Catherine Kendig

Sortal thinking in lichenology: An examination of the taxonomic value of provisional identifications

One thing we do to gain information about the world is to count the entities that exist within it. We may count parts of organisms, whole organisms, symbioses, or populations of organisms. Arguably, counting entities need not always rely on our knowing what kind of entity one is counting. But even if knowledge of the kind is unknown, our counting may rely on having a provisional notion of what the entity’s spatial or temporal boundaries might be in a way that allows us to identify where (or when) it ends and another entity begins. This provisional identification may involve assigning a name or in certain cases, a description, that effectively (if only provisionally) fixes the identity of the entity under investigation. What we might call ‘sortal thinking’ is implicit in many judgments we make to distinguish one thing from another. In this talk, I examine how sortal concepts have been used within traditional metaphysics, explore the use of sortal and sortal-like notions within recent discussions of biological individuality, and investigate the role these notions play in the initial identification and tracking of the same objects of study over time and place. I then investigate the activities of identification, individuation, and kind specification employed in lichen research and consider how these activities impact what sorts of entities and symbiotic systems are considered to have taxonomic value.