Explanatory goals and explanatory means in multilevel selection theory

History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences 42 (3):1-24 (2020)
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Abstract

It has become customary in multilevel selection theory to use the same terms to denote both two explanatory goals and two explanatory means. This paper spells out some of the benefits that derive from avoiding this terminological conflation. I argue that keeping explanatory means and goals well apart allows us to see that, contrary to a popular recent idea, Price’s equation and contextual analysis—the statistical methods most extensively used for measuring the effects of certain evolutionary factors on the change in the focal individual trait in multilevel selection scenarios—do not come with built-in notions of group selection and, therefore, the efficacy of these methods at analyzing various kinds of cases does not constitute a basis for deciding how group selection should best be defined. Moreover, contrary to another widely accepted idea, I argue that more than one type of group selection may serve as explanatory means when one’s goal is that of explaining the evolution of individual traits in multilevel selection scenarios and I spell out how this explanatory role should be understood.

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Ciprian Jeler
Al.I.Cuza Iasi University of Iasi

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