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13 - Mutual Affinities of Organic Beings: Morphology: Embryology: Rudimentary Or 13-01 - CLASSIFICATION, groups subordinate to groups 10 From the first dawn of life, all organic beings are found to resemble each other in descending degrees, so that they can be classed in groups under groups.

This classification is evidently not arbitrary like the grouping of the stars in constellations.

The existence of groups would have been of simple signification, if one group had been exclusively fitted to inhabit the land, and another the water; one to feed on flesh, another on vegetable matter, and so on; but the case is widely different in nature; for it is notorious how commonly members of even the same subgroup have different habits.

In our second and fourth chapters, on Variation and on Natural Selection, I have attempted to show that it is the widely ranging, the much diffused and common, that is the dominant species belonging to the larger genera, which vary most.

The varieties, or incipient species, thus produced ultimately become converted, as I believe, into new and distinct species; and these, on the principle of inheritance, tend to produce other new and dominant species.

Consequently the groups which are now large, and which generally include many dominant species, tend to go on increasing indefinitely in size.

I further attempted to show that from the varying descendants of each species trying to occupy as many and as different places as possible in the economy of nature, there is a constant tendency in their characters to diverge.

This conclusion was supported by looking at the great diversity of the forms of life which, in any small area, come into the closest competition, and by looking to certain facts in naturalisation.

I attempted also to show that there is a constant tendency in the forms which are increasing in number and diverging in character, to supplant and exterminate the less divergent, the less improved, and preceding forms.

I request the reader to turn to the diagram illustrating the action, as formerly explained, of these several principles; and he will see that the inevitable result is that the modified descendants proceeding from one progenitor become broken up into groups subordinate to groups.

In the diagram each letter on the uppermost line may represent a genus including several species; and all the genera on this line form together one class, for all have descended from one ancient but unseen parent, and, consequently, have inherited something in common.

But the three genera on the left hand have, on this same principle, much in common, and form a sub-family, distinct from that including the next two genera on the right hand, which diverged from a common parent at the fifth stage of descent.

These five genera have also much, though less, in common; and they form a family distinct from that including the three genera still further to the right hand, which diverged at a still earlier period.

And all these genera, descended from (A), form an order distinct from the genera descended from (I).

So that we here have many species descended from a single progenitor grouped into genera; and the genera are included in, or subordinate to, sub-families, families, and orders, all united into one class.

Thus, the grand fact in natural history of the subordination of group under group, which, from its familiarity, does not always sufficiently strike us, is in my judgement fully explained.
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13 - Mutual Affinities of Organic Beings: Morphology: Embryology: Rudimentary Or 13-02 - Natural system 10 Naturalists try to arrange the species, genera, and families in each class, on what is called the Natural System.

But what is meant by this system?

Some authors look at it merely as a scheme for arranging together those living objects which are most alike, and for separating those which are most unlike; or as an artificial means for enunciating, as briefly as possible, general propositions, that is, by one sentence to give the characters common, for instance, to all mammals, by another those common to all carnivora, by another those common to the dog-genus, and then by adding a single sentence, a full description is given of each kind of dog.

dog
dog


The ingenuity and utility of this system are indisputable.

But many naturalists think that something more is meant by the Natural System; they believe that it reveals the plan of the Creator; but unless it be specified whether order in time or space, or what else is meant by the plan of the Creator, it seems to me that nothing is thus added to our knowledge.

Such expressions as that famous one of Linnaeus, and which we often meet with in a more or less concealed form, that the characters do not make the genus, but that the genus gives the characters, seem to imply that something more is included in our classification, than mere resemblance.

Carl Linnaeus
Carl Linnaeus


I believe that something more is included; and that propinquity of descent, the only known cause of the similarity of organic beings, is the bond, hidden as it is by various degrees of modification, which is partially revealed to us by our classifications.
13 - Mutual Affinities of Organic Beings: Morphology: Embryology: Rudimentary Or 13-03 - Rules and difficulties in classification, explained on the theory of descent with modification 10 Let us now consider the rules followed in classification, and the difficulties which are encountered on the view that classification either gives some unknown plan of creation, or is simply a scheme for enunciating general propositions and of placing together the forms most like each other.

It might have been thought (and was in ancient times thought) that those parts of the structure which determined the habits of life, and the general place of each being in the economy of nature, would be of very high importance in classification.

Nothing can be more false.

No one regards the external similarity of a mouse to a shrew, of a dugong to a whale, of a whale to a fish, as of any importance.

mouse
mouse

shrew
shrew

dugong
dugong

whale
whale

fish
fish
13 - Mutual Affinities of Organic Beings: Morphology: Embryology: Rudimentary Or 13-03 - Rules and difficulties in classification, explained on the theory of descent with modification 20 These resemblances, though so intimately connected with the whole life of the being, are ranked as merely `adaptive or analogical characters;' but to the consideration of these resemblances we shall have to recur.

It may even be given as a general rule, that the less any part of the organisation is concerned with special habits, the more important it becomes for classification.

As an instance: Owen, in speaking of the dugong, says, `The generative organs being those which are most remotely related to the habits and food of an animal, I have always regarded as affording very clear indications of its true affinities.

Richard Owen
Richard Owen


We are least likely in the modifications of these organs to mistake a merely adaptive for an essential character.' So with plants, how remarkable it is that the organs of vegetation, on which their whole life depends, are of little signification, excepting in the first main divisions; whereas the organs of reproduction, with their product the seed, are of paramount importance!

We must not, therefore, in classifying, trust to resemblances in parts of the organisation, however important they may be for the welfare of the being in relation to the outer world.