Naming and classification

Richard Jensen rjensen at SAINTMARYS.EDU
Mon Mar 20 12:25:36 CST 1995

Robin Panza has raised some interesting questions.  These questions have
been dealt with extensively in the past, but I believe the discussion of
the past few days reveals that the answers are still unknown.  It seems
that the most pertinent questions are (1) what are the units we need to
classify and (2) what should our classification reflect?

A classification is, or should be, an information retrieval system.  As
such, it should reflect something in the way of natural relationships
among the objects classified.  How are these relationships to be
defined?  As most of you know, there have been extensive debates about
what system of classification best reflects natural relationships (and,
exactly what natural relationships are), but I don't believe there has
been a definitive answer to any of these questions.

We could reopen the Pandora's box of views on systems of classification,
units to be classified, etc., but that won't answer the more pertinent
question about the utility of the underlying basis for most existing
classifications.  I have seen nothing proposed here that I would view as
a desirable alternative to the current system of binomials placed in a
hierarchical framework.  The really important thing about names for kinds
of organisms is that these names, in and of themselves, provide an
immediate framework for communication.  As others have pointed out, as
soon as I know the binomial (or perhaps some higher level name), I can
make a large number of inferences about the organism in question.  I may
even be able to infer historical relationships, but that doesn't
necessarily follow.

Some more thoughts from a botanists with time to burn!

P.S. Paup is neither god nor black box.  It's just a human construct!

Dick Jensen

Richard J. Jensen      |   E-MAIL: rjensen at
Dept. of Biology       |   TELEPHONE: 219-284-4674
Saint Mary's College   |   FAX: 219-284-4716
Notre Dame, IN  46556  |

More information about the Taxacom mailing list