The paradox of atheoretical classification

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A distinction can be made between “artificial classifications” and “natural classifications,” where artificial classifications may adequately serve some limited purposes, but natural classifications are overall most fruitful by allowing inference and thus many different purposes. There is strong support for the view that a natural classification should be based on a theory (and, of course,
that the most fruitful theory provides the most fruitful classification). Nevertheless, atheoretical (or “descriptive”) classifications are often produced. Paradoxically, atheoretical classifications may be very successful. The best example of a successful “atheoretical” classification is probably the prestigious Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) since its third edition from 1980. Based on such successes one may ask: Should the claim that classifications ideally are natural and theory-based be reconsidered? This paper argues that the seemingly success of atheoretical classifications hides deeper problems and that the ideal of theory-based classification should be maintained.
Original languageEnglish
JournalKnowledge Organization
Issue number5
Pages (from-to)313-323
Number of pages11
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2016

Bibliographical note

This is an article in a special issue in honor of Hope Olson

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