Quarterly Review of Biology 90 (2):167-191 (2015)

Alfonso Arroyo-Santos
National Autonomous University of Mexico
Some adaptationist explanations are regarded as maximally solid and others fanciful just-so stories. Just-so stories are explanations based on very little evidence. Lack of evidence leads to circular-sounding reasoning: “this trait was shaped by selection in unseen ancestral populations and this selection must have occurred because the trait is present.” Well-supported adaptationist explanations include evidence that is not only abundant but selected from comparative, populational, and optimality perspectives, the three adaptationist subdisciplines. Each subdiscipline obtains its broad relevance in evolutionary biology via assumptions that can only be tested with the methods of the other subdisciplines. However, even in the best-supported explanations, assumptions regarding variation, heritability, and fitness in unseen ancestral populations are always present. These assumptions are accepted given how well they would explain the data if they were true. This means that some degree of “circularity” is present in all evolutionary explanations. Evolutionary explanation corresponds not to a deductive structure, as biologists usually assert, but instead to ones such as abduction or induction. With these structures in mind, we show the way to a healthier view of “circularity” in evolutionary biology, and why integration across the comparative, populational, and optimality approaches is necessary.
Keywords adaptation  population biology  scientific inference  deduction  abduction  Popper
Categories (categorize this paper)
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Request removal from index
Revision history

Download options

PhilArchive copy

 PhilArchive page | Other versions
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

Inference to the Best Explanation.Peter Lipton - 1991 - London and New York: Routledge.
The Structure of Science.Ernest Nagel - 1961 - Les Etudes Philosophiques 17 (2):275-275.

View all 53 references / Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

Add more citations

Similar books and articles

How to Pursue the Adaptationist Program in Psychology.Russil Durrant & Brian D. Haig - 2001 - Philosophical Psychology 14 (4):357 – 380.
``Two'' Many Optimalities.Oscar Vilarroya - 2002 - Biology and Philosophy 17 (2):251-270.
San Marco and Evolutionary Biology.Alasdair I. Houston - 2009 - Biology and Philosophy 24 (2):215-230.
Whither Adaptation?Andrew P. Hendry & Andrew Gonzalez - 2008 - Biology and Philosophy 23 (5):673-699.
Biological Adaptation.Ronald Munson - 1971 - Philosophy of Science 38 (2):200-215.
Darwin Was a Teleologist.James G. Lennox - 1993 - Biology and Philosophy 8 (4):409-421.
L'adaptation Evolutive.J. T. Wiebes - 1982 - Acta Biotheoretica 31 (4):239-243.
The Logical Skeleton of Darwin's Historical Methodology.Mary B. Williams - 1986 - PSA: Proceedings of the Biennial Meeting of the Philosophy of Science Association 1986:514 - 521.


Added to PP index

Total views
1,114 ( #5,590 of 2,533,478 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
55 ( #14,846 of 2,533,478 )

How can I increase my downloads?


My notes