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The Metaphysics of Evolution*

Abstract

Extreme variation in the meaning of the term “species” throughout the history of biology has often frustrated attempts of historians, philosophers and biologists to communicate with one another about the transition in biological thinking from the static species concept to the modern notion of evolving species. The most important change which has underlain all the other fluctuations in the meaning of the word “species” is the change from it denoting such metaphysical entities as essences, Forms or Natures to denoting classes of individual organisms. Several authors have taken notice of the role of metaphysics in the work of particular biologists. An attempt will be made in this paper to present a systematic investigation of the role which metaphysics has played in the work of representative biologists throughout the history of biology, especially as it relates to their species concepts.

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Carolus Linnaeus , Systema Natura, facsimile of the first edition, trans, by M. S. J. Engel-Lederboer and Engel Nieuwkoop (Leyden, 1964).

R. R. Sokal and P. H. A. Sneath , Principles of Numerical Taxonomy (San Francisco, 1963).

Marjorie Grene , “Two Evolutionary Theories”, Brit. Jour. Phil. Sci., ix (1959), 110127, 185193

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The British Journal for the History of Science
  • ISSN: 0007-0874
  • EISSN: 1474-001X
  • URL: /core/journals/british-journal-for-the-history-of-science
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