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Darwin and the Nature of Species

David N. Stamos

Publication Year: 2007

Since the 1859 publication of On the Origin of Species, the concept of “species” in biology has been widely debated, with its precise definition far from settled. And yet, amazingly, there have been no books devoted to Charles Darwin’s thinking on the term until now. David N. Stamos gives us a groundbreaking, historical reconstruction of Darwin’s detailed, yet often misinterpreted, thoughts on this complex concept. Stamos provides a thorough and detailed analysis of Darwin’s extensive writings, both published and unpublished, in order to reveal Darwin’s actual species concept. Stamos argues that Darwin had a unique evolutionary species concept in mind, one that was not at all a product of his time. Challenging currently accepted views that believe Darwin was merely following the species ascriptions of his fellow naturalists, Stamos works to prove that this prevailing, nominalistic view should be overturned. This book also addresses three issues pertinent to the philosophy of science: the modern species problem, the nature of concept change in scientific revolutions, and the contextualist trend in professional history of science.

Published by: State University of New York Press

Series: SUNY series in Philosophy and Biology

Darwin and the Nature of Species

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pp. i-v


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pp. vii

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pp. ix-xviii

The year 1859 marks the beginning of an enormous earthquake, an earthquake that shook the world and continues to shake it to this very day. The earthquake and the consequent tremors were not caused by the gradual shift and strain of conflicting ideas, but by a sudden impact, the publication of On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin. It started a revolution in thinking, an enormous paradigm shift, the implications of which are still ...


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pp. xix

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1. A History of Nominalist Interpretation

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pp. 1-20

Ever since the publication of Darwin’s Origin, biologists, historians, and philosophers have interpreted Darwin as being a species nominalist. Species nominalism is the view that species are not real, that they are not out there in nature, existing irrespective of observation, but rather that they are man-made, like monetary currency or constellations, so that, from an objective, naturalistic point of view, they are real in name only.

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2. Taxon, Category, and Laws of Nature

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pp. 21-35

As pointed out earlier, in the literature on the modern species problem arguably the most fundamental distinction is between species as a taxon and species as a category. Species taxa are particular species and are given binomial names such as Tyrannosaurus rex and Homo sapiens. It is species taxa that evolve, that speciate, that have ranges, that are broad-niched or narrow-niched, and that become endangered or extinct.

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3. The Horizontal/Vertical Distinction and the Language Analogy

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pp. 37-63

If one surveys the modern literature on the species problem, one will find a number of distinctions that together define the debate. Two, of course, are realism versus nominalism and species as a category versus species as a taxon, both of which have been dealt with in the previous two chapters. Two others are species as classes versus species as individuals and species as ...

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4. Common Descent and Natural Classification

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pp. 65-79

It might be thought that Darwin’s emphasis on genealogy for classification, on common descent, completely undermines the analysis in the previous chapter. For example, in the Origin Darwin repeatedly emphasized that the “Natural System” of classification, so debated and desirously sought after by his fellow naturalists, is in fact a genealogical one. As he put it, “all true classification is genealogical; that community of descent is the hidden ...

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5. Natural Selection and the Unity of Science

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pp. 81-106

In leading up to what is for Darwin the most important criterion in species delimitation, it will be useful to look at the main feature of John Beatty’s theory, which as we shall see in chapter 8 has become the received view. Following Ghiselin’s (1969) view that Darwin was a species taxa though not species category realist, so that Darwin’s nominalistic definitions of “species” applied only to the species category, Beatty (1985) provided a ...

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6. Not Sterility, Fertility, or Niches

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pp. 107-130

We have seen in the previous chapter, specifically in the case of primroses and cowslips, that Darwin gave sterility between the two forms as one of his reasons (the last) for why they should be considered specifically distinct. But how seriously should we take this? We shall see in this chapter that we should not take it seriously at all. The other side of the coin, fertility, which I shall take to be shorthand for intrafertility, is we shall see no more a part ...

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7. The Varieties Problem

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pp. 131-151

Given, as we have seen, that Darwin thought species are real, also that he thought varieties are incipient species, the species problem then becomes, when studying Darwin, the varieties problem. If species are real and varieties are incipient species, then varieties would have to in some sense be real too. In this chapter we shall compare Darwin’s view on varieties with those of his contemporaries. The latter topic especially is important as a ...

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8. Darwin’s Strategy

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pp. 153-186

If the previous analysis is basically correct, it raises the obvious question of why Darwin would define “species” nominalistically, both taxa and category. If he was indeed a realist, it seems extremely odd that he would do this, especially since it is duplicitous and he was, after all, a man of honor. In this chapter I will develop and defend a novel answer to this problem. Since Darwin, as far as is known, never provided an explicit answer to this ...

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9. Concept Change in Scientific Revolutions

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pp. 187-205

The case of Darwin on the nature of species presents a major example of concept change during a scientific revolution. It becomes even more interesting if we add to it the species problem from the time of Darwin to the present. At any rate, if we compare scientific revolutions to mass extinctions, the Darwinian revolution must rank among the top five, possibly as number one, comparable to the Permian extinction. Of course, just as with ...

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10. Darwin and the New Historiography

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pp. 207-229

In this chapter I wish to take the analysis presented in the first eight chapters and use it to deal in a particular way with a small number of representatives of what may rightly be called in professional history of science “the new historiography.” This is definitely not meant to include all or possibly even most professional historians of science flourishing in the past few decades, including those who focus on Darwin and topics Darwinian.


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pp. 231-247


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pp. 249-265


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pp. 267-273

E-ISBN-13: 9780791480885
Print-ISBN-13: 9780791469378
Print-ISBN-10: 0791469379

Page Count: 293
Illustrations: 1 figure
Publication Year: 2007

Series Title: SUNY series in Philosophy and Biology