Mystery of mysteries: Darwin and the species problem

Abstract

Darwin offered an intriguing answer to the species problem. He doubted the existence of the species category as a real category in nature, but he did not doubt the existence of those taxa called ‘‘species’’. And despite his scepticism of the species category, Darwin continued using the word ‘‘species’’. Many have said that Darwin did not understand the nature of species. Yet his answer to the species problem is both theoretically sound and practical. On the theoretical side, DarwinÕs answer is confirmed by contemporary biology, and it offers a more satisfactory answer to the species problem than recent attempts to save the species category. On the practical side, DarwinÕs answer frees us from the search for the correct theoretical definition of ‘‘species’’. But at the same time it does not require that we banish the word ‘‘species’’ from biology as some recent sceptics of the species category advocate. Ó The Willi Hennig Society 2010

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Marc Ereshefsky
University of Calgary

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