Biological Theory

, Volume 13, Issue 3, pp 180–189 | Cite as

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

  • Lucia C. NecoEmail author
  • Hilton F. Japyassú
  • Charbel N. El-Hani
  • Nicolas Châline
Original Article


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.


Carnap Qualitative concepts Quantitative concepts Scientific concepts Social complexity Sociality 



This research was funded by the Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico (CNPq), which provided grants to LCN (133214/2015-0), NC (309573/2014-9 and 458736/2014-7), and CNEH and HFJ (INCT - 465767/2014-1 and PRONEX - PNX0016_2009); the Coordenação de Aperfeiçoamento de Pessoal de Nível Superior (CAPES), which provided grants to the Experimental Psychology Graduate Program (PROEX 1964/2009 - PSE/USP), which NC and LCN are part of, and to CNEH and HFJ (INCT - 465767/2014-1); and the Fundação de Amparo à Pesquisa do Estado da Bahia (FAPESB), which provided a grant to CNEH and HFJ (PRONEX - PNX0016_2009). A version of this article was presented as a poster at the 2015 meeting of the International Society for the History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Biology (ISHPSSB, Université du Québec à Montréal, Canada). We thank the participants for their extremely helpful comments.


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Copyright information

© Konrad Lorenz Institute for Evolution and Cognition Research 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Experimental PsychologyUniversity of São PauloSão PauloBrazil
  2. 2.National Institute of Science and Technology in Interdisciplinary and Transdisciplinary Studies in Ecology and Evolution (INCT IN-TREE) and Nucleus of Ethology and Evolution, Institute of BiologyFederal University of BahiaSalvadorBrazil
  3. 3.National Institute of Science and Technology in Interdisciplinary and Transdisciplinary Studies in Ecology and Evolution (INCT IN-TREE) and History, Philosophy, and Biology Teaching Lab, Institute of BiologyFederal University of BahiaSalvadorBrazil
  4. 4.Laboratory of Ethology, Ecology and Evolution of Insect Societies, Department of Experimental PsychologyUniversity of Sao PauloSão PauloBrazil

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