Suppressing Synonymy with a Homonym: The Emergence of the Nomenclatural Type Concept in Nineteenth Century Natural History

Journal of the History of Biology, Jun 2015

‘Type’ in biology is a polysemous term. In a landmark article, Paul Farber (Journal of the History of Biology 9(1): 93–119, 1976) argued that this deceptively plain term had acquired three different meanings in early nineteenth century natural history alone. ‘Type’ was used in relation to three distinct type concepts, each of them associated with a different set of practices. Important as Farber’s analysis has been for the historiography of natural history, his account conceals an important dimension of early nineteenth century ‘type talk.’ Farber’s taxonomy of type concepts passes over the fact that certain uses of ‘type’ began to take on a new meaning in this period. At the closing of the eighteenth century, terms like ‘type specimen,’ ‘type species,’ and ‘type genus’ were universally recognized as referring to typical, model members of their encompassing taxa. But in the course of the nineteenth century, the same terms were co-opted for a different purpose. As part of an effort to drive out nomenclatural synonymy – the confusing state of a taxon being known to different people by different names – these terms started to signify the fixed and potentially atypical name-bearing elements of taxa. A new type concept was born: the nomenclatural type. In this article, I retrace this perplexing nineteenth century shift in meaning of ‘type.’ I uncover the nomenclatural disorder that the new nomenclatural type concept dissolved, and expose the conceptual confusion it left in its tracks. What emerges is an account of how synonymy was suppressed through the coinage of a homonym.

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Suppressing Synonymy with a Homonym: The Emergence of the Nomenclatural Type Concept in Nineteenth Century Natural History

Journal of the History of Biology DOI 10.1007/s10739 Suppressing Synonymy with a Homonym: The Emergence of the Nomenclatural Type Concept in Nineteenth Century Natural History 0 Department of Psychology Utrecht University Utrecht The Netherlands 1 Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies Utrecht University Utrecht The Netherlands 2 JOERI WITTEVEEN Descartes Centre for the History and Philosophy of the Sciences and the Humanities Utrecht University Utrecht The Netherlands 'Type' in biology is a polysemous term. In a landmark article, Paul Farber (Journal of the History of Biology 9(1): 93-119, 1976) argued that this deceptively plain term had acquired three different meanings in early nineteenth century natural history alone. 'Type' was used in relation to three distinct type concepts, each of them associated with a different set of practices. Important as Farber's analysis has been for the historiography of natural history, his account conceals an important dimension of early nineteenth century 'type talk.' Farber's taxonomy of type concepts passes over the fact that certain uses of 'type' began to take on a new meaning in this period. At the closing of the eighteenth century, terms like 'type specimen,' 'type species,' and 'type genus' were universally recognized as referring to typical, model members of their encompassing taxa. But in the course of the nineteenth century, the same terms were co-opted for a different purpose. As part of an effort to drive out nomenclatural synonymy - the confusing state of a taxon being known to different people by different names - these terms started to signify the fixed and potentially atypical name-bearing elements of taxa. A new type concept was born: the nomenclatural type. In this article, I retrace this perplexing nineteenth century shift in meaning of 'type.' I uncover the nomenclatural disorder that the new nomenclatural type concept dissolved, and expose the conceptual confusion it left in its tracks. What emerges is an account of how synonymy was suppressed through the coinage of a homonym. - Nineteenth century natural history was rife with talk of ‘types’ in various guises. In a landmark article from 1976, historian of biology Paul Farber set out to disentangle the web of connotations of this deceptively plain term. He pointed out that ‘type’ in this period ‘‘was not a simple notion. Rather, it was a constellation of concepts that zoologists employed in different specialties, assigned to different levels of organization, and interpreted in different ways’’ (Farber, 1976, p. 93). Farber argued that the distinct usages of ‘type’ pointed towards three different ‘type concepts’: the morphological type concept, the classification type concept, and the collection type concept. Farber’s analysis imbued some much-needed historical data into the diatribe against ‘typological thinking’ that had been launched by Ernst Mayr and his fellow Modern Synthesis architects.1 Farber rightly emphasized that speaking of ‘typological thinking’ as a monolithic and backward category ‘‘does violence to the historical record and confuses contemporary debates rather than clarifies them’’ (Farber, 1978, p. 91). He showed that pre-Darwinian type-talk was not hung up on Platonic idealism or Aristotelian essentialism, but rather involved a spectrum of flourishing empirical and theoretical endeavors. Farber’s 1976 paper has deservedly attained the status of a classic in the history and philosophy of biology. His account of types has formed the backbone of many studies of late eighteenth and nineteenth century taxonomy and morphology, and continues to be viewed as a conceptual 1 E.g. Dobzhansky (1967), Mayr (1959, 1976), and Simpson (1961). It is generally thought that typology/population dichotomy was a purely rhetorical ploy, which Mayr conjured up from thin air in the early 1950s (e.g. Chung, 2003; Winsor, 2006). Elsewhere, I show that the actual origination history of the typology/population dichotomy is considerably more complicated than this (Witteveen, under review[a]). It originated with independent (and disciplined) arguments by Dobzhansky and Simpson against distinct notions of type, used in different methodological, conceptual, and theoretical contexts. Mayr later swept up these individually meaningful type/population contrasts and recombined them into a rather obscure argument against typological thinking. springboard for improving our grip on nineteenth century natural history.2 It is nonetheless high time to revisit Farber’s account of types, for some things that he writes are prima facie puzzling. Take, for example, the claim that his tripartite taxonomy of type concepts should not be taken ‘‘[to] correspond to nineteenth-nineteenth-century definitions of the word ‘type,’’’ since the word was generally ‘‘used in a very loose manner’’ (Farber, 1976, p. 93). What, then, did Farber attempt to capture with his taxonomy of type concepts? Obviously, he was not anachronistically imposing his own categorization of type concepts on history. Instead, Farber intended to articulate distinct interpretations that were implicit in widespread nineteenth uses of the word, as part of distinct constellations of theory, practice and belief. This is illustrated by an observation Farber makes about the confused practices of some naturalists, when viewed against the background of type concepts that were recognized by their contemporaries. He notes that in the context of handling so-called ‘type specimens,’ some naturalists were ‘‘confusing the collection typeconcept with the morphological or classification type-concept’’ (Farber, 1976, p. 107). However, this same observation also suggests that there is something amiss with Farber’s own classification of type concepts. For, when Farber specifies how certain naturalists confused the collection type concept with other type concepts, he gives an account of the collection type concept that is at odds with his analysis from earlier in his paper. In consequence, it appears that Farber is of two minds about what the collection type concept really amounted to, and which practices it warranted. I will show that this internal tension in Farber’s account originates in an assumption that turns out to be problematic. Farber’s account is built on the hidden assumption that early nineteenth century uses of ‘type’ had stabilized around an array of meanings that correspond to his three type concepts. What Farber hereby overlooks, is that certain uses of ‘type’ underwent a radical change in meaning in this period. At the closing of the eighteenth century, terms such as ‘type specimen,’ ‘type species,’ and ‘type genus’ had referred to typical members of their respective taxa. They were taxon elements that could serve as models for their respective taxa in the practice of classification. Yet by the end of the nineteenth century, these same terms had lost their connotation to anything ‘typical’; they now referred to the fixed (and potentially aberrant), name-bearing elements of those taxa. The nomenclatural type concept had emerged. To recognize the nomenclatural type concept for what it is, is to realize that there is a story to be told about how it originated.3 This intriguing history forms the heart of this paper. I will show that the emergence of the nomenclatural type concept was at once virtually inevitable and entirely incidental. It was virtually inevitable, because the only way taxonomy could continue to be pursued in the radically changing context of the nineteenth century was by tying names to fixed name-bearing elements. Only this method held the promise of calling to a halt the rapid increase in synonymy – the pervasively confusing state of one taxon being known to different people by different names. On the other hand, it was entirely incidental that these name-bearing elements would become known as ‘types.’ Moreover, this choice of terminology invited confusion: references to ‘the type of a taxon’ became ambiguous between a taxon’s typical element and its name-bearing element. In an effort to drive out synonymy, ‘type’ was being turned into a confusing homonym. Farber’s Taxonomy of Type Concepts Before addressing the problem with Farber’s taxonomy of type concepts, I will give a brief overview of the type concepts he distinguishes. The most familiar type concept he discusses is the morphological type. It was defined as an abstract plan, schema, or blueprint of a (taxonomic) group of organisms that picks out its defining characters: ‘‘The morphological type … was a plan of organization that in principle consisted of essential elements’’ (Farber, 1976, p. 107). Farber attributes the first exposition of this type concept in modern history to the comparative anatomist Louis-Jean-Marie Daubenton (1716–1800) ‘‘whose morphological descriptions of quadrupeds marked the beginning of the modern 3 As far as I am aware, Lorraine Daston is the only one who has gestured to important parts of this history (Daston, 2004; Daston and Galison, 2007, p. 109ff.), albeit without clearly articulating the shift in type concepts. Instead, she reads the history of the type specimen notion through the lens of a larger historical–epistemological framework (Daston and Galison, 2007). I do not have the space here to discuss Daston’s argument in any detail, but argue elsewhere that her approach is problematic (Witteveen, under review[b]). The constraints of her historiographical framework cause her to overlook several key nineteenth century developments, and leads her to misconstrue the notion of a type specimen that was being hammered out. science of comparative anatomy’’ (Farber, 1976, p. 100).4 As the longtime collaborator of Georges-Louis Leclerc de Buffon (1707–1788), Daubenton provided anatomical descriptions of morphological types for his Histoire Naturelle (Buffon, 1749), by listing sets of exclusive and essential morphological characters as plans on which individual species had been constructed. Through Buffon’s works, the morphological type concept started to spread, and soon became applied to other levels of the taxonomic hierarchy. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832) applied the morphological type concept to the entire kingdom of plants through his notion of the Urpflanze (Lenoir, 1978; Nisbet, 1967).5 Another example of the deployment of the morphological type concept at a higher taxonomic level was Georges Cuvier’s (1769–1832) division of life into four embranchements, based on four fundamentally different kinds of nervous systems. Farber notes that, over time, different interpretations of the morphological type were developed. Cuvier followed Daubenton in working with a functional conception of morphological types, while others, such as E´tienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire (1772–1844), argued that meaningful plans had to be based on structural correspondences. Hence, the famous debate between Cuvier and Geoffroy can be understood as a controversy over the nature of morphological types – that morphological types existed was not at issue (Appel, 1987). A similar debate over the nature of types and the empirical basis on which they should be discerned arose in the nineteenth century, when the importance of embryological evidence in the description of morphological types became a topic of heated debate (Lyons, 1999; Trienes, 1989). As Lenoir (1978) has pointed out, the metaphysical status of morphological types also allowed for flexibility of interpretation: whereas Kant and Goethe considered morphological plans to be ‘regulative types’ the later Naturphilosophen gave them a realist interpretation, turning them into the ‘constitutive types’ that dominated much of nineteenth century morphology and embryology.6 The second type concept Farber distinguishes is the classification type. A classification type is an exemplary member of a taxonomic group that can be used to determine the group’s boundaries by comparing and contrasting it with other potential members of that group. 4 Others have traced the morphological type concept all the way back to antiquity (Hammen, 1981; Toepfer, 2011). 5 Though, as Riegner (2013) has recently emphasized, Goethe emphasized the dy namic, developmental aspects of morphological types. 6 For more on the diverse historical interpretations of morphological types, see Levit and Meister (2006), Nyhart (1995), Richards (2002), and Rupke (2009), among many others. Farber argues that this was the meaning of such notions as ‘type species’ and ‘type genus’ in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. Cuvier, for example, used classification types at the genus-level when he wrote: ‘‘Not being able to assign to each family an equivalent and exclusive character, we will limit ourselves at this time to indicating families by names derived from the most well-known genus of each family; the genus which one can consider as the type and from which it is easiest to form an idea of the family’’ (Cuvier and Valenciennes, 1828, vol. I, p. 571; cited in Farber, 1976, p. 103). Buffon similarly made use of classification types at the species-level when he used the European flycatcher as a model of comparison in assigning twenty-four other species to the same genus (Buffon, 1778, IV, pp. 517–518). Farber notes that in the early nineteenth century ‘‘the use of the classification type-concept increased dramatically and became explicit rather than implicit’’ (Farber, 1976, pp. 94–95). That is, taxonomists increasingly started using phrases like ‘type (of the) species’ and ‘type (of the) genus’ to refer to model members of taxonomic groups. This terminology was popularized by William Whewell (1794–1866), who named the practice of assigning and using classification types the ‘Method of Type’: Natural Groups are best described, not by any definition which marks their boundaries, but by a Type which marks their centre. The Type of any natural group is an example which possesses in a marked degree all the leading characters of the class … The typespecies of every genus, the type-genus of every family, is, then, one which possesses all the characters and properties of the genus in a marked and prominent manner. Whewell (1840, pp. xxxii, 477) Classification types were often used as an inductive means of narrowing in on the description of a morphological type.7 Peter Stevens has argued that this use of classification types was especially prominent in botany, as plants were often found to be insufficiently ‘‘morphologically coherent’’ to allow for direct application of the morphological type concept (Stevens, 1984, p. 169). As with the morphological type concept, the classification type concept was interpreted differently by different taxonomists. Some argued that there were definite, typical, representative members of each class in nature. This attitude was central to the quinary theory of classification of William John Swainson (1789–1855). Together with other quinary theorists such as William Sharp Macleay (1792–1865) and Nicholas Aylward Vigors (1785– 1840), Swainson believed that animal taxa needed to be arranged in nested ‘circles of five.’ He argued that each circle had a representative typical group embodying the highest degree of organization, from which the other four groups of the same rank departed in various ways. Swainson’s classification type concept thus was ‘‘a complex notion predicated on the principles of his system of classification’’ (Farber, 1976, p. 115).8 Whewell, on the other hand, conceived of classification types as being independent of any particular taxonomic theory. He emphasized the role of classification types as heuristic devices, stressing that ‘‘we cannot say of any one genus that it must be the type of the family, or of any species that it must be the type of the genus’’ (Whewell, 1840, p. 477). Finally – and this will become important in a moment – Farber notes that ‘‘the classification type-concept also doubled as a name carrier in nomenclature. The model species was used to determine the genus name, so that if at a later date the genus were split or rearranged, the group that contained the type species was given the original name’’ (Farber, 1976, p. 95). The third and final type concept Farber distinguishes, the collection type concept, covers the concrete ‘type specimens’ stored in the collections of dried plants known as ‘herbaria.’ Farber notes that, functionally speaking, the collection type concept was ‘‘[s]imilar to the classification type-concept … the collection type concept served as a model and name carrier’’ (ibid., p. 97). He nevertheless considers type specimens to form a separate class of types, because of their tangible nature. Unlike type species or type genera, type specimens could be picked up, preserved, stored, labeled, displayed and exchanged. The collection type concept was therefore wound up with taxidermic techniques, networks of exchange, and natural history collections (Farber, 1977, 1980). Farber’s overall taxonomy of type concepts is summarized in Table 1. On first inspection, it appears elegant and parsimonious. It seems to capture some high-level distinctions in early nineteenth century uses of the word ‘type,’ which historians are well-advised to keep apart. However, when we give Farber’s taxonomy a closer look, an internal tension appears that 8 For a different, late nineteenth century use of classification types in a quinarian context, see Coggon (2002). morphological type classification type raises questions about the overall coherence of his account. This tension surfaces when, based on the distinctions he has drawn, Farber criticizes how some nineteenth century naturalists deployed the collection type concept. Potentially, the main problem of interpretation with the collection type-concept had to do with considering the type-specimen truely [sic] typical of the species. There was little to recommend such a practice. The first description of a species was often made from an incomplete knowledge of the full range of variation within the species. If one argued that a type-specimen should be replaced by a more typical specimen when additional knowledge of the species was obtained, the entire value of the concept of the collection typeconcept [sic] as a name carrier and reference for the original description would be lost …. [N]aturalists who wished to treat typespecimens as typical specimens, were confusing the collection typeconcept with the morphological or classification type-concept. Farber (1976, pp. 105–106) There is something odd about the criticism Farber voices here. In the previous section we saw that Farber characterized type specimens (i.e. collection types) as well as type species and type genera (i.e. classification types) as having served essentially the same roles at different hierarchical levels (see Table 1). He argued that all these ‘type elements’ served both as classificatory models and as name-carriers for their encompassing taxa. Yet, in the quotation above Farber backpedals on defining type specimens as classificatory models, by stating that their ‘‘entire value’’ lay in the role of being fixed bearers of taxon names. Treating a collection type as a model that could be replaced with a more typical exemplar is now portrayed as having been illegitimate and illogical. Farber thus leaves us with two conflicting accounts of what the distinction between collection and classification types consisted in. At first he portrays the collection type concept as a functionally similar but pragmatically separable kind of classification type concept – collection types as tangible classification types, – but later he suggests that collection types and classification types were functionally at odds. Which of these accounts is the correct one? Neither is. Instead, the tension in Farber’s account signals a problem with his overall approach towards uncovering nineteenth century type concepts. Farber assumes that the terms ‘type specimen,’ ‘type species,’ and ‘type genus’ had stable (if implicit) meanings across the period ranging from the late-eighteenth to the mid-nineteenth century. In reality, however, these terms started to take on a new meaning in the early nineteenth century. At the end of the eighteenth century, everyone understood ‘type of a taxon’ to refer to a typical element that could serve as a model member for exploring the limits of its encompassing taxon. By the end of the nineteenth century, ‘type of a taxon’ had come to refer to the fixed (and potentially atypical) name-bearer of a taxon name. To account for the nineteenth century change in meaning of a ‘type element,’ we need to modify Farber’s taxonomy by setting it in motion. We need to recognize that extant type terms became associated with an entirely novel type concept. A term like ‘type species’ evolved from signifying a classification type towards betokening a nomenclatural type. The same goes for terms like ‘type specimen’ and ‘type genus.’ Table 2 shows how Farber’s taxonomy needs to be modified in this light. A new category of nomenclatural types is recognized at the same level as that of classification types. Each of these two categories covers the meaning of ‘type specimen,’ ‘type species,’ and ‘type genus’ for a different period. Using this revised taxonomy, we can start to make sense of Farber’s allegation that certain nineteenth taxonomists were confusing type concepts. The point Farber was getting at, is that when taxonomists started using the term ‘type specimen’ to refer to a fixed name-bearing specimen (i.e. a nomenclatural type specimen), this implied that such a Type concept Morphological type Classification type Definition An abstract A taxon or taxon-element A taxon or taxon-element representation that serves as classificatory that serves as name-bearer of the essential model for of its encompassing for the name of its features of a taxon taxon. A ’typical’ representative. encompassing taxon. Example/ The vertebrate Type specimen; type species; Type specimen; type instantiation archetype type genus species; type genus specimen should not be replaced with a more typical exemplar at a later time. Doing so amounted to treating nomenclatural types as if they were classification types. This confusion between type concepts also manifested itself in the use of a nomenclatural type specimen as a model for the classification of other specimens. Sometimes this would have worked – a nomenclatural type specimen could be genuinely exemplary – but there was no principled reason to always expect this to be the case. Since nomenclatural type specimens were often designated upon the discovery of a small sample of material from a (putatively) new species, it was quite likely that they would be rather aberrant members of their species in the light of later discoveries. Apart from allowing us to improve Farber’s account, the revised taxonomy of type concepts points to an important new explanatory project. It raises the question how and why terms like ‘type specimen’ and ‘type species’ shifted meaning in the course of the nineteenth century. How could these terms become detached from connotations of typicality, and gain the new meaning of ‘fixed name-bearer’? What developments drove this change? To answer these questions we need to delve into late-eighteenth century theory and practice of naming and classifying, and follow their development as we reach the maelstrom of early nineteenth century taxonomy. From Method of Type to Type Method Linnaeus and the Method of Type Linnaeus (1707–1778) never wrote about types. Still, he clearly falls in the category of those who used the classification type concept ‘implicitly,’ as Farber rightly notes.9 Starting from a set of carefully selected ‘chief species’ (prima species) Linnaeus made one-by-one comparisons with other known species in order to gradually determine the boundaries between genera. If the characters of a newfound species matched those of the chief species sufficiently well, the new species was added to the genus, and all characters by which the two species differed were cancelled from the description of the genus.10 By iterating this proce9 ‘‘One can find similar implicit classification type-concepts in the writings of other major eighteenth-century writers, such as Carl von Linn e´’’ (Farber, 1976, p. 94). 10 Many commentators have noted that, in practice, Linnaeus frequently failed to remove the dissenting characters from his description, because of a lack of time (Mu¨ llerWille, 2007; Winsor, 2003). This has enabled later authors to retrace which species he used a prima specie (Pennell, 1930). dure, Linnaeus could provide increasingly accurate descriptions of the ‘natural character’ of a genus (Linnaeus, 1751, §193; Mu¨ ller-Wille, 2006, 2007; Stearn, 1957, p. 37). Linnaeus referred to this practice as the ‘method of collation’ (collatio specierum). In the Flora Lapponica, for example, he remarked that it could not be said with certainty that the genus Andromeda was distinct from the genus Erica until he would have ‘‘collated flowers of more species from both genera’’ (Linnaeus, 1737b, p. 126). Many later commentators have recognized this practice as an application of Whewell’s Method of Type.11 The botanist Henry Knute Svenson (1897–1986) stated that from a Linnaean viewpoint ‘‘we may think of genera as broadening concentric circles such as the rings formed by pebbles thrown into water: the initial impact representing the type species of the genus, and the resulting concentric rings the accretion of species through historical usage’’ (Svenson, 1945, p. 291). The American botanist Francis Whittier Pennell (1886–1952) remarked in a similar vein that in the Genera Plantarum ‘‘each [generic description] was prepared from a species carefully selected as typical’’ (Pennell, 1933, p. 38).12 Linnaeus emphasized that only the most seasoned taxonomists could be trusted in their selection of classification types (Linnaeus, 1751, p. 193). Only the expert possessed the requisite tacit knowledge for selecting a truly typical species for each genus. Another Linnaean recommendation for the selection of classification type species was that they be species with putative medicinal properties.13 This is illustrated by the fact that a large number of the species Linnaeus used as classification types for the fifth edition of Genera Plantarum (Linnaeus, 1754) are species that he had included in his recently published Species Plantarum (Linnaeus, 1753) with the epithet ‘officinales’ – a term denoting exemplary medicinal value with regard to some property 11 Whewell mentioned Linnaeus, Adanson and de Candolle (the elder) as examples of taxonomists who had ‘‘practically applied’’ and ‘‘theoretically enunciated’’ what he regarded as the ‘‘sound maxims of classificatory science,’’ which obviously included the Method of Type (Whewell, 1840, p. 463). 12 Also see Pennell (1930, 1939). Many other taxonomists and historians have similarly noticed Linnaeus’ deployment of the Method of Type (e.g. Hitchcock and Green, 1929; Stearn, 1959, 1960; Winsor, 2003). 13 Officinal species served an important role in the larger economic context in which Linnaeus’s classificatory endeavors were situated. Ultimately, his generic classifications served the practical goal of presenting potential substitutes for imported products, so as to reduce dependence on trade, which he perceived as essentially parasitic on the domestic economy (Koerner, 1999). common to the genus (Pennell, 1930; Ho¨ vel, 1999).14 Hence, later taxonomists rightly observed that ‘‘the type of each genus of Linnaeus as stated by him is ‘the best known European or officinal species’ it contains,’’ (Jordan, 1901, p. 501) and that ‘‘among Linnaean genera … such names as communis, vulgaris, typicus, and officinalis would seem to point out typical species’’ (Hitchcock, 1925, p. 131). Meanwhile, Linnaeus was aware that even classifications made by experts were fallible. He realized that future taxonomists, with more knowledge about more species at their disposal, would likely judge that some genera were really composites, and needed to be split. Moreover, Linnaeus perspicaciously observed that this inherent fickleness of classifications could have serious consequences for the stability of taxonomic nomenclature. A name that was once established could all too easily get lost in a sequence of splitting events. Or worse, different taxonomists might start using the same original name to refer to different segments of a divided taxon. Nomenclatural chaos would ensue. In the Fundamenta Botanica, his first collection of ideas about reform in botanical taxonomy, Linnaeus offered a solution to these problems by means of proposing a procedural rule. Aphorism 246 of that work reads: If an established genus has to be split up into several, according to the Law of Nature and Art, then the name that formerly belonged to the whole should be kept to denote the plant that is most vulgar and officinal.15 With this aphorism, Linnaeus suggested that the assignment of taxonomic names be made dependent on (expert) taxonomic judgment. Any taxonomist who would be able to ascertain the typical—i.e. vulgar and officinal—species of a genus would also be able to apply its name correctly when splitting the genus. In other words, aphorism 246 made the assignment of genus names dependent on deployment of the Method of Type. Classification types would double as name-bearers. Linnaeus reiterated this aphorism in the Critica Botanica, warning that ‘‘inextricable confusion would arise’’ if taxonomists would be allowed to ‘‘choose indifferently’’ which part of a genus to apply the 14 An officina was a building, often adjacent to a herbal garden, were medicaments were prepared from plant extracts (Pearn, 2010). 15 ‘‘Si genus receptum, secundum jus naturae & artis, in plura dirimi debet, tum nomen antea commune manebit vulgatissimae & officinali plantae.’’ original name to (Linnaeus 1737a, p. 99). Linnaeus’s aphorism reached later generations of taxonomists through his widely read Philosophia Botanica (Linnaeus, 1751). His student Johan Christian Fabricius (1745–1808), for example, included aphorism 246 almost verbatim in his influential Philosophia Entomologica16 (Fabricius, 1778, §30). In the early nineteenth century, John Lindley’s (1799–1865) widely read An Introduction to Botany made mention of the ‘‘Linnaean canon’’ that was recognized for providing stability to taxonomic nomenclature: ‘‘If an old genus is divided into several new ones, the old name will remain with the species that is best known’’ (Lindley, 1832, p. 456). One would hardly suspect that soon enough, taxonomist would reject this principle because of its contribution to nomenclatural chaos. Names, Meaning, and Typicality To understand why and how aphorism 246 and its later incarnations came under threat, we will need to make an excursion into some general developments in early nineteenth century taxonomy. As the Napoleonic Wars drew to close, overseas surveys and expeditions started to bring home masses of new specimens from previously unexplored areas, driving a rapid expansion of botanical and zoological collections in Britain and on the continent. Naturalists who sifted through the materials that were brought home soon discovered numerous new species, genera, and even entire families.17 Joining the sudden increase in specimens needing to be named and classified was an increase in taxonomists who wished to be involved in the naming and classifying. A new branch of self-fashioned British provincial radicals started practicing taxonomy as a pastime, and colonial collectors began to name species on their own (McOuat, 1996; Secord, 1994; Endersby, 2008). The metropolitan establishment harbored more than a few reservations about the involvement of these new classes of amateur taxonomists in these endeavors. Imperial botanists objected that colonial collectors tended to raise mere varieties to the status of species, and that they did so mainly to derive prestige from introducing new names. To the imperial experts these new names useless, redundant, and a cause of 16 ‘‘Si genus receptum, secundum leges naturae et artis, in plura dirimatur, tum nomen antea commune vulgatissimo insecto manebit.’’ 17 Whewell mentioned that ‘‘Linnaeus knew approximately 10,000 species of plants; a few decades later this number had already swelled to 60,000’’ (Whewell, 1840, p. 489). By the mid-1830s this number had risen sharply, as it was reported that ‘‘new species are joined to those known to Linnaeus, in the proportion of at least 100 to 1’’ (Westwood, 1836, p. 562). confusion. Joseph Dalton Hooker (1817–1911), soon to become assistant director of the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew, lamented the ‘‘chaos of synonymy which has been accumulated by the thoughtless aspirants to the questionable honour of being the first to name a species’’ (Hooker, 1853, xiv).18 From the side of provincial radicals, the contributions to the ‘chaos of synonymy’ were compounded by another factor. Radical reformists argued that many taxon names that had once been ‘expressive’ of typical and distinguishing features of taxa seemed to be rather ‘off’ in the light of recent discoveries. Hence, a good number of Linnaean and colloquial names needed to be replaced with more meaningful names. Even more than the careless splitting of taxa, these arguments about meaning were anathema to the conservative metropolitan establishment.19 Apparently, the radicals had deeply misunderstood what purpose names served. As Linnaeus had already made clear, a good name was simply a memorable one. The ulterior value of names was entirely constituted in them being good mnemonic devices. Names should therefore not be too long, too similar to others, or be mixtures of Latin and Greek words.20 Ideally, a name would capture the distinguishing features of a taxon, but neither Linnaeus nor his followers considered it essential for a name to wear its ‘meaning’ on its sleeve. ‘‘Names have the same value on the marketplace of botany as coins have in public affairs, which are daily accepted as certain values by others, without metallurgical examination’’ (Linnaeus, 1737a, §284). Not the most expressive, but the first (wellformed) name given to a taxon should be counted as the rightful name for that taxon: ‘‘priority in time confers precedence’’ (Linnaeus, 1737a, §243). The controversy between radicals and conservatives flamed up properly over an article written by the anonymous S. D. W., who argued that the recent discovery of a white specimen of the species ‘coalhood’ was good reason to replace its name: ‘‘With regard to the Scientific Name of the Coalhood, I have ventured to suggest Denisirostra atricapilla, as being more definite and expressive than the name of Lin18 Hooker’s collaborator George Bentham (1800–1884) similarly proclaimed that ‘‘[i]t is only second rate botanists who pride themselves on the number of names, good or bad, to which their initials can be attached’’ (Bentham, 1878, p. 190). 19 For a broader and more detailed treatment of the controversies that ensued, see McOuat (1996). 20 Generally speaking, only the improper form of an extant name (e.g. not being in Latin, or being barbarian) would be a reason for Linnaeus to introduce a new name: ‘‘If it is decided that none of the synonyms is really suitable for the plant, then necessity compels us to make up a new one’’ (Linnaeus, 1737a, p. 258; cited in Dayrat, 2010, p. 189). naeus, Loxia Pyrrhula’’ (S.D.W., 1834, p. 593). S. D. W.’s article raised the hackles of Hugh Edwin Strickland (1811–1853), a conservative, Oxford-educated naturalist. Strickland quickly drafted a reply in which he strongly objected to the idea of substituting more ‘expressive’ names for accepted ones, ‘‘a practice which appears to me highly detrimental to the progress of natural history’’ (Strickland, 1835, p. 36). He continued by teaching S. D. W. and his allies some Linnaean philosophy of names: ‘‘[I]n order that the object of the specific name may be duly performed, it is essential that a name be universally adopted, and, therefore, never, or very rarely, altered. But it is not, I think, essential that the meaning of the name should precisely designate the species; or, indeed, that it should have any meaning at all’’ (Strickland, 1835, p. 38). With Linnaeus, Strickland also held that once a name was assigned to a species, it should be retained as its unique and memorable marker. Only a little reflection was needed to realize that S. D. W.’s alternative of ‘updating’ species names in the light of new knowledge would be unworkable: Can S. D. W., for instance, expect that the whole republic of science will take the trouble of relabelling their cabinets, altering their catalogues, or making notes in their works of reference, because an anonymous writer fancies that he can improve Pyrrhula vulgaris by changing it to Densirostra atricapilla? Again, if some adopt the alteration, a large number will not: and hence it is that we rarely find the same species labelled alike in two different museums. In short, if this practice be once given way to, there will soon be an end of all nomenclature, and, through it, of all science. Strickland (1835, pp. 38–39) Strickland’s message was clear: ‘‘[T]he evil of changing a name … is much greater than any advantage supposed to result from substituting a term which is ‘more appropriate.’’’ Reformists like S. D. W. who pressed for ‘better’ names failed to appreciate that taxon names, like proper names, are ‘‘arbitrary signs adopted to represent real things or conceptions’’ (Strickland, 1835, p. 37; italics in original). There was, in other words, a ‘‘complete parallel’’ between species names and names of men: ‘‘The first discoverer of a species may be regarded as its parent or godfather; who bestows on it any name he thinks fit, and publishes it to the scientific world in some standard work, as in a parish register’’ (Strickland, 1835, p. 39). In concluding his response to S. D. W., Strickland briefly noted that his argument was not restricted to species names, but equally applied to ‘‘the proper names of genera, or of larger groups, where such groups are retained unaltered.’’ And if a group was altered, Linnaeus’s aphorism 246 needed to be followed: ‘‘Where an old genus is divided into several new ones, new appellations must, of course, be found for them; but, even then, the original name should be retained for that group which is the most typical of the whole’’ (Strickland, 1835, p. 39). It sounded almost like Strickland reading out the Philosophia Botanica to a new generation of taxonomists. In spite of Strickland’s efforts, the radical reformists were not swayed easily. When Strickland returned to the topic of nomenclature two years after his initial bout of criticism, he noted to his dismay that ‘‘the lovers of confusion have been hard at work,’’ and that ‘‘specific names are as variable as the London fashions’’ (Strickland, 1837b, pp. 127, 128). Once again, Strickland reminded the reformists that ‘‘[t]he meaning of a name is … a point of less importance than its universality; and, when the latter object has been once gained, would never sacrifice it to the former’’ (Strickland, 1837b, p. 129). Yet by now he realized that repeating this lesson over and over would not suffice. The ‘curse of Babel’ posed by the proliferation of synonyms required a more proactive effort on behalf of ‘‘the true friends of science to counteract this evil tendency’’ (Strickland, 1837b, pp. 127–128). It had become high time to compile a set of clear and authoritative nomenclatural rules, to be accepted and followed by the entire taxonomic community. The Philosophia Botanica was in need of an update, and Strickland took the lead in getting the job done. Just one month later, Strickland published a list of 22 provisional rules of zoological nomenclature, which he compiled from the writings of contemporary naturalists. Many of the rules he listed had ancestors in Linnaean aphorisms.21 Rule 4, for example, articulated the ‘priority principle’ of aphorism 243: ‘‘The first name given to a group or species should be perpetually retained.’’ Rule 9 read: ‘‘It is desirable, but not essential, that a name should have an etymological meaning.’’ Yet the list was clearly provisional and incomplete. It did not, for instance, include the equivalent of Linnaeus’s aphorism 246 that Strickland had mentioned in his response to S. D. W. two years earlier. However, Strickland did include another rule that tied the assignment of names to ‘typical’ elements: ‘‘Rule 18: The names of families and subfamilies should be derived from the most typical genus in them’’ (Strickland, 1837c, p. 175). 21 Strickland later noted in correspondence that in his efforts to formulate nomenclatural rules he proceeded by taking Linnaeus’ Philosophia Botanica and adapting it to the demands of nineteenth century taxonomy (Strickland to Bonaparte, 30 May 1844, SA F-170). Strickland’s adoption of this rule is interesting, since it amounted to a partial departure from the purely nominalist spirit he had embraced earlier. After all, Rule 18 effectively stated that a family name should in some sense reflect the family’s content. Strickland indeed adapted this rule from the writings of the reform-minded William Swainson (1789–1855), who had argued for the improvement of certain names. ‘‘Before we impose a name upon a group which has never been characterised, we should carefully analyse it; without which we shall run no small risk of not discovering the typical character of the whole and consequently apply a false name’’ (Swainson, 1836, p. 235). As an example, Swainson mentioned that ‘‘[the genus] Muscicapa being more typical than Todus, the family to which both belong should be called the Muscicapidae.’’22 In Swainson’s view it would be ‘‘comparatively trivial’’ to carry through changes like these for existing families. ‘‘While the whole science is undergoing a revision and correction, it may be as well to make these and every other necessary change of nomenclature at the same time’’ (Swainson, 1836, p. 235). Strickland’s inclusion of Swainson’s rule suggests that he was not trying to push his nominalist philosophy at all costs and at all taxonomic ranks. Since, ultimately, Strickland was seeking a way to stabilize names, he may have been swayed by Swainson’s claim that this rule was ‘‘universally acted upon in Britain’’ (Swainson, 1836, p. 235). In any case, Strickland soon started criticizing naturalists who failed to follow the ‘‘very convenient rule now generally adopted by naturalists, that the name of a family should be compounded of the name of the most typical or best known genus in it’’ (Strickland, 1837a, p. 605). Yet, ‘convenient’ as this rule may have appeared, many taxonomists would soon protest that it was far from clear how to apply it. What were they supposed to understand by a ‘typical’ genus? typical of what, and to whom? Assigning names on the basis of typicality judgments was far more problematic than Strickland realized, and threatened to undermine his aim of stabilizing names. 22 Swainson carried this change through in a later monograph, but not without remarking that the name ‘Todus’ had meanwhile been determined to have been misapplied, in such a way the correct name of the family might actually be ‘Todidae’ after all! He nevertheless refrained from adopting the chain of nomenclatural changes that followed from all this, since ‘‘these alterations would lead to so much confusion, that we have not ventured upon, much less do we recommend, their adoption’’ (Swainson, 1838). One problem with Strickland’s talk of ‘types’ and ‘typicality’ was raised in an exchange with the Irish naturalist William Ogilby (1808–1873). When Strickland criticized Ogilby for not following Rule 18, the latter responded that he was ‘‘at loss to imagine’’ what this rule meant: ‘‘We hear continually of the type of such or such a genus, and of typical species, typical groups, and typical genera. Now if the word type be merely synonymous with example, I see no objection to it, but on the contrary have employed it in this signification myself: but it is notoriously employed by others in a very different sense, and one to which I confess I can attach no definite meaning’’ (Ogilby, 1838a, pp. 281–2 82).23 The ‘very different sense’ Ogilby referred to, was that of quinarians like Swainson. As noted earlier (Section ‘‘Farber’s Taxonomy of Type Concepts’’), the quinary theorists’ understanding of types or typical elements was rooted in a particular theory of classification, on which types were the most perfected members in a ‘grand system’ of nested circles of taxa. Like all other conservatives, Ogilby was strongly opposed to this speculative classificatory scheme. When he learned that Strickland took his Rule 18 straight from Swainson, it must have appeared to him that Strickland was importing quinary elements into his nomenclatural rules. Quick to recognize Ogilby’s worries, Strickland responded by agreeing that ‘‘the quinary theorists attach to the word type, a deeper and more mysterious meaning, but this is not the only one of their doctrines to which I do not subscribe.’’24 In reality, Strickland’s understanding of a ‘type’ was ‘‘precisely the same as Mr. Ogilby’s … By ‘the most typical genus’ of a family, I mean that genus which seems to afford the best sample of the characters on which the family is based, with the least tendency to diverge into other families.’’ The same counted for the genus level, where the taxonomist selects ‘‘that species which affords the fairest sample of the whole, [which] he calls a type’’ (Strickland, 1838a, pp. 330–331). 23 Ogilby also protested against the idea of formulating nomenclatural rules in general. He argued that they ‘‘make no part of zoology’’ and that there was no need to strictly apply ‘‘these scientific thumb-screws, these verbal crucibles’’ (Ogilby, 1838b, p. 150). Strickland, of course, replied that rules of some form of regulation would be necessary to get all naturalists to speak the same language (Strickland, 1838b). 24 At the British Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Glasgow in 1840, Hugh Strickland also mentioned that ‘‘[a]ll systems, circular, quinary, dichotomous, etc. are not natural, but artificial and only of use in arranging museums’’ (see McOuat, 1996, p. 503, n.140). Strickland’s response to Ogilby evinces that he did not intend to make taxonomic nomenclature dependent on a particular taxonomic theory, let alone on quinary theory. On the other hand, his response does affirm that he considered the proper assignment of names to be dependent on informed taxonomic judgment. To determine the correct name of a genus or family, a taxonomist would have to be able to identify its typical species or genus, respectively. Yet this led to a further problem, raised by Charles Thorold Wood (1777–1852) – ‘‘the most vociferous of the nomenclature radicals’’ (McOuat, 1996, p. 498). Wood pointed out that ‘‘it frequently happens, that naturalists cannot agree on the type of the family: thus, Selby pronounces the genus Sı´lvia to be the type of its family; Swainson says, on the other hand, Re´gulus; and Blyth, rejecting both, adopts Fice´dula as the typical genus … and so on throughout zoology’’ (Wood, 1836, p. 340).25 Moreover, Wood noted that aphorism 246 and its cognates were vulnerable to the same problem: Mr. Strickland observes, ‘‘Where an old genus is divided into several new ones, new appellations must, of course, be found for them; but, even then, the original name should be retained for that group which is most typical for the whole.’’ This latter proposition sounds well in theory, but will be found, on many occasions, impracticable. Wood (1836, p. 340) Interestingly, the same line of criticism was voiced by a prominent naturalist on the very opposite end of the radical-conservative spectrum. John Obadiah Westwood (1805–1893) – ‘‘arguably the most vociferous critic of nomenclature radicalism’’ (McOuat, 1996, p. 518) – illustrated the problems with Swainson’s rule by highlighting that Swainson himself sometimes ‘‘considered the wide geographical range of a form as indicating typicality,’’ but at other times ‘‘opposes this principle, by considering the preeminently typical form to … exist in a group of confined geographic range’’ (Westwood, 1836, p. 563). A decade earlier, Westwood had already diagnosed the root problem with nomenclatural rules that depended on judgments about typicality. The issue was not only that different measures of typicality could be used, or even that judgments on a given measure depended critically on subjective factors. The deeper problem was that even perfectly aligned 25 In The Ornithological Guide, Wood gave more examples of families for which ‘‘there is difference of opinion with regard to which is the typical genus’’ (Wood, 1835, p. 75). typicality judgments made at any time would be liable to change over time, because of our evolving taxonomic knowledge. ‘‘Indeed, until the contents of any particular family are clearly ascertained, the supposed typical group will be continually subject to variation as new forms are discovered, and hence, … the family name will necessarily be subject to similar variation’’ (Westwood, 1828, p. 4).26 Westwood realized that the same lesson applied to any nomenclatural rule that hinged on taxonomic judgment. Hence, like Wood, Westwood also leveled his criticism at rules that descended from aphorism 246: Fabricius, in his Philosophia Entomologica (p. 114) lays down the following rule, ‘‘Si genus receptum secundum leges naturae et artis, in plura dirimatur, tum nomen antea commune vulgatissimo insecta manebit.’’ I do not know any method so likely to create confusion and uncertainty as that contained in the above rule, since it is next to impossible that every Entomologist would select the same particular insect, and consider it as the most common in the family to which it belongs. Westwood (1828, p. 5) Wood and Westwood’s criticisms put pressure on the Linnaean strategy of using classification types to adjudicate on the application of names. Both men realized that co-opting the Method of Type for nomenclatural purposes would increase synonymy rather than reduce it. Yet, as much as they agreed in their diagnosis of the problem, they thoroughly disagreed about how to solve it. Wood took the radical position that nomenclatural rules should be abandoned wholesale. The establishment should stop trying to regulate nomenclature. Instead, usage by taxonomists over time should be the standard for determining the correctness of a taxon name. In his own work, Wood therefore often gave ‘‘more than one name to the same family,’’ leaving his readership to determine which of the names was ‘‘the best’’ (Wood, 1835, p. 74). Westwood could not disagree more. He strongly favored the institution of authoritative nomenclatural rules, and concluded that a different set of rules would be needed to drive out synonymy. As Westwood saw it, the problem with nomenclatural rules based on typicality judgments was that they went against the grain of a principle that 26 As Hooker put it some years later: ‘‘The type of a group often turns out (on extended knowledge of that group) to be the most aberrant form in it’’ (Hooker to Darwin, 5 April 1844; DAR Letter 745). [I use ‘DAR’ to refer to Darwin’s correspondence, collected in Burkhardt et al. (1985–).] lection of the British Museum (Natural History). In the early twentieth century, it was reported that ‘‘not a single specimen of bird from the Sloane Collection now exists in the Museum. All have perished.’’ Many other eighteenth century collections had similarly ‘‘fallen to pieces’’ (Sharpe, 1906, 79–80).46 Only with the invention and spread of reliable taxidermic procedures around the 1830s could animal specimens be preserved for more than a few years (Farber, 1977; Johnson, 2005).47 And yet, there was still a gigantic obstacle ahead. To actually authenticate, isolate, label, preserve and store these specimens would require considerable resources. Realistically, only large museums and botanical gardens would have the people, facilities and funds to undertake the effort. But what could motivate them to do so? To answer this question, we need to return to John Edward Gray and the British Museum. As I mentioned earlier, there is a sense in which his innovative system of cataloguing removed the need to preserve original specimens for use as fixed name-bearers. Using Gray’s system, species names were anchored to individual pages, not to any of the specimens listed on those pages. Nevertheless, Gray realized that there were good other reasons to take special care of the large gatherings of original specimens in the Museum’s collections. He was acutely aware that, along with the catalogues, these specimens could be recruited to increase the Museum’s power and prestige. Gray sketched his attitude towards original specimens in the dozens of catalogues that were published under his auspices from the early 1840s onwards.48 In each of these catalogues Gray included a brief introduction in which he accentuated the ‘‘peculiarly fortunate’’ position of Museum as the recipient of many specimens on whose basis ‘‘the species to which they belong were originally described, or … in which they first received their names.’’ Gray emphasized that these specimens were of special value, since ‘‘there can be no doubt of the specimens being ascertained representatives of the names they bear’’ (e.g. Gray, 1843, p. vi; Gray, 1844, p. v). Gray’s introduction was sometimes followed by a list of collections from which the Museum had acquired these ‘type specimens,’ ‘types of the species,’ ‘original specimens’ or ‘authentic specimens,’ as he variously called them. Gray’s commitment to preserving original specimens could already be heard some years earlier, when he appeared before a Parliamentary Committee that investigated the affairs at the BM in 1834. One of the many questions fired at Gray was when, in his opinion, the Museum ought to recognize a new species or genus which had been described in print. Gray answered: There is one test of the value of such divisions, the importance of which is universally admitted, while it is seldom that an opportunity is given to apply it; I mean the placing in the National Collection type specimens of the objects described, authenticated by their authors. Such specimens, with the names attached and so authenticated, would always remain open to future investigators, and would supply the deficiencies which occur even in the best figures and descriptions, and which, by rendering doubtful what has been done before, contribute much to embarrass science with repetitions of the same object under new and varying names. Parliamentary Papers (1835, §3345, p. 240) The point about ‘authentication’ was essential. Not just any old specimen, but only those specimens which had been used in naming and describing species were of special value; even if they were not representative of the typical characters of the species. The latter point was also driven home by zoologist Nicholas A. Vigors (1785–1840), when he appeared before the same Parliamentary Committee two years later. Vigors was asked whether ‘‘A very inferior specimen of the giraffe, for instance, would be valuable in a national collection, if it were the first specimen introduced into Europe for the last 15 centuries?’’ He answered that there would be ‘‘nothing scientific’’ about including it in the collection for mere historical reasons. ‘‘[B]ut if it was the first specimen that had been described by a particular zoologist, I should then, as a type of his description, and the very example from which he took his characters, preserve it as most sacred’’ (Parliamentary Papers, 1836, §1315, p. 111). Vigors clearly understood ‘type’ in the sense of an original specimen, and not in terms of a typical one. The value that was attributed to these original type specimens is underscored by the changing attitude towards ‘duplicates’ that started to take hold. In Linnaean times, the notion of a ‘duplicate specimen’ had applied symmetrically: two collected specimens of the same species counted as duplicates of each other, and any specimen in a set of duplicates could be traded with another museum. This changed when original specimens acquired a special status qua originals. A duplicate specimen became a duplicate of the original specimen. The difference in value between originals and duplicates was illustrated by the remarks of anatomist John Flint South (1797–1882), yet another scientist who appeared before the Parliamentary Committee. In a backand-forth about the value of specimens in the collection, South told the Committee that ‘‘it is useless load the Museum with four or five individuals of the same species.’’ This prompted a question from a Committee member about whether he considered it important ‘‘to preserve the identical specimen first discovered as historical evidence … however inferior the original specimen?’’ South: ‘‘Certainly; and in such case I consider it right that it should be marked as the first specimen discovered, and by whom, and at what date’’ (Parliamentary Papers, 1836, §§1156, 1175ff.; pp. 99–100). Meanwhile, Gray developed a strategy to dispose of duplicates that would simultaneously increase the value of the originals. He envisioned the BM as a hub for the ‘authentication’ of specimens in a national network of provincial museums and collections. The Museum’s original specimens being the nomenclatural types, they could be used as reference standards for labeling the duplicates in other collections. Gray therefore proposed to the Trustees that the Museum to start selling ‘‘series of duplicates properly selected and named … to the different local institutions’’ (Gunther, 1980, p. 221).49 Not all duplicates could be given away, though. Even the BM needed duplicates to furnish its displays with, since original specimens were too valuable for that purpose. ‘‘Such specimens ought especially to be preserved in such a way as to be least liable to injury from exposure to light, dust, or other extraneous causes of deterioration; and this is best done by keeping them in a state least exposed to these destructive influences, instead of in the open cases of a public and necessarily strongly lighted gallery’’ (Gray, 1864b, p. 77).50 This required a shift in 49 McOuat (unpublished) has pointed out that this was part of Gray’s more general program of middle-class reform. Gray wanted local institutions to compete on the ‘open market’ for the acquisition of duplicates – a market for which the BM set the standards through its nomenclatural type specimens. 50 The logician William Stanley Jevons (1835–1882) later reiterated Gray’s point, stating that ‘‘by far the largest part of the biological collections should be packed in draws, and only the most distinct and typical specimens exposed to view’’ (Jevons, 1883, p. 70). mindset from that adopted ‘‘some forty years ago,’’ when curators had thought it desirable to mount every specimen in the collections for public display. Buttressing the new attitude towards original specimens was a request for government funding Gray had made in the late 1850s, for the purpose of storing ‘‘the type specimens described by various authors, [as] they may be considered, in a scientific point of view, as invaluable; and if these specimens are not very shortly removed to a dryer place, they will be utterly destroyed’’ (Parliamentary Papers, 1858, p. 4). ‘‘A Crime Against Science’’ Gray’s efforts at the BM helped to spread the idea that original specimens should be preserved, and should function as fixed anchors for species names.51 Yet, much like in the case of type species and type genera, old terminology obscured the new philosophy of type specimens. Gray himself, for example, often alternated talk of ‘type specimens’ with talk of ‘typical specimens.’ In the mid–1850s, he reported with pride: The extent to which the description of the Museum’s collection has been carried on has rendered it the greatest store house of typical specimens, from which very large numbers of species of animals of all classes have been described, so that the consultation of the collection has now become absolutely necessary to the naturalists of all parts of the world, who may be desirous of extending the domains of their science, and fairly knowing what has been before recorded and described. British Museum Annual Report, (1854); cited in Gunther (1975, p. 111) Where Gray spoke of ‘typical specimens’ he was referring to the nomenclatural type specimens. Undoubtedly, many of these specimens possessed the typical characters of their species, and in this light his talk of ‘typical specimens’ was warranted. But it was also confusing and problematic, since even an indisputably atypical original specimen could still serve as a nomenclatural type specimen. As long as a nomenclatural 51 A testimony to the importance of nomenclatural type specimens is a section on ‘Types in the Collection’ in an early twentieth century history of the zoological collections at the BM. It mentioned that ‘‘the value of type-specimens, and the index which their possession gives to the importance of a Museum, are now so universally recognized that a few lines may be devoted the richness of the British Museum in this respect’’ (Thomas, 1906, p. 64). The same work also singled out J. E. Gray as ‘‘the real maker of the collection’’ (p. 2). type specimen could be placed reliably within the boundaries of one species only, it could do its job of naming that species. Gray was not an exception in using ambiguous language. Many other naturalists similarly spoke of ‘type’ and ‘typical’ specimens interchangeably and with different meanings. Joseph Dalton Hooker noted about ‘type’ that ‘‘the word is often used in a vague and unphilosophical manner: in the too frequent sense of the term it denotes that individual of a species which was first cultivated, described, figured, or collected, or that form which is most abundant in the neighborhood of the writer’’ (Hooker, 1853, p. xvi).52 Hooker’s friend Charles Darwin (1809–1882) shared his scruples about type talk. Having noted that ‘‘there is … so much vague in the meaning of ‘typical forms,’53 he turned to Hooker and George Water house (1815–1898) for help. They replied by concurring that the terms ‘type’ and ‘typical’ were being used equivocally, to refer either to (an exemplar of) the most common form or to a most perfected one.54 Adding to Darwin’s confusion was a later letter from his botanist friend Asa Gray (1810–1818), who remarked that ‘‘Our choice of what to take as the typical forms very often is not free. We take, e.g. for one of them the particular form of which Linnaeus, say, happened to have a specimen sent him, and on which he established the species.’’ More generally, Gray noted that ‘‘The form which first comes & is described & named … sticks as the type, tho, in fact it may be far from the most common form.’’55 At this point Darwin seems to have thrown in the towel, writing to another correspondent of his that ‘‘with respect to Typical – I observe that Naturalists use it in two very different senses; hence I have almost entirely or entirely avoided its use.’’56 52 Moreover, Hooker considered none of these uses to capture the meaning of a ‘true type,’ which (to him) referred to ‘‘the originally created form of any plant.’’ About this form the naturalist could have ‘‘no clue whatever’’ since a plant’s past typical state need not coincide with its present typical state. Hooker thus concluded that, theoretically speaking, ‘‘the type is a phantom’’ (Hooker, 1853, p. xvi). In a sense, Hooker herewith applied Wood’s and Westwood’s criticism of talk about ‘‘typicality’’ to the species level. (For more on Hooker on types, see Endersby (2008, p. 160ff.) and Stevens (1994, p. 150)). 53 Darwin to Hooker, 31 March 1844; DAR Letter 744; DAR Letter 1934. 54 Hooker to Darwin, 5 April 1844; DAR Letter 745; Waterhouse to Darwin, 26 april 1844; DAR Letter 748. 55 Asa Gray to Darwin, early August 1856; DAR Letter 1934. A little later Gray repeated the same point in print: ‘‘Affixing of a name to a sufficient specimen in distributed collections … [will] more surely identify the genus or species than might a brief published description!’’ (Gray, 1864a, p. 279). 56 Darwin to Woodward, 6 March 1860; DAR Letter 2724. The foregoing shows that, by the mid-nineteenth century, talk of ‘types’ and ‘typicality’ invited as least as much confusion at the level of specimens as it did at the level of species and genera. Similarly, it was only in the final decades of the century that the distinction between classification and nomenclatural types was made more explicit. Alphonse de Candolle was among the first to state clearly that ‘‘the expression ‘type’ or ‘typical sample’ (echantillon typique) is … used incorrectly for the specimen described by its author. One should say ‘authentic sample’ (echantillon authentique). Sometimes the first sample described departs from the average, or the type of the species’’ (Candolle, 1880, pp. 51–52). In a discussion of Blanchard’s Re`gles (see p. 22) at the 1889 International Congress of Zoology it was similarly remarked that ‘‘we should clarify the meaning that is assigned to the word ‘type’ or ‘typus.’ Currently, this word is used in very different senses in the everyday language of naturalist,’’ one of them being ‘‘the specimens on which the first description of a species was based’’57 (Oberthu¨ r, 1889, p. 476).58 At the closing of the century, confusion over the meaning of the term ‘type specimen’ appears to have cleared. The generally recognized definition of a type specimen as a fixed name-bearing specimen was now clearly stated in journal articles and the prefaces of catalogues: ‘‘By a ‘type’ is meant the original specimen to which any generic or specific name was first assigned’’ (Hughes, 1891). ‘‘A ‘TYPE SPECIMEN’ is the specimen of an insect from which the original describer drew up the first description of a species; and it is often of great importance to settle disputed points of nomenclature … for if we are certain that we have the original specimen before us, no further dispute is possible’’ (Kirby, 1892, p. 244). The value of original specimens qua nomenclatural types was similarly recognized clearly, in proclamations to the effect that ‘‘there can be but one type [which] no museum can afford to part with … Typical specimens are quite another matter, and the more distributed the better’’ (Lucas, 1897, p. 544). To treat a type specimen like any other specimen had come to be seen as irresponsible, if not outright criminal: ‘‘The exhibition in glass cases of type specimens of animals injured by light – as birds and mammals – indicates a disinterestedness amounting almost to criminal neglect’’ (Merriam, 1897, p. 732). It was equally ‘‘a crime 57 ‘‘Actuellement ce meˆ me mot, dans le langage ordinaire des naturalistes, est applique´ dans des sens tr e`s diff e´rents … On dit aussi: ‘la collection X contient beaucoup des types,’ c’est-a` -dire d’e´ chantillons ayant servi a` la premier description d’une espe` ce.’’ 58 For more on the discussion of Blanchard’s Re`gles, see Dayrat (2010, pp. 213–214). against science’’ to remove the name tag from an original specimen and to attach it to another one. A kind of crime which ‘‘in olden times little thought was bestowed on.’’ Modern taxonomists, however, were expected to recognize ‘‘the importance, I may almost say the sacredness, of the ‘original label’’’ (Hartert, 1918, p. 5).59 In the early twentieth century, this understanding of type specimens also began to make its way into a number of new nomenclatural codes. The American Code of Botanical Nomenclature stated unambiguously that ‘‘the nomenclatorial type of a species or subspecies is the specimen to which the describer originally applied the name in publication’’ (Arthur et al., 1904, §14).60 The First International Rules of Zoological Nomenclature included recommendations on the deposition of type specimens in museums (ICZN, 1905). However, just at about the time that the meaning of type specimens as nomenclatural types seemed to have been anchored in nomenclatural codes, the meaning of the term was strained once again. For, although most taxonomists agreed that type specimens in the role of namebearers ‘‘are of necessity unique’’ (Holmes, 1896, p. 56), a minority began to use the term slightly more liberally. The British, BM(NH)-based zoologist Oldfield Thomas (1858–1929) already noted in the late nineteenth century that ‘‘The word ‘type’ itself when first introduced was meant to refer to the particular specimen (in the singular) originally described, but it soon was naturally applied to any individual of the original series, if more than one specimen was examined by the describer’’ (Thomas, 1893, p. 241). Thomas was of the opinion that there was ‘‘little cause for confusion’’ in this extended use of the term. Yet he noted that it did get problematic when ‘type’ was given an even broader interpretation. Recently, authors had started using ‘type specimen’ to refer to ‘‘any individual from the collection of 59 The enduring value of types is also illustrated by the complete segregation and separate storage of type specimens that was being realized. When Britain declared war on Germany in September 1939, over 85% of type specimens at the BM(NH) had already been packed and readied for transport to the Zoological Museum at Tring (Warren, 1966, p. iv). 60 However, the Americans failed to convince their European colleagues of the importance of this paragraph at the International Botanical Congress held in Vienna, in June 1905 (Arthur et al., 1907). Much to the chagrin of the Americans, the First International Rules of Botanical Nomenclature continued to be modelled on de Candolle’s Code from 1867. the original author, obtained no matter how much later,’’ and to specimens collected from the same locality as the original. These uses of the term were ‘‘certainly liable to give rise to inconvenience and confusion,’’ and needed to be cleared up. To do so, he suggested to distinguish between five different kinds of type specimens: A Type is a single specimen either unaccompanied by others at the time of description, or else deliberately selected as such by the author out of a series. A Co-type is one of two or more specimens together forming the basis of a species, no type having been selected. No species would have both type and co-types, but either the former, or two or more of the latter. A Para-type is a specimen belonging to the original series, but not the type, in cases where the author has himself selected a type. It should, however, be one of the specimens mentioned or enumerated in the original description. A Topo-type is a specimen simply collected at the exact locality where the original type was obtained. On Thomas’ scheme, a type specimen was no longer simply a namebearer; only one kind of type specimen now counted as a namebearer. Type specimens of other kinds were in some sense ‘typical’ of their species. Little did Thomas realize that this amounted to opening Pandora’s box once again. Thomas’ attempt at clarification threatened to reintroduce the problem of marrying taxonomic naming to taxonomic judgment. Soon, the pages of Science began to fill with suggestions for other kinds of type specimens that needed to be distinguished, and with other type-terms that needed to be added to Thomas’ list. The American paleontologist Charles Schuchert (1858–1942), for example, suggested to rename Thomas ‘type’ into ‘holotype,’ and introduced ‘plastotype,’ as the term for an artificial specimen moulded directly from any of the originally figured or described specimens. He mentioned that the latter term could in turn be compounded into ‘hypoplastotype’ for a specimen molded from a non-original specimen. Schuchert had clearly let go of the idea that type specimens were name-bearers above anything else, as he stated that ‘‘For a clear description of a new species a paleobotanist may require as many individuals as there are specimens selected for study, all of which are regarded as types’’ (Schuchert, 1897, p. 637; italics mine). Schuchert’s fellow countryman C. Hart Merriam (1855–1942) protested against the ‘‘apparently incurable form of mania’’ among naturalists who coined new type-terms. In an attempt to cure the disease by an appeal to reason, Merriam emphasized the ‘old’ lesson that ‘‘type specimens … should from the nature of the case be single, not multiple,’’ since ‘‘in a considerable percentage of the cases where several specimens have been used as types, subsequent study has shown these specimens to belong to different species. Is not this fact alone an unanswerable objection to the existence of more than one type specimen of a species?’’ (Merriam, 1897, p. 732). Schuchert could agree with Merriam in principle, but not in practice. He admitted that although ‘‘the practice of selecting a single example as the type … has its advantages, since all doubt is thus removed when a new species is later found to contain diverse elements,’’ this advantage was trumped by the fact that virtually no species ‘‘living or extinct, can be defined from a single individual; hence a multiplicity of types is generally a necessity’’ (Schuchert, 1905, p. 8). By now, Schuchert had come to discriminate between no less than 18 kinds of type specimens (Schuchert and Buckman, 1905). In the years that followed, the terminology of types exploded. In 1933, a list of no less than 233 (!) type-terms was published (Frizzell, 1933), which included entries such as Ironically, the author of the list mentioned that he had excluded ‘‘absurd terms’’ such as para-adelfo-allopara-andro-lipo-mimo-paraedoeotype; a ‘hypothetical’ term for a specimen ‘‘that was included in the original collection; was used as basis for the original description; that is of the same sex (male) as the allotype [a specimen with the opposite sex of the holotype]; shows the genitalia; is characteristically absent from certain faunas; and is analogous to certain unrelated forms in other countries’’ (Frizzell, 1933, p. 639). When, in 1939 another list was published with ‘only’ 108 type-terms that were (supposedly) actually being used (Fernald, 1939), two prominent taxonomists stood up to reiterate Merriam’s objections, aiming to end the avalanche of type terminology. In Britain, the entomologist Carrington B. Williams (1889–1981) mocked Fernald’s list by noting that he had found ‘‘no word in [it] for a photograph of a cast of an abnormal larva of a worker of a social hymenopteron, which has been compared with specimens from the same locality as the type. It should, I believe, be: ‘‘Photo-plasto-terato-nepiono-ergato-homotopo-type,’’ but perhaps I am wrong’’ (Williams, 1940, pp. 623–624). More seriously, however, Williams made a plea to restrict use of ‘type specimen’ to purely nomenclatural ends. The object of the type is to eliminate from nomenclature the possibility of human error, the personal equation, and private opinion and this object is defeated if more than one type is designated. As soon as a second specimen appears opinion is brought in. If I designate ‘cotypes’ or ‘paratypes,’ or any of the hundred or so others listed by Fernald, I imply my belief that these specimens are co-specific with the type. My opinion may be sound or unsound, but it is an opinion … As long as the original single ‘type’ exists, such specimens as these can never be the final argument for nomenclature. Always in them is expressed the scientific opinion of the limits of a species and hence the possibility of uncertainty. Williams (1940, p. 622) In the U.S., the same lessons were spelled out at great length by George G. Simpson (1902–1984), a rising star in paleontological taxonomy. Simpson diagnosed the problem with the expansive type terminology as stemming from the idea that ‘‘somehow there is a limited suite of specimens that really represent or give rise to the species, hence must be ‘types,’ while others, although they belong to the species, do not and hence are not ‘types’’’ (Simpson, 1940, p. 422). Yet, he continued, this assumption was entirely unwarranted. A proper inference about the boundaries of a species ‘‘should be based on all the available specimens that are then considered as belonging to the species and on all of them equally.’’ Whether a specimen had been described in the original publication, or had been collected at a later data was irrelevant. All specimens in the known sample should have equal weight in inferences about species limits. ‘‘[T]here is no mystic virtue in ‘types,’ as such, that makes them any better for comparison than would be any other member’’ (Simpson, 1940, p. 420). Hence, taxonomy could do entirely without the expansive terminology of non-nomenclatural type-terms, ‘‘an irregular framework – it cannot be called a system – that is approaching the fantastic’’ (Simpson, 1940, p. 421). Simpson agreed with Williams that the only use for ‘type’ was that of signifying a name-bearing specimen. He therefore proposed to retain only those few compound type-terms that referred to name-bearing specimens. This meant that apart from ‘type’ (or ‘holotype’) there remained a use for such terms as ‘lectotype’ (a name-bearing specimen selected from an original sample from which no holotype has been selected by the first describer of the species) and ‘neotype’ (a substitute name-bearer for a lost lecto- or holotype).61 All other type-terms could easily be discarded. The efforts by Williams and Simpson paid off. Almost twenty years later, it was noted that ‘‘The whole scheme … of different kinds of types … collapsed like a house of cards in 1940 when George Simpson published his short but epoch-making paper on ‘Types in modern taxonomy’’’ (Dunbar, 1959, p. 911; also see Romer, 1959, p. 919).62 Around the same time, a small set of nomenclatural type-terms was also included in the major nomenclatural codes that are still in use today, such as the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature (Ride, 1999) and the International Code of Nomenclature for Algae, Fungi, and Plants (McNeill et al., 2012). In Linnaeus’s day and age there was little reason to anchor names to fixed taxon elements. Names and classifications were ‘made’ and disseminated from a few high seats, and were accepted on the authority of their authors. Their status quo was upset by the nineteenth century expansion of taxonomy, which saw a rapid increase in collected materials, techniques, and, above all, practitioners. Existing classifications were disrupted, and in the waves of change taxon names became afloat; 61 The notion of a ‘neotype’ raises further philosophical issues. For discussion of these intricacies, see Simpson (1945), Haber (2012) and Witteveen (2015). 62 Meanwhile, Simpson himself continued to correct confused (or careless) taxonomists who wrote things like ‘‘the closer the description [of the species] comes to fitting the holotype exactly, the better the picture one can obtain of the typical specimen of the species’’ (Shenefelt, 1959). Simpson response: ‘‘[T]ypes are not typical; description of a specimen does not describe or define a species; and the proper function of a type (‘holotype’) is solely that of name-bearing’’ (Simpson, 1960). different authors started applying the same names to different taxa and different names to the same taxa. In the introduction to his Code, Strickland captured what had happened, and what was at stake: Restoring regularity required regulation. And even though classifications could not be stabilized by decree, names could. Taxon names could be stabilized by anchoring them to taxon-elements, so that even if classifications would remain in a state of perpetual flux, each recognized taxon would have a definite designation. To this day, the hierarchical anchoring of family names in genuselements, genus names in species-elements, and species names in specimens, provides stability to naming in the face of ever-changing classifications. Following this method, any two taxonomists can agree on the correct name for any given taxon, regardless of their disagreements about its limits. It is an artifact of history that this method has become known as the ‘type method,’ despite the fact that name-bearing ‘types’ are not required to be typical. It took some time for this message to sink in, but by the mid-twentieth century it could be said that ‘‘no [taxonomist] will fail to understand an author writing, e.g., ‘It is unfortunate that the biological average of Planta vulgaris is poorly represented by the specimen in the original publication.’ … It is manifest that the type-specimen and the biological type of the same aggregate may thus be at odds’’ (Croizat, 1953, p. 124). However, to the non-expert the notion of a ‘type specimen’ continues to prompt unwarranted connotations of typicality. Even in news reports for a journal like Science we still read that ‘‘as new specimens … are found, they are deemed part of a known species, a new species, or even a new genus based on how closely they resemble the type specimen’’ (Pennisi, 2001, p. 2304). In an enduring effort to stamp out this confusion, taxonomists have come up with various alternatives for ‘type’ that do not invite associations of typicality: ‘standard element’ (Green, 1925), ‘testimonium’ (Dennler, 1939), ‘index,’ ‘nominal element’ (Williams, 1940), ‘onomatophore’ (Simpson, 1940), ‘nomenifer’ (Schopf, 1960), and ‘onomyphoront’ (Dubois, 2005). Ironically, taxonomy has thus been burdened with numerous synonyms for a notion that was invented to drive out synonymy. And yet, none of these alternatives for ‘type’ have caught on.63 All current nomenclatural codes and virtually all taxonomists continue to speak of ‘types’ when they talk of name-bearers. What counts for taxon names therefore also holds for the modern notion of a ‘type’: it does not carry its meaning on its sleeve. Therefore, it needs constant reminding that Whewell’s Method of Type and the modern type method are similar in name, but not in nature. Whewell’s types represented nature, our types represent names. Most of the research for this article was done under the sponsorship of Trinity College, Cambridge, and during visiting fellowships at the Konrad Lorenz Institute of Evolution and Cognition Research, and at the Descartes Centre for the History and Philosophy of the Sciences and the Humanities. Their financial support is gratefully acknowledged. Earlier versions of this paper were presented at ISHPSSB 2013 in Montpellier, at &HPS 2014 in Vienna, and at the ‘The Artificial and the Natural’ workshop at Exeter University in 2014. I thank David Depew, Chris DiTeresi, Paul Farber, Jim Griesemer, Matt Haber, Tarquin Holmes, Charlie Jarvis, Tim Lewens, Gordon McOuat, Staffan Mu¨ ller-Wille, Greg Radick, Nicolaas Rupke, Kees Rookmaaker, Sara Scharf, Laura Synder, and Polly Winsor for their feedback, discussion, and encouragement. Special thanks go to Ann Charlton from the Cambridge University Museum of Zoology, for providing access to correspondence from the Strickland Papers in the midst of renovations. I dedicate this paper to the memory of the KLI’s scientific director, Werner Callebaut. 63 Some were not even intended to catch on. Immediately upon coining ‘onomatophore,’ Simpson (1940) already threw in the towel by saying: ‘‘As a matter of practical usage, however, it is evident that the word ‘type’ is so deeply rooted in our science that it is not desirable and probably not possible to uproot it’’ (p. 421). This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (http://creativecommons.org/ licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. 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Joeri Witteveen. Suppressing Synonymy with a Homonym: The Emergence of the Nomenclatural Type Concept in Nineteenth Century Natural History, Journal of the History of Biology, 2016, 135-189, DOI: 10.1007/s10739-015-9410-y