Some Cognitive Regulators

In cognitive activity, the key role is played by basic cognitive categories (concepts, principles, etc.) acting as its general regulators. They “dictate” to researchers how to perceive and describe natural phenomena, so their consideration is one of the most important sections of the philosophy of science. Among them, there are regulators of the most general order (analysis v.v. synthesis, abstraction vs. concretization, generalization, etc.) and more specific ones involved in the formation of specific cognitive situations. This section discusses those regulators of the second group that are most relevant to biological systematics.

Between Umgebung and Umwelts

All natural science is aimed at comprehending Nature in all its contents, manifestations, and details—that is, what it is “in reality.” However, this ultimate end is principally unattainable: Nature is so global and diverse that it is impossible to comprehend it exhaustively because of the limited character of human cognitive means. For this reason, any cognitive activity is inevitably selective and reductionist: a cognizing subject selects something in Nature as a studied object guided by certain reasons. This is the principal cause of the differentiation of natural science into disciplines, each with its own object and adequate tools—physics, chemistry, geology, biology— and in biology—ecology, physiology, genetics, anatomy, and, of course, systematics.

This circumstance is regulated by the generally valid principle ofontic reduction; its important epistemic addition is the already-mentioned principle of constructiveness. With their effect in action, cognitive activity is actually addressed not to the objective reality (Nature in its entirety) but rather to a certain cognizable reality that corresponds to a certain manifestation of the former. It is “construed” by a cognizing subject so that, on the one hand, it corresponds to a certain manifestation of Nature, and on the other hand, it becomes accessible for research on some operational (constructive) basis [Hayes and Oppenheim 1997; Devitt 2005; Stepin 2005; Knyazeva 2006; Riel and Gulick 2014]. This position is generally known as ontological relativity [Quine 1996; Dupre 1993; Mahner and Bunge 1997], developed by contemporary conceptualism [Swoyer 2006].

A peculiar justification for such an ontic reduction is the general scheme of two-level division of overall reality into the objective world as such, termed Umgebung, and its actually knowable manifestation, termed Umwelt; it was proposed at the beginning of the 20th century by the zoopsychologist Jakob von Uexkiill [Kull 2009; Uexkiill 2010]. Although Uexkiill himself meant selective “biological” perceptions of the environment by particular organisms, his metaphoric concept appeared to be widened to include human cognitive activity, which is no less selective with respect to Nature being cognized [Knyazeva 2015]. As a result of this reduction, a natural phenomenon as part of objective reality (Umgebung) turns into an investigated object constituting a particular cognizable reality (Umwelt). The fundamental difference between them is that the Umgebung exists outside and independently of a subject, while an Umwelt is “constituted” by the latter’s cognitive activity and thus does not exist outside the respective cognitive situation. So, this metaphor is an illustration of the above-stressed irremovable occurrence of the subject component into any cognitive situation.

In fixing an Umwelt, only those properties and relations of a cognizable phenomenon are taken into account which are considered significant for a particular research task within the framework of a particular cognitive situation. Other properties are discarded, which means “cutting out” the respective Umwelt from the general context of the Umgebung. Thus, the delineation of an Umwelt is a conceptual operation of the ontic reduction of the Umgebung, which turns a certain manifestation of objective reality into a particular conceptual reality. The latter is separated from the Umgebung by an ontic break: the wider the latter is, the more properties and relations of a natural phenomenon are “cut out” by individuation of the respective Umwelt. The latter can be further reduced to more specific “sub-Umwelts” down to some purely operational concepts.

In systematics, the ways of delineating particular Umwelts of various levels of generality and content are quite diverse depending on the ways biota (Umgebung) and its manifestations can be considered. Examples of higher-level Umwelts are phylogenetic pattern and typological universum; examples of lower-level Umwelts are cladistically and biosystematically defined aspects of the diversity of organisms;

cognitive situations shaped by the problems of species and homology can also be thought of as based on particular Umwelts.

For the construction of an Umwelt, conditions of rationality are of great importance: they presume that operating with analytical methods is more effective in the case of a simply construed cognized object. Therefore, simplification of Umwelt, by its “cutting out” from the complexly organized Umgebung, makes it more operational. As a result, losing in one (complexity), one gains in another (operability); the only question is whether the substantial losses are covered by formal acquisitions.

In folk systematics, particular Umwelts are isolated implicitly based on specific mythologies (ontology) or pragmatic considerations (epistemology). In scientific systematics, its Umwelt is rationally (explicitly) delineated by certain conceptual means, so taxonomic reality’ thus appears as the basic conceptual reality that constitutes its specific Umwelt [Zuev 2002, 2015; Pavlinov 2010b, 2011a, 2018; Pavlinov and Lyubarsky 2011]; for more details of this concern, see Sections 4.2.1 and 3.3.2.

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