Classification

We can’t really help ourselves from doing it. Indeed, it is probably a sign of intelligence. Man works at understanding by grouping and classifying. With people, we usually start with color, ethnicity, religion and work our way through a litany of things that necessarily work for us such as birth signs, hair color, height or town of origin. It is fundamental to our way of thinking and clearly helps us to interact when we find traits that are held in common.

Carl Linnaeus (1707-1783), the Swedish scientist and doctor, was the first botanist to use binomial nomenclature to describe a plant figuring that it was simpler and more effective than one name or, more likely, ten. This name would be the final classification of a hierarchy of names that included the Kingdom, Class, Order, Genera and Species. Furthermore, he realized that the sex organs of a plant were pivotal in creating a classification. He revolutionized the system of taxonomy, or the naming of things, making it far easier for scientists to communicate.

In the furniture world, classification is far more subjective than we would like to believe. Part of the problem lies with the fact that the making of something is an individualistic human endeavor outside the realm of nature. Quality has levels, but some levels might seem far too subtle to mention because of a general inconsistency even among the very top makers. It would be, instead of a quality distinction, a question of modus operandi. Such anomalies might even stump Linnaeus in classifying English antique furniture.

The negative aspect of classification arises in stereotyping which is inherent in all human classification. The moment we say, for example, that all English people have ruddy cheeks, we are eliminating all those English people that do not have ruddy cheeks. Indeed, this very simple logic is one good reason why the framers of the Constitution in this country chose America to be a secular state–there was no choice of whose God it was that America would be aligned with. The framers, even though most of them knew of Linnaeus, knew that there were some things that could not be classified.

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