John Grehan jgrehan at TPBMAIL.NET
Sun Jun 20 11:54:32 CDT 2004

A Richard writes as an authority on post modernism I would not presume to
say his wrong about Derrida, but my understanding of Derrida's work, from
both reading the stuff (to some small degree as I am not a literary
theorist and admittedly not well grounded in philosophy) is that it
represents a different tradition to that of post-modernism. If
post-modernism is the primacy and value of cultural differences then this
would seem to be problematic for Derrida's work in that Derrida's analysis
is constrained by the primacy of what some have identified as the 'logic of
the text'. The text (writing in all its forms) places limits on the
analysis, and the nature of the text is not culturally constrained
(although one might argue that the analysis is). So in this sense
commentators have identified Derrida as part of the enlightenment
rationalist movement and in this context appears to be concordant with my
understanding of science (which is probably eccentric according to one list
contributor). It has been demonstrated that Derrida's concepts of presence
and absence, for example, are elements of biological structure and
represent the foundations of spatial analysis in panbiogeography. For a
large part, the association of Derrida with postmodernism may have more to
do with being ideologically co-opted than a necessary methodological
relationship (which might parallel what I see as the molecular co-opting of

When it comes to the question of definitions do not see the problem being
one of whether one may need to refer to definitions, its just that
definitions of themselves are not really the solution scientific problems
(although this has been attempted in fields as diverse as plant morphology
and speciation). In research programs definitions are the end product
rather than the beginning of an analysis, and as such they tell one no more
than what one already knows because they summarize what has been learned.
Thus, the exchange of views on what might definite phenetics, for example,
is productive if both parties have a similar understanding of the frame of
reference for the different definitions of the term. If they do not, no
amount of defining is going  to resolve anything. For example, I could
define a node as a center of incongruence without that doing much of
anything for anybody apart from a few who have perhaps some familiarity
with the context. Definitions are too often used as an educational hammer
to mold students into parroting the authority of the times.

John Grehan

At 09:27 AM 6/16/04 -0500, Richard.Zander at MOBOT.ORG wrote:
>John Grehan has mentioned Derrida in the past, and his (below) recent
>message is rather postmodernist. Postmodernists recognize e.g. the primacy
>and value of cultural differences and extremists go to the length of saying
>that aboriginal science is every bit as valid as modernist science. Thus,
>science is dead. Every cultural group has different definitions and
>practical applications of "science." The only thing one can do, across
>cultural boundaries, is negotiate as all thought processes and philosophies
>and sciences are perfectly valid.
>Oh, oh. Most of us cherish BOTH the Enlightenment belief that knowledge and
>science apply to everyone and can further easily definable human progress,
>AND cultural beliefs and activities need respect and preservation. Somewhere
>along the line, though, definitions must be decided on and respected OR the
>exchange is merely a negotiation. If a negotiation, then exactly what is
>being negotiated, John?
>Those avid for more on postmodernism and cladistics may visit my Jeremiad
>Richard H. Zander
>Bryology Group
>Missouri Botanical Garden
>PO Box 299
>St. Louis, MO 63166-0299
>richard.zander at <mailto:richard.zander at>
>Voice: 314-577-5180
>Fax: 314-577-9595
>Bryophyte Volumes of Flora of North America:
>Res Botanica:
>Shipping address for UPS, etc.:
>Missouri Botanical Garden
>4344 Shaw Blvd.
>St. Louis, MO 63110
>-----Original Message-----
>From: John Grehan [mailto:jgrehan at SCIENCEBUFF.ORG]
>Sent: Tuesday, June 15, 2004 8:14 AM
>Subject: Re: [TAXACOM] Characters.
>If one wants to be ruled by definitions of one's choice then one is
>always going to have trouble - but that trouble is not mine. Definitions
>of terms always vary and always will. Witness various discussions on
>this list arguing over differences of opinion about definitions of
>various terms (and not just cladistics). And 'newer' terminology is not
>necessarily any less confused than older and, in the example cited by
>Don, does not change anything (it was clear that Don understood what I
>was talking about). Even in panbiogeography there is more than one
>definition of, for example, a node. In the end definitions don't matter.
>It's also ironic to see some berate my supposed lack of cladistic
>understanding only to see others disagree with their supposedly
>authoritative position.
>John Grehan
>-----Original Message-----
>From: Taxacom Discussion List [mailto:TAXACOM at LISTSERV.NHM.KU.EDU] On
>Behalf Of Don.Colless at CSIRO.AU
>Oh dear. Here we go again, on an unacknowledged distinction between
>"character" and "character state"! In the latter terminology only a
>CHARACTER STATE can be primitive, etc. If John wishes to adhere to an
>older, confused terminology, it's his privilege to do so - but he's
>going to find trouble in discussions in TAXACOM.
>Don Colless,
>Div of Entomology, CSIRO,
>GPO Box 1700,
>Canberra. 2601.
>Email: don.colless at
>Tuz li munz est miens envirun

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