The proximate-ultimate distinction and the active role of the organism in evolution

Biology and Philosophy 37 (4):1-20 (2022)
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The validity and utility of the proximate-ultimate distinction in biology have recently been under debate. Opponents of the distinction argue that it rules out individual-level organismic processes from evolutionary explanations, thereby leading to an unfounded separation between organismic causation and evolutionary causation. Proponents of the proximate-ultimate distinction, on the other hand, argue that it serves an important epistemological role in forming different kinds of explanation-seeking questions in biology. In this paper we offer an interpretation the proximate-ultimate distinction not only as a means of forming explanation-seeking questions, but also as a distinction that can help highlight the way in which individual-level organismic processes can be evolutionary causes. We do this by interpreting the distinction between proximate and ultimate causes as a distinction between structuring and triggering causes.



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Bendik Hellem Aaby
University of Oslo

References found in this work

Animal Species and Evolution.Ernst Mayr - 1963 - Belknap of Harvard University Press.
The Philosophy of Social Evolution.Jonathan Birch - 2017 - Oxford: Oxford University Press.
The triple helix: gene, organism, and environment.Richard C. Lewontin - 2000 - Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press. Edited by Richard C. Lewontin.

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