Species as "Hypotheses"

Frederick W. Schueler bckcdb at ISTAR.CA
Thu Jul 15 13:44:13 CDT 2004


Richard Pyle wrote:

> So, basically, my original question has been answered:  When people assert that "a species is an hypothesis", it is always understood that it is only an hypothesis in the context of a specified objective "concept" of species (Biological, Evolutionary, Phylogenetic, etc.).  My response to that is hard to summarize in words, but boils down to "Why bother?" (in light of the logical problems with each of these major species "concepts", and the lack of universal acceptance of any one of them, and the practical difficulties associated with testing each of them for each proposed species, and the almost complete lack of explicitly stating which species "concept" is implied whenever any taxonomic or other biological publication makes reference to any species....etc., etc.).

* I find this in my file of maxims: "It is certainly true that the
biological species concept is not very operational, but, as I have
argued elsewhere, no theoretically significant concept in science is."
Hull, 1979. There's a lot of buffering between any high-level scientific
theory and the predictions that actually allow it to be tested.

The problem is that while hypotheses can often be tested only in the
right circumstances every organism requires a name, which implies
membership in a species. The classic allopatric indeterminancy of
species status under the biological 'concept' is a flagrant example.

Species 'concepts' might be better phrased as theories, so the
biological species theory would be something like "patterns of
interpopulational difference among sexually reproducing organisms are
mostly due to barriers to interbreeding between closely related
sympatric populations." But like lots of theories, you can't test that
everyplace where it has consequences, and sometimes you have to let the
theory dictate practice without always having the opportunity to test
it.

What's the philosophical term for a statement that's modelled on a
falsifiable hypothesis, but which doesn't happen to be falsifiable
because of historical or thechnical circumstances?

fred.
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