenclature that a taxon name always refers to the same ancestor or ancestry is questionable.



Phylogenetic classification and the definition of taxon names

The Linnean categories are considered poorly suited to convey the information in evolutionary trees, and it is suggested that these categories are abandoned.

Phylogeny as a Central Principle in Taxonomy: Phylogenetic Definitions of Taxon Names

Defining the names of taxa in terms of common ancestry, that is, using phylogenetic definitions of taxon names, departs from a tradition of character-based definitions by granting the concept of

Phylogenetic definitions and taxonomic philosophy

It is shown that the names of individuals (composite wholes) can be defined in terms of necessary and sufficient properties provides the foundation for a synthesis of seemingly incompatible positions held by contemporary individualists and essentialists concerning the nature of taxa and the definitions of taxon names.

Replacement of an Essentialistic Perspective on Taxonomic Definitions as Exemplified by the Definition of “Mammalia”

The replacement of an essentialistic perspective on the definitions of "Mam? malia" and other taxon names by a more nominalistic one is associated with the development of a phylogenetic perspective on biological nomenclature and represents an important step in theDevelopment of a more broadly scientific approach to that subject.


Conventions can promote universality in the formation, definition, and usage of taxon names in phylogenetic taxonomy and help to promote the ac- ceptance of phylogeneticTaxonomy by biologists.

Phylogenetic taxonomy–some comments

Some of the practical issues in a phylogenetic taxonomy are focused on, and some alternative solutions to problems acknowledged in previous papers are suggested.

The Metaphysics of Evolution

  • D. Hull
  • Philosophy
    The British Journal for the History of Science
  • 1967
Extreme variation in the meaning of the term “species” throughout the history of biology has often frustrated attempts of historians, philosophers and biologists to communicate with one another about

A Radical Solution to the Species Problem

Hull (1974) has lately endorsed the idea that, from the point of view of evolutionary theory, biological species and monophyletic taxa are individuals, and Mayr (1969a), while not going so far, strongly emphasizes the point that species are more than just nominal classes.

Naming and Necessity

I hope that some people see some connection between the two topics in the title. If not, anyway, such connections will be developed in the course of these talks. Furthermore, because of the use of