Defining Basic Notions: Two Case Studies

Statements (quasi-axioms) that shape the ontic basis of a cognitive situation are introduced in the form of definitions of the respective notions. Following the conditions of certain general epistemic regulators, such as the principle of constructivity, they must be sufficiently complete in their content and sufficiently strict. However, compliance with these conditions is hindered by some serious limitations (see Section 3.2.2). Below we consider how these problems can be solved in the case of two concepts, which are among the most fundamental for systematics: TR and the classification system.

Taxonomic Reality

In considering the ontic foundations of systematics, one of the most important and problematic issues is the correct definition of the TR as a subject area of this discipline [Zuev 2002; Pavlinov 2010b, 201 la, 2018; Pavlinov and Lyubarsky 2011]. It is problematic because TR, as a kind of conceptual reality (Unrwelt), can be correctly defined intensionally (in a logical sense) only in a certain theoretical context. This means that understanding of what is or is not the TR changes with the development of the entire theoretical content of systematics.

The source of contemporary ideas about the subject area of systematics is the classical natural-philosophical idea of the System of Nature, in which places of organisms and their groups are determined by their intrinsic features, primarily essential. The latter are contrasted with the extrinsic properties, featured by their mainly ecological and spatial relations. Focusing on these features and relations distinguishes different biological classifying disciplines developed during the 19th century: it separated systematics, which pays attention basically to intrinsic features, from biogeography and biocenology analyzing extrinsic features and relations. This general understanding of the specificity of systematics was inherited from the essentialist scholastics, first of all, by typology and classical phylogenetics, as well as by phenetics and cladistics, though they reject an essentialist interpretation of both the taxa and their characters. However, in biomorphics and biosystematics, which are also parts of systematics, some extrinsic features are just as important as intrinsic ones, so these “essentialist” boundaries are blurred. They practically disappear with the extremely broad defining subject area of systematics as the “overall” diversity of organisms, which should be classified by “all and any characters” [Simpson 1961; Sokal and Sneath 1963; Rollins 1965]: the cause for such an erosion is that “all and any characters” may include both intrinsic and extrinsic features of organisms.

In order to get rid of an extra historical “load” in considering this issue and to place it in the proper conceptual framework, the following general scheme seems to be correct [Pavlinov 2011a, 2018]. It is based on the conceptual pyramid, according to which any concept can be correctly defined only in the context of a certain more general concept. In the case under consideration, this is the concept of the structured biota: the latter can be conditionally thought of as the Umgebung, in which various manifestations (aspects, levels, fragments, etc.) are recognized as specific Umwelts based on the specific features and relations of organisms and their aggregations. One of these Umwelts is the sought TR, so its intensional definition should refer to its specific features distinguishing it from other manifestations of the general structure of biota.

It is reasonable to base consideration of this issue on the following general assumptions (quasi-axioms), which intuitively seem quite reasonable. Firstly, biota is defined as a self-developing non-equilibrium system that is being structured as it develops (evolve) and functions. Secondly, an assumption is required about the non-random nature of the general structure of biota determined by the actions and interactions of various natural causes. Thirdly, it is assumed that reference to these causes allows, on a fairly natural basis, distinction between different manifestations of this general structure, one of which is TR. Further, it can be additionally acknowledged that these manifestations of biodiversity do not exist on their own as independent natural phenomena; rather, they are epiphenomena which reflect various manifestations of the general structure of biota [Pavlinov 2007b; Loreau 2010]. Finally, one should clearly realize that these epiphenomena are individualized as cognizable entities within the framework of a certain cognitive situation by a knowing subject by means of certain concepts. On this basis, framework conditions can be set for the correct definitions of the TR, the GTT, and its various manifestations and studied by specific PTTs.

Different manifestations of biotic structure can be fixed (individualized) at a conceptual level in two ways, either as objects or aspects. In the first case, particular natural phenomena can be thought of as natural entities existing outside of and besides the knowing subject; they are recognized by the latter by their specific emergent properties and relations. Examples are cells, organisms, populations, species, ecosystems, levels of hierarchical organization of biota, as well as (with some reservations) monophyletic groups. In the second case, it is not the phenomena that are cognized as such, but rather certain epiphenomena, which are aspects of the biotic structure fixed by the knowing subject based on the respective cognitive intentions. So, these individuated aspects by no means occur in the structure of biota as something subject-independent; their presence in the cognitive situation as cognizable entities depends largely on the subject’s cognitive activity. However, reference to the supposed natural causes and processes structuring biota can be taken for a justification of the naturalness of its aspects being recognized in this way. Examples are the taxonomic, biogegraphic, ecological, etc. aspects (forms) of the diversity of organisms, of which the first one is the aspectually defined TR. The basic aspects of the latter are the taxonomic (in its narrow sense) and partonomic ones; the phylogenetic and typological aspects of TR can be further individualized; cladogenetic and anagenetic aspects of phylogeny are also examples of this kind. It follows from this consideration that both TR itself and manifestations of its aspectual structure cannot be specified in a single trivial way: their recognition is subject-motivated, their definitions are fuzzy.

To sum up the consideration described above, it is to be emphasized that manifestations of the biotic structure, one of which is the TR, are basically aspectual: they are “given” not by themselves but in the way they are considered by particular subjects in particular cognitive situations. Indeed, all disciplines studying biotic structure actually deal with the same totality of organisms, as well as with their properties and relationships between them. Different aspects of this structure are individualized by fixing those particular properties and/or relations considered significant for the analyses of just these and no other aspects. This point is clearly exemplified by various aspectual representations of a single organism in behavioral, ecological, physiological, anatomical, etc. studies. On a similar aspectual basis, a fundamental distinction is made between the phylogenetic, ecological, and ecomorphological aspects of the biotic structure [Pavlinov 2007d], This means, by the way, that the particular aspect-based manifestations of this structure, in contrast to object-based ones, are completely internested.

As stated above, in the analysis of the basic structure of TR, it is of fundamental importance to distinguish between its two most general “orthogonal” aspects, usually designated as taxonomic and partonomic (meronomic) [Panova and Shreyder 1975; Meyen 1977; Tversky 1989; Pavlinov 201 la, 2018]. This distinction between the diversity of organisms themselves and their features, respectively, constitutes one of the very first cognitive acts aimed at TR [Jardine 1967; Meyen 1978; Lyubarsky 1996; Pavlinov and Lyubarsky 2011; Pavlinov 2018]. Accordingly, they outline taxonomic and partonomic “subrealities,” for which specific quasi-axiomatic systems are construed and specific classifications are elaborated. Within the framework of formalizations accepted in numerical systematics, they correspond to the Q- and R-modes of the analysis of phenetic hyperspace [Sneath and Sokal 1973].

Such an aspectual givenness is evident in the case of the Umwelts outlined by the particular TTs with reference to certain causal relations presumably structuring biota in specific ways. By this, particular aspects of TR are individualized as epiphenomena that are studied and classified as something actually inherent to wildlife. These aspects, constituting the ontic component of the respective PTTs, can be characterized as follows: the typological aspect is formed mainly by structural causes, the phylogenetic aspect is formed mainly by historical causes, the biomorphological aspect is formed by a combination of structural and functional (ecological) causes, etc. Operationally, they “diverge” at the level of choice of the characters, which are supposed to “mark” aspects of interest.

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