The Nature of Classification: Relationships and Kinds in the by John S. Wilkins; Malte C. Ebach

By John S. Wilkins; Malte C. Ebach

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Howard proposed seven classes (genera) of clouds – three “simple modifications”, cirrus, cumulus, and stratus, two “intermediate modifications”, cirro-cumulus, and cirro-stratus, and two “compound modifications”, cumulo-stratus and cumulo-cirro-stratus, or nimbus. His criteria used apparent density, elevation, height, and whether it produced rain. Particular types of clouds were called, following the logical and Linnaean examples, “species”. He also devised our present system of signs for these cloud types, and proposed a correlation with certain types of rain and clouds.

36 Over the course of a century or so, a natural classification went from being what we observed without theory to what we derived from theory. Things weren’t helped much by Popperian insistence that theories were not inductively developed from experience and data, and that all observations were bound to theory (a view still blithely repeated by some taxonomists). So far from being the case that we developed theories by observing and classifying, as the early nineteenth century taxonomists had presumed in a naively Baconian manner, we instead could not even observe things without a prior theory.

They relied upon any data whatsoever, without prior filtering, in order to achieve naturalness. Another issue was that they wished to make the process of classification purely operational, following Percy Bridgman’s philosophy that all that counted in science was how things were measured (operations of measurement, hence the name operationalism55). The problem here that arose was that depending upon the principal components chosen, different taxa fell out. While numerical taxonomy, which came to be known as “phenetics” (from the Greek phaneros, apparent, manifest) found structure in the data, it seemed that structure was not always, nor even often, taxonomic structure.

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