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Philosophy of classification

Classification has been a problem at the heart of philosophy since Plato deployed his theory of forms to explain what made two things things of the same kind. Ideas about species and genera, and an account of the essence of a kind, worked out by Aristotle continue to exert an influence on contemporary philosophical thought. However biological classification, which has always been the engine-room of philosophical thought about kinds, has been radically transformed, first by Darwinism, and much more recently by genomic phylogeny, and the insights from these fields have brought an end even to modest Aristotelian essentialism. In its place increasing numbers of philosophers are accepting a radically pluralistic view of kinds as often overlapping and cross-cutting; at the same time there is a growing appreciation among philosophers of the importance of the truism that classifications are human constructs for human purposes.

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