Constraining the adaptationism debate

Biology and Philosophy 18 (4):493-512 (2003)
This contribution to the adaptationism debate elaborates the nature of constraints and their importance in evolutionary explanation and argues that the adaptationism debate should be limited to the issue of how to privilege causes in evolutionary explanation. I argue that adaptationist explanations are deeply conceptually dependent on developmental constraints, and explanations that appeal to constraints are dependant on the results of natural selection. I suggest these explanations should be integrated into the framework of historical causal explanation. Each strategy explicitly appeals to some aspect of the evolutionary process, while implicitly appealing to others. Thus, adaptationists and anti-adaptationists can offer complementary causal explanations of the same explanandum. This eliminates much of the adaptationism debate and explains why its adversaries regularly agree with each other more than they would like. The adaptationism issue that remains is a species of the general issue of how to privilege causes in explanation. I show how a proposed solution to this general problem might be brought to bear on evolutionary explanations, and investigate some difficulties that might arise due to the nature of the evolutionary process.
Keywords Adaptationism  Causal explanation  Constraint  Historical turn  Privileging causes
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