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Truth of classifications in taxonomy

A. A. Stekolnikov

The Linnaean Miscellanea (Sbornik Trudov Zoologicheskogo Muzeya MGU 48, Moscow, Moscow Univ. Publ.): 101-122 (2007) (In Russian, English summary).


Classification considered from the standpoint of traditional logic is only one of the aspects of biological taxonomy, that is common with other sciences (geology, archeology, linguistics etc.). The question of truth in respect to this aspect is studied. Correspondence theory of truth and the method of truth definition in empiricism are characterized briefly. Inadequacy of the correspondence theory is shown by an example of theoretical taxonomical works by Pavlinov (2004) and Zuev (2002). A version of idealistic conception of truth is then developed, opposed to the correspondence theory (and metaphysical realism), as well as to empiricism. The main idea of this concept is that truth of knowledge consists of dependence of knowledge on consciousness; only the latter gives existence to empirical evidence as such by imparting form to it. The conception originates from the interest in existence, which was characteristic of the European philosophy from the early beginning and can serve for determination of science as distinct from other fields of cognition. But in contrast to the classical idea of truth, the supposed answer to the question of existence in our conception is that given object is an artefact, but not an element of objective reality.

In accordance with this idea, the truth of classification consists of revealing the arbitrariness of classes. Classification treated as creation of classes can not exist, since properties of classes, basis of classification, supreme genus, and classified objects are given; the activity of investigator may consist only in identification of objects (assigning to proper classes) or in reorganization of the system of classes. But when compiling a diagnosis, taxonomist analyzes this identification activity and thus critisizes the process of perceiving in which he was involved himself previously, during identification. This allow him recognizing the arbitrariness of a given classification, and then proceeding to its reorganization. However, the truth does not lie in a new classification but just in this recognition that leads taxonomists to developing the field of subjectivity.

Diagnosis compiler pays attention to the perceiving of properties, but usually he does not question the origin of objects. But biological systematics is able to critisize its objects, though only outside the traditional theory of classification.

Considering a taxonomist as a subject of knowledge cannot ignore his somatic aspect, namely, possessing senses. The common opinion that Cartesian basis of science presupposes considering the sentient body as external object only that is opposed to pure thought, is not quite correct. The initial stage of the Descartes' construction in his "Meditations on First Philosophy" treates sense as an attribute of "thinking thing". Subject of knowledge really begins with the doubt of sense, but he finishes with involving the sense into the field of pure thought.

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