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When a question is posed in science, a hypothesis is made and tested repeatedly. There isn’t much room for philosophical debate. However, a philosophy professor from the University of Alabama, Richard A. Richards, has found such a debate in just one word: species.
Richards posed the question of whether species are real to a large group of Weber State University students and professors on Friday evening.
“Where there’s a philosophical problem, there’s a philosopher ready to pounce,” he said.
Richards is the author of “The Species Problem: A Philosophical Analysis,” which asks whether the term “species” is an adequate term to encompass the scope of exactly what a species is.
During his lecture, Richards said that Charles Darwin, the famous author of “The Origin of Species,” didn’t believe in species, thinking instead that they were arbitrary and artificial groupings.
Throughout the lecture, Richards presented different problems by using the word “species” to categorize the genera of living things, from the use of the word as natural kinds (the way philosophers view species) to the posing of species as a metaphysical term, viewing species as “individuals,” which is dependent on cohesion.
Richards said he believes species cannot be viewed as natural kinds because there is no single set of properties that can serve to identify and distinguish between species.
Although Richards leans heavily on the more metaphysical term that emerged from lineage segments and individuality, even he finds there is a worry to his response on the problem of the reality of species.
“One worry about this response is that our ideas about individuality is biased against the things we look at when we think about individuals,” he said. “Most of us, when we think about individuals, think about large vertebrates . . . but there are some kind of individual organisms that are not are so cohesive. Slime molds are an example.”
WSU students reacted to the lecture with their own solutions and thoughts about the topic.
“As biologists and in general, we need to get away from polyphyletic classifications and move towards more monophyletic classification, a cladistic viewpoint,” said student Wes Wells.
Some WSU students believed that the question came down to humans’ misgivings on the word.
“I think it comes down to a lot of linguistics, in my opinion,” said student Oscar Bedolla. “It’s hard to classify what a species is. There’s a lot of variations between species.”