[Taxacom] The Reality (or not) of Species (again!)`

Jim Croft jim.croft at gmail.com
Sun Sep 14 16:57:32 CDT 2008

The question 'are species real?' is so emotionally laden because the
unspoken corollary is that if species are not 'real', then they must
be somehow 'not real', unreal, imaginary, fictional, arbitrary, and
all the rest that negative and unflavoursome to scientists.  That is
why I do not like the question.

On the other hand, if you were to ask 'are species a useful concept?'
or 'are species concepts meaningful?' you can have a more constructive
and less defensive debate - and the questions work both specifically
and generally.  Even if you regard species as a convenient politely
agreed simplification or abstraction of the detail of what is 'really'
going on at a character/genetic/molecular level and what has been
going on historically, there can be very little debate over their
utility - without them we could not communicate.

No physicist would ever ask whether light is 'real' - they would ask
the question 'is it a particle?' or 'is it a wave?' (the
hypothesis/prediction/test thingy) - and  then go on to work out that
it was both - or neither.  A philosopher, on the other hand...

It is not just a matter of semantics.  It is *all* a matter of semantics.


On Mon, Sep 15, 2008 at 1:25 AM, Curtis Clark
<jcclark-lists at earthlink.net> wrote:
> What I am saying is that it's not necessary to be discrete in order to
> be "real".
> I consider species to be real because I (used to) study their origins.
> As I pointed out to Tom, that would be pretty silly if species were
> imaginary. I consider species and individuals both to be real because
> both genealogy and phylogeny seem to be useful models of specific parts
> of evolutionary history, and yet they consist of different patterns,
> which implies a difference in process.

Jim Croft
jim.croft at gmail.com

"Words, as is well known, are the great foes of reality."
- Joseph Conrad, author (1857-1924)

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