[Taxacom] Why stability?

Nico Franz nico.franz at asu.edu
Wed Apr 29 14:11:05 CDT 2015

Thank you, Stephen.

   I think it helps us to think of systems with different levels of
taxonomic resolution granularity as variously succeeding or failing in
providing specific reference services that we inter-subjectively need. Many
us have been trained on, even written dissertations with, the Linnaean
system. The system has apparently, and to a considerable degree, succeeded
in providing the reference services that we demand from it.

   A finer classificatory mesh can frequently provide more services than a
coarse one, if and to the extent that the mesh resolution matches up with
nested sets of entities in nature. If the mesh is too fine, or over time
the abundance of changes (almost a direct consequence of high initial
resolution) becomes hard to track for us cognitively, then this a
constraint from the other side.

   Linnaeus, who to my understanding was perhaps more in the business of
mesh formalization (qua ranks) than resolution fine-tuning (having worked
off of a rich body of pre-existing, working taxonomic meshes), promoted a
certain degree of granularity. Had that proposal been utterly unworkable
for our minds and reference needs, and/or corresponded only minimally with
select, hierarchically sustained phenomena in nature, then I'd hope (not
being much of a relativist about systematics) that we would've come to
adjust the resolution level; maybe along the lines of your bird proposal.
Given the way we are, and the way nature is, I believe that many
alternative systems would provide fewer important reference services to us,
and so it is not accidental that we are not switching over to them.

Cheers, Nico

P.s.: A related reference:

On Tue, Apr 28, 2015 at 4:32 PM, Stephen Thorpe <stephen_thorpe at yahoo.co.nz>

> Richard:
> But genera have arbitrary boundaries, at least in part. Lumping vs.
> splitting is entirely subjective, independently of any phylogenetic
> considerations (such as paraphyly). We could have 1 genus for all birds,
> for example, and it would be a monophyletic genus.
> Stephen

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