Explanation in Evo-Devo

In de la Rosa L. N. & Müller G. B. (eds.), Evolutionary Developmental Biology - A Reference Guide. Springer (2021)
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Abstract

Evo-devo is a multidisciplinary field that investigates the interplay between evolutionary and developmental processes and brings together different kinds of explanatory strategies. This chapter examines the structure of paradigmatic explanations in evo-devo (e.g., the explanation of the origin of an evolutionary novelty) and raises philosophical questions about explanation in evo-devo. Much research in evo-devo is concerned with studying the developmental mechanisms that constrain and facilitate phenotypic evolution, which suggests that a distinctive feature of evo-devo is that it constructs mechanistic explanations. In this chapter, I discuss three major challenges for thinking about evo-devo as providing mechanistic explanations. First, an explanation of an evolutionary novelty consists of several mechanistic explanations, rather than being a single one. Second, developmental mechanisms are ontogenetically and phylogenetically dynamic and thus difficult to individuate. Third, an explanation of an evolutionary novelty also has a non-mechanistic, historical part. Finally, I discuss whether evo-devo’s emphasis on mechanistic explanation promotes explanatory integration or results in a reductionist view of evolution.

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Marie I. Kaiser
Bielefeld University

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References found in this work

Thinking about mechanisms.Peter Machamer, Lindley Darden & Carl F. Craver - 2000 - Philosophy of Science 67 (1):1-25.
Explaining the Brain.Carl F. Craver - 2007 - Oxford, GB: Oxford University Press.
The Scientific Image.William Demopoulos & Bas C. van Fraassen - 1982 - Philosophical Review 91 (4):603.
The New Mechanical Philosophy.Stuart Glennan - 2017 - Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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