Chaos vs Order - Aristotle and Linnaeus

Topics: Species, Biology, Organism Pages: 5 (1932 words) Published: November 10, 2012
Taxonomy is man’s attempt to understand the organizational structure of living organisms. It originates from the idea that there was a supreme being who created everything and, therefore, a perfect organization to living organisms must exist. Each with their own opinion on how organisms should be classified, philosophers and scientists alike have attempted to make the perfect arrangement of organisms. These methods are all derived from previous methods, hence we must look at Aristotle and Linnaeus for guidance and to compare what they thought to what modern science appears to tell us regarding the relationship between organisms. Linnaeus’ simplistic system of organization is a clear advancement from the hectic system of Aristotle. To formulate a conclusion of Aristotle’s taxonomy method is in some regards quite difficult. The philosopher passed on 2,331 years ago; consequently, he cannot continue to defend his method against modern methods and science. No one can fully understand another person’s thought process and therefore we cannot make assumptions regarding a philosopher’s methods. Yet, if there is a desire, whether out of necessity or pure casual interest, to understand the development of modern science one must look at and analyze the ideas and beliefs of the first scientists: philosophers or others, to the best of our ability. Whether modern science confirms it or disputes it, all modern conclusions, and scientific philosophies, have been influenced by those earliest thinkers. An extensive component of a philosopher’s thoughts is definition. Yet what is definition but merely man’s attempt at using words to describe another word? This creates an endless process of attempting to find the definition of a word and then the definition of each word in the first definition. However, Aristotle developed definitions of numerous words in an attempt to create an organized structure or method of arranging organisms into something called taxonomy. The modern definition of taxonomy is an orderly classification of organisms. Aristotle felt that in order to classify something, it first had to be defined. Based on his philosophy, defining something required a two step process. First, a broad picture must be taken, meaning, “What kind is it?” This generalization determines if it is a bird, fish, insect, etc. The second step requires detailed information, such as characteristics and properties, for the differentia must be determined. The differentiae are defined in the context of Aristotle as, “A particular element or feature that defines one entity from another.” An example of this definition would be limbs, whether wings, fins, or forelegs. A definiendum, is a set of characteristics or differentiae which defines an organism. Additionally, a definiendum must, “reveal the object’s nature or substance.”1 The final statement means that a definiendum is not only a method of organization and comparing organisms but it also defines or describes an organism. According to the interpretation of Aristotle’s writings, he believed the use of a dichotomy to organize organisms put limitations on the system’s ability to distinguish organisms. The method of organization using dichotomy is a process of using only one comparative statement at a time. In other words, for every division there are two options. Aristotle believes there are severe logical consequences to utilizing such method. As an example, an animal can be divided into blooded and bloodless. Blooded animals can be further divided into egg laying and viviparous; of which a bird is an egg laying, blooded animal. The logical arguments arise by following basic logic. If a bird is a blooded animal and animals are egg laying or viviparous, then birds are either egg laying or give birth to live young, but birds cannot be viviparous.1 Aristotle uses the following example to defend his point, “Dichotomy splits natural kinds. If we divide animals into terrestrial and...
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