From Classificatory to Quantitative Concepts in the Study of Sociality in Animals: An Epistemological View

Lucia C. Neco, Hilton F. Japyassú, Charbel N. El-Hani, Nicolas Châline

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


In the book The Insect Societies, Wilson proposed categories of sociality that were presented as a landmark unification of terminology in the study of social behavior. Since then, many new behavioral patterns have been described, but they could not be fitted into any of the available categories, undermining the consensus around that well-established classification. New general classifications tried to circumvent the limitations shown by Wilson’s categorization, but with little success. Among the proposals, some maintain the form of discrete categorization, while others advance a quantitative model to characterize sociality. These proposals have failed to clarify the use of the categories of sociality, and none of them has become widely accepted or overcome the problems faced by the classification of social behaviors. Here we explore whether an analysis of types of concepts proposed by Carnap can help to move forward in this discussion. His distinction between qualitative concepts (classificatory and comparative) and quantitative concepts is used here as an epistemological basis for analyzing the development of the proposed conceptual changes and classifications of sociality. Recently, social behavior has come to be considered a complex phenomenon, and quantitative concepts could bring a lot of informative data to understanding its development and perhaps its evolution. We conclude that a new metric of sociality should be built, using characteristics that are nonarbitrary, evolutionarily meaningful, and amenable to comparing all social animals. Finally, we advocate for an integrative view of social complexity based on individuals’ interactions as a useful metric of sociality. This approach still needs further development.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)180-189
JournalBiological Theory
Publication statusPublished - 11 Sep 2018
Externally publishedYes


Dive into the research topics of 'From Classificatory to Quantitative Concepts in the Study of Sociality in Animals: An Epistemological View'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this