The complex idea of “species” has evolved over time, yet its meaning is far from resolved. This comprehensive work takes a fresh look at an idea central to the field of biology by tracing its history from antiquity to today. John S. Wilkins explores the essentialist view, a staple of logic from Plato and Aristotle through the Middle Ages to fairly recent times, and considers the idea of species in natural history—a concept often connected to reproduction. Tracing “generative conceptions” of species back through Darwin to Epicurus, Wilkins provides a new perspective on the relationship between philosophical and biological approaches to this concept. He also reviews the array of current definitions. Species is a benchmark exploration and clarification of a concept fundamental to the past, present, and future of the natural sciences.
John S. Wilkins is Research Fellow in Philosophy at the University of Sydney. He is the author of Defining Species: A Sourcebook from Antiquity to Today.
“The most comprehensive, encyclopedic account of the history of the thinking about species. . . . Truly impressive.”—Science & Education
“The most comprehensive work of its kind. It will appeal to students in a diverse set of disciplines, including systematics, taxonomy, history, and philosophy. . . . Highly recommended.”—Choice
“Provides a comprehensive and interesting synthesis of the species problem today in the context of changing ideologies through history.”—Journal Of Human Evolution Blog
“Provides a thorough background in this important topic. . . . A valuable resource.”—Nsta Recommends
“A useful source for literature, ideas, and history of the topic.”—James Mallet Integrative & Comparative Bio (Sicb)
“If you want to know about the views on species of any major, and many minor figures, there is a good chance you will find useful information. No other book provides this kind of comprehensive, historical account of the thinking about species. As reference work, this book is impressive."—Int’l History, Philosophy, & Science Teaching Group Newsletter
“[A] congenial book.”—Oxford Journal
“Provides an encyclopedic history of the idea of species from Plato to the present.”—Darwinian Conservatism Blog
"It is difficult to find anything to dislike about Wilkins’s study. The breadth of the work is staggering, and the amount of research that went into its discussion of every major intellectual figure and conceptual player in the species debates from Plato onward is readily apparent at every turn."—Charles H. Pence Evolution: Education and Outreach
"Few topics have engaged biologists and philosophers more than the concept of species, and arguably no idea is more important for evolutionary science. John S. Wilkins' book combines meticulous historical and philosophical analysis and thus provides new insights on the development of this most enduring of subjects."—Joel Cracraft, American Museum of Natural History
"This is not the potted history that one usually finds in texts and review articles. It is a fresh look at the history of a field central to biology, but one whose centrality has changed in scope over the centuries. Wilkins' book will be a standard source for all kinds of people working in systematics. There is not another book on the subject, amazingly enough, and his perspective is so comprehensive and well-taught that it will replace any standard review articles and older histories."—Kevin Padian, University of California, Berkeley
"An essential sourcebook for anyone interested in the species problem and the history of 'species.' Wilkins does a wonderful job detangling the various uses of 'species.' His book brings clarity to a topic marked by confusion and ambiguity."—Marc Ereshefsky, author of The Poverty of Linnaean Hierarchy: A Philosophical Study of Biological Taxonomy