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Putting Metaphysics FirstEssays on Metaphysics and Epistemology$
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Michael Devitt

Print publication date: 2009

Print ISBN-13: 9780199280803

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: February 2010

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199280803.001.0001

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Resurrecting Biological Essentialism *

Resurrecting Biological Essentialism *

Chapter:
(p.213) 11 Resurrecting Biological Essentialism*
Source:
Putting Metaphysics First
Author(s):

Michael Devitt (Contributor Webpage)

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199280803.003.0012

This chapter defends the doctrine that Linnaean taxa, including species, have essences that are, at least partly, underlying intrinsic, mostly genetic, properties. The consensus among philosophers of biology is that such essentialism is deeply wrong, indeed incompatible with Darwinism. The chapter argues that biological generalizations about the morphology, physiology, and behaviour of species require structural explanations that must advert to these essential properties. The objection that, according to current ‘species concepts’, species are relational is rejected. These concepts are primarily concerned with what it is for a kind to be a species and throw little light on the essentialist issue of what it is for an organism to be a member of a particular kind. Finally, the chapter argues that this essentialism can accommodate features of Darwinism associated with variation and change.

Keywords:   biological essentialism, Linnaean taxa, species, intrinsic, relational, Darwinism, structural explanation, species concepts, variation, change

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