Marshall Abrams
University of Alabama, Birmingham
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 are “hypothetical frequencies” (including what are sometimes called “long-run frequencies” and “long-run propensities”). In this paper, I review two arguments against hypothetical frequencies. The arguments have implications for the interpretation of evolutionary probabilities, but more importantly, they seem to raise problems for biologists’ claims about frequencies in counterfactual or infinite populations of organisms and sets of populations of organisms. I argue that when properly understood, claims about frequencies in large and infinite populations of organisms and sets of populations are not threatened by the arguments. Seeing why gives us a clearer understanding of the nature of counterfactual and infinite population claims and probability in evolutionary theory.
Keywords No keywords specified (fix it)
Categories (categorize this paper)
DOI 10.1016/j.shpsc.2006.03.004
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Request removal from index
Revision history

Download options

PhilArchive copy

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy     Papers currently archived: 54,593
Through your library

References found in this work BETA

The Propensity Interpretation of Probability.Karl R. Popper - 1959 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 10 (37):25-42.
Interpretations of Probability.Alan Hájek - 2007 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Adaptation and Evolutionary Theory.Robert N. Brandon - 1978 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 9 (3):181.
The Propensity Interpretation of Fitness.Susan K. Mills & John H. Beatty - 1979 - Philosophy of Science 46 (2):263-286.
Fitness, Probability and the Principles of Natural Selection.Frédéric Bouchard & Alex Rosenberg - 2004 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 55 (4):693-712.

View all 24 references / Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

Probability in Biology: The Case of Fitness.Roberta L. Millstein - 2016 - In A. Hájek & C. R. Hitchcock (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Probability and Philosophy. Oxford University Press. pp. 601-622.

View all 6 citations / Add more citations

Similar books and articles

The Theory of Random Propositions.John D. Norton - 1994 - Erkenntnis 41 (3):325 - 352.
Evolution Without Change in Gene Frequencies.David Magnus - 1998 - Biology and Philosophy 13 (2):255-261.
Selection, Indeterminism, and Evolutionary Theory.Bruce Glymour - 2001 - Philosophy of Science 68 (4):518-535.


Added to PP index

Total views
61 ( #158,973 of 2,385,743 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
1 ( #559,864 of 2,385,743 )

How can I increase my downloads?


My notes