Variation is primary; essences are illusory – essentialism och antiessentialism och insektforskaren Alfred Kinsey

Taxonomists like Kinsey, who understood the full implications of evolutionary theory, developed a radically different attitude to variation. Islands of form exist, to be sure: cats do not flow together in a sea of continuity, but rather come to us as lions, tigers, lynxes, tabbies, and so forth. Still, although species may be discrete, they have no immutable essence. Variation is the raw material of evolutionary change. It represents the fundamental reality of nature, not an accident about a created norm. Variation is primary; essences are illusory. Species must be defined as ranges of irreducible variation.
This antiessentialist way of thinking has profound concequenses for our basic view of reality. Ever since Plato cast shadows on the cave wall, essentialism has dominated Western thought, encouraging us to neglect continua and to divide reality into a set of correct and unchanging categories. Essentialism establishes criteria for judgement and worth: individual objects that lie close to there essence are good: those that depart are bad, if not unreal.
Antiessentialist thinking forces us to view the world differently. We must accept shadings and continua as fundamental. We lose criteria for judgement by comparison to some ideal: short people, retarded people, people of other beliefs, colors, and religions are people of full status. The taxonomic essentialist scoops up a handful of fossil snails in a single species, tries to abstract an essence, and rates his snails by their match to this average. The antiessentialist sees something entirely different in his hand – a range of irreducible variation definig the species, some variants more frequent than others, but all perfectly good snails.
Kinsey, who understood implications of evolutionary theory so well, was a radical antiessentialist in taxonomy. His belief in in the primacy of variation spurred an almost frantic effort to collect ever mor species.

Citat ur essän Of Wasps and WASPS, av Stephen Jay Gould. Kinsey planerade att samla sammanlagt över 1,5 miljoner insekter – ett arbete som slutligt avbröts av hans engagemang i sexualforskning.


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