Major Research Programs in Systematics

Whenever a theory appears to you as the only possible one, take this as a sign that you have neither understood the theory nor the problem which it was intended to solve.

K. Popper

Every scientific discipline differentiates as it develops: this is an obvious consequence (and evidence) of its normal functioning as a conceptual system [Hull 1988]. This differentiation is due to the impossibility of reducing knowledge about some complexly organized phenomenon to a certain unified cognitive model (theory). It gives rise to the emergence and coexistence of different research programs, each corresponding to a certain understanding of both a certain natural phenomenon or epiphenomenon (an Umwelf) and the way of its cognition. Each such understanding is formalized as a meaningful theory developed by a certain scientific community, school, etc. [Lakatos 1978; Stepin 2005]. The stability of a research program, and with it a particular cognitive situation shaped by it, is ensured by the invariability of the respective scientific problem being resolved, which forms its stable “core,” while its “periphery” can change according to changes in the general philosophical scientific context of systematics. Exhaustion of cognitive potential of a certain research program leads to a scientific revolution, which completes the development of the given program and stimulates the emergence of new ones, which means a certain change in the content and structure of the overall cognitive situation.

The latter, in its general scope embracing all the biological systematics, is developed under the integrating effect of the idea of the Natural System; different understandings of both the System itself and the methods of its exploration take a form of general cognitive programs and particular research programs detailing them. Among cognitive programs in systematics, the most pronounced are rational and empirical; in Chapter 2 they are called “methodist” and “collectionist,” respectively. The first is associated with the theoretical understanding of what the Natural System is and what the ways of knowing it are; it encourages the development of theoretical (onto-epistemic) and methodological foundations of systematics. The second is associated with elaborating the practical classifications; its metaphysical component is minimized, while its methodological component is either absent or sufficiently developed depending on the particular program.

Development of general ideas about the structure of the cognitive situation, in which biological systematics operates, is one of the key tasks of the general taxonomic theory (GTT); an important part of this task is outlining both the partial taxonomic theories (PTTs) and the research programs implementing them (see Section 4.1.1). At present, there is no clear understanding of the general grounds on which these programs might and should be distinguished, and, accordingly, what the programs themselves are, how they relate to each other, etc. The reason is that there is no sufficiently developed GTT (see Chapter 4).

The first attempts to recognize explicitly and to discuss the research programs in systematics, as well as to evaluate their scientific status, were undertaken in the 1960s-1970s. There appeared to be acknowledgment of only three principal “systematic philosophies” most vividly discussed at that time, namely, phenetics, cladistics, and evolutionary taxonomy [Hull 1970, 1988,2001; Mayr 1982,1988; Pesenko 1989; Minelli 1994; Schuh 2000; Ereshefsky 2001b, 2008; Rasnitsyn 2002]. However, such a “three philosophies” viewpoint did not take into consideration or drastically reduce the significance of other “philosophies” that were not so actively discussed then— typology, biosystematics, ecomorphological approach, etc. Therefore, such an oversimplification provided a very distorted representation of the theoretical foundations of biological systematics, including the diversity of the research programs operating in it, their historical and philosophical roots, their mutual interactions and influences, and their contributions toward the development of systematics. In general, multiplicity of research programs in systematics is caused by great complexity of biological diversity which can be considered from very different standpoints.

In systematics, the formation of research programs, if the latter are not interpreted too strictly, is evident from the earliest stages of its conceptual history. Their fates are different: some function for a long time, while others disappear rather quickly (on a historical time scale). These fates depend, by and large, on the extent the particular research programs are in demand by the scientific community, which in its turn is determined by general philosophical scientific contexts that change over time. Therefore, a program gains recognition if it appears “in its place in due time,” and it actively works within the respective context until the latter “shrinks.” Another cause for the loss of popularity of a program is its inability to set and solve properly the research tasks demanded at a certain stage of conceptual history' of systematics. In general, multiplicity of research programs in systematics is caused by great complexity of biological diversity which can be considered from very different standpoints.

In the latter, the first was the scholastic program based on an essentialist understanding of organisms and the deductive genus-species classification scheme. Within its framework, particular subprograms were formed, associated with different ways of understanding the essence (ontic or epistemic, division of botanists into “fructists” and “corollists”). At the end of the 18th century, the anti-scholastic revolution took place, caused by a change in the understanding of both the Natural System and the natural method; it led to the appearance of several research programs based on different onto-epistemologies, viz. typological, organismic, numerological, natural (in its narrow botanical sense). Some of them differentiated into more particular subprograms: in the typology, there were three of them (stationary, dynamic, epigenetic); natural systematics also produced three subprograms defined by the natural methods of Adanson, Jussieu, and Candolle. These two main programs were developing quite actively until the second half of the 19th century when the growing popularity of transformist natural philosophy caused the evolutionary revolution and the emergence of the research program of the evolutionarily interpreted systematics with two subprograms, namely classification Darwinism and systematic phylogeny (now called phylogenetic systematics). The natural systematics of botanists, after some confrontation with phylogenetics, nearly merged with it; typology faded into the background of the cognitive situation of systematics, while organismism and numerology almost ceased to exist.

In the first half of the 20th century, systematics underwent a positivist revolution caused by the growing popularity of the positivist cognitive program in natural science (mainly in the version of physicalism). Several research programs appeared that implemented the physicalist idea in different ways: these were biosystematics (as a successor of classification Darwinism), phenetic and numerical programs, as well as several versions of rational systematics (onto-rational and episto-rational programs). With this, the concepts having appeared in the 19th century (typology, phylogenetics) nearly lost their recognized status. In the second half of the 20th century, a postpositivist revolution caused a revival of interest in phylogenetic systematics and led to the active development of several subprograms within its framework. Evolutionary taxonomy and cladistics were initially differentiated, then the “new phylogenetics” became most popular by combining cladistic and numerical ideas superimposed on molecular data. In its shadow, evolutionary ontogenetic systematics is currently arising, and may become a new promising research program.

Particular research programs are “brought to life” by taxonomic schools appearing as part of the subjective component of the cognitive situation; each such school is not so much a scientific but rather a social phenomenon [Mikulinsky et al. 1977; Hull 1988; Mishler 1991; Rozova 2014]. For this reason, in the formation and maintenance of many schools, an important role is played not only by its attractive (demanded) conceptual framework but largely by a personality factor. The latter means that an authoritative scientific leader usually acts as an organizing force by promoting a particular way of posing and solving a certain research problem. In systematics, famous examples are C. Linnaeus in the 18th century, A.-P. de Candolle and G. Cuvier at the beginning of the 19th century; C. Darwin and E. Haeckel in its second half; and E. Mayr, G. Simpson, and W. Hennig in the second half of the 20th century.

A specific social aspect of the activity of the taxonomic schools is manifested in their competitive relations [Hull 1988]. The reason is that their leaders, committed to a monistic cognitive idea, claim their exclusive role in the “right” understanding of how to interpret and solve the key problems of biological systematics. Therefore, the value judgments of those leaders about the scientific status of their respective schools most usually turn into self-praising, very reminiscent of the meaning of Lenin’s thesis (once famous among Soviet people) that “the [...] doctrine is omnipotent because it is true.” Lenin himself mentioned Marx’s doctrine; if you replace it with those of Linnaeus, Darwin, Hennig, or somebody else, it does not make much difference.

An important part of the subject component of the contemporary cognitive situation of systematics is orientation of the organizational support of the taxonomic research towards a “mainstream.” It brings a certain “mass kitsch” phenomenon to the formation of a social status of the respective research programs. Currently, technological approaches gained an over-popularity and became a kind of “scientific fashion” by making it possible, in the shortest time and with minimal intellectual effort, to obtain required results that fit well into the “mainstream” [Holynski 2005]. For the normal development of systematics as a scientific discipline, this yields a serious problem of significant disparities in the ratio of theoretical and practical research: the former are pushed to the periphery of the cognitive situation, so the latter remain without proper theoretical basis and comprehending.

This chapter describes the main research programs of biological systematics whose development shaped the content of the latter’s conceptual history throughout the 20th century. The order of their presentation in subsequent sections is set basically by the gradient of biological meaningfulness of the corresponding taxonomic theories. Accordingly, the chapter begins with the simplest classification phenetics, continues with numerical programs, the next is typology with several programs close to it, and, lastly, evolutionarily interpreted theories and programs are considered. These programs are characterized according to a more or less standard scheme to make them mutually comparable. The scheme is based on consideration of the following key features of the programs: what their historical roots are; how their ontic bases are formed; how the respective classifications are understood substantively; how taxonomic unity, the choice of characters, delineation of taxa and their ranks, etc. are interpreted; what are the area of their application; and what are their advances (what new aspects the approach provides for the development of systematics) and shortages (the limitations of the approach).

 
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