Taxonomies vs Typologies

John Wilkins has an intriguing (anti-creationist) post explaining the differences between taxonomy and typology in biology. It’s the difference between classifying by identity (homology) vs similarity. The crispness of this distinction doesn’t hold up as well in the social sciences, I think, where types have a different meaning as exemplars of particular combinations of attributes, nor in the world of knowledge classification. The distinction is also not unassailable among scientists either, as John points out. It’s a useful reminder to look hard at the principles by which the classification is done, but also that taxonomy work in biology doesn’t work the same way in the world of information and knowledge.

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