Taxa as hypotheses

Peter Rauch peterr at VIOLET.BERKELEY.EDU
Sun Mar 19 09:26:52 CST 1995

Cross-posting of John Alroy's message from paleonet:

Date: Sat, 18 Mar 95 18:51:44 -0700
From: John Alroy <jack at homebrew.geo.Arizona.EDU>
To: paleonet at
Subject: Re: Taxa as hypotheses

Random philosophical comment in reply to Lipps. Ignore if you've had
your fill of hot air for the day.

I agree with Lipps that all taxa are hypotheses, at least in the
sense of the term he uses. I also agree that traditional taxonomy is
advantageous insofar as it helps us to keep our hypotheses clear and
reproducible by means of holotypes, priority, grammatical rules, etc.
However, because this argument applies most directly to the genus
and/or species level it does _not_ endorse the Linnean hierarchy. The
higher-taxon Linnean rank system does nothing in particular to
clarify hypotheses; all it does is impose upon us an a priori notion
that organisms fall in hierarchical groups that align into a fixed
number of ranks. As was pointed out earlier, this is a static,
non-evolutionary viewpoint and utterly unrealistic regardless of
whether you are a strict cladist when it comes to classification. If
we abolished artificial ranks, we could still apply the laws of
priority/type concept/etc. to higher taxa, thereby maintaining
clarity and increasing flexibility.

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