1902 Encyclopedia > Biology > Taxonomy (Classification of Morphological Facts)

(Part 7)

Taxonomy (Classification of Morphological Facts)

It is conceivable that all the forms of life should have presented about the same differentiation of structure, and should have differed from one another by superficial characters, each form passing by insensible gradations into those most like it. In this case Taxonomy, or the classification of morphological facts, would have had to confine itself to the formation of a serial arrangement representing the serial gradation of these forms in nature.

It is conceivable, again, that living beings should have differed as widely in structure as they actually do, but that the interval between any two extreme forms should have been filled up by an unbroken series of gradations; in which case, again, classification could only effect the formation of series -- the strict definition of groups would be as impossible as in the former case.

As a matter of fact, living beings differ enormously, not only in differentiation of structure, but in the modes in which that differentiation is brought about; and the intervals between extreme forms are not filled up in the existing world by complete series of gradations. Hence it arises that living beings are, to a great extent, susceptible of classification into groups, the members of each group resembling one another, and differing from all the rest, by certain definite peculiarities.

No two living beings are exactly alike, but it is a matter of observation that, among the endless diversities of living things, some constantly resemble one another so closely that it is impossible to draw any line of demarcation between them, while they differ only in such characters as are associated with sex. Such as thus closely resemble one another constitute a morphological species; while different morphological species are defined by constant characters, which are not merely sexual.

The comparison of these lowest groups, or morphological species, with one another, shows that more or fewer of some possess some character or characters in common -- some feature in which they resemble one another and differ from all other species -- and the group or higher order thus formed is a genus. The generic groups thus constituted are susceptible of being arranged in a similar manner into groups of successively higher order, which are known as families, order, classes, and the like.

The method pursued in the classification of living forms is, in fact, exactly the same as that followed by the maker of an index in working out the heads indexed. In an alphabetical arrangement, the classification may be truly termed a morphological one, the object being to put into close relation in the arrangement of their letters, that is in their form, and to keep apart those that differ in their structure. Headings which begin with the same word, but differ otherwise, might be compared to genera with their species; the groups of words with the same first two syllables to families; those with identical first syllables to orders; and those with the same initial letter to classes. But there is this difference between the index and the Taxonomic arrangement of living forms, that in the former there is none but an arbitrary relation between the various classes, while in the latter the classes are similarly capable of co-ordination into larger and larger groups, until all are comprehended under the common definition of living beings.

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