The Origin of Typology

Typology is a semantic and etymological derivative of the general concept of type (Greek Turtoq, example, mold), which has very ancient roots. It was put forward by ancient thinkers in two main interpretations, epistemic and ontic, i.e., either as a model (standard) of comparison or as an ideal form (“matrix”) that gave rise to certain real forms. The second interpretation was reinforced by the notion of archetype (Greek ap%f|) as the “beginning” [Hammen 1981; Chebanov and Martynenko 2008].

The epistemic interpretation of the type permeates implicitly folk systematics; it is very characteristic of herbalistics and scholastic systematics. According to the empirical rule called the type method [Whewell 1847], classification is built by first


Based on the principle of symmetry, E. Haeckel, by the end of his life, will elaborate a version of the natural classification of animals guided by his promorphology, i.e., by the laws of transformation of the types of symmetry of their body structure [Haeckel 1917].

recognizing a certain typical example and then uniting other elements of diversity by their similarity with the type. Based on the ontic interpretation of the type, a fundamental typological concept begins to take shape in post-scholastic systematics in the late 18th and early 19th centuries as the natural-philosophical one, with the archetype (or prototype) being considered as one of the organizing principles of all Nature [Amundson 2005; Pavlinov 2018].

Typology in its ontic interpretation is usually derived from essentialism [Hull 1965; Mayr 1982; Shatalkin 1993, 1996, 2012; Ereshefsky 2001a], One of the reasons for this is a certain similarity of the structural understanding of type to the Cesalpinean principle of describing organisms based on the “number, position and shape” of their anatomical structures; therefore it is sometimes argued that the “Aristotelian essence is the structure of an object” [Shatalkin 2012: 129]. However, this linking is incorrect [Hammen 1981; Pratt 1982; Grene 1990; Winsor 2003, 2006a; Levit and Meister 2006; Lewens 2009a; Pavlinov 2018]. Indeed, the core of essentialism is the conception of essence in its predominantly Aristotelian teleonomic, i.e., mainly functional understanding. According to this, in scholastic systematics of the 16th-18th centuries and in one of the sections of natural systematics (in its narrow sense) of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, taxa are distinguished by essential properties most important for the functioning of organisms. Unlike this, the basis of the typology developed by structuralist anatomists is an idea of proto- or archetype shaped by the ratio of parts (organs etc.) of organisms [Meyer-Abich 1934; Hammen 1981; Card 1996]. Thus, these two fundamental natural-philosophical concepts are not very close, although they both refer to certain inner fundamental properties of organisms, without which they just cannot exist.

Considered in the context of the conceptual history of systematics, typology develops from the very beginning in three main versions, viz. stationary, dynamic, and epigenetic [Pavlinov 2018, 2020]. Common to them is an understanding of the (arche)type as an attribute of an ideal (imaginary) superorganism. An important difference is that the (arche)type is thought of as either a stationary structural plan of that superorganism or as a result of transformations of its parts; these transformations are thought of as either certain mental operations or real (more precisely, ideal objective) processes.

Stationary typology is based on the concept of an ideal structural type, its implementations in particular organisms produce an overall hierarchical pattern of their typological diversity. It is originally developed by zoologist-anatomists, largely under the influence of the “Ladder” natural philosophy. In its origins lies the “Treatise on Anatomy...” by Felix Vicq d’Azyr; according to him, “nature follows apparently a type, or a general model, not only in the structure of various animals but also in the structure of their various organs” [Vicq d’Azyr 1786: 12]. Thus, this concept appears initially in two basic interpretations of the type, viz. (a) as a prototype of the variants of the same structure in different organisms or (b) as a prototype of different


Outside biology, the mathematician and sociologist Adolphe Quetelet develops in the 1830s a significantly different version of empirical typology based on a statistical understanding of the type. This concept is not popular among researchers during the 19th century, but ethnographers, anthropologists, and some biologists will accept it later [Smirnov 1924; Klein 1991].

structures in the same organism. This marks the beginning of the formation of typological thinking, which has a direct bearing on biological systematics [Voigt 1973; Stevens 1984a; Lewens 2009a],

This general idea is further developed by Georges Cuvier to make it the basis of his version of the natural method of systematics. His concept is initially outlined in his “Lessons in Comparative Anatomy” [Cuvier 1801] and then in the introductory section of “The Animal Kingdom...” (of 1813); the latter is reprinted several times in different languages, and here its 1840 edition is referred to [Cuvier’s 1840]. The key for it is the concept of the stable general plan of an ideal superorganism determined by the spatial relations of its parts; it manifests itself in certain forms characteristic of particular organisms denoted by Cuvier as types [Cuvier 1801]. Cuvier recognizes four basic general plans, each serving as a prototype for specific manifestations. Following Vicq d’Azyr, Cuvier substantiates the stability of the general plan by the principle of correlations of parts supplemented by the principle of the conditions of existence, according to which there is a limited number of certain viable combinations of parts of organisms, each constituting a particular general plan, while others are incompatible within a certain plan, thus making it non-viable (so functionality is yet present). Any significant change in the general plan due to miscorrelations of its parts makes it non-functional (non-viable) under certain conditions of existence. Substantiating his typological concept empirically, Cuvier refers to the real anatomical organismal types as “kinds of experiments ready prepared by Nature” [Cuvier’s 1840: 15]. In addition, he adopts the principle of subordination of characters, w'hich means dividing the latter (more precisely, the parts of organisms expressed by them) into dominant and subordinate according to their (a) significance for the existence of organisms and (b) constancy due to their mutual correlations. This principle is borrowed from the natural method of Jussieu (see Section 2.4.2).

Based on these principles, Cuvier elaborates his natural method of classification, which he thinks of as “the ideal to which Natural History should tend” [Cuvier’s 1840: 16]. It is shaped by a specific combined implementation of two general natural philosophies, “System” and “Ladder”; with this, his typology-inferred method becomes very similar to that of Jussieu. Based on the “System” conception, Cuvier elaborates a hierarchical classification of animals reflecting the hierarchy of implementations of four general plans into respective types based on ranked characters. As he says, “from their influence and from their constancy, result equally the rule, which should be preferred for distinguishing grand divisions [of the system], and in proportion as we descend to the inferior subdivisions we can also descend to subordinate and variable characters” [ibid.]. Based on the “Ladder” conception, he arranges each respective division, called branches, according to the principle of progression so as to reflect a gradual perfection, in a descending order, of the body types of animals in each branch. Cuvier’s colleague Henri de Blainville denotes these branches as types in a taxonomic


Cuvier’s term “general plan” will gain popularity in various refinements (body plan, common plan, ground plan, Bauplan).

meaning [de Blainville 1816], thus making Cuvier’s natural method a core of the classification typology [Farber 1976; Pavlinov and Lyubarsky 2011; Pavlinov 2018].

The main ideas of dynamic typology are laid down by the poet and naturalist Johann Wolfgang von Goethe under the influence of the ideas of organismism and the “Ladder” natural philosophy, complemented by some artistic and linguistic images [Arber 1950; Kanaev 1970; Hammen 1981; Steigerwald 2002; Zabulionite 2011; Riegner 2013]. The first sketch of Goethe’s concept is presented in his “The Experience of Plant Metamorphosis” [Goethe 1790]. Central to this version of typology are the concepts of archetype and metamorphosis (transformation). In his natural-philosophical worldview, Goethe proceeds from likening Nature to a superorganism: its parts, undergoing mutual metamorphoses, give rise to the whole variety of real forms; so this version of typology is sometimes called organismic [Arber 1950; Steigerwald 2002]. Such a typological construction can be represented as some kind of an imaginary structural prototype, a totality of mutual transformations of its parts represent a single dynamic archetype [Naef 1931; Meyer-Abich 1949; Hammen 1981; Ho 1988; Beklemishev 1994; Levit and Meister 2006; Riegner 2013]. The latter, according to Goethe, is a certain law of mutual transformations (general metamorphosis) of parts of this superorganism; the archetype thus understood cannot be watched embodied in a particular genus or species: they “relate to it just like particular instances relate to a law; they are contained in it but they do not contain or give it” (cited after [Goethe 1957: 76]). In the 19th century, Goethe’s concept appears to be one of the sources of two other very important concepts, viz. Owen’s concept of homology and Haeckel’s concept of phylogenesis (see next sections), but it is mostly disregarded by taxonomists. In the 20th century, it will become rather popular among morphologists and typologically minded taxonomists [Naef 1919, 1931; Kalin 1945; Troll 1951; Beklemishev 1994; Lyubarsky 1996], when it will be designated as transformational typology [Zakharov 2005]; eventually, Goethe’s typology will be declared one of the forerunners of the newest concept of “evo-devo” [Riegner 2013].

At the beginning of the 19th century, the general typological idea receives a very significant development in the works of the German natural-philosophical school, based on the doctrine of vital materialism [Lenoir 1988]; its result is epigenetic typology that combines the main features of the two versions described above [Pavlinov 2018, 2019]. Its initiator and most prominent exponent is the zoologist embryologist Karl von Baer, who is fascinated by the organismic natural philosophy with elements of Platonism and transformism [Raikov 1969; Rieppel 1985; Lenoir 1988]. He defines the type as an arrangement of the parts of an ideal organism, which corresponds structurally to the body plan of Cuvier; the fundamental difference is that, in Baer’s concept, the type is developing. Both general types and variants (subtypes) detailing them at different levels of generality are ideal prototypes of certain stages of individual development of living bodies arranged in an inclusive hierarchy. Interpreted natural-philosophically, the latter is a single organizing force that directs the real development of animals in two parallel “streams,” viz. individual development as a transition from one stage of ontogeny to another and historical development as transformations (transmutations) of some organisms into others [Baer 1828]. Thus, Baer extrapolates ontogenetic transformations to all living nature as a developing superorganism, endowing them partly with a genealogical meaning [Raikov 1969; Lenoir 1988]. On this basis, the Baerian type may be called with good reason the developmental type [Lenoir 1988; Amundson 2005; Pavlinov 2018], although its hierarchy of particular types seems to be a stationary construct [Rieppel 1985].

According to Baer’s natural method, transformations of a single structural plan in the course of the development of organisms make it possible to uncover a natural affinity among them. For this reason, Baer’s typological method very soon becomes consolidated as one of the guiding principles for elaborating a version of the natural classification of animals [Milne-Edwards 1844]. A general idea of parallelism between ontogeny and phylogeny, developed by Baer and some other zoologist typologists (Serre, Meckel, Agassiz), will become one of the cornerstones of classical phylogenetics (Haeckel). In the 20th century, this idea will be recalled by theoreticians of structural cladistics [Nelson 1978]; besides, basic elements of Baerian epigenetic typology will be incorporated by ontogenetic systematics [Ho 1992; Pavlinov 2018].

In a work especially devoted to taxonomic issues (published in our days), K. von Baer emphasizes that the Natural System should be based on the hierarchy of developmental types, with the proximity of organisms in it reflecting their affinity expressed by a similarity in their ontogenetic patterns [Baer 1959]. Each natural group thus defined can be represented as a sphere, with the animals in it being placed to reflect their embodiment of the respective type: more typical organisms constitute the core (center) of this sphere, while less typical ones are allocated along its periphery. These spheres touch each other (as in the quinary system; see the next section) and may even overlap with their peripheries: this is probably the first case of a fuzzy interpretation of taxa in systematics; it will be used in one of the contemporary typological approaches [Tchaikovsky 1990].

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