How does science work? Does it tell us what the world is "really" like? What makes it different from other ways of understanding the universe? In Theory and Reality , Peter Godfrey-Smith addresses these questions by taking the reader on a grand tour of one hundred years of debate about science. The result is a completely accessible introduction to the main themes of the philosophy of science. Intended for undergraduates and general readers with no prior background in philosophy, Theory and (...) Reality covers logical positivism the problems of induction and confirmation Karl Popper's theory of science Thomas Kuhn and "scientific revolutions" the views of Imre Lakatos, Larry Laudan, and Paul Feyerabend and challenges to the field from sociology of science, feminism, and science studies. The book then looks in more detail at some specific problems and theories, including scientific realism, the theory-ladeness of observation, scientific explanation, and Bayesianism. Finally, Godfrey-Smith defends a form of philosophical naturalism as the best way to solve the main problems in the field. Throughout the text he points out connections between philosophical debates and wider discussions about science in recent decades, such as the infamous "science wars." Examples and asides engage the beginning student a glossary of terms explains key concepts and suggestions for further reading are included at the end of each chapter. However, this is a textbook that doesn't feel like a textbook because it captures the historical drama of changes in how science has been conceived over the last one hundred years. Like no other text in this field, Theory and Reality combines a survey of recent history of the philosophy of science with current key debates in language that any beginning scholar or critical reader can follow. (shrink)
Biological functions are dispositions or effects a trait has which explain the recent maintenance of the trait under natural selection. This is the "modern history" approach to functions. The approach is historical because to ascribe a function is to make a claim about the past, but the relevant past is the recent past; modern history rather than ancient.
I discuss the bearing on the mind-body problem of some general characteristics of living systems, including the physical basis of metabolism and the relation between living activity and cognitive capacities in simple organisms. I then attempt to describe stages in the history of animal life important to the evolution of subjective experience. Features of the biological basis of cognition are used to criticize arguments against materialism that draw on the conceivability of a separation between mental and physical. I also argue (...) against commonly held views about the "multiple realizability" of mental states of the kind seen in humans. The aim of the paper is to reconfigure and narrow the "explanatory gap" between mental and physical. (shrink)
Recent years have seen a renewed debate over the importance of groupselection, especially as it relates to the evolution of altruism. Onefeature of this debate has been disagreement over which kinds ofprocesses should be described in terms of selection at multiple levels,within and between groups. Adapting some earlier discussions, we presenta mathematical framework that can be used to explore the exactrelationships between evolutionary models that do, and those that donot, explicitly recognize biological groups as fitness-bearing entities.We show a fundamental set (...) of mathematical equivalences between these twokinds of models, one of which applies a form of multi-level selectiontheory and the other being a form of ``individualism.'' However, we alsoargue that each type of model can have heuristic advantages over theother. Indeed, it can be positively useful to engage in a kind ofback-and-forth switching between two different perspectives on theevolutionary role of groups. So the position we defend is a``gestalt-switching pluralism.''. (shrink)
Non-actual model systems discussed in scientific theories are compared to fictions in literature. This comparison may help with the understanding of similarity relations between models and real-world target systems. The ontological problems surrounding fictions in science may be particularly difficult, however. A comparison is also made to ontological problems that arise in the philosophy of mathematics.
Our understanding of communication and its evolution has advanced significantly through the study of simple models of interacting senders and receivers of signals. Many theorists have thought that the resources of mathematical information theory are all that is needed to capture the meaning or content that is being communicated in these systems. However, the way theorists routinely talk about the models implicitly draws on a conception of content that is richer than bare informational content, especially in contexts where false content (...) is important. This paper shows that this concept can be made precise by defining a notion of functional content that captures the degree to which different states of the world are involved in stabilizing senders’ and receivers’ use of a signal at equilibrium. A series of case studies is used to contrast functional content with informational content, and to illustrate the explanatory role and limitations of this definition of functional content. (shrink)
Group-structured populations, of the kind prominent in discussions of multilevel selection, are contrasted with ‘neighbor-structured’ populations. I argue that it is a necessary condition on multilevel description of a selection process that there should be a nonarbitrary division of the population into equivalence classes (or an approximation to this situation). The discussion is focused via comparisons between two famous problem cases involving group structure (altruism and heterozygote advantage) and two neighbor-structured cases that resemble them. Conclusions are also drawn about the (...) role of correlated interaction in the evolution of altruism. 1 Introduction 2 Two Kinds of Population Structure 3 Objections and Replies 4 Particles on a Line 5 Conclusion Appendix: Neighborhoods and Selection CiteULike Connotea Del.icio.us What's this? (shrink)
The role played by the concept of genetic coding in biology is discussed. I argue that this concept makes a real contribution to solving a specific problem in cell biology. But attempts to make the idea of genetic coding do theoretical work elsewhere in biology, and in philosophy of biology, are probably mistaken. In particular, the concept of genetic coding should not be used (as it often is) to express a distinction between the traits of whole organisms that are coded (...) for in the genes, and the traits that are not. (shrink)
Both biologists and philosophers often make use of simple verbal formulations of necessary and sufficient conditions for evolution by natural selection (ENS). Such summaries go back to Darwin's Origin of Species (especially the "Recapitulation"), but recent ones are more compact.1 Perhaps the most commonly cited formulation is due to Lewontin.2 These summaries tend to have three or four conditions, where the core requirement is a combination of variation, heredity, and fitness differences. The summaries are employed in several ways. First, they (...) are often used in pedagogical contexts, and in showing the coherence of evolutionary theory in response to attacks from outside biology. Second, they are important in discussions of extensions of evolutionary principles to new domains, such as cultural change. The summaries also have intrinsic scientific and philosophical interest as attempts to capture some core principles of evolutionary theory in a highly concise way. Despite their prominence, both the proper formulation and status of these summaries are unclear. Standard formulations are subject to counterexamples, and their relations to formal models of evolutionary change are not straightforward. Here I look closely at these verbal summaries, and at how they relate to formal models. Are the summaries merely rough approximations that have no theoretical role of their own? Perhaps they could operate as theoretical statements in Darwin's time, but have now been superseded by more exact treatments. (shrink)
The paper links discussions of two topics: biological individuality and the simplest forms of mentality. I discuss several attempts to locate the boundary between metabolic activity and ‘minimal cognition.’ I then look at differences between the kinds of individuality present in unicellular life, multicellular life in general, and animals of several kinds. Nervous systems, which are clearly relevant to cognition and subjectivity, also play an important role in the form of individuality seen in animals. The last part of the paper (...) links these biological transitions to the evolutionary history of subjective experience. (shrink)
Kyle Stanford’s arguments against scientific realism are assessed, with a focus on the underdetermination of theory by evidence. I argue that discussions of underdetermination have neglected a possible symmetry which may ameliorate the situation.
Altruism is generally understood to be behavior that benefits others at a personal cost to the behaving individual. However, within evolutionary biology, different authors have interpreted the concept of altruism differently, leading to dissimilar predictions about the evolution of altruistic behavior. Generally, different interpretations diverge on which party receives the benefit from altruism and on how the cost of altruism is assessed. Using a simple trait-group framework, we delineate the assumptions underlying different interpretations and show how they relate to one (...) another. We feel that a thorough examination of the connections between interpretations not only reveals why different authors have arrived at disparate conclusions about altruism, but also illuminates the conditions that are likely to favor the evolution of altruism. (shrink)
Debate about adaptationism in biology continues, in part because within “the” problem of assessing adaptationism, three distinct problems are mixed together. The three problems concern the assessment of three distinct adaptationist positions, each of which asserts the central importance of adaptation and natural selection to the study of evolution, but conceives this importance in a different way. As there are three kinds of adaptationism, there are three distinct "anti-adaptationist" positions as well. Or putting it more formally, there are three different (...) dimensions here, and strongly adaptationist views, strongly anti-adaptationist views, and moderate views are possible for each dimension. (shrink)
I argue that everyday folk-psychological skill might best be explained in terms of the deployment of something like a model, in a specific sense drawn from recent philosophy of science. Theoretical models in this sense do not make definite commitments about the systems they are used to understand; they are employed with a particular kind of flexibility. This analysis is used to dissolve the eliminativism debate of the 1980s, and to transform a number of other questions about the status and (...) role of folk psychology. (shrink)
We present a dynamic model of the evolution of communication in a Lewis signaling game while systematically varying the degree of common interest between sender and receiver. We show that the level of common interest between sender and receiver is strongly predictive of the amount of information transferred between them. We also discuss a set of rare but interesting cases in which common interest is almost entirely absent, yet substantial information transfer persists in a *cheap talk* regime, and offer a (...) diagnosis of how this may arise. -/- . (shrink)
Drawing on models of communication due to Lewis and Skyrms, I contrast sender-receiver systems as they appear within and between organisms, and as they function in the bridging of space and time. Within the organism, memory can be seen as the sending of messages over time, communication between stages as opposed to spatial parts. Psychological memory and genetic memory are compared with respect to their relations to a sender-receiver model. Some puzzles about “genetic information” can be resolved by seeing the (...) genome as a cell-level memory with no sender. (shrink)
Metaphysics is once again a thriving subdiscipline within philosophy, despite a long tradition of challenges to the very viability of the metaphysical enterprise. The criticisms have not so much been satisfactorily answered, as shouldered aside by the vigorous development of the field. Some focused meta-theoretic discussion has recently arisen within mainstream metaphysics.1 The present paper is written more from an outsider's vantage point. I attempt to give a new meta-theory for some parts of metaphysics. The central claim is that much (...) metaphysical work, especially of the contemporary systematic kind, might best be understood as model-building, in a specific sense of this term that draws on recent philosophy of science. (shrink)
The commentaries by Dennett, Sterelny, and Queller on Darwinian Populations and Natural Selection (DPNS) are so constructive that they make it possible to extend and improve the book’s framework in several ways. My replies will focus on points of disagreement, and I will pick a small number of themes and develop them in detail. The three replies below are mostly self-contained, except that all my comments about genes, discussed by all three critics, are in the reply to Queller. Agential views (...) of evolution, discussed by Queller and Dennett, are addressed in my reply to Dennett. (shrink)
“Triviality arguments” against functionalism in the philosophy of mind hold that the claim that some complex physical system exhibits a given functional organization is either trivial or has much less content than is usually supposed. I survey several earlier arguments of this kind, and present a new one that overcomes some limitations in the earlier arguments. Resisting triviality arguments is possible, but requires functionalists to revise popular views about the “autonomy” of functional description.
A wide range of ecological and evolutionary models predict variety in phenotype or behavior when a population is at equilibrium. This heterogeneity can be realized in different ways. For example, it can be realized through a complex population of individuals exhibiting different simple behaviors, or through a simple population of individuals exhibiting complex, varying behaviors. In some theoretical frameworks these different realizations are treated as equivalent, but natural selection distinguishes between these two alternatives in subtle ways. By investigating an increasingly (...) complex series of models, from a simple fluctuating selection model up to a finite population hawk/dove game, we explore the selective pressures which discriminate between pure strategists, mixed at the population level, and individual mixed strategists. Our analysis reveals some important limitations to the ESS framework often employed to investigate the evolution of complex behavior. (shrink)
The history and theoretical role of the concept of a ``replicator''is discussed, starting with Dawkins' and Hull's classic treatmentsand working forward. I argue that the replicator concept is still auseful one for evolutionary theory, but it should be revised insome ways. The most important revision is the recognition that notall processes of evolution by natural selection require thatsomething play the role of a replicator.
This paper examines the relationship between a family of concepts involving reliable correlation, and a family of concepts involving adaptation and biological function, as these concepts are used in the naturalistic semantic theory of Dretske's "Explaining Behavior." I argue that Dretske's attempt to marry correlation and function to produce representation fails, though aspects of his failure point the way forward to a better theory.
The concept of information has acquired a strikingly prominent role in contemporary biology. This trend is especially marked within genetics, but it has also become important in other areas, such as evolutionary theory and developmental biology, particularly where these fields border on genetics. The most distinctive biological role for informational concepts, and the one that has generated the most discussion, is in the description of the relations between genes and the various structures and processes that genes play a role in (...) causing. For many biologists, the causal role of genes should be understood in terms of their carrying information about their various products. That information might require the cooperation of various environmental factors before it can be "expressed," but the same can be said of other kinds of message. An initial response might be to think that this mode of description is entirely anchored in a set of well-established facts about the role of DNA and RNA within protein synthesis, summarized in the familiar chart representing the "genetic code," mapping DNA base triplets to amino acids. However, informational enthusiasm in biology predates even a rudimentary understanding of these mechanisms (Schrodinger 1944). And more importantly, current applications of informational concepts extend far beyond anything that can receive an obvious justification in terms of the familiar facts about the specification of protein molecules by DNA. This includes: 1 (i) The description of whole-organism phenotypic traits (including complex behavioral traits) as specified or coded for by information contained in the genes, (ii) The treatment of many causal processes within cells, and perhaps of the wholeorganism developmental sequence, in terms of the execution of a program stored in the genes, (iii) The idea that genes themselves, for the purpose of evolutionary theorizing, should be seen as, in some sense, "made" of information.. (shrink)
• "Conditions for Evolution by Natural Selection " (2007) . Evolution by natural selection is usually said to require three ingredients: variation, heredity, and fitness differences. But things are not so simple. Here I discuss various problem cases and their consequences.
One problem faced in discussions of the evolution of intelligence is the need to get a precise fix on what is to be explained. Terms like "intelligence," "cognition" and "mind" do not have simple and agreed-upon meanings, and the differences between conceptions of intelligence have consequences for evolutionary explanation. I hope the papers in this volume will enable us to make progress on this problem. The present contribution is mostly focused on these basic and foundational issues, although the last section (...) of the paper will look at some specific models and programs of empirical work. (shrink)
Debates over adaptationism can be clarified and partially resolved by careful consideration of the ‘grain’ at which evolutionary processes are described. The framework of ‘adaptive landscapes’ can be used to illustrate and facilitate this investigation. We argue that natural selection may have special status at an intermediate grain of analysis of evolutionary processes. The cases of sickle-cell disease and genomic imprinting are used as case studies.
The "teleosemantic" program is part of the attempt to give a naturalistic explanation of the semantic properties of mental representations. The aim is to show how the internal states of a wholly physical agent could, as a matter of objective fact, represent the world beyond them. The most popular approach to solving this problem has been to use concepts of physical correlation with some kinship to those employed in information theory (Dretske 1981, 1988; Fodor 1987, 1990). Teleosemantics, which tries to (...) solve the problem using a concept of biological function, arrived in the mid 1980s with ground-breaking works by Millikan (1984) and Papineau (1984, 1987).<sup>1</sup>. (shrink)
An interpretation of John Dewey’s views about realism, science, and naturalistic philosophy is presented. Dewey should be seen as an unorthodox realist, with respect to both general metaphysical debates about realism and with respect to debates about the aims and achievements of science.
Some central ideas associated with developmental systems theory (DST) are outlined for non-specialists. These ideas concern the nature of biological development, the alleged distinction between "genetic" and "environmental" traits, the relations between organism and environment, and evolutionary processes. I also discuss some criticisms of the DST approach.
Methods and goals in philosophy are discussed by first describing an ideal, and then looking at how the ideal might be approached. David Lewis’s work in metaphysics is critically examined and compared to analogous work by Mackie and Carnap. Some large-scale philosophical systematic work, especially in metaphysics, is best treated as model-building, in a sense of that term that draws on the philosophy of science. Models are constructed in a way that involves deliberate simplification, or other imaginative modification of reality, (...) in order to make relationships visible or problems tractable. (shrink)
Sometimes themes can be found in common across very different systems in which change occurs. Imre Lakatos developed a theory of change in science, and one involving entities visible at different levels. There are theories defended at a particular time, and there are also research programs, larger units that bundle together a sequence of related theories and within which many scientists may work. Research programs are competing higher-level units within a scientific field. Scientific change involves change within research programs, and (...) change in the ensemble of research programs present at a time, where some will be growing, some shrinking, some progressing, some degenerating. These are also themes in biological evolution. Recent biology has often found itself dealing with the relation between change at a level of "collectives" – such as organisms like us – and change at a lower level – the level of cells, genes, and other evolving parts. This work is continuous with an older discussion, one that arose when biological evolution was no more than a vague speculation, round the beginning of the 19th century. What is the living individual? What is the basic unit of life or living organization? Questions like this were pursued by Goethe, by Erasmus Darwin, the grandfather of Charles, and many others. Initially it was plants, especially, that were seen to raise these problems, and then newly described marine animals with strange life cycles. The discussion was influenced by the rise of the cell theory in the early 19th century, but some writers looked for individuals well below the level of the cell. (shrink)
My commentary on Hurley is concerned with foundational issues. Hurley's investigation of animal cognition is cast within a particular framework—basically, a philosophically refined version of folk psychology. Her discussion has a complicated relationship to unresolved debates about the nature and status of folk psychology, especially debates about the extent to which folk psychological categories are aimed at picking out features of the causal organization of the mind.
Why do octopuses matter to philosophy? They matter to the part of philosophy concerned with the mind. To see why, we step back and think about the evolutionary connections between all living things. Biologists think of these relationships in terms of a tree of life. This is a huge tree-like pattern, marking which species are close relatives and which are distantly connected. The vertebrates form one branch of the tree, and that is where we find nearly all the animals with (...) large and complex brains. These include ourselves, other mammals, and birds. In evolutionary terms, these are all cousins. In the huge area of the tree containing other animals, invertebrates, there is only one small branch where we also find large brains. This branch contains the cephalopods – octopuses, cuttlefish, and squid. Large nervous systems evolved separately on these two branches, and nowhere else. Octopuses are a separate experiment in the evolution of the mind. Meeting an octopus is like meeting an intelligent alien. So what did this experiment produce? Here is one thing. The nervous system of an octopus is less centralized than ours. In fact, more than half of the octopus' neurons are not in the animal's central "brain" at all, but in the eight arms. It is as if each arm has a mind of its own. Or perhaps in an octopus we see intelligence without a unified self. (shrink)