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Elliott Sober [210]E. Sober [12]Elliot Sober [4]Elliott R. Sober [1]
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Profile: Elliott Sober (University of Wisconsin, Madison)
  1. Elliott Sober (1984/1993). The Nature of Selection: Evolutionary Theory in Philosophical Focus. University of Chicago Press.
    The Nature of Selection is a straightforward, self-contained introduction to philosophical and biological problems in evolutionary theory. It presents a powerful analysis of the evolutionary concepts of natural selection, fitness, and adaptation and clarifies controversial issues concerning altruism, group selection, and the idea that organisms are survival machines built for the good of the genes that inhabit them. "Sober's is the answering philosophical voice, the voice of a first-rate philosopher and a knowledgeable student of contemporary evolutionary theory. His book (...)
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  2. Elliott Sober & David Sloan Wilson (1998). Unto Others: The Evolution and Psychology of Unselfish Behavior. Harvard University Press.
  3.  99
    Elliott Sober (2000). Philosophy of Biology. Westview Press.
    Perhaps because of it implications for our understanding of human nature, recent philosophy of biology has seen what might be the most dramatic work in the philosophies of the ”special” sciences. This drama has centered on evolutionary theory, and in the second edition of this textbook, Elliott Sober introduces the reader to the most important issues of these developments. With a rare combination of technical sophistication and clarity of expression, Sober engages both the higher level of theory and (...)
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  4. Elliott Sober (2008). Evidence and Evolution: The Logic Behind the Science. Cambridge University Press.
    How should the concept of evidence be understood? And how does the concept of evidence apply to the controversy about creationism as well as to work in evolutionary biology about natural selection and common ancestry? In this rich and wide-ranging book, Elliott Sober investigates general questions about probability and evidence and shows how the answers he develops to those questions apply to the specifics of evolutionary biology. Drawing on a set of fascinating examples, he analyzes whether claims about intelligent design (...)
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  5.  7
    Elliott Sober (1986). The Nature of Selection. Behaviorism 14 (1):77-88.
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  6.  49
    Elliott Sober (1994). From a Biological Point of View: Essays in Evolutionary Philosophy. Cambridge University Press.
    Elliott Sober is one of the leading philosophers of science and is a former winner of the Lakatos Prize, the major award in the field. This new collection of essays will appeal to a readership that extends well beyond the frontiers of the philosophy of science. Sober shows how ideas in evolutionary biology bear in significant ways on traditional problems in philosophy of mind and language, epistemology, and metaphysics. Amongst the topics addressed are psychological egoism, solipsism, and the interpretation of (...)
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  7.  10
    E. Sober (ed.) (1994). Conceptual Issues in Evolutionary Biology. The MIT Press. Bradford Books.
    Changes and additions in the new edition reflect the ways in which the subject has broadened and deepened on several fronts; more than half of the-chapters are ...
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  8.  8
    Elliott Sober (1992). Reconstructing the Past: Parsimony, Evolution, and Inference. Philosophical Review 101 (3):725-729.
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  9. Elliott Sober (1999). The Multiple Realizability Argument Against Reductionism. Philosophy of Science 66 (4):542-564.
    Reductionism is often understood to include two theses: (1) every singular occurrence that the special sciences can explain also can be explained by physics; (2) every law in a higher-level science can be explained by physics. These claims are widely supposed to have been refuted by the multiple realizability argument, formulated by Putnam (1967, 1975) and Fodor (1968, 1975). The present paper criticizes the argument and identifies a reductionistic thesis that follows from one of the argument's premises.
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  10. Malcolm Forster & Elliott Sober (1994). How to Tell When Simpler, More Unified, or Less Ad Hoc Theories Will Provide More Accurate Predictions. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 45 (1):1-35.
    Traditional analyses of the curve fitting problem maintain that the data do not indicate what form the fitted curve should take. Rather, this issue is said to be settled by prior probabilities, by simplicity, or by a background theory. In this paper, we describe a result due to Akaike [1973], which shows how the data can underwrite an inference concerning the curve's form based on an estimate of how predictively accurate it will be. We argue that this approach throws light (...)
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  11.  74
    Elliott Sober (2010). Evolutionary Theory and the Reality of Macro Probabilities. In Ellery Eells & James H. Fetzer (eds.), The Place of Probability in Science. Springer 133--60.
    Evolutionary theory is awash with probabilities. For example, natural selection is said to occur when there is variation in fitness, and fitness is standardly decomposed into two components, viability and fertility, each of which is understood probabilistically. With respect to viability, a fertilized egg is said to have a certain chance of surviving to reproductive age; with respect to fertility, an adult is said to have an expected number of offspring.1 There is more to evolutionary theory than the theory of (...)
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  12.  99
    W. Roche & E. Sober (2013). Explanatoriness is Evidentially Irrelevant, or Inference to the Best Explanation Meets Bayesian Confirmation Theory. Analysis 73 (4):659-668.
    In the world of philosophy of science, the dominant theory of confirmation is Bayesian. In the wider philosophical world, the idea of inference to the best explanation exerts a considerable influence. Here we place the two worlds in collision, using Bayesian confirmation theory to argue that explanatoriness is evidentially irrelevant.
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  13. Elliott Sober (1980). Evolution, Population Thinking, and Essentialism. Philosophy of Science 47 (3):350-383.
    Ernst Mayr has argued that Darwinian theory discredited essentialist modes of thought and replaced them with what he has called "population thinking". In this paper, I characterize essentialism as embodying a certain conception of how variation in nature is to be explained, and show how this conception was undermined by evolutionary theory. The Darwinian doctrine of evolutionary gradualism makes it impossible to say exactly where one species ends and another begins; such line-drawing problems are often taken to be the decisive (...)
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  14. Elliott Sober (2011). A Priori Causal Models of Natural Selection. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 89 (4):571 - 589.
    To evaluate Hume's thesis that causal claims are always empirical, I consider three kinds of causal statement: ?e1 caused e2 ?, ?e1 promoted e2 ?, and ?e1 would promote e2 ?. Restricting my attention to cases in which ?e1 occurred? and ?e2 occurred? are both empirical, I argue that Hume was right about the first two, but wrong about the third. Standard causal models of natural selection that have this third form are a priori mathematical truths. Some are obvious, others (...)
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  15. Christopher Hitchcock & Elliott Sober (2004). Prediction Versus Accommodation and the Risk of Overfitting. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 55 (1):1-34.
    an observation to formulate a theory, it is no surprise that the resulting theory accurately captures that observation. However, when the theory makes a novel prediction—when it predicts an observation that was not used in its formulation—this seems to provide more substantial confirmation of the theory. This paper presents a new approach to the vexed problem of understanding the epistemic difference between prediction and accommodation. In fact, there are several problems that need to be disentangled; in all of them, the (...)
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  16.  51
    David Sloan Wilson & Elliott Sober (1994). Reintroducing Group Selection to the Human Behavioral Sciences. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 17 (4):585.
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  17. Elliott Sober (2011). Realism, Conventionalism, and Causal Decomposition in Units of Selection: Reflections on Samir Okasha's Evolution and the Levels of Selection. [REVIEW] Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 82 (1):221-231.
    I discuss two subjects in Samir Okasha’s excellent book, Evolution and the Levels of Selection. In consonance with Okasha’s critique of the conventionalist view of the units of selection problem, I argue that conventionalists have not attended to what realists mean by group, individual, and genic selection. In connection with Okasha’s discussion of the Price equation and contextual analysis, I discuss whether the existence of these two quantitative frameworks is a challenge to realism.
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  18. Elliott Sober, The Two Faces of Fitness.
    The concept of fitness began its career in biology long before evolutionary theory was mathematized. Fitness was used to describe an organism’s vigor, or the degree to which organisms “fit” into their environments. An organism’s success in avoiding predators and in building a nest obviously contribute to its fitness and to the fitness of its offspring, but the peacock’s gaudy tail seemed to be in an entirely different line of work. Fitness, as a term in ordinary language (as in “physical (...)
     
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  19. Elliott Sober (2015). Ockham's Razors: A User's Manual. Cambridge University Press.
    Ockham's razor, the principle of parsimony, states that simpler theories are better than theories that are more complex. It has a history dating back to Aristotle and it plays an important role in current physics, biology, and psychology. The razor also gets used outside of science – in everyday life and in philosophy. This book evaluates the principle and discusses its many applications. Fascinating examples from different domains provide a rich basis for contemplating the principle's promises and perils. It is (...)
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  20.  52
    Elliott Sober & Richard C. Lewontin (1982). Artifact, Cause and Genic Selection. Philosophy of Science 49 (2):157-180.
    Several evolutionary biologists have used a parsimony argument to argue that the single gene is the unit of selection. Since all evolution by natural selection can be represented in terms of selection coefficients attaching to single genes, it is, they say, "more parsimonious" to think that all selection is selection for or against single genes. We examine the limitations of this genic point of view, and then relate our criticisms to a broader view of the role of causal concepts and (...)
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  21. Lawrence A. Shapiro & Elliott Sober (forthcoming). Epiphenomenalism - the Do's and the Don 'Ts'. In G. Wolters & Peter K. Machamer (eds.), Studies in Causality: Historical and Contemporary. University of Pittsburgh Press
    When philosophers defend epiphenomenalist doctrines, they often do so by way of a priori arguments. Here we suggest an empirical approach that is modeled on August Weismann.
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  22.  90
    Elliott Sober (1975). Simplicity. Clarendon Press.
    Attempts to show that the simplicity of a hypothesis can be measured by attending to how well it answers certain kinds of questions.
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  23. Steven Hecht Orzack & Elliott Sober (eds.) (2010). Adaptationism and Optimality. Cambridge University Press.
    The debate over the relative importance of natural selection as compared to other forces affecting the evolution of organisms is a long-standing and central controversy in evolutionary biology. The theory of adaptationism argues that natural selection contains sufficient explanatory power in itself to account for all evolution. However, there are differing views about the efficiency of the adaptation model of explanation. If the adaptationism theory is applied, are energy and resources being used to their optimum? This book presents an up-to-date (...)
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  24. Elliott Sober (2009). Absence of Evidence and Evidence of Absence: Evidential Transitivity in Connection with Fossils, Fishing, Fine-Tuning, and Firing Squads. [REVIEW] Philosophical Studies 143 (1):63 - 90.
    “Absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence” is a slogan that is popular among scientists and nonscientists alike. This article assesses its truth by using a probabilistic tool, the Law of Likelihood. Qualitative questions (“Is E evidence about H ?”) and quantitative questions (“How much evidence does E provide about H ?”) are both considered. The article discusses the example of fossil intermediates. If finding a fossil that is phenotypically intermediate between two extant species provides evidence that those species have (...)
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  25.  27
    Ellery Eells & Elliott Sober (1983). Probabilistic Causality and the Question of Transitivity. Philosophy of Science 50 (1):35-57.
    After clarifying the probabilistic conception of causality suggested by Good (1961-2), Suppes (1970), Cartwright (1979), and Skyrms (1980), we prove a sufficient condition for transitivity of causal chains. The bearing of these considerations on the units of selection problem in evolutionary theory and on the Newcomb paradox in decision theory is then discussed.
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  26.  98
    Elliott Sober (1992). The Evolution of Altruism: Correlation, Cost, and Benefit. [REVIEW] Biology and Philosophy 7 (2):177-187.
    A simple and general criterion is derived for the evolution of altruism when individuals interact in pairs. It is argued that the treatment of this problem in kin selection theory and in game theory are special cases of this general criterion.
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  27.  31
    Elliott Sober (1990). The Poverty of Pluralism: A Reply to Sterelny and Kitcher. Journal of Philosophy 87 (3):151-158.
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  28.  6
    Elliott Sober (1993). Evolutionary Altruism, Psychological Egoism, and Morality: Disentangling the Phenotypes. In Matthew Nitecki & Doris Nitecki (eds.), Evolutionary Ethics. Suny Press 199--216.
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  29. Elliott Sober (1988). Reconstructing The Past: Parsimony, Evolution, and Inference. MIT Press.
  30.  63
    Elliott Sober (1978). Psychologism. Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour 8 (July):165-91.
  31.  97
    Elliott Sober (1981). The Evolution of Rationality. Synthese 46 (January):95-120.
  32. L. Shapiro & E. Sober (2012). Against Proportionality. Analysis 72 (1):89-93.
    A statement of the form ‘C caused E’ obeys the requirement of proportionality precisely when C says no more than what is necessary to bring about E. The thesis that causal statements must obey this requirement might be given a semantic or a pragmatic justification. We use the idea that causal claims are contrastive to criticize both.
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  33.  20
    Elliott Sober (1992). Screening-Off and the Units of Selection. Philosophy of Science 59 (1):142-152.
    Brandon ([1982] 1984, 1990) has argued that Salmon's (1971) concept of screening-off can be used to characterize (i) the idea that natural selection acts directly on an organism's phenotype, only indirectly on its genotype, and (ii) the biological problem of the levels of selection. Brandon also suggests (iii) that screening-off events in a causal chain are better explanations than the events they screen off. This paper critically evaluates Brandon's proposals.
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  34.  48
    Elliott Sober (1993). Mathematics and Indispensability. Philosophical Review 102 (1):35-57.
  35. Martin Barrett, Hayley Clatterbuck, Michael Goldsby, Casey Helgeson, Brian McLoone, Trevor Pearce, Elliott Sober, Reuben Stern & Naftali Weinberger (2012). Puzzles for ZFEL, McShea and Brandon's Zero Force Evolutionary Law. Biology and Philosophy 27 (5):723-735.
    In their 2010 book, Biology’s First Law, D. McShea and R. Brandon present a principle that they call ‘‘ZFEL,’’ the zero force evolutionary law. ZFEL says (roughly) that when there are no evolutionary forces acting on a population, the population’s complexity (i.e., how diverse its member organisms are) will increase. Here we develop criticisms of ZFEL and describe a different law of evolution; it says that diversity and complexity do not change when there are no evolutionary causes.
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  36. Elliott Sober (1987). "Comments on Maynard Smith's" How to Model Evolution. In John Dupre (ed.), The Latest on the Best: Essays on Evolution and Optimality. MIT Press 133--145.
     
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  37. Elliott Sober & David Sloan Wilson (1994). A Critical Review of Philosophical Work on the Units of Selection Problem. Philosophy of Science 61 (4):534-555.
    The evolutionary problem of the units of selection has elicited a good deal of conceptual work from philosophers. We review this work to determine where the issues now stand.
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  38. Elliott Sober, Quine's Two Dogmas.
    Quine’s publication in 1951 of “Two Dogmas of Empiricism” was a watershed event in 20th century philosophy. In that essay, Quine sought to demolish the concepts of analyticity and a priority; he also sketched a positive proposal of his own -- epistemological holism. There can be little doubt that philosophy changed as a result of Quine’s work. The question I want to address here is whether it should have. My goal is not to argue for a return to the halcyon (...)
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  39. Elliott Sober (2004). The Design Argument. In William Mann (ed.), The Blackwell Guide to the Philosophy of Religion. Blackwell Pub.
  40.  84
    Elliott Sober (2009). Parsimony Arguments in Science and Philosophy—A Test Case for Naturalism P. Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association 83 (2):117 - 155.
    Parsimony arguments are advanced in both science and philosophy. How are they related? This question is a test case for Naturalismp, which is the thesis that philosophical theories and scientific theories should be evaluated by the same criteria. In this paper, I describe the justifications that attach to two types of parsimony argument in science. In the first, parsimony is a surrogate for likelihood. In the second, parsimony is relevant to estimating how accurately a model will predict new data when (...)
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  41. Elliott Sober (2002). Intelligent Design and Probability Reasoning. International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 52 (2):65-80.
    This paper defends two theses about probabilistic reasoning. First, although modus ponens has a probabilistic analog, modus tollens does not – the fact that a hypothesis says that an observation is very improbable does not entail that the hypothesis is improbable. Second, the evidence relation is essentially comparative; with respect to hypotheses that confer probabilities on observation statements but do not entail them, an observation O may favor one hypothesis H1 over another hypothesis H2 , but O cannot be said (...)
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  42.  61
    Elliott Sober (1995). Natural Selection and Distributive Explanation: A Reply to Neander. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 46 (3):384-397.
    The thesis that natural selection explains the frequencies of traits in populations, but not why individual organisms have the traits tehy do, is here defended and elaborated. A general concept of ‘distributive explanation’ is discussed.
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  43.  30
    Hayley Clatterbuck, Elliott Sober & Richard Lewontin (2013). Selection Never Dominates Drift (nor Vice Versa). Biology and Philosophy 28 (4):577-592.
    The probability that the fitter of two alleles will increase in frequency in a population goes up as the product of N (the effective population size) and s (the selection coefficient) increases. Discovering the distribution of values for this product across different alleles in different populations is a very important biological task. However, biologists often use the product Ns to define a different concept; they say that drift “dominates” selection or that drift is “stronger than” selection when Ns is much (...)
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  44. E. Sober & M. Steel (2013). Screening-Off and Causal Incompleteness: A No-Go Theorem. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 64 (3):513-550.
    We begin by considering two principles, each having the form causal completeness ergo screening-off. The first concerns a common cause of two or more effects; the second describes an intermediate link in a causal chain. They are logically independent of each other, each is independent of Reichenbach's principle of the common cause, and each is a consequence of the causal Markov condition. Simple examples show that causal incompleteness means that screening-off may fail to obtain. We derive a stronger result: in (...)
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  45.  19
    Elliott Sober (2013). Trait Fitness is Not a Propensity, but Fitness Variation Is. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 44 (3):336-341.
    The propensity interpretation of fitness draws on the propensity interpretation of probability, but advocates of the former have not attended sufficiently to problems with the latter. The causal power of C to bring about E is not well-represented by the conditional probability Pr. Since the viability fitness of trait T is the conditional probability Pr, the viability fitness of the trait does not represent the degree to which having the trait causally promotes surviving. The same point holds for fertility fitness. (...)
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  46.  37
    Elliott Sober (2001). Venetian Sea Levels, British Bread Prices, and the Principle of the Common Cause. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 52 (2):331-346.
    When two causally independent processes each have a quantity that increases monotonically (either deterministically or in probabilistic expectation), the two quantities will be correlated, thus providing a counterexample to Reichenbach's principle of the common cause. Several philosophers have denied this, but I argue that their efforts to save the principle are unsuccessful. Still, one salvage attempt does suggest a weaker principle that avoids the initial counterexample. However, even this weakened principle is mistaken, as can be seen by exploring the concepts (...)
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  47.  7
    Elliott Sober (2009). Parsimony and Models of Animal Minds. In Robert W. Lurz (ed.), The Philosophy of Animal Minds. Cambridge University Press 237.
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  48. Mehmet Elgin & Elliott Sober (2002). Cartwright on Explanation and Idealization. Erkenntnis 57 (3):441 - 450.
    Nancy Cartwright (1983, 1999) argues that (1) the fundamental laws of physics are true when and only when appropriate ceteris paribus modifiers are attached and that (2) ceteris paribus modifiers describe conditions that are almost never satisfied. She concludes that when the fundamental laws of physics are true, they don't apply in the real world, but only in highly idealized counterfactual situations. In this paper, we argue that (1) and (2) together with an assumption about contraposition entail the opposite conclusion (...)
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  49.  64
    Elliott Sober (1997). Two Outbreaks of Lawlessness in Recent Philosophy of Biology. Philosophy of Science 64 (4):467.
    John Beatty (1995) and Alexander Rosenberg (1994) have argued against the claim that there are laws in biology. Beatty's main reason is that evolution is a process full of contingency, but he also takes the existence of relative significance controversies in biology and the popularity of pluralistic approaches to a variety of evolutionary questions to be evidence for biology's lawlessness. Rosenberg's main argument appeals to the idea that biological properties supervene on large numbers of physical properties, but he also develops (...)
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  50.  41
    Elliott Sober (1999). Testability. Proceedings and Address of the American Philosophical Association 73 (2):47 - 76.
    That some propositions are testable, while others are not, was a fundamental idea in the philosophical program known as logical empiricism. That program is now widely thought to be defunct. Quine’s (1953) “Two Dogmas of Empiricism” and Hempel’s (1950) “Problems and Changes in the Empiricist Criterion of Meaning” are among its most notable epitaphs. Yet, as we know from Mark Twain’s comment on an obituary that he once had the pleasure of reading about himself, the report of a death can (...)
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