Artificial versus natural classification

An artificial classification is an arrangement that is based on superficial or arbitrary attributions. It is constructed rather than based on discoveries. A natural classification, on the other hand, is a classification that reflects a natural order supposed to exist and be discovered by science.


This definition is in conflict with a definition provided by Daily in Library and Information Science (LIS):


"A classification is called natural for the same reason that a language is called natural. It arises from the needs and methods of communication utilized in everyday life from time immemorial among all the peoples of the world. A natural language cannot be traced to its ultimate origin, although it would be possible to define human beings as those primates that use language. Although library classifications can be traced quite clearly, if not entirely accurately, at least back to classical sources,[1] only those library classifications developed first by Melvil Dewey and then by those who followed in his path need concern us here." (Daily, 2003, 2114).


Daily seems to be ignorant concerning the use of natural classification and artificial classification in biology. Linnaeus freely admitted that his method of classification produced an artificial classification, not a natural one, which would take into account all the similarities and differences between organisms. In botany is Antoine-Laurent de Jussieu' work Genera plantarum secundum ordines naturales disposita, juxta methodum in horto Regio Parisiensi exaratum anno 1774 ("Genera of Plants Arranged According to Their Natural Orders, Based on the Method Devised in the Royal Garden in Paris in the Year 1774", published in 1789) considered a natural classification and this work also introduced the method by which natural classifications can be constructed.







Daily, J. E. (2003). Natural classification. IN: Encyclopedia of Library and Information Science.  New York: Marcel Dekker, Inc. (Pp. 2114-2125).


Khalidi, Muhammad Ali (1993). Carving Nature at the Joints, Philosophy of Science, 60(1), 100-113.


Klee, Robert (1996). Introduction to the Philosophy of Science: Cutting Nature at Its Seams. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


Lupyan, G (2005). Carving Nature at its Joints and Carving Joints into Nature: How Labels Augment Category Representations. In A. Cangelosi, G. Bugmann & R. Borisyuk (Eds.) Modelling Language, Cognition and Action: Proceedings of the 9th Neural Computation and Psychology Workshop (pp. 87-96). Singapore: World Scientific. .



See also: Natural kind

Birger Hjørland

Last edited: 10-01-2008