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Coherence, correspondence, and the renaissance of morphology in phylogenetic systematics


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The decline in morphological phylogenies has become a pronounced trend in contemporary systematics due to a disregard for theoretical, methodological, conceptual, and philosophical approaches. The role and meaning of morphology in phylogenetic reconstruction and classification have been undermined by the following: (i) the ambiguous delineation of morphological characters; (ii) the putative “objectivity” of molecular data; (iii) that morphology has not been included in data matrices; (iv) that morphology has been mapped onto molecular cladograms; and (v) a separation of a paradigmatic relationship among morphology, phylogeny, and classification. Historical/philosophical arguments including the synthesis of coherence (coherentism) and correspondence (foundationalism) theories—i.e. “foundherentism” as a theory of epistemic justification—provide support for a renaissance of morphology in phylogenetic systematics. In the language of systematics, coherence theory corresponds to the logical/operational congruence of character states translated into a hierarchical/relational system of homologues and monophyletic groups as natural kinds. Correspondence theory corresponds to the empirical/causal accommodation of homologues and monophyletic groups as natural kinds grounded in the concept of semaphoront, and in developmental biology, genetics, inheritance, ontogenesis, topology, and connectivity. The role and meaning of morphology are also discussed in the context of separate and combined analyses, palaeontology, natural kinds, character concepts, semaphoront, modularity, and taxonomy. Molecular systematics suffers from tension between coherence and correspondence theories, and fails to provide a pragmatic language for predicates in science and in everyday life. Finally, the renaissance of morphology is not only dependent on a scientific/philosophical perspective but also depends on political, economic, social, and educational reforms in contemporary systematics.

 © The Willi Hennig Society 2009.