Woodger, positivism, and the evolutionary synthesis

Biology and Philosophy 15 (4):535-551 (2000)
Abstract
In Unifying Biology, Smocovitis offers a series of claimsregarding the relationship between key actors in the synthesisperiod of evolutionary studies and positivism, especially claimsentailing Joseph Henry Woodger and the Unity of Science Movement.This commentary examines Woodger''s possible relevance to key synthesis actors and challenges Smocovitis'' arguments for theexplanatory relevance of logical positivism, and positivism moregenerally, to synthesis history. Under scrutiny, these arguments areshort on evidence and subject to substantial conceptual confusion.Though plausible, Smocovitis'' minimal interpretation – that somegeneralised form of Comtean positivism had a role in synthesishistory – requires more of an evidential basis and must engageexisting scholarship on epistemic reforms in the biological sciencesprior to the synthesis period. Smocovitis is right to investigateepistemology in the synthesis period of evolutionary studies and tolook for links to wider changes in science and philosophy. However,in its present form, Unifying Biology fails to support herbasic interpretation.
Keywords evolutionary synthesis  Joseph Henry Woodger  positivism
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