A discussion about the limits of the species concept


  • Mariano Martín Villuendas Universidad de Salamanca




taxonomy, evolution, species taxon, species category, pluralism


The conceptual dilemma that species entail has divided, since its formulation, biologists and philosophers in two spheres: those who believe in the existence of a unified category of species and those who defend the unyielding plurality of equally legitimate concepts. The aim of this paper is to comprise the analysis of the problems that revolve around the species category with the only purpose being to determine the existence of only one univocal and unrestricted definition of species. For this reason, the paper will be divided into two sections. The first section will analyse the extent to which essentialism amounts to an antithetical theory to the modern biological theory. In the second section a detailed critique will be carried out on existing attempts to devise a definition of species. Two conclusions can be drawn from the previous statements. First and due to the fall of essentialism, that there is not only one single category of species but an uncompromising plurality of concepts. Secondly and following previous assertion, it can be stated that the most consistent viewpoint in the evolutionary theory is the one in which an ontological pluralism is embraced and, consequently, a taxonomical pluralism.


Author Biography

Mariano Martín Villuendas, Universidad de Salamanca

Mariano Martín Villuendas (22/06/1996) inició en 2014 sus estudios de grado en Filosofía en la Universidad de Zaragoza. En 2018 culminó dichos estudios con la lectura de su tesis en torno a la filosofía crítica de Kant obteniendo la calificación de sobresaliente y la mención de excelencia. En 2019 comenzó los estudios de maestría en la Universidad de Salamanca y le fue concedida una beca de colaboración para estudiar las implicaciones del programa sociobiológico. Finalizó sus estudios de máster en 2019 con la lectura de su tesis obteniendo la calificación de sobresaliente. Actualmente se encuentra realizando su investigación doctoral en torno a la problemática conceptual que rodea a la Nueva Síntesis en la Universidad de Salamanca.


Boyd, R. (1999). Homeostasis, Species, and Higher Taxa. En R. Wilson (ed.), Species. New Interdisciplinary Essays, pp. 141-187. Cambridge: The MIT Press.

Darwin, C. (1859/1964). On the Origin of Species. A Facsimile of the First Edition. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

de Queiroz, K. (1999). The General Lineage Concept of Species and the Defining Properties of the Species Category. En R. Wilson (ed.), Species. New Interdisciplinary Essays, pp. 49-91. Cambridge: The MIT Press.

de Queiroz, K. (2007). Species Concepts and Species Delimitation. Syst. Biol 56(6): 879-886. doi: https://doi.org/10.1080/10635150701701083

Devitt, M. (2008). Resurrecting Biological Essentialism. Philosophy of Science 75(3): 344-382. doi: 10.1086/593566

Dobzhansky, T. (1970). Genetics of the Evolutionary Process. New York: Columbia University Press.

Dupré, J. (1981). Natural Kinds and Biological Taxa. The Philosophical Review 90(1): 66-90. doi: 10.2307/2184373

Dupré, J. (1993). The Disorder of Things. Metaphysical Foundations of the Desunity of Science. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Ehrlich, P., Raven, P. (1969). Differentiation of Populations. Science 165(3899): 1228-1232. doi: https://doi.org/10.1126/science.165.3899.1228

Endler, J. (1973). Gene Flow and Population Differentiation. Science 179(4070): 243-250. doi: https://doi.org/10.1126/science.179.4070.243

Ereshefsky, M. (1998). Species Pluralism and Anti-Realism. Philosophy of Science 65(1): 103-120. doi: 10.1086/392628

Ereshefsky, M. (2001). The Poverty of Linnean Hierachy. A Philosophical Study of Biological Taxonomy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Ereshefsky, M. (2010a). What’s Wrong with the New Biological Essentialism. Philosophy of Science 77(5): 674-685. doi: 10.1086/656545

Ereshefsky, M. (2010b). Darwin’s Solution to the Species Problem. Synthese 172(3): 405-425. doi: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11229-009-9538-4

Ghiselin, M. (1974). A Radical Solution to the Species Problem. Systematic Zoology 23(4): 536-544. doi: https://doi.org/10.1093/sysbio/23.4.536

Hey, J. (2001). The Mind of the Species Problem. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 16(7): 326-329. doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/S0169-5347(01)02145-0

Hull, D. (1976). Are Species Really Individuals? Systematics Zoology 25(2): 174-191. doi: https://doi.org/10.2307/2412744

Kitcher, P. (1984). Species. Philosophy of Science 51(2): 308-333.

Kitcher, P. (1987). Ghostly Whispers: Mayr, Ghiselin, and the Philosophers on the Ontological Status of Species. Biology and Philosophy 2: 184-192. doi: 10.1007/BF00057962.

Lewontin, R. (2000). Genes, organismo y ambiente. Las relaciones de causa y efecto en biología. Barcelona: Gedisa.

Mayden, R. (2002). On Biological Species, Species Concepts and Individuation in the Natural World. Fish and Fisheries 3: 171-196. doi: https://doi.org/10.1046/j.1467-2979.2002.00086.x

Mayr, E. (1942). Systematics and the Origin of Species from the Viewpoint of a Zoologist. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Mayr, E. (1963). Populations, Species, and Evolution. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Mayr, E. (1982). The Growth of Biological Thought. Diversity, Evolution, and Inheritance. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Mayr, E. (1987). The Ontological Status of Species: Scientific Progress and Philosophical Terminology. Biology and Philosophy 2: 145-166. doi: https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00057959

Mayr, E. (1988). Toward a New Philosophy of Biology. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Mayr, E. (1996). What is a Species, and What is Not? Philosophy of Science 63(2): 262-277. doi: 10.1086/289912

Mayr, E. (2000). The Biological Species Concept. En Q. Wheeler, R. Meier (ed.), Species Concept and Philogenetic Theory. A Debate, pp. 17-30. New York: Columbia University Press.

Mill, J. S. (1843/1963). A System of Logic. En J. M. Robson (ed.), The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, vol. 8. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Mishler, B. (1990). Reproductive Biology and Species Distinctions in the Moss Genus Tortula, as Represented in Mexico. Systematic Botany 15(1): 86-97. doi: https://doi.org/10.2307/2419019

Mishler, B. (1999). Getting rid of Species? En R. Wilson (ed), Species. New Interdisciplinary Essays, pp. 307-317. Cambridge: The MIT Press.

Mishler, B., Donoghue, M. (1983). Species Concepts: A Case for Pluralism. Systematic Zoology 31(4): 491-503. doi: https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00127698

Mishler, B., Brandon, R. (1987). Individuality, Pluralism, and the Phylogenetic Species Concept. Biology and Philosophy 2: 397-414.

Okasha, S. (2002). Darwinian Metaphysics: Species and the Question of Essentialism. Synthese 131(2): 191-213. doi: https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1015731831011

Ruse, M. (1987). Biological Species: Natural Kinds, Individuals, or What? The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 83(2): 225-245. doi: https://doi.org/10.1093/bjps/38.2.225

Simpson, G. G. (1951). The Species Concept. Evolution 5: 285-298. doi: https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1558-5646.1951.tb02788.x

Sneath, P., Sokal, R. (1973). Numerical Taxonomy: The Principles and Practice of Numerical Classification. San Francisco: W. H. Freeman.

Sober, E. (1980). Evolution, Population Thinking, and Essentialism. Philosophy of Science 47 (3): 350-383. doi: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511624940.012

Van Halen, L. (1976). Ecological Species, Multispecies, and Oaks. Taxon 25(2/3): 233-239. doi: https://doi.org/10.2307/1219444

Venn, J. (1866). The Logic of Chance. London: Macmillan.

Wheeler, Q., Meier, R. (2000). Species Concepts and Phylogenetic Theory. A Debate. New York: Columbia University Press.

Wilkins, J. (2009). Species. A History of the Idea. London: University of California Press.



How to Cite

Martín Villuendas, M. (2019). A discussion about the limits of the species concept. Revista De Humanidades De Valparaíso, (14), 241–273. https://doi.org/10.22370/rhv2019iss14pp241-273