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Deflating selection: On the interpretation and application of evolutionary theory
Stockholm University, Faculty of Humanities, Department of Philosophy.
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 [en]
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: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-63255ISBN: 978-91-7447-367-4 (print)OAI: oai:DiVA.org:su-63255DiVA: diva2:448360
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
List of papers
1. What is natural selection?
Open this publication in new window or tab >>What is natural selection?
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.

Keyword
Natural selection, drift, adaptation, force metaphor
National Category
Philosophy
Research subject
Theoretical Philosophy
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:su:diva-17144 (URN)10.1007/s10539-005-9008-4 (DOI)000245268200004 ()
Available from: 2009-01-08 Created: 2009-01-08 Last updated: 2013-12-19Bibliographically approved
2. Natural selection and multiple realisation: A closer look
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Natural selection and multiple realisation: A closer look
2013 (English)In: International Studies in the Philosophy of Science, ISSN 0269-8595, E-ISSN 1469-9281, I, Vol. 27, no 1, 73-83 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

The target of this paper is the claim that natural selection accounts for the multiple realisation of biological and psychological kinds. I argue that the explanation actually offered doesn’t provide any insight about the phenomenon since it presupposes multiple realisation as an unexplained premise, and this is what does all the work. The purported explanation mistakenly invokes the “indifference” of selection to structure as an additional explanatorily relevant factor. While such indifference can be explanatory in intentional contexts it isn’t a causal factor at all in non-intentional nature. The upshot is that once the necessary initial assumption about heterogeneity is accepted there is no further explanation to do.

National Category
Philosophy History of Ideas
Research subject
Theoretical Philosophy
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:su:diva-63298 (URN)10.1080/02698595.2013.783972 (DOI)000325092600005 ()
Note

AuthorCount: 1;

Available from: 2011-10-14 Created: 2011-10-14 Last updated: 2017-12-08Bibliographically approved
3. On the theoretical motivation for positing etiological functions
Open this publication in new window or tab >>On the theoretical motivation for positing etiological functions
2011 (English)In: Canadian journal of philosophy, ISSN 0045-5091, E-ISSN 1911-0820, Vol. 41, no 3, 371-390 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

This paper argues that the widely accepted etiological notion of function finds no solid support in biological theory. While the notion may seem to be called for by entrenched linguistic practice, I claim that the arguments that have been raised in its favour do not succeed in providing a theoretical motivation for it. This verdict is bound to transfer to philosophical contexts where the notion is put to use, teleosemantics being the perhaps most debated application.

National Category
Philosophy
Research subject
Theoretical Philosophy
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:su:diva-63296 (URN)10.1353/cjp.2011.0026 (DOI)000299762300002 ()
Available from: 2011-10-14 Created: 2011-10-14 Last updated: 2017-12-08Bibliographically approved
4. Is the language of intentional psychology an efficient tool for evolutionists?
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Is the language of intentional psychology an efficient tool for evolutionists?
2008 (English)In: Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, ISSN 1369-8486, E-ISSN 1879-2499, Vol. 39, no 1, 147-152 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

The language of intentional psychology is commonly used as a means of addressing issues concerning selection. This habit is generally considered an efficient shorthand, but oft-reported misunderstandings leave room for doubt. I stress the general point that efficiency of a mode of expression is an empirical matter, deserving the same treatment, theoretically and methodologically, as other such matters. Mistaken assumptions regarding the relevant cognitive capacities may make for inefficient communication, and discourse about human evolution is a plausible case in point.

Keyword
Intentional shorthand, misunderstanding, selectionist thinking
National Category
Philosophy
Research subject
Theoretical Philosophy
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:su:diva-17146 (URN)10.1016/j.shpsc.2007.12.007 (DOI)
Available from: 2009-01-08 Created: 2009-01-08 Last updated: 2015-08-20Bibliographically approved
5. Philosophy and default descriptivism: The functions debate
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Philosophy and default descriptivism: The functions debate
2011 (English)In: Metaphilosophy, ISSN 0026-1068, E-ISSN 1467-9973, Vol. 42, no 4, 417-430 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

By focusing on contributions to the literature on function ascription, this article seeks to illustrate two problems with philosophical accounts that are presented as having descriptive aims. There is a motivational problem in that there is frequently no good reason why descriptive aims should be important, and there is a methodological problem in that the methods employed frequently fail to match the task description. This suggests that the task description as such may be the result of “default descriptivism,” a tendency to take considerations that make sense of a practice to be the very considerations that generate it. Although such hypotheses are frequently quite plausible, the fact of the matter may not be very important for the pursuits of philosophers.

Keyword
description, empirical data, explication, function, method, task description
National Category
Philosophy
Research subject
Theoretical Philosophy
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:su:diva-63254 (URN)10.1111/j.1467-9973.2011.01701.x (DOI)000292381800008 ()
Available from: 2011-10-14 Created: 2011-10-13 Last updated: 2017-12-08Bibliographically approved

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