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Soil Science Society of America Journal Abstract -

The Philosophical Basis of Soil Classification and Its Evolution


This article in SSSAJ

  1. Vol. 59 No. 1, p. 179-184
    Received: Jan 18, 1994

    * Corresponding author(s):
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  1. Jonathan D. Haskett 
  1. USDA-ARS Natural Resources Inst., Systems Research Lab., Room 008, Building 007, BARC-West, Beltsville, MD 20705



The system of soil classification used in the U.S. system of soil taxonomy has been criticized as being based on the flawed 19th century logic of John Stuart Mill. Mill postulated that objects have self-evident properties that will be apparent to any observer. Further, these properties reflect inherent differences between objects. However, language shapes perception to a great extent, and knowledge of external reality can be obtained only by observation. It cannot be assumed that all observers, particularly those using different languages, will find the same things important. Therefore, different observers are likely to categorize in different ways. In order to avoid arbitrary classifications, an inductive method is used based on tests of predictive ability. This allows the creation of a classification system that follows the regularities of nature, within the constraints on perception imposed by any linguistic division. Classification in natural history as well as in soil science has moved from a noncontextual naming of independent objects to a bounded self-consistent system in which each entity is defined in relation to all others in the system. This represents an evolutionary process that proceeds through the adoption of the inductive method and ultimately leads to the creation of a classification system consistent with the underlying principles of the discipline. The current system of soil classification is consistent with the progressive nature of this process and is not in need of fundamental modification.

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