[Essentialism and typological thinking in biological systematics]

L N Vasil'eva
Zhurnal ObshcheÄ­ Biologii 2003, 64 (2): 99-111
In biological literature, essentialism and typological thinking are believed to be incompatible with evolutionary ideas. At present, the same considerations underlay the claims to abandon the Linnaean hierarchy, or the fundamental classificatory structure rooted in essentialism. This paper suggests to reconsider the negative views of Plato's typology and Aristotle's essentialism following the narrow interpretations that have nothing to do with the classification of living beings. Plato's theory of 'ideas' (or 'forms') is the basis of classificatory theory; it provided such concepts as 'species', 'genus', 'essence', 'dichotomous division' but the development of this theory in the framework of moral and esthetic values could not be beneficial to biology. Aristotle's essentialism is more complicated and exists in two forms; one of these, or classificatory essentialism, is a modification of Plato's typology; another one, or organismal essentialism, represents the shift of 'essence' from the world of relations between objects to the realm of particular things, where the concept of essence lost its basic meaning. It is senseless to look for unreal 'type of an organism' ('essence of a thing') but precisely this kind of essentialism is attractive for biologists and philosophers. Organismal essentialism is the underlying basis of so-called 'individuality thesis' that is used as a weapon against classificatory essentialism. The same thesis is associated with an extensional vision of taxa that also explains the criticism of Linnaean hierarchy, while the latter is the intentional structure and the first tool suggested for the rank coordination of many unequal taxa.

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