On the explanatory roles of natural selection

Biology and Philosophy 20 (2-3):329-342 (2005)
Abstract
Can selection explain why individuals have the traits they do? This question has generated significant controversy. I will argue that the debate encompasses two separable aspects, to detrimental effect: (1) the role of selection in explaining the origin and evolution of biological traits and (2) the implications this may have for explaining why individuals have the traits they do. (1) can be settled on the basis of evolutionary theory while (2) requires additional, extra-scientific assumptions. By making a distinction between traits affected by a single factor and traits affected by multiple factors I show that selection can, under certain conditions, help explain the origin of traits. Resolving the first aspect enables us to critically assess the various incompatible and independent philosophical commitments made within the second aspect of the debate.
Keywords evolutionary theory  explanation  natural selection
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Citations of this work BETA
Jonathan Birch (2012). The Negative View of Natural Selection. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C 43 (2):569-573.
Ulrich E. Stegmann (2010). What Can Natural Selection Explain? Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C 41 (1):61-66.
John Basl & Ronald Sandler (2013). The Good of Non-Sentient Entities: Organisms, Artifacts, and Synthetic Biology. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 44 (4):697-705.
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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