Darwin-L Message Log 8:23 (April 1994)

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.

<8:23>From mwinsor@epas.utoronto.ca  Sun Apr 10 08:29:56 1994

From: mwinsor@epas.utoronto.ca (Mary P Winsor)
Subject: species definitions
To: darwin-l@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu (bulletin board)
Date: Sun, 10 Apr 1994 10:29:32 -0500 (EDT)

   Jim Croft, Ian Davidson recently exchanged comments on reality of
subspecies, including example of genus Eucalyptus.  For my money the
freshest clarification in many years to the age-old problem of
defining species is the recent article by our list-owner, Bob O'Hara -
but I don't have my reprint at hand.  Robert, please don't be so
modest, but give everyone the citation.
   The effect of understanding evolution is not to provide a final
definition of taxonomic categories, including the particularly
important category around the gene-pool level, but to make it obvious
why a certain percentage of cases will always be elusive and require
artificial (but not arbitrary) lines to be drawn.  Dr. O'Hara provides
and detailed and helpful analogy to the problem of detail resolution
in cartography, plus explaining how events that lie in the future as
well as past phylogeny are built into the problem.  Too much of
previous discussions has called upon the authority of formal
philosophy, for my money, whereas O'Hara's analysis is practical and
   The result, of course, is not a neat formula or criterion, but
understanding of the nature of the problem.  When Darwin said the
result of his theory would be an end to the endless disputes over
whether this or that was in essence as true species, he didn't
mean the disputants would have a key to the right answer in every
case, but that they would see that the concept of "essence" was crazy.
   Bob, copy this and put it in your tenure file too, can you? cheers,

Polly Winsor
(Mary P. Winsor, Univ. of Toronto)

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