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Character Individuation in Phylogenetic Inference

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 January 2022

Abstract

Ontological questions in biology have typically focused on the nature of species: what are species; how are they identified and individuated? There is an analogous, but much neglected concern: what are characters; how are they identified and individuated? Character individuation is significant because biological systematics relies on a parsimony principle to determine phylogeny and classify taxa, and the parsimony principle is usually interpreted to favor the phylogenetic hypothesis that requires the fewest changes in characters. But no character individuation principle identified so far is adequate. For biological systematics we need a better way of conceiving characters.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © The Philosophy of Science Association

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Footnotes

I wish to thank Peter Achinstein and Karen Neander for their helpful criticism and support. David Weishampel and Richard Mayden have both been invaluable in helping me to better understand phylogenetic inference and the associated philosophical issues. The helpful comments of the anonymous referees are also appreciated. The views presented here, and any mistakes, are my own.

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