The economy of nature: the structure of evolution in Linnaeus, Darwin, and the modern synthesis

European Journal for Philosophy of Science 8 (3):435-454 (2017)
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We argue that the economy of nature constitutes an invocation of structure in the biological sciences, one largely missed by philosophers of biology despite the turn in recent years toward structural explanations throughout the philosophy of science. We trace a portion of the history of this concept, beginning with the theologically and economically grounded work of Linnaeus, moving through Darwin’s adaptation of the economy of nature and its reconstitution in genetic terms during the first decades of the Modern Synthesis. What this historical case study reveals, we argue, is a window into the shifting landscape of the explanatory and ontic uses of structural concepts. In Linnaeus, the economy of nature has both ontic and explanatory import; in Darwin the ontic and explanatory aspects start to come apart ; and finally, in the Modern Synthesis, the economy of nature is replaced by the conceptual toolkit of population genetics, the structural elements of which are nearly entirely explanatory. Having traced a historical trajectory of structural concepts that moves from an ontic formulation to an increasingly explanatory one, we conclude by outlining some insights for structural realism.



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Author Profiles

Charles H. Pence
Université Catholique de Louvain
Daniel G. Swaim
University of Pennsylvania

Citations of this work

Whatever Happened to Reversion?Charles H. Pence - 2022 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 92 (C):97-108.
What is narrative possibility?Daniel G. Swaim - 2021 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 89 (C):257-266.

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References found in this work

Every thing must go: metaphysics naturalized.James Ladyman & Don Ross - 2007 - New York: Oxford University Press. Edited by Don Ross, David Spurrett & John G. Collier.
On the origin of species.Charles Darwin - 2008 - New York: Oxford University Press. Edited by Gillian Beer.
Darwinian Populations and Natural Selection.Peter Godfrey-Smith - 2009 - Oxford, GB: Oxford University Press.
Animal Species and Evolution.Ernst Mayr - 1963 - Belknap of Harvard University Press.

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