Understanding affinity: Locke on generation and the task of classification

Locke Studies 11:49-71 (2011)
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Abstract

John Locke’s theory of classification is a subject that has long received scholarly attention. Little notice has been taken, however, of the problems that were posed for taxonomy by its inability to account for organic processes. Classification, designed originally as an exercise in logic, becomes complicated once it turns to organic life and the aims of taxonomy become entangled with processes of generation, variation, and inheritance. Locke’s experience with organisms—experience garnered through his work in botany and medicine—suggested to him both the dynamism of nature and the artificiality of any a priori system of classification. This reinforced Locke’s critique of classification in the Essay Concerning Human Understanding, and by tracing its influence it is possible to approach Locke’s nominalism from a fresh perspective.

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Jennifer Mensch
Western Sydney University

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