The idea that innateness can be understood in terms of genetic coding or genetic programming is discussed. I argue that biology does not provide any support for the view that the whole-organism features of interest to nativists in psychology and linguistics are genetically coded for. This provides some support for recent critical and deflationary treatments of the concept of innateness.
I will sketch, but not argue for here, a hypothesis about its origins and structure. What philosophers think of as folk psychology has dual origins. One is a genuine "intuitive psychology." This is an evolved predictive tool seen also in some nonhuman animals and very young children. It is "peripheral" in what it recognizes and describes. Primarily, it recognizes seeing and acting (including trying) as activities of others. This is common element in how human and non-human animals deal with each (...) other. The full folk psychology that we are familiar with in philosophical discussion also includes a model of psychological interactions within the periphery. This model is based perhaps on discourse, the exchange of sentences in public – roughly as Wilfrid Sellars suggested many years ago. This part of folk psychology, unlike the first, might be expected to show some cultural variation. The resulting framework might be fine for describing certain kinds of human thought, but it is problematic when applied more generally. (shrink)
We behold the face of nature bright with gladness, we often see superabundance of food; we do not see, or we forget, that the birds which are idly singing round us... are ... constantly destroying life; or we forget how largely these songsters, or their eggs, or their nestlings are destroyed by birds and beasts of prey...
Causal pluralism is the view that causation is not a single kind of relation or connection between things in the world. Instead, the apparently simple and univocal term "cause" is seen as masking an underlying diversity. Assessing such a claim requires making sense of a difficult counting operation. How do we tell whether a theory of causation is identifying causation with a "single" kind of connection? In practice, there tends not to be much disagreement about how to do the counting, (...) because most philosophical work on causation has sought a view with an obvious kind of unity. The literature often works with a standard range of candidate connections that seem to have an important link to the idea of causation. These include natural laws, de facto regularities, counterfactual dependence, probabilistic dependence, and some others. It has been common in philosophy to pick one of these and try to make sense of causation entirely in those terms. The candidate chosen is seen as either fundamental to our thinking about the world, a fundamental ingredient of the world itself, or both. Against that background, it is an unorthodox move to say that all such unified 1 treatments of causation are mistaken; causation is, with respect to the ingredients recognized as distinct options in philosophical practice, irreducibly plural or diverse. Appropriately, causal pluralism comes in several kinds. The main focus of this survey is a collection of recent treatments that directly oppose the kind of unity seen in traditional analyses. The simplest kind of pluralism treats our ordinary talk of causation as shifting between two distinct "concepts" of cause (section 3). This view posits an ambiguity that could be resolved if each concept was given a different name. Another suggestion is that we have a single concept of causation, but one whose use is guided by what Brian Skyrms called an "amiable jumble" of criteria that sometimes work together and sometimes pull apart (section 4). Those two options use traditional philosophical raw materials to make sense of causation (regularities, counterfactuals, etc.) but put them to work in unorthodox ways.. (shrink)
In 1939 John Dewey was the first person to be the subject of a "Library of Living Philosophers" volume (Schilpp and Hahn, 1939). The result includes meetings between Dewey and critics representing a range of philosophical schools and styles. There is a sometimes prickly exchange between Dewey and Bertrand Russell, and another with Hans Reichenbach. Reichenbach is sometimes classified as a logical positivist. This understates the originality of his views, though he was certainly an ally of the logical positivist movement. (...) Reichenbach developed his own scientifically engaged form of empiricism} He was sympathetic to Dewey, and presents his essay in the "Library of Living Philosophers" volume as one offering criticisms from a viewpoint that featured much agreement. So this is a useful exchange for thinking about how Dewey relates to other currents in scientifically-oriented philosophy. In this paper I will start by looking at one of Reichenbach's criticisms, and Dewey's reply. I'll then use their exchange to navigate a path through several parts of Dewey's later philosophy, drawing primarily on Experience and Nature (1925) and The Quest for Certainty (1929). The main topic of the.. (shrink)
Wright's article did not answer all the questions philosophers have asked about functions, but it did answer some of them, and it showed the way forward to answering more. Much of the literature since 1973 has, in effect, engaged in the refinement of Wright's original idea. Many writers do not think of themselves as doing this; indeed, several have actively resisted this interpretation.1 Nonetheless, since 1973 there has been a convergence towards a view of functions which has Wright's idea at (...) its core.2 I think of this trend as an example of real progress in philosophy. (shrink)
William Dembski holds that "the origin of information is best sought in intelligent causes" ("Intelligent Design as a Theory of Information", 1997). In particular, Dembski argues that Darwinism is not able to explain the existence of biological structures that contain a certain kind of information – "complex specified information" (CSI). To explain these informational features of living systems, we must instead appeal to the choices made by an intelligent designer.
Published as "Useful Lessons from California" in Quadrant Magazine, Volume 50, October 2006. An edited version appears in the Australian newspaper's Higher Education Supplement, as "The Model of Achievement," November 1, 2006.
This paper will criticize a familiar package of ideas about "inductive" inference, and use the criticism to motivate a different package. "Induction" is understood here as a pattern of argument or method used to answer questions of the form: "how many F's are G?" This question is understood as one about a proportion or frequency. So it could also be expressed by asking "what is the rate of G in the F's?" The question "Are all F's G?" is a special (...) case. Examples of such questions include. (shrink)
Over the past 30 years, one topic much discussed in the philosophy of mind and philosophy of psychology has been the status of "the representational theory of mind," or "RTM." As usually conceived, the representational theory holds that the mind operates (in part) by creating, storing, and using internal representations of objects and events in the world.
One of the most striking developments in recent biology has been the proliferation of concepts such as coding, information, representation and programming, especially applied to genes. The idea that genes can be described as having semantic properties, as well as ordinary causal properties, has become so uncontroversial in many quarters that it now appears prominently in biology textbooks. Scott Gilbert's widely used developmental biology text, to pick just one example, tell us that "the inherited information needed for development and metabolism (...) is encoded in the DNA sequences of the chromosomes" (Gilbert 1997 p. 5). (shrink)
My title is intended to echo Hans Reichenbach's The Rise of Scientific Philosophy (1951), and the phrase "scientific epistemology" is intended in two Reichenbachian senses. One involves the epistemology of science; the other involves epistemology undertaken with a scientific orientation. Talk of "progress and procedures" is intended in a similar dual sense. I start by looking back over the last century, at how a family of problems was tackled by scientifically oriented philosophers. These are problems with the nature of evidence (...) and testing – with how, given our limited access to the world and the ambitious reach of our theories, we can have good reason to believe one such theory over another. These discussions were informed especially by skeptical treatments of the problem in Hume. We see in this period a number of different theoretical strands. These are characterized by different raw materials, and by different organizing or paradigm cases – different bets regarding the parts of scientific practice that should function as exemplars. (shrink)
• "Conditions for Evolution by Natural Selection " (2007) . Evolution by natural selection is usually said to require three ingredients: variation, heredity, and fitness differences. But things are not so simple. Here I discuss various problem cases and their consequences.
Is Popper's philosophy alive or dead? If we make a judgment based on recent discussion in academic philosophy of science, he definitely seems to be fading. Popper is still seen as an important historical figure, a key part of the grand drama of 20th century thinking about science. He is associated with an outlook, a mindset, and a general picture of scientific work. His name has bequeathed us an adjective, "Popperian," that is well established. But the adjective is used for (...) very general ideas that, according to most current philosophers, Popper did not develop convincingly. His detailed account is often seen as attractive on first impression, but full of holes that become bigger rather than smaller as discussion continues. The picture and the name remain, which is more than 1 most philosophers can hope for. But the name attaches more and more to a set of instincts and intuitions, less and less to views that are seeing ongoing philosophical development. Inside science itself, Popper's standing is quite different. He continues to be just about the only philosopher who can seize the imagination and command the loyalty of successful professional scientists. And he is popular within science not only for purposes of general commentary and public relations. Popper's philosophy is a resource drawn on by scientists in their internal debates about scientific matters. This has been especially marked in some parts of biology (Hull 1999). From the point of view of philosophers, this affection on the part of scientists may have an unflattering explanation. Popper offers a rather heroic view of the scientific character, featuring an appealing combination of creativity and hard-headedness. It is no surprise that scientists like to be described this way. It is no surprise that they prefer this picture to the one often (though inaccurately) associated with Hempel and Carnap – the scientist as a sort of logic-driven pattern-recognition machine. The same applies to the picture associated with Kuhn, who presents the normal scientist as a narrow-minded, indoctrinated member of a peculiar collective enterprise, an enterprise devoted to solving tiny puzzles most of the time but prone to occasional fits of crisis and chaos.. (shrink)
Sometimes themes can be found in common across very different systems in which change occurs. Imre Lakatos developed a theory of change in science, and one involving entities visible at different levels. There are theories defended at a particular time, and there are also research programs, larger units that bundle together a sequence of related theories and within which many scientists may work. Research programs are competing higher-level units within a scientific field. Scientific change involves change within research programs, and (...) change in the ensemble of research programs present at a time, where some will be growing, some shrinking, some progressing, some degenerating. These are also themes in biological evolution. Recent biology has often found itself dealing with the relation between change at a level of "collectives" – such as organisms like us – and change at a lower level – the level of cells, genes, and other evolving parts. This work is continuous with an older discussion, one that arose when biological evolution was no more than a vague speculation, round the beginning of the 19th century. What is the living individual? What is the basic unit of life or living organization? Questions like this were pursued by Goethe, by Erasmus Darwin, the grandfather of Charles, and many others. Initially it was plants, especially, that were seen to raise these problems, and then newly described marine animals with strange life cycles. The discussion was influenced by the rise of the cell theory in the early 19th century, but some writers looked for individuals well below the level of the cell. (shrink)
Debate about adaptationism in biology continues, in part because within “the” problem of assessing adaptationism, three distinct problems are mixed together. The three problems concern the assessment of three distinct adaptationist positions, each of which asserts the central importance of adaptation and natural selection to the study of evolution, but conceives this importance in a different way. As there are three kinds of adaptationism, there are three distinct "anti-adaptationist" positions as well. Or putting it more formally, there are three different (...) dimensions here, and strongly adaptationist views, strongly anti-adaptationist views, and moderate views are possible for each dimension. (shrink)
Did Darwin really do what Kant said was impossible, and serve as a Newton for the biological world? In assessing this question we need to look at both the structure of evolutionary theory and the structure of our explanation-seeking minds. The short answer to the question is yes. Both underestimates and overestimates of the significance of Darwinian explanations derive from psychological habits which may stem from our own evolutionary history.
Why do octopuses matter to philosophy? They matter to the part of philosophy concerned with the mind. To see why, we step back and think about the evolutionary connections between all living things. Biologists think of these relationships in terms of a tree of life. This is a huge tree-like pattern, marking which species are close relatives and which are distantly connected. The vertebrates form one branch of the tree, and that is where we find nearly all the animals with (...) large and complex brains. These include ourselves, other mammals, and birds. In evolutionary terms, these are all cousins. In the huge area of the tree containing other animals, invertebrates, there is only one small branch where we also find large brains. This branch contains the cephalopods – octopuses, cuttlefish, and squid. Large nervous systems evolved separately on these two branches, and nowhere else. Octopuses are a separate experiment in the evolution of the mind. Meeting an octopus is like meeting an intelligent alien. So what did this experiment produce? Here is one thing. The nervous system of an octopus is less centralized than ours. In fact, more than half of the octopus' neurons are not in the animal's central "brain" at all, but in the eight arms. It is as if each arm has a mind of its own. Or perhaps in an octopus we see intelligence without a unified self. (shrink)
A model of “ephemeral” population structure is presented that applies not only to biological systems in which discrete groups form but also to networks without group boundaries. The evolution of altruistic behaviors is discussed. Nonrandom interaction and nonlinear fitness structures are modeled; together, these factors can produce stable polymorphisms of altruistic and selfish types, as well as bistability. Empirical applications of the model may be found in microbes, marine invertebrates, annual plants, and other organisms.
Altruism is generally understood to be behavior that benefits others at a personal cost to the behaving individual. However, within evolutionary biology, different authors have interpreted the concept of altruism differently, leading to dissimilar predictions about the evolution of altruistic behavior. Generally, different interpretations diverge on which party receives the benefit from altruism and on how the cost of altruism is assessed. Using a simple trait-group framework, we delineate the assumptions underlying different interpretations and show how they relate to one (...) another. We feel that a thorough examination of the connections between interpretations not only reveals why different authors have arrived at disparate conclusions about altruism, but also illuminates the conditions that are likely to favor the evolution of altruism. (shrink)
An interpretation is given of John Dewey's views about “realism” in metaphysics, and of how these views relate to contemporary debates. Dewey rejected standard formulations of realism as a general metaphysical position, and interpreters have often been taken him to be sympathetic to some form of verificationism or constructivism. I argue that these interpretations are mistaken, as Dewey's unease with standard formulations of realism comes from his philosophical emphasis on intelligent control of events, by means of ordinary action. Because of (...) his views about relations, Dewey's views in this area do risk collapsing into an overly holistic position. I discuss how these problems might be avoided, and consider also how Dewey's views about naturalism and realism might usefully inform ongoing work. (shrink)
Methods and goals in philosophy are discussed by first describing an ideal, and then looking at how the ideal might be approached. David Lewis’s work in metaphysics is critically examined and compared to analogous work by Mackie and Carnap. Some large-scale philosophical systematic work, especially in metaphysics, is best treated as model-building, in a sense of that term that draws on the philosophy of science. Models are constructed in a way that involves deliberate simplification, or other imaginative modification of reality, (...) in order to make relationships visible or problems tractable. (shrink)
The commentaries by Dennett, Sterelny, and Queller on Darwinian Populations and Natural Selection (DPNS) are so constructive that they make it possible to extend and improve the book’s framework in several ways. My replies will focus on points of disagreement, and I will pick a small number of themes and develop them in detail. The three replies below are mostly self-contained, except that all my comments about genes, discussed by all three critics, are in the reply to Queller. Agential views (...) of evolution, discussed by Queller and Dennett, are addressed in my reply to Dennett. (shrink)
Non-actual model systems discussed in scientific theories are compared to fictions in literature. This comparison may help with the understanding of similarity relations between models and real-world target systems. The ontological problems surrounding fictions in science may be particularly difficult, however. A comparison is also made to ontological problems that arise in the philosophy of mathematics.
“Triviality arguments” against functionalism in the philosophy of mind hold that the claim that some complex physical system exhibits a given functional organization is either trivial or has much less content than is usually supposed. I survey several earlier arguments of this kind, and present a new one that overcomes some limitations in the earlier arguments. Resisting triviality arguments is possible, but requires functionalists to revise popular views about the “autonomy” of functional description.
Debates over adaptationism can be clarified and partially resolved by careful consideration of the ‘grain’ at which evolutionary processes are described. The framework of ‘adaptive landscapes’ can be used to illustrate and facilitate this investigation. We argue that natural selection may have special status at an intermediate grain of analysis of evolutionary processes. The cases of sickle-cell disease and genomic imprinting are used as case studies.
Group-structured populations, of the kind prominent in discussions of multilevel selection, are contrasted with ‘neighbor-structured’ populations. I argue that it is a necessary condition on multilevel description of a selection process that there should be a nonarbitrary division of the population into equivalence classes (or an approximation to this situation). The discussion is focused via comparisons between two famous problem cases involving group structure (altruism and heterozygote advantage) and two neighbor-structured cases that resemble them. Conclusions are also drawn about the (...) role of correlated interaction in the evolution of altruism. 1 Introduction 2 Two Kinds of Population Structure 3 Objections and Replies 4 Particles on a Line 5 Conclusion Appendix: Neighborhoods and Selection CiteULike Connotea Del.icio.us What's this? (shrink)
The main message of the paper is that there is a disconnect between what many philosophers of mind think of as the scientific practice of reductive or reductionist explanation, and what the most relevant scientific work is actually like. I will sketch what I see as a better view, drawing on various ideas in recent philosophy of science. I then import these ideas into the philosophy of mind, to see what difference they make.1 At the end of the paper I (...) address a possible objection: the familiar package of ideas I reject in the philosophy of science should not be lightly discarded, because other popular views on fundamental issues depend on positions that I want to reject. I reply that those apparently attractive further ideas are not worth holding onto. (shrink)
Kyle Stanford’s arguments against scientific realism are assessed, with a focus on the underdetermination of theory by evidence. I argue that discussions of underdetermination have neglected a possible symmetry which may ameliorate the situation.
Both biologists and philosophers often make use of simple verbal formulations of necessary and sufficient conditions for evolution by natural selection (ENS). Such summaries go back to Darwin's Origin of Species (especially the "Recapitulation"), but recent ones are more compact.1 Perhaps the most commonly cited formulation is due to Lewontin.2 These summaries tend to have three or four conditions, where the core requirement is a combination of variation, heredity, and fitness differences. The summaries are employed in several ways. First, they (...) are often used in pedagogical contexts, and in showing the coherence of evolutionary theory in response to attacks from outside biology. Second, they are important in discussions of extensions of evolutionary principles to new domains, such as cultural change. The summaries also have intrinsic scientific and philosophical interest as attempts to capture some core principles of evolutionary theory in a highly concise way. Despite their prominence, both the proper formulation and status of these summaries are unclear. Standard formulations are subject to counterexamples, and their relations to formal models of evolutionary change are not straightforward. Here I look closely at these verbal summaries, and at how they relate to formal models. Are the summaries merely rough approximations that have no theoretical role of their own? Perhaps they could operate as theoretical statements in Darwin's time, but have now been superseded by more exact treatments. (shrink)
Jablonka and Lamb's claim that evolutionary biology is undergoing a ‘revolution’ is queried. But the very concept of revolutionary change has uncertain application to a field organized in the manner of contemporary biology. The explanatory primacy of sequence properties is also discussed.
The concept of information has acquired a strikingly prominent role in contemporary biology. This trend is especially marked within genetics, but it has also become important in other areas, such as evolutionary theory and developmental biology, particularly where these fields border on genetics. The most distinctive biological role for informational concepts, and the one that has generated the most discussion, is in the description of the relations between genes and the various structures and processes that genes play a role in (...) causing. For many biologists, the causal role of genes should be understood in terms of their carrying information about their various products. That information might require the cooperation of various environmental factors before it can be "expressed," but the same can be said of other kinds of message. An initial response might be to think that this mode of description is entirely anchored in a set of well-established facts about the role of DNA and RNA within protein synthesis, summarized in the familiar chart representing the "genetic code," mapping DNA base triplets to amino acids. However, informational enthusiasm in biology predates even a rudimentary understanding of these mechanisms (Schrodinger 1944). And more importantly, current applications of informational concepts extend far beyond anything that can receive an obvious justification in terms of the familiar facts about the specification of protein molecules by DNA. This includes: 1 (i) The description of whole-organism phenotypic traits (including complex behavioral traits) as specified or coded for by information contained in the genes, (ii) The treatment of many causal processes within cells, and perhaps of the wholeorganism developmental sequence, in terms of the execution of a program stored in the genes, (iii) The idea that genes themselves, for the purpose of evolutionary theorizing, should be seen as, in some sense, "made" of information.. (shrink)
Group-structured and neighbor-structured populations are compared, especially in relation to multilevel selection theory and evolutionary transitions. I argue that purely neighborstructured populations, which can feature the evolution of altruism, are not properly described in multilevel terms. The ability to “gestalt switch” between individualist and multilevel frameworks is then linked to the investigation of “major transitions” in evolution. Some explanatory concepts are naturally linked to one framework or the other, but a full understanding is best achieved via the use of both.
Metaphysics is once again a thriving subdiscipline within philosophy, despite a long tradition of challenges to the very viability of the metaphysical enterprise. The criticisms have not so much been satisfactorily answered, as shouldered aside by the vigorous development of the field. Some focused meta-theoretic discussion has recently arisen within mainstream metaphysics.1 The present paper is written more from an outsider's vantage point. I attempt to give a new meta-theory for some parts of metaphysics. The central claim is that much (...) metaphysical work, especially of the contemporary systematic kind, might best be understood as model-building, in a specific sense of this term that draws on recent philosophy of science. (shrink)
I argue that everyday folk-psychological skill might best be explained in terms of the deployment of something like a model, in a specific sense drawn from recent philosophy of science. Theoretical models in this sense do not make definite commitments about the systems they are used to understand; they are employed with a particular kind of flexibility. This analysis is used to dissolve the eliminativism debate of the 1980s, and to transform a number of other questions about the status and (...) role of folk psychology. (shrink)