2000 years of stasis

Thomas DiBenedetto TDibenedetto at DCCMC.ORG
Fri Feb 4 16:16:24 CST 2000

Don Colless wrote
May we hope that as cladistics becomes
>even more obviously essentialistic, alarm bells will ring again.
This and Mark Garlands comments have passed right by me, I must admit. Mark
seemed to claim that cladistics is somehow essentialistic, because we dont
describe taxa anymore, but rather we "define" them. But this seems to fly in
the face of the fact that it has been cladists who have been in the
forefront of the "diagnose vs. define" debates, and very much on the side of
"diagnoses"! I mean, for example, read anything by Kluge in the past few
decades for long and extended philosophical arguments about why species and
taxa are individuals, not somehting that can be defined, but must be
diagnosed etc. etc. How on earth can cladistics be seen as essentialistic?
I think it is a rather strange perspective on essentialism to claim that
recognizing taxa as appertaining to real historical lineages is somehow to
be essentialistic.

I am also puzzeled by the remark "...I am looking at morphological
discontinuities in a limited part of the world, and putting morphologically
similar things into groups within groups. Sounds like folk biology to me...
Doesn't have a whole lot to do with identifying apomorphies and
plesiomorphies. "
Puzzeled because I constantly heard my cladist teachers referring to their
work as "erecting groups within groups based on [detailed] morphological
similarities and differences". Find a root on that system of groups within
groups and voila, you have identified apomorphies and plesiomorphies.

Finally, Tom Lammers writes that it is molecular biology which is really
responsible for introducing essentialism in systematics (I find that
intriguing), but then claims that cladistics and molbbio are thus understood
to be cozy bedfellows. Meanwhile, I and the other cladists I know and love
are engaged in a decades long struggle with many molecular biologists over
issues of methodology and the importance of organismic understanding. The
cladists I know would be absolutely the last people I could think of to
claim that molecuolar sequences somehow represented the "underlying
essential truth" that the phenotype somehow obscures.

I guess I am seeing cladistics being attacked for many reasons that dont
seem to me to have much to do with what I understand cladistics to be.
Whats goin' on here folks?

Tom DiBenedetto
tdib at dccmc.org

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