Angela Potochnik University of Cincinnati
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  • Faculty, University of Cincinnati
  • PhD, Stanford University, 2007.

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My primary research interests are in the areas of philosophy of biology, philosophy of science, and history of philosophy of science. Much of my work is inspired by an appreciation for the complexity of the world's causal processes, and an interest in how scientific practice is shaped by grappling with that complexity. I am especially interested in topics related to the methodology of population biology, especially evolutionary and behavioral ecology; the role of idealized models in biology and science more generally; scientific explanation; how gender and other social factors influence science; and the history of logical empiricism.
My works
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  1. Francis Cartieri & Angela Potochnik (2013). Toward Philosophy of Science's Social Engagement. Erkenntnis:1-16.
    In recent years, philosophy of science has witnessed a significant increase in attention directed toward the field’s social relevance. This is demonstrated by the formation of societies with related agendas, the organization of research symposia, and an uptick in work on topics of immediate public interest. The collection of papers that follows results from one such event: a 3-day colloquium on the subject of socially engaged philosophy of science (SEPOS) held at the University of Cincinnati in October 2012. In this (...)
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  2. Angela Potochnik (2013). Biological Explanation. In Kostas Kampourakis (ed.), The Philosophy of Biology: A Companion for Educators. Springer. 49-65.
    One of the central aims of science is explanation: scientists seek to uncover why things happen the way they do. This chapter addresses what kinds of explanations are formulated in biology, how explanatory aims influence other features of the field of biology, and the implications of all of this for biology education. Philosophical treatments of scientific explanation have been both complicated and enriched by attention to explanatory strategies in biology. Most basically, whereas traditional philosophy of science based explanation on derivation (...)
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  3. Angela Potochnik (2013). Defusing Idealogical Defenses in Biology. BioScience 63 (2):118-123.
    Ideological language is widespread in theoretical biology. Evolutionary game theory has been defended as a worldview and a leap of faith, and sexual selection theory has been criticized for what it posits as basic to biological nature. Views such as these encourage the impression of ideological rifts in the field. I advocate an alternative interpretation, whereby many disagreements between different camps of biologists merely reflect methodological differences. This interpretation provides a more accurate and more optimistic account of the state of (...)
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  4. J. Christopher Hunt, Kareem Khalifa, Ryan Muldoon, Tony Smith, Michael Weisberg, Michelle G. Gibbons, Elliott O. Wagner, Andreas Wagner, Angela Potochnik & Brian McGill (2012). 1. On Ad Hoc Hypotheses On Ad Hoc Hypotheses (Pp. 1-14). Philosophy of Science 79 (1).
     
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  5. Angela Potochnik (2012). Feminist Implications of Model-Based Science. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 43 (2):383-389.
    Recent philosophy of science has witnessed a shift in focus, in that significantly more consideration is given to how scientists employ models. Attending to the role of models in scientific practice leads to new questions about the representational roles of models, the purpose of idealizations, why multiple models are used for the same phenomenon, and many more besides. In this paper, I suggest that these themes resonate with central topics in feminist epistemology, in particular prominent versions of feminist empiricism, and (...)
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  6. Angela Potochnik (2012). Modeling Social and Evolutionary Games. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C 43 (1):202-208.
    When game theory was introduced to biology, the components of classic game theory models were replaced with elements more befitting evolutionary phenomena. The actions of intelligent agents are replaced by phenotypic traits; utility is replaced by fitness; rational deliberation is replaced by natural selection. In this paper, I argue that this classic conception of comprehensive reapplication is misleading, for it overemphasizes the discontinuity between human behavior and evolved traits. Explicitly considering the representational roles of evolutionary game theory brings to attention (...)
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  7. Angela Potochnik & Brian McGill (2012). The Limitations of Hierarchical Organization. Philosophy of Science 79 (1):120-140.
    The concept of hierarchical organization is commonplace in science. Subatomic particles compose atoms, which compose molecules; cells compose tissues, which compose organs, which compose organisms; etc. Hierarchical organization is particularly prominent in ecology, a field of research explicitly arranged around levels of ecological organization. The concept of levels of organization is also central to a variety of debates in philosophy of science. Yet many difficulties plague the concept of discrete hierarchical levels. In this paper, we show how these difficulties undermine (...)
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  8. Erika Milam, Roberta L. Millstein, Angela Potochnik & Joan Roughgarden (2011). Sex and Sensibility: The Role of Social Selection. Metascience 20 (2):253-277.
    Sex and sensibility: The role of social selection Content Type Journal Article DOI 10.1007/s11016-010-9464-6 Authors Erika L. Milam, Department of History, University of Maryland, 2115 Francis Scott Key Hall, College Park, MD 20742, USA Roberta L. Millstein, Department of Philosophy, University of California, Davis, One Shields Avenue, Davis, CA 95616, USA Angela Potochnik, Department of Philosophy, University of Cincinnati, P.O. Box 210374, Cincinnati, OH 45221, USA Joan E. Roughgarden, Department of Biology, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305-5020, USA Journal Metascience Online (...)
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  9. Angela Potochnik (2011). A Neurathian Conception of the Unity of Science. Erkenntnis 74 (3):305-319.
    An historically important conception of the unity of science is explanatory reductionism, according to which the unity of science is achieved by explaining all laws of science in terms of their connection to microphysical law. There is, however, a separate tradition that advocates the unity of science. According to that tradition, the unity of science consists of the coordination of diverse fields of science, none of which is taken to have privileged epistemic status. This alternate conception has roots in Otto (...)
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  10. Angela Potochnik (2011). Explanation and Understanding. European Journal for Philosophy of Science 1 (1):29-38.
    Michael Strevens offers an account of causal explanation according to which explanatory practice is shaped by counterbalanced commitments to representing causal influence and abstracting away from overly specific details. In this paper, I challenge a key feature of that account. I argue that what Strevens calls explanatory frameworks figure prominently in explanatory practice because they actually improve explanations. This suggestion is simple but has far-reaching implications. It affects the status of explanations that cite multiply realizable properties; changes the explanatory role (...)
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  11. Angela Potochnik (2010). Explanatory Independence and Epistemic Interdependence: A Case Study of the Optimality Approach. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 61 (1):213-233.
    The value of optimality modeling has long been a source of contention amongst population biologists. Here I present a view of the optimality approach as at once playing a crucial explanatory role and yet also depending on external sources of confirmation. Optimality models are not alone in facing this tension between their explanatory value and their dependence on other approaches; I suspect that the scenario is quite common in science. This investigation of the optimality approach thus serves as a case (...)
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  12. Angela Potochnik (2010). Levels of Explanation Reconceived. Philosophy of Science 77 (1):59-72.
    A common argument against explanatory reductionism is that higher‐level explanations are sometimes or always preferable because they are more general than reductive explanations. Here I challenge two basic assumptions that are needed for that argument to succeed. It cannot be assumed that higher‐level explanations are more general than their lower‐level alternatives or that higher‐level explanations are general in the right way to be explanatory. I suggest a novel form of pluralism regarding levels of explanation, according to which explanations at different (...)
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  13. Angela Potochnik (2009). Optimality Modeling in a Suboptimal World. Biology and Philosophy 24 (2):183-197.
    The fate of optimality modeling is typically linked to that of adaptationism: the two are thought to stand or fall together (Gould and Lewontin, Proc Relig Soc Lond 205:581–598, 1979; Orzack and Sober, Am Nat 143(3):361–380, 1994). I argue here that this is mistaken. The debate over adaptationism has tended to focus on one particular use of optimality models, which I refer to here as their strong use. The strong use of an optimality model involves the claim that selection is (...)
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  14. Angela Potochnik (2007). Optimality Modeling and Explanatory Generality. Philosophy of Science 74 (5):680-691.
    The optimality approach to modeling natural selection has been criticized by many biologists and philosophers of biology. For instance, Lewontin (1979) argues that the optimality approach is a shortcut that will be replaced by models incorporating genetic information, if and when such models become available. In contrast, I think that optimality models have a permanent role in evolutionary study. I base my argument for this claim on what I think it takes to best explain an event. In certain contexts, optimality (...)
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  15. Angela Potochnik & Audrey Yap (2006). Revisiting Galison's 'Aufbau/Bauhaus' in Light of Neurath's Philosophical Projects. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 37 (3):469-488.
    Historically, the Vienna Circle and the Dessau Bauhaus were related, with members of each group familiar with the ideas of the other. Peter Galison argues that their projects are related as well, through shared political views and methodological approach. The two main figures that connect the Vienna Circle to the Bauhaus—and the figures upon which Galison focuses—are Rudolf Carnap and Otto Neurath. Yet the connections that Galison develops do not properly capture the common themes between the Bauhaus and Neurath’s philosophical (...)
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