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Profile: Marshall Abrams (University of Alabama, Birmingham)
  1. Marshall Abrams, Does Your Work Have Anything to Do with Normative Issues or Public Policy?
    Sometimes I’m asked whether the things that I’ve been writing about in philosophy of biology have anything to do with normative issues, public policy, etc. The answer is “Yes,” but I don’t think that the reasons why are obvious. Much of my most recent work has focused on metaphysical issues concerning the nature of evolutionary processes. The following is a sketch of some connections between metaphysics, evolution, and normative issues which are of particular interest to me.
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  2. Marshall Abrams, Short-Run Mechanistic Probability.
    This paper sketches a concept of higher-level objective probability (“short-run mechanistic probability”, SRMP) inspired partly by a style of explanation of relative frequencies known as the “method of arbitrary functions”. SRMP has the potential to fill the need for a theory of objective probability which has wide application at higher levels and which gives probability causal connections to observed relative frequency (without making it equivalent to relative frequency). Though this approach provides probabilities on a space of event types, it does (...)
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  3. Marshall Abrams (2014). Maintenance of Cultural Diversity: Social Roles, Social Networks, and Cognitive Networks. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 37 (3):254-255.
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  4. Marshall Abrams (2013). Populations and Pigeons: Prosaic Pluralism About Evolutionary Causes. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 44 (3):294-301.
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  5. Marshall Abrams (2012). Implications of Use of Wright's for the Role of Probability and Causation in Evolution. Philosophy of Science 79 (5):596-608.
    Sewall Wright’s FST is a mathematical test widely used in empirical applications to characterize genetic and other differences between subpopulations, and to identify causes of those differences. Cockerham and Weir’s popular approach to statistical estimation of FST is based on an assumption sometimes formulated as a claim that actual populations tested are sampled from..
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  6. Marshall Abrams (2012). Mechanistic Probability. Synthese 187 (2):343-375.
    I describe a realist, ontologically objective interpretation of probability, "far-flung frequency (FFF) mechanistic probability". FFF mechanistic probability is defined in terms of facts about the causal structure of devices and certain sets of frequencies in the actual world. Though defined partly in terms of frequencies, FFF mechanistic probability avoids many drawbacks of well-known frequency theories and helps causally explain stable frequencies, which will usually be close to the values of mechanistic probabilities. I also argue that it's a virtue rather than (...)
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  7. Marshall Abrams (2012). Mechanistic Social Probability : How Individual Choices and Varying Circumstances Produce Stable Social Patterns. In Harold Kincaid (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Social Science. Oxford University Press.
  8. Marshall Abrams (2009). Fitness “Kinematics”: Biological Function, Altruism, and Organism–Environment Development. Biology and Philosophy 24 (4):487-504.
    It’s recently been argued that biological fitness can’t change over the course of an organism’s life as a result of organisms’ behaviors. However, some characterizations of biological function and biological altruism tacitly or explicitly assume that an effect of a trait can change an organism’s fitness. In the first part of the paper, I explain that the core idea of changing fitness can be understood in terms of conditional probabilities defined over sequences of events in an organism’s life. The result (...)
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  9. Marshall Abrams, Toward a Mechanistic Interpretation of Probability.
    I sketch a new objective interpretation of probability, called "mechanistic probability", and more specifically what I call "far-flung frequency (FFF) mechanistic probability". FFF mechanistic probability is defined in terms of facts about the causal structure of devices and certain sets of collections of frequencies in the actual world. The relevant kind of causal structure is a generalization of what Strevens (2003) calls microconstancy. Though defined partly in terms of frequencies, FFF mechanistic probability avoids many drawbacks of well-known frequency theories. It (...)
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  10. Marshall Abrams (2009). The Unity of Fitness. Philosophy of Science 76 (5):750-761.
    It has been argued that biological fitness cannot be defined as expected number of offspring in all contexts. Some authors argue that fitness therefore merely satisfies a common schema or that no unified mathematical characterization of fitness is possible. I argue that comparative fitness must be relativized to an evolutionary effect; thus relativized, fitness can be given a unitary mathematical characterization in terms of probabilities of producing offspring and other effects. Such fitnesses will sometimes be defined in terms of probabilities (...)
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  11. Marshall Abrams (2009). What Determines Biological Fitness? The Problem of the Reference Environment. Synthese 166 (1):21 - 40.
    Organisms' environments are thought to play a fundamental role in determining their fitness and hence in natural selection. Existing intuitive conceptions of environment are sufficient for biological practice. I argue, however, that attempts to produce a general characterization of fitness and natural selection are incomplete without the help of general conceptions of what conditions are included in the environment. Thus there is a "problem of the reference environment"—more particularly, problems of specifying principles which pick out those environmental conditions which determine (...)
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  12. David Etlin, Maarten Van Dyck, Phil Dowe, Julian Reiss, Thomas Ac Reydon, Sabina Leonelli, Marshall Abrams, William Bechtel, Joshua Filler & Yoichi Ishida (2009). 10. The Problem of Noncounterfactual Conditionals The Problem of Noncounterfactual Conditionals (Pp. 676-688). Philosophy of Science 76 (5).
     
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  13. Marshall Abrams (2007). Fitness and Propensity's Annulment? Biology and Philosophy 22 (1):115-130.
    Recent debate on the nature of probabilities in evolutionary biology has focused largely on the propensity interpretation of fitness (PIF), which defines fitness in terms of a conception of probability known as “propensity”. However, proponents of this conception of fitness have misconceived the role of probability in the constitution of fitness. First, discussions of probability and fitness have almost always focused on organism effect probability, the probability that an organism and its environment cause effects. I argue that much of the (...)
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  14. Marshall Abrams (2007). How Do Natural Selection and Random Drift Interact? Philosophy of Science 74 (5):666-679.
    One controversy about the existence of so called evolutionary forces such as natural selection and random genetic drift concerns the sense in which such “forces” can be said to interact. In this paper I explain how natural selection and random drift can interact. In particular, I show how population-level probabilities can be derived from individual-level probabilities, and explain the sense in which natural selection and drift are embodied in these population-level probabilities. I argue that whatever causal character the individual-level probabilities (...)
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  15. Marshall Abrams (2006). Infinite Populations and Counterfactual Frequencies in Evolutionary Theory. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C 37 (2):256-268.
    One finds intertwined with ideas at the core of evolutionary theory claims about frequencies in counterfactual and infinitely large populations of organisms, as well as in sets of populations of organisms. One also finds claims about frequencies in counterfactual and infinitely large populations—of events—at the core of an answer to a question concerning the foundations of evolutionary theory. The question is this: To what do the numerical probabilities found throughout evolutionary theory correspond? The answer in question says that evolutionary probabilities (...)
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  16. Marshall Abrams (2005). Teleosemantics Without Natural Selection. Biology and Philosophy 20 (1):97-116.
    Ruth Millikan and others advocate theories which attempt to naturalize wide mental content (e.g. beliefs.
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  17. Marshall Abrams (1999). Propensities in the Propensity Interpretation of Fitness. Southwest Philosophy Review 15 (1):27-35.
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