ArticlePDF Available
Scientific Classification
John Dupré
ESRC Centre for Genomics in Society
University of Exeter
It is often supposed that one of the goods delivered by successful science is the
right way of classifying the things in the world. Surely there is something right about
this: any body of scientific knowledge will include ways of classifying, and will not serve
its intended aims unless the classifications it embodies reflect real differences and
similarities in the world. The standard paradigm for such a successful scientific
classification is the periodic table of the elements.
But there is also much potentially wrong with the supposition just mentioned.
Most importantly, there is a highly questionable implication of there being some uniquely
best classification. Classifications are good or bad for particular purposes, and different
purposes will motivate different classifications. It may be that there is such an ideal
classification for chemistry, but if so it is because of the specific aims implicit in the
history of that discipline. Chemistry aims at the structural analysis of matter and if, as
appears to be the case, all matter is composed of a small number of structural elements, a
classification based on those elements will be best suited to these purposes. It is also
often the case that chemical structure will be the best guide to the properties of kinds of
matter. But not necessarily. Two quite distinct chemicals are referred to as ‘jade’ and
despite some serious debates on the issue, Chinese jade carvers have decided that both
are real jade (LaPorte ).
This illustrates the general point, which becomes much more obvious when we
move from chemistry to biology, that classifications devised for different goals can be
cross-cutting and overlapping (Dupré, 1993, part1). There remains among many
biologists and philosophers the hope of finding the ultimate and uniquely best
classification of organisms, most recently conceived in terms of the speciation processes
of Darwinian evolution (e.g., De Queiroz, 1999). However, it is at the same time
becoming clearer that there is very likely no such ideal classification. There is no reason
why a classification that reflects the origins of the things classified should coincide
exactly with one aimed at the ecological relations of those things, and it is increasingly
perceived that these can and do diverge (Dupré, 2002, chs. 3-4). This possibility
becomes even clearer in view of the difficulties that are emerging in the project of
evolutionary-based classification. Speciation was once seen as an all or nothing affair
leading to complete isolation of one group form another. It is now clear that for micro-
organisms, in particular, there is very little such isolation, and genetic material moves in
many ways from one kind of organism to another. In fact it has become common to
conceive of the genome of an ecosystem (the soil of an area, or a body of water) rather
than the privatised genome of an individual organism (see e.g. Venter et al., 2004). The
classical picture of speciation applies quite well to some of the most complex multi-
celled organisms, such as mammals and birds, though much less well to plants. An
important movement in biology is to transcend the anthropocentrism that takes the
peculiarities of our own corner of the living world as the model for all.
The recognition that even within science there is no objectively given
classificatory order allows the realisation that there is nothing inherently inferior about
the biological classifications developed by non-scientific folk for non-scientific purposes.
This point has been obscured for philosophers by the highly influential proposal by
Hilary Putnam (1975) that ordinary language terms for naturally occurring kinds of thing
or stuff were primitive attempts to refer to the kinds that science would eventually
delineate more accurately. My own view is that science is generally quite unable to do
this, and that ordinary language terms are generally just fine as they are for the purposes
fore which they have been developed (Dupré, 2002, chs. 1-2).
A graphic illustration of what I have in mind here can be gained from reflection
on the wisdom taught to all young children that science has discovered that whales are
not fish. No doubt this wisdom long antedates Putnam’s proposal, and shows that such
intuitions about the achievements of science are widespread. Nonetheless it is very
difficult to provide a convincing rationale for the ‘discovery that whales are not fish.
‘Whale’ in ordinary language refers to all the members of one branch of the family
Cetacea (the Baleen whales) and the larger members of the other branch (the toothed
whales). The smaller members of the latter group, dolphins and porpoises, are not
generally referred to as whales. Large cetacean is not a concept that has any great
biological significance. ‘Fish’ is much worse. Even assuming it doesn’t encompass
shellfish or jellyfish, there are three groups of aquatic vertebrates generally thought of as
fish, but groups that have diverged for hundreds of millions of years. In fact a lungfish,
being part of the aquatic lineage from which terrestrial vertebrates evolved, is more
closely related by descent to a whale (or, for that matter, a human) than it is to a salmon
or tuna. In short, since these are not significant scientific terms it is impossible to see
how science can have discovered facts about their reference.
A final problem with scientific classification raised by the formulation with which
this note began, is that ‘things’ are often distinguishable only after classification, rather
than presenting themselves to be classified in full-fledged thinginess. So for example it is
obvious to common sense that a tree is an individual thing. But from one biological
perspective a copse of elm trees, all suckers from the same root system, should be seen as
a single individual. A more interesting example is the recent development of the concept
of a gene. The more science finds out about the workings of DNA inside living cells, the
harder it is to find principled ways of dividing the DNA into components suitable for
classification into anything related to the historical meaning of ‘gene’ (Moss, 2001, Stotz
Griffiths, and Knight, 2004; Dupré 2004). Of course this is not normally a problem for
molecular biologists in the context of their professional lives, but it can lead to serious
misunderstanding of many things they say.
References
De Queiroz, K. (1999), “The General Lineage Concept of Species and the Defining
Property of the Species Category”, in R. A. Wilson (ed.), Species: New Interdisciplinary
Essays, (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press/ Bradford Books).
Dupré, J. (1993), The Disorder of Things: Metaphysical Foundations of the Disunity of
Science, (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press).
Dupré, J. (2002), Humans and Other Animals, (Oxford: Oxford University Press).
Dupré, J. “Understanding Contemporary Genomics,” Perspectives on Science, 12, 2004,
pp. 320-338.
LaPorte, J. (2004), Natural Kinds and Conceptual Change, (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press).
Moss, L. (2003), What Genes Can’t Do, (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press/ Bradford
Books).
Putnam, H. (1975), “The Meaning of ‘Meaning’”, in Mind, Language and Reality,
Philosophical Papers, ii, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).
Stotz, Karola, Paul E Griffiths, and Rob D Knight. 2004. How scientists conceptualise
genes: An empirical study”, to appear in Studies in History & Philosophy of Biological
and Biomedical Sciences. (http://www.pitt.edu/~kstotz/genes/draft%20paper.pdf).
Venter, J. C. et al. (2004), “Environmental Genome Shotgun Sequencing of the Sargasso
Sea”, Science, Apr 2, 2004; 304(5667), pp. 58-60.
John Dupré is Professor of Philosophy of Science at the University of Exeter, and
Director of the ESRC Centre for Genomics on Society. He has formerly held positions at
Stanford University and Birkbeck College, London. His main area of research is in the
philosophy of biology. His publications include The Disorder of Things: Metaphysical
Foundations of the Disunity of Science (Harvard, 1993); Human Nature and the Limits of
Science (Oxford, 2001); Humans and Other Animals (Oxford, 2002); and Darwin’s
Legacy: What Evolution Means Today (Oxford, 2003). He is currently collaborating with
his colleague Professor Barry Barnes on a book that will provide an introduction to
contemporary genomics from a sociological and philosophical perspective
... Getting eligible bodies into the correct classification is the ultimate goal of the classification process that the teams of classifiers are actioned to facilitate. As such classification is a fundamental component of Paralympic culture (Howe 2008a(Howe , 2008b), but we need to be aware that classification systems and the processes that develop out of them are not social neutral (Dupré 2006) and can control the (dis)abled bodies that can compete in Paralympic sport. It is the element of control within the classification process to which we now turn. ...
Chapter
In this chapter, we explore the significance given to the management of (dis)abled bodies within the field of Paralympic Sport. At the outset it is important to state that we use the prefix “(dis)” connected to the words “abled” and “ability” to make it clear the that we celebrate that the practice of high-performance sport is about embodied physical capital, and, while the public and policy maker alike often fail to see the sport because of the disability (see DePauw 1997), we see the pursuit of physical betterment as a product of ability. It is our aim to undertake a critical examination of the International Paralympic Committee’s (IPC) management of (dis)abled bodies. We are particularly interested in the IPC’s classification process that impacts upon the athletes and shapes their participation within the Paralympics. The Paralympic classification process has three stages:1. Does the athlete have an eligible impairment for this sport? 2. Does the athlete’s eligible impairment meet the minimum disability criteria of the sport? 3. Which sport class describes the athlete’s activity limitation most accurately?
... In this approach, the coding of the interview excerpts is a form of theorizing (Swedberg 2012) whereby individual and particular elements of empirical data are related to structural and (at least ideally) universal theoretical models, forming an indispensable part of the theory construction process. That is, theorizing is at least in part a form of classificatory work that demands an understanding of both the particularity of the data and the specificities of the theories being put to use (Dupré 2006). However, as classes and categories never are wholly separated and are devoid of epistemological overlaps (for a sample of studies, see Sommerlund 2006;Swedberg 2011;Waguespack and Sorenson 2011;Zuckerman 1999), coding by necessity contains alternative coding possibilities and thus also competing interpretations of the data. ...
Article
The video game industry is a showcase industry in the entrepreneurial, knowledgeintensive, and technology-based economy. Despite recent technological shifts rendering digital media portable in the form of smartphones, tablets, and laptops, attracting new categories of gamers, most notably women above the age of 35, the video game industry is struggling to handle its masculine domination, prescribing specific and gendered divisions of labor in terms of lowering thresholds for female video game developers. This article reports on empirical material based on interviews from the burgeoning Swedish video game industry and suggests that female professionals entering the industry encounter inherited gendered beliefs and ways of organizing work which locate women in specific, and not always desirable, roles within the industry. In this regime of masculine domination, the study concludes, female video game developers are understood as a particular group primarily knowledgeable about female gamers’ preferences and not as the possessors of general skills attractive to the video game companies. Ultimately, the masculine domination and the historical gendered divisions of labor are preventing the industry from creating more gender-equal workplaces and, as a consequence, fully exploiting market potentials.
Thesis
Full-text available
An organization of knowledge compartmented into disciplines does not prove adequate for a scientific praxis that lacks interdisciplinary openness. A potential solution involves a shift from an epistemological to an ontological focus on modulating new Knowledge Organization Systems (KOS). An ontological classification, of beings rather than knowledge, will focus on what, from the outset, is common to the various domains – the reality. At this juncture it is necessary to distinguish how knowledge is acquired and grounded from how reality is constituted and structured. This starting point involves an ancient controversy referred to as the question of universal cognition. A sustained position on this question is necessary for the consistent development of ontologically based KOS with the potential to better serve interdisciplinary practice. The aim is to contribute to clarify the ontological approach by contextualizing it in relation to universal cognition and concepts as units of knowledge of KOS, empirically complementing the study with a comparison between the ontological approaches of two KOS: Integrative Levels Classification (ILC) and Basic Formal Ontology (BFO). We aim to: i. schematizes the requirements of an ontological system; ii. present an overview of the universal cognition issue; iii. identify the main modes of existence attributed to concepts and their suitability to SOC units; iv. characterize ILC and BFO ontological approaches; v. systematizes recommendations to help modeling ontological KOS. To fulfill these objectives the analytical hermeneutic-dialectical and comparative methods were used. We concluded that an ontological KOS starts from an ontological analysis, i.e., a categorization of existing entity types that can be objectively subsumed under distinguishable categories. The resulting system may not rigorously define the entities it incorporates and the relationships between them, as happens in ILC. In ILC the integration of the epistemological dimension is explicitly sought, and the naturalness of its classes is expressed only implicitly. The concepts continue to be understood as elementary pieces of KOS, with a formulation very similar to that of Dahlberg. In BFO, not only is it explicit its concern to contain only natural classes, but concepts are only understood as cognitive tools for accessing reality. The system, in addition to rigorous definitions, results from rigorous ontological and an adequacy to reality outside itself. These are the characteristics of an ontological model that distinguishes itself from systems with more permissive approaches, derived from the non-rigorous definition of its constituents or from the non-application of the aforementioned rigorous philosophical analysis. Within the scope of KOS, the inadequacy of the psychological interpretation of concepts became evident, given their individual nature as mental entities. From the linguistic perspective, concepts are commonly interpreted as labels for their meanings, which are associated with the epistemological reading. In the latter, if its scope does not promote the separation between uniquely intentional objects and others of a different nature, its application to the development of ontological KOS will be problematic. Different specifications concerning the nature of reality are imposed by different epistemic positions. It was possible to verify a lowest common denominator for this reality. Whether the positions are considered realist, nominalist or conceptualist, directly or indirectly, the support of human perceptions is placed on something independent of them. Despite the potential imperfections of human perceptions, they will not be simply, or solely, about themselves. In this context, five recommendations are proposed to help modulate ontological SOC: i. provide precise and ontologically consistent definitions of the classes to be included; ii. clearly differentiate classes from their particular instances; iii. classify based on intrinsic traits belonging to the respective entities; iv. not represent the data of a particular database, but the types of entities existing in the domain to which the data report; v. use cognitive representations as a means to represent existing entities in the respective domain and not as an element to be represented. These recommendations are intended as a starting point for future development and not as a panacea for the issues involved. The present thesis does not intend to be a complete or definitive answer to the addressed question, but it is expected to have enough detail, so that, in the context of Information Science, the ontological approach is better understood and seen as a viable alternative to the epistemological one.
Article
Résumé Introduction La psychiatrie est confrontée au défi d’une pluralité d’approches complémentaires issue des multiples niveaux de compréhension du vivant, que ce soit en termes de systèmes de représentations, d’outils, de méthodologies et d’objectifs. Dans le paysage clinique et scientifique actuel, les approches computationnelles et la multiplicité des nosographies émergentes telles que l’approches des Research Domain Criteria du NIMH ou les modèles de staging participent à cette pluralité théorique. En nous appuyant sur les limites du pluralisme scientifique, nous proposons une approche unifiant ces cadres théoriques fondée sur les principes de l’énactivisme, une théorie des sciences du vivant innovante en cela qu’elle s’applique à la psychiatrie. Méthodes Nous détaillons dans un premier temps le pluralisme théorique en psychiatrie, et ses liens avec la pratique clinique. Nous montrons quelles sont ses limites, et les raisons de la nécessité de théorie unificatrice pour la psychiatrie. À partir de ces limites, nous analysons les apports de l’approche énactiviste pour la pratique clinique et la génération de théories en psychiatrie. Nous montrons comment ce cadre pourrait améliorer la compréhension des symptômes en psychiatrie clinique, et unifier la diversité des approches complémentaires issues de la psychologie et des neurosciences. Résultats Le pluralisme comporte de nombreuses limites, inhérentes à la diversité des approches théoriques qu’il implique et la difficulté de modélisation computationnelle de ces différentes variables. Le cadre de travail énactiviste s’inscrit dans les avancées récentes en psychologie et en neurosciences, notamment en permettant la modélisation computationnelle. Il est ancré à la fois dans les sciences cognitives, la théorie des systèmes dynamiques, la biologie des systèmes et la phénoménologie, et peut ainsi être proposé comme réponse à cette question du défi intégratif en psychiatrie. Discussion et conclusion Un nombre conséquent de professionnels de la santé mentale travaillent déjà en acceptant une telle pluralité d’approches cliniques et scientifiques, mais cette diversité participe également au manque de structure théorique commune partagée par ces professionnels. Nous montrons que les formulations issues de l’approche énactiviste permettent à la psychiatrie : (1) de prendre en compte la subjectivité et l’expérience du patient ; (2) d’articuler différents niveaux de complexité au sein de la consultation clinique ; (3) d’expliquer les bénéfices de la création de sens pour le patient ; (4) de fournir des modélisations computationnelles concrètes ; (5) de soutenir la pédagogie en psychiatrie.
Article
Full-text available
There is a perennial philosophical dream of a certain natural order for the natural kinds. The name of this dream is ‘the hierarchy requirement’ (or ‘assumption’ or ‘thesis’). According to this postulate, proper natural kinds form a taxonomy which is both unique (i.e., there is only one taxonomy of such natural kinds) and traditional (i.e., said taxonomy consists of nested relations between specific and then more general kinds, each kind occupying one and only one particular place within that framework of relations). Here I demonstrate that complex scientific objects exist: objects which generate different systems of scientific classification, produce myriad legitimate alternatives amongst the nonetheless still natural kinds, and make the hierarchical dream impossible to realize, except at absurdly great cost. Philosophical hopes for a certain order in nature cannot be fulfilled. Natural kinds crosscut one another, ubiquitously so, and this crosscutting spells the end of the hierarchical dream.
Chapter
Classification and classification systems organize everyday life and do so in ways that are increasingly automated. Classifiers classify the classifiable and are highly political. Yet, ironically, it is precisely through devising new forms of classification that social scientists can also intervene and develop new modes of resistance in everyday life.
Chapter
This chapter begins by focusing on some of the salient points highlighted in social scientific literature that is at the nexus between sport, the body, and disability. It explores technology and how the process of its continual advancement and development of wheelchairs and prosthetic limbs, used in track and field athletics, have led to the Paralympic Games becoming increasingly commercial and relatively high profile. The chapter highlights the development of a technocentric ideology within the Paralympic sport that makes the classification of impaired bodies a politically contentious issue. Ultimately the chapter asks whether the advances in technology are actually empowering disabled athletes, and the disabled community more generally.
Article
Although ordering and classification schemes play a crucial role in the project management field, classification as a topic of study has been undervalued in the literature. Accordingly, there is a semantic confusion and lack of uniformity about the definitions and theoretical implications of two commonly used terms in project management: classification and typology. We argue that this issue hinders project management field from developing middle-range theories and flourishing theoretically compared to other fields of research.
Chapter
Full-text available
In this chapter we describe a way to conceptualize science as a field of possibilities from active conceptualization (theorization) to passive conceptualization (classification), and from active observation (experiment) to passive observation (pattern recognition of phenomena), setting up the scene for later chapters.
Chapter
Full-text available
Given the proliferation of species concepts in recent years, it might seem that the species problem-the difficulty of reaching agreement about the definition of the species category-is as far from being solved as it has ever been. On the contrary, the species problem has, for the most part, already been solved. Despite the considerable diversity among contemporary views on species, all are encompassed by a single, general concept that equates species with segments of population-level lineages. Because this population lineage concept underlies virtually all modem ideas about species, it bears on almost every historical and philosophical question that one would care to ask about those ideas, including the major themes of this volume. In this essay, I describe the general concept of species as segments of population lineages and show how it encompasses the diversity of modem views on species. I then discuss two assumptions that, despite widespread agreement about the general nature of species, lead to incompatible species concepts. I show how eliminating one of those assumptions, which entails reconsidering the defin-ing properties of the species category, effectively solves the species problem. I then use this perspective to clarify several philosophical issues concerning species, including the role of the species concept in biology, the individuality of species, whether the species category is a relational concept, monistic versus pluralistic views of species, and species realism. Finally, I briefly de-scribe the history of the lineage concept of species.
Article
Full-text available
Recent molecular biology has seen the development of genomics as a successor to traditional genetics. This paper offers an overview of the structure, epistemology, and (very briefly) history of contemporary genomics. A particular focus is on the question to what extent the genome contains, or is composed of anything that corresponds to traditional conceptions of genes. It is concluded that the only interpretation of genes that has much contemporary scientific relevance is what is described as the developmental defect gene concept. However, developmental defect genes typically only correspond to general areas of the genome and not to precise chemical structures (nucleotide sequences). The parts of the genome to be identified for an account of the processes of normal development are highly diverse, little correlated with traditional genes, and act in ways that are highly dependent on the cellular and higher level environment. Despite its historical development out of genetics, genomics represents a radically different kind of scientific project.
Article
Full-text available
We have applied “whole-genome shotgun sequencing” to microbial populations collected en masse on tangential flow and impact filters from seawater samples collected from the Sargasso Sea near Bermuda. A total of 1.045 billion base pairs of nonredundant sequence was generated, annotated, and analyzed to elucidate the gene content, diversity, and relative abundance of the organisms within these environmental samples. These data are estimated to derive from at least 1800 genomic species based on sequence relatedness, including 148 previously unknown bacterial phylotypes. We have identified over 1.2 million previously unknown genes represented in these samples, including more than 782 new rhodopsin-like photoreceptors. Variation in species present and stoichiometry suggests substantial oceanic microbial diversity.
Article
According to the received tradition, the language used to refer to natural kinds in scientific discourse remains stable even as theories about these kinds are refined. Hence, scientists discover, rather than stipulate, that sentences like 'Whales are mammals, not fish' are true. In this illuminating book, Joseph LaPorte argues that scientists do not discover that sentences about natural kinds, like 'Whales are mammals, not fish', are true rather than false. Instead, scientists find that these sentences were vague in the language of earlier speakers, and they refine the meanings of the relevant natural-kind terms to make sentences true. Hence, scientists change the meanings of these terms. This conclusion prompts LaPorte to examine the consequences of this change in meaning for the issue of incommensurability and for the progress of science.
Book
This chapter focuses on three types of animal that have played particular symbolic roles in poetry since Charles Darwin. In birds of prey, Robinson Jeffers, Ted Hughes, Richard Eberhart and others have discerned a symbol of the deliberate violence of nature after Darwin. Through songbirds, George Meredith, Thomas Hardy, Robert Frost and Amy Clampitt have articulated post-Romantic Darwinian visions of nature to set against Percy Bysshe Shelley's ‘To a Skylark’ and John Keats' ‘Ode to a Nightingale’. Through encounters with deer, Hardy, Frost and others have explored the divide between humans and wild animals and the yearning to cross it. Eberhart gives the impression of time as a perspective in his poem. Like Millay, Frost is less ready than Meredith or even Hardy to believe that there is really scope for the barrier between humans and other animals to be broken down.
Philosophers and historians of biology have argued that genes are conceptualized differently in different fields of biology and that these differences influence both the conduct of research and the interpretation of research by audiences outside the field in which the research was conducted. In this paper we report the results of a questionnaire study of how genes are conceptualized by biological scientists at the University of Sydney, Australia. The results provide tentative support for some hypotheses about conceptual differences between different fields of biological research.
He has formerly held positions at Stanford University and Birkbeck College His main area of research is in the philosophy of biology. His publications include The Disorder of Things: Metaphysical Foundations of the Disunity of Science (Harvard, 1993); Human Nature and the Limits of
John Dupré is Professor of Philosophy of Science at the University of Exeter, and Director of the ESRC Centre for Genomics on Society. He has formerly held positions at Stanford University and Birkbeck College, London. His main area of research is in the philosophy of biology. His publications include The Disorder of Things: Metaphysical Foundations of the Disunity of Science (Harvard, 1993); Human Nature and the Limits of Science (Oxford, 2001); Humans and Other Animals (Oxford, 2002); and Darwin's