David Bourget (Western Ontario)
David Chalmers (ANU, NYU)
Rafael De Clercq
Jack Alan Reynolds
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Biology and Philosophy 28 (5):719-745 (2013)
In 1961, Ernst Mayr published a highly influential article on the nature of causation in biology, in which he distinguished between proximate and ultimate causes. Mayr argued that proximate causes (e.g. physiological factors) and ultimate causes (e.g. natural selection) addressed distinct ‘how’ and ‘why’ questions and were not competing alternatives. That distinction retains explanatory value today. However, the adoption of Mayr’s heuristic led to the widespread belief that ontogenetic processes are irrelevant to evolutionary questions, a belief that has (1) hindered progress within evolutionary biology, (2) forged divisions between evolutionary biology and adjacent disciplines and (3) obstructed several contemporary debates in biology. Here we expand on our earlier (Laland et al. in Science 334:1512–1516, 2011) argument that Mayr’s dichotomous formulation has now run its useful course, and that evolutionary biology would be better served by a concept of reciprocal causation, in which causation is perceived to cycle through biological systems recursively. We further suggest that a newer evolutionary synthesis is unlikely to emerge without this change in thinking about causation
|Keywords||Niche construction Nongenetic inheritance Evo-devo Cultural evolution|
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Citations of this work BETA
Brett Calcott (2013). Why How and Why Aren't Enough: More Problems with Mayr's Proximate-Ultimate Distinction. Biology and Philosophy 28 (5):767-780.
T. E. Dickins & R. A. Barton (2013). Reciprocal Causation and the Proximate–Ultimate Distinction. Biology and Philosophy 28 (5):747-756.
Raphael Scholl & Massimo Pigliucci (2014). The Proximate–Ultimate Distinction and Evolutionary Developmental Biology: Causal Irrelevance Versus Explanatory Abstraction. Biology and Philosophy 2014 (5):DOI: 10.1007/s10539-014-9427-1.
David Haig (2014). Fighting the Good Cause: Meaning, Purpose, Difference, and Choice. Biology and Philosophy 29 (5):675-697.
Brett Calcott, Arnon Levy, Mark L. Siegal, Orkun S. Soyer & Andreas Wagner (2015). Engineering and Biology: Counsel for a Continued Relationship. Biological Theory 10 (1):50-59.
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