A few thoughts from Jeff on the nature of species my prompted by my “Big Black Nemesis” post. I like “constrained perspectivism”. And notice he is a fellow Asia- phile (;-)
Book reviews and some photos coming…
“The photos at “Lauren” are great—I love the eagle booties and the landscape images (I’d swear that Mongolia is Wyoming’s ecological doppelganger, which is why I loved the Asian steppe so much when I was there).
“As for species and the nature of Gyrfalcons and Saker falcons, it just so happens that I’m involved with a reading group that is engaging the philosophical foundations of what species actually are. It’s a lovely mess! I’ve attached a few of the papers that we’ve been working on (some being more readable than others, but all being intriguing at least in terms of the intellectual battles of philosophers for the meaning of species).
“My inclination is to see species as the imposition of discrete categories on a fundamentally continuous process, such that it is not surprising that we sometimes (often?) “catch” life in the process of speciation. I suppose that I’m a kind of pragmatist—not in the pejorative sense but in terms of the great intellectual tradition of American Pragmatism. In fact, a colleague and I have a book out recently from Cambridge University Press: Philosophical Foundations for the Practices of Ecology (I’ll send you a copy if you’ll give me your address, which I’m sure I have somewhere already but won’t find easily). The basic idea is one that we call “constrained perspectivism”—that there is a real world out there, but our access to it is invariably partial and derived from our interests. This gives rise to a kind of pluralism that is neither the absolutism of certainty nor the relativism of hopelessness. So as for species, I’m something of a realist-pluralist. That is, I think that there are multiple ways of carving up the world with regard to species such that some of these approaches fail and others accord with our interests in ways that tell us that these formulations of species are representative of a way that the world actually is.
“All of this is to say that your view that the birds, “imperfectly separated at the end of the Ice Age, may still interbreed, and even more controversially may segregate into distinct types that are named and valued differently by Arab falconers when caught on migration” seems to touch on at least two approaches to species that could be empirically valid depending on whether one’s interests are evolutionary or eco-geo-cultural. In the former case, there is one species for the purposes of scientific explanation (assuming that reproductive isolation is the standard that one selects) and in the latter case, there are two species for the purposes of biogeographic/social purposes (assuming that this formulation “works” for these people in terms of engaging nature in a way that satisfies their interests)”.