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Understanding classification 

Understanding classification
Chapter:
Understanding classification
Author(s):

John E. Cooper

and Norman Sartorius

DOI:
10.1093/med/9780199669493.003.0012
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date: 25 November 2017

In ordinary daily language, to classify things means simply to place them into groups which have some obvious features in common. This produces useful lists which are of great practical use in everyday life. More formally, the process of classification is part of the discipline of taxonomy, which can be applied to any type of objects, so long as there is a systematic and preferably quantifiable body of knowledge about the objects. Agreement needs to be reached about standard names and descriptions for all objects to be classified, so that an agreed nomenclature, glossary of terms and definitions will allow the objects to be arranged in similar groups or taxons, and perhaps even into a series of levels to form a hierarchy. Two well-known, very useful but different classifications are briefly examined, first, the biological classification of animals and second, the periodic table of the elements, to see if any points emerge that might be useful in producing future classifications of mental disorders. It is concluded that classifications based initially only upon descriptions of obvious physical characteristics may be very similar to later versions based upon more sophisticated techniques of measurement.

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