Causes, proximate and ultimate

Biology and Philosophy 5 (4):401-415 (1990)
Within evolutionary biology a distinction is frequently made between proximate and ultimate causes. One apparently plausible interpretation of this dichotomy is that proximate causes concern processes occurring during the life of an organism while ultimate causes refer to those processes (particularly natural selection) that shaped its genome. But ultimate causes are not sought through historical investigations of an organisms lineage. Rather, explanations referring to ultimate causes typically emerge from functional analyses. But these functional analyses do not identify causes of any kind, much less ultimate ones. So-called ultimate explanations are not about causes in any sense resembling those of proximate explanations. The attitude, implicit in the term ultimate cause, that these functional analyses are somehow superordinate to those involving proximate causes is unfounded. Ultimate causes are neither ultimate nor causes.
Keywords Proximate cause  ultimate cause  function  functionalism  structuralism  adaptation  sociobiology  behavioral ecology
Categories (categorize this paper)
DOI 10.1007/BF02207379
 Save to my reading list
Follow the author(s)
My bibliography
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Revision history Request removal from index
Download options
PhilPapers Archive

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy on self-archival     Papers currently archived: 24,422
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
Edward O. Wilson (2000). Sociobiology: The New Synthesis. Journal of the History of Biology 33 (3):577-584.
Robert C. Cummins (1975). Functional Analysis. Journal of Philosophy 72 (November):741-64.

View all 26 references / Add more references

Citations of this work BETA
Ernst Mayr (1993). Proximate and Ultimate Causations. Biology and Philosophy 8 (1):93-94.

View all 7 citations / Add more citations

Similar books and articles

Monthly downloads

Added to index


Total downloads

51 ( #95,540 of 1,924,873 )

Recent downloads (6 months)

5 ( #187,091 of 1,924,873 )

How can I increase my downloads?

My notes
Sign in to use this feature

Start a new thread
There  are no threads in this forum
Nothing in this forum yet.