Francis Galton’s theory of inheritance and the problem of unconceived alternatives

Biology and Philosophy 21 (4):523-536 (2006)
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Elsewhere I have argued that the most significant threat to scientific realism arises from what I call the problem of unconceived alternatives: the repeated failure of past scientists and scientific communities to even conceive of alternatives to extant scientific theories, even when such alternatives were both (1) well-confirmed by the evidence available at the time and (2) sufficiently scientifically serious as to be actually embraced in the course of further investigation. In this paper I explore Francis Galton’s development and defense of his “stirp” theory of inheritance and conclude that this particular historical example offers impressive support for the challenge posed by the problem of unconceived alternatives while simultaneously showing how we can make that challenge deeper and sharper.



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The variation of animals and plants under domestication.Charles Darwin - 1868 - Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press. Edited by Harriet Ritvo.
Refusing the devil's bargain: What kind of underdetermination should we take seriously?P. Kyle Stanford - 2001 - Proceedings of the Philosophy of Science Association 2001 (3):S1-.
Natural Inheritance.Francis Galton - 1889 - Mind 14 (55):414-420.

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