Biology and Philosophy 27 (6):851-869 (2012)

In a recent paper, Potochnik (Biol Philos 24(2):183–197, 2009) analyses some uses of optimality modelling in light of the anti-adaptationism criticism. She distinguishes two broad classes of such uses (weak and strong) on the basis of assumptions held by biologists about the role and the importance of natural selection. This is an interesting proposal that could help in the epistemological characterisation of some biological practices. However, Potochnik’s distinction also rests on the assumption that all optimality modelling represent the selection dynamic involved in the system of phenomena being considered. Since this assumption does not hold for models belonging to optimal foraging theory (OFT)—one of behavioural ecology’s important modelling traditions—Potochnik’s proposal has to be critically reappraised. In this paper, we briefly discuss what is optimality modelling and what it means for a model to represent a dynamic of selection or of evolution. Then, we demonstrate that OFT modelling is unable to represent either past or contemporary selection dynamics. In order to make this point, we carefully delineate the theory’s rationale. This allows us to identify and analyse the assumptions on which the theory is built, and to circumscribe precisely the role that natural selection plays in it. Next, we show that the distinction of weak and strong uses of optimality modelling is seriously weakened when OFT modelling is taken into account. More precisely, the distinction is either irrelevant (if the assumption that selection dynamics are represented in all optimality modelling is held) or of a modest utility (if the assumption is dropped). However, we suggest that Potochnik’s original proposal could be saved, and that it even constitutes a tool to appraise the marks left in the literature by the evolution of optimality modelling practices in the last four decades, provided that it is made into a tripartite distinction.
Keywords Adaptationism  Optimal foraging theory  Optimality  Fitness  Animal behaviour  Behavioural ecology
Categories (categorize this paper)
DOI 10.1007/s10539-012-9333-3
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: 60,920
External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library

References found in this work BETA

Seven Types of Adaptationism.Tim Lewens - 2009 - Biology and Philosophy 24 (2):161-182.
Optimality Modeling in a Suboptimal World.Angela Potochnik - 2009 - Biology and Philosophy 24 (2):183-197.
Can Cumulative Selection Explain Adaptation?Bence Nanay - 2005 - Philosophy of Science 72 (5):1099-1112.

View all 11 references / Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

Sociobiology.Harmon Holcomb - 2008 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Narrow and Broad Styles of Scientific Reasoning: A Reply to O. Bueno.Jean-Sébastien Bolduc - 2014 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 47:104-110.
Sociobiology.Harmon Holcomb & Jason M. Byron - 2005 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Add more citations

Similar books and articles

Explanations in Search of Observations.Robert Sugden - 2011 - Biology and Philosophy 26 (5):717-736.
Optimality Modeling in a Suboptimal World.Angela Potochnik - 2009 - Biology and Philosophy 24 (2):183-197.
On Qualitative Modelling.Jarmo J. Ahonen - 1994 - AI and Society 8 (1):17-28.
Isolation Is Not Characteristic of Models.Till Grüne-Yanoff - 2011 - International Studies in the Philosophy of Science 25 (2):119 - 137.
Optimality Modeling and Explanatory Generality.Angela Potochnik - 2007 - Philosophy of Science 74 (5):680-691.
Simplicity in Econometric Modelling: Some Methodological Considerations.Bernd Hayo - 1998 - Journal of Economic Methodology 5 (2):247-261.


Added to PP index

Total views
48 ( #217,111 of 2,439,304 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
1 ( #434,168 of 2,439,304 )

How can I increase my downloads?


My notes