Authors
Cedric Paternotte
Université Paris-Sorbonne
Abstract
Social evolution theory provides a wide array of successful evolutionary explanations for cooperative traits. However and surprisingly, a number of cases of unexplained cooperative behaviour remain. Shouldn’t they cast doubt on the relevance of the theory, or even disconfirm it? This depends on whether the theory is akin to a research programme such as adaptationism, or closer to a theory – a set of compatible, confirmable hypotheses. In order to find out, we focus on the two main tenets of social evolution theory, namely reciprocity explanations and kin selection. Reciprocity-based explanations are extremely hard to confirm. This is due, first to the multiple realisability of explanatory processes, factors and strategies, despite apparent reasons to the contrary; second, to the high quantity, and limited availability of data needed to eliminate or back up such explanations. One of our target cases vividly illustrates these limitations. Moreover, kin selection, while relatively easy to disconfirm in particular cases, seems to enjoy a more limited explanatory scope than previously thought. Overall, social evolution theory turns out to be neither a research programme nor a theory, but a heterogeneous scientific entity, composed of parts that are amenable to confirmation and others barely so.
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DOI 10.1007/s13194-021-00386-1
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References found in this work BETA

Evolution and the Levels of Selection.Samir Okasha - 2006 - Oxford University Press.
Philosophy of Biology.Elliott Sober - 1993 - Westview Press.
Falsification and the Methodology of Scientific Research Programmes.Imre Lakatos - 1970 - In Imre Lakatos & Alan Musgrave (eds.), Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge. Cambridge University Press. pp. 91-196.

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