Optimality modeling and explanatory generality

Philosophy of Science 74 (5):680-691 (2007)
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The optimality approach to modeling natural selection has been criticized by many biologists and philosophers of biology. For instance, Lewontin (1979) argues that the optimality approach is a shortcut that will be replaced by models incorporating genetic information, if and when such models become available. In contrast, I think that optimality models have a permanent role in evolutionary study. I base my argument for this claim on what I think it takes to best explain an event. In certain contexts, optimality and game-theoretic models best explain some central types of evolutionary phenomena. ‡Thanks to Michael Friedman, Helen Longino, Michael Weisberg, and especially Elliott Sober for comments on earlier drafts of this paper. †To contact the author, please write to: Department of Philosophy, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305-2155; e-mail: [email protected].

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Angela Potochnik
University of Cincinnati