Sunday, April 23, 2006

Defining "Taxonomy"

A good discussion about taxonomy ...

"Yesterday I made the claim that a taxonomy cannot be defined by its shape, which is mostly how it does get defined eg “A taxonomy is a hierarchical arrangement of terms blah blah blah...”. I argued that taxonomies should be defined more by their purpose and use, less by the structural form they happen to take (which can vary according to circumstance).

What would a more useful definition be? To start with, we need to go back beyond Linnaeus and the rather narrow sense of “taxonomy” developed by biologists. Let’s go back to the Greek roots and see what they deliver.

The word taxonomy itself derives from two Greek stems: taxis, and nomos. Liddell and Scott’s Greek-English Lexicon describes the meaning of nomos as: “anything assigned, usage or custom, law or ordinance”.

Taxis, broadly, means the arrangement or ordering of things, but it is used in ancient Greek quite flexibly to encompass the disposition of soldiers in military formation, a battle array, a body of soldiers, the arrangement, order or disposition of objects, order or regularity in general, ordinances, prescriptions or recipes, assessment of tributes or assigned rations (whence comes taxation), political order or constitution, rank, position or station in society, an order or class of men, lists, registers, accounts, payments, and land types, a treatise, a fixed point of time, or a term of office.

So the term taxonomy means in general the rules or conventions of order or arrangement, and the variety of usage we’ve just seen reflects the extent to which taxonomies can enter daily life, from classes of people to the disposition of things, ideas, times and places."   continued ...   (Via Green Chameleon)

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