Indifferent Philosophy versus Almighty Authority: On consistency, consensus and unitary taxonomy
The ability of the taxonomic community to heed Charles Godfray's wake‐up call to create ‘unitary’ taxonomic systems and make them available on the internet is hampered by real difficulties over achieving taxonomic consistency, and a cultural reluctance amongst systematists to embrace consensus. This paper explores these issues by examining the taxonomic history of an African milkweed butterfly, Amauris damocles sensu lato. Recent differences of opinion over the classification of this insect relate to fundamental differences in the theory and practice of systematics, from creationism through authoritarianism to cladistics, differences of a kind that will forever bedevil the distributed taxonomic system. If practical unitary schemes are to emerge, then the taxonomic community will need to adopt new ways of managing and recording taxonomic change, and develop a more responsible attitude towards the needs of others who are dependent of the primary products of systematics names, and the classification schemes they symbolize.