• Ashlock;
  • cladistics;
  • conceptualization;
  • Hennig;
  • Linnean systematics;
  • phylogeny

About 50 years ago, the German entomologist Willi Hennig presented a new approach in biological systematics that he called a phylogenetic systematics. The main difference between his approach and traditional Linnean systematics was that he distinguished two new kinds of groups that he called mono- and paraphyletic groups, and whereof he considered only monophyletic groups to be natural groups. However, almost immediately after publication of his approach in English, some biological systematists commented that his monophyletic groups rather ought to be called holophyletic groups. The comment sparked a heated debate about the definition of the concept ‘monophyletic groups’, but the debate never reached consensus. In this paper, I claim that the controversy does not concern the definition of the concept monophyletic groups per se, but instead conceptualization of phylogenies (i.e. dichotomously branching processes) in a general sense. I discuss the relation between mono-, holo- and paraphyletic groups, and conclude that Hennig's conceptualization of phylogenies is both inconsistent and empirically wrong, whereas Linné's instead is consistent and correct. © 2008 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2008, 94, 217–220.