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What is natural selection?
Stockholm University, Faculty of Humanities, Department of Philosophy.
2007 (English)In: Biology & Philosophy, ISSN 0169-3867, E-ISSN 1572-8404, Vol. 22, no 2, 231-246 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

‘Natural selection’ is, it seems, an ambiguous term. It is sometimes held to denote a consequence of variation, heredity, and environment, while at other times as denoting a force that creates adaptations. I argue that the latter, the force interpretation, is a redundant notion of natural selection. I will point to difficulties in making sense of this linguistic practice, and argue that it is frequently at odds with standard interpretations of evolutionary theory. I provide examples to show this; one example involving the relation between adaptations and other traits, and a second involving the relation between selection and drift.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2007. Vol. 22, no 2, 231-246 p.
Keyword [en]
Natural selection, drift, adaptation, force metaphor
National Category
Philosophy
Research subject
Theoretical Philosophy
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-17144DOI: 10.1007/s10539-005-9008-4ISI: 000245268200004OAI: oai:DiVA.org:su-17144DiVA: diva2:183664
Available from: 2009-01-08 Created: 2009-01-08 Last updated: 2017-12-13Bibliographically approved
In thesis
1. Deflating selection: On the interpretation and application of evolutionary theory
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Deflating selection: On the interpretation and application of evolutionary theory
2011 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Although the theory of evolution is well-established it nevertheless presents us with a few unresolved matters of interpretation. One key task is to get clear about what exactly one should take the term 'natural selection' to denote. Is natural selection a causal factor that causes evolutionary change and that has driven the process of evolution from relatively simple beginnings to the current state of biological complexity, or is it a "mere" consequence of the appearance of novel forms in relatively stable environments? Does evolutionary theory present us with a set of specifically evolutionary causes, natural selection being the most important? The answers to these questions have repercussions for what we may rightly take appeals to natural selection to explain, and how we are to relate evolutionary theory to neighbouring sciences. The first paper of this compilation thesis, as well as the appendix, deals with these questions at length, and come out supporting a non-causal interpretation. It is argued that it is redundant to posit natural selection as a cause of evolutionary change, and that the idea promotes misunderstanding of the evolutionary process. The second paper criticises the attempt to invoke natural selection in accounting for the heterogeneity of realisation within functionally defined biological categories. It is argued that the purported explanation is mistaken in a way that reflects the misconception of selection that is inherent in the causal interpretation. The paper furthermore presents a hypothesis that constitutes an additional theme in the thesis; that evolutionary discourse is influenced by pre-theoretical "leakage" due to the terms used and their entrenched meanings. The third paper argues that we have no reason to adopt an essentially etiological conception of biological functions. It is argued that the seeming reasonableness of essentially etiological functions stems from a pre-theoretical mindset that lacks theoretical justification. Standard etiological accounts unpack the notion of function in terms of selection, and so this discussion is related to the question of interpreting the inventory of evolutionary theory. The fourth paper discusses the relation between evolutionary discourse and intentional psychology. The background is that evolutionary considerations are quite commonly presented in terms connoting intent and motivation, and that the evolutionary and psychological perspectives are not always kept apart. The last paper is a metaphilosophical contribution that emanated from my engagement with the debate about biological functions.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Stockholm: Department of Philosophy, Stockholm University, 2011. 24 p.
Keyword
ambiguity, causal factor, drift, evolutionary theory, force, function, intentional psychology, interpretation, multiple realisation, natural selection, philosophical method, pre-theoretical influence, redundancy
National Category
Philosophy
Research subject
Theoretical Philosophy
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:su:diva-63255 (URN)978-91-7447-367-4 (ISBN)
Public defence
2011-11-26, hörsal 9, hus D, Universitetsvägen 10 D, Stockholm, 10:00 (English)
Opponent
Supervisors
Note
At the time of the doctoral defense, the following papers were unpublished and had a status as follows: Paper 2: Submitted. Paper 3: Accepted. Available from: 2011-11-02 Created: 2011-10-13 Last updated: 2011-10-25Bibliographically approved

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