Philosophy of Science 47 (3):350-383 (1980)

Authors
Elliott Sober
University of Wisconsin, Madison
Abstract
Ernst Mayr has argued that Darwinian theory discredited essentialist modes of thought and replaced them with what he has called "population thinking". In this paper, I characterize essentialism as embodying a certain conception of how variation in nature is to be explained, and show how this conception was undermined by evolutionary theory. The Darwinian doctrine of evolutionary gradualism makes it impossible to say exactly where one species ends and another begins; such line-drawing problems are often taken to be the decisive reason for thinking that essentialism is untenable. However, according to the view of essentialism I suggest, this familiar objection is not fatal to essentialism. It is rather the essentialist's use of what I call the natural state model for explaining variation which clashes with evolutionary theory. This model implemented the essentialist's requirement that properties of populations be defined in terms of properties of member organisms. Requiring such constituent definitions is reductionistic in spirit; additionally, evolutionary theory shows that such definitions are not available, and, moreover, that they are not needed to legitimize population-level concepts. Population thinking involves the thesis that population concepts may be legitimized by showing their connections with each other, even when they are not reducible to concepts applying at lower levels of organization. In the paper, I develop these points by describing Aristotle's ideas on the origins of biological variation; they are a classic formulation of the natural state model. I also describe how the development of statistical ideas in the 19th century involved an abandoning of the natural state model
Keywords No keywords specified (fix it)
Categories (categorize this paper)
DOI 10.1086/288942
Options
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Request removal from index
Revision history

Download options

PhilArchive copy


Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy     Papers currently archived: 51,480
Through your library

References found in this work BETA

No references found.

Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

A Second Rebuttal On Health.Christopher Boorse - 2014 - Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 39 (6):683-724.
Resurrecting Biological Essentialism.Michael Devitt - 2008 - Philosophy of Science 75 (3):344-382.

View all 149 citations / Add more citations

Similar books and articles

Counterpart Theory, Natural Properties, and Essentialism.Todd Buras - 2006 - Journal of Philosophy 103 (1):27-42.
Evolutionary Essentialism.Denis Walsh - 2006 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 57 (2):425-448.
The Normal Genome in Twentieth-Century Evolutionary Thought.L. Gannett - 2003 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 34 (1):143-185.
On the Origin of the Typological/Population Distinction in Ernst Mayr's Changing Views of Species, 1942-1959.Carl Chung - 2003 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 34 (2):277-296.
The Statistical Character of Evolutionary Theory.Barbara L. Horan - 1994 - Philosophy of Science 61 (1):76-95.
Resurrecting Biological Essentialism.Michael Devitt - 2008 - Philosophy of Science 75 (3):344-382.
Population Thinking as Trope Nominalism.Bence Nanay - 2010 - Synthese 177 (1):91 - 109.

Analytics

Added to PP index
2009-01-28

Total views
335 ( #20,387 of 2,330,639 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
5 ( #151,630 of 2,330,639 )

How can I increase my downloads?

Downloads

My notes