Mapping Controversy: A Cartography of Taxonomy and Biodiversity for the Philosophy of Biology


One potentially extremely fruitful use of the tools of corpus analysis in the philosophy of science is to help us understand disputed terrains within the sciences that we study. For philosophers of biology, for instance, few controversies are as heated as those over the concepts we use in taxonomy to classify the living world, with the definition of ‘species’ perhaps most fundamental among them. As many understandings of biodiversity, in turn, involve counting the number of species present in a given area, these taxonomic concepts thus become crucially implicated in our efforts in conservation biology and our response to climate change. In this chapter, we present a corpus of taxonomic journal papers, and illustrate how it might be used to make progress in the history and philosophy of taxonomy. What parts of the biological world do taxonomists most often study? Are these areas of focus related to other methodological commitments, or perhaps to their underlying conceptual disagreement? Are species that are more important to conservation, or economic concerns, or more important to local cultures, more or less likely to be the target of biological study? Corpus-based methods, we argue, are uniquely powerful for approaching questions such as these, and we hope that the case we present can serve as a fruitful example for others considering their implementation.

Author Profiles

Stijn Conix
Université Catholique de Louvain
Charles H. Pence
Université Catholique de Louvain


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