Darwin-L Message Log 1:214 (September 1993)

Academic Discussion on the History and Theory of the Historical Sciences

This is one message from the Archives of Darwin-L (1993–1997), a professional discussion group on the history and theory of the historical sciences.

Note: Additional publications on evolution and the historical sciences by the Darwin-L list owner are available on SSRN.

<1:214>From TREMONT%UCSFVM.BITNET@KUHUB.CC.UKANS.EDU  Sun Sep 26 13:56:29 1993

Date: Sun, 26 Sep 1993 11:42:20 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: Re: generalizations in systematics
To: darwin-l@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu

A few days ago, Brook Milligan asked (in speaking about generalizations
in biological history): "what exactly is meant
by 'generalizations?'  That is, what form would such a generalization
take and how would it relate to generalizations in other branches of

I think this is a very important question, for the historical sciences
(and the brnaches of natural history) don't generalize the same way
that the physical sciences do.

I'd like to propose a partial answer to Millgan's question. Natural
history disciplines categorize phenomena (e.g., the classification of
taxa in botany and zoology; the parts of the body in anatomy, regions
in geography, strata in historical geology, and so on). Generalizations
in this way of doing research are "rules" or "principles" which associate
parts of one classification with parts of another. For example, Cope's
rule (proposed by paleontologist E D Cope near the end of the 19th
century) says that taxa within an evolutionary lineage tend to grow
larger over geological time. This associates the morphological classifiction
with the stratigraphic one.

Darwin's hypothesis of genealogical relationships among species is the
outstanding example of a very high-lvel generalizaiton of this sort, since
it associates the morphological, taxonomic, embryological, stratgraphic,
and geographic classifications simultaneously.

Such generalizations can be used to make many kinds of predictions. For
example, if I say that my pet is (taxonomically) a Carnivore, then
a biologist can tell us a great deal about his respiratory, circulatory,
digestive, eliminatory, etc. systems.

Elihu M. Gerson
Tremont Research Institute
458 29 Street
San Francisco, CA 94131
415-285-7837  tremont@ucsfvm.ucsf.edu

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