Explanatory unification and the early synthesis


Authors
Anya Plutynski
Washington University in St. Louis
Abstract
The object of this paper is to reply to Morrison's ([2000]) claim that while ‘structural unity’ was achieved at the level of the mathematical models of population genetics in the early synthesis, there was explanatory disunity. I argue to the contrary, that the early synthesis effected by the founders of theoretical population genetics was unifying and explanatory both. Defending this requires a reconsideration of Morrison's notion of explanation. In Morrison's view, all and only answers to ‘why’ questions which include the ‘cause or mechanism’ for some phenomenon count as explanatory. In my view, mathematical demonstrations that answer ‘how possibly’ and ‘why necessarily’ questions may also count as explanatory. The authors of the synthesis explained how evolution was possible on a Mendelian system of inheritance, answered skepticism about the sufficiency of selection, and thus explained why and how a Darwinian research program was warranted. While today we take many of these claims as obvious, they required argument, and part of the explanatory work of the formal sciences is providing such arguments. Surely, Fisher and Wright had competing views as to the optimal means of generating adaptation. Nevertheless, they had common opponents and a common unifying and explanatory goal that their mathematical demonstrations served. Introduction: Morrison's challenge Fisher v. Wright revisited The early synthesis Conclusion: unification and explanation reconciled.
Keywords unification  explanation  modern synthesis
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DOI 10.1093/bjps/axi124
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References found in this work BETA

The Scientific Image.Bas C. Van Fraassen - 1980 - Journal of Philosophy 79 (5):274-283.
Explanatory Unification and the Causal Structure of the World.Philip Kitcher - 1989 - In Philip Kitcher & Wesley Salmon (eds.), Scientific Explanation. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. pp. 410-505.
Scientific Explanation and the Causal Structure of the World.Wesley Salmon - 1984 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 38 (2):243-257.

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Citations of this work BETA

Confirmation and Explaining How Possible.Patrick Forber - 2010 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C 41 (1):32-40.
Confirmation and Explaining How Possible.Patrick Forber - 2010 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 41 (1):32-40.
On the Structure of Explanatory Unification: The Case of Geographical Economics.Uskali Mäki & Caterina Marchionni - 2009 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 40 (2):185-195.
Unification, Explanation and Explaining Unity: The Fisher–Wright Controversy.Margaret Morrison - 2006 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 57 (1):233-245.

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