Nico M. Franz nmf2 at CORNELL.EDU
Wed Nov 12 09:09:36 CST 2003

    I think Locke was one of the main players in the nominalist (as opposed
to essentialist) tradition. A more contemporary view would be that both
humans AND the world make up the content of definitions, and perhaps the
world has the final say. That would explain why some definitions last as
theoretical explanations (pre-/post-Darwinian) change, others get
successively refined in light of better evidence, and still others change

    In order to propose a name for an evolutionary entity and use it
reliably it's not required to have an even remotely accurate definition.
This was illustrated by Kripke (1980, Naming and Necessity). We can simply
point at something, give it a name, and then pass this on from generation
to generation. Yet that something may well have a reality going beyond our
chain of communication. Of course we may also be wrong. It's the business
of science to find out what that reality is. Getting the definition right
(enough) can often come much later than getting the name right.

    To complicate matters, the "naturalness" of entities is partly
constituted by how much using them contributes to progress in particular
disciplines. It would make sense for bacteriologists to use different
naming procedures to the extent that evolutionary processes really are
different in comparison to vertebrates.

 >From: "B.J.Tindall" <bti at DSMZ.DE>
 >I agree that you can't directly compare a sexually reproducing vertebrate
 >with an asexually reproducing prokaryote, but as John Locke said in 1689:
 >"The boundaries of the species, whereby men sort them, are made by men."
 >True, there are units out there, in nature, which have separated themselves
 >from other units, and tend to be part of one gene pool, but the problem is
 >to define what constitutes that "unit". It is a bit like defining the
 >metre. There is no "natural" definition, so we set the definition and then
 >you can accurately define any fraction or multiple of it.

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