Traits and/or states

Thomas Lammers lammers at VAXA.CIS.UWOSH.EDU
Fri Oct 31 15:03:46 CST 2003

At 11:31 AM 10/31/03 -0800, Kirk Fitzhugh wrote:
>The concern I have had with the "character" and "state" distinction is that
>it is not consistent with the nature of observation. What we observe are
>objects by way of their properties (= character, attribute, trait), and
>these are communicated by subject-predicate relations. For instance, I
>cannot observe "number of digits." But I can observe that the distal ends
>of some set of appendages (subject) have five digits (predicate). The
>"character," "number of digits," and the "state," "five," cannot represent
>subject-predicate relations denoting observations since "number of digits"
>does not represent the subject observed. What are observed are subjects
>called appendages with the property (= character, attribute, trait) of five
>digits. The cell of a data matrix for species X must code the observation
>that individuals in this class have appendages with five digits. The cell
>is not simply a "state;" the cell summarizes observations.

Yet despite this problem, the simplistic concept embraced by so many of us
("characters are divided into states") actually seems to WORK, despite it's
allegedly flawed philosophical basis.

Call me a simple-minded pragmatist if you will, but that to me seems more
important than cleaving to some rigid theoretical / philosophical paradigm.

Thomas G. Lammers, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor and Curator of the Herbarium (OSH)
Department of Biology and Microbiology
University of Wisconsin Oshkosh
Oshkosh, Wisconsin 54901-8640 USA

e-mail:       lammers at
phone:      920-424-1002
fax:           920-424-1101

Plant systematics; classification, nomenclature, evolution, and biogeography
of the Campanulaceae s. lat.

"Today's mighty oak is yesterday's nut that stood his ground."
                                                               -- Anonymous

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