Population genetics and population thinking: Mathematics and the role of the individual

Philosophy of Science 71 (5):1189-1200 (2004)
Abstract
Ernst Mayr has criticised the methodology of population genetics for being essentialist: interested only in “types” as opposed to individuals. In fact, he goes so far as to claim that “he who does not understand the uniqueness of individuals is unable to understand the working of natural selection” (1982, 47). This is a strong claim indeed especially since many responsible for the development of population genetics (especially Fisher, Haldane, and Wright) were avid Darwinians. In order to unravel this apparent incompatibility I want to examine the possible sources and implications of essentialism in this context and show why the kind of mathematical analysis found in Fisher's work is better seen as responsible for extending the theory of natural selection to a broader context rather than inhibiting its applicability.
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