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Biological Systematics and Evolutionary Theory

Quinn, Aleta (2015) Biological Systematics and Evolutionary Theory. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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In this dissertation I examine the role of evolutionary theory in systematics (the science that discovers biodiversity). Following Darwin’s revolution, systematists have aimed to reconstruct the past. My dissertation analyzes common but mistaken assumptions about sciences that reconstruct the past by tracing the assumptions to J.S. Mill. Drawing on Mill’s contemporary, William Whewell, I critique Mill’s assumptions and develop an alternative and more complete account of systematic inference as inference to the best explanation.
First, I analyze the inadequate view: that scientists use causal theories to hypothesize what past chains of events must have been, and then form hypotheses that identify segments of a network of events and causal transactions between events. This model assumes that scientists can identify events in the world by reference to neatly delineated properties, and that discovering causal laws is simply a matter of testing what regularities hold between events so delineated. Twentieth century philosophers of science tacitly adopted this assumption in otherwise distinct models of explanation. As Whewell pointed out in his critique of Mill, the problem with this assumption is that the delineation of events via properties is itself the hard part of science.
Drawing on Whewell’s philosophy of science, and my work as a member of a team of systematists revising the genus Bassaricyon, I show how historical scientists avoid the problems of the inadequate view. Whewell’s account of historical science and of consilience provide a better foothold for understanding systematics. Whewell’s consilience describes the fit between a single hypothesis and lines of reasoning that draw on distinct conceptual structures.
My analysis clarifies the significance of two revolutions in systematics. Whereas pre-Darwinian systematists used consilience as an evidentiary criterion without explicit justification, after Darwin’s revolution consilience can be understood as a form of inference to the best explanation. I show that the adoption of Hennig’s phylogenetic framework formalized methodological principles at the core of Whewell’s philosophy of historical science. I conclude by showing how two challenges that are frequently pressed against inference to the best explanation are met in the context of phylogenetic inference.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairLennox, Jamesjglennox@pitt.eduJGLENNOX
Committee MemberSchwartz, Jeffreyjhs@pitt.eduJHS
Committee MemberSchaffner, Kennethkfs@pitt.eduKFS
Committee MemberMitchell, Sandrasmitchel@pitt.eduSMITCHEL
Date: 27 September 2015
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 1 July 2015
Approval Date: 27 September 2015
Submission Date: 16 July 2015
Access Restriction: 5 year -- Restrict access to University of Pittsburgh for a period of 5 years.
Number of Pages: 180
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > History and Philosophy of Science
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: Systematics, phylogenetics, Whewell, Mill, Hennig, historical science, inference to the best explanation
Date Deposited: 28 Sep 2015 01:22
Last Modified: 27 Sep 2020 05:15


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