[Taxacom] SUSPECT: RE: New book on species

Stephen Thorpe s.thorpe at auckland.ac.nz
Tue Sep 8 18:01:37 CDT 2009

Well, languages are vague, and English is no exception, so dictionary definitions have to be treated as a guide only
I think this dictionary uses "personal beliefs or feelings" to mean what I mean by opinions
At any rate, the important point is that opinions (in my sense) are not based on facts, but beliefs are
If two people have different opinions, then they are both (subjectively) correct (e.g., one of them thinks hokey pokey ice cream tastes horrible, the other thinks it tastes great)
If two people have different beliefs, then (at least) one of them must be wrong
My view is that taxonomy at the species level involves belief, not opinion, but at the generic and higher levels not so ...

From: Richard Zander [Richard.Zander at mobot.org]
Sent: Wednesday, 9 September 2009 3:54 a.m.
To: Stephen Thorpe; Kipling (Kip) Will; TAXACOM at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
Subject: RE: SUSPECT: RE: [Taxacom] New book on species

I looked up objective in an online dictionary (Cambridge Dictionary of American EnglishCambridge Dictionary of American English), Stephen, and it is defined as:

"not influenced by personal beliefs or feelings; fair or real.
The opposite of objective is subjective<UrlBlockedError.aspx>. "
The same dictionary indicated that subjective is:
"influenced by or based on personal beliefs or feelings, rather than based on facts
The opposite of subjective is objective (FAIR OR REAL)<UrlBlockedError.aspx>. "

Soooo, if you say opinions are subjective, that's okay to some extent, but opinions are almost always based on a hypothesis with some factual support. So opinions, particularly well-informed opinions, have an objective element. The opinion of a plumber or rocket scientist is backed up by (1) plenty of experience, and (2) his/her loss of face/funds if wrong. Same goes for a taxonomist, unless you subscribe to the postmodern idea that there is no substance in taxonomy, whose publications are just snips stuck together from other publications in different ways, making "stories" to amuse the gullible with nothing better to do.

And if beliefs are objective, why is subjective defined as "influenced by or based on personal beliefs"? I think your dichotomy is unfair (subjective), which would be objective of me if everyone accepted the dictionary definitions given above (fat chance).

I think there is always some spectrum of mixed facts and opionions involved in historical explanations like basing classification on one-time historical events (splitting lineages), but there really is such a thing as statistical certainty, well-documented observations (facts), informed opinion, and for many, many groups a consensus that traditional taxonomy has generated a good classification reflecting present-day results of past evolution in the context of the environment and its changes or sometimes long-term changelessness resulting in a good undertanding of both sister-group and ancestor-descendant relationships.

Richard H. Zander
Missouri Botanical Garden
PO Box 299
St. Louis, MO 63166 U.S.A.
richard.zander at mobot.org<mailto:richard.zander at mobot.org>

From: Stephen Thorpe [mailto:s.thorpe at auckland.ac.nz]
Sent: Mon 9/7/2009 9:53 PM
To: Richard Zander; Kipling (Kip) Will; TAXACOM at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
Subject: SUSPECT: RE: [Taxacom] New book on species

> "Fallible beliefs"? Very postmodern
No, not postmodern, just plain English made clear! I said it in the context of a discussion about whay subjectivity and opinion mean (in relation to the issues at hand)
I made the distinction between an opinion (which is subjective) and a belief (which is objective)
Some people claim that species boundaries are opinions (like genus boundaries), but I claim that they are beliefs (unlike genus boundaries)
If I identify a chimp as Homo sp., and you disagree, there is no objective basis for the disagreement, but if I identify the chimp as Homo sapiens, then I am just plain wrong!

By the way, the 'Richard' I referred to wasn't you! At least not according to my concept ... er, opinion ... er, belief ...

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