The Negative View of Natural Selection

An influential argument due to Elliott Sober, subsequently strengthened by Denis Walsh and Joel Pust, moves from plausible premises to the bold conclusion that natural selection cannot explain the traits of individual organisms. If the argument were sound, the explanatory scope of selection would depend, surprisingly, on metaphysical considerations concerning origin essentialism. I show that the Sober-Walsh-Pust argument rests on a flawed counterfactual criterion for explanatory relevance. I further show that a more defensible criterion for explanatory relevance recently proposed by Michael Strevens lends support to the view that natural selection can be relevant to the explanation of individual traits.
Keywords Evolution  Natural Selection  Adaptation  Causal explanation  Contrastive explanation
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DOI 10.1016/j.shpsc.2012.02.002
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References found in this work BETA
Robert C. Cummins (1975). Functional Analysis. Journal of Philosophy 72 (November):741-64.
Denis M. Walsh (2006). Evolutionary Essentialism. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 57 (2):425-448.
Fred I. Dretske (1972). Contrastive Statements. Philosophical Review 81 (4):411-437.

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Citations of this work BETA
Brian McLoone (2013). Selection Explanations of Token Traits. Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 44 (3):342-346.

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Similar books and articles
Elliott Sober (1995). Natural Selection and Distributive Explanation: A Reply to Neander. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 46 (3):384-397.
Roberta L. Millstein (2006). Natural Selection as a Population-Level Causal Process. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 57 (4):627-653.

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